Ballot Boxes in Cuba Have Spoken Once Again

Woman voting with Fidel and Raul Castro looking on. Photo:

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – Sometimes silence speaks louder than a thousand words. That saying proved true Sunday, November 27, when Cuba held municipal elections and over 30% of the population abstained.

The elections were to choose the delegates from each neighborhood, traditionally decorative figures who don’t resolve anything for anyone, because they have no power, and are merely shuffled from one institution or state company to another, receiving the same justifications everywhere, when they channel the same problems, year after year.

Hence, it’s logical that when it came time to choose these 12,427 People’s Power delegates (potencial city council members), 31.5% of the population preferred to remain home watching the soccer world cup or to go out with their families.

That’s the official statistic, and I’ll believe it’s correct unless the opposite is proven.

At any rate, the abstention figure even seems a little low, although it’s double the abstentionism from similar elections celebrated in 2017. Those resulted in 14% of the population expressing their indifference.

I should add to this that of the votes actually cast, another 5.22% were left blank and 5.07% were annulled. That’s over 500 thousand people who left their ballots blank or deliberately spoiled them, in some cases even scrawling anti-government slogans across their ballot. Adding those figures onto the abstentions, a total of 41% of the electorate – nearly half – either stayed away or actively opposed the electoral farce.

Returning to the case of the indifferent, we should recall that in September of this year, when Cubans voted on approving a new Family Code, 25% didn’t go to the polls; of the valid votes, 32% opposed the position backed by the government.

The tendency is clear. The ballot boxes are speaking, be it with opposing criteria or with silence, which over time says even more.

It wasn’t just a whim that led Cuban minister Bruno Rodriguez to complain of the low voter attendance before the national TV cameras.

The Minister attributed the apathy, as always, to foreign campaigns promoted by small websites, an accusation that even he doesn’t really believe.

It’s clear that the work of “influencers” and of sites like this one, modestly speaking, help to elevate citizen consciousness. However, the authorities never recognize that the principal culprits are they themselves, for their inability to make the country function, given that they can barely guarantee a bread roll (not to mention the quality) to the population every day.

Exhausted by shortages, blackouts and repression, most people no longer want anything to do with them. At the moment, the only way they can express this without suffering serious consequences is at the ballot box.

In addition, everyone knows that a high percentage of those who exercised their right to vote did so out of fear of losing their jobs if their workplaces discovered that they didn’t go to the polls.

However, the high point of the pantomime was the work of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel himself, who was in the middle of an international round of visits, begging for dollars from the few allies he might have left – Russia, China and Turkey. He interrupted his tour (much to his dismay, I’m sure), to return to Cuba and pose for the cameras, while he voted.

Diaz-Canel entered the polling place and signed the voting book with his customary smile, but then headed straight for the voting booth without his ballot. In the end, I suppose, it’s all the same to him who ends up elected there.  It was so ridiculous that even the elections personnel at their tables had to laugh, and it was witnessed on television by all. I’m surprised they didn’t do another take in order to later broadcast a corrected version on the nightly news, even though the original had already been shown live and was part of history.

Apart from these antics, it’s evident that the ancient monolith of the Cuban electoral panorama has gone to its eternal rest, and that the correlation of forces has definitively changed, overcome by the raw reality.

With the Family Code vote, Diaz-Canel already had to recognize that they needed to “get used” to electoral results that are much less homogenous than those from Fidel Castro’s time, when attendance would surpass 90%.

Nonetheless, as could be expected after making known the data from the latest voting results, Alina Balseiro, president of the National Electoral Council, assured: “the results confirm the [Cuban people’s] support for their representatives, and their trust in the Revolution.” In other words, the same discourse as always.

They may face another letdown on December 4, when the 925 delegates who failed to obtain more than half the votes in their respective districts face a run-off election. Who knows whether they’ll end up assuming their positions with only the support of a minority in their neighborhood?

This is just the beginning of an electoral process that will culminate next year with the presidential election. At each new rung in the ladder of this voting process, citizen participation grows less until it reaches the highest magistrates, who are elected with only the vote of Parliament, where all the representatives are active members of the Communist Party.

The protests in the streets have increased, despite the ferocious repression unleashed after July 11, 2021. There also seems to be an unprecedented exodus. According to the official count, nearly 250,000 Cubans have left for the United States since September 2021.

That number is duplicated if you count those who were turned back and deported to Cuba during that period, plus those who have deserted at other times, those who left for other countries, and those who are currently crossing through Nicaragua or planning to do so in the near future.

All these factors have influenced the fact that everyday Cubans increasingly view every call to vote as an opportunity to punish the government with their apathy and indifference, which should sting as much or more than open rejection.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times