14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 17, 2019 — In a country with a high number of emigrants who have a vital influence in the support of their families on the Island, it’s inevitable to ask if Cubans who live or are temporarily abroad will have the right to vote in the February 24 referendum, a question that official institutions have not yet cleared up.
Per the effects of the country’s current migratory policy, there are three forms in which Cubans can find themselves abroad: those fulfilling an official mission, those who find themselves outside on a temporary basis for personal reasons, or those who, after remaining more than 24 months abroad, are no longer considered permanent residents of national territory.
The current Electoral Law only mentions the possibility of opening polling places abroad regarding referendums, but it doesn’t specify who will have the right to vote. The issue is a law preceding the migratory changes of 2013 that doesn’t consider the current diversity because it was conceived at a moment in which there were only two forms of being abroad: as “scum” with a permanent departure, without the right to vote, or on an official mission (athlete, merchant marine, and diplomatic).
Faced with the questions arising in the new circumstances, authorities have not helped to clear up what procedure will be followed in this case. Recently Ernesto Soberón, director of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, published on his Twitter account a “clarification” that, instead of providing answers, has sown greater confusion.
The official assured that “all Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24.” But his statement violates the laws of physics, since if those individuals are abroad it is impossible that they be “in” Cuba for the date of the referendum.
All Cuban citizens above age 16 — in full enjoyment of their political rights and who are not included in the exceptions anticipated by the Constitution and the Law — who find themselves abroad, will be able to exercise their right to vote in #Cuba this February 24 #SomosCuba (#WeAreCuba) pic.twitter.com/1fwnvwrzds
-Ernesto Soberón (@SoberonGuzman) January 15, 2019
The question is greater with those citizens who are temporarily and for personal reasons outside the Island, a figure that could reach hundreds of thousands of individuals if those who left the country after February 24, 2017 and haven’t yet returned are counted. In the case of those who have been abroad for more than 24 months, the current electoral law does not recognize their right to vote in any circumstance and it is unlikely that the Government will make short-term changes to expand their rights.
So far, Cubans who have been temporarily abroad have not been able to cast a vote to elect their district representative. Something that is understandable, since it would be necessary for consulates to handle hundreds of different ballots representing all the districts of those voters. Something similar happens with the elections for members of Parliament, given that the list of around 600 candidates is broken up into municipalities and electoral colleges from all over the country.
However, with the referendum everything changes, while it is the same question for the participants. Additionally, article 164 of the Electoral Law establishes that the National Electoral Commission, in coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, must arrange “what is necessary to guarantee the casting of votes by voters who find themselves outside of national territory” the day that the election is held.
Precedents of Cubans participating in the constitutional referendum of 1976 only include, without a lot of precision in numbers, the votes that were cast in Angola, organized by the respective political sections of the military units which, at that time, were fulfilling “international missions.” They even ended up opening special ballot boxes on February 15, 1976 on the ships filled with soldiers headed for Africa.
This week the Government has announced that it will carry out a similar process with Cubans who are fulfilling medical and professional missions in Venezuela and one can hope that the initiative will be repeated in those countries where there are numerous delegations of nationals sent by the Government.
But authorities still haven’t publicized the procedure that those other Cubans who do not belong to official missions will have to fulfill in order to participate in the referendum without being bodily present in the national territory. If the Plaza of the Revolution intends for the process to enjoy a greater legitimacy, it must promote and facilitate that participation, especially that of those who have been abroad for less than 24 months.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must avoid spreading confusing information that tends to discourage participation, and must detail, without ambiguity, how the rights of those Cubans who are temporarily outside the country will be recognized. Time is passing, and at almost a month until the referendum, any hold-up conspires against their participation and any delay is a violation of the Electoral Law.
Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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