Elections in the US and Cuba

Graham Sowa

HAVANA TIMES — It is election time in the United States (Nov.4) and Cuba (Oct.21). While the campaign has been going on for over a year in my home country I have only just recently seen the candidate biographies for the Cuban elections posted up in the windows of schools, hospitals, and bakeries.

Last week I received my official ballot to vote in the United States 2012 general elections. It is one page, front and back. There are 34 different races I need to vote in, from President to Country Commissioner. Deciding who to vote for in 17 of those races will not take much thought, since they are uncontested.

In these uncontested races only one candidate is standing for election. This means that this person will win by default, since in Texas we do not have a “none of the above” option.

This phenomenon of uncontested elections is repeated in many counties and states all over my country, mostly at the local level. This is usually because one of the two parties has such broad support no one even bothers running in opposition. Of course since I am from Texas these uncontested elections will all be won by Republicans.

In spite of this, and the many other problems, with the practice of our particular flavor of democracy in The United States some friends and I took it upon ourselves to at least hear out the presidential candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

To see the drama unfold, and maybe even learn a little bit about each candidate, we went to the Hotel Parque Central this past Wednesday night to watch the first United States Presidential Debate.

The debate between President Obama and Governor Romeny was not a televised event in Cuba outside of those households that can afford a very expensive satellite T.V., the more popular hotels with international tourists, and those Cubans who find less than legal ways to get a satellite signal in their homes.

Watching the debate was a somewhat lonely affair between the four of us. There was an older man who sat down about half way through, but he was drifting in and out of sleep as the event proceeded.

From what I learned in the debate the differences between the candidates is clear. Both need to do something about the fact that our country has a profound debt and massive spending requirements.

President Obama would like to collect more money from rich people in the form of taxes. Governor Romney believes his plan to lower the tax rate will create more jobs, and from the income that is generated by those jobs the tax revenue will increase. Of course there are more nuances to each candidate’s plan than this, but these were the brightest highlights of the discursive exchange.

I don’t know who “won” the debate, and I missed any coverage that Cuban media gave to. What I have been seeing more of in Cuban media recently is news about upcoming elections on the island later this month.

Most national news coverage is focused on the general participation of Cubans in these elections. They publish numbers of deputies that have been nominated at meetings of Poder Popular, neighborhood based political organizations, that have taken place.

It is a good thing I read about the elections in the newspaper, because otherwise I might not have even known they were going on. I say this because I spend the majority of my day with Cubans, yet I rarely hear any talk about the elections. Maybe that is just because I’m a foreigner and for whatever reasons people have they don’t think it is worthwhile to bring up with me.

From the few conversations I have had with Cubans about their elections there seems to be an apathy, especially among the youth, that I am all too familiar with. In Cuba, as in the United States, it is the same story in a different language: “my vote doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care”, “nothing will change”, and the saddest of them all “what elections?”.

From what I can tell the campaigning in Cuba is limited to one sheet biographies with the candidate’s photo that are posted alongside each other in public places within their respective communities. There are no commercials on T.V. or fliers mailed to home. At least the Cubans are not wasting a billion dollars on their elections. In the United States our apathy comes with a price tag.

Anyway, I’ve never been apathetic toward politics, quite the opposite really, so I took time to read a few of these candidate biographies. Within the biographies all verbs appear to be in the past or present tense, no talk of anything in the future. As a student of the Spanish language I can assure the reader that this is not because of the lack of verb tenses needed to express oneself in a determined or undetermined future.

But even if there is little discussion of policy change on the local level in Cuba at least they can honestly say they have contested elections. Remember that on half of my United States ballot I don’t have more than one choice.

With the lack of choice, in whatever form, it comes as no surprise to myself that the biggest guaranteed similarity between the two elections will be a less than majority turnout of youth to the polls on election day. Perhaps it is my generation that is at fault and we are genuinely unexcitable about any type of political process, be it in the United States or Cuba.

Or maybe it is because in either country we feel that no matter what kind of media drama and idealistic slogans that are thrown around leading up to the election that the days, weeks and months after the voting is done life will be largely unchanged.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

10 thoughts on “Elections in the US and Cuba

  • Here in the USA our candidates are forced to cover all aspects of the near future. Notably the exciting and profound concern for Big bird.
    I see that there has been a great change in Cuban import taxes. WOW the plane we flew into Havana was full of people bringing in goods from Miami, yet we were not supposed to purchase a bottle of rum on our return. I’ll bet that would have upset the balance of trade between our countries. :-))
    Sorry we missed you for dinner that thursday Graham.
    My espanol is slowly getting more fluent and sure would like to return to Cuba for an etended vacation,but not spend so much money on meals and dining out.
    How are things going with you?
    My health is fine after quadriple bypass.

  • Somehow, ‘Susan L’s habitual praise for ‘Moses’ always reminds me of what used to be called ‘self-abuse’. “I love, you, I love you ooh, please don’t stop now”. But she doesn’t agree with some of his ‘other positions’. Hmm, one’s imagination tends to run riot. Maybe he’s left-handed.

