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Democracy Cuban style

I love this headline:

Castro Lauds Cuban Municipal Elections

I bet he does.

Under Cuba’s one-party system, city and provincial leaders, as well as representatives of the National Assembly, are elected by citizens on a local level. Anyone can be nominated to these posts, including non-members of the island’s ruling communist party – the only one recognized in Cuba’s constitution.

So, in theory, anyone can stand for election, and if they win they can then take part in choosing anyone as President.

Well, not quite.

Cuba consistently defends its system as democratic, but critics of Castro’s government argue that tight state control, a heavy police presence and neighborhood-watch groups that report on their neighbors prevent any real political freedom on the island.

It is easy to sneer, and I hereby sneer, at elections like this. But what also strikes me is that fraudulent though this system obviously is at the moment, it might eventually mutate into something genuine. To put it another way, window dressing can end up taking over the shop.

What if Castro dies – Castro will, I predict, eventually die – and there is no longer any widespread agreement about who it is proper to vote for, and who those voted for should themselves vote for when they choose Castro’s successor?

At least Castro now feels sufficiently pressured by the challenge of true democracy to feel the need to arrange his own fraudulent version of it. And the experience of participating in this charade is quite likely to make at least some of those taking part in it wonder how it might feel to vote in a real election.

15 comments to Democracy Cuban style

  • Bernie

    “And the experience of participating in this charade is quite likely to make at least some of those taking part in it wonder how it might feel to vote in a real election.”

    Maybe. And maybe they would feel like it would be a marvelous thing and a great step toward freedom such as we saw when South Africa abandoned aparteid. But as I’m sure you’ve said yourself recently democracy does not equate with freedom.

    Or to put it another way how do the British feel about our up coming elections?

  • “Democracy” is en vogue today, so “democracy” is what you’ll get. Not freedom. We’re fetishizing the process of putting a slip of paper into a box, so that’s what bloody tyrants like Mugabe and Castro are going to show the world. IMO, this is just a safety valve to protect the regime. It confuses political opposition by making the issue less clear. So, I’d say that it helps Castro.

  • Jacob

    “…fraudulent though this system obviously is at the moment, it might eventually mutate into something genuine. ”

    Nonesense.

    Elections were always held in all communist countries, it’s part of their “doctrine”. They were held exactly every four years, to the minute; they never missed one. Everyone can try to be nominated as candidate, but the party does the nomination, and the public only votes yes or no for the single candidate.
    The results vary – between 99.9% and 99.95% for.

    I remeber my gradfather once was too sick to go to vote, so they came with the ballot box to our house, to let him vote, so as not to spoil the participation and result statistics.

    Nothing unusual about the voting in Cuba, and nothing to do with democracy.

  • Jacob – that’s the exact *opposite* of the Cuban elections. Cuban voters are choosing who to elect based on a list of candidates, some of whom are party members and some of whom are not. It’s not a Soviet rubber-stamp election

    As in Iran, the levels of democracy are limited – but this is because anyone strongly anti-regime will be denied the nomination (and possibly thrown in jail), not because voters are faced with only a “yes/no” choice.

  • I see. The Cuban elections, where the “wrong” candidates are thrown in jail, but several “right” candidates adorn the ballot, are the “exact opposite” of the Iranian elections, where the “wrong” candidates are thrown in jail and only one “right” candidate is offered to the public. Nope, no rubber stamp there. After all, no Cuban in his right mind would want to vote for a “strongly anti-regime” candidate. Inconceivable!

  • Jacob

    john b,

    I admit that I don’t know much about Cuba in particular, but it seems you are taken in by their propaganda, just like the reporter in the SFgate article linked.
    In theory, anyone can be a candidate. In practice, I don’t think there were many candidates, and surely none of them was an independent (i.e. anti Castro).

    Nothing new or unusual about these election, just routine, so it seems to me.

  • veryretired

    When I went to grade school in the 1950′s, we had air raid drills when the sirens went off, and we hid under our desks to protect us from the atomic bombs the Russians were going to drop on us.

