Cuba elects delegates to people's assemblies
False premises of US blockade exposed
The President of the National Electoral Council of Cuba, Alina Balseiro Gutiérrez, reported on November 28 the results of the elections of the delegates to the municipal assemblies of people’s power, held on November 27, 2022. Some 5,728,200 went to the voting booths, which represents 68.58% of the voting lists. Some 22,205 youth exercised the right to vote for the first time.
Cubans citizens of sixteen or more years of age have the right to vote, subject to the condition that they have been resident in the country for the previous two years, and they have not had the right to vote suspended in a criminal process. When exercising the right to vote, the voter presents his or her identity card to the members of the electoral table, which verify that the person is included in the list of voters.
The publication and verification of the lists of voters was carried out from October 24 to November 12. The publication of the voting lists prior to the elections gives the people the opportunity to verify their inclusion, and it also enables persons to demand the removal of someone who no longer lives in the locality. If a person seeking to vote is not on the list of voters, the electoral council can make verifications that it considers opportune, and if appropriate, the person can be included in the list.
When a voter, for some physical impediment, cannot go to the voting center, a ballot is brought to the voter in his or her place of residence by a member of the electoral table.
The method of voting is simplicity itself. The voter selects one of the two or more candidates on the ballot by marking an “X” next to the candidate’s name. The voter than folds the ballot and deposits it in the voting box. Before casting the ballot, the voter signs the voting list to the right of his or her name, in the space provided.
In the 2022 elections, according to the preliminary results reported by Balseiro Gutiérrez, 89.11% of the ballots were valid, with 5.22% blank ballots and 5.67% annulled. Annulled ballots are those that have something written on the ballot above and beyond an “X” for one of the candidates, or that have cast votes for two or more candidates. Historically, the counterrevolution called upon the people to cast invalid ballots or submit blank ballots, as a form of protest that could be conducted in secret. The approximately eleven percent who did so this year is slightly higher than in the past, by a small margin.
The elections were carried out in 12,427 voting districts. In 11,502 of the voting districts, a delegate was elected in the first round. Slightly more than half of the elected delegates are currently serving delegates who were reelected. Of the elected 11,502 elected delegates, 43.87% are women, and 12.52% are less than 35 years of age. In 925 voting districts, no candidate obtained more than 50% of the votes. These districts will hold a second round on Sunday, December 4.
Balseiro Gutiérrez pointed out that the results are preliminary. They do not include voters who voted in a voting district different from their registered place of residence. She noted that the public will be informed of the final, definitive results.
The delegates of the municipal assemblies of people’s power are elected to four-year terms. The newly elected municipal assemblies will be constituted on December 17, the date the present delegates will have completed their term of five years (the term having been extended by one year because of the pandemic). Up to fifty percent of the elected delegates can be elected deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, from among which will be elected the President, Vice-President, and Secretary of the National Assembly of People’s Power.
The delegates of the municipal assemblies of people’s power have the duty of promoting the participation of the community in the solution of their problems. They ought to understand the opinions, needs, and difficulties that the voters express, and work to develop appropriate solutions. They ought to inform the people of the measures adopted in response to the needs that they have expressed. And they are required to meet regularly with the voters to render accounts.
The 169 municipal assemblies of people’s power elect—based on recommendations of local mass organizations of workers, women, students, farmers, and neighborhoods—the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, a body of 600+ persons that constitutes the highest authority in the nation. It is empowered by the Constitution to elect the highest members of the executive and judicial branches of the government (including the President, Prime Minister, and ministers of the executive branch), and to enact legislation.
In an article in the Cuban daily newspaper Granma on November 15, Freddy Pérez Cabrera writes of the political maneuvering that previously existed in the neocolonial republic, described to him with wisdom by his mother, in spite of her low level of schooling, as a system in which politicians bought votes and made false promises in order to attain a place among the power elite. Pérez quotes the songwriter Carlos Pueblo, whose memorable song recalls playing the game of democracy, in which the people are left to die, and robbery is the norm; until arrived Fidel.
