No False Promises in Cuba´s Elections

Yusimi Rodriguez

Mesa electoral en Cuba. Photo: venceremos.cu

HAVANA TIMES, April 24 — Last summer, I heard a song playing while on the beach. I don’t know what group it was by, but there was one line where they sang about “…a black man in the White House.”  The lyrics were referring to the ascent of Barack Obama into the presidency of the United States of America, a country historically racist and where the sons and daughters of Africa arrived as slaves.

I remembered when I watched his victory on TV here, I was filled with expectations: The war in Iraq would be ended, the prison at the Guantanamo naval base would be closed, and dialogue would begin between the governments of my country and the United States, which in turn would lead to the lifting of the economic blockade and the normalization of relations between the two countries.

I expected a change because Obama had promised in his campaign to be the “President of Change.”  Eight months later, when hearing the song, I thought that about all those things I had expected and I realized the sole thing that had changed was the calendar.

Were the promises of Obama false?  I don’t know; and I don’t know if at this point it matters.  I want to believe that he really did have the intention of doing everything he said he would.  The Cuban press and television have followed his struggle to reform the health care system in his country and to ensure medical insurance to millions of his fellow citizens who don’t possess it – there in the richest country in the world.  So yes, I still want to believe in Barack Obama.

Cubans vote on Sunday for their municipal representatives. Photo: granma.cubaweb.cu

But the song and the enthusiasm —which I shared with the American people, especially that of US African-Americans—  only demonstrate our naiveté when thinking that a change in the color in the US presidential office would result in radical change in that country’s domestic and foreign policy.  We thought it was enough to give a splash of black paint to the White House for the world to be better, more just; thinking this was truly possible.

The Hispanic community expected improvements, especially in the situations of those who are living illegally in the United States.  An article published here in the Granma newspaper spoke of the possibility of Obama freeing an activist who had struggled for the rights of the Native American community in the United States. He has been imprisoned for decades for a crime that —as has been demonstrated— he didn’t commit.  The author of the article based this hope on the fact that Obama also belongs to a ethnic minority that is  discriminated against in that country.

We haven´t come to understand that even though power dresses in black, the power relations remain. We can now see that Barack Obama is simply the president of the most powerful country in the world, and that in that country, those who in fact have the most power are not the president.

Barack Obama won’t leave a historic legacy of the “President of Change.” He will go down as being the first black president of the United States, and I think that really the sole winner has been the power of that nation; the US that has been able to make many people believe that it is the land of true democracy, where a Black person too can be nominated for the presidency, win the election and become president.

I remember when I was little, people here talked about Jesse Jackson, another US African-American who ran for president in that country to change things. That seemed naive, though he was the Black person who had gone the furthest prior to Obama in terms of political aspirations.

However, now with Obama as president, it seemed like anything could be accomplished.  Jesse Jackson himself, captured by the TV cameras after Obama’s victory, seemed thrilled.  He spoke as if this were really a victory for the country’s entire African-American community and for all those who were poor and suffered discrimination.  Right, the US has a great system, some said.

Elections on Sunday in Cuba

Here in my country, on the eve of Cubans turning out to vote in the April 25 elections, I can feel pity for people in the US who went to the polls with the hope that their vote could change things in their country.  How naive.

Voters are urged to vote for the best candidates. Photo: radiorebelde.cu

I’m lucky that the leaders of my country have not made any false promises to win my vote to maintain their positions in power.  The fact is they don’t depend on my vote to stay in the power.  The fact is that I won’t be voting for the president of my country or any other national office when I exercise my right to vote on Sunday. Voting is a right that is guaranteed to me in my country; it is such a solid guarantee that if for some reason I forgot to turn show up at the polls, someone will come to my house looking for me so that I cast my ballot.

This Sunday’s elections will be carried out to choose delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power.  Recently, newspaper and television journalist have advised people that they should vote only for one candidate in this election; this guidance was necessary because of cases in which some people voted for more than one or all of the people nominated, which resulted in their ballots being disqualified.

It seems that after so many years hearing the slogan “All are worthy, vote for them” and “The united vote,” people went and mechanically checked all the blanks.  The newspaper clarified that in elections for delegates at the provincial and national level voters will in fact be able to vote for several or all of those people nominated.

