Cuba: Farce or free elections?

By Helmut Reuter, Isaac Risco and Martin Fischer

logo-eleccionesHAVANA TIMES (dpa) — Cubans went to the polls on Sunday in a single-party election that the government described as free and dissidents and human rights activists slammed as a farce, the “ritual of a totalitarian model.”

Turnout was high, as expected: according to the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, more than 86 per cent of the people registered to vote had already cast their ballots one hour before polling stations closed.

But the biggest news, in fact, was a rare public appearance from the communist island’s long-time leader, Fidel Castro, who cast his ballot in Havana on Sunday at a centre in the El Vedado district.

He was once again a candidate to hold one of the more than 600 seats in the National Assembly.

It was almost a year since the 86-year-old former president, who gave up power for health reasons in mid-2006 after coming to power in 1959, had last appeared in public.

He had not been shown live on Cuban television since March, during the visit to the island of Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI.

In recent months, there were rumors about his death, and photographs of him were published in Cuban state media in October and January.

As he cast his ballot, Castro spoke to reporters for more than an hour. Bent by old age and with a weak voice, the man who was once known for his hours-long addresses before national and international audiences commented on various issues.

“I am sure that the Cuban people are a truly revolutionary people,” he said.

“Elections here are not like in the United States, where only a minority votes. We cannot ever let that happen, because here it is the people that rule.”

Around 8.6 million Cubans were registered to vote for 612 legislators and 1,269 delegates in 15 provincial assemblies. The Cuban Communist Party (PCC) was the only party involved in the election, because it is the only one that is legal on the island.

The International Society for Human Rights (ISHR) said the vote shows the absence of democratic processes in Cuba.

“Every candidate on the list is ‘elected’ automatically, without any alternatives,” the ISHR said.

Neither the National Assembly nor the regional legislatures are allowed to do anything that is nor previously authorized by President Raul Castro, who took over from his brother.

The results of the election were expected to be made public later Monday. Both Castro brothers were candidates to represent the eastern Santiago de Cuba province.

New legislators are set to come together in about two weeks for a session in which they will elect members of the Council of State. Raul Castro is expected to be re-elected president for a further five-year term.


27 thoughts on “Cuba: Farce or free elections?

  • February 7, 2013 at 9:32 pm
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    We have heated debate here, but we’re yet to see any reply from posters from Cuba regarding the election process. I’d like to ask some specific questions. Are some voters made to vote, or they will have consequence? Are voter’s votes are traceable so later the authority will know who voted whom or who voted none? Can they put some name on the ticket so they can vote or do they have any opportunity to nominate someone not on the official list?

  • February 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm
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    Editor, I have posted a reply to above post a day ago, why it can’t show up here? It seems that even in your open minded website, you decide which one can be posted, which one can’t. Is this ironic that even in your Internet space the speech of freedow is curtailed.
    It is called by ” moderation”, not by censure ship this time around.

  • February 7, 2013 at 9:11 am
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    I too favour an expansion of direct democracy in our countries (you in the US, I assume, & myself in Canada). I come at it from a conservative point of view: less government is better government. You may come from a different point of view, but we can agree that direct democracy is more “democratic”.

    You make a pretty big assumption that the people in Cuba don’t want democracy or free elections. Given that the regime does not allow free speech, free association or the formation of any political parties other than the Communist party, the evidence is that the people do want those things, otherwise such restrictions would not be seen by the regime as necessary to protect their hold on power.

    You are free to criticize the abuses and weaknesses of the US electoral system. I am sure you would not happily accept a ban on free speech & free association by the US government. Yet you seem to endorse such repression in Cuba. Are you saying Cubans can’t handle freedom?

