Ivan Garcia, 4 December 2017 — Let’s call him Ramón, 65, a city bus driver. He says that one morning he realized that he had arrived in the third age when he couldn’t tie his shoelaces sitting on the sofa in his living room.
His sedentary lifestyle and a prominent belly prevented him from doing it. “Nature is wise. The body is sending signs of aging. And you have to pay attention. Societies are the same. And for ten years I knew that the system in Cuba and its leaders, besides aging physically, were entering a stage of decomposition. No one can stop it, “says Ramón, who for most of his adult life was an unconditional supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolution.
The bus driver confesses that he was an official with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and participated in an internationalist mission in Angola. “I was willing to give my life for the revolution. But my way of thinking changed. I no longer believe in these people (the regime). It’s getting more and more clear to me: they are only interested in power and getting rich. The problems of the people do not matter to them.”
A decade ago, for the first time he decided to leave his ballot blank in the imitation elections held on the island. In the last balloting, on November 26, he wrote on his ballot “The people want food and democracy.”
For this article he asked me to use a pseudonym. But as if it were an achievement, he tells his neighbors what he did, who, like Ramón, consider the Castro brothers’ regime outdated.
Mayra, a doctor, pasted a set of labor demands on her ballot: more economic freedom and free elections to choose the president of the country. “In a fit of bravery I decided to do it. The night before I wrote it on my computer, I printed it, and the next day I took it out of my wallet and glued it on the ballot.”
Neither Ramón nor the doctor are dissidents or political activists. They are people that we see daily in the streets, standing in line at the bakery or complaining about everyday hardships and the lack of a future.
It is a Cuban version of the “neither-nor” Venezuelans. They do not support the government, nor do they trust the illegal local opposition. Many of them, like Silvia, a clerk in a pharmacy, believe that nobody takes them into account.
“President Trump, announces measures that he believes will favor Cubans. The dissenters run their mouths when talking about the people, but very few approach the people to hear about our problems. And the government is increasingly disoriented from the true aspirations of the population,” says Silvia.
This is the perception among many ordinary citizens who consider themselves forgotten in this story. “In one way or another, everyone uses us for their interests. But nobody cares about us,” concludes Silvia, who, on the day of the insipid elections, did not go to vote and stayed at home watching the American serial Billionaires.
Any country in the world would accept 70 or 80 percent of voters as a good turnout. In the United States, little more than half of its voters go to the polls.
But in totalitarian societies, where the vote does not represent social, economic or political transformation, citizen participation is an act of loyalty to the regime. That is why in North Korea, China and Vietnam, in their electoral parodies, participation greatly exceeds 90 percent.
In Cuba it was the same until Sunday, 26 November 2017.
In the elections of December 22, 1992, the military autocracy reported the participation of 97.2% of registered citizens. On February 27, 1993, in the vote for deputies to the National Parliament, attendance was 99.62%.
On October 21, 1997, 97.59% of the registered voters showed up to vote. On February 13, 1998, 98.35% went to the vote. And in the referendum on October 27, 2012, attendance was 94.21%.
Comparative statistics from the electoral commission show that abstentionism, not voting, leaving the ballot blank or annulling it, grew between two and five percent between 1992 and 2012, if we believe the official statistics are reliable.
These statistics show that, in general, the western and central provinces have the lowest participation rates. Of these, Havana stands out, perhaps the most gusano*, with figures that hovered around 80 percent.
After Fidel Castro’s forced retirement due to health problems, abstention increased with each election. In the absence of statistics by province from the national electoral commission, it is already a fact that the last elections showed the lowest citizen participation since the regime began to distribute its drop-by-drop “democracy.”
What message does this increase in absenteeism send? I asked a university professor. “For a political system like Cuba’s, with a very strong ideological weight and one that boasts of the monolithic unity of the people with its leaders, it is worrisome. Take note. These figures are a set of many things. Of the obvious waste of power, that people are not happy with the reforms, that there is a sector that demands real democratic changes, that citizens are indifferent to the political project and of the exhaustion of the blank check that the government once enjoyed,” he answers.
And he adds, “”More than one million eight hundred thousand Cubans, in one way or another, either leaving the ballot blank, writing slogans, making demands or not going to vote, shows their dissatisfaction with the system. If we consider it as a movement, the movement of the indifferent, for example, it would be the largest party in Cuba today, because the Communist Party, the ruling party, has around 700,000 members.”
There is a third force that asks to be heard. Even supposing that the 85.94% who voted unconditionally supported the government, in Cuba a current of dissatisfied citizens is fed up with the current state of affairs.
Fidel Castro took power with a disorganized army that initially consisted of 82 men. When they came down from the Sierra Maestra and added the forces of the 26th of July Movement, the army did not exceed four thousand people.
Believe me, then, that 1,869,937 Cubans, 21.12% of the electorate, is not a small number. And it continues to grow.
*Translator’s note: Gusano, or worm, is a term applied to “counterrevolutionaries”
Note: After this article was written, and four days after the municipal elections were held, on Sunday, November 26, something happened that had never happened in Cuba: on Thursday, November 30, the online edition of the Granma newspaper published an official note from the National Electoral Commission, where the participation figure rose from 85.94% to 89.02%.
Photo: Taken from CNN