Cuba’s Elections and Lessons from Abroad

Yusimi Rodriguez

Cubans go to the polls this Sunday to elect neighborhood representatives.

HAVANA TIMES — Four years ago I became interested in elections for the first time. This year I followed the second electoral process in my life. Yet on neither of those two occasions did these involve elections in my country.

Unconsciously, I’ve convinced myself that elections abroad affect my life more than those in Cuba.

In 2008, I watched the “Mesa Redonda” (“The Roundtable” news/commentary TV program) on the elections in the United States and I read articles on that topic in the Granma newspaper.

Obama’s election could have meant the end to the embargo and the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States.

If life in this country didn’t improve, at least I had the security that the justification …I meant to say the reason… would not be the blockade imposed by the US government.

But none of that happened.

Life showed that it would take more than a Black president in the White House, despite him having proclaimed himself the president of change. We learned that it takes more than reaching the presidency full of good intentions and that there are countries where the president isn’t lord and master of the country.

We found out that it isn’t enough to win the Nobel Peace Prize to deserve one.

This year I kept up on the elections in Venezuela without having made up my mind whether I feared or desired a Chavez victory. Two days before the Venezuelan people went to the polls, a friend told me that it would be good if Chavez lost so as to destabilize our government.

“If the country doesn’t receive fuel, it won’t be like the Special Period crisis, when people endured alumbrones,” (what we called the brief intervals between blackouts) he said.

I don’t know if I want things to change like that in my country. I fear that if we are subjected to greater shortages than we already face, people will take to streets — rightly so — and they’ll likely be suppressed in the name of national sovereignty.

Hugo Chavez won the Oct. 7 elections in Venezuela with 55% of the vote.. Photo:

I have to confess that by the Friday before the October 7th Venezuelan elections I had stopped thinking about them.

On Sunday I got home around six o’clock with the intention of sitting down and watching one of the few TV shows I follow. It was canceled though because the Mesa Redonda was devoted to following the Venezuelan elections, two hours before the polling stations closed.

Neither the moderator nor his guests on the Mesa even mentioned the disastrous consequences that a Chavez loss would mean for us. They discussed the benefits reaped by the Venezuelan people thanks to their government, and they especially praised the existence of democracy in that country.

They even quoted former US president Jimmy Carter, and that was what made me start thinking; because, to be honest, I don’t trust the moderator or the guests of the Mesa Redonda that much when it comes to discussing democracy.

That doesn’t mean that I think Jimmy Carter has the last word on that subject either, but at least he’s an outside observer, someone less compromised than the guests on the Mesa.

I don’t know if the people on the show realized that perhaps they overly praised Venezuelan democracy. If we look at things carefully, we’ll see that it’s true that Chavez is in his third term, and some people think he’s trying to eternalize his grip on power (health permitting).

But what’s wrong with the re-election of a president when people consider them to be doing a good job, especially when people have the political mechanisms at their disposal to remove such a person when they desire?

In Venezuela the elections had the participation of more than one political party. Each voter had the opportunity to decide and to make a difference with their vote. According to the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), over 80 percent of the people voted. They even lined up to exercise their right to vote and to decide the future of their country.

This Sunday, Cubans will turn to the polls to vote for delegates to represent them in their local municipalities. Then  …we will sit and watch. We won’t have participation in the election of the City Council, nor the provincial or national assemblies, or for the president of the country. But we won’t be surprized by the final result.

I’m sure that here in Cuba the voter turnout will be more than the 80 percent experienced in Venezuela. But how many people will cast their ballots with the conviction that their votes will have any weight in the country’s life?

Voting in Cuba. photo:

How many of them will go to the polls only to avoid standing out, which might look bad if they’re ever applying for a job in tourism or some other well-paid position?

But above all, what future will we be able to decide with our votes, beyond a delegate who will attempt to solve our problems for a while or give us comforting answers whenever they feel their hands are tied?

Once again the Venezuelan people went for Chavez, but they had other alternatives. They could have voted for any other candidate. The opposition was represented. Capriles had the opportunity to speak to the people, to use the mass media to let people know what they could expect from him if they elected him as president.

What is the mechanism for changing the leadership in Cuba? What representation do those who oppose the government have, even if they are a minority?

“Venezuela gave the world a lesson in democracy,” said Carlos Alvarez, the head of the UNASUR delegation, after Sunday’s election.

Did Cuba receive a lesson as well?


16 thoughts on “Cuba’s Elections and Lessons from Abroad

  • Hello Luis,

    The best source of information on what happened in Yugoslavia is the book, “Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution After the Cold War” by Susan L. Woodward. She worked at the Brookings Institute at the time. It’s a big book so be prepared for a good read.

    What took place in Yugoslavia is certainly relevant to Cuba’s situation. Tito’s death was only a minor factor. US propagandists expressing eagerness for the passing of the Castros are trying to promote instability when it happens more than expecting regime change to actually take place.

