Cuba Has Become a Critical and Plural Society

Voter on Sunday March 26, 2023

By Gerardo Arreola (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES – The official results of this past Sunday’s election in Cuba confirm a growing expression of criticism and pluralism in that society, even within the narrow limits of the system.

The trend is in stark contrast to the days of staggering results, close to 100 percent, still on record two decades ago.

With only one legal party, no debate on any issue, with only one candidate for each position, and therefore with a composition of elected officials already known in advance, elections still have minimal room for individual decision.

In the absence of a contrast of opinions or projects between the candidates and with everything resolved months before, the government has turned these exercises into virtual referendums.

The official propaganda calls for the polls expressly to show adherence to the political system and leadership.

Before election day, the candidates usually visit the areas that they are going to represent in the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP, the unicameral parliament) to speak with their potential voters and urge them to vote. This time that deployment was clearly more intense.

The “United Vote”

Part of the reactions of the Cuban leadership to the post-Soviet crisis, in the early 1990s, was a new electoral model.

Among the variants adopted in 1991, in the lists for the ANPP the citizen could vote for one, for several or for all the candidates of a constituency or not to do so for any.

As the first election under this new model approached, Fidel Castro called attention to what seemed like an opening for discrepancy.

In a meeting with candidates on February 20, 1993, Castro urged that citizens not exercise that minimum selection capacity and asked that the vote be equal for all applicants.

He considered that selecting one over others was unfair to those who were not chosen and he also put this part of the process on the referendum scale.

“We found the correct strategy by stating that the patriot vote, the revolutionary vote should not be divided, that it should not be dispersed and the negative consequences and injustices that the dispersion and division of that vote could entail. The need for a united vote was evident,” said Castro.

In the successive national elections, the “united vote” became as important or more than the election day itself. In the official discourse, going to vote and voting “united” has been the expression of support for the system.

Conversely, abstention or refusal to vote for a candidate (the “selective vote”) is the narrow corridor through which a citizen can show some type of disagreement or discrepancy with the system or with the postulates.

Under these rules, official attention is focused on the proportion of voters and the dimension of the “united vote”.

According to the preliminary results on the morning of Monday, March 27, the comparison with the elections of two decades ago shows that abstention has grown a little more than ten times; the “united vote” has been reduced by a fifth and the “selective vote” has grown by more than three times.

Until 2008, blank ballots and annulled votes maintained a stable and insignificant trend, but this Sunday both indicators showed notable movement.

Compared to the 2003 elections, this time the number of blank ballots doubled and the voided ones increased by more than three times.

The degree of electoral participation in Cuba compares very favorably with the rest of Latin America, but its contrast with the era of almost one hundred percent is already clear.

These were also the first national elections after the popular protests that started in July 2021 and which resulted in more than a thousand arrests and hundreds prosecuted and sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

They are different samples of the criticism and pluralism of the actually existing Cuban society.

Gerardo Arreola is a Mexican journalist. Author of ‘Cuba. The future under debate.’ Twitter: @GerardoArreola. Translation to English by Progreso Weekly. From Del Gran Caribe, La Jornada, México. 

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

One thought on “Cuba Has Become a Critical and Plural Society

  • March 31, 2023 at 4:36 pm

    Obama tasked Biden to settle US Claims he failed miserably if he would have done his job Embargo would have been dropped years ago

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