  • February 7, 2013 at 5:26 am
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    Interesting, but if they don’t want it (as seems the case based on election turnout and the lack of social upheaval) you can’t force it on them, that would be exactly the opposite of a democratic process, don’t you think?
    In a side note, I do support democracy, I just don’t think that representation is good enough or even democratic enough in todays society. We live in a time where we can do a secure bank transaction from our mobile phones from almost everywhere, so why we need someone to represent our opinion when we can vote directly on the issues that concern us? Why are we allowing the open bribing of our politicians (aka lobbying) to shift their focus from the issues affecting their electorate to the interests of the rich and powerful? Why the circus that forces us to pick the lesser evil from a very small pool of candidates that share the same core principles?

  • February 6, 2013 at 6:54 pm
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    I don’t argue for freedom and democracy in Cuba because the US calls for it.

    I support Cuban freedom & democracy because it’s good for the Cuban people. After all, it’s been the best system for everybody else who tried it. I don’t see why the Cuban people don’t deserve the chance to be free and decide for themselves how they want to live.

  • February 6, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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    Then you must accept that US motivations on this issue does not arise from sticking to democracy principles and at the very best US governments have been using a double standard to judge similar situations on different countries.

    From there, you must also accept that US actively working towards government change in another sovereign country is an act of aggression and an unwelcome meddling in that other country internal affairs and that said country has the right to defend itself against said meddling. And whatever similar situations arise around the world, is common to see the erosion of democratic principles in order to enhance the chance of self-preservation, specially if there is a huge asymmetry in the balance of power between the involved countries.

    I don’t have anything against your objection, after all regardless of the cause, a radicalization of the Cuban revolution did indeed happen back then, but then they had a rationale to act the way they did and as I mentioned elsewhere it was the openly hostile stance of the US government and a review of Cuban history what required a monolithic stance where opposition was frowned upon. And from there things got worse once they had to align themselves with the Soviet block as the only way to survive.

    Ignoring the elephant in the room serves no purpose, and you can’t see the history of the Cuban revolution isolated from US actions, not even now 50 years later.

  • February 6, 2013 at 11:35 am
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    you repeated blamed Cuba equally for the hostile situation between 2 countries ,not just in your post above. Sorry you must have bad memory. I did not say anything to approve Castro government, but strongly disapprove US attitude. To launch personal attack is what you do to stick the topic? Moreover your dual logic is , disapproval of one side is automatical approval of other side. How naive and extreme the logic is. Besides It is you who brought more general discussion about Cuba that I followed up. The Cuba election is part of their political and social system, especially it is under prime threat from a next door Superpower. Whatever it is proper or not, it is decided by majority of Cuba people. If you don’t like them, why did you repeatedly visit them, you did not go there to advocate to fight with their government, did you?

  • February 6, 2013 at 10:37 am
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    In no way have I ever defended Batista. I condemn US support for dictators such as Batista and many others. Don’t try to lay that false dichotomy onto me: if anybody criticizes Castro then they are automatically defending Batista and all US policy toward Cuba. That is the Big Lie of the Cuban Revolution.

    The Cuban people had very good reason to distrust the US when they were rebelling against the dictatorship.

    My argument is against the manner in which the revolution was, in the opinion of many Cubans, hijacked by the Marxist faction lead by Fidel Castro. As he said at the time, “We did not win a revolution so that we could lose an election”. Castro cancelled the promised free & open elections and instead imposed his own totalitarian programme onto Cuba.

    The irony is, of course, if Castro had held free elections in 1959 or 1960, as promised, he would have won them by a huge landslide. But he would also have legitimized the existence of a legal opposition, which was anathema to his design.

  • February 6, 2013 at 10:18 am
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    Did you bother to read my post? “Siege” is a word with a specific meaning, a military action in which the besieged place is surrounded by military forces, all access in & out is cut off and all communications are cut off, or extremely limited.

    Clearly, this does not apply to Cuba. Millions of tourists visit Cuba every years. Cuba imports & exports billions of dollars worth of goods. The only limitations to communications are those imposed by the regime against the Cuban people.

    Curiously enough, the alleged besieging force, the USA, actually exports hundreds of millions of dollars of food to Cuba every year, while Cuban ex-pats send billions of dollars to their families in Cuba.

