Elections in Cuba: The Devil’s in the Details

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:


    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.

  • You can persist in saying that communism is represented by Stalinism only at the risk of your credibility .

    A communist society IS one in which the means of production are in the hands of the society at large and operated by them in a democratic manner.

    Your claiming to be a frog does not make you a frog and anyone who agrees with you would be considered to be in error.

    Your thinking or lack thereof is so typically right wing: facts don’t matter to you and when you are confronted with facts that put the lie to your preconceived illusions , you put on the blinders and retreat ever deeper into your erroneous thinking.

    You fit perfectly into the recent studies on this .

  • “Not one of the people you listed was or is a communist. ”

    That is known as the “no true Scotsman” argument.

    Look, I’m sure you have a nice, cogent argument why they aren’t “real” communists and why your favourite ideology is the only true path to communism. Of course, they would all argue the same back to you. And you would be splitting idealogical hairs.

    The bottom line is they all proclaimed to be “communists”, they all followed ideologies based on Marxism, and they were all seriously narcissistic. That psychological description is not tossed out as a cheap insult. It is a serious observation about how the most destructive people in all humanity have something in common. Of course, not all Marxists are narcissistic, and not all narcissists are Marxist (Hitler and Saddam, are two other infamous narcissists, but not Marxists) But a good number of the major revolutionary leaders were. Food for thought.

  • Parties, like governments become elitist, corrupt and self-serving over time .
    There is no reason for them .
    The issues upon which parties differ can be decided upon by the electorate by means of direct democracy .

    Direct democracy is entirely possible by means of universal access to the internet/ computers and by casting an educated vote on those issues using one’s password or other electronic means of identification.

    All issues can be posted at a website and discussed much as we are doing here but , of course, regular speech get things said much more efficiently.

    As it is in Poder Popular’s municipal election process, assemblies of the electorate can gather and discuss the issues , get all the facts and differing views and then go vote on those issues.

    As a democrat, I do not believe Mao and his undemocratic methods of rule and the failure of China’s potential socialist society that that totalitarian form led to are anything I’d want to cite. Your quote excepted.
    Would that he had allowed it.

  • Anarchists correctly believe that any government long enough in power inevitably becomes self-preserving and totalitarian.

    Cuba’s Poder Popular, in the absence of the U.S. war on the people of Cuba and the societal pressures that war is causing , might well have succeeded in getting a good start toward a working democratic electoral system .

    Of course the enemies of the revolution who post here never mention the war or its effects figured at some 800 billion dollars over the 50+ years it has been waged. .

  • I’m an anarcho-communis and not a Stalinist and not a supporter of either the Leninist elitism the Cuban government has descended into nor of the capitalist and oligarchic totalitarianism that you probably support .

    Not one of the people you listed was or is a communist. They headed governments led by parties whose only communism was in the title of the party.

    Not one of the societies they ruled had the means of production in the hands of the general society nor were those economies democratically run from the bottom-up as a communist society is.

  • Socialists tend to be so thin skinned because the ideology tends to attract narcissists, and narcissists are pathologically incapable of accepting criticism.

    Just look at the rogues gallery of Communist dictators: Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, and the Kims. All of them narcissists.

  • Mao only said that to draw out critics so he could round them up and liquidate them.

  • Our First President, in his farewell address, warned us about the factionalism and animosities generated by political parties. No sooner did he warn us, then the first two, the Federalists and the Republican-Democrats, formed. Now that they are here, and likely to be here forever–or at least for a long, long, time,time–there should be a plethora of parties, so that citizens will not become alienated from the political process. As Chairman Mao once said (no doubt, remembering Emperor Wu Di;s, 141-87 B.C. earlier quote), “Let a thousand flowers bloom, let a hundred schools ot thought contend!”

  • No, he’s going to a ‘gulag’ (propaganda term detected) for beating his ex-wife in a legal process that took more than 3 years. The propagandists are trying to portray him as a victim when in fact nobody knows who’s telling the truth, as I commented that the only source for information about this comes from the ill-paid Wilfredo Cancio Isla when he wrote for the El Nuevo Herald:


    Surprisingly, from that day on you stopped being a vulture for ‘the Castros’:


    You were the one who started calling names and lit my wrath. You are just envious that I can actually think for myself instead of parroting the US Secretary of State.

    So deal with it and please respect my wishes. I do not want to be bothered anymore.

  • Tell that to Angel Santiesteban, an award-winning Cuban novelist who is now facing five years in a Cuba gulag for expressing himself in a blog based in Cuba called “Children Nobody Wanted” BTW, why are so many socialists thin-skinned? Given your tone, if you could you would probably send me to prison if you could.

  • What you say is nonsense, as there are many Cubans here on HT and elsewhere expressing their opinions and reflecting about society. This is another indicative that everything you say about yourself is a big fat lie.

    ‘If they were Cuban I would support the right to express themselves’ and them calling us names is a contradiction. Just because we actually do constructive criticism instead of propaganda and venom?

    Pseudo-intellectualism is your mama’s @!#$%. Did I tell you NOT to address me again?

  • With these three previous comments from strong Castro supporters, my point is well made. Imagine if John, Grady, and Luis were all Cubans. None of them would be allowed to express the very opinions each of them have posted below. And they like the Beasts from Biran! Now imagine someone who does not support the dictatorship? The Castros want lock-step support. John and Grady, despite their support, would be accused of being on the SINA payroll and Luis, for his psuedo-intellectualism, shut out of employment. I don’t agree with anyone of their comments, but if they were Cuban, I would support their right to express themselves. That’s the real difference between an open society and what exists in Cuba.

  • The problem is totalitarianism: the lack of direct democracy which given the structure of Poder Popular is certainly possible .
    Universal access to a computer that has a website at which one can vote on every issue that they wish to have a say on if not available now , possible now could certainly b made possible in a short to time.

    Democracy is the solution .

    The walls set up between a democratic society by the Leninist attitude of the PCC , the undemocratic candidate selection process, the entrenched bureaucracy all go to proves correct the anarchist tenet that any government long enough in power inevitably becomes corrupted, self-preserving and totalitarian .

    The inequities of capitalism are gone and only the rough conditions imposed on all Cubans by el bloquero prevent a much better life for all under the democratic and equitable distribution of essentials by the benevolence of the revolutionary system .

    Raul needs understand the necessity of speeding up reform or risk losing the ability of the Cuban people to handle and implement democracy across the societal spectrum from the electoral process to the economy.

    Just as a father must relinquish control of the children and treat them as the moral and ideological equals that they are and must be; to allow them to become adults and find their own way based on their rearing , Raul et al must likewise allow the Cuban people their political and social maturation and not fear that they will forget their revolutionary heritage and principles and fail.

    The fledglings must be allowed to fly.

  • Second paragraph:

    This is a point worth thinking about – do we even need a ‘leading party’, or political parties at all?

    200+ years from the French Revolution, I think political parties – generally speaking of course – have had their transformational stamina worn out.

  • As I’ve said under other HT articles about the Cuban electoral process, the process would better be called “confirmation voting.” This would call it what it is, and might not discredit the process quite as much.

    Authentic, workable socialism must have a democratic electoral process, or great mistakes are almost sure to be made by the leading party. If other political parties cannot by allowed in this period–for whatever reason or excuse–why not have several comrades within the PCC vie for the same political office before the voters?

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