Elections 2010 in Cuba. Photo: cadenahabana.cu

So that´s how far our participation in elections goes.   Although right now I’m not sure, because yesterday I spoke with someone who assured me that we were only going to vote for delegates to the Municipal Assembly.   What we all know for sure is that we don’t elect the president.

The country’s president will be elected in a meeting of the Council of State —another body that is not chosen by us— or by the National Assembly of Popular Power – which is not elected by us either.

We will vote for the candidate who we see as having the best chance of solving our problems when they’re presented —problems like finding construction supplies to fix the roof or a wall, or addressing the irregular distribution of food rations— because we always take the legal route before convincing ourselves that there’s no other remedy before resorting to illegal black-market means.

Voting in Cuba. Photo: rcm.cu

We won’t be able to ask about the dual currency, freedom of the press, low wages (in domestic currency) or high prices (in CUCs)… Those aren’t issues I’ll be able to raise with the elected delegate.

Many people speculate, inside and outside of Cuba, about the succession of the presidency in this country (the next national elections are scheduled for late 2012).  Will our current leader be reaffirmed?  Will comrade Ramiro Valdes assume the presidency?   Meanwhile, our role is to observe as simple spectators —spectators who will suffer the consequences of these outcomes— and wait to find out who will be the president that they elect for us this time.


26 thoughts on “No False Promises in Cuba´s Elections

  • July 31, 2010 at 8:20 am
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    I intended to discuss the comparative democracies Cuba v US, neither of which is a Democracy.

    Then, I went to the Black Agenda website, http://www.blackagendareport.com and read Bruce Dixon’s lead editorial. Here is the link. He says all I would have, and more. Read it if you want a dose of reality. The link is:

    http://www.blackagendareport.com/?q=content/you-cant-stop-violence-ghetto-streets-without-stopping-violence-iraq-afghanistan-and-elsewhe

    This is a website worth visiting regularly…

  • July 24, 2010 at 10:58 pm
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    Yusimi,

    Apparently you are not clear on your country’s electoral process. You said that you don’t vote for national assembly, but that is not true. Every five years you do vote for national assembly… well, at least around 95-97% of your compatriots do….

  • May 11, 2010 at 12:31 am
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    Well said, Maria.

  • April 30, 2010 at 3:10 pm
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    Just want to support my Cuban brothers and sisters in their desire for a better government. and life. While I do not support those who would take Cuba back to the heinous times before the revolution of virtual slavery of the masses while a small elite and foreigners grew fat and rich, I do support my brothers and sister s today who call for a better government committed to justice, equality and supporting the people in Cuban to develop themselves and their families and be all they can.COnstant improvement and self reflection is necessary to make the progress we as a human race need. All governments can benefit from that–none is perfect and all suffer from their humanity.

  • April 28, 2010 at 3:58 pm
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    I forgot to add: truly poor families tend to spend a large percentage of their monthly income on food, but this isn’t a somewhat ‘exclusive’ Cuban phenomena.

    And a note to the webmaster: older post are not being shown anymore.

  • April 28, 2010 at 3:41 pm
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    Julio,

    I know that there other political parties in the US, but the in the long run their influence is meaningless. Just like the opposition in Cuba.

    You say not all republicans are the same and not all the democrats are the same. Hell, not all communists are the same – you confuse the political game one’s own personal beliefs.

    And sincerely, you’re trying to be more realist than the King* in your economical reasoning – again, it’s not fair to compare a feeble economy in the Caribbean to the biggest (yet decaying) economic and military power in the world.

    Well, anyway, it’s been a nice chat.

    Regards,
    Luis

    * In this case, the UN and even the CIA (!)

  • April 27, 2010 at 4:38 pm
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    I do not think all democrats are on the right.
    Let me be clear to me the main difference between a state like Cuba and US from the economic point of view is that the regime thinks only government can solve problems and is allow to solve problems is society.
    While here we believe that there is certain things a government should and can do while the rest is up to individuals by themselves or via businesses.
    Is interesting to notice that Cuba has also allowed for businesses but even more interesting that they discriminate their own citizens. So you have the extraordinary situation that a foreigner can own a business in Cuba but a Cuban can not! Why the discrimination?
    Why Cubans can not own a business in their own country when foreigners are allowed to?
    From the society point of view it will be more beneficial for Cubans to own businesses than foreigners because they will have more chances of reinvesting capital into the country again instead of taking it away!