    How is that in anyway a siege? To call it a siege is nonsense. It does not mater how many regime apologists you can line up to parrot the talking points: it’s not a “siege”.

  • February 5, 2013 at 8:56 pm
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    Batista cancelled free elections, suspended the constitution and seized the power with the support of the army and the approval of US government. He was US “strong man” against communism in the Caribbean and small details like a military coup and ~10000 tortured and killed is nothing between fiends. Where was the massive outrage and de unanimous condemn?
    Hint, it wasn’t because Batista was their puppet and danced to US tune and that was all that matters. Plain and simple self-interest, not morals nor doing the right thing.
    At very least, in your analysis you are applying a double standard, condemning in a situation things that you approve in other, and that’s the very definition of hypocrisy.
    Besides, as far as I can tell Cuba is not planning to overthrow US government and it never had. Every single movement has been defensive and threading carefully not to create a unavoidable conflict they can’t win. Not now, not in 1960 and not even during the missile crisis that they planned to use as deterrent of new invasions.

  • February 5, 2013 at 8:11 pm
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    I did not blame the two sides equally. I will leave that to each observer to decide.

    However, you speak as if the Castro regime is the legitimate, only and complete voice of the Cuban people. They have never allowed the people free speech or a free choice.

    There have been dozens of condemnations of Cuba’s numerous and profound human rights abuses, from the UN and several other organizations. Just this week Amnesty International condemned the unjust imprisonment of the Author Angel Santestieban.

    Typical of Castro apologists, you continue to try to make any discussion about Cuba about how bad the US is. Is this displacement? projection? Or just a cheap tactic to change the subject? The bottom line is Cuban elections are a farce. Fidel cancelled the elections he promised before the revolution and there hasn’t been a free & open election since.

  • February 5, 2013 at 6:04 pm
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    Good point. After 911 which by itself is the blowback seen by many Americans, including Ron Paul, US civil liberty is greatly curtailed for reason of national security to this very date. At most US is just facing a peripheral treat from far away guerrilla treat. If even superpower will do such thing for their security, then Cuba has more legitimate reason for their security concern in face of open hostile superpower of next door. Actually Cuba does show some paranoid reaction, but it’s US to be blamed for. Consider the circumstance, Cuba is quite relax to its dissidents already,

  • February 5, 2013 at 4:26 pm
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    Castro cancelled free elections and seized private property first. The US imposed the embargo in response to those actions.

    Yes a state of hostility exists between the 2 countries. The US committed aggression against Cuba, true enough. But Cuba also committed aggressive acts against the US. It is naive to paint Cuba as completely innocent in this relationship. Both countries created the situation and both will have to work toward resolving it.

    No tyranny can last forever. Change comes one way or another.

  • February 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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    I am so honored and happy to share the viewpoint of commenters like Dan Christensen, ac and Jonathan Wu, with regard to the Cuban electoral process. Thank you three for rapping the tag-team of Griffin & Moses with the noble hammer of truth.

    By comparison with the electoral process in the US–which is well known for having the best government money (the banks) can buy–the Cuban process is a thousand times more democratic.

    My main criticism–which is not really a criticism, but is a comradely suggestion–is that the Cuban “elections” might better be called the “confirmation plebiscite,” or even the “confirmation elections,” to emphasize the ground-up selection process that is the real heart of the process–superbly attested to by Dan.

  • February 5, 2013 at 2:02 pm
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    You put blame equally to Cuba and US is laughable and unrational.
    Can I equally blame Cuban goverment and its issident for their mutual hostile sisuation? Besides, has ever a single UN document condemed Cuba’s attitude to US?
    Cuba, like any other country in world, your country ( if you arent Cuba citizen ) included , has internal issues. But if basic international sense prevails, this isn’t basis to take hostile attitude to Cuba. Or most countries can take hostile attitude to the very country other way around. You advocate dissident voice in Cuba, but you are very much against a dissident voice of Cuba in world.

