Reports from Cuba: ‘Elections’ during Cuba’s severest crisis

Dimas Castellanos writes from Havana via Diario de Cuba:

‘Elections’ During Cuba’s Severest Crisis

In the 2022 municipal ‘elections’, the protest vote rose to 38.90% of the electorate, and, in Havana, to approximately 50%.

Cuba’s Council of State called for “general elections” to appoint the 470 deputies who, as of March 26, 2023, will make up the 10th Legislature of the National Assembly of Popular Power (ANPP).

In order for the reader to understand what this means, I will list seven aspects related to it.

– Elections are processes in which voters designate, among a plurality of candidates with diverse platforms, those who will occupy public office. It is an exercise that, in democratic societies, constitutes one of the legitimate ways in which citizens actively participate in public life.

– A plurality of candidates is synonymous with a plurality of options. In Cuba, where constitutionally, there is only one political party, the option is reduced to choosing among people, not among platforms, which explains why the candidates present themselves before the electorate by means of biographical summaries of their studies, or work, their membership in one of the permitted organizations, and the fulfillment of the tasks assigned to them.

– Elections are a manifestation of the will of the people in the political process, which open to citizens access to institutional power and its exercise. In Cuba, the Constitution declares that the Communist Party “organizes and guides common efforts in the construction of socialism and advancement towards a Communist society.” Despite the fact that this project has led to the material and spiritual impoverishment of Cubans, anyone who does not share this ideological principle is excluded.

– Equal opportunities to elect and be elected, to form preferences and express them publicly (a requirement for citizen participation to be effective) is impossible when rights and freedoms can only be used to support and defend the established political system, one that has been constitutionally declared “irrevocable,” as if the history of Cuba had ended.

– The last free and competitive elections were held in Cuba in 1948. (The 1954 and 1958 elections, although they were multiparty, cannot be described as free and democratic due to the conditions under which they were held). Since to participate in them one had to be 20 years of age, those who voted on that occasion were those born before 1928. Therefore, today, only those over 95 years of age, if they can remember, have any experience with elections.

– On January 8, 1959, the leader of the “revolution” assured that elections would be called in “the shortest possible time.” However, the following month, on February 7, the 1940 Constitution was replaced by the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, and that promise gave way to a famous slogan: “Elections, what for?”

– Elections are a manifestation of popular sovereignty; a concept that Rousseau, in The Social Contract (1762), defined as follows: “from the union of persons to defend and protect their property emanates a general will that converts the contracting parties into a collective political body. The exercise of that general will, which becomes power, is called sovereignty, and the subject that exercises it, that is, the people, sovereign.” Precisely,” said Fidel Castro in his defense during the trial for the assault on the Moncada barracks, “this philosophy underpinned our political and constitutional thought from the first Constitution of Guáimaro to that of 1940.”

These seven aspects, historical and conceptual, indicate that what will be held on March 26 do not qualify as elections.

The procedure

The current Constitution establishes that sovereignty resides in the people, but that it is exercised “through the Assemblies of Popular Power and other organs of the State derived therefrom.” In other words, sovereignty is shifted from the people to institutions, whose functioning is as simple as it is deceptive.

In the neighborhood meetings the candidates for district delegates are elected by a show of hands. Of these, those who are ratified make up the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power (AMPP), where the supposed sovereignty of the people ends.
The plenary sessions of the mass organizations, like the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC) (Union), Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDR), Federación de Mujeres Cubanas (FMC Federation of Cuban Women), Asociación Nacional de Agricultores Pequeños (ANAP, National Association of Small Farmers), Federación Estudiantil Universitaria (FEU) and Federación de Estudiantes de la Enseñanza Media (FEEM, Federation of Secondary School Students) are empowered by the Electoral Law to propose pre-candidates to the ANPP. In this step, according to the Granma newspaper of last December 20, the CTC made 920 proposals, the CDRs 342, the FEU about 300, the FEEM 200, and so on. The interesting thing is that these proposals do not have to have been previously chosen by the people.

The Nominating Commissions, made up of the same mass organizations, determine the final candidacies, with the power to include in them up to half of the candidates without the need for them to have been elected by the people. It is, therefore, a system designed to feign elections and guarantee continuity, since the plenums of the mass organizations and the Nominating Commissions are beholden to the established power. Therefore, those that occupy the determining positions do not have to come from those elected at the constituency level, since the Nominating Commissions guarantee their presence.

Finally, the candidates for the legislature are distributed among the 169 municipalities, where “electors” in each one of them choose the candidates for deputies who will later make up the central organs of power and their highest positions. For example, a candidate “elected” by the municipality of Santa Clara can be the President of the country, with only 0.21% of the total number of Cubans entitled to vote. Such is the peculiarity of the Cuban electoral system.

“Elections” in the midst of the deepest crisis

The March 26 “elections” will take place in the midst of the worst crisis in Cuba’s history, with a people racked by growing poverty, regular public protests, and a massive exodus, which has put on the agenda the deterioration of governance and a debate as to whether or not Cuba is a failed state. One of the manifestations of this state of affairs were the municipal “elections” of November 27, 2022, when the protest vote rose to 38.90% of the electorate, and, in the capital of the country, to approximately half of it.

Therefore, what the Government ought to do, in order to really legitimize itself, is to change the electoral system and, with it, the totalitarian model imposed. Instead, in the absence of the political will to do so, it has opted to embrace the Russian oligarchic model as the only way to preserve power and its privileges.