    The major factor was the break-up of the USSR, as much of a game-changer for Yugoslavia as it was for Cuba. Cuba’s remarkable resilience under extreme economic duress is amazing, perhaps owing to Fidel’s firm resolve to resist US imperialism.

    Central to Susan Woodward’s premise is this, from the book’s introduction: “Conventional wisdom, which emerged rapidly after war broke out in 1991, is that the war resulted from peculiarly Balkan hatreds or Serbian aggression. In fact, however, the Yugoslav conflict is inseparable from international change and interdependence.”

    Yugoslavia tried to compete in the capitalist world after the break-up, to disastrous consequences. We saw signs of this in Canada when it tried to sell the ‘Yugo’ here, a small, Fiat-like car. Yugoslavia, a johnny-come-lately to the capitalist world, was ill-equipped to compete in established capitalist markets, as Cuba would be. They borrowed from the Work Bank and IMF, couldn’t pay their debts, inflation went through the roof, austerity programs were instituted – the all-too-familiar scenario leading to social instability.

    This is certainly a cautionary tale that could easily happen if Cuba went the same route. Located in the US Empire’s back yard, it would be absorbed into the Empire in a flash.

    The capitalist world, in relation to Yugoslavia, acted as capitalists do – competing aggressively and standing by in its economic collapse, and then benefiting from the resulting ‘bankruptcy sale’ – wooing away the biggest ‘bargain’, Slovenia, with its healthy economy based on mining resources.

    Yugoslavia was one of the most ethnically complex countries, balancing four diverse cultures using sophisticated mechanisms and strategies that worked quite well for most of the 20th Century, starting after WWI. Slovenia’s succession started a house of cards process that caused the mechanisms and strategies to fail.

    The parallel with Cuba is ominous. Yugoslavia broke down over ethnic lines. Cuba would most likely divide along economic ideologies divides, giving the US Empire an excuse to ‘intervene’, as it ultimately did in Serbia, using NATO, it’s lackey army, to act as a smoke screen to its aggression.

    The “conventional wisdom” that Susan Woodward referred to that depicted the Yugoslavian conflict as ethnically based and not of economic origin, continues, supported of course by the capitalist corporate media. Sooner or later reality will surface. Better sooner, for the sake of Cuba, and the rest of the world.

  • Tell me more, Lawrence, since I have interest in the History of that region, and it’s difficult to find good information about it.

  • What happened in Yugoslavia is an extremely interesting story, hard to summarise here. It split apart due to economic factors, not ethnic ones as it seemed, a percetpion encouraged by the so-called liberal democracies.

    Ethnic and religious differences are like geographic fault lines – where splits occur when external pressures come into play.

  • I wrote about what is discussed in university social studies classes. What part of that did you not understand?

    Define what you think is the definition of a dictatorship and we can discuss. Why do I think this isn’t going to happen? Past experience.

    What does one have to do to get you to engage in a dialogue?

    I know, propagandists don’t engage. They just continue spewing out their canned text.

  • Tito was a very relevant statesman from the 20th century. Albeit Grady *will* disagree with me since the Yugoslavian model of worker cooperatives wasn’t his personal ideal, it was a important Historical experience since it was the only and only long-time implementation of a post-capitalist mode-of-production that actually tried to surpass the ‘boss-employee’ work relationship logic.

    All of this derives, of course, from his refusal to simply import the USSR model.

    Too bad Yugoslavia was a ‘complicated’ region, ethnically speaking. The Slavic people split, and split, and split… and disaster came in the form of a terrible war.

  • …then you agree with me that Cuba is really a dictatorship?

  • There are no elections in Canada at the moment. I was referring to your country, the US.

    I would expect photos of Fidel to be at polling stations right from the beginning, just like those of George Washington in your country. Fidel has never been on a ballot as you are fond of reporting so what is your problem? One minute you criticise electoral irregularities, and next you acknowledge the system is different than yours. It seems you are just looking for an excuse to criticise the government in Cuba.

    Fidel didn’t start out as a one-party man. US uncompromising opposition obviously forced him into it. Don’t take my word for it. Read history. ‘Unity governments’ are the norm when there is a threat from outside.

    Governments, like people, do not nice things when they are under threat. Jailing dissenters is one of the mildest things they do. If you want to stop it, your best bet is to stop the 50 plus year economic blockade that your country is imposing.

  • Facile reply: No, you’re mistaken, they would throw YOU in jail as an agent provocateur.

    Serious reply:

    This was a headline on Democracy Now this week when the Green Party candidates in the US presidential election tried to participate in the presidential debate that they were excluded from: “Green Party Candidates Arrested, Shackled to Chairs For 8 Hours After Trying to Enter Debate.”

    Give me a benevolent dictatorship to a sham democracy any time.

  • “The pretense that democracy in any form exists in Cuba is insulting”.

    Oh yeah, like if your country EVER cared about democracy in Latin America. You know jack shit about democracy. If China had an electoral system like the US, it’d be called a two party dictatorship, like the one YOUR COUNTRY supported in MY COUNTRY for 20+ years.

  • Define ‘free elections’.

