Cuba’s Constitutional Referendum: the Most Likely Outcome

By Raudiel F. Peña Barrios

The proposed Cuban constitution. Illustration:

HAVANA TIMES – The brief reflections in this article are based on an empirical analysis, rather than a strictly scientific one, about what will happen in Cuba’s upcoming constitutional referendum. I believe that the constitutional project being discussed today will be approved, most likely without any significant changes to the original draft presented by the constitutional committee who were responsible for writing it.

However, I don’t believe that it will receive almost absolute support at the polls, and when I use the term “almost absolute”, I’m referring to something like what happened in 1976 with the last constitutional referendum. Back then, over five million voters voted YES while just over 50,000 voters voted NO.

I don’t think we can expect to see a similar result, especially because Cuba isn’t what it was back then and because problems of political participation are directly linked to a lower turnout. The last elections had the lowest turnout in the history of the People’s Power, under 90% for the first time.

That was in spite of there being a generational gap and the revolutionary and socialist political agenda continuing, according to political discourse and official media. And we can also add the fact that Cuba’s tradition of political participation in nearly 60 years of revolution hasn’t been marked by referendums, so there isn’t a broad political culture about the effects of participating in them or not, and what the consequences of voting for one option or another are.

I believe that the NO vote will be high, if we take into account the history of Cuban elections post-1976 (I’m not comparing this to Latin America or any other country in the world), but not high enough for the draft to be dismissed.

In fact, I believe that spoilt ballots and blank votes should also be counted as a negative response to this project, as well as the votes of people who don’t go to the polls. Especially because in our national context these political positions should be considered synonyms of political indifference, if we bear in mind how easy it is to vote, and the kind of social pressure from the leadership of political, social and mass organizations on its base in order to mobilize voters on election day, which whould also happen if a referendum is held.

Maybe controversial aspects such as Article 68, which will legalize same-sex marriage, will sway many people into voting NO and making others desist from voting at all. I’m talking about people who will go to vote because they claim themselves to be communists or revolutionaries, but they will essentially vote NO because they are homophobes and don’t believe in private property or foreign investment. And on the other extreme of the spectrum, there may be many people who are also homophobes but they do support the government’s recognition of the private sector and foreign investment.

It’s just one example to put how I see things into perspective. I believe that some people will vote NO because they only see the tree, but not the entire forest, and others will vote NO because they might not like the entire forest even though they might like one or two trees. The majority will vote YES for many reasons: political indifference, ignorance, political commitments or even identifying with the changes that those above are promoting. And the same simile I used to explain why people will vote NO can also be applied here for those who will vote YES.

Right now, we don’t exactly know what we citizens are proposing more than anything else, what we are against, what we accept, what points we are questioning and to what extent. What we can see in the media, both in official and alternative media (the latter being mostly digital platforms), is only 0.000000000001% of the discussion on the Constitution.

This gives the people pushing this draft Constitution an advantage as they can define what they will change, how much they will change it and what they will not change. And this decision won’t be discussed publicly with the masses. Only the pulse of society can be taken with this vote, and there will be a favorable outcome in the end, a few votes more or a few votes less.

The people pushing this draft Constitution through only need YES to win. It doesn’t matter whether this is by a big majority or the minimum. This will legitimize their efforts to put their agenda into action, and they will say that the majority of the population’s wishes has been made known in this vote. After that, they will only need to adopt the few measures they need to modernize Cuba remaining loyal to the political pragmatism that has been reigning in Cuba for many years, with the revolutionary collective imagination standing behind them.

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