The municipal elections have come to a close on May 19 with the constitution of the Municipal Assemblies and the election by the delegates of the presidents and vice-presidents from amongst the newly elected delegates.
Prior to this last step, thousands of neighbourhood nomination meetings took place between February 24 and March 24 in all 169 Municipalities across the island. From among those nominated by the citizens, a secret universal suffrage ballot election took place on April 25 to elect the 15,093 delegates for all municipalities from among the more than 45,000 nominated directly by the citizens. On that Sunday a candidate, from a minimum of two to a maximum of eight nominees in each constituency (riding or ward), would have to garner at least 50% of the valid votes in order to be elected.
A second round took place on May 2 in those constituencies which none of the candidates garnered at least 50% of the valid votes. In these cases, the two candidates getting the most votes advanced in a run-off second round. In cases where there was a tie vote between two candidates, these two candidates also advanced to the second round. This is a normal situation and takes place in all of the fourteen municipal elections which have been organized since 1976. (There occurred one unusual instance this year in which a candidate passed away just prior to the April 25 elections and so a new nomination meeting had to took place after April 25; the electors in this constituency thus went to the polls for the first time on May 2.) For all these reasons, a total of 14% of the constituencies (2,107) had to go into a second round on May 2.
In these elections on May 2, three constituencies ended up in a tie among the two candidates who went into the second round, and so a third round took place on May 5 in which a winner finally emerged in all three, completing this phase of the municipal partial elections; this set the stage for the constitution of the municipal assemblies on May 19.
Elected were 15,093 delegates 16 years and older (minimum age requirement to vote and to be elected at the municipal level.) Aside from a very small portion (for example the president and vice-president of the Municipal Assemblies, and some presidents and vice presidents of the People’s Councils), all delegates do their work as an elected citizen on a voluntary basis, with no pay or remuneration of any kind while maintaining their regular job. In the exceptional cases in which some delegates become full time as indicated above, they will receive the same wage as they had been receiving in their work place, not a cent more. For the overwhelming proportion that is non-professional, their work as a delegate takes place in the main after work hours and on the weekend.
One of the most intriguing aspects of investigating the Cuban electoral process and Cuba’s type of democracy is finding out in detail the history of the elected and what they do in their political, professional and personal life. This captivating feature of research applies not only to the municipal delegates but also for example to the elected deputies in the National Assembly of People’s Power (parliament). While several deputies are well known throughout Cuba and internationally, the vast majority are not as is the case of virtually all the municipal delegates (who according to the Cuban Constitution constitute up to 50% of the national legislature). Even the most well know national legislative deputies (such as Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro, Ricardo Alarcón and others) who are known nationally and internationally, outside of Cuba their real main characteristics, features and historical evolution are in the main kept from the international public eye or completely distorted to the point of these political leaders being victims of defamation of character.
Cubans in the main know their elected local municipal delegates because they are neighbours and are used to seeing each other almost every day or at least quite often. However, as a result of the media disinformation and black-out, for people outside of Cuba in general the local elected delegate remains a mystery: A blank page. Instead of foreign journalists providing non-Cubans with some portraits of who are the 15,093 elected citizens with several examples, neither exaggerating the positive points nor highlighting only negative experience, there seems to be an effort by the international mass media to hide this feature of the Cuban political system from international public opinion. As a result of the failure to carry out this serious journalistic work, these elected delegates, human beings like you and I, are eliminated from international public knowledge. This is more often than not carried out by using catch phrases such as “branding” them as being members of the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC) or the Communist youth wing of the party. The intention is clear: to present their nomination and election as being conditioned by their party affiliation which is far from being the reality.
