Elections Called in Cuba:
This is what popular democracy looks like!
11-million-strong popular democracy against US 2-party capitalist system
By Tamara Hansen
On Sunday October 21st 2007, Cubans headed to the polls. Yes, I do in fact mean elections polls - What, you didn’t know there are elections in Cuba?
Back and forth between Fidel and Bush - Democracy, in Cuba?
On July 9th 2007, Cuba announced a new round of general elections to take place in Cuba this fall and winter. This began a great new war of words, or Battle of Ideas between Cuba and the US government over democracy and the electoral system in Cuba.
Cuba's Council of State called for the general elections to begin on October 21st 2007 with the election of municipal assemblies across the country. This will lead to the election of provincial delegates and deputies to the National Assembly for sometime in early 2008.
The day after Cuba announced its elections the debate and public discussion began. In a July 10th Agence France-Presse (AFP) article, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey is reported to have 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."
Then on October 19th in his “Reflections of a Commander in Chief” entitled, “the Elections”. Fidel Castro responded. An article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel explained, “Fidel Castro lampooned U.S. elections Saturday as corrupted by corporate money aimed at "brainwashing" the few Americans who still bother to go to the polls. The Cuban leader's comments came a day before the island holds elections featuring 37,258 candidates vying for 15,236 seats on local assemblies. Today begins a process that culminates with parliamentary elections next spring.”
On October 24th when George W Bush opened his mouth to speak about Cuba, he had this to say, “Today I also am announcing a new initiative to develop an international multi-billion dollar Freedom Fund for Cuba. This fund would help the Cuban people rebuild their economy and make the transition to democracy. I have asked two members of my Cabinet to lead the effort -- Secretary Rice and Secretary Gutierrez. They will enlist foreign governments and international organizations to contribute to this initiative. And here's how the fund will work: The Cuban government must demonstrate that it has adopted, in word and deed, fundamental freedoms. These include the freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of press, freedom to form political parties, and the freedom to change the government through periodic, multi-party elections. And once these freedoms are in place, the fund will be able to give Cubans -- especially Cuban entrepreneurs -- access to grants, and loans and debt relief to help rebuild their country.”
Wait, “Especially Cuban Entrepreneurs?” While Bush is complaining about the poor in Cuba, and the so-called “misery” of the Cuban people, he plans to help by giving them loans? What a generous humanitarian!
Cuba responded only a few hours later, when Felipe Perez Roque, Cuba’s Foreign minister, adamantly rejected Bush’s anti-Cuba speech. Juventud Rebelde, the newspaper of Cuban youth, explained, “The diplomat [Felipe Perez Roque] cited one particular phrase by Bush, who said “the operative word in our future dealings with Cuba is not ‘stability’; the operative word is ‘freedom.’” Responding to this Pérez Roque commented, “Cuba understands those words —which demonstrate frustration, desperation and Bush’s personal hatred of Cuba— as an invocation to the use of force and a call to violence, which Cuba rejects categorically.””
Now, let us be clear that the government of the United States, whether it was the democrats or republicans in power, have labeled the Cuban government as tyrannical and undemocratic basically since the victory of the Cuban revolution. The reason? The United States government was not happy that Cuba’s revolutionary government, led by Fidel Castro, kicked US economic interests and exploitative businesses off their island. This is also why the US government is so interested in “helping” Cuban entrepreneurs.
The final word in this round of debate has come honourably and powerfully from the National Bureau of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) who rebutted Bush saying, “Mr. President of the United States, Your ridiculous words are embarrassing and disgusting to the Cuban youth. We wonder how it is possible that a man in charge of ruling over the richest country of the world can make such foolish remarks, blinded by hatred and powerlessness. […] The Cuban youth, raised on values completely different to the model you represent, are not a bunch of uncommitted and fanatic people that will run after your cynical offerings. We know our history and have learned very well the lessons of sovereignty that so many generations have left us throughout many years. […] There are many young people in this world to whom our everyday reality is just a dream, unreachable due to the genocidal wars and unsustainable consumption models that you defend no matter the consequences. […] We know very well that the day that is coming will be the end of the criminal blockade and the overbearing and arrogant empire that threatens the human species. We will never negotiate our Homeland’s independence, for which many of its better sons paid the high price of their lives.”
What are elections like in Cuba?