    Sorry, but it’s obvious what we are looking at here. Skimming through the rest of ‘her’ comment, it’s all personal, directed at me so I guess I’ll leave it at that.

    I wonder how Graham feels about the praise he received from his fellow American. With friends like that… He deserves better, I think.

  • You make a snide remark about Cuba, referring to their system of government “or lack thereof”. They have a very strong, defined system, as anyone who has visited Cuba knows, presumably, including you, if you have been honest about what you write.

    It’s just not the system you want, which is the crux of the problem. As a spokesperson for the US government, you are a representative of US interests and policies – that cannot leave Cuba alone to follow and deal with the system they havet.

    Do I want the same system in Canada that Cuba has? Cuba is a country under siege, for the same period of time that its government has been in power. There’s more than coincidence here. Governments under siege, for obvious reasons, tend to be maintained in power. Revolutionary leaders and their parties also tend to stay in power.

    There’s nothing unusual here. You incessantly bring it up to imply the Cuban government stays in power through force. From what I saw in Cuba, less force is used to maintain authority than is used in my country, that now routinely employs police dressed as Robocops using batons, shields, pepper spray. tasers and plastic handcuffs during protests and demonstrations, employing crowd control techniques like ‘kettling’, resembling a cattle round-up – treating people like livestock.

    Cuba’s system of government is responsible for social services that capitalist countries can only manufacture excuses for why they don’t have them – or that maintain a blockade, hoping to eliminate the embarrassment?

    Canada’s governments are responsible for achieving a higher level of social services that is habitually characterised as “socialism” by Americans. I’m happy we have these services and would like to see Canada build on its achievements.

    Cuba shows what can be done in providing social services to its people but it’s not a model to be followed unless Canada had to endure what Cuba has had to. After all, it’s a model that has been successful at warding off the US Empire for 53 years, which is something.

    The American way simply doesn’t work except for a small percentage of its citizens, typically referred to as the 1%. That 1% obviously wants to keep it that way but it doesn’t make much sense for the 99%. There’s plenty of evidence that the natives are increasingly becoming restless.

    It’s fine with me but the 1 percenters seem to be concerned that the restlessness will grow if the home folks see what is happening elsewhere. And Cuba, unfortunately is having to pay the price.

    ‘Luis’ has already made the point but I’ll reinforce it – no one would give a fig about your country if it left the rest of us alone. Canadians have traditionally expected citizens of other countries not knowing much about us. It’s not due to our small size – after the break-up of the USSR we are now the largest geographically – it’s because we don’t poke our nose in others’ business.

    My “venom”, as you call it, is reserved for this site because YOU are here. Why ARE you here? It obviously has nothing to do with caring about Cubans. It obviously has to do with promoting US policies. You, my friend, are the one who is out of place here.

    You ask, “You seem to believe that beating your wife is acceptable because your neighbor beats his wife?”

    You are not my wife. You are the neighbour who is beating his “wife” – Cuba – and I am coming to its aid because I don’t see myself as someone who stands by and watches abuse happen, especially after spending time in Cuba. What your country is doing is totally outrageous.

    If, as you write, “What is wrong in Cuba is wrong in Cuba”, then I ask again why are YOU here? “Does this precept evade YOU?”

    To be clear, I came to HT to learn about Cubans written by Cubans. There I found an element that clearly did not come from Cubans, nor friends of Cubans, but from it’s enemy, the one that has maintained a 50 plus year blockade that has caused a great deal of economic difficulties for ordinary Cubans each year. Multiplied by 50, it becomes totally outrageous, to say the least.

    You are clearly not here to just express your opinions, incessantly, obsessively. As ‘Luis’ points out, “Your are different.” Clearly different. You are here to propagandize for the acknowledged enemy of Cuba.

    I cannot stand by and watch this happen. If you think I am unfairly bashing your country, it’s because you are here. I point out the obvious – the blockade is responsible for most of Cuba’s economic problems – not all, but as long as there’s an external threat it becomes the major problem that needs to be dealt with.

    I also offer, with others, an outside perspective of what it’s like in other countries, in order to give Cubans a realistic picture so they can have a better perspective on their government, not the unrealistic propagandist one that you constantly offer that bears no resemblance to reality.

    It should be obvious that what you are doing is triggering what I am doing. The more I do research to respond to your propaganda, the more appalled I am at what I’m seeing but I have no interest in addressing what your citizens are up against. Perhaps I should be, but Americans have it more in their power to change their world than citizens of other countries that are being oppressed by their government do so I’ll stick with that.

  • at least cubanos don´t spend 2 billion or more on the presidential election. huffington post reports arrests at a bain capital owned company in illinois. what exquisite timing!

  • “As this is a blog about life in Cuba, you seem fixated on anti-US commentary. Wouldn´t your venom be more effective on a site dedicated to US policy?”

