“Requesting Voter Certification Is Not Playing Into the Hands of the Cuban Dictatorship”

Manuel Cuesta Morúa / EFE

Manuel Cuesta Morúa talks to 14ymedio’s Reinaldo Escobar about Parliament’s rejection of an amnesty law for political prisoners

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manual Cuesta Morúa/Reinaldo Escobar,  Havana, 21 February 2024 — The Cuban Parliament recently rejected a request to process an amnesty law promoted by dozens of relatives of political prisoners. From that request, which the National Assembly classified as “inadmissible,” a broad debate was generated about the relevance or not of appealing to the Cuban regime’s own laws to promote change on the Island.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa talks about this with this newspaper. The opinion of this veteran dissident, based on the Island, addresses several of those aspects that we share with our readers.

Reinaldo Escobar/14ymedio: To legitimize or not to legitimize? Can you live under an authoritarian regime and refuse to accept all its official regulations and protocols?

Manuel Cuesta Morúa: It might seem cynical to say that the process of legitimizing dictatorships begins with the acceptance of the institutions that manage our existential or social condition. The misnamed “supply book” [ration book], the identity card and the passport are among those institutions through which the dictatorship regulates, controls and limits us, but which we accept. And not because we want to, but for two reasons: dictatorships are possible only if they institutionalize all social life. They are also obliged to incorporate language and certain democratic tools.

The misnamed “supply book” [ration book], the identity card and the passport are among those institutions through which the dictatorship regulates us.

RE/14ymedio. Why do they have that obligation?

MCM. Otherwise they have a serious problem of both internal and external legitimation. They have to appear to themselves and to others. For this reason, the legal and constitutional spaces that are left to the population so that they can become citizens are only conditions, almost inevitable obligations that dictatorships impose on themselves in order to be able to cross with a certain impunity the field and the game of appearances.

RE/14ymedio. So is it like a game of mirrors?

MCM. Exactly. They are not conditions that they impose on us, but rather institutional realities that they have no choice but to assume if they want to be accepted in some way. The dictatorship imposes some things on us by law, such as Article 5 of the Constitution, and others, the majority, outside or manipulating the law.

RE/14ymedio. An example of some of those conditions within the law?

MCM. The requirement to have a voter certification to file a petition before the National Assembly, which may be similar to any other citizen authentication requirement in any genuine democracy. However, in the case of Cuba, this is an excessive barrier. However, it can be skipped if we impose on ourselves the exercise of strong citizenship.

RE/14ymedio. So do you recommend requesting voter certification?

MCM. Yes, I believe that applying for it is a step in our becoming civic citizens. We would not be playing into the hands of the dictatorship, which is not interested in appearance becoming reality, but in ourselves. They don’t even disseminate these legal paths.

RE/14ymedio. Do you think that the regime itself hides the existence of these channels?

MCM. Exactly. Does the Government speak on any radio or television program about laws such as 131, which includes the possibilities of civic responsibility? Do they systematically print the Constitution to distribute it — not sell it — in workplaces or schools?

RE/14ymedio. But wouldn’t using those paths be “playing into the hands” of the regime?

MCM. Judging by the responses to the Varela Project or the proposal for independent candidates in the elections for local People’s Power delegates, the Government did not believe, not even remotely, that it would play into its hands. The test of authenticity of civic alternatives lies in their ability to legitimize themselves, both within their own rules and within the conventional rules of society and the State. The real problem with dictatorships is that they always feel constrained when it comes to the rules of the game.

RE/14ymedio. You are among the promoters of a project that recommends using these paths. At what point is that project right now?

MCM. The process began in 2022 with the help of the Council for Democratic Transition in Cuba and the D Frente platformJulio Ferrer, an independent lawyer, warned us that in March 2020 Law 131 had come into force, which regulates how signatures must be collected for any citizen initiative. A person has to start by going to the National Electoral Council to request certification of their voter status.

As cumbersome as it may seem and be, this is a step forward compared to the time of the Varela Project, when, once the first 11,000 signatures were delivered, the Government demanded the requirement that each signature had to be authenticated before a notary.

Before each incursion of ours, they raised the fence of the requirements to make our civic exercise more difficult.

RE/14ymedio. And have these certifications been achieved?

MCM. Obtaining them has been an odyssey. We start by going to the Municipal Electoral Councils. In some, after consulting with their superiors, they accepted our request and signed a copy as acknowledgment of receipt, others did not. It was all very irregular and that is why we went to the National Electoral Council, first to Ferrer to insist and finally obtain the first voter certification delivered in Cuba. Later, I investigated why the rest of the requests made in different provinces had not been processed.

RE/14ymedio. What did they answer?

MCM. A legal advisor told us that the processing had to be done in each Provincial Electoral Council. That’s what we set out to do, only to find out that it wasn’t at that level either. Before each of our incursions, they raised the hurdle of requirements to make civic exercise more difficult for us. So far, eight voters have received their certification among a dozen applications.

RE/14ymedio. Between criticism from your own side and bureaucratic obstacles from the other, the result seems quite uncertain?

MCM. Our determination is to continue jumping hurdles. From law to law, and from below, that is still the best path.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.