Cuba is a unitary socialist republic. The government is totalitarian, exercising direct control or influence over most facets of Cuban life. From 1959 to 2008, Fidel Castro was the chief of state and head of government. He also served as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and commander in chief of the armed forces. In February 2008 he formally relinquished power to his brother, Raúl Castro. The country is governed under the constitution of 1976, which superseded revolutionary legislation that was enacted after the constitution of 1940 had been suspended. The 1976 constitution was slightly amended in 1992 and 2002. Under the constitution, legislative authority rests with the National Assembly of People’s Power, whose more than 600 members serve five-year terms. The number of seats in the assembly has grown steadily, corresponding to the population of the provinces and municipalities.
The National Assembly in its brief, twice-yearly sessions appoints a 31-member Council of State, which is headed by the president. The Council of State remains in session throughout the year and issues laws in the form of decrees. The president also appoints and presides over a Council of Ministers (cabinet), which carries on the daily administration of the country.
Cuba is divided into 14 provincias, one municipio especial (“special municipality”; Juventud Island), and, within the 14 provinces, about 170 municipios (“municipalities”).
Delegates to municipal assemblies are elected to terms of two and one-half years by universal suffrage. They, in turn, select representatives to the provincial assemblies, who also serve for two and one-half years.
The national government and the Communist Party heavily influence municipal and provincial affairs. Local governments lack independent funding and have little capacity to implement proposals autonomously. In most cases their areas of responsibility overlap those of the national ministries.
The justice system is subordinate to the legislative and executive branches of government. It is headed by the People’s Supreme Court, which includes a president, vice president, and other judges elected to terms of two and one-half years by the National Assembly. Its jurisdiction includes theft, violent crime, and offenses involving state security, the military, and the workplace (including labour practices).
The provincial courts deal with cases that warrant sentences of up to six years’ imprisonment. Below the provincial courts are municipal courts, which are usually the courts of first appeal. The National Assembly may recall judges at any time.
Most trials are public, except for many military tribunals and cases involving political dissent. There are no trials by jury. The police often detain political dissenters, and those who are deemed “counterrevolutionary” or antisocialist may be denied due process. Prison conditions in Cuba are as harsh as in most other countries in the region, and many prisoners suffer from malnutrition and disease. There are separate prisons for women and youths, but political prisoners are often grouped with violent offenders. Cuba has carried out the death penalty for some offenses, including drug trafficking. "Cuba" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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