Ivan Garcia, 22 February 2019 — Collecting the masonry rubble and the trees severed by the powerful tornado that it several Havana municipalities on 27 January, when the night falls the residents of Luyano take turns to stand guard until dawn to protect the construction materials piled on the sidewalk, bought at half price from the state stores.
Three weeks later, the inhabitants of the old workers’ quarter are still telling their stories of panic. Ángel, a chef, says that after the government’s propaganda highlighting its own effectiveness in serving the victims, restoring electricity and telephone services, “the Mayimbes* forget to talk about replacing the furniture and appliances that people lost under the collapse of roofs and houses.”
And it wasn’t a small number. The last official count talks about 7,800 damaged houses, of which 730 are total collapses and almost 1,000 partial collapses. The most affected municipalities were Regla, Guanabacoa and Diez de Octubre.
Angel considers himself a ’wealthy’ neighbor: he did not have to wait for the state brigades to start repairing his home. He already put up the roof plate and two masons are fixing the exterior walls. “But the tornado left me penniless. Where do I get the money? “Inventing” in my workplace. On Saturday, for example, we made the snacks and lunches for several electoral colleges in the municipality of Diez de Octubre that held a voting test in advance of the referendum on February 24. I sold the food that day and invested the money in the repair of my house.”
A few hours before the constitutional referendum, an authentic staging of the military autocracy, which tries to feign democracy, the propaganda of the regime is increasingly unbearable. “It’s an attack by land, sea and air. Not even covering your ears gives you an escape from the chant for the people to vote Yes,” confesses Sheila, a nurse, who recommends using the Weekly Packet to rent movies and American serials to escape the tedious political campaign.
When Mayra is disgusted, as now, while waiting in line to buy chicken quarters at a state market, she says aloud: “On Sunday, the 24th, I’m getting desperate. I’m going to put a big NO on the ballot [for the Referendum on the Constitution]. The government does not do anything right and wants Cubans to applaud their nonsense.”
Social networks became a battlefield of dissidents, both for those who support the NO and those who ask people to abstain, tonot vote. Each and every one of them turn the internet into a boxing ring, but everyone is aware that it would be a great irresponsibility to grant a new blank check to a dictatorship that has failed to administer public services and guarantee a decent standard of living.
According to some analysts, Sunday 24 February will be a victory in the tune of Yes. “But the number of negative or blank votes could approach 35 percent. We are talking about more than three million Cubans. It is a force that grows with each vote. In the near future it will be necessary to take them into account,” says Egberto, a graduate in political science.
Saul, a former diplomat, believes that “the dissidence should have asked in international forums sfor experts to monitor the referendum to protect from possible fraud. That would have placed the government in a dilemma. If it opposed, it was marked as intolerant and there was the suspicion of a plebiscite without guarantees.”
You do not have to be a legal expert to recognize that the future Constitution does not reflect the wide diversity that currently exists in Cuba. The result is a Constitution designed by the regime and for the regime. An ideological text to cement the power in place. Castroism would become a monarchy of a single party. A papacy.
Carlos, a sociologist, affirms that “even winning, the government will be questioned, because if the two million Cubans residing abroad and those temporarily abroad had voted, the majority vote would be NO.” Hundreds of Cubans living for a time in other countries, and who still maintain their rights in Cuba, in social networks have complained that the regime, in a clear violation of current laws, is not allowing them to vote.
“In Ecuador live thousands of Cubans who want to vote, but the embassy told us that to do so we should travel to the island. It is blackmail. Pay seven hundred or a thousand dollars for a round trip just to go to vote. When now, by new technologies, you can vote at a distance. As the government did with its international collaborators, to whom they guaranteed the vote,” says a Cuban resident in Quito, referring to the government’s having assured that all Cubans serving on government missions abroad were given a chance to vote.
In its attempt to win at any cost, the government plays in the arena inclined in its favor. While the regime’s propaganda invites a YES vote, in Caracas the anachronistic left that Fidel Castro founded is fighting for its life. The news from Venezuela sounds worse every day. In a media display, the neo-Castro rulers have burned all their ships. And they have deployed a campaign entitled “Hands outside Venezuela”.
Due to the absolute social control of the regime, in schools and workplaces, they are collecting signatures against a hypothetical intervention of the United States in Venezuela. The Cuban armed forces have joined the chorus of support for the unpresentable Nicolás Maduro. On the street, people wonder how Cuba can support Venezuela, when Cuba itself needs to be supported, especially after the passage of the tornado through Havana.
“If Fidel were alive or we were in the 1980s, when the FAR [Revolutionary Armed Forces] had a modern and logistical weapon to deploy troops abroad, I do not doubt that military officers would have been sent to fight in Venezuela. But the context is different. The generals are dedicated to businesses that generate dollars and the weapons that we possess are antiquated. We have no merchant marine to move large contingents of soldiers. And we should ask ourselves how many Cubans, voluntarily, would be willing to fight for Maduro.
Cuba’s support is only of a moral and publicity nature. When things are heating up there, they send back to the island the advisers in intelligence and military counterintelligence that they have in Venezuela,” predicts a former officer of the armed forces.
For now, the regime’s strategy is to get more than 4 million YES votrd in the referendum on February 24. And entrenched from a distance, attempting to shore up Maduro. As far as it can.
*Translator’s note: Mayimbe is a Taino (pre-Columbus Caribbean native) word for chief.