In addition, there are many people nominated and eventually elected to the municipal assemblies who are not members of the party or of its youth wing. Just to take one example: I know personally of one who is not a member of the party but in all the elections for which he was nominated and later elected during 25 years, all the other candidates were indeed members of party. This person, who lives in Plaza de la Revolución Municipality of the Province of Ciudad de la Habana, has been nominated and then elected as a Municipal delegate for almost 25 years; he was also a provincial delegate for 8 years and served as a president of a people’s council for 5 years. In fact, after the April 25 municipal elections, the total results for the 15 municipal assemblies in the province of Ciudad de La Habana, indicate that only 56 % of the elected delegates are party members, in itself showing that it is not obligatory to be a party member in order to be nominated and eventually win the approval in secret ballot elections.1
In this context it was quite disappointing to read an article by Fernando Ravsberg, BBC Mundo journalist stationed in Havana for many years. The article is entitled “Cuban dissidents in an electoral campaign.” The main focus of the March 13 article, as the title suggests, is the role of a dissident who decided to participate in the local nomination procedure in constituency number 47 of the Punta Brava Consejo Popular located in the Municipality of La Lisa, one of the 15 municipalities to be found in the Province of Ciudad de La Habana.
The article seems to be written in such a way as to provide a false atmosphere of repression and fear exercised against those who do not agree with the revolution but who participate in elections in one way or another. For example, Mr. Ravsberg writes that the local nomination meeting was calmly taking place with no signs of “repression”. The journalist opens the door for a qualification when he refers to this single policeman present as a sign of “repressive” forces, even though he writes that the policeman was diverting traffic so as to avoid interference in the nomination meeting; these meetings very often take place outdoors and normally spill into parts of the street. (Would the Bobbies in London directing traffic be tagged as being part of the “repressive forces” by BBC Mundo?)
However, even this “moderate” indication of the absence of signs of “repression” is negated in the very same article when the journalist quotes the dissident. The word of the dissident is once again taken as a truth when the journalist allows the dissident to contradict the writer’s own observation, namely that there was only one policeman in the area. The article in question then indicates that the dissident claimed that there are in fact “more policemen in the area,” but “they are not in view,” once again taking the dissident’s word as a fact. In the same manner, while the article admits that the situation at the nomination area meeting was calm with no apparent pressures, the same dispatch records, according to the claims of the dissident, that in other nomination assemblies there were indeed pressures exercised against dissidents, but with no facts to back it up. And once again this unsubstantiated allegation comes from the mouth of the dissident and is presented as a truth in the article.
I have attended dozens of nomination meetings and secret ballot voting at the local level and the national general elections level in 1997-98, 2000 and 2007-08. All these steps in the political process are carried out in the utmost calm; there are no signs of police or anything else of this nature. Investigation has also shown that those who call themselves dissidents can participate in elections in any way they see fit within the context of the laws as all other Cuban citizens who have their rights. There are probably very few countries in the world where voting nomination days and voting days are so calm. Of course we cannot compare nomination meetings because in no other county in the world aside from Cuba do citizens have the legal right to propose directly from among their own neighbours who they believe should be candidates for elections and to propose themselves. The false accusations of “repression,” “forcing people to vote,” etc are often simply used as a pretext to avoid exposing the very poor showing of the dissidents in the nomination procedure when they choose to participate.
Mr. Ravsberg, pays utmost attention to the dissident, Silvio Benítez, and his electoral campaign, as if he was the center of Cuban politics on that day (and perhaps with this goal in mind, presents him as the most newsworthy element in the municipal elections). What did he write about the citizen who eventually was nominated and then voted by her neighbours to be a candidate for the April 25 municipal elections? All he had to say is that she is a member of the PCC, a doctor, and on the staff of a regional public health enterprise. In fact, the whole article is written as if the nomination by a show of hands vote was between the “PCC candidate” versus the “dissident.”
In the Cuban electoral system, the PCC and its youth wing cannot propose nor nominate people for elections; only individual citizens have this right. In order to add to the fabricated image of the PCC controlling everything to the detriment of the citizen’s rights, contrary to what is stipulated in the Cuban Constitution and Electoral law, Mr. Ravsberg’s comments objectively serves to denigrate the following important notion: sovereignty resides in the hands of the people even though the Cubans at all levels always strive to improve this aspect which is not perfect.
By so doing, the journalist misinforms the readers on this issue, whether this is his intention or not.
In the same vein, the article claims that one elderly person (therefore, according to the preconceived notion, a veteran die-hard revolutionary) spoke against the dissident with the goal of barring him from being nominated.
