My Take from Cuba’s Referendum

The Cuban government had urged its citizens to vote ‘yes’ on a broad legislative package, which they say will improve LGBTQ+ and women’s rights in the country. (Getty Images)

By Francisco Acevedo

HAVANA TIMES – The new Cuban Family Act was definitively approved after a referendum held across the entire island on Sunday September 25th, and after a partial vote abroad, limited to those who are on diplomatic missions or government collaborators.

The first referendum after the uprisings that shook the country in July 2021, was seen in a negative light by some, but I believe there were a lot more positive things for those of us who want real change. Let’s look at it in parts.

First, we already know that any vote in the midst of a totalitarian government raises suspicions, as it isn’t overseen by international or independent bodies within the country.

I want to carry on believing that the official statistics announced the following day are real (thus, I can think about the result), although, of course, there is no way of knowing if they are 100% accurate. As long as there is no evidence to prove the contrary – and this is pretty much impossible here in Cuba-, we have no other choice but to believe they are telling us the truth.

Careful though, this doesn’t mean to say we don’t need international observers in future elections, or that this sense of democracy will remain.

We also know that all mass media in Cuba has a single owner, and they were advocating for a YES vote, with intense campaigns going on for months, which included a permanent headband with the hashtag CodigoSi (ActYes) on every TV channel and program.

We knew that with a Constitution where individual freedoms stand out for their absence, a Family Act like the one being proposed is practically bla bla bla, because its members lack basic rights and nobody will ensure that it is complied with, just like other rights are violated.

Nevertheless, sexual minorities, including some people who are against the regime, publicly announced that they voted YES because it recognizes same-sex marriage and other incomparable gifts for the many homosexuals who have taken their own lives over the past six decades because of their unbearable situation. Likewise, those who had to do forced labor because of their sexual orientation or were forced to leave their Homeland because they felt out of place.

This is why it’s particularly striking that, despite all of this harassment, which workplaces also joined in on to make sure everybody went to the polls, and when the time came to close them approached, people went knocking on the doors of those who didn’t go to vote, “only” 74.01% of the population voted.

This is a normal average anywhere else in the world, but in a country used to a 95%+ turnout at any election, this drop is quite noticeable, and is due to the great work information websites such as this one and others that are similar have done, as well as the daily work of influencers on social media, who win over followers every day despite Internet connection problems that persist on the island.

The appeal was for people not to go and vote, and this may have perhaps been the best way to express their non-conformity with everyday reality in the country. However, those who work for the State (the majority) risk losing their livelihood if they don’t sign that they voted, as some people have complained about after publicly announcing their rejection of the referendum.

That said, things don’t end there, because out of the just over 6 million people who went to exercise their right to vote, just over 2 million voted NO, which makes up 33.13% of the valid ballots.

However, we must add the almost 360,000 ballots that were anuled, which is always seen as a display of opposition.

That is to say, if we add up those who clearly said NO with their votes, those who didn’t go to vote (just over 2 million) and those who anuled their ballot, a total of 4,483,000 Cubans rejected the proposal, which is over half of the 8,425 ,000 Cubans registered.

That’s already a significant number, but we can’t forget those who have abandoned the archipelago in recent months, which figues in the hundreds of thousands of Cubans, most of whom are old enough to vote and with an inclination to vote NO.

If we also count the 2 million Cubans living abroad, whose right to vote wasn’t taken into consideration (either) on this occasion, this failure would have been scandalous.

I still think that these millions of people don’t have pretty much anything against the Family Act itself, like I myself don’t, but we just can’t bear to watch the dictatorship clean its reputation.

Just look at how propaganda has spun this victory. No pro-government media platform talks about the victory of Socialism or support for the Revolution, like they always do, even when they’re voting on a new baseball team’s name.

Immediately after the referendum, the Cuban Republic’s Official Gazette published the Act and it came into vigor, as if they wanted to turn the page over really quickly, and this behavior clearly shows that our leaders came out of this vote with their tail between their legs.

The NO vote would have clearly won with an overwhelming majority, but a lot was done with propaganda, public figures joining the YES campaign, and the absolute invisibility of another option in Cuban media, as well as pressure on workers on the payroll.

This is why I believe the Cuban people finally spoke up, and they will be louder and clearer in the future.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times

2 thoughts on “My Take from Cuba’s Referendum

  • Bernard H. Goetz writes: “Cubans can vote on nonsensical things like this but can’t vote on the type of government they have. So many vote with their feet.”

    I agree with Bernard on this point that the referendum on the “Cuban Family Act” was “nonsensical” in these extraordinary times of extreme economic misery, poverty, infrastructure collapse, and outright hopelessness among the majority of the island’s residents.

    Bernard, I am sure the majority of Cubans would rather have stayed home than participate in this sham referendum. However, unlike in a democratic society where individuals have the freedom of choice to participate or not to participate in state referendums, in totalitarian Cuba that is not an option.

    Workers who work for the Cuban government or any of its subsidiaries have no choice but to show up at the polling station and to cast a ballot otherwise their much needed job is in jeopardy. Cubans are compelled to participate whether they like it or not and are literally intimidated to engage or lose their only source of sustenance: a peso paying job.

    Moreover, the totalitarian government can then demonstrate to the outside world how the majority of Cubans did in fact “participate” in the referendum and that the communist government is to be seen as allowing its citizens the opportunity to vote. So, those readers who have a very limited understanding of what is going on in Cuba today conclude exactly what Bernard concludes: “Cubans can vote on nonsensical things like this but can’t vote on the type of government they have.” This is an erroneous and misinformed conclusion if one is inferring citizens can vote in any type of government they want. Why?

    The Cuban totalitarian government will not allow Cubans to vote – period – either in a general election or by referendum, for the right to choose their government of choice. That is simply not done, not allowed, acceptable in a totalitarian regime whether that regime is in Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea, Venezuela. Citizens in these societies will be given a sham choice if and only if it benefits the current rulers in power.

    For example, did not Russia’s Vladimir Putin have sham elections for residents in the four disputed territories in Ukraine where Russian officials went door to door “requesting” citizens to “vote” under dire duress? I believe the final count was over 90% in favor of joining Russia to no one’s surprise under those dictatorial circumstances. A nonsensical “election” to choose four governments that don’t represent reality.

    Bernard you write and conclude: “So many vote with their feet.” Yes. Cubans have but three choices in Cuba today. As you state, those fortunate Cubans with the resources can choose to leave the island. Others, with next to no resources to leave must stay and endure. While others, as we see more and more, are beginning to voice their opinions on the streets. Of course to do so means extreme consequences, like beatings and jail time, for those caught expressing their conscious on the streets.

    I think Luis Rondon Paz sums up nicely the Cuban government’s reasoning for the Cuban Family Act referendum as written in his article in HT “The Cuban Dictatorship Puts on Rainbow Makeup (September 29, 2022).

    “Given the exceptional circumstances the country finds itself in – extreme misery in terms of food and medicine; a drastic drop in exports; extreme repression against those whose opinions differ from the official discourse – I believe the regime chose to put a new game piece into play on the chessboard, this time in favor of the LGBTQI+ collectives, with the chief aim of once again distracting the attention of the world, as well as of those inside the country.” Distraction, distraction, all a distraction, from the ruthless reality of what the majority of Cubans must endure daily.

  • Cubans can vote on nonsensical things like this but can’t vote on the type of government they have. So many vote with their feet.

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