Cuba's Government

Cuba is a totalitarian communist state headed by General Raul Castro and a cadre of party loyalists. Raul Castro replaced his brother Fidel Castro as chief of state, president of Cuba, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces on February 24, 2008. Fidel Castro had served as President of the Council of State and Council of Ministers and his brother Raul had served as First Vice President of both bodies as well as Minister of Defense.

On 24 February 2013, the so-called "historical generation" began the transition of leadership to a new generation. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura made available to his post as first Vice President, and he himself proposed Miguel Díaz-Canel to occupy it. Raul Castro said this was a step in "defining in shaping the future direction of the country through the gradual and orderly transfer to the new generation..."

Since 1965 Cuba has been governed by a highly centralized system headed by the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC), which is the only authorized political party and rules as “the highest leading force of society and the State," according to the constitution. The party monopolizes all government positions, including judicial offices. Though not a formal requirement, party membership is a de facto prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement in most areas, although non-party members are sometimes allowed to serve in the National Assembly. The Communist Party or one of its subsidiaries vets candidates for any elected office.

President Castro exercises control over all aspects of life through the Communist Party and its affiliated mass organizations, the government bureaucracy headed by the Council of State, and the state security apparatus. President Castro personally chooses the membership of the Politburo, the select group that heads the party. The Communist Party controls all government positions, including judicial offices. The judiciary is completely subordinate to the Government and to the Communist Party.

The 24-member Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (Partido Comunista de Cuba—PCC) is the party’s leading decision-making institution and Cuba’s most important decision-making entity. The PCC monopolizes all government positions, including judicial offices, and approves candidates for any elected office. The PCC’s highest authority is the Party Congress, which elects a Central Committee (150 members in 2005) to supervise the party’s work. To direct its policy, the Central Committee elects a Politburo (24 members in 2005, reduced from 24 to only 15 in 2011).

The Council of State of the National Assembly of Popular Power is the state’s highest decision-making body, and the Council of Ministers is the highest executive and administrative authority. Beginning on December 2, 1976, Fidel Castro assumed the functions of president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. A People’s Supreme Court, accountable to the National Assembly, oversees a system of regional courts. Municipal, regional, and provincial assemblies also have been established.

As amended in July 1992, the 1976 constitution vests all formal legislative powers (including the powers to amend the constitution) in the National Assembly of Popular Power (Asamblea Nacional de Poder Popular—ANPP). The National Assembly is the supreme organ of state and the sole legislative authority. The National Assembly has the formal power, among others, to approve the budget and the national economic plan; elect the members of the Supreme Court; and generally oversee the rule-making activities and electoral processes of the provincial assemblies and municipal assemblies. The National Assembly deputies are elected by direct popular vote for five-year terms. There are no contested elections for the roughly 600 members of the National Assembly of People's Power (ANPP), which meets twice a year for a few days to rubber stamp decisions and policies previously decided by the governing Council of State.

According to the Soviet-style Cuban constitution of 1976, the National Assembly of People's Power, and its Council of State when the body is not in session, has supreme authority in the Cuban system. Since the National Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days each time, the 31-member Council of State wields power. Prior to 1976, the Council of Ministers had exercised both executive and legislative functions. The Council of Ministers, through its nine-member executive committee, handles the administration of the economy, which is entirely state-controlled.

The president of the Council of State is also president of the Council of Ministers, in which executive and administrative authority is vested, and thus serves as both chief of state and head of government. In mid-2006, the Council of Ministers had 28 ministry posts (two of which were vacant), including the minister without portfolio. By early-2013, the Council of Ministers had 22 ministry posts (none of which were vacant), but no ministers without portfolio. The constitution empowers the Council of Ministers, as the highest executive and administrative organ, to issue regulations to administer laws and decrees and to authorize exceptions to state ownership of the means of production. The ministers are responsible principally to the Council’s nine-member Executive Committee, which includes its president, first vice president, and five other vice presidents. The Executive Committee is the decision-making body of the Council of Ministers, and one of its main functions is to oversee the administration of the economy. The Council of Ministers answers to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. The president and vice presidents of the Council of State and the National Assembly elect ministers for a term of five years.

Although the constitution theoretically provides for independent courts, it explicitly subordinates them to the National Assembly and to the Council of State. Due process is routinely denied to Cuban citizens, particularly in cases involving political offenses. The constitution states that all legally recognized civil liberties can be denied to anyone who opposes the "decision of the Cuban people to build socialism." Citizens can be and are jailed for terms of 3 years or more for simply criticizing the communist system or Fidel Castro.

The Cuban court system consists of a People’s Supreme Court, provincial courts, municipal courts, and military courts. The People’s Supreme Court, the highest judicial body, is organized into five chambers: criminal, civil and administrative, labor, state security, and military. Its members are nominated by the minister of justice and confirmed by the National Assembly with two exceptions: First, its president and vice president are nominated by the president of the Council of State; second, the members of the military chamber are nominated jointly by the minister of justice and the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

The minister of justice exercises administrative control over all the courts, including the People’s Supreme Court, which has no authority to declare a law unconstitutional. Judges are appointed for a term, not for life, and they can be removed from office if proper cause is shown. As a result, the courts show considerable deference to executive authority and are marked by political timidity. The Office of the State Prosecutor is subordinate to the National Assembly, which formally elects the prosecutor. This office has wide latitude to review the past conduct and prospective actions of all organs of state power. The prosecutor has specific oversight over all law enforcement and a rank equal to a Supreme Court justice. The prosecutor is directly responsible for cases of treason or corruption.

In 1976 the Council of Ministers divided Cuba into 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. Listed from west to east, Cuba’s provinces are Pinar del Río, La Habana, Ciudad de La Habana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo. The Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth), the Cuban archipelago’s second-largest island, is a special municipality.

Provincial and Local Government: The central government directly oversees the provincial and local governments through a hierarchical network of assemblies and committees. Each of Cuba’s 14 provinces is formally governed by a provincial assembly, which elects a provincial committee. The president of the provincial committee functions as the provincial governor. A provincial assembly must have at least 75 members, and they serve for five years. Each of the country’s 169 municipalities is governed by a municipal assembly, which elects a municipal committee, whose president functions as mayor. Municipal assembly delegates serve for two and one-half years. Nominations for municipal assembly elections come from regional assemblies at the precinct level.

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