On April 30, 2010, I interviewed the “other nominee” who had been elected as a delegate on April 25.2 The interview with Dr. Daysi Victores took place in Havana on a pleasant Friday afternoon, in the very modest office of the Consejo Popular Punta Brava, in the presence of the equally modest president of the Consejo Popular of Punta Brava Armando Nelson Padrón Alfaro and Juanita Mejías Carbonnell, Secretary of this consejo popular. This grass-roots consejo is one of the seven consejos populares within the Municipality of La Lisa; like all other municipalities in Cuba they are decentralized in this way in order to, among other reasons, more efficiently strive to solve local problems and provide more power to the elected delegate. This goal is still on the agenda to be improved, as the Cubans themselves assert.
Dr. Daysi Victores, now 66 years old and retired, was born in Camagüey into a very poor family. Her father was a worker and her mother a housewife. The couple had four children. In 1961 Daysi went to eastern Cuba as part of the literacy campaign carried out by the new revolutionary government. Upon her return to her native Camagüey, she then went to school in Havana with a scholarship, eventually taking up medicine in the capital. Her three brothers and sisters were also able to study and take up various professions as have done Daysi’s own children. She declared that “becoming a doctor would not have been possible for a daughter of a very humble family if it was not for the revolution.” She eventually stayed in Havana. During her career as a doctor, aside from practicing at the local level as a family doctor, given her talents and devotion, she also took up various responsibilities over the years. In 1974 for example she was the director of the polyclinic in Punta Brava and later in other health centers such as in Arroyo Arenas. In fact, she was sent as a trouble-shooter to several polyclinics in order to help solve problems in these places. She was later Vice Directress of Medications in the La Lisa Municipality from which she retired. Amongst her other accomplishment: she was in Ethiopia as part of an internationalist mission in 1981 as a health professional.
Daysi was elected as a delegate on April 25, 2010 for her fourth mandate. Given that each municipal mandate is for two and half years, this means that she has already served over seven and a half years as a delegate before this year’s elections. All municipal assemblies are divided into a series of permanent working commissions in which each delegate participates on an ongoing basis. In the last mandate she was President of the Permanent Working Commission responsible for Health and Hygiene in her municipality. (All these commissions and their participants have to be renewed once the municipal assemblies had been established on May 19.) Daysi is a member of the PCC since 1980, nominated and elected that way by her fellow workers at her place of work, that is, the Medication enterprise where she worked. PCC membership in Cuba is based on selection in the places of work or study, and not on the neighbourhood where people live.
Daysi, and the two officers of the consejo popular present in the interview were proud to point out the achievements of the local people’s power, at the same time mentioning the limitations in what they would like to accomplish. In order to solve problems, or at least attempt to do so, each local delegates works collectively with other delegates and the consejo popular and its president. They also collaborate with the corresponding governmental administrative entity, a process which in turn strengthens the work of the municipal assemblies, the most important state and government organs in the municipalities. Among the improvements brought about: improving availability of drinking water in collaboration with the governmental enterprise Aguas Habana responsible for this necessity, the complete renovation of the sewer system and water supply for the population, lighting system for the public, renovations of the funeral parlour, bank and post office, complete renewal of the children’s park, improvements in polyclinic services as well as recreation and sport activities for the youth.
The interview turned out to be a balanced account as they also pointed out shortcomings. For example, “it is true that there is much to be accomplished, we have important problems in restaurant services, even though these services have improved.” In another instance they point out that while they are striving to construct a small shopping center with a butcher shop and other convenience stores, “however the economic situation imposes limits.”
Hopefully readers are beginning to see through the anonymous presentation by the mass international media regarding elected people in Cuba; these media simplify the whole issue by branding them as communists as if this was the kiss of death.
Given this situation, on the basis of an impartial look, it should be evident to appreciate something very important. While there are many accomplishments, Cuba is passing through the current situation when there exists a somewhat fertile ground for opportunists to play on, given the fact that as mentioned above, there are still shortcomings and goals to accomplish in order to satisfy the demands of the population. This was something that was not ignored by the dissident in his electoral campaign.
What happened on March 11, 2010, at the nomination meeting which Mr. Ravsberg describes in his article, and the two previous assemblies held on March 4 and March 8 in which the dissident was not involved and which was not a subject of an article?