  • February 5, 2013 at 1:46 pm
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    To deny Cuba being in siege is totally nonsense to me. But that is basis for many of your posts. If Cuba weren’t in this status, your posts may make sense, otherwise, ignoring the basic facts really made your posts problemic. Two other posters shared my stands too, and I believe this is common sense.

  • February 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm
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    If Cuba was under “seige” by the #1 military power they would not last 3 days. The US policy has prevented Cuba from taking advantage of its proximity to US markets and because of our economic prowess, Cuba is denied the privilege of using US currency in its international transactions. Both of these activities are within the legal and sovereign right of any nation. Were it not so, Cuba would have sought refuge in an international court of law. Instead, which is their right, Cuba seeks and receives a measure of approval in the international court of public opinion (United Nations). Were the US to lift the embargo against Cuba unilaterally, there is no reason to believe that the Castros would respond by moving toward democracy. On the contrary, the last 54 years have proven that the stubbornness of the Castro dictatorship would likely respond to such a change in US policy by doubling down on human rights violations and retreating into a more insular and totalitarian society.

  • February 5, 2013 at 12:52 pm
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    From wikipedia:
    “A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortress with the intent of conquering by attrition or assault”

    Say what you want, buy is perfectly reasonable metaphor to describe the US stance on Cuba.

    Regardless, the point is not the words used, being it embargo or blockade thats irrelevant. What matters is that the actions taken by the US government are not lies and their motivation is hostile towards the Cuban government and gives it a damn good pretext to be wary and promote laws that counter the very real threat in the name of the national security, even if erodes democratic principles. US government does the same in the “war against terrorism”, even when the terrorist threat is much smaller both scope and severity.

  • February 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm
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    Unfortunately, internet access in Cuba is extremely limited. Very few Cuban writers have sufficient access to read website comments and respond online.

    Now I must say, it is typical of a certain mindset to call comments which one disagrees with as “nonstop nonsense” and to call for me to be censured. Think about that.

  • February 5, 2013 at 11:48 am
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    It appears that neither you and me are Cuban residents. Since this website claimed to be an open-minded writing from Cuba, I expect some exchange from the authors inside Cuba. Thanks for your info though.

  • February 5, 2013 at 10:39 am
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    Words have meanings. I do not dispute that a hostile atmosphere exists between Cuba and the US, to which both sides have contributed. I do disagree with the use of the words, “siege” and “blockade”. To use those words to describe the relationship between US and Cuba is to bend poetic license beyond all reason.

    Definition of a siege:

    siege [si?d?] n 1. (Military)

    a. the offensive operations carried out to capture a fortified place by surrounding it, severing its communications and supply lines, and deploying weapons against it.

    Therefore, the word “siege” does not apply. To insist it does is to deny reality.

    The US does maintain a limited economic embargo on Cuba. If there was a siege, then I and millions of other Canadian tourists could never visit the island. If there was a blockade, then I could not buy Havana Club in my local liquor store. I have freely visited Cuba and I have purchased Havana Club at my local LCBO.

    Whether the Cuban government uses these facts to mask their own incompetence or to restrict freedoms is highly relevent. By regularly stirring up animosity with the US, the Cuban regime is fulfilling a policy goal. They do indeed benefit from the “siege mentality” they engender with the constant propaganda. For their part, the US serves that purpose too when they respond in kind.

    Whether the embargo should be lifted or not is a worthwhile topic to discuss. But it is far from clear how doing so will, as you suggest, force the Cuban government to provide more openness and freedom for the Cuban people. Given that the regime is constantly demanding the embargo end, it is quite clear they do not expect such a move will threaten their hold on power or require any change in their domestic program of political control.

    As you mentioned, the US laws which establish the embargo require Cuba to fulfill certain obligations before it can be lifted. It is unreasonable to expect the Cuban government to go that whole distance alone before the US takes any steps on their side. A more productive approach would be for each side to undertake a series of small steps, in this way building confidence and co-operation along the way.

