Cuba/Elections: Criticism from Within

Fernando Ravsberg*

One of many unanimous votes in the Cuban parliament. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba has just concluded its general elections, and in their wake is the reflection of Guillermo Rodriguez, a revolutionary intellectual who is questioning some aspects of his country’s electoral system and is calling for more and better opportunities for participation.

Rodriguez is critical of there being no election campaigns in Cuba. “Not only do we not finance political campaigns, but we don’t even have political campaigns. Perhaps it’s because those are associated with ‘politicking’ – where candidates promise things they know they can’t deliver.”

He recalls that prior to 1959 the island politicians would lie to the electorate to win their votes – as is the case today in other countries. However, the Cuban intellectual believes that “eliminating political campaigns in order to eliminate politicking is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

“In Cuba, all candidate promotion and ads are banned. All that’s permitted is a brief biography of the candidate along with a small ID photo.”

Nonetheless, Rodriguez insists that citizens are “interested more in knowing what each candidate proposes to do as a deputy or what their projects would be as a legislator.”

Another criticism expressed in the article has to do with the district representation that parliament should observe. Many deputies are elected to represent places they haven’t lived in for decades – and in some cases they’ve never lived there.

Ballot boxes in Cuba are guarded by children. Photo: Raquel Perez

“It’s absurd for there to be a deputy from Sagua de Tanamo who hasn’t visited the town in a year,” maintains the intellectual. He argues that a deputy to parliament “should know the problems, deficiencies, and needs of their region and their constituents, and they need to address those through legislation.”

“The economy is crying for decentralizing; the country needs a political life,” he said. “Little or no attention is paid to the Cuban legislators since they can’t address the problems that affect and sometimes overwhelm their constituents.”

To make matters worse, the image portrayed for decades on Cuban TV has been that of a parliament that limits itself to unanimously “legalizing” each of the measures announced by the executive.

Cubans have never seen a deputy questioning a ministerial or executive report.

Electors in Cuba must vote for their representatives from a list that indicates a single candidate for each position. The citizen doesn’t have the option of choosing between one candidate or another. The most they can do is not vote for those they don’t like.

Consequently, Rodriguez says, “If the voter doesn’t have anyone to select from, the (Candidature) Commission is the entity that determines the makeup of the Assembly (…) In practice, it’s the Candidature Committee that elects the deputies.”

He also questions the inclusion of 50 percent of the candidates not being elected (at the local level) by the public. “That’s too much, when in fact most of them are government officials. I think it diminishes the critical capacity of the National Assembly to assess the performance of government.”

Vote counting in Cuba is public, any citizen can be present. Foto: Raquel Pérez

Given this, he proposes a rather moderate change. He suggests Cuban parliament increase its representativeness by including “individuals of recognized prestige and those without commitments to the government, though they could be members of the Communist Party.”

Rodriguez concludes his article asserting that “the adoption of these measures would significantly expand the democratic nature of our elections and thus strengthen the links between the public and their representatives. It would do us good.”

Apparently he’s not the only one who thinks this way. His analysis was reproduced in several leftist Cuban blogs, including Segunda Cita, by singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.

Apparently, now the criticism is coming from within the revolution, and it’s being expressed by those who continue to support socialism.
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(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.
 

10 thoughts on “Cuba/Elections: Criticism from Within

  • February 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm
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    Given how Poder Popular’s excellent-in-theory democratic concepts have been corrupted by the bureaucracy of the government and the PCC’s ossification -too many of the same people in power too long – and the inevitability of such entrenched groups to become self-preserving then corrupt, then totalitarian (as anarchist thought has it ) , there needs to be some reforms.

    Term limits might be a good idea as well as having the elections to the Provincial and National Assemblies be by popular rather than by inside the Assembly voting as it is now and which guarantees that either the same people are constantly elected or else people with the same institutional thinking as those who are replaced by term limits.
    Democracy must run from the bottom up.

    Even though it runs counter to my anarchist thought which says that a democratically run economy must precede any democratic form in government and this because of the power of capitalism to corrupt any government , Cuba’s state “socialism” is democratic enough in its effects to PERHAPS not have this democracy-in-the-economy-first rule be upheld.

    A shift to popular voting in ALL the Assemblies coupled with term limits may well be what is needed to bring about a more equitable and far more democratic Cuban society .