The BBC Mundo article admits that the dissidents were in an electoral campaign, presenting candidates in various constituencies, even though it is well known that campaigning is not legal in Cuba. However, the journalist even quotes the dissident Silvio who says that his campaign work is based on “going from house to house as do the Jehova Witnesses.” According to the interviewees in Punta Brava, Silvio was an employee in some places of work, but was dismissed from his jobs. After this, they say, he started to work as a dissident. They say that while he does not work, he lives very well. Regarding his electoral campaign for the March 11 nomination meeting; what did it consist of? According to the interviewees, there are a certain amount of people in the constituency who have alcoholic addiction problems and in some cases linked with that, economic issues. Alcoholism, although not as widespread as most other countries, definitely exists as a problem in Cuba. Silvio approaches these people who are desperately in need of money to support their habit and secondly and/or are in many cases quite void of political awareness. The interviewees claim that the dissident pays them to come out and vote for him in the nomination areas.
This is not hard to believe seeing as that the US State Department recently released figures of how the 20$ million of USAID is being spent in Cuba in order to subvert the constitutional order through their paid agents. The funds are distributed covertly so as not to expose the recipients. To provide just two examples: of the 20$ million, 750,000$ is designated to promote “human rights and democracy” in Cuba, and another 400,000$ to try and “identify local leaders” who can later carry on activities at the local level.3 Almost all of the categories of financial help can apply to someone like Silvio and his political party who are presenting candidates.
But demagogy goes along with the use of funds in Cuba. According to the Mr. Ravsberg’s report, Silvio intends to expose the “lies and manipulation of the government.” However, in the nomination area meeting, he apparently spoke in the name of Raúl Castro and the necessity to bring about changes! After the meeting and voting took place, when it had became more evident what had happened, some citizens approached the Constituency Electoral Commission and told them that they were sorry they voted for Silvio because they did not see through the manipulation. As the Secretary of the Consejo Popular, Juana Mejías said, “He proposed himself because he considered himself to have the condition to respond to the people’s needs taking into account the words of Raúl. In this way, he really manipulated the notion of changes to which we aspire and to which aspires Comrade Raúl Castro. These changes are positive changes to improve the economic life in the country, but for more socialism and more democracy.”
Furthermore, it is not true to say, as the reporter claims, that an elderly person spoke in favour of the “communist” candidate. The interviewees said that in fact three people spoke in her favour: one was a representative of the association veteran fighters, to which Mr. Ravsberg disparagingly referred to as an elderly person. The two others who spoke in favour of Daysi were not elderly. In addition, it is not true that their intervention was geared to veto Silvio’s right to nomination. Even though he nominated himself which is his right, all the interviewees said that it is his constitutional right to present himself.
Furthermore, the interviewees confirmed that no one who proposed Daysi did it on the basis that she is a member of the PCC. All the arguments in favour of Daysi as a nominee were based on her record in the neighbourhood.
In all the nomination meetings that I attended over the last 12 years or so, no one was ever presented as a candidate of the party, nor was any one opposed as a potential candidate because the person was not a member of the party. I had witnessed several occasions in which non-party members won a nomination and eventually the secret ballot voting for delegate. These and other examples flesh out the statistics for the 15 municipalities in Havana as indicated above, namely that only 56 % of the elected delegates are party members.
Admittedly, the issue of the party’s role in the society, the political system and within that the electoral process is very complicated; it is thus beyond the focus of this short article and will be dealt with in another work.
However, let us look at another important aspect. What is the dissident’s standing in the neighbourhood? Daysi claimed in the interview that this citizen never participates in any meeting, or political and recreation activity. Armando Nelson Padrón, the president of the consejo popular, added that Silvio is a person “who does not work, he has never done anything for his neighbours or any other citizen in this town. He never moved even one grain of sand to improve the life of this population. It is for this reason that he has no following in the nomination assembly and this is why people did not vote for him in as a candidate.”
In the Ravsberg article, the whole tone of the journalism and the figures provided give the impression that the dissidents won a victory. It says that the dissident got 14 votes while the “Communist Party Candidate” got 50 votes and that there were many abstentions. (Abstentions are not called for or counted in these meetings; citizens are asked to vote in favour or against each nominee and can vote for only one of the proposals. The show of hands votes are counted after each proposal and the one who gets the most votes is declared to be a nominee from that assembly.)
