Carnegie Mellon University

Program for Deliberative Democracy

Department of Philosophy

Deliberative Democracy in Cuba

In 2013 Pittsburgh hosted a series of workshops and arts events for a visiting Cuban delegation, members of which wanted to establish a line of communication between, among others, those working to make Cuba more democratic and those in our area working to make our local democracy more deliberative. Influential in bringing these groups together were Juan Antonio Alvarado, who was editor of the journal IDENTIDADES, and CMU’s Kenya Dworkin.

Participants—all members of different, independently created, civic organizations in Cuba—included Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a historian and political scientist, who came to see deliberative democracy as a key to build the kind of civil discourse and civic engagement necessary to overcome decades of resignation and despair among the island’s population, especially its Afro-descendant communities.

Over the ensuing years, more workshops—in Puerto Rico, Miami, and Washington, D.C.—were accompanied by publications, articles in new journals in both English and Spanish, and on-the-ground initiatives – all aimed at furthering an understanding of the principles of deliberative democracy and the practical implementation of these principles in the lived context of Cuban history and contemporary society.

As a result of these efforts, Cuesta Morúa and his colleagues created a series of Cuban “deliberative forums” (called Constitutional Initiative Tables or Mesas de Iniciativa Constitucional) throughout the length and breadth of the island. Many of these forums took place across the country during the 20-teens and succeeded in showing how thoughtful, informed, and engaged participation of the citizenry was possible.

Today we look at these initiatives as a suppressed history of Cuban deliberative democracy described optimistically by José Hugo Fernández in A Light From the Depths of the Tunnel.

Sadly, Cuban society remains fraught and stagnant, though hopefully conditions will move beyond its current state and the work of Cuesta Morúa and many others will reemerge.