Habemus Constitution in Cuba

By Alejandro Langape

Havana bar. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES – Well, a little after 3 PM on Monday, Alina Balseiro (president of the National Election Commission) revealed the preliminary results of the Constitutional Referendum that was held in Cuba on February 24th, which resulted in a comfortable win for the YES vote, which implies that Cuba will soon have a new Carta Magna.

By all means, responses from champions of the Vote YES and NO campaigns soon came flooding in after these were announced, on different platforms. There were obviously significant differences between one and the other.

The Vote YES campaign was intense on broadcast media and wore out radio listeners and TV viewers, who were constantly bombarded by short clips with celebrities from Culture, Sports or just workers laying out their reasons for why to vote YES and without too much mention of what might happen if the constitutional proposal wasn’t passed.

On the contrary, champions of the Vote No campaign had to seek refuge online, on social media which has become a new power to reckon with and, while it’s true that many detractors of the constitutional proposal could openly state their objections, it’s also true that many Cubans can’t access today’s new technology to the same extent and so, the chance of them finding out different information to what appears in let’s say traditional press (at the complete service of the Cuban government’s interests), is limited.

I want to highlight several points before analyzing the preliminary results that the electoral authorities revealed.

First of all, the fact that Cuba’s elections continue to be rooted in the 20th century. Different spaces announced that a little over 8 million Cubans had been summoned to vote, however, the updated list, on voting day, was made up of 9,298,277 voters, a difference that makes you question whether the electoral register was properly compiled.

Cubans who went to vote at the polls this Sunday, could confirm this shortcoming in their constituencies, where names of voters continue to appear on a list that is out-of-date and pretty often, certain people’s names don’t appear on the register (I can testify for three cases when voters’ names didn’t appear on the list, in spite of living in the area understood to be a constituecy.

Incredibly enough, an electronic register doesn’t exist at every voting station, nor any other means that would prevent long waiting times while the poll workers made calls to find out what they should do in these cases.

With regard to the vote itself, it is almost absurd that the ballot paper is marked with a pencil, which stirs suspicions in the voter because their vote could be easily changed to its opposite (careful though, I’m not insinuating that the final result was rigged, I’m merely mentioning the feasibility of this happening).

Why don’t we vote in pen (much harder to manipulate the vote)? Why isn’t modern technology used in these proccesses? It’s worth remembering that our National Assembly still votes by a raise of hands and that in th eyes of the least biased onlooker, our electoral system is totally outdated with its manual registers.

Now let’s take a look at these figures shall we, which can have more than one meaning. The fact that the turnout of voters at the polls didn’t reach 85% of the supposedly updated register was significant, as what would be considered a huge turnout in any other country, indicates a step backwards in comparison to other elections when it was well above 90% (it would be interesting to see how this played out in specific results by province).

Reasons? Many people probably found themselves saturated by the government’s campaign for a YES vote repeated (in bodega ration stores, office walls, schools, movie theaters, lamp posts), we coud say that you could find posters calling on people to vote (and vote YES, of course) in any public space.

Approximately a million and a half people with the right to vote (1,449,934 to be exact, according to figures given by the election authorities), didn’t go to the polls and even though abstention can’t be taken for outright rejection of the new Constitution, it’s also true that it didn’t motivate them enough to go and support it.

Over a million Cubans who went to vote (1,032,174, to be exact) didn’t back it, and I’m talking here about blank as well as void ballot papers, as well as the ones which voted NO.

Comparing this figure to the 6,816,169 YES votes, it’s obvious that most Cubans supported the proposal, for one reason or another. However, we can no longer talk about monolithic unity in Cuba, absolute support and other claims that can easily be refuted in today’s context.

The new Carta Magna is superior to the one that has been in force ever since 1976, however, that one had mass support, both in terms of turnout, voting YES, both of which were well above 90%.

The official press has multiplied the articles and comments that celebrate the government’s great victory, in spite of… and they openly criticize those who championed the Vote NO campaign, and talk about the imposed media platforms from other countries (forgetting the ones they themselves pushed).

I have talked a little bit about our qualms with this new constitutional proposal in previous articles. And, over 60% of the original draft was amended after the popular consultation phase, as a sign that the constitutional committee didn’t keep important aspects of Cuban reality in account.

The approved Constitution extended Cubans’ rights and safeguards, but it imposes a de facto single-party government, is ambiguous about the economic opening the country needs, planting the seed of doubt by rescuing the figure of Prime Minister, whose functions could overlap with those of the President, leaving no or just a slight margin for people to directly elect their representatives and main public officials.

It also recognizes conscientious objection but limits its invocation to the point of voiding it, leaving the subject of same-sex marriage in the air with a dull definition that provokes disagreement from both its supporters and detractors.

It’s a flawed Constitution, marked by ideological bias, which pins down positions from the very preamble, and many Cubans feel this isn’t enough.

Over 25% of voters didn’t vote YES for this Constitution. They also need to be governed in the future, if we really do go by that Marti phrase that should be our banner for a plural Cuba: with everyone and for everyone’s wellbeing.