In the case of constituency # 47 in Punta Brava, there were two other nomination meetings. Upon request, figures were provided to me by the Electoral Commission of the La Lisa Municipality.4 While it is true that many of the electors present did not vote for one or the other (Daysi or Silvio), the official count shows that Daysi got 71 votes and Silvio 13 votes.
Before going on to the official results in the other two nomination assemblies, let us examine these results even if it is in a summary fashion. Silvio had all the advantages. First, he participated in a campaign which is not only illegal in Cuba, but goes against the political culture since 1959. Daysi did not campaign thus following the electoral procedures. This was the case in all other elections which I have followed, showing widespread adherence to the Cuban people’s ethics. Second, Silvio used funds to buy votes. Third, since Daysi does not live in the area comprised in the March 11 assembly, she did not attend, while Silvio lives there amongst his closest neighbours and did attend. She therefore could only count on others to propose and speak for her, while Silvio was supposedly in his element. Fourth, the general tendency in Cuban municipal elections is not to mechanically or automatically vote for those delegates who have completed a mandate. For example, every year since 1976, speaking in average approximate figures, less than 50% of the incumbents are re-elected. There are several reasons for this phenomenon at the level of nomination even before elections take place: for example, the incumbents decide not to run again; or they have recently moved or about to move from the constituency and therefore no longer eligible; or the citizens were not satisfied with the delegate thus no one nominated the incumbent; finally, even if an incumbent is proposed as a nominee by a citizen, the proposed person does not win the majority of votes for the nomination in any of assemblies.
Despite this unlevel playing field in favour of Silvio, Daysi got 71 votes against 13 for Silvio. And as mentioned above, several of these 13 regretted their vote because at the time they did not see though the demagogy used by the dissident (speaking in the name of Raúl and changes.) The dissident campaign can back-fire because the Cuban people do not like petty politics and the use of funds, a phenomenon characteristic of the neo-colonial republic under US domination and which the Cubans left behind them with the revolution.
It should be noted that Silvio self-proclaimed himself president of his Liberal party of Cuba even though this is not legal, yet he has not been arrested or tried. He seems to have complete freedom to carry out his activities including proposing himself in a nomination meeting!
What is even more telling, are the nomination assembly results in the other two nomination area meetings in Constituency # 47:
March 4. The only nominee, Jorge Luis Pérez, who is not a dissident, got 60 votes. Daysi was not nominated and so Jorge Luis won as that area’s choice after a show of hands vote in his favour.
March 8. Of the 170 participants in this area in which she lives, Daysi got all 170 votes, 100%.
The two nominees for elections were thus Daysi and Jorge Luis. And so why all the fuss about the 13 votes for Silvio?
What about the elections that took place on April 25, according to the figures provided by the Municipal Election Commission? Mr. Ravsberg continued with a follow-up article on the April 25 island-wide voting for candidates who were earlier nominated.5
In this article he once again places quite a lot of emphasis on the dissidents in the form of a) the Damas de Blanco and b) Silvio and his neighbourhood. He reports on polling station # 1 which was the only one reported by Mr. Ravsberg. He writes that there were 14 spoiled ballots and 39 blank ones, and adding together the ones who do did not vote, concludes that this represents 20% of the electorate in this neighbourhood, more than in previous elections. According to the electoral commission figures, Daysi received 118 votes versus 110 for Jorge Luis. In polling station # 2, a total 94.7 % of the citizens on the electoral list voted. Daysi got 145 and Jorge Luis 144. There were 12 (3.6%) blank ballots and 21 (6.3%) spoiled ballots.
The total for the entire constituency comprising the two polling stations: Daysi got 273 votes and Jorge Luis got 254. There were 22 blank (3.67%) and 60 spoiled (10%) ballots, once again higher than the national average. (In another article, I deal with the Municipal election results, especially the speculation by the foreign press on the issue of blank and spoiled ballots.6 )
However, just some questions: what is the significance of Silvio’s 13 votes in the nomination area meeting which lead to his defeat in comparison to the nomination victories of both candidates, Daysi and Jorge Luis, and the large number of votes for both of them in the actual elections on April 25? Daysi’s showing is quite good taking into account that on a national level only a bit less than 50% of those who were already delegates in the previous mandate were voted in on April 25, a tendency which follows the voting trends over the years.7
In order to get at the heart of the issue, I met with Fernando Ravsberg on May 2 in Havana. We did not know each other. It was quite a pleasant informal discussion even though we disagreed on the facts and analysis of the Cuban political system and its form of democracy. It is true, as even some Cuban journalists say that he is not as bad as many other accredited foreign correspondents on the island.