    Moses, Moses… you fail to recognize – or pretend not to – that ‘US policy’ (which you commented in an earlier post as if it were the most natural thing in the world) directly influences ‘life in Cuba’. And to talk about ‘venom’… I comment here longer than you do. I exchanged and battled ideas with a Cuban whose ideology is diametrically opposed to mine, Julio. I could learn from him, and he from me, I guess. Not with you. You are different. You are by far the most ‘poisonous’ person this site has ever endured.

  • Amen Moses! Even though I don’t agree with some of your positions I respect your views which are obviously based on real Cuba experiences. I don’t think our confused and inexperienced Lawrence really has an idea of what life is like in Cuba, the good and bad, the accomplishments and the serious problems. He is very long winded, constantly repeats himself, and seems to have a big chip on his shoulder that makes it impossible to carry out an intelligent conversation on Cuba, which is the subject of this website.

    By the way, thanks Graham for your personal observations based on being a US citizen studying in Cuba.

  • Lawrence, do you wish for Canada the same system (or lack there of) that exists in Cuba that has maintained the same leadership for 53 years? Is that what you want? Also, are you capable of responding to any post or comment made thereto without bashing the US. As this is a blog about life in Cuba, you seem fixated on anti-US commentary. Wouldn´t your venom be more effective on a site dedicated to US policy? You seem to believe that beating your wife is acceptable because your neighbor beats his wife? What is wrong in Cuba is wrong in Cuba regardless of what may or may not be worse in the US. Does this precept evade you?

  • For elections in capitalist Canada, if I could “only see a mug shot and read a short resume of the candidates”, I would be “screaming bloody murder” only if I didn’t know or trust the candidate. The point is, in the system I’m under, there is no reason to trust candidates. The reality is, they are beholden to powerful lobby groups in order to get elected. Why should I think they will care about me or my concerns?

    I don’t hate the US. I detest what it is doing to Cuba. Who would not? The entire world has condemned the blockade, save the US, of course, and Israel.

    Would I be happy if I had no way to judge “whether a candidate was working for your hated USA or its agents in Canada”?

    If there is no reason to think a candidate was working against the common good, there is no reason to be unhappy with them. What you see, or characterise as hate, is a figment of you imagination, or your propaganda. Believe me, if I hated, you would know it, in case you failed to notice I’m not shy about expressing my feelings.

    Re: ” No debate, no issues, no policy statements?” It’s possible to have all three within common understandings of the common good – what is good for all. That’s what socialism represents. If you want to debate what’s good for all vs what’s good for a few, I’ll contest the validity of the debate.

    You want me to let you know why know why “the blockade prevents Cuba from having elections like in Venezuela, for example”.

    No other country in the world, throughout history, including Venezuela, has had to endure a 50+ year blockade. Blockades are acts of war. Democratic institutions change in wartime to address the external threat.

    My one-track issue – the blockade – is core to Cuba’s economic problems -which is why I keep coming back to it. Seems extremely rational, no?

    Is there any part of this you don’t understand? I’ll be happy to explain further.

  • Lawrence, I think you are once again going off the deep end head first. If for the elections in your capitalist Canada you could only see a mug shot and read a short resume of the candidates you would be screaming bloody murder. You would have no way of judging whether a candidate was working for your hated USA or its agents in Canada. Would you really be happy if the candidates didn’t have to state their positions on anything? No debate, no issues, no policy statements? If so, I highly recommend the Cuban elections. It would be your paradise.

    O yes, I forgot to mention your one-track issue: The blockade. I’m sure you will let us know why the blockade prevents Cuba from having elections like in Venezuela, for example.

  • Hi Graham,

    There’s another something about the US presidential debate that is worth noting. Most of the candidates running were barred from the debate – three of the five. I watch Democracy Now and they had two of them on, giving them an opportunity to say what they would have said after each question if they were allowed to participate. But of course, only a fraction of Americans see Democracy Now. So much for democracy in action.

    Reading what you wrote, I think it should be said that you are seeing Cuban elections through the eyes of someone conditioned to view elections as a confrontational process. Who said it has to be this way?

    It’s based on a capitalist model where you ‘compete’ for customers, and for votes. The assumption is, politicians serve their own interests unless they are stopped by other politicians, serving THEIR own interests.

    There is another model, however, one of cooperating for the common good. I think it’s called socialism.

    Competition is embedded in capitalism. It’s media works on a ‘villain-victim’ model – it’s sensational, and it sells. Is it possible what you are seeing in Cuba is not apathy but a normal state, to be expected without this high drama?

    American culture is high drama, I think you will agree. It can be exciting, but is it what leads to the well-being for all?

    It’s likley Cuban youth have been infected with the American model. Most of the world has, an infection we are coming to realise what it costs us.

    I just learned ‘campaign literature’ in Cuba consists of candidate biographies. Doesn’t this make more sense than hollow promises, rarely fulfilled, and how good-looking or sounding you are on camera?

    What citizens really want to know is if the person who is seeking your vote is intelligent, educated and trustworthy to do the job, not how glib or ‘media-friendly’ they are..

    Something to think about.

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