Cuba, Where the Old Leaders Elect the New

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Raul Castro on July 26, 2013. Photo:
Raul Castro on July 26, 2013. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES —This last 26th of July address was far too important. A round anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, held in Santiago de Cuba, attended to by many foreign dignitaries.

This time, President Raul Castro didn’t give the platform to Cuba’s new First Vice-President Miguel Diaz Canel, as he had done in previous July 26 festivities with former First Vice-President Jose Machado Ventura.

In addition to paying tribute and expressing his gratitude to different individuals, countries and cities, the president made a brief remark – the most significant of the entire speech, in my opinion – about what we are going through at the moment and our future.

The revolution’s historical leadership, he declared, “begins to step down so that the young can take their place, peacefully and with a sense of serene confidence that stems from the new generation’s proven capacity to maintain the course of the revolution.”

The inevitable passage of time has imposed this as a necessity on Cuba’s current government, which today acknowledges and explains that “the process of handing the chief responsibilities of the nation over to the new generations in a gradual and orderly manner is underway.”

We could say that Diaz Canel is a clear example of this renewal within the leadership. And, to tell the truth, I am bothered by the whole affair.

It would be reasonable to say that a bigwig’s ultimate power isn’t put to the test during his term of office. It would be reasonable to say that their ultimate power lies in deciding, when it is time to step down, who will be handed the sceptre, in order to become the new bigwig.

First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel

As usual, I cannot help but ask myself a few questions. What does the “process of transferring power” over to someone consist in, who controls it and how is it handled in general?

The Cuban president/general insists that institutions are of the essence in guaranteeing the country’s smooth, orderly functioning. However, he again blatantly avoids the fact that no institution, no leader, no course set by any government will ever be more legitimate, respected and powerful than democracy – the legitimate representation of the people’s will.

Abiding by the sovereign will of the nation, serving the people represented by the government, this summarizes the role that all governments should play, particularly those that would claim to be revolutionary and socialist.

We can’t have a situation in which a “historical leadership” has secured a “place” of power, of preponderance (even if it is given a name with a nice ring to it, like “vanguard”) and now “begins to step down” to hand over power to the new, selected caste of leaders.

The space of democracy, the space where citizens chose, evaluate and, if necessary, remove, those leaders it believes will represent them most faithfully, is apparently not to be mentioned by the official discourse.

What of the mechanisms of the People’s Power, which aren’t true democratic institutions, but are the closest thing to these in Cuba? No, no, the sun was beating down on that platform in Santiago de Cuba too intensely to waste time talking about things that aren’t important.

Cuban workers in Old Havana.

But, the fact of the matter is that we don’t have to agree with the way this process is being organized. No new batch of fresh bigwigs, chosen at finger-point by the old bigwigs, could ever hope to secure any legitimacy in the eyes of the people. Nor could they credibly demand discipline, restraint and devotion from these people.

No new batch of leaders will ever secure any legitimacy unless it subjects itself to and abides by the principles of those societies made up of individuals with equal rights. And these principles invariably demand universal suffrage, a process whereby every citizen, old or young, male or female, of any race, religious creed or sexual orientation, living anywhere in the country, judges and elects those who will become their representatives on the basis of their merits and capabilities.

The legal authority to judge and elect all current and future leaders lies exclusively with the totality of the electorate.

Only respect towards this democratic principle – an obvious one, to be sure – can effectively protect the unity of all honorable Cubans, a unity that is of the essence to the country, not only its current president.


28 thoughts on “Cuba, Where the Old Leaders Elect the New

  • Until ‘one-party only’ elections are abolished, your false arguments against dissident participation in the electoral process will likely continue to appear substantive. Fortunately, the young Cubans that General President Raul is counting on to continue the disastrous revolution began by he and his brother are voting with their feet and leaving Cuba in record numbers. Unlike you, who can extol the empty virtues of the Castro regime from the capitalistic comfort of your home, most Cubans who are forced to live under Castros rule think differently.