In the conversation, one theme repeated itself over and over again. As Mr. Ravsberg’s articles quoted here indicate, he perceives many key political issues on the island as a conspiracy of the PCC, using it as a euphemism for “control” and “repression”, pitting the PCC and the historical leaders of the revolution against the people.
What impacted me as well is the following: when I asked Mr. Ravsberg if he had attended the May 1 demonstration the previous day in Havana in order to report on it, he responded “No”. When I asked why, he answered that he does not consider this event to be a news story because there are lots of May 1 demonstrations all over the world, for example in Venezuela. At the same time, he said that he attended the Damas de Blanco activity earlier that day (May 2) in order to report on it.8
What struck me most about the two interviews, the April 30 one in Punta Brava and May 2 in Mr. Ravsberg’s home, are the following two points:
What hit me was the complete lack of respect exhibited on the part of Mr. Ravsberg for people such as elected delegate Daysi, for the reasons indicated above and his disdain towards the tens of thousands of Cuban women who formed an impressive block on May 1in Havana as well as being interspersed throughout the demonstrations in Havana and across the island comprising millions of people.
Why do I believe this indicates denigration? For the simple reason that for months on end including May 1 and May 2, virtually all of his focus is on the Damas de Blanco. His refusal to cover May 1 in any way, shape or form while covering every move and expression of the Damas de Blanca on May 2 to the exclusion of millions of Cuban women is an indication of disdain. In a similar manner, every word and unfounded accusation by the dissident Silvio regarding the nomination area assembly is reported with the utmost respect while the candidate and eventual elected delegate, Daysi, remains faceless for the readers.
Mr. Ravsberg could have interviewed Daysi later on or even easier yet, conversed with at least some of the electors in the nomination area meeting in order to get some ideas about the candidate Daysi in order to inform readers. According to the interviewees, he did not even speak to any of them which would have allowed international public opinion to know who these elected delegates are in Cuba; instead he apparently concocted a smokescreen of “communist candidate versus the dissident” coupled with all sorts of fabricated accusations of “repression.”
For those opposing the media war against Cuba, this is a serious problem in journalism: the very selective choice of what is reported on and what is not. The same applies to other countries or leaders who are demonized such as Hugo Chávez and Venezuela.
The current media campaign against Cuba lead by the right-wing in Europe and the USA is to use the “dissidents,” an irrelevant factor in Cuban politics as we have seen above. However, their presence on the island is amplified to the extreme by much of the monopoly media, Washington and Brussels. The goal is to discredit Cuba and its political system, to build a case against Cuba’s type of democracy by calling it repressive or totalitarian or a dictatorship. All this is geared to serve as a pretext for further foreign intervention in the internal affairs of Cuba. Lines are being drawn in the international public opinion on this issue.
It is not a question of appointing an accusing figure against any one of the monopoly media or a specific journalist, but rather contributing to a debate on this issue.
- Jose Hernández S., “Tomarán posesión de sus cargos el 19 de mayo delegados electos,” Tribuna de la Habana, 9 May 2010. [↩]
- Dr. Daysi Victores, recorded interview with the author, Havana, April 30, 2010. [↩]
- “United States Department of State Congressional Notification.” [↩]
- Comisión Electoral del Municipio La Lisa, communicated to author on May 11, 2010. [↩]
- Fernando Ravsberg, “Cubanos votaron, no se esperan cambios,” BBC Mundo, 26 April 2010. [↩]
- Arnold August, “Cuba’s Municipal Elections Results: Initial Notes,” Cuba-L Analysis, 18 May 2010. [↩]
- Susana Lee, “Mas de 5 000 mujeres integraran las Asambleas Municipales del Poder Popular,” Granma, 11 May 2010. [↩]
- Fernando Ravsberg, “Cuba: Damas de Blanco sin incidentes,” BBC Mundo, 2 May 2010. [↩]