Thanks to the Revolution, Pérez writes, the people for the first time became the owners of their destiny and the opportunity to elect their present and their future. The process begins in the neighborhood, where in an act of whole democracy, each person has the possibility to nominate someone that he or she trusts and has confidence. And the neighbors put forth other candidates, because the system permits it. This is the norm, free of any form of opportunism, demagoguery, or political maneuvering. It is a process that avoids electoral promises to sell programs of the government that generally end before they begin.
With memory of the false promises of the “democracy” of the neocolonial republic, the Cuban system has the structure of revocation of the elected delegate, for reiterated noncompliance with his or her obligations, for being involved in activities that affect the public good, or manifesting conduct that is incompatible with the honor of being a representative of the people.
Different from what occurs in the electoral systems of representative democracy in other countries, in Cuba there are no perks or political interests, nor corrupt political campaigns that distort the political process.
Pérez points out that the only political advertising that is carried out is the publication of one-page biographies of each of the candidates, accompanied by a photo of each, which ought to be displayed in frequented places, or through the mass media of the country.
Pérez notes that in Cuba, the vote is free and secret, constituting a constitutional right and a civic duty. But the right to vote is exercised in a voluntary manner; no one can be sanctioned for not doing it.
In a similar vein, Leidys María Labrador Herrera writes that the Cuban Revolution, in essence a people’s revolution, needs to erase the sad history of corrupt campaigns and fraudulent elections, in which power and money are in the foreground, denigrating anything with integrity. It is not by accident the enemies of the Revolution malign the electoral system that Cuba has chosen, she writes, because they do not understand the meaning of participatory democracy. They cannot conceive of an election based in principles and values, without loud and scandalous campaigns in the media. In their elections, she maintains, Cubans are doing much more than electing a delegate, deputy, or president. They are affirming a system, an alternative manner of living and constructing a nation.
In this alternative process, the people have power. As Raúl Castro declared in 1974, “the masses of the voting district have the maximum power, the primary power; the power of the delegate is derived from and granted by the masses.”
Neighborhood nomination assemblies
Labrador Herrera also observed that the neighborhood nomination assemblies are the root of the Cuban electoral process. The persons whose names are put forth as candidates are of the neighborhood. Their attitudes, history, qualities of leadership, and ethics are known to their neighbors, so that they have become persons who are recognized and identified as being able to represent the people. According to the law, anyone can be a delegate; but the delegate is not anyone. Delegates are elected by their neighbors with the conviction that they are exemplary human beings who, on the basis of their recognized qualities, have been granted the responsibility to represent the people. In this process, there is no need or space for political advertising and political campaigns, which is why there is no need for money.
José Luis Toledo Santander, doctor of Sciences and President of the Commission of Constitutional and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly of People’s Power, observed in an interview with Granma that when he explains how the Cuban political process works to a person from another country, the question often is asked, how is it possible to elect persons to these positions without them being nominated by political parties? “I say to them that it is because we have attained, in this democracy that is uniquely ours, an effective exercise of power of the people.” The essential principle of our socialist democracy, built on the foundational steps taken in 1974, was to convert into legal reality the participation of the masses in the exercise of state power, which was possible as a result of the superior civic culture attained through the previous fifteen years of popular participation in the defense of the country and in the construction of a revolutionary work and democratic practice based on a permanent dialogue of the people with the principal leaders. The previous process from 1959 to 1974 was characterized by periodic mass assemblies and by ample participation in mass organizations of workers, women, students, farmers, and neighborhoods.
Granma recently published Fidel’s comments on the origin of the Cuban electoral process, selected from various discourses. Fidel recalled:
“We had the luck of choosing a good formula from the beginning of People’s Power. It was more than fifteen years ago, but I remember it as if it were today. We dedicated ourselves to thinking how we were going to elect our representatives. Should we have the system of a single candidate that we knew from some places? I felt a true rejection of a formula of that type. I said, why don’t we look for something else? Why don’t we invent another thing?
“This is how the idea emerged that the delegates of the voting district would be proposed by the neighborhood residents in assemblies. Then we discussed how many candidates there could be. And we decided on eight as a maximum, and if no one attained more than half, then repeat the election.
“We had to create something new, something more just, something more fair, something more democratic, something more pure, because our fundamental concern was to preserve the purity of our political process and not introduce the political maneuvers and corruption that Cuba previously had.”
In preparation for the municipal elections of 2022, some 44,929 neighborhood nomination assemblies took place from October 21 to November 18. Through the nomination assemblies, the people nominate at least two and no more than eight candidates in each voting district.
More than 180,000 Cubans participated as electoral authorities, 1,400 as supervisors and 24,000 as support personnel. Of them, women comprised 71.48%; youth, 21.76%; blacks and mulattos, 22.73%; and persons with previous experience, 76.67%.
Some 6,609,433 voters (72.64%) attended the nomination assemblies, from which emerged 26,746 nominated candidates. The higher number of persons attending the nomination assemblies than actually voting is explained by various factors. There are several nomination assemblies in different places in a voting district, and some people attend more than one. The count at the nomination assemblies is informal, whereas the number of people voting is documented. The preliminary results do not include people voting in a district different from their formally defined residence. And finally, a person can attend a nomination assembly and subsequently not vote; indeed, a neighborhood nomination assembly, in and of itself, can be an interesting event.
Of the 26,746 nominated candidates in the 2022 municipal elections, women comprised 44.69%; youth, 17.07%; blacks and mulattos, 46,71%; delegates at present, 29.95%; deputies in the National Assembly, 0.74%; with technical school or higher education, 91.6%; members of the Communist Party, 65,5%; and members of the Union of Young Communists, 4.47%.
False premises of US blockade exposed
The voter participation rate of 69% in the 2022 municipal elections (according to the preliminary results) is low by Cuban standards. Indeed, it is the lowest since the structures of people’s power were established in 1974.
Some in the Northern media have said that the decline in voter participation is due to calls by the opposition to boycott the election, indicating that the opposition is gaining strength. However, this observation is based on a false premise. In fact, there is no politically viable internal opposition in Cuba.
There are historical and sociological reasons for the weakness of the political opposition in Cuba. In the 1960s, the social and class base of the counterrevolutionary opposition was the national bourgeoisie, which had an interest in the preservation of private enterprise in the development of national industry. With this possibility in mind, Fidel initially invited this sector to adapt its interests to the revolutionary project by participating in the revolution in a project of national industrial development, in a process directed by a people’s controlled state. But the national bourgeoisie rejected this proposal, and opted instead to abandon the country and to incorporate itself in the U.S. directed counterrevolutionary project of regime change. When the regime change project failed, the national bourgeoisie was left out in the cold. By allying themselves with a foreign power against their own nation, the owners of Cuban industrial enterprises had completely discredited themselves in the eyes of the Cuban people.
Left out and in exile, they nevertheless were funded by the U.S. government in counterrevolutionary activities, such that the counterrevolution became a lucrative industry in Miami. But a counterrevolution (or a revolution) cannot be directed from outside the nation without significant internal support, which the Cuban counterrevolution had nullified through in own unpatriotic conduct.
This dynamic of a weak externally directed counterrevolution continues to this day, and it has received new life, thanks to techniques made possible by communication technology and social media. But not having sufficient support from within Cuba, all it can do is pay a few discontented and misguided souls to engage in rebellious activities. This is more criminal activity than political, and it is completely lacking in political maturity. Much is made of it in the Western mainstream and social media, but it is not a viable force in Cuba.
Today, the social base with an interest in reform in Cuba is constituted by those who lack adequate housing and purchasing power. This sector is organizationally integrated into the revolutionary project, by virtue of its participation in the educational and health systems and the mass organizations. And the political program that would respond to its objective needs is already the political program of the revolutionary government: advocacy for the end of the U.S. blockade in international forums, and efforts to improve the productivity of the economy and to improve the distribution of goods and services to those most in need. Inasmuch as the low-income sector has an interest in the program already advanced by the revolutionary government, it serves its own interests by supporting and participating in the revolutionary project, which is widely seen and understood by the people in Cuba.
Such are the historical and sociological reasons for the absence of the political opposition within Cuba. Commentaries made from outside Cuba generally display limited understanding of these dynamics. They assume that there must be some kind of opposition, based on experiences that are different from the Cuban case.
If the lower voter turnout in the 2022 municipal elections is not a result of the increasing influence of an assumed opposition, what explains it? The lower voter turnout is consistent with an observable historic trend of gradual erosion of support and enthusiasm for the Cuban Revolution since the early 1990s, especially among youth. To be sure, significant economic gains have been attained since the Special Period; however, the expectations of the people have been rising faster than the standard of living. This gradual tendency of rising dissatisfaction with material conditions has intensified in the last three years, due to the difficult economic situation, which has been caused by the strengthening of the U.S. blockade, particularly with respect to financial and commercial transactions in third countries, and by the impact of the pandemic on Cuban tourism, which is the nation´s principal industry.
So there is a level of disenchantment among the people with respect to the material standard of living and the difficulties in attaining needs, which I would view as the most likely explanation for the lower voter turnout. It possibly is the case that such a gradual erosion of support through time is a normal and general pattern of triumphant revolutions that have attained political power, except for moments of renovation and renewal caused by particular dynamics.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that a 69% voter turnout and an affirmation of the process by 89% of the voters are very high by world standards. Generally, such results would be taken as legitimation of any government.
In its international campaign against the U.S. blockade, the Cuban revolutionary government repeatedly declares that every nation has the right to choose its own political-economic system. This is, of course, entirely true and correct. However, to the people of the United States, who assume and have been told that the Cuban state is authoritarian, this assertion could be seen as authoritarian leaders demanding the right to impose their particular will on the people, without interference from the world powers.
So perhaps we should add another maxim: no one should make value judgments about political processes in another nation until they have observed the theory and practice of the nation in question. Ideas should not be expressed and disseminated, and policies should not be made, from the vantage point of ignorance.
My commentary today, drawn from the reflections of Cuban journalists and leaders on the occasion of the celebration of elections for the delegates of the municipal assemblies of people’s power, has attempted to shed light on the Cuban political process. I have written on the Cuban political process in various previous commentaries as well. They can be found in the “Cuba” section of the Thematic Index. See, for example, “Cuban people’s democracy at work,” May 17, 2022.
I would summarize the essential characteristics of the Cuban political-economic system, which can be characterized as whole process people’s democracy, as follows:
(1) A system of people’s power, involving direct and indirect elections that establish the political-legal authority of the nation;
(2) Mass organizations of workers, women, students, farmers, and neighborhoods, which are integrated with the structures of people’s power;
(3) Economic policies that focus on increasing productivity and improving the distribution of basic needs and consumer goods to the population, in accordance with a state-directed plan of sovereign socioeconomic development, which defines roles for private and state-owned enterprises;
(4) A single political party that abstains from the electoral process, leaving it to the government in place and the mass organizations, and that focuses instead on continuous elevation of the political, historical, and social consciousness of the people.
(5) A foreign policy oriented to cooperation with other nations in the development of a post-neocolonial, pluripolar world-system.
U.S. foreign policy is based, in part, on the dubious proposition that it has the right to impose sanctions on nations that have undemocratic practices. Even if we were to accept this proposition, U.S. policy toward Cuba could not be justified, inasmuch as careful observation of the Cuban political-economic system leads us to the conclusion that the Cuban system is in essence democratic, with an alternative form of democracy, in some respects more advanced, especially with respect to the level of popular participation and the absence of the need for money in the electoral process.
I personally wish that the anti-blockade campaign would focus more on the point to which we have here arrived, namely, that the United States in its Cuba policy is sanctioning a nation for being undemocratic, when in fact Cuba is not only not undemocratic, but has developed unique and advanced forms of democracy. This, it seems to me, is the strongest argument against the U.S. blockade of Cuba, because it exposes the false premises and the false intentions of the U.S. political establishment in its campaign against Cuba.
The Cuban political process of people’s democracy is the key to its capacity to persist in its socialist road, in spite of the economic and political aggression of the United States. Unknown to the world, the Cuban political process of people’s democracy is the secret of the Cuban revolutionary journey.
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