    Obama recently relaxed restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba. Cuba recently reformed their immigration laws making it easier for Cubans to travel abroad. Those are both good first steps. However, the Cuban regime has made it clear there will be no political reforms. That is a failure on their part.

    Cuba should open up their political process and allow a plurality of political parties to compete for elections. To make that possible and viable, the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association need to be respected. Until the Cuban regime undertakes those basic democratic reforms, Cuban elections will continue to be a farce.

  • February 5, 2013 at 10:04 am
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    The Havana Times website is edited in Nicaragua by an America named Circles Robinson. The host server is in Germany.

    Mr. Robinson allows a generous degree of freedom for people to post their comments on his website, provided we respect basic codes of decency.

  • February 5, 2013 at 9:45 am
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    UN has resolution condemning such illegal siege year from year over 20 years already. You can just reverse black and white as you wish. It’s amazing Cuba still allows your nonstop nonsense appearing in a Cuba website withou censure. Ironically it is blockade that helps Cuba to maintain political system because under war crisis situation there isn’t incentive for any coutry to make any dramatic change.

  • February 5, 2013 at 8:20 am
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    Griffin, you say the same thing over and over again but that wont make it any more true than the first time. The US government considers Cuba an enemy state, most laws restricting trade and travel to Cuba derive from the trade with the enemy act

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trading_with_the_Enemy_Act_of_1917

    And to make things more explicit, there are a set of laws that require regime change in Cuba as a precondition to normalize relationships and urges both the president and Congress to work towards that goal

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuban_Democracy_Act
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helms-Burton_Act

    So yes, Cuban government is under siege from the #1 economy in the world and the #1 military power. These are not lies but demonstrably facts that everyone can check for themselves, to deny them is deny reality.

    Whether the Cuban government uses these facts to mask their own incompetence or to restrict freedoms is irrelevant; as a matter of fact, if the goal is to force the Cuban government to more openness and freedoms, removing this excuse would be a great start.

  • February 5, 2013 at 6:06 am
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    Cuba is not under siege. Neither is there a blockade. These lies are told by the regime to keep the Cuban people locked in fear and to provide the regime an excuse to deny all rights and freedoms. The elections are a farce. Nobody but a member of the Communist Party has ever won a seat, and nobody has ever been rejected by the vote. This is a top down exercise in propaganda and political control. By monopolizing the political process the regime engineers its continuation.

  • February 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm
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    1st comment is fair and rational. I just wonder why as Cuban authors you guys just ignore the fact. Of course the election isn’t ideal, nor the US election where funding plays key role. At the most you can say, the Party plays indirect role , but that is as like money did in US election. Between those two extreme form of elections, which one is more corrupt, more manipulate public opinion from bottom up? Consider Cuba is still under siege at this very moment, the authority is quite flexible to your website which really deserves credit unless you guys are all living outside Cuba.

    An US citizen

  • February 4, 2013 at 4:26 pm
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    Just because you can’t buy an election US-style does not mean it is not free. On the contrary, Cuban elections are freer than those in the US.

    Contrary to the claim made here, there are in fact no political parties involved in Cuban elections. By law, the Communist Party is not allowed to nominate or even endorse any candidates. The nomination process is an entirely grass-roots process. Candidates for the National Assembly are nominated by democratically elected Municipal Assemblies, who themselves were nominated for their positions in open public meetings in every neighbourhood. (Just under half of the candidates for National body are themselves members of their Municipal Assembly.)

    To keep things honest, Cuban voters themselves have the ultimate veto at the ballot box. It is possible for them to reject every candidate on the ballot and call for an entirely new slate of candidates and another vote — real power that US voters can only dream of.

    Cuban voters get to meet and question individual candidates at their workplaces. It costs nothing to run for and win even the highest public office.

    The authors seem frustrated that their US-backed dissident pals are getting nowhere in this process. The main reason for this, according to a top secret report by the head to the US Interest Section, Jonathan Ferrer, is that they spend most of their time fighting among themselves for funding and influence, giving little or no thought to issues of real leadership and reforms. (WikiLeaks)

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