  • April 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm
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    Luis with regards to democrats and republican here those parties I agree may not reflect everyone but those are not the only political parties in this country.
    They happen to be the two with the majority.
    Within one party you have to recognize that they have a varied group of ideological positions. Not all democrats are the same and not all republicans are the same.
    But in Cuba you get this block of people with unanimous decisions.
    That is definitely wrong!
    Before approving anything that will affect everyone in Cuba all the views of everyone in Cuba should be taken into consideration. If only one side is represented then many people will just give up on the system or oppose strongly to the system. Many do choose to oppose and many more do choose to go.
    Should it be that way? Either you are with me or against me?
    How about we try to find a common solution that will satisfy you and me?
    It is a lot harder to work but the solutions are better.

  • April 27, 2010 at 4:11 pm
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    Luis, what is the purchasing power of this 10 to 20 dollars they get paid?
    It pretty much equates to the purchasing power of 10 to 20 US dollars or very close to it.
    They do get some food thru the rationing booklet that apparently is about to disappear if we follow the rumors and hints given by Granma. The food from the rationing book does help the very poor but is insufficient. The prices they paid thru the rationing booklet will probably be on par with the amounts they get paid.
    Normally people should not expend more than 15 to 20 percent of their income on food. They expend more than 100 percent of theirs income in securing food.

    If you forget conversions and just look at it from that point of view of them expending more money than they are paid to satisfy their food intake then you do realize something is very wrong!
    Why have they not fixed it? This is a chronic problem since the first few years a consequence of the disaster created by collectivism.

  • April 27, 2010 at 4:10 pm
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    The OP seems to be butt-hurt about the US President not fulfilling all her wishes. Guess what? He is the United States’ President, not Cuba’s. He has rekindled diplomacy with Europe and the Middle East.

    Off-topic, why are there no stories/views on Cuba’s infiltration and pretty much domination inside Venezuela’s Government?

  • April 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm
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    Fr. d’escoto with an interview with Amy Goodman on democracyNow says it best-“We have to “Decolonize our Minds” as written by his famous author Berekley professor Ngugi. Obama is only the first black president not the second coming of christ.(SMILE). Its only been 45 yrs we have some civil rights in the US-the rest is an “illusion”. There is no place in the world except here where they are closing more schools and builting more private prisons for black men.

  • April 27, 2010 at 3:58 am
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    Julio,

    I think you are equivocated in this numerical balance of income/salary of yours, since the per capita income calculation is bundled with the purchasing power parity, while the (in)famous ’10 to 20 dollars’ average of the monthly wages in Cuba does not take that into consideration. Sure, they are low, specially if – unjustly – compared to the wages in the developed world, but not *that* low.

    I agree with you that the interests of ~11 million people cannot possibly be represented by one political party, but neither do the interests of ~300 million people can be represented by two political parties, both on the right (the Democrat party is center-right at best).

    Cheers

  • April 26, 2010 at 7:09 pm
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    If one uses the numbers like percapita income for Cuba one finds that the percapita income is from 400 to 600 dollars a month per Cuban. As we know , they get pay between 10 to 20 US dollars a month. So what happens to the rest of the money?
    Is it going to pay for the so call “Free services”? Like education and health?
    If that is the reason, why do they cost so much? What other things are pay with that money?
    There is a lack of transparency and accountability. You need to be able to clearly tell if people satisfied promises they make.
    I recall a speech by Raul of maybe 1 or 2 years ago . He talks about milk not just for kids until they are 7 years old but for everyone else. When will this happen? 10 or 50 years or maybe never?
    If milk was not rationed do you think people will automatically just give priority to those in more need as oppose to satisfy their own priority?
    That is why you let the value of milk set itself and the demand and price will make milk appear again in…

  • April 26, 2010 at 7:00 pm
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    Luis
    I agree with you that no representative democracy can be a real Democracy.
    So we all get into these lower case democracies. Let us see
    In the US every one can choose the party to their liking that represents the interest they hold true
    In Cuba only those on the left get representation
    Someone like me does not and believe me there is many like me in Cuba. I am not a unique case.
    To start I can show you that about 2 million of us have abandoned the experiment over there.
    So when you get a large or even small group of people who are not really represented then we can hardly call the system a representative democracy.
    It is interesting to notice that when Cuba was capitalist Fidel Castro wanted 30 and 50 percent profit sharing for workers, why not now that he is in power? I guess is easier to be a Robin Hood. Take from the rich and give it to the poor. Now they could have done that. They could have raise Cuban living standard.

