The Result of the Referendum: Reversal or Victory?

With our heads held high, let us recognize that we did not achieve what we set out to do, that the Yes vote won widely. (14y medio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 1 March 2019 – Despite the doubts generated by the data offered by the National Electoral Commission, which include significant changes in the voting rolls and irregularities detected and disseminated by the independent press, it is possible to recognize that the Yes vote exceeded 6 million and would mean between 67% and 70% of the eligible voters validated the new Constitution.

So without a doubt the Yes vote not only did win, but it did by a wide margin. Why did this happen?

Apart from the obvious reasons, such as the impossibility for those of us who advocated for the No vote to bring our reasons to the population while the regime had all the means to do so with its discourse — manipulations and half-truths included — I consider that there are two causes that contributed to a great extent to the result.

First, that the voters did not see the referendum like we did. For many of them this was not the opportunity to say to the regime Yes, or No. For the voters of the island, what happened was that they were able to say Yes to a Constitution that they perceived as more liberal and that extended the range of their rights. It must be recognized that the new Constitution gives a little more breathing space to those who intend to open, little by little, greater spaces of freedom in Cuba, but it does not matter so much if, in short, it is like that or not, but how our neighbors perceived it .

Secondly, the threat of intervention in Venezuela only served for many Cubans to reactivate the anti-imperialist sentiments that for so long have been part of their imaginanation. In this way it has been possible to bring together a considerable number of voters, probably those over 30 years of age, around a regime that understood that it should reinvent this type of discourse.  Added to this is the damage that was already caused a month earlier by the inopportune (or safe move) threat to intensify the embargo.

For many Cubans, the fall of Venezuela does not necessarily mean the fall of the government of Havana, but only a worsening of their day to day lives. For that reason, not a few of that immense majority of pessimists who maintain that “this regime will not fall” interpreted that it was necessary to show support for the regime, which in turn shored up the Venezuelan teat from which we suck.

From all this we can draw two conclusions.

The first is that the penetration of the internet is not as broad as we thought, or, more clearly, that the cost and the few minutes of connectivity do not allow the majority to use the internet to inform themselves and model their political position, but is only as a means of survival, whether to ask for remittances, manage their departure from the island, or look for a partner abroad that makes their existence in Cuba bearable.

The second is that the opposition discourse still does not reach the Cuban on the island. As I said in The Martian (referring to Jose Marti) Knot of the Opposition and the Exiled, Cubans on the Island are a kind of extraterrestrials species apart from the rest. We live in a society with an interpretation of existence that is alien, and incomprehensible, for other mortals except for the North Koreans.

This vision also works the other way around. The Cubans of the Island, locked in the Castro bubble, also do not understand the discourse from the outside. That is why, when one of us leaves that bubble, be it by emigrating or becoming an opponent, he breaks with it and tries to forget it completely, as is normally the case with anyone who escapes from such enclosures. He also loses the possibility to understand, or being understood by, those who have been left behind.

This explains for us that we have an opposition that speaks a language understandable to an American, Spaniard, Mexican or Peruvian; but that the islander only interprets because he does not understand the content of the message.

We must overcome mental laziness, political self-importance (of which there is much) and even the fear of revisiting our beliefs and feelings of when we lived inside the bubble, something we avoid for fear of being absorbed back into the bubble.

We must develop a discourse of our own, based on our exceptional circumstances, fully understandable to those neighbors we now call bootlickers, lazy bums and other such “niceties.”

We must have concrete proposals, that are not up in the air waiting for Mr. Market and Uncle Sam to get here so that happiness and abundance will ipso facto make their presence.

If we do not do all this we will remain as isolated as we have been until now from those neighbors whose interests at some point we intend to represent, and as the resounding Yes vote to the Constitution shows that we are, because although we accept that the Yes vote was not for the government, it was an outright demonstration of the irrelevance of our discourse and proposals (if there are any) for the absolute majority of the islanders.

What can we do after what has happened?

First of all, do not allow ourselves to be overcome by discouragement, much less by hysteria, which leads to nothing positive.

With our heads held high, let us recognize that we did not achieve what we set out to do, that the Yes vote won easily. Because denying it to a population that knows very well that it voted affirmatively will only serve, at the very least, to distance ourselves from them. Let us understand that the triumph of the Yes vote is not in the long term a triumph of the regime, but that the citizens preferred to say Yes to the changes that it can obtain without peril, given the adverse circumstances.

The referendum gave an opportunity to verify the existence of a broad sector of the population, in general the most educated and cosmopolitan, who want more than what the regime offered; that is to say, there is a will for movement and to see changes, which, in the long run, is fatal for Diaz-Canel’s immobilism, which will not be able to follow in step without breaking at some point with the continuity that it claims to respect.

What is needed is therefore to feed this dynamic.

We must turn to the denunciation of the characteristics of the current Electoral Law and ask that all Cubans be able to vote, regardless of where they live. We must also demand that the new Law be discussed and submitted to a referendum. The main argument must be based on the words of Raúl Castro, who affirmed that in Cuba no important decision should be made without consultations with the people.

If someone expected Castroism to fall this February 25, we had already previously warned that no such a thing would happen.

Let’s keep chipping away at the monolith. Stop thinking and acting so much for the overseas public, to win an intervention that will not come (look at Venezuela) and let’s begin to mature a discourse for the island. For the followers of Jose Marti trapped in it.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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