Elections Called in Cuba:
This is what democracy looks like!
By Tamara Hansen
“But in the 2 years since that revolution swept Fidel Castro into power, those promises have all been broken. There have been no free elections - and there will be none as long as Castro rules. All political parties - with the exception of the Communist Party - have been destroyed…But Castro is not just another Latin American dictator - a petty tyrant bent merely on personal power and gain. His ambitions extend far beyond his own shores. He has transformed the island of Cuba into a hostile and militant Communist satellite - a base from which to carry Communist infiltration and subversion throughout the Americas.”
-US Senator John F. Kennedy Jr. (Democrat), October 6th 1960, one year before being elected US president
“It's in our interests that Cuba become free, and it's in the interest of the Cuban people that they don't have to live under an antiquated form of government that has just been repressive… Some will say all that matters is stability -- which in my judgment will just simply reinforce the followers of the current regime. I think we ought to be pressing hard for democracy.”
-US President George W. Bush (Republican), June 28th 2007, at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island
Cuba sets an example
For many years the government of the United States, whether it is the democrats or republicans in power, has been labeling Cuba as a country without free elections and with a dictatorship. They complain that there is no freedom of speech, a single party political system and that Fidel is a tyrant who imprisons all of his opponents.
But sitting in a country where, according to their own Federal Election Commission, voter turn out has sat between 49-55% in the last 3 elections, and where approval ratings for the President, George W. Bush, currently stand at 27% according to a Gallup/USA Today poll, we must ask: Who is the United States to judge and evaluate electoral system and democracy?
While the United Nations International Covenants on Human Rights state, “all peoples have the right of self-determination, including the right to determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development,” the US refuses to acknowledge Cuba’s right to decide on its own system of elections and democracy.
On April 16th 1961, Cuba’s Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro declared the socialist character of their revolution and made clear why the US was so intent on invading Cuba. “Because the imperialists do not forgive us for being here…That’s what they will not forgive—that we are here, under their very nose, and that we have built a socialist Revolution under the very nose of the United States!...Workers and peasants, this is a socialist and democratic Revolution of the poor, by the poor and for the poor. And for this Revolution of the poor, by the poor and for the poor we are ready to give our lives.”
What are elections like in Cuba?
The Cuban government has three main elected levels: municipal, provincial and national. Elections begin at the municipal level, with residents in each constituency (a smaller area within a municipality) nominating between 2 and 8 candidates at public meetings held several weeks before the municipal election. Out of these candidates the constituency elects one delegate to their municipal assembly. Once the municipal representatives have been elected they receive suggestions from nomination commissions for who should be elected to the provincial assembly and as the deputy to the national assembly. The municipal councils then vote on this grouping of suggested representatives. This grouping is then sent to the population for ratification.
Who participates in the constituency elections? Article 132 of the Cuban Constitution ratified in 1992 states, “All Cubans over 16 years of age, men and women alike, have the right to vote except those who: a) are mentally disabled and have been declared so by court; b) have committed a crime and because of this have lost the right to vote.” Who can be nominated as a candidate? Article 133 of the Cuban constitution states, “All Cuban citizens, men and women alike, who have full political rights can be elected. If the election is for deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power they must be more than 18 years old.” Who is in these ‘nomination commissions’? In accordance with Cuba’s Electoral Law, it is the municipal, provincial or national, executives of the Central Cuban Workers’ Organisation (CTC), the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the University Students’ Federation (FEU) and the Intermediate Level Students Federation (FEEM) who give the suggested nominations to the elected municipal representatives.
Elections are truly a community affair. The ballot boxes are guarded by young children who are members of the pioneers (similar to Girl Guides and Boy Scouts in Canada). The votes are counted publicly, anyone interested in watching the vote count is free to do so, including national and foreign media, diplomats, tourists, etc. The reason for having civil society groups create a nomination commission is to make sure that groups who were traditionally excluded from elections: workers, women, Afro-Cubans and young people all have organizations representing their interests involved in the elections process.
Should the US really be talking about democracy?
