The Monosyllabic Rebel

A man exercises his right to vote in the elections to the People’s Power in Havana. (File EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 April 2018 — Rarely in the last half century has Cuba’s citizenry had a chance to show its displeasure. Government control and lack of a unified opposition platform have spoiled those moments, but a constitutional referendum could be the golden occasion to change the course of events or, at least, to demonstrate differences with the government.

By mid-2021, if the deadlines announced by former President Raul Castro are met, voters will face a ballot where they can mark “”Yes” or “No” for a new constitution. A vote that will have the value of a plebiscite on the socialist character of the Cuban system and the role of the Communist Party as “the superior force of society and the State.”

Unlike the so-called constitutional mummification, which in June 2002 made socialism “irrevocable,” with more than eight million signatures collected at the neighborhood level and in full public view, without any options presented to reject the proposal, it appears that on this opportunity the procedure established in the Electoral Law will be followed, with a secret vote and space to say “No.”

The process begins this year when the National Assembly appoints a commission of deputies to draft and present the new Constitution. It will then be discussed by the members of the Assembly, subjected to “popular consultation” and the final text will have to be submitted to a referendum, as detailed by Raul Castro, some years ago, in his first speech as president.

Right now, the view is that the initiation of constitutional reform will be constrained within a rigid corset. “We do not intend to modify the irrevocable socialist character of our political and social system, nor the role of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC),” the General warned, to avoid triggering expectations about a change of course.

Castro went further and also detailed that in the preparation of the new legislation he will defend the ratification of the PCC’s authority “remaining in the same place: Article Five.” A detail that does away with any illusion that the constitutional reform will promote, and accompany, a democratic transformation on the island.

With these preconditions, the rewriting of the fundamental law is nothing more than a mere exercise of updating the superfluous and keeping the totalitarian core intact. In the face of such evidence, only two positions remain. Approve, with a “Yes” vote, the attempt to perpetuate Castroism, or concentrate, in the “No” vote, all the nuances of rebellion.

The supporters of the regime, as well as those who feel some hope with the slightest aperture in the new Constitution, will go to the polls gathered around the obedient monosyllable. Among them will be those who will consider the inclusion of a few winks toward the market incorporated in the text to be sufficient. Without a doubt, they will be millions.

On the other hand, opponents of the system will have plenty of reasons not to go to the polls to vote on the referendum, or to leave the ballot blank or to scribble whatever is the motto of their opposition initiative on the sheet they deposit at the polls. A diversity of proposals that becomes counterproductive in this particular case and allows the authorities to diffuse dissent.

Although there are still months, perhaps years, before the vote will be called, proposals are circulating among the island’s civil society about the most effective positions to take in the process.

Those arguing the case not to go to the polling stations at all say that their presence at the polls “only serves to validate the dictatorship,” while the promoters of going to the polls but not marking either option believe that this position is more viable in the face of the population’s widespread fear. Others will campaign to write the slogan of their organization on the ballot or they will insist on denouncing at the international level the lack of legitimacy of the referendum.

For once it would be worth joining forces and, shoulder to shoulder, marking an X in the “No” box, but this also involves a challenge. Those who do so need to know that they will be included in the elevated percentages that the officialdom will report as backing for the referendum process itself, and also run the risk of massive fraud in the counting of ballots. But, if they manage to be the multitude, they will send a devastating message.

With a consonant and a vowel, Cubans who refuse to validate a coerced constitution will be making it clear that they do not want to remain part of an unsuccessful experiment. They are the electors who with a simple stroke of a pencil will ratify their displeasure before the imposition, by law, of a small political fraction on the plural and diverse spectrum of the nation.

The plebiscite meticulously calculated to not allow any loophole of political freedom would turn against its organizers, as happened once in Chile to the astonishment of the international community and to the country’s own dictator, Augusto Pinochet.

From now on, it is worth noting that the “No,” that rebellious monosyllable, can thus become the visible and forceful expression of the citizen unrest in Cuba, sunk today in the swamps of faking it.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.