  • The economic reforms are important changes. I think most analysts without a political axe to grind will agree.

    If most Cubans preferred to leave, I doubt that you would continue to see the overwhelming support for the government that we continue to see in every national vote, including one earlier this year.

    The aging of populations is a widespread phenomenon. Yes, even in the USA. As women become more educated, they tend to have fewer children.

  • These so-called “activists at the grassroots level” are Party members. The CDR committees which must approve the nomination of candidates are Party members. The Cuban media is controlled and directed by the Communist Party.

    To insist the Party has no political role is absurd: the Cuban Communist Party is the only legal party on the island and it holds a monopoly on all political, social, economic and governmental bodies.

  • The Cuban political system has not evolved for 50 years. While introducing his limited economic reforms, Raul Castro declared that there will be no political reforms.

    Most Cubans would prefer to leave the island. The fact that Cuba has a declining and aging population is clear evidence the people do not see any future on the island. Last year over 46,000 Cubans emigrated, most of them young people.

    Can you do the math? What future will Cuba have when senior citizens out-number children?

  • So, you cannot cite even a single case of the PCC vetoing an actual nomination. Thought so. Not one of your dissident pals has ever achieved sufficient popularity in their own neighbourhood to be nominated to the town council anywhere on the island.

    I suggest that Sanchez will never be nominated because she has avoided any kind of real leadership role in her community in favour of more, ahem… lucrative opportunities. This is just the sort of thing that Farrar was talking about in his top secret report. (Thank you, Private Manning and WikiLeaks!)

    For electoral purposes, a low voter turnout in the US officially means nothing. It is nothing more than a statistic with no impact whatsoever on the result of the “election.” Likewise for blank or spoiled ballots. In the US, there is no way to officially register a protest in any meaningful way against the entire system.

    In Cuba, however, returning a blank or spoiled ballot actually counts against all candidates. If the majority does so, every candidate is rejected and a new slate of candidates must be put forward. Every candidate must obtain the the support of the majority. In this way, every national election in Cuba is in effect a referendum on the entire political system. So, the door-to-door getting out the vote that you describe is making sure that everyone has their say for or against the government.

  • Reread my comment. Yoani Sanchez will never be nominated because her CDR will not give her a letter of recommendation. This leaves no paper trail. Moreover, you claim to know Cubans. You should know that they are not going to submit to an electoral process that is slanted to expose their dissident views. Americans reject entire ballots all the time. Its called low turnout. Cubans vote or get their names put in the book. At least that is what they believe. I have personally witnessed voting officials going door-to-door to “remind” people to vote. They are working from a list. Cubans who wish to someday be promoted on their job or further their education or whatever fear that names not checked off on that “list” will be remembered and not in a good way. Tell the truth, shame the devil Dan.

  • Please post even a single documented case of a nomination that was vetoed by the PCC. We both know you can’t, Moses. You are just making this up as you go.

    In any case, it is no one’s interest to put forward an unpopular candidate or to block the nomination of a popular one since voters have the option of rejecting every candidate on the ballot in protest — real power that US voters can only dream of.

    All your dissident pals have to do to get on the ballot is establish themselves as effective leaders in their respective communities — something in which, even according to your own man in Havana, the former USINT head, Jonathan Farrar, they seem to have absolutely no interest or aptitude (WikiLeaks).

  • DC, you continue to fail to acknowledge that every candidate nominated for political office must submit letters from their employer, CDR, and other organizations if applicable (FEU, etc.) as to establish “fitness” to be nominated. NO ONE, party member or not, will pass this initial screening without the blessing of the CCP. So you see, the Communist Party DOES control who gets elected.

  • The regime controls all aspects of the electoral process including the party, the DR, the “representative” organizations and the electoral commissions.