  • April 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm
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    The reason why capitalism succeeds is because it uses this human nature to want the best in each of us and translates it into the best for the whole society in general. If you try to eliminate money with currently is a measure of value. Then people will go back to the time of barter. Is that wise? There is a reason money was invented. It is the measuring stick we use to assign value to everything.

    In a capitalist society you do not have to ask people to become more productive so you can paid more like Raul has asked! It happens naturally! Because there is competition in every aspect. So this intrinsic competition is what drives capitalism to improve itself. While in Cuba they go in a downward spiral of productivity.
    Here you work because you have to and because you want to not because you are commanded to do so.
    That is exactly the difference between capitalism and slavery.
    So that is the main economical problem with Cuba’s system it’s slavery.

  • April 26, 2010 at 3:33 pm
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    Grady and others Thank you for your kind comments!
    I have explained clearly why I think a society base on individual making unselfish decisions on their own will fail.
    Humans are inherently greedy they want the best for themselves and their offspring it is part of nature since those better adapted have better chances of survival.
    Success in our current human societies is measure by money and money is a measure of productivity.
    So how would you go about fixing it?
    Cuba is an example. They have de-evaluated the Cuban peso so much that their currency is virtual trash. So in a sense they have no clue of the real value of many things. Consequently their society looses by this loss of value.
    If you are not pay or paid very little there is very little incentive for people to do work or to improve. There is a name for such kind of societies that pay nothing. It is call slavery. That explain the top down system where people at the top command those at the bottom.

  • April 26, 2010 at 2:48 pm
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    As a Canadian i travel when i can to Cuba to escape the daily grind.
    The writer clearly omits many realities.First Cuba although i enjoy it is it’s very racist blacks do not generally get the good jobs in the tourism industry.The hotels are staffed by mostly whites.Just ask a black Cuban when your there about this.
    The police in Cuba check black Cuban ID’s and harass them regularly they are no position to be pointing fingers.
    As for the slave issue many countries had slavery Cuba did not abolish it until 1886 Brazil 1888.
    And Brazil had the largest amount of slaves even more than the USA something never brought up.
    Cuban elections are a joke the Castro family have been running a dictatorship for 51 years another reality nobody wins elections for 51 years.
    Free speech does not exist if you bad mouth the regime there are serious problems.Political prisoners are another reality of Cuba my Cuban friends always tell me be very careful what you say we are not free.

  • April 25, 2010 at 11:56 pm
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    Yusimi, u’ve written another great article that enlightens us all. Thanks.

    To Julio de la Yncera: I’m a modern cooperative socialist. We believe n the establishment of a socialist Cooperative Republic in the US, & also a network of such republics around the world. Only this, n our view, can give real ownership of the means of production to working, productive people, provide truly democratic representative civil government & enable the people to stop devastation of the world environment & world war.

    As a transformational socialist I’ve taken exception to many of the things u’ve said in various responses to HT articles. Just as often however I’ve found the core of your reasoning sound. Your reasoning here is a good example. Much could be contested, but in the main, you are correct.

    You apparently hold the illusion that capitalism is the way to go for humanity. In this you are sadly mistaken. Your legacy probably will be as an intelligent, wasted patriot.

  • April 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm
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    Barack Obama is simply a skillful political liar who was chosen by the Wall St. oligarchy 2 fool the people yet 1 more time, in a time of crisis. There was never any hope 4 change with this stooge — & the likes of Jesse Jackson have also made a career out of extending such foolish hope indefinitely, when social revolution is in fact called 4. But the 1st black man who REALLY had hope of becoming U.S. president — Martin Luther King Jr. — got what people who advocate REAL change in the U.S. get: a bullet in the face (when he courageously refused mafia-style hints 2 go away — or else). & there will B more of that in future, not less.

