Between the Ballot and the Ticket To Leave the Island, Cubans Prefer To Emigrate

On Infanta Street this Wednesday, a young man in a ration store looked at one of the many official posters which, in these last weeks, promote a united vote for the parliamentary candidates.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 23 March 2023 — To vote or not to vote in the elections for Cuba’s Parliament, on March 26, is a dilemma in the face of which many Cubans have already taken sides. The economic crisis, lack of hope and little confidence in state institutions favor abstention in a country where not attending the polls is considered a political statement and can involve reprisals.

Among those who are overcoming fear and say that they will not vote are retirees whose pensions don’t go far enough, young people who have not known anything but scarcity since they were born and potential migrants who set their sights outside the Island. The dissatisfaction and mistrust that lay beneath the surface of Cuban society could materialize in an increase in abstentions this coming Sunday.

On Infanta Street this Wednesday, a young man in a ration store looked at one of the many official posters that in recent weeks promote a united vote for the parliamentary candidates. The colorful advertising stands out in the store, which has only a couple of products on display. On the counter, a small blackboard announces that allocation of cigarettes and cigars for the month of January are now being sold.

“I don’t even plan to go out that day, and I’m going to close the windows so they don’t bother me to go vote,” clarified another young woman who arrived at the bodega (ration store) to ask about the arrival of salt. “Two years ago I turned 16 and am on the electoral roll, but I’m not interested. I didn’t go to vote for the Family Code [in September 2022], and I’m not going to go this time either,” she says bluntly.

The reason borders more on indifference than on rebellion. “It’s not going to change anything if I go or not,” she tells 14ymedio. “My mother has been attending all those processes for 40 years and what does she have now? Nothing. A half-collapsed house, four old rags to wear and some children who only think about leaving this country as soon as they can.”

While she is speaking, an old woman arrives but doesn’t join the conversation. She makes a gesture of denial when she hears the young woman’s words. It is in the elderly where the official propaganda of the united vote and the attendance at the polls as a sign of support for the system penetrates with greater depth. They are the ones who are most afraid of change or have spent more years of their lives supporting the Government.

Maurín, 21, lives in the Havana neighborhood of San Pedro in the municipality of El Cotorro. In front of the door of his house extends a street that years ago lost some of its asphalt. Garbage accumulates on the nearby corner, while the line for the only kiosk that sells food in the area almost reaches his window.  “How am I going to go to vote if they haven’t even fixed the basics?” the young man asks, indignant.

With an engineer father and a nurse mother, Maurín questions the role of the delegates of the National Assembly of People’s Power in his neighborhood and the ability of parliamentarians to improve the lives of citizens. “In San Pedro we have been demanding [from the delegates] for years and years in the Accountability meetings that they fix our streets, improve the quality of the bread and open new stores to buy food, but none of that has been resolved.”

Disbelief has taken over many of the residents in the area, a phenomenon that is repeated throughout the country. To try to arouse enthusiasm in recent weeks, the Cuban ruling party has launched a campaign that includes meetings with voters, an avalanche of advertising in the national media, the reduction of annoying blackouts, and agricultural fairs to sell food at prices a little cheaper than in private markets.

However, the ideological offensive does not seem to be bearing fruit among a population that is tired of so many daily difficulties. For Maritza, 64, until recently employed by a branch of the Ministry of Culture, it is striking how people in the streets no longer hide that they will not vote on Sunday.

The Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel seems to fear a growth in abstention, which for decades remained below 10% but has experienced a significant increase in recent years. In last November’s municipal elections it reached an all-time high with 30% of voters absent. For the ruling party, attendance is measured as a sign of support for the system and the Communist Party.

“In the line at the bank I heard two employees who were talking and saying that they were not going to vote on Sunday. For me it is unprecedented that in a state work center people talk so openly in frank defiance of the system,” she tells this newspaper. “Before, that was unthinkable, and it shows that between fear and defiance, many are choosing defiance.”

Cuban dissidents have also raised the tone in the calls for abstention as the electoral date approaches and, for the first time in a long time, they have agreed on the “I don’t vote” premise, which has been joined by activists of various political stripes.

In Santa Clara, Ignacio, 47 years old and self-employed, has also decided to abstain. “The deputies will not solve any problem because they are the gears of this machine but not its essence. They are mostly a group of puppets without voice or vote because everything in Cuba has always been planned in that manual of ’continuity’,” he says.

Ignacio recognizes that others will go to the polls but says their attendance is not exactly because of a belief that the National Assembly will help improve life on the Island. “One of the saddest things is the political apathy of these people and the hopelessness that leads them to vote or take any decision dictated by the Government, such as voting for everyone,” he emphasizes.

Others, such as Jorge, a 23-year-old university student and resident of Camajuaní, Villa Clara, recognizes that he will go to vote on March 26 because he feels that attendance is “practically mandatory.” He does not want to stand out publicly and prefers to avoid teacher retaliation that could result from not going.

However, he recognizes that no candidate for parliament represents him “because the politics they defend has nothing to do” with his way of thinking. “The election process will solve absolutely nothing. All leaders follow the same ideology and do not change anything once they are elected,” he concludes with skepticism.

There are also those who seem impervious to the official campaign for the March 26 elections and say they are not even aware that voting will take place. “I don’t care about that; I just want to survive every day and wait for my sister to find me a sponsor to go to the United States,” acknowledges 19-year-old Jean Marcos. “The only place I’m going to go is to the airport when I have my flight.”

Jean Marcos’ friends share his position. Given the choice between the ballot or the ticket, they all seem to opt for something that gets them out of Cuba as soon as possible.

Translated by Regina Anavy 


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