Cuba: Constitutional Referendum, Food Shortage And Social Unrest / Ivan Garcia

Food market. Source: Diario Las Americas

Iván García, 28 January 2019 – When they saw that a ramshackle GAZ 52 Soviet-era truck was parked at the entrance to the Monaco market, in the neighborhood of La Víbora, south of Havana, and began unloading boxes of eggs, a long line quickly formed. The crowd, made up of housewives, retirees, workers in the area who take advantage of their working hours to buy food, business owners and retailers, tried to organize the line.

Mirta, a housewife, was there all afternoon, but in the end she couldn’t even buy an egg. “Do you think I can vote Yes in the upcoming election to ratify the Constitution? With such a deficient government, many of us from Havana are going to vote No, although we know that this will not change the situation.”

Alfredo, owner of a sandwiches and juices café, annoyed, does not understand “why the government does not put a note in Granma newspaper that says the People of Cuba are incapable. Then, they resign en masse and call for elections where the population can choose another model of a country. Self-employed people lack access to wholesale markets and now the State has rationed the products they sell in the unrationed market. You could only buy one carton of eggs per person. Those of us who have business, what do we do?”

Mercedes, a teacher, has been trying to get bags of liquid natural yogurt for two weeks. “I suffer from colitis and I have a medical recommendation to eat yogurt. In all of Havana, whether in foreign currency or in national currency, you do not find natural yogurt. But if only that was all. A lemon costs 4 pesos. And to buy fresh bread outside the rationed market you have to stand in line for an hour. In the search for food I lose two hours daily. To the problem of the food I can also add that the building’s water pump is broken, taking a bus is an ordeal and the salary they pay you is an insult. With that list of calamities, one must be very opportunistic to vote for socialism to be perpetuated in Cuba.”

Yania Suárez, an independent journalist, says: “From the people I’ve talked to, especially with young people, they still do not understand the content of what is being voted on, much less the importance of the vote. For them it is a hypocritical process that will perpetuate the state of affairs. They see it as something incomprehensible, boring and useless that those “up there” are doing behind the people’s back for their own benefit, as always. Apathy is what I have seen the most.”

Daniel, who works in a state cafeteria, affirms that in Cuba young people are not for the Constitution or anything. “They say that everything about the government is a lie and they do not believe in the leaders. Many young people talk like that, but they attend the events and go to vote. I do not talk so much, but I do not participate or collaborate with these people (the regime).”

Gerald, a Cuban who lives in Florida and often visits his family in Cuba, alarmed, refers to “the tremendous shortages in all the provinces. Even with enough money you can’t buy what you need. If there is no fraud in the next elections, I am sure that among those who will vote No, leave the ballot blank or not vote at all, you can reach 30 percent or more of the votes. If the almost three million Cubans living abroad could vote, that number would double. ”

Ramón, another Cuban resident in the United States, very active in social networks, confesses that “in all the forums I have put VOTE NO. At least that action will give Cubans the possibility of morally empowering themselves. They will know that they can oppose something, directly and openly, even in the privacy of an electoral booth.

“Mariela Castro said that Voting NO was sabotage and for me that indicates they are shaking in their boots. Millions of NO votes would give the world, and in particular Cubans, the confirmation that there are millions that do not support Castroism.

“No one on the island can bear another ‘Special Period’ and that is what Cuba is heading for if the regime does not change the rules of the game, even if it is in the economy like China or Vietnam. And it does not seem that they intend to do it, so they will continue heading over the cliff.”

Norge, a professor of political science, believes that “for the first time in the 60 years of the Revolution, the ruling caste feels the breath of discontent on their necks. I think there is a terrible fear. Perhaps many regime bigwigs are wondering why the hell they came up with this plebiscite. If they play cleanly, the percentage of negative votes, voided ballots and abstentions could be surprising.”

Luisa, a lawyer, points out that the statistics do not play in favor of the government. “In the last two elections, that of neighborhood delegates and candidates for the National Assembly, even with the symbolism represented by the recent death of Fidel, the number of people who did not vote or annulled their ballot was around 20 percent, plus or minus two million Cubans. Those figures have been increasing in each election. It would not be unreasonable that on February 24, votes against, abstentions and blank ballots exceed three million, an amount to take into account.”

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that there is a lot of fear within the government itself. “Otherwise you can’t understand the fierce campaign that all official media are carrying out to tip the vote in their favor. In social networks, there have been cases such as that of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who called Cubans who think differently ‘sons-of-bitches’, or the unpresentable Yusuam Palacios, president of the Marti Youth Movement, who, because he lacked the capacity to establish a civilized debate with Internet users, uses threats and offenses. If the promoters of the NO vote had space in the national and provincial press and if the Cubans residing in other nations could vote, the government would lose the referendum on February 24.”

While the debate for or against the future Constitution takes place on social networks and independent and alternative media, in Cuba the regime deploys broad propaganda to win supporters.

“Something that is illegal, because according to the regulations in force, neither the State nor the Communist Party can use electoral propaganda, is on every program at all times,” notes the retired sociologist Carlos Eloísa. “Whether it’s a ball game or a Brazilian telenovela, in the background on the screen that have ‘I’m Voting Yes.’ It’s exhausting. If it’s like this with a whole month left, if they keep up with the same onslaught imagine when there are just a few days before the vote you won’t be able to turn on the radio or TV.”

The same a ball game or during the Brazilian novel. You hang on the back of the screen I vote YES. It is harrowing. If you still have a month left and they’re giving you the same matraquilla, I suppose that when there are a few days left you can not turn on the radio or watch TV. ”

Olga Lidia, a doctor, says “It remains to be seen what the voting intentions are of the indifferent or the zombies, the segment of the citizenry that usually goes to vote and pretends to support the Government, the Party and the Revolution.”

Edgar, a communications specialist, believes that “the government should temper that campaign, because it is counterproductive. The opinions that come out in the news, most of the time do not reflect the diversity of points of view nor the dissatisfaction among ordinary people. In the absence of economic results, what they promote are details, such as the arrival of 450 Russian microbuses and 89 Chinese buses to improve transport in the capital.

“Messages that try to sell optimism. On the street, people say that this is a drop of water in the ocean, because in Havana, for the urban transport service to work, more than 3 thousand buses and 5 thousand taxis are needed. Not the 700 buses that are currently circulating. Many people, in a whisper, recognize that the sate media are manipulative and no doubt when they go to vote, they’ll mark their ballots with a No.”

Paraphrasing Lincoln, you can fool the people one time. But not all the time.