Walter Lippmann, a long time social justice activist, writer, photographer and the moderator of the CubaNews e-mail list (a very popular source for a great collection of news on Cuba), was in Cuba for the recent October elections. Below are some of his very interesting observations.
“This route took me past dozens and dozens of places where the voting was going on. My guess is Cuba must be the easiest place in the world to vote, and voting is very, very strongly encourages, though voting is not mandated by law. The polls opened at 7 AM and were active until 6 PM. Voter registration lists are posted outside each location, so everybody knows everybody. They're staffed by local volunteers, and a pair of Pionero children who salute each person after they deposit their hand-written ballot in the box. After 6 PM the polls close and the ballots were hand-counted there. Outside each place there were sample ballots posted, and some also had the real ballots posted with the actual names of the candidates, two to four of them, for that circumscription (in the U.S. we would call that a voting precinct). Each candidate had their personal history and organizational linkages posted with a color photograph, about 4x6 inches. In the past these photos had been black-and-white images printed like a driver's license or ID card photo. None were smiling. Some of the men looked like they hadn't had a tie on in a very long time.”
The basic explanation of how Cuban voting is set up:
1. The Cuban government has three main elected levels: municipal, provincial and national.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
Interestingly, ballots are counted publicly, at the end of the days polling. 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.
Some of the impacts of this can be seen in an interesting article by the IPS news agency, who did a special story on Marisol Cabrera, a woman who is both the President of her municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Placetas and a member of the National Assembly of People’s Power. Some of her comments on elections in Cuba provide interesting insight from a woman’s perspective. "I wondered whether I was capable of this, it felt like a huge challenge. There was no tradition of women in this post.” She continued, "I have always been self-confident, but when I was elected president of the municipal government I had my doubts. I felt that I was on probation, and I drove myself hard. Now I don’t feel I have to be everywhere at once. We’re a team."
The IPS article continues, “The [Cuban] system has its detractors, who argue that free elections are impossible without a multi-party system. But Cabrera says that in her view, it is one of the most democratic systems in the world. "It isn’t the governing Communist Party that nominates candidates, but local people themselves, and the election doesn’t depend on how much money candidates have," she says.”
Also interesting is that during the Cuban municipal elections in October there were 37,328 candidates running to represent their constituency in one of Cuba’s 169 municipalities. Of this total, 10,799 of the candidates were women, which is 1,600 more women candidates than the 2005 municipal elections.
Should the US really be talking about democracy?
2007 Municipal Elections in Cuba – an overwhelming turnout!
Important to note is that, with all of Bush’s talk about democracy his approval ratings currently stand at 32% according to a Gallup/USA Today poll (mid-October 2007). Indeed, I must admit, this is up from the summer, when it sat at 27%. But does that really matter? In over 100 polls taken by over 10 different organizations since January 2007 Bush has never had over a 38% approval rating. Who is the United States to judge and evaluate electoral systems and democracy, when over 40% of voters to not even come out for elections and their president doesn’t even have a 50% majority approval?
Whereas the United States Federal Election Commission, shows that voter turn out has sat between 49-55% in the last 3 US elections. The President of National Electoral Commission in Cuba, María Esther Reus, announced on October 27th that Cuba’s recent municipal elections had seen 96.45% of eligible voters come out to the polls. According to Reus, a total of 92.99 percent of the electoral ballots were valid, while 3.93% were left blank and 3.08% were disallowed.
On a trip to Cuba this summer with the Che Guevara Volunteer Work Brigade, we had a workshop about democracy in Cuba. I asked a question about blank ballots. The response I received was basically that, like in every country, not everyone supports the electoral system some people leave a blank ballot because they are not sure who to vote for, some because they don’t approve of any candidates or the electoral system, they will never know why some ballots are cast as blank. However, no one is forced to vote and casting a blank ballot is a legal act that dissenters have a right to.
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 to, are a tiny minority in Cuba – and in many cases a reactionary, counter revolutionary minority funded by projects such as the US Government’s “Freedom Fund for Cuba”.
The vast majority of Cubans do indeed want to see improvements and changes in their country, one of the things you will hear everyone say is, a better world is possible – un mundo mejor es posible. However, this is not a request for the United States to intervene and “give” Cuba some Iraq-style military “freedom” or “democracy”. They want to see these changes happen under revolutionary leadership, with their grassroots organizations, unions, youth, women and the Communist Party of Cuba at its forefront.
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