    All my life, I understood that there was a malevolence, a dark, powerful, unfathomable, deadly entity just over the horizon, waiting for any opening, any weakness, so it could destroy me and everything I knew and loved.

    I heard the hoots of derision from the sophisticates, here and abroad, about how foolish it was to see the world in such simple terms. It was, after all, the wave of the future—didn’t I know that?

    Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, the dark castle collapsed. The rats who scurried away turned out to be worse, far worse, than we had known, but also less than we had suspected. The archives opened, the Doomsday Clock was put away, the Wall was sold piece by piece.

    My daughter was born in 1990, and my youngest boy in 1992. They know nothing of any of this. Soon Fidel, Kim, and the rest of the leftovers will be dead. They mean nothing to me now. The wave of the future has receded, leaving this flotsam on the shore.

    My kids don’t hide under their desks.

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I was under the impression that many of the old Communist states operated under what was known as a People’s Democracy, ie. the fact that the people didn’t rise up and throw out their masters was a tacit, “democratic” mandate. No ballots required!

    Some sort of democratic approval was not only attractive to members of the far left – Hitler was rather fond of plebicites – displaying overwhelming approval, naturally.

  • The Cuban elections, where the “wrong” candidates are thrown in jail, but several “right” candidates adorn the ballot, are the “exact opposite” of the Iranian elections, where the “wrong” candidates are thrown in jail and only one “right” candidate is offered to the public.

    Eh? *Both* the Cuban and Iranian elections feature a free choice from a vetted list of candidates, many of whom are (or have been in some elections) opposed to the people in charge.

    The Iranian parliament from 2000-2004 was significantly reformist (unfortunately, the theocratic maniacs slashed the candidate list for the 2004 elections because their fear of being invaded and massacred by the US has driven them away from the late 1990s-early 2000s liberalisation back to tyranny-as-usual).

    This system isn’t liberal democracy, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the Soviet system, where the Party commissar selected a candidate who The People rubberstamp. The Cuban/Iranian ‘democracy’ diminishes, rather than boosting, the regime’s control over everyday events. And any move away from totalitarianism towards local power is a Good Thing.

  • Jacob

    “The Cuban/Iranian ‘democracy’ diminishes, rather than boosting, the regime’s control over everyday events. ”

    I haven’t noticed any “diminishing” of Castro’s control in Cuba – for the last almost 50 years since he grabbed power. The “elections” are a meaningless propaganda act.

    Neither is there any “diminishing” of the mad muhlla’s power in Iran.

  • There was *massive* liberalisation in Iran in 1998-2003, right up until we-the-west played into the mad mullahs’ hands by threatening to invade.

    It’s almost as if we hadn’t realised that threat of foreign invasion is the best way of uniting people with a previously despised government, which is insane given that that’s been obvious for several thousand years.

  • Euan Gray

    The “elections” are a meaningless propaganda act.

    Not necessarily. The Soviet error in the 1980s lay to quite an extent in thinking that economic restructuring (posited from the late 70s) required some degree of political liberalisation, and hence a degree of freedom was in time permitted in elections under Gorbachev. This ultimately led to a little too much glasnost and to the demise of the USSR itself. It is notable that the Chinese have not yet made the same mistake, but it seems Fidel may have.

    EG

  • I'm suffering for my art

    Euan – hasn’t he been holding these elections for years? I remember reading some lefty street rag 8 years ago (back in the days when I was 16 and full of righteous left wing beliefs) that was banging on about how wonderful and democratic Cuba was, what with their amazingly free municipal elections yadda yadda yadda. Even though I was definitely a pinko, I remember even then thinking it was a load of bollocks.

  • Euan Gray

    hasn’t he been holding these elections for years?

    Yes, and the USSR held elections regularly since the 1920s. The election is not the issue, the range and type of candidates permitted is.

    EG

  • I'm suffering for my art

    I see what you’re driving at.

    Rgds,