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
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
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
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
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
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
k See, among others, the articles 77 paragraph c), 85, 92, 155 and 68 of
the Elections Act.