Ivan Garcia, 1 February 2018 — “What concerns me most right now is to finish building the room for my eldest daughter who plans to give birth to a girl at the end of February,” confesses Eduardo, the warehouse manager of a bakery west of Havana, as drives along in his uncomfortable and tiny Fiat made in communist Poland.
The car, with forty years of service, continues along in the right lane of Infanta street. The old Cerro Stadium, the National Funeral Home and the pediatric hospital of Centro Habana are left behind. Eduardo swerves around the potholes and avoids confrontations with the drivers of city buses, “The real kings of Havana’s jungle roads. They drive with their balls,” he says. And in a neutral voice, he details his priorities in life.
“In addition to finishing my daughter’s room and giving the house a touchup, I want to continue in my job as a warehouse manager in the bakery, what I’m looking for there is to be able to support my family. And, of course, to have four pesos in my wallet and have a few drinks with my friends and to have a look at a young girl from time to time.”
The current electoral process in Cuba and the predictions about who will be the next president are issues that Eduardo does not care about. “Buddy, I don’t give a rat’s ass. What’s the next one going to solve? What have the neighborhood delegates to the Assembly of People’s Power resolved? The ’Five Heros’ (also called The Spies) were knocked up in prisons in the US for several years. For the Cuban system, that should be enough. But for me, the truth is, they mean nothing to me: whatever position they hold, it’s not going to solve people’s problems.”
Although academics, specialists and Cuban expatriates abroad along with the Florida media follow with a magnifying glass the official protocols of the hermetic olive-green autocracy –those who will elect the new president of the Republic of Cuba — the expectations of ordinary Cubans are extraordinarily low.
I am afraid to disappoint my editor and readers. But in the circle of people where I move, family, friends and neighbors, there is not a hint of optimism about it. Quite the opposite. Astonishing indifference and full-bodied pessimism.
Marta, an engineer, jokingly says that these issues raise her blood pressure. “Thinking about politics here is just picking a fight for fun. When I go online, I see in the Miami press the coverage they’re giving to the next president. They do analyses, make lists of possible presidential candidates, and wrack their brains about what might happen in the future. Do you want my opinion? Nothing is going to happen. They [the regime] have had all the time in the world to square the circle and they haven’t done it. And nothing has happened, because the people are still forced to ’invent’, trying to survive, and they don’t rebel and won’t rebel, because they designed a government tailored to their interests. It doesn’t matter if they put Mariela Castro in there, Gerardo Hernandez, one of the five spies, or Miguel Díaz-Canel [the current vice president]. They will all seek to perpetuate the Revolution.”
In 2002, in response to the collection of signatures for the Varela Project, an initiative carried out by dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, Fidel Castro held his own ’referendum’ and decreed the “irreversibility of socialism in Cuba,” which was reflected in the Constitution.
The disgust and zombie spirit of a large segment of citizens, is not an impediment for Cubans because they don’t have their own dreams and want to live in a modern nation where the people are soveriegn.
For Germán, a retiree who survives by collecting money for the illegal bolita (lottery), “talking about elections is a joke in bad taste, because most of the population can’t directly elect the president of the country. He is elected by 600 deputies, all members of the Communist Party, the only one there is. ”
On March 11, the citizenry will simply ratify the 605 candidates (one candidate per position) for deputy to the 9th Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power, people’s whose names have already been posted. Then, those deputies will elect a new president.
The 605 deputies were proposed in the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power held on January 21. In the ’general elections’ that will take place on Sunday, March 11, around 8 million Cubans must ratify them. And on Thursday, April 19, when the National Assembly is constituted, the 605 deputies will be in charge of electing the head of the Council of State and other senior officials.
As has been published, 40.6 percent of the 605 deputies are blacks or mixed race; more than 86 percent have completed higher education; 53.22 percent are women; 13.2 percent are between 18 and 35 years old and the average age of the deputies is 49. But adding more ’dark’ faces, summoning a greater number of women and showing a youthful retouch does not democratize the Island’s legislature.
Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz, presumably, will maintain his position as first secretary of the Communist Party and although he said that state positions could be held only until the age of 75 (Castro II turns 87 on June 3), a group of elders called the “historical leaders” remain on the list of candidates for deputies, such as José Ramón Fernández, born in 1923, Faure Chomón (1929), Antonio Lussón (1930), Ramiro Valdés (1932), José Ramón Balaguer (1932), Joaquín Quintas Solá (1938), Ramón Espinosa (1939) and Leopoldo Cintra Frías (1941), among others.
“On the island, people do not trust their parliament. Since the first National Assembly was constituted in 1976 (the 1st Legislature, 1976-1981, had Blas Roca as president, Raúl Roa as vice president and José Arañaburu as secretary), all the votes have been unanimous. The parliamentarians do not speak frankly about the real problems or the aspirations of the people. They are buffoons,” says Luis, a private taxi driver.
The Cuban electoral soap opera is designed for the outside world. A wave of analysis, opinions and forecasts generates press coverage and expectations in the United States and the European Union, geographical areas where, in the not too distant future, the regime aspires to maintain or create fundamental alliances.
The intention is to sell hypothetical economic reforms, without giving in to the political principles of an autocratic government. The main strategy of the presidential relay is to try to make the Castro surname invisible and negotiate the dismantling of the embargo with the US Congress, offering possibilities for investment and trade.
We observe that Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, the typical bad cop, is not among the candidates for deputies. They chose to elect his sister Mariela, a kind of liberal face of the Cuban revolution.
“The game is to keep a Castro holding the strings, but inside the sewers of power. Outside, the pools are varied. But those who know the Cuban reality well, know that if anything has characterized Castroism, it never improvises and never leaves the ends untied,” affirms a former university professor of political science.
Until proven otherwise, everything indicates that Miguel Diaz-Canel will be the next president, handpicked by Raul Castro and the military leadership. The interesting thing will be to know how far his autonomy will reach.
It could be a copy of Dmitri Medvedev in Russia. Or Osvaldo Dorticos, who after the resignation of Manuel Urrutia, served as President of Cuba from July 17, 1959 to December 2, 1976. A leader who was nothing more than a chair warmer.