Over the past few weeks, the international press has been all eager to inform the world that, for the first time in the history of Cuba (after the Revolution), two candidates of the opposition, Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez, stood as candidates in the election of delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power held on April 19. Recent thaw in relations with the United States has brought Cuba into spotlight and potential changes in the island’s governance toward a more democratic model certainly seem very appealing to foreign governments and investors from all over the world.
However, People in Need would like to draw attention to the Cuban electoral system, which hasn’t changed: it continues to be a hollow mechanism whose sole purpose is to ensure continuity of the one-party system. Despite the fact that every two years and a half there are elections with new candidates, we mustn’t forget that the elected delegates are at the lowest level of the strongly hierarchical system of government. As such, they are obliged to comply with the directives from the upper echelons of power.
There’s no denying that any citizen can propose a candidate for a delegate to any of the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power in Cuba. Elected delegates then choose the Presidents of People’s Council and these, in turn, elect the Chairman of the Municipal Administration, who must be a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and whose decisions are governed by the Municipal Secretary of the Communist Party. However, none of the candidates elected to posts at any of the levels will be able to defend any social or economic political program: they are all supposed to work in concert to implement the directives approved by the Communist Party, which is, in contrary to the principle of popular sovereignty, the actual governing power in Cuba under Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution.
On the other hand, it’s clear that two opposition candidates (both standing for election in Havana) in the mass of over 27,000 official candidates for delegates cannot, by any means, be thought to represent the Cuban society as a whole and its desires. Rather, they can be seen as a minor concession – an attempt to try to improve the semblance of an electoral system in which citizens’ votes lack real value. In addition, when the CVs of the candidates were published on April 1, 2015, those of Chaviano and Lopez contained information that the two men were related to “counter-revolutionary” groups. Although the Municipal Electoral Commission had previously warned them that this word will appear in their CVs, it wasn’t able to explain what the term “counter-revolutionary” meant.
Another interesting factor in the context of Cuban elections is that citizens vote for CVs, not for political projects. They give their votes to candidates judging on their merits, not on what they intend to do for the community. Thus, the act of voting in Cuba is not an entitlement to choose, but an obligation to participate in elections, which are a way of keeping the system going. Cuban citizens have become used to the fact that their vote has no real impact and that it cannot contribute to any kind of change. Some of them have even lost their fear and refused to go to the polls.
As far as the opposition is concerned, many of its members decline to participate in the elections because they see them as a way of legitimization of the regime. Then there are others, such as members of the platform known as “Candidatos por el Cambio” (“Candidates for Change”), which seeks to promote democracy from below – from the basic structures of State administration. These, on the other hand, believe that the 400 votes Chaviano and Lopez obtained are like 400 blows given to Raul Castro’s dictatorship, even though they didn’t win in the end.
In any case, so far there haven’t been any tangible results with regard to the reform of the electoral law. We should bear in mind that if a new electoral law is introduced one day, the change it will produce will be totally inadequate because free elections are impossible without freedom of expression, association and the press, which Cuba still lacks. Citizens can never be able to freely vote in a country where members of the Ladies in White movement continue to be assaulted every Sunday when marching to the Mass, a country where the graffiti artist El Sexto remains in jail for having tried to do an artistic performance, a country listed by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the 10th most censored state in the world.