…and the victory of those voting “NO”
Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – There are two competing rivals in the referendum set for February 24th: YES and NO, and abstention is another way of voting NO.
There are strong campaigns online for all three alternatives, the Internet and social networks having become a heated battleground. Unfortunately, internet access in our country is still very limited and it continues to be exceptionally expensive for most Cubans, so, while it is an important forum of debate, it isn’t the most decisive.
This is why the main playing field for electoral campaigns in Cuba (like very few countries in the world today) continues to be a combination of more traditional media platforms such as TV, radio and press.
These channels of propaganda are strictly controlled by the Government, which means that they are completely reserved for the “YES” campaign, which is the official option. This, for a constitution written and promoted by the Communist Party’s Government, in line with its own interests and ideology.
Controlling 99.99% of propaganda offline, the YES campaign is at a great advantage. It doesn’t have 100% complete control though, due to the “daring” of some people who oppose it, who, protected by the night, risk their freedom to put up propaganda posters about their own political position and against the new Constitution or the Government. Daring which is treated as a serious crime, persecuted by huge deployments of police officers (which exceed those deployed in the worst of crimes), and heavily sentenced by courts.
However, while the NO campaign and Abstention are not allowed in any public media, the official “YES” campaign is being rammed down our throats. On public buses, at workplaces, in bodega ration stores, doctor’s offices, schools, government offices, fences along important streets and highways, everywhere. Even at schools where the vote will be held, on their facades and next to the ballot box! At least that’s how it was during the test-run last Sunday.
Video spots with compromised artists, well-known intellectuals or people who represent different social sectors, have also been made. And lastly, they use fragments of speeches or propaganda from Fidel Castro’s great archive, which were created for previous elections.
In these he refers to patriotism as support for the “Revolution”, in its never-ending battle against insatiable Imperialism. And, the Mesa Redonda TV program, which does deal with different issues, always makes time for an electoral pause and regularly dedicates a program to this referendum.
Will our people really have an objective and clear idea of what voting YES means if they are only listening to people pushing for YES, without listening to those who stand by voting NO, with their own reasons and arguments? Obviously, they won’t.
We have to add to this the traditional mechanisms of social control, fading because of apathy, failure and the system’s disrepute, but still very effective in transgressing commitments, fears, coercion and control.
The FEEM, FEU, CTC, CDR, FMC don’t do a lot, at least normally, but when situations like this come along, they become mobilized and give talks and manipulate people. And they do have influence, precisely because they don’t allow the counterpart, the other options to have any room for their own ideas, and they are criminalized.
A lack of civic spirit is something else that works against an honest and objective vote. Cubans have been castrated of their civic spirit by the system’s own framework, but mainly by our “education” system, which molds students from a very young age to worship certain emblematic heroes, to be loyal and afraid.
The truth is, we aren’t educated to be active citizens, with the moral duty of taking part in public life. We are instead trained to delegate this duty to others, to believe that this is solely for the those at the very top. And, that at the top, they know what they are doing.
This is why Cubans prefer to risk their lives and emigrate by sea or crossing through jungles, at the mercy of human traffickers, than dare to demand their rights to participate in Cuba’s political and economic life, in a democratic way.
We are very afraid of being honest and disagreeing with government actions and this fear paralyzes us because it was instilled in us from a very young age, and it takes a great deal to overcome this psychological burden.
With this panorama, there is no doubt that YES is the favorite to win at the polls.
Just imagine if people promoting the NO campaign were given just half an hour per week on Mesa Redonda to explain their reasons to the people; or a 10cm x 10cm space in Granma, in just that newspaper; or a half-hour slot on Radio Progreso; or if we were allowed to put our propaganda up in just 1 out of every 10 buses; or speak to fellow citizens just one day in the week.
It would still be unfair and discriminatory, but with this tiny and uneven space, we would beat the YES vote by a wide margin. This is why they don’t dare to open up a small space for the NO campaign, because the YES victory depends on forcefully silencing NO.
This is why if the NO vote manages to garner at least 20% of the vote, it would mean that we have a potential of being three times stronger, given the adverse conditions in this electoral race.
It would also mean that there has been a huge jump in terms of Cubans who dare to vote sincerely. Of the Cubans who are aware of the importance of this vote, of the civic responsibility we have, of the value of active citizenship. We will be gaining citizens as opposed to the lifeless robots we’ve been trained to be, compelled by fear and loyalty.
So, whatever the result of the referendum is, even with the YES campaign’s great advantages, the NO campaign will also win, because there’s no doubt that we’ll have made a quantitative leap as to the number of Cubans that voted with responsibility.
That is the importance of voting actively and honestly in this civic opportunity which is the seed of democratic change and the awakening our citizens.