Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

A voterin Granma, Cuba on Sunday February 3, 2013 Photo: Armando Ernesto Contreras Tamayo/AIN
A voter in Granma, Cuba on February 3, 2013  Photo: Armando Ernesto Contreras Tamayo/AIN

HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday there were general elections in Cuba. Even without knowing the outcome, I think there was something interesting in them that we should pay attention to and that indicates the erosion of Cuba’s totalitarian system.

The Cuban political elite have always aspired to everything. “Within the revolution, everything; against the revolution, nothing,” goes their old slogan, still parroted by some hardliners.

They aspired to complete control over the economy, culture, ideology and politics. They hoped to make their population march to the orders always invoked by the Comandante, and where children modeled themselves not after their parents, but after Che.

They aspired not only to have no opposition, but to achieve complete alignment. They wanted not only bodies, but also souls. This is why they were totalitarian.

They were able to do this, with some Cubans emigrating and others pretending to tow the line. In this, they counted on three factors: a decisive segment of the population that accepted subordination, a strong leadership that interpreted itself as having the correctness of thunder, and an undisputed monopoly on the economy, social mobility and ideological production.

Today none of that exists. This is why Raul Castro is launching every possible message about his more modest calling for domination. It’s no longer hoped that everyone will align, but as many people as possible. They’re no longer a calling for total loyalty, only what’s necessary, and in turn they’re warning everyone that now’s the time for each person to be accountable for their own life.

Only by voting “united,” they said, could one vote for “the nation, the revolution and socialism.” That was the aspiration for totalitarianism that left no hope for a simple citizen voting against a candidate simply because they didn’t like them. To do so would turn that voter into a “traitor,” a “counter-revolutionary” and an “anti-socialist.”

Raul remains a very authoritarian leader who doesn’t adhere to even basic democratic rituals; nevertheless, he’s becoming a less authoritarian political creature than his brother (who always was with his corrosive mixture of Latin American caudillismo, Leninism, Cosa Nostra and Jesuit charm).

That was what I thought as I followed the preparations for these general elections, the fifth to have occurred since the establishment of the direct vote in 1992.

The direct vote for deputies and provincial delegates was a recurrent demand during the discussions that led up to the Fourth Party Congress, between 1989 and 1990. This demand was so strong that I suspect it had a prior consensus among the elite as one of the changes that they could make while ensuring everything continued running as usual.

But as occurred with everything that was discussed back then, the implementation of the changes entailed a weakening of the demand to the point of making it absolutely harmless. This is what happened when the 1992 electoral law was finally passed to allow the direct vote – though only for one candidate.

This could have been done differently, allowing some type of competition like in the local elections, but after much discussion, the order came down to permit only a single candidate. This order — according to what I was told by a well-known and knowledgeable legal expert — came directly from the Comandante’s office.

The electoral system had all kinds of paradoxes. For example, one couldn’t vote against all candidates because this would void the ballot. Likewise, hypothetically if more than 50 percent of the deputies were not elected, there would be no legal way to reconstitute the state.

This and other problems, as the president of the National Electoral Commission told me publicly in debate, would be resolved by the “political wisdom” of the party.

In any case, the system is structured so that it is highly unlikely that any candidate would not be elected. It would take more than half of the people to specifically vote against someone, which would never happen unless it involved preventing the election of some kind of monster.

If my memory serves correctly, the candidate that received the least amount of votes in the history of this law was a Havana party secretary, in 1993. Notwithstanding, he received something like 82 percent of the vote. He was unimaginative and inefficient, but definitely not a monster.

Another deadbolt on the law was that the public was bombarded for months with slogans in support of voting for all candidates, which was called the “united vote.”

This could have been done differently, allowing some type of competition like in the local elections, but after much discussion, the order came down to permit only a single candidate.

Only by voting “united,” they said, could one vote for “the nation, the revolution and socialism.” That was the aspiration for totalitarianism that left no hope for a simple citizen voting against a candidate simply because they didn’t like them. To do so would turn that voter into a “traitor,” a “counter-revolutionary” and an “anti-socialist.”

According to Fidel Castro in 1993, the united vote would only be an emergency proposal in light of the crisis being faced that year. However, he lied as always and the slogan continued.

He justified this by saying it was the best way to ensure that people who were less well known could be elected, when in fact it was the other way around: responding to the danger posed to those who were well known.

What was new in the 2013 elections was that there was no call for a united vote. Citizens were called on to vote and choose all of the candidates, some of them or none – letting logic and the law dictate. I think this is an interesting sign.

Obviously, it’s not a democratizing change. People are still restricted to one candidate per seat and they can’t participate in that candidate’s selection. This means there’s no reason to let loose our applause, as is being done by those acquiescent fans of the “updating” process.

I think it’s just a detail. But in politics, as the French say, the devil’s in the details.
—–
(*) Published originally in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.


17 thoughts on “Elections in Cuba: The Devil’s in the Details

  • Thank you for another “no true Scotsman” argument.

    You may insist only your version of Marxism is the correct one and all others are frauds, but there are Stalinists today who will be just as insistent that your version is the fraud.

    Nice to see the classic Leftist counter-attack: when criticized, ignore the arguments and attack the person. I get that a lot around here. This is the common trait shared by all the left factions, be they Trotskyites, Maoists, Stalinists, Fidelists, or whatever you prefer to label yourself.

  • Ok guys I really didn’t intend to further this any more, but since Mao was mentioned, here we go….

    To start off, the instruments of domination in the West and in the East are completely different – here power and the rule of law are exercised by the exploitation of the sentiment of guilt, while there by the sentiment of shame.

    I’d like to recommend an article by Martin Jacques on this topic:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20178655

    In short, he speaks of the different concept we westerners have of the State and how we prefer governments based upon self-interest – be it from an individual or a class viewpoint – while the Chinese way of looking things couldn’t be more different: they see the State as a part of a great Order, as a parent or, more precisely, the head of the family in which they belong. This is based on Confucianism and goes way beyond and way before the Popular Republic of China, their country – as Jacques argues, they see themselves as a civilization-state rather than a nation-state.

    The more I learn about China the more I feel we Westerners are fools. Arrogant, selfish fools.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *