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    MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN CUBA

    MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS IN CUBA

    Elections for delegates of the municipal assemblies of People's Power
    have begun in Cuba. These elections are of considerable importance for
    two reasons: they determine who these local authorities will be and it
    serves as the first step towards re-electing provincial assemblies and
    the National Assembly of People's Power. The replacement of provincial
    and national representatives takes place soon after the Municipal
    Assemblies are constituted. a

    By lawb, municipalities are divided into constituencies which are
    required to elect one delegate to their assembly. Individual areas meet
    to propose their candidates from up to eight subdivided constituencies
    within each municipality. Participants can put forward their suggestion
    and explain briefly their reasons, or they can express their opinions in
    favour or against a candidate proposed by others. The delegates are
    chosen by "direct and public" voting in which each area chooses its
    candidate by majority. However, in exceptional cases, when a
    constituency is not subdivided into areas and there is only one
    nomination assembly, two candidates may be presented. The person who
    holds this position plays a primary role in the municipal and district
    electoral commissions.

    Communist propaganda never tires of praising the alleged virtues of this
    system by extolling its non-party character and stressing that the
    nomination process is done by the people and not by a political party.

    In reality, this system for all its 'virtues' offers extremely limited
    opportunities for opposition candidates, though some believe it should
    still be explored as an option. However, I do not believe that any
    change can be achieved in this way given the current conditions. I am
    convinced that in a country without freedom nothing can be free.
    However, a more detailed analysis of the whole issue is needed to
    explain why I think that this is so.

    Cuban people tend to perceive all types of public meetings organized by
    the government as device that the regime uses to manipulate its
    subjects. In certain ways this makes complete sense. Since Castro and
    the Cuban Communist Party came to power almost fifty years ago, they
    have used only one language to "communicate" with its opponents: force,
    by means of firing squads, dirty prisons, expulsions, acts of
    repudiation, etc. As a result, those who openly disagree with the
    ruling regime, abstain from participating in public meetings. The
    consequence of this is that meetings are only attended by the silent
    majority who support the regime out of fear, a small number of neutral
    citizens and by the absolute minority who still show their support to
    the regime. Furthermore, it is no secret that these meetings, like all
    meetings that are held in Cuba, are attended by militant communists, by
    leaders of mass organizations and by informers of the political police.
    It is hard expect that this type of public would be willing to vote
    for an independent candidate.

    Under these circumstances, who would propose a well known opponent, for
    instance a former prisoner of conscience as a candidate? Would such a
    person be ready to face the inevitable reprisals of the police state?
    Even if we imagine an exceptional and courageous citizen like this
    appears and that the formal nomination takes place. What then? The
    representatives of Castro-ism will undoubtedly use this brave person's
    "right to freedom of expression" against the proposed candidate and the
    person who was brave enough to suggest such a person.

    Even so, if the voting were to take place, it would be done very
    publicly, by a simple raising of hands. We cannot presume that our
    fellow citizens, who have been threatened by a ruthless totalitarian
    regime for half a century, would express in their vote openly for an
    opposition candidate. Furthermore, to achieve the nomination of an
    independent candidate, the dissenting voters would have to represent a
    majority – not 30% or even 40%, in one of the nomination areas. It would
    only be after this process that an opposition candidate might appear on
    ballot-papers of the constituency in question. However, this is still
    only just the beginning of this extremely hypothetical scenario.

    The various election commissions play an essential on their different
    levels within these elections. According to law, these commissions
    have, apart from other powers, the right to dictate complementary rules
    to the amended 1992 Elections Act, to establish the number and the
    limits of the municipal constituencies and nomination areas, to organize
    and control the assemblies which propose the candidates, they have the
    right to deal with and to resolve any complaints that may appear, and
    they can also annul the elections in one or more constituencies of a
    municipality. c Therefore, given the wide array of the commissions'
    powers, which help them administer and control the whole process of
    municipal elections, could be used to throw out such an electoral
    result. Lastly, we have to remember that these election commissions are
    part of a pyramidal structure: the members of the National Commission
    are appointed by the State Council d and the commissions on the lower
    levels are always designated by the commission next above. e

    Despite all of this, some people may still believe that if there really
    is a majority that opposes the regime, nothing can stop the electors
    from voting in favour of a dissenting candidate. In a purely abstract
    sense this is true, but we also need to consider the existing laws
    governing elections and campaigning. It has been expressly stipulated
    that in making their decision, voters shall only consider the personal
    virtues of the candidates, their prestige and their ability to serve the
    nation. The constituency commissions are responsible for the
    distribution of photos and biographies of the candidates and with their
    display on walls and public places. f The National Election Commission
    stipulates ethical principles and norms which govern the electoral
    process, and that provides for the rules which have to be obeyed in the
    campaign. g The propaganda may only consist in distributing biographies
    and photos of the candidates, h which therefore gives state-back
    candidates an overwhelming advantage.

    Moreover, even if the laws were broken and an electoral campaign was
    launched, a genuine campaign couldn't possibly happen. The nature of
    any totalitarian system is that does not permit any form of local
    authority to challenge its power, no matter how minor it might be. An
    opposition candidate couldn't promise to fund anything, since the entire
    budget is under the single party's control. As a delegate for a
    particular constituency the people above him would be the ones to decide
    whether anything would be built in his or her district even if they were
    to win. This doesn't even get into the fact that his opponent under
    such circumstances might be given a greater amount of state funds to
    defeat his opponent in an actual election.

    To monitor the results of the elections would be quite difficult, too.
    The existing law explicitly allows the citizens interested to be present
    during the scrutiny in the electoral schools. i Nevertheless, there is
    no such stipulation regarding electoral commissions in the
    constituencies, which are responsible for the final count-up of the
    ballots always when there is more than one electoral school. j

    On top of the general considerations I hav
    e mentioned so far, I could
    add one particular memory of mine from the late eighties, when I was
    defending Javier Roberto Bahamonde Masot. This dissident focused his
    anti-establishment activities on an attempt to be proposed as a
    candidate to the Municipal Assembly of People's Power in his hometown
    San Miguel del Padrón. Although he was known as an opponent of the
    regime, I cannot say his name would then be linked with any particular
    opposition group. He had never been a political prisoner. His
    neighbours proposed him, yet he was not nominated by his area as he was
    finally defeated in the public voting. Ultimately, the regime used the
    penal code against him. Bahamonde Masot was imprisoned for two reasons.
    First, he was accused of offences regarding illegal associations,
    gatherings and demonstrations, and second, he was accused of illegal
    economic activities.

    However, let's imagine that unlike this defendant of mine, there is wan
    an opponent (or perhaps even more of them) who actually succeeded in
    being proposed as a candidate and elected by his fellow citizens to a
    municipal assembly of the People's Power. Although this would be an
    absolutely exceptional situation, since to my knowledge, this has never
    happened in the previous municipal elections. I think one of my own
    personal experiences might shed some light on what might happen.

    In 1990, before I was excluded from the National Organization of
    Lawyers, there were elections to the General Assembly, which is the
    supreme body of this formally autonomous organization. In an open
    voting, my colleagues from the group specialized in appeals for
    annulment gave me their votes and I was unanimously elected to be a
    member of the Assembly for five years. Nevertheless, I stayed there only
    until 1992 and I could participate at no more than two and a half
    meetings, because that year, I was subject to an "act of repudiation"-
    to a kind of verbal lynching – that, as I knew later, had been prepared
    during a whole week in the seat of the National Board of Lawyers. When I
    was excluded from the third meeting, an agreement has been reached to
    dismiss me. Is there anyone who would doubt that the same would probably
    happen to our hypothetical opponent in the municipal assembly?

    Now, let's suppose that this phantasmagoric personality was actually
    elected. What chances would this person really have to carry out
    opposition activities? Our candidate would still have to abide by
    Article 5 of the current Constitution, which defines the Cuban Communist
    Party as the supreme authority of society and State. The implication
    being that in his administration activities, our hypothetical
    independent delegate would have to comply with the philosophy of Cuban
    single party.

    Even if a miracle occurred and the opposition obtained majority in one
    of the municipal assemblies, the opposition would not be free to choose
    their president or vice-president, and neither could they propose
    candidates to Provincial Assemblies or to the National Assembly. These
    candidates are proposed by the Municipal Candidacy Commission, and these
    commissions are always formed by the representatives of "mass
    organizations". k

    And finally, let's imagine that under these extremely unfavourable
    conditions, some opposition organizations made an attempt to nominate
    independent candidates, and did not succeed (which is more than
    probable). Obviously, in this case nothing could be done. They entered
    the game, they accepted its unjust rules defined according to the will
    of the totalitarian regime, and therefore, they could not really protest
    against the negative results they would obtain.

    The current system of electing representatives to the National Assembly
    of People's Power and to Provincial Assemblies only dates back to 1992,
    when the regime brought about a general reform of the
    Constitution. However, municipal elections follow the same rules that
    were established when the great charter came into force, that is to say
    more than thirty years ago. This Machiavellian system simply proved to
    be the most suitable way for the regime to maintain itself perpetually
    at power. In the immediate future, we cannot expect the system to
    change, but while it remains the same and while we are left without
    freedom to propose our candidates and without other similar rights that
    are enjoyed by voters in free countries, no democratization is actually
    possible. And that is why Cuban opposition will go on with their
    peaceful struggle.

    a Article 100, section 2 of the existing Elections Act (Ley Electoral,
    Ley No 72) of October 29, 1992.
    b Articles 12, 78 and 81 through 84 of the Elections Act.
    c See articles 12, 22, 24, 26, 30, 78 through 80, 84, 117, 118, 171 and
    other relevant sections of the Elections Act.
    d Article 21 of the Elections Act.
    e Articles 23, 25, 29 and 31 of the Elections Act.
    f Article 30, paragraph ch) of the Elections Act.
    g Article 171 of the Elections Act.
    h Article 171 of the Elections Act.
    i Article 112, section 3 of the Elections Act.
    j Article 30, paragraph 1) of the Elections Act. The law does not
    provide for the participation of the citizens interested or of other
    observers in the activities of the electoral commissions in the
    constituencies and this omission also appears in cases of other
    electoral commissions.
    k See, among others, the articles 77 paragraph c), 85, 92, 155 and 68 of
    the Elections Act.

    http://www.miscelaneasdecuba.net/web/article.asp?artID=12209

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