Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 20 October 2016 — An article I wrote was published on this site in March 2015, on the subject of the announcement in the official Cuban press that a new electoral law was to be enacted in Cuba in March 2018. The article raised more than a few stings because – among other topics on the subject in question – it launched the idea of demanding that the new law include the right of Cuban emigres to vote in the Cuban elections, especially since, from the point of view of the Cuban authorities, a large part of them are considered as ‘nationals’, and their right to enter their native country is consequently subject to compulsorily carrying their Cuban passport which identifies them as such.
Another element in favor of the proposal was the advantage emigres have of living in a free society and of being able to develop campaigns through different media demanding that elementary civil right, and to propose candidates.
As an added advantage, Cubans residing abroad, especially in the US, are today one of the most important sources of foreign exchange in Cuba, therefore they have emerged as an economic engine of paramount importance for the country. If emigres are a substantial economic force, it is fair that they should also establish a political force with full participation and rights. Seen in perspective, this exodus can be a formidable political pulse to force changes within Cuba.
Some commentators were shocked at what they considered “legitimization” of Castro’s electoral farce, others accused me of “pandering to the regime,” while the most benevolent and patronizing branded me as naive.
Well-known Cuban personalities who live abroad, with whom I shared my thoughts and substantiated my views, had similar attitudes, though I must admit they showed an interest in the subject. In any case, the matter was not an absolute novelty. Years ago, the prominent Cuban opponent Oswaldo Payá was taking advantage of cracks offered by the Constitution to promote a referendum through the Varela Project, and surprised public opinion when around 25,000 signatures of voters within Cuba were collected, despite the repression and all the risks involved in so daunting a task in conditions of dictatorship.
There were those who mistakenly believed that the Varela Project was a failure. On the contrary, not only did it demonstrate the ability to seek the will of thousands of Cubans and to mobilize international public opinion, but it placed the dictatorship on the defensive, forced it to activate a scandalous plebiscite that revealed the government’s farce and brought to light the weaknesses of the Castro regime’s own laws.
Currently, voices and projects have emerged that propose substantial changes to consider in the new electoral law, announced by the government for 2018, including the right of all Cubans to vote. Fortunately, many groups among Cuba’s internal independent civil society and among its diaspora consider the moment conducive to influencing, from an inclusive legal framework, a move towards a democratic Cuba.
Of course, recognizing the emigres’ rights to participate in the elections would imply a profound and radical transformation of the current electoral law, which to date has not only had an ideologically narrow-minded nature, but also is instituted based on ‘geographical’ budgets. Except for those on official “missions” abroad, who can vote in polling places set up where they are at the time, voters must cast ballots for a candidate in the constituency where they are registered, and can only exercise this right if they are within the national territory; and ‘biographical’ since they vote on the candidate’s profile, made up by the Municipal Electoral Commission itself (CEM), led by the Communist Party (PCC) and not by a government program promoting the candidate.*
Since it’s only been about voting for this or that candidate at the service of the same government, and not for genuine representatives of the interests of the electorate, the first change that the new electoral law should contain is precisely to endorse the right to true elections for all Cubans, independent of his country or area of residence. To this should be added the demand for general elections and not for mere local officials without real power and without any commitment to the electorate.
Obviously, we shouldn’t expect that the olive green elite has the intention to voluntarily give up their “election” privileges. Hence the role of the body of emigres to add additional value, given its ability to influence public opinion and policy areas from their places of residence in order to put pressure on the Cuban authorities.
The worst is that not just the Cuban guerrilla gerontocracy shows records of obstinacy, nor is it the only one that has great interests to protect, but that it slows down any transition or opening in Cuba, even under the rapprochement favored by the Obama’s administration.
Certain groups of the “so-called historical emigration” (any resemblance to the “historic generation” of the Palace of the Revolution is no mere coincidence) are often as wedded to confrontation as the ancient Cuban dictators themselves.
In this vein, perhaps the political representatives of the Cuban emigration in the US might get better results if, instead of opposing so obtusely the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana and the dialogue process between the two governments, it would decide to take advantage of the new political scenario and consider forcing the White House to include in the human rights agenda the demand from members of the Cuban community to fully exercise their rights as citizens in the country in which they were born.
And, given that before the fait accompli hangmen tantrums are useless, the time is right to set aside shady interests that have nothing to do with alleged patriotic jealousy and take advantage of the rapprochement.
A large number of Cuban emigres is already campaigning to demand that their right to participate in elections in Cuba be endorsed in the new electoral law. It remains to be seen if they receive some support from politicians who claim to represent them, or if those on the US side, supposedly willing to consider all proposals and criteria, and entrusted with dialogue with the Cuban dictatorship on human rights, will include on their agenda the legitimate claims of those others, disinherited of homeland and rights by the laws of the Castro regime: the émigrés.
*Translator’s note: Under Cubans current laws governing elections, candidates may not actively campaign and are presented to the voters only through a single-page biography that is prepared by Communist Party officials and posted in a window in their district. Candidates are not allowed to state “positions” on any issue. Thus, in recent elections where two opposition candidates made it through the early selection process, their biographies described them as “counterrevolutionary.” One candidate’s biography read, in part: “In 2006 he joined the little counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in computers and journalism, organized by the United States Interest Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles against the Revolution financed by international organizations and counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and paid for his trips abroad.”
Translated by Norma Whiting