    There are many electoral systems around the world, one different for each country. But the ‘good guys’ will always impose what is ‘wrong’ and what is ‘right’.. Instead of a worn-out slogan, why don’t you propose something?

  • Ah yes, Cuba is a “benevolent” dictatorship.

    And if you disagree, the regime will throw in you jail.

  • What do you think is so vile about elections in Canada?

    And by the way, the photos of Castro have long been at the polling stations. When Castro announced there would be no free multiparty elections in Cuba some of his former comrades complained that this was a betrayal of the promises he made when the 26 July movement was formed. Castro had these dissenters jailed.

  • Addressing the nature of ‘dictatorships’ and ‘democracy’:

    “Fidel, himself, once said ¨What’s so wrong with a dictatorship…?¨” It’s a question commonly asked in social studies classes where the pros and cons of ‘benevolent dictatorships’ – a form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises political power for the benefit of the whole – is discussed. It is recognised as obviously being more efficient that democracies.

    Former Yugoslavian leader Tito and Napoleon Bonaparte are two figures that have been called benevolent dictators. I have a friend from Croatia who has vacationed in Cuba. He, like most Yugoslavians, have fond memories of Tito. I asked him what his impressions were of Fidel. He said Fidel was a great deal like Tito except Tito knew how to look after himself, enriching his own pockets, a contrast to Fidel.

    In times of war, all leaders assume dictatorial powers. As the US has made an enemy of Fidel since the beginning, effectively maintaining a state of war through its 50 plus year economic blockade, there is no possibility of any other form of government in Cuba that will stay independent of US control until the blockade ends.

    The advantages of a real democracy outweigh dictatorships, even benevolent ones, but they are not as effective, nor can they function properly when hostile forces need to be dealt with. Venezuela serves as a good example.

    In terms of the so-called liberal democracies in the West, Fidel has stated Cuba is more democratic, with greater consultation of the populace, and that constitutionally, he holds less political power than most heads of state, including that of the U.S. president. His power is derived from the enormous amount of unofficial influence he has had over the country.

    Tito was the same. Napoleon was the same. In Canada, thousands of police, many in full riot gear, were turned out to oppose the G20 protesters in downtown Toronto. I have yet to see this in Cuba. It is the common face of ‘democracy’ in my country.

    And I am hardly isolated in what I see. A new Hollywood film, “The Campaign”, is intended to be a broad comedy about a North Carolina Congressional election. But reviewers find it hard to laugh in the face of the reality that exists. A.O. Scott, writing in the New York Times wrote:

    “We’ve never seen anything like that before, one of the talking heads remarks. But we have seen, and will see, much worse before the votes are counted in November. The message of ‘The Campaign’ is that, in the end, everything will be all right because, as long as we can have a good time laughing at a movie like this one, everything must be all right to begin with. I guess I approve of that message. I wish I could believe it.”

    The World Socialist Web reviewer, David Walsh, was more pointed:

    “As we have noted before, the scope for satire and ridicule of American political life is almost limitless. In fact, at times American political life seems to be a parody unto itself.

    “On the nightly television news, after all, one is confronted with politicians and government officials, hirelings of finance and industry, who preach ‘moral values’ with a straight face. Cabinet ministers and generals, responsible for violence and terror around the world, praise peace and global harmony. None of this meets with a challenge in the media. The present situation is unreal, and almost unbearable.

    “The American political system is held in wide contempt, as a nest of corruption and self-interest. Tens of millions understand that public officeholders from both major parties, from the White House and Congress on down, are thoroughly indifferent and hostile to their needs and interests.

    “A recent Gallup survey found that only 10 percent of the population, one in ten, approves of the job the US Congress is doing, which matches the lowest figure the polling firm has ever recorded in nearly four decades. Eighty-three percent disapprove.”

  • The photo is if Fidel Castro. He is no longer a political leader. He is the leader of the Cuban Revolution. It is equivalent to a photo of George Washington in a polling booth in your country.

    He is “loved by millions, hated by thousands”, as Rosa Martinez wrote recently in HT. You are clearly in the latter category. Why do you continually express your hatred here? Do you think HT is what the thousands who hate read?

    Comments indicate otherwise.

    We are getting a rather vile picture at the moment of what “free elections” look like in your country.

  • Fidel, himself, once said ¨What´s so wrong with a dictatorship…?¨ . The pretense that democracy in any form exists in Cuba is insulting. Is there anything that Fidel can´t do or ask for even today? Fidel was perturbed when Daniel Ortega in Nicaraugua scheduled a presidential election in 1990 and scolded Ortega by saying ¨Why have an election that you might lose?¨ The last thing the Castros want in Cuba is democracy.

  • Notice the photograph of the Cuban poling station? Directly above the ballot box is a poster of the Maximum Leader who has ruled Cuba with an iron fist for 50 plus years. In any country where there is a free democratic process, it is illegal to place posters of any political party or leader in a polling station.

    The mechanism for change are the fundamental democratic rights to free speech and free elections.

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