    It is a shame that Cuba — at de facto war with U.S. imperialism — is in a constant state of war-readiness: with all the limitations on real democracy that that entails. Obviously your political system has 2 democratize even more — but the social revolution sweeping América Latina will guarantee the safety in doing that now. Have hope.

  • April 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm
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    Well, this article shows (some of) the limits of representative democracy in both the US and Cuba.

    A true Democracy with a capital ‘D’ has never been put to practice, really – I personally think that the mystification of that word is one of the biggest ideological scams of all time, as it banalized the whole concept of democracy.

    Instead, we have a (global?) democratic process which includes several layers of popular participation occurring at different paces at different times and places. If we analyse historical context – something our friend Julio solemnly ignores – we see that this is not a linear process at all and there’s too much ground for us to cover yet.

    Truly, as Yusumi says, it’s too naive to think – or better yet, to believe – otherwise.

  • April 25, 2010 at 2:32 pm
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    Obama has kept his promises as far as Cuba is concerned. He promised to permit Cuban-Americans unlimited travel and to be able to send remittances without limit so that they could provide Cubans with the ability to NOT work in the Cuban public sector. Cuban-Americans, Obama said, would be the best representatives of American democracy.

    Anyone who watched the Elian struggle and the progress of politics in Miami where school books that show Cuban children with smiles on their faces are banned from the libraries. In fact, the Miami Militants are still bitterly complaining about Elian, as they bitterly complain about the Bay of Pigs. However, they lost and that’s the most important thing to keep in mind.

    Obama also promised to maintain the US blockade of the island, and he has kept that promise as well.

    Walter Lippmann
    Los Angeles, California

  • April 25, 2010 at 12:27 pm
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    So if we were going to judge the revolution by the promises made in 1953 by Fidel Castro and even by many later promises even though he had most of these 50 years almost absolute power. He has not satisfy them.
    So why is it that we can not place some one else who is better at keeping promises?
    What is wrong with the Cuban political system?
    Do this people elected have any real power or is it just the little group at the top who controls all the power?

    Why Cubans can’t vote directly for the president of their country?

    Are Cubans too stupid to not be able to know what is really going on?
    or is it the other way around?

    We know what is going on and those in power like to keep power even if they do not do what they have promise us! Is that fair?

  • April 25, 2010 at 11:51 am
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    Elections promises are kind of like a measuring stick we can use to later judge on the performance of a president.
    Was he able to do what he promise? How close did he or she got?
    If nothing is promise then how do you know from a simple bio and a picture about what a person thinks?
    and of how he will try to solve problems? Compare to the other candidates?

  • April 25, 2010 at 11:48 am
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    Obviously 3 and 4 were never done. If one extends that 30 percent or 50 percent to any job in Cuba.
    I wonder what percent the tourist workers or noways get?
    Maybe not even 1 percent of the profit!
    Or the one in other professions like the doctors in clinics for foreigners that make millions of dollars and how much will this doctors get pay?
    Or the farmers that produce the tobacco? What fraction of percent on the profit will they get?
    Or the fisherman who get the lobsters? and on and on?

    So as you can see
    None of the platform promises had been maintained.

    Now going back to Obama. The difference here is that the president in this country does not have absolute power. Is a share power with congress who makes laws and the Supreme Court that interprets them.
    So it is said there is a separation of power. This is very wise to do. So that none can have the absolute power of let us say a King. A consequence is that many promises may go unfulfilled unfortunately.

  • April 25, 2010 at 11:41 am
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    Yusimi
    While reading your comparison of how about US election politics and Cuba’s I was reminded of what to many was a political platform.

    In 1953 Fidel Castro gave a speech known by its last phrase “The history will Absolve me”.
    In there we find this 5 revolutionary laws

    1. The reinstatement of the 1940 Cuban constitution.
    2. A reformation of land rights
    3. The right of industrial workers to a 30% share of company profits.
    4. The right of sugar workers to receive 55% of company profits.
    5. The confiscation of holdings of those found guilty of fraud under previous administrative powers.

    Let us examine them
    number one the Cuban constitution was replace by a different one so item one is not done!

    Number 2 was done but immediately farmers were push around in order that they will conform to the collectivization and later trends in collectivism that turn out to be an economical calamity still affecting Cuba with the scarcity of food.

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