Many of the problems with the quality of democracy in the Caribbean region can be traced to its colonial past. Although the majority of the islands and territories have achieved independence, or some kind of non-colonial status, there are still seven territories on the list of non-autonomous territories maintained by the United Nations Decolonization Committee: Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Montserrat.

There is a broad debate about other elements, both structural and cultural, that erode the quality of democracy in the region. One of those elements is the political party system, particularly in the case of single-party systems, such as that of Cuba. Single-party systems are legitimized by holding free elections, whether for president, parliament or other legislative body. A single-party system should not be confused with a dictatorship, in which leaders are not chosen through democratic elections. In the case of Cuba, for example, there is only one official party, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC, for its Spanish acronym), although the existence of other parties was legalized in 1992 and there are numerous active parties today. But regardless of party affiliation or preference, all candidates run as independents in the elections. All political parties are prohibited from organizing political campaigns, rallies or speeches, including the PCC. While single-party systems may claim to be democratic, some political scientists do not consider them to be democratic if they do not constitute a polyarchy.

The problem of democratic deficiencies resulting from political party systems is not limited to single-party systems, however. It also includes two-party and multi-party systems. A two-party system is one in which the political parties form into two political coalitions, leading to the exclusion of or active discrimination against minority parties. In this system, minority parties are often regional in nature or ideologically extreme. Defenders of this system say it enhances political stability by excluding extremist sectors that could otherwise achieve parliamentary or presidential representation. On the other hand, its detractors argue that the exclusion of these minorities is undemocratic.

In the Caribbean there are also countries with two-party or multi-party systems that are de facto single-party systems. In other words, although various political parties legally exist, power is mainly concentrated in one party for extended periods of time. In Trinidad and Tobago, for example, the People’s National Movement remained in power from 1956 to 1986. In Antigua, the Antigua Labour Party has maintained almost exclusive control of power since 1951. In St. Kitts and Nevis, the Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party has not lost an election since 1962. And in Grenada, the Grenada United Labour Party was in power from 1951 to 1979, the year that Maurice Bishop led a Marxist coup de etat.

Author: Luis Galanes
Published: May 09, 2012.

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