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Interview with Arnold August on Voices with Vision, WPFW 89.3 FM
Washington DC, June 4, 2013

Netfa Freeman: This is Netfa Freeman and you are listening to Voices with Vision on 89.3FM in the studio with Arnold August. But before we do that, we want to talk a little bit about what’s been going on for the past five days. Today is actually the sixth day of “Five Days for the Cuban Five.” This evening, on the sixth day, we’re going to have a very good and interesting panel discussion – it’s actually a book launch in coordination with the Teaching for Change Bookstore. We have a number of authors that have books about Cuba and we’re going to have joining us this evening Fernando Morais. He’s from Brazil – Brazilian author and journalist – and he’s the author of The Last Soldiers of the Cold War that talks about the Cuban Five. We’ll have Stephen Kimber with us also, who’s a professor and author of What Lies Across the Water, and we’re going to be talking right now with the third panelist, Arnold August. He is a Canadian journalist and writer, author of Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion. Arnold, welcome to Voices with Vision.

Arnold August: Thank you very much for having me.

NF: Now, I guess since we don’t have a lot of time, I can throw out one major question and I’m sure you have a lot you could elaborate on so we’ll get to it. Your book is called – the subtitle is “Democracy in Motion” and, given the propaganda machine in this country and in the West about Cuba being a dictatorship and what not, what have you come across as most misunderstood or the greatest misnomer when it comes to democracy in Cuba?

AA: Well, I think that there are several points, but since we have limited time, I would point out one theme. In my view, and this is what I document in my book in quite some detail: I do not agree with what I would call the “false dichotomy” between, on the one hand, a “single-party system” and, on the other hand, a “multi-party system”. I think that the division on the issue of democracy, or the main difference between different types of democracy, is as follows. On the one hand, we can have a political system that fosters the notion that sovereignty be vested in the hands of the people, in other words “people’s power,” real effective power by the people over their destiny, over their system. On the other hand, there are other types of systems in which this is not done, this notion is not promoted that people should be able to take things into their own hands, that they should be the main decision-makers with regard to their own country. Therefore, whether a country has one or several parties is not the issue. However, what does a multi-party political party system do? For example, in the United States, you have a multi-party system, but the main political parties do not at all promote the notion that sovereignty be vested in the people. In fact, this goes back right to the end of the 18th century, when the Thirteen Colonies were first formed and the very initial constitution was established at that time. I’ll bring attention to your listeners, maybe not many people know, that in U.S. constitution that was established a long time ago, the word “democracy” is not there. The term that “sovereignty is vested in the hands of the people” is likewise not to be found. When U.S. presidents travel around the world, they say they have the oldest constitution in the world. This is true to a certain extent, but I ask: is it not time for this constitution to be updated?

On the other hand, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador – and I deal with all of these countries in my book – in their constitutions, it is very clearly indicated that their systems are based on the notion that sovereignty be vested in the hands of the people. It is the people who are sovereign. So, I think that is a dividing line. For example, Venezuela has a multi-party system, but as long as the Bolivarian Revolution is in power as it is now, the system promotes sovereignty being vested in the hands of the people. I’m not saying this is perfect – that it is fully accomplished – but that is the goal. Now, of course, if this changes for whatever reason, seeing it’s a multi-party system, through a coup d’état by the United States or by an unfortunate election, another party comes into power which does not believe that sovereignty be vested in the people, then the whole dynamic changes.

Regarding Cuba: the main orientation of the Communist Party of Cuba is to contribute to people having sovereignty in their own hands. That is the main feature. This is completely different than the situation in the United States.

Of course, I have a lot of faith in the people of the United States – because from the grass roots, not from the top, from the grass roots, there is an increasing movement for people taking things into their own hands. There are a lot of activists, for example, Occupy Wall Street. There are writers, for example, my favourite alternative website in the United States is the Black Agenda Report. They say exactly what is happening in the United States; they are the ones who are fostering among other writers, activists, such as you and “Teaching for Change” and related organizations, who are promoting a new outlook so that the United States can change and have a new system where sovereignty is vested in the hands of the people. The goal is that the people are no longer completely sidelined from the political situation – people are no longer excluded from the system, which has been the case right from the inception of the United States at the end of the 18th century.

NF: Thank you, Arnold. That was Arnold August, who is the author of Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion, a very dynamic book that deals with the United States, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, along with Cuba, the electoral system and the state. Tonight, we’ll be at the Teaching for Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore,  also in celebration of Gerardo Hernández’s birthday, one of the Cuban Five. You’ll be able to actually speak with Arnold, purchase the book, get it signed, and with other authors. Fernando Morais and Stephen Kimber will be there and their books The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Morais and What Lies Across the Water by Kimber. Thank you, Arnold, and we’ll see you this evening at 6 P.M. as part of the “Five Days for the Cuban Five.”

AA: Hope to see you all there this evening.

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