Cuba’s Local Representatives, Public Servants?

By Frank Simon

A meeting of neighborhood delegates.  Photo: Marcelino Vazquez /ACN 

HAVANA TIMES — Claribel was a neighborhood representative and president of a municipal government.  She has experience working as a leader of state bodies but today runs her own hostel. She told me that she doesn’t want to know anything about the Cuban electoral system.

“It’s a mess, local representatives have to be there insisting people to go to the neighborhood accountability assemblies, which are a show. Election day in my district was a nightmare because higher ups were asking us for a number of voters that we were never going to get.” She told me how they filled out blank votes, hunted people down and obliged people who were at home; they even hid annuled votes.

According to Angel, who said he has never gone to vote in his life, in spite of having never left Cuba, the system is a sham. He witnessed the famous vote count in 2002, when the Government invented a referendum to make socialism “irrevocable” in the face of the Varela Project that had been organized by the Christian Liberation Movement. “Listen, I was there and there were more NO votes than YES ones, and then there was a big NO on one ballot and someone shouted out “Hell, what a NO!” and right then, a Security informer said that the vote was over and that the YES had won.”

Angel adds that people didn’t even know why they were having that vote because their guts were telling them it was another political maneuver, because even though the Varela Project managed to collect 11,000 signatures, intercommunication in Cuba was zero in 2002 and hardly anyone knew who Paya was.

During that collection of signatures for a YES which then led to future generations having to live a Castro regime without Fidel, government representatives played a vital role: “I found myself sitting at a desk with my hands on my face, a headache, analyzing that mess, without knowing what to say to the provincial authorities and giving blown-up figures,” Claribel tells me and I see annoyance etched into her face.

Just like Raul, she was also the founder of the People’s Power and they are now among the biggest critics of the same system they helped to create, “Look here, you start off believing in it, they stick a doctrine in your head that everything will improve, but then you find yourself with your hands and feet tied and with people who, instead of seeking explanations and solutions higher up the ranks, want to kill you sometimes,” Raul adds.

Most of Cuba’s young people today probably don’t know about this skit that condemns them to drag out a never-ending system since 2002, because of the so-called “irrevocable” nature of socialism. Referring to the recent General Elections, “They were rigged elections, where the Government had made a political campaign, in fact they always do, when they ask for the so-called “united” vote, or the cross in the middle of the ballot which votes for all of the candidates nominated. These are perhaps the most expensive and useless campaigns in the world because, as you know, we don’t really choose anyone,” Raul says and shows me photos of his time at the head of a municipal People’s Power when Cuba was still smiling.

The interviewee’s grandchildren jumped ship during the great exodus that took place between 2014 and 2016 and financially support their retired grandfather today, who receives a pension of only 242 Cuban pesos, approximately 10 USD, per month. “If that’s what I get and I gave everything to the Revolution, what are they going to get? It’s better that they left.”

Soon after Hurricane Irma swept through the country last September many others sent donations, other didn’t as they have had the bitter experience of seeing the Cuban Government divert these resources to their hard-currency stores, where a 200% VAT is added to every product they sell (meat products are incredibly expensive).

I will take the world of Angel, who lost mattresses, a roof, appliances and yes, was left hungry and thirsty along with his two children and wife, as well as being left unemployed as he is a builder and building materials disappeared right off the bat. “The hurricane set off a huge reselling of things by corrupt authorities, as many hostels, people with money, bought up the donations while we poor people were left waiting.”

Angel says the district representative where he lives is totally corrupt, noting that she took on this role because nobody else wanted it, she barely knew how to talk at meetings. “She kept a huge load of mattresses to resell them, I wasn’t given any, other perople received metal sheets for the roof while I’m still waiting for some pieces of dark cardboard which won’t hold up if another hurricane comes this way. Are you going to sit there and tell me that the US blockade is to blame for these things? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

According to him, Cuba is nothing, much less this cross which people give to government candidates who do receive a lot of expensive campaigning, in a country with very limited internet, food and clothes shortages and only symbolic wages.

“I know that this wasn’t independence heroes Cespedes and Marti’s dream, and that even they would have preferred Cuba to have been annexed to a foreign power than see the Cuban people suffering to uphold a corrupt and lying leadership. These people rule worse than the general captains of Colonialism,” Raul tells me, a History graduate, who has studied newspapers from the 19th century and finds a greater and better freedom of expression back then than now.

Looking through the banister of his rickety house and wiping away a tear, Angel concludes, “They elected a new representative who seems to be more decent, but she isn’t managing any resources and the little that came here because of the hurricane, has already been handed out. So I’m screwed and I have huge debts, as I fell into debt with the bank in order to have a roof over my head. I’m not sure living life like this makes sense. At school, I studied Marx and socialism and, believe me, as a builder, I know that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, with a representative or without them.”