The US government tries to confuse people who hear that there is only one political party in Cuba. In an article from Agence France-Presse (AFP) entitled, “US pokes fun at Castro and calls elections sham” from July 10th 2007, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "If Castro-lite, meaning Raul Castro, wants to hold elections-lite, meaning the kind that they have held in the past -- single party elections that don't allow the people to have a choice and only allow them to ratify the rule of the current dictatorship -- whether its Fidel Castro's name that is on top of the ballot or Raul Castro's doesn't really matter much."
But the question is, do you have to be a member of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) to run or be nominated for elections in Cuba? The answer is no. The Associated Press explained after the April 2005 elections in Cuba, “Under Cuba's one-party system, municipal, provincial and national representatives are elected by citizens on a local level. Anyone can be nominated to these posts, including people who aren't members of the island's ruling communist party - the only one recognized in Cuba's constitution.”
Secondly, it is interesting to point out from an article on Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) website, “The Cuban people are perfectly familiar with the characteristics and “bounties” of the multiparty system that the United States praises so much; it lived with it for more than half a century. What is paradoxical is that the superpower wishes to impose on others what it has not been able to achieve itself. In the United States, a one party system is, in fact, in place, the party of capital and the transnationals, which from time to time changes its costume and has managed to stay in power for more than 200 years.”
What about the dissidents in Cuba?
According to the BBC in the 2003 elections, “Dissidents had called on voters to hand in blank ballots, dismissing the election as a "parody" of democracy.” However, only 0.86% of the votes for the 2003 provincial elections came in blank. Basically these ‘dissidents’, which the US, British, and other bourgeois media pay so much attention too, are a minority in Cuba. One cannot make the argument either that the vote was invalid because of low voter turn out, because while the United States voter turn out is hovering around 50% , over 97% of voters turned out for the last municipal and provincial elections in Cuba. The vast majority of Cubans do indeed want to see improvements and changes in their country, BUT they want to see these changes happen under revolutionary leadership, without US interference or Iraq-style ‘liberation’.
How do nominees campaign in Cuba, don’t you need a lot of money?
The only campaigning allowed in Cuba is the publication of each candidate’s official biography. This outlines the history and character of each candidate and is put up around the neighbourhood.
In an article written by journalist Teresita Jorge, for AIN, a Cuban news agency, she states, “The ethical standards that are part of the Cuban electoral process today explicitly prohibit political campaigns to convince voters choose a specific candidate or to attack the prestige of an opponent. The delegates, who form part of the municipal People's Power Assemblies, have to provide voters with a yearly report of their activities and receive absolutely no payment for their work as council persons.” This is in stark contrast to Canada or the United States.
The Center for Responsive Politics projected last October, before the November 2006 mid-term elections in the US, that the wealth spent by candidates would total out to approximately $2.6Billion! According to Granma International, Sheila Krumholz the Center’s executive director explained how, “candidates running for the House of Representatives have spent $760,000 USD on average.” On the other hand and not too surprisingly, according to the Washington Post Second Quarter 2007 Summary the 2008 presidential candidates have spent so far:
Hilary Rodham Clinton (D) $12,769,306
Barack Obama (D) $16,042,388
John McCain (R) $13,071,657
Rudy Giuliani (R) $11,222,806
This is millions of dollars, way more than any average American would have in their bank account, much less have to spend on trying to win an election. Think about it, this is just what they have raised and spent for their campaign, the personal wealth of all the other major candidates is much higher!
New elections this Fall in Cuba
From the role of civil society, to the constituency elections, to the pioneers guarding the ballot boxes – Cuba’s elections are truly grassroots and participatory. And while voter turn out in the US has been suspended around 50% since the 1972 election, in Cuba voter turn out stands strong.
Last week a new round of elections was called in Cuba. On July 9th Prensa Latina news agency reported, “Cuba's Council of State has called general elections to choose delegates to assemblies in municipalities and provinces, as well as deputies to the national Parliament… The first round of the elections will be held in October 21st this year. In places where candidates fail to get over 50 percent of votes, there will be a second round on October 28th. According to the text, the date for the election of provincial delegates and deputies to the National Assembly will be set at the proper time.”
It will be exciting to see more of Cuba’s democracy in action!
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