  • I have been to Cuba several times (10 times since 1988), including earlier this month. Housing has visibly improved. There are very few wooden houses left. It is mostly brick now. In the countryside, farm workers have been moved from the old Soviet-style high-rises (still standing, but now abandoned) to quite nice, subdivisions of single family bungalows. New houses are being built to replace those damaged in hurricanes.

    The main roads, even in the mountains, seemed quite good.

    High-speed internet, though still pricey for the average Cuban, is becoming more widely available, although I didn’t use it this time.

    As for health care, even according to your pals at the CIA, Cubans now have best infant mortality rates in the Americas — significantly better than the USA, even marginally better than Canada. (The IMR is considered to be the single most reliable indicator of overall public health.)

    Also, according to at least one US expert, in addition to blocking essential imports of medicines, medical supplies and technology (as documented by Amnesty International and the UN), the US embargo is also a major impediment to the development of agriculture and food production in Cuba:

    “William A. Messina Jr., of the University of Florida’s Agriculture Science Institute, said that the communist island ‘has such good soil and it represents a challenge of such magnitude that, with the END OF THE EMBARGO, the agricultural market impact on the continent would be larger that of the Free Trade Treaty [North American Free Trade Agreement].”’

    Miami Herald, Sept. 9, 2009

  • I follow the international news at from around the world every day. There, I follow the coverage of events in Cuba from the US, UK, France and Spain among others. That’s how I came across this article. Unlike the coverage of other Cuban elections, that in 2008 was quite extensive.

  • You must have been hallucinating. The coverage, usually non existent in the international media as being a foregone conclusion, took place simply because of, and I para-phrase this same media, a transfer of power. One brother’s decades long rule being transferred to another brother. A real democratic landmark that was!

  • The system has been stagnate for 50 + years. The result of a megalomaniac Castro rule, who in his hubris though only he know what was best for the Cuban people. have you been to Cuba lately? Only now are some minor ineffective changes being made and only because they have no choice but to acknowledge the failure that is communist central planning. Have you seen the infrastructure? Housing …even medical care for Gods sake!

    With some of the most arable land in the world Cuba should even be a net exporter of food, as they were in the 50’s. Instead today they have to import most of their produce.

  • The 2008 Cuban elections were widely covered in the international media, being the first since Fidel stepped-down. On the whole, I think it was fairly balanced coverage, too. Interestingly, there is was not a hint from any quarter, not even the rabidly anti-Cuban Miami media, that it was anything other than a clean vote. Though not as widely covered, the same can be said for the elections earlier this year.

    Again, the Communist Party of Cuba does not nominate any candidates. By law, it can play no role in the electoral process. The entire process is driven by the voters themselves and by activists at the local, grassroots level.

  • As a Cuban, one of 6 million plus who lived in the system and fled the communist paradise, yes, yes it is, but not for the reason you insinuate. The Cuban system is one of absolute failure, as was every other member of the Soviet, Stalinist Soviet, who are now simple footnotes in history (must really wrangle ya huh?) Cuba as an isolated island has been able to hang on a bit longer, yet they too will change. Even now the Octogenarian elite who rule the island are simply buying time to allow themselves a few more comforts before they die. How sad that this “revolution” failed so miserably that they have barely been able to feed their people, keeping them on a level of subsistence for 50+ years

  • DC, Saddam Hussein also won his “elections” with well over 90% of the vote. He must have been nearly as popular as the Cuban leaders. North Korea is another country with a near unanimous electoral system similar to Cuba’s. What do they all have in common. No real choice and the Party does control the candidate selection, even if on paper it says it doesn’t.

  • Complaining is a national sport in Cuba, but when it comes time to chose in the voting booth, the vast majority invariably seem to choose the Revolutionary and independent path. Must be frustrating as hell for you.

  • Come on! you don’t believe that drivel do you? Even the Cubans on the island know better. (The jokes about their political plight are legendary) Cuba is a top down totalitarian system where only a person with the surname Castro has made all the decisions for over half a century …with disastrous consequences I might ad. …another 10 years and the Castro brothers will have reigned as long as Queen Victoria!