    Lastly , once universal internet /computer access is made available, national dialogue can be had on all issues and all eligible voters could then vote on every issue that is of importance to them .

    If the teachings of Fidel and the revolution have done their job, the government and the PCC have nothing to fear from allowing free rein to their wishes and if the Cuban people have decided that bourgeois ‘democracy” and capitalism is what they want to return to, then there’s nothing but trouble ahead for them.

    Either way, they can’t maintain the status quo and Raul et al are not moving fast enough . The current spate of reforms, in my opinion,are analogous to trying to get a stalled car moving and alternately pushing it and then stepping on the brakes.
    The momentum of change and reform must be smoothed out and allowed to progress.

    Grady Daugherty’s cooperatives would be a possible good start toward more economic freedom because of the inherent democratic safeguards of co-ops that would enhance equity and not endanger societal democracy.

    I welcome any comments on these suggestions and also alternative ways to move the revolution towards more democratic forms (which excludes any slippery-slope moves to capitalism ) .

    Reply
  • February 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm
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    The farce that is ‘democratic elections’ in Cuba now has it’s detractors from within? Could it be that in five years when the next election is held, Raul Castro will not be up for reelection?

    Reply
    • February 28, 2013 at 8:01 pm
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      how wrong were u?!! its so funny to see how you think you know everything about cuba, then there it comes bammmm

      Reply
  • February 15, 2013 at 9:12 am
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    “Not only do we not finance political campaigns, but we don’t even have political campaigns. Perhaps it’s because those are associated with ‘politicking’ – where candidates promise things they know they can’t deliver.”

    Instead, the Castro regime promises things it can’t deliver without ever having been elected in the first place, and no chance of ever holding them accountable.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2013 at 11:13 am
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    Your “revolutionary intellectual” does not seem to be very well informed on national elections in Cuba.

    1. Voters actually get to meet and question every candidate face-to-face, usually at meetings at their places of work.

    2. Each electoral district actually sends several delegates to the National Assembly — typically 4 or 5, depending on the population. They are all nominated not by any central authority, as seems to be suggested here, but by the democratically elected Municipal Assemblies. Voters have the final veto at the ballot box, of course. If the majority does not clearly indicate their support for any candidate, another candidate must be put forward and another vote held.

    3. I don’t know the results for these last elections in this regard, but in the 1993 elections under the same rules, 48% of the National Assembly were also members their own democratically elected Municipal Assemblies. Contrary to claim made here, every member of National body, whether a member of his or her own local assembly or not, is democratically elected. Every one of them, including Fidel and Raul themselves, must obtain the support of the majority in their district.

    4. The proposal given here was implemented long ago — no later than 1992 with the electoral reforms of that year put into law. Again, candidates for the National Assembly are not nominated by any central authority, but by the democratically elected local assemblies. And voters have the final veto at the ballot box. Candidates for the Municipal Assemblies are nominated by the voters themselves in open public meetings in their own neighbourhoods.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm
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    I think a major problem comes from the fact that the PCC is the only legal political party, per the Constitution; and also that Marxism-Leninism is established as the official ideology of Cuba. (This is similar to what theocracies do by establishing one church and one religion.) With this sort of straight-jacket on the people, it is of minor importance to advocate adjustments to the strings of the straight-jacket.

    There might have been justification for this sort of political and social rigidity in the first couple of decades, given the attacks by the empire, but it should not have been idealized and allowed to become the party’s ideal.

    But the operational factor that has allowed the process of social transformation to wind up somewhat in a blind alley is the lack Leninist democratic centralism within the PCC. Loyal tendencies within the ruling party are not able to organize for various policies or possible changes of any sort. This has led to routine rubber-stamping of higher-up decisions and higher-up thinking.

    Perhaps Guillermo Rodriguez could devise a formal program for specific amendments to the Constitution.

    Reply
  • February 16, 2013 at 10:48 am
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    The candidate list did not get 100% endorsement. My question is, why are there no deputies representing those who did not endorse the list?

    Reply
    • February 17, 2013 at 12:39 am
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      In Cuba, the majority rules. Every Assembly member represents the majority in their district. If any candidate in national elections is unable to obtain the support of the majority in their district, another candidate must be put forward and another vote held until majority support is obtained.

      Reply

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