31 January - 6 February
As Cubans went to the polls, Washington-backed "dissidents" continued to plot against the power of the people, writes Faiza Rady
Struggling with strong winds and torrential rains that affected the island's central and western provinces, Cubans went to the polls on 20 January to elect 614 representatives to Cuba's National Assembly -- the country's central legislature -- and 1,201 more to the Provincial Assemblies of Peoples' Power.
Still recuperating from intestinal surgery last year, Cuban President Fidel Castro cast his two ballots from his home in the Havana neighbourhood of Plaza de la Revolucion. In a written address to the citizens of his district, Fidel mocked prevailing weather conditions in a veiled allusion to graver challenges: "Cold winds from the north, accompanied by drizzle and rain in the western part of the country, pretend to conspire against our elections."
Harsh weather and banter aside, conspiracy against Cuba does indeed come from the island's northern neighbour, the United States. Before the elections, President of the Cuban Assembly Ricardo Alarcon warned of the US threat, affirming that Washington spends considerable time and much money to divide the Cuban people and overthrow their government. Alarcon was referring to the Bush administration's recent admission that they pour more money into prosecuting US companies that break the blockade on the island, as well as US citizens visiting Cuba, than on their much-touted war against terror and drug traffickers. Close to 50 years on, US plans to subvert the Cuban Revolution remain operative, said Alarcon. "This is why it is so necessary that revolutionaries stay united and also fight their own deficiencies and errors," he added.
Bush administration efforts to divide and rule went into high gear before the elections. Tagging along, the US media largely ignored the elections, dismissing their results as a foregone conclusion. Official US government statements labelled the elections as a "sham of democracy", contending that communist Cuba's single-party system excludes political plurality. Nevertheless, elections in Cuba represent people's power as opposed to party power, the Cubans argue, because the Communist Party of Cuba isn't an electoral party. It cannot nominate candidates or be involved in any other stage of the electoral process. "The party's role is one of guidance, supervision and guarantor of participatory democracy," explains Alarcon.
What's more, there is no multi-million dollar campaigning, or corporate behind-the-scene business deals with candidates, vote buying, political mudslinging, or exclusion of workers and the poor in the process. Every citizen has the right to run for office without Communist Party nomination or backing. Instead, the Cuban people directly choose their candidates for municipal office -- the requirement for nomination being that the candidate receives more than 50 per cent of her or his district's vote. Democratic in terms of majority power sharing, elections quotas reflect the grassroots representation of mass organisations, i.e. women's groups, trade unions, peasants, students, the youth, soldiers, intellectuals, health workers, artists, senior citizens and homemakers. Compared with liberal democracies, a telling feature of more equitable power sharing in Cuba is shown in the gender composition of its candidates for the National Assembly, 42 per cent of which are women.
Prior to the elections, US-bankrolled Cuban "dissidents" were hard at work telling voters to submit blank ballots in protest at the elections, which they described as "a parody of democracy". Most people ignored their call. While 8.1 million Cubans -- representing 96 per cent of eligible voters -- duly completed their ballots, only 3.73 per cent heeded the dissidents' call to submit empty forms. High voter turnout showed "overwhelming support for the country, revolution and socialism", reported the Cuban daily Granma.
Cuban minister of justice and president of the National Electoral Commission, Maria Esther Reus, reported that a 91 per cent majority supported the "united vote". An innovation in the electoral process, the united vote requires voters to check a single box supporting candidates of their region. Should voters disapprove of any of the candidates, they can simply eliminate them by crossing individual boxes next to the candidates' names. The united vote aims to simplify the electoral process and reduce vote-counting irregularities.
Election fraud is practically non- existent in Cuba. Poll inspection is open to all citizens, who are allowed to freely enter any poll of their choice. In addition, 192,000 workers staffed and supervised 38,000 polling stations across the country. Following the 20 January elections, Cuba's provincial and national assemblies will elect leaders within 45 days. Provincial delegates elect a president and vice president, while national delegates elect the state president, vice president and secretary, as well as members of the Council of State, its president, vice presidents and secretary. In last week's election Fidel was re-elected to his National Assembly seat, representing Santiago province, which makes him eligible for re-election as the country's president in the upcoming 24 February elections.
For the Western media, the focus of the election was whether the National Assembly would re-elect Fidel as state president and chairman of the Council of State, given his still precarious health. Renewed speculations about Fidel's retirement from politics leading to the fall of communism and Cuba's return to the US fold resurfaced. Cubans disagree. "Fidel is our untouchable revolutionary leader and we love him for it and wish him a long life. But while he is mortal like everybody else, when he dies communism will survive in Cuba," says Vladimir Gonzàles Quesada, political attaché at the Cuban Embassy in Cairo.
"Contrary to Bush