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.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published by BBC Mundo.

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