When I wander through the streets in this pre-electoral period, I usually find information boards posted in visible places (in windows, on walls, sides of buildings…) with the photos and biographies of candidates running for delegates to municipal assemblies (similar to city councils).
There always appear several of these photos and biographies since it’s mandatory for there to be at least two candidates (though theoretically there can be up to eight people nominated in a district). There are usually two, sometimes three and on rare occasions four people running for any one seat.
Technically, all candidates in Cuban municipal elections are independent. This is because they’re not proposed by any political party and therefore no party is allowed to campaign for or against any candidate.
The candidates are initially proposed by citizens in neighborhood assemblies, which later decide (by a show of hands) which of those individuals proposed will be nominated and will therefore appear on the ballot. Each district is made up of eight assemblies, which is why eight is the maximum number of candidates.
The photos and biographical sketches —possibly in addition to some personal information— are the sole sources of information that the electors have in making their decisions as voters. The candidates don’t appear in the media, they don’t debate each other and nor can they hold meetings or rallies with the voters.
It is supposed that we citizens decide on whom to vote for based on the person’s merits, which is what supposedly appears in their biography. Of course personal sympathies can also enter the game; this can come through personal knowledge of the candidate, references from friends or simply the charisma that is projected (or not) through the candidate’s photo.
In my opinion, the photos are always too official. A few people smile, but it’s not common. Most of the local leaders choose serious expressions, looking like they’re undergoing a police interrogation.
This has its logic: The eyes of the voters must theoretically make an examination of the future effectiveness (or not) of their potential representative using the photo as their basic source of information. It’s a type of democratic physiognomically-based assessment.
In this way, they peer at us from windows and walls. They are women and men, young and old, black, white and mestizo, fat and thin. There may appear two heavy-set black men, or two smiling young women. Sometimes you’ll find posted the face of a large older man (a retiree, white, gray-haired and with a mustache) next to the snapshot of black female housewife of an indefinable age (though this can be quickly ascertained from the biography), with her information posted alongside mulatto’s (a elegant young recent graduate of the military and a leader of the Young Communists).
Some candidates are grassroots members of the Young Communist League (UJC); others are in the Party, while different ones are members of neither organization. There’s not enough information to know how they think, because even within those organizations there exist a range of positions. This was clearly confirmed in the last public debates on the future of Cuba (in assemblies leading up to the recent UJC Congress) and is apparent in the pages of the official Granma newspaper, which on Fridays publishes some of the letters it receives from its readers, many reflecting divergent opinions.
The biographies, on the other hand, contribute some basic elements as to what each candidate knows how to do (according to their studies, the positions they’ve held and the work they’ve performed). Notwithstanding, this doesn’t say if they will or will not know how to solve the problems surrounding us.
Cuban law explicitly prohibits any electoral campaign information beyond the photos and the biographies, and candidates are not allowed to present programs or platforms.
I asked myself: Why aren’t we as voters able to find out how our future delegates propose to solve the problems of our neighborhoods? What do they think about the situation of the country and the paths to improving it? What do they intend to do in the municipal assemblies and the popular councils? Shouldn’t we at least know what their positions are on the issues discussed every Friday in Granma?
If you don’t ask a candidate directly, you probably won’t find the answers. For this election it’s already too late, but for the next one I’d like to see some modification in the law to allow candidates to briefly express their platforms, ideas and their plans for office.
That would mean more work for the electoral commissions and perhaps more for the voters when it comes election time, but I hope this also becomes a necessary (though insufficient) first step in the improvement of the functioning of our municipalities.