By Erasmo Calzadilla, Havana Times, April 19, 2015
This Sunday another election will take place on the island, and once again the people will decide who will be their representative at the neighborhood level (Precinct delegates).
At least that’s what the official discourse maintains. How far removed is this from reality?
In an attempt to understand where the catch is, I encountered an interesting work published by the magazine “Temas” [Topics]. Daniel Rafuls Pineda, the author, describes a series of issues that in his opinion impede citizen participation in the process of public decision-making. For those who are unable to access the magazine, let me summarize the ones I consider most critical:
• The Presidents and Vice Presidents of the People’s Power municipal assemblies (City Councils) are chosen in a plenary session by the precinct delegates. Nevertheless, the candidates to these positions must first be nominated by select candidate commissions; the selection criteria are not made public, nor do the commissions reveal how many have voted for each one.
• Even though theoretically the Cuban Communist Party can’t propose its own sympathizers, they exert a sizable indirect influence over the electoral process via the nominations of candidates at every level. The intervention of the PCC becomes more evident when the citizens demonstrate little spontaneous disposition to elect or be elected; or when the people select candidates without the due “revolutionary integration”; and during the process of formation of the provincial and national assemblies, which have an important role in decision-making.
• The Cuban electoral system claims to be based on the popular and direct election of people chosen in the different neighborhoods, communities and residential zones. Nonetheless, at the national and provincial levels the assembly incorporates delegates who were not directly chosen by the people; these compose over 50% of the members. [In this way if a movement driven by popular inspiration should ever occur, it could never reach a majority of the National Assembly because the Party controls the gate to that, with over 50% of its members.]
• The delegates to the provincial and national People’s Power Assemblies that weren’t chosen by the community weren’t always promoted through a broad process organized from the grass roots by the institutions that they belong to. This occurs in the mass organizations, in the Communisty Party and in the Party youth organization, the UJC.
• According to the Constitution, the National People’s Power Assembly is “the supreme organ of State power” that “represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the people.” Nonetheless, the Council of State, which represents it between sessions, is the body that has had the greatest legislative incidence at a national level. It has sometimes even overturned laws approved by the National Assembly.
• The Constitution recognizes that the sessions of the National People’s Power Assembly should be public unless the Assembly itself agrees to close them. Nonetheless, the meetings of their commissions are only occasionally made public, a fact that affects the credibility of these representatives in the eyes of those they represent.
This was a forceful essay and the magazine was very brave to publish it. If I had previously already thought about not voting, well now I have better arguments to back me up.
• The article is titled “The Cuban electoral system: from formal representation to real participation” It gained a mention as the Essay Themes Award 2013 (Social Sciences); published in Temas 78, April-June 2014
• The parenthesis in the third bullet point are mine.