The Cuban Five and the US Supreme Court

Talking about Supreme Court, how about a little history. On June 15, 2009 the US Supreme Court announced its decision to reject the request for a revision of the Cuban Five case. This demand for a review was carried out by millions of people from all walks of life around the world, a record number of “Friends of the Court” petitions and thousands of personalities and elected officials from every continent. Many of these pleas also came from within the USA itself.

The US brags about its political systems as being based on the separation of powers between the Executive (President and Vice-President), the Legislature and the Judiciary and a resulting built-in checks and balances system. This is supposedly a superior form of democracy based on checks and balances to avoid abuse of power by one or the other of the three branches forming the US government. In the US Constitution Article II Section 2 states that the US president has “the power to grant reprieves and pardons…” Every indication is that President Obama, far from using his constitutional powers to free the Cuban Five, made it clear to the Supreme Court judges that they should rule against revision.1

This has obviously been a political case right from day one. It is even further revealed by the Supreme Court’s decision and the shameless refusal of the judges to publicly explain to the world the basis of their ruling. Of course the judges are not obliged to divulge it according to the American legal system. However, in a case such as this one which the whole world and many governments are watching, a public explanation was necessary. We are perhaps witnessing one of the greatest ironies in the current international political scene. The Cuban Five are cruelly and politically persecuted for their peaceful anti-terrorist motivations and activities. The reason? They are acting on behalf of and supporting the Cuban government. One of the main charges that Washington levies against Cuba is lack of democracy, that it is does not, amongst other characteristics exhibit a political system similar to the American one which would include checks and balances. The Cuban system is in fact one unified revolutionary peoples’ political power, from the top down and from the bottom up including the judiciary, each enjoying its own respective fields of competence. The relationship and inter-action of all the different Cuban state levels between themselves including the judiciary and all of these institutions in turn with the citizens, is a feature of the Cuban type of democracy. There is no need to get into a debate as to whether the Cuban system is more democratic than the American model. However, if one takes into account this latest Supreme Court episode of US democracy in action on the one hand and my direct experience and study of the Cuban political system on the other hand, Cuba has no “democracy” lessons to take at all from the USA.

  1. See Ruben Campa, et al., Petitioners v. United States of America and Wayne S. Smith, “Free the Cuban Five!Nation, 13 July 2010. []

Arnold August is a Montreal-based author/journalist/lecturer and Cuba specialist. His first book was Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-98 Elections (English, 1999). His 2013 book is Cuba and Its Neighbours: Democracy in Motion (English, Spanish, French). He can be reached at: arnoldaugust@hotmail.com. Read other articles by Arnold.