  • The system is far from perfect, and continues to evolve at a fairly rapid pace as anyone can see from international news reports. It would seem that the vast majority of Cubans see a future for themselves and their children in Cuba and have rejected imperialism.

  • I don’t know that your dissident pals “scrupulously followed existing constitutional guidelines,” but the government did follow up with its own petition in support of socialism that 98% of illegible voters signed, compared to 1/8 of 1% that signed the so-called Varella petition.

  • It’s interesting to note how the Varela project (which scrupulously followed the existing constitutional guidelines) fared in your so called “open and democratic system”

    ….Mr. Varela didn’t personally fare much better either!

  • Indeed. Most Cubans are so well aware of their perfect socialist system thousands continue to escape any way they can.

  • No political party plays any role in the electoral process. It is all based on personal merit. Some non-party members do get elected — about 20%, including one Catholic priest (a theologian?), in one national vote in the late 1990’s (don’t have more recent stats).

    Since voters in national elections have the option of rejecting all candidates on the ballot, it is in no one’s interest to put forward unpopular candidates, or to bypass obviously popular ones.

    Members of the National Assembly spend most of their time in committee work. That is were any problems or difficulties would be worked out. The plenary vote is only the last step.

    I recall a plan for a national income tax in the 1990’s that was scuttled when it turned out to be so unpopular. The proposal never came to a vote.

    Due to the virtual state of war that exists with the US, with its genocidal trade sanctions and relentless campaigns of subversion, there must be a tendency to close ranks around the leadership. It is only human nature. Lift these universally condemned, illegal sanctions and you may see more differences coming out into the open.

    Despite the half-century of relentless US aggression, it seems that Cuba has developed what is perhaps one of the most democratic electoral systems in the world. Every five years, the Cuban people vote to renew the mandate of the government. Even in the worst crises to date, the Cuban people overwhelmingly show their support for their government at every opportunity, including a national vote earlier this year. I can see that it really pisses you off, Griffin, but that really is your problem.

  • There you go again Dan …you know full well that the only legal political party in Cuba is the Communist Party, and that while non-party-members are technically allowed to run for election, none have ever been elected. The preferred candidates are always nominated and elected, and while the Party as such does not nominate the candidates, the committees which do nominate the candidates are always dominated by the Party.

    The National Assembly considers no bills but that which are handed to it by the leadership, and every bill is dutifully passed as directed by the leadership. No law has ever been voted down. Thus supreme political power has remained in the same hands for 53 years and Cuba holds the record for the longest running dictatorship on earth.

  • Most seem to be quite aware of this fact.

  • Wow, Cuba sounds like the perfect bottom-up democracy. Too bad so many Cubans seem unaware of their country’s near perfect system for electing presidents!

  • How will the next President of Cuba be chosen? He or she must first be nominated by secret ballot for a seat in the National Assembly by one of hundreds of Municipal Assemblies on the island.

    Then the candidate must obtain the support of the majority of voters in his or her electoral district in that Municipality, again by a secret ballot.

    If a candidate for the National Assembly fails to obtain the support of the majority in his or her district, another candidate for that district must be put forward and another vote held soon afterwards. It is even possible in this way for the entire slate of candidates in a district to be rejected.

    The would-be President, having obtained the support of the majority of his or her electoral district, must then be nominated for President by his or her colleagues in the National Assembly. Then he or she must obtain the support of the majority of the National Assembly for this position, again by a secret ballot.

    Note that the Communist Party, by law, can play no role in the electoral process. It does not nominate any candidates. The entire process is driven by voters and activists at the grassroots level — no fat-cat political action committees, no distant, money-hungry political machines, no multi-million dollar campaigns. Elections in Cuba are more democratic than any in the US.

  • In the US, with some exceptions, voters still elect the same old tired white men, sometimes the problem is not the process it’s the ideology. Younger men or women who serve the masses or older men and women who serve the working masses?

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