HAVANA TIMES — Nominating is underway in Cuba for candidates who will run in the general elections, which will end with the election of parliament deputies and the president of the republic. In this first stage, grassroots assemblies are being organized in all neighborhoods, and candidates are being chosen from among local residents.
More than half of these municipal offices will be filled with new delegates, but no one expects any surprises at the national level. Most Cubans are convinced that Raul Castro will be reelected, along with almost all of the deputies being members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).
Much more attention is focused on the Venezuelan elections, because any change there could dramatically affect the lives of Cubans. The main source of income for the economy comes from the exchange with Caracas of medical services for oil.
Similarly, the outcome of the US election could have a major impact on the daily lives of people on the island, many of whom fear the return of travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans and reductions in remittances.
Edel Rivero, a 25-year-old teacher, believes “the elections in Cuba are symbolic because they’re not going to produce change.” He adds that what’s more important is “the election in Venezuela, because that relationship is key to Cuba,” along with “the US elections, because what happens there always affects us.”
“There will be no surprises in Cuba,” said dissident journalist Miriam Leiva, “the candidates nominated by the PCC will be elected, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the United States and Venezuela. If Chavez loses or weakens, the Cuban economy will spin into crisis.”
“The Cuban elections don’t stir great expectations, but the ones in the US do, because a Republican victory would mean cuts in remittances and travel,” says Enrique Lopez, a 70-year-old specialist in religions, adding “if Chavez lost, the supply of oil would be cut and our economy would collapse.”
The Cuban media is also giving special attention to the electoral processes in the US and Venezuela. This past Saturday, for example, official television made these their principal topics on the news program “La mesa redonda” (The Roundtable).
The value of health
The services of Cuban doctors in Venezuela account for the bulk of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, around $5 billion (USD) annually. According to Cuban economists, this surpasses the combined revenue coming from tourism, remittances, cigars, sugar and nickel.
Most of the labor of Cuba doctors, teachers and athletic coaches is paid for in the form of oil, but some sources claim that the sale of those services has reached such a level that Caracas is paying Havana an excess amount of money to keep the relationship balanced.
Bilateral cooperation is key for the reelection of President Chavez, who is running his campaign based on the social achievements of “missions” such as his “Barrio Adentro” program, where Cubans provide professional health care, education and sports service to the poorest areas of Venezuela.
Although opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said he will not suspend the agreement with Cuba, no one on the island believes that 35,000 Cuban doctors will remain in Venezuela if the opposition beats Chavez.
Tourism based on exiles
The other electoral process being carefully followed by Cubans is the one in the US. Most of them believe that if the Republicans manage to unseat President Obama, there will be more difficulties ahead for family relationships and therefore for their personal incomes.
Remittances from the US amount to around $1.2 billion (USD), equivalent to a quarter of what Cuban doctors produce in Venezuela, but this has great social significance because it’s money that goes directly into the people’s pockets.
Yet many fear that a Republicans return will mean prohibitions on travel to the island by Cuban-Americans, as occurred under President George W. Bush. Obama lifted the restriction but Miami Republicans are calling for its re-institution.
Since travel to Cuba was allowed, about 400,000 Cuban-Americans visit the island every year. According to the Bureau of Statistics, they have become the third largest tourist group staying in hotels – behind Canadians and Cubans who live on the island.
(*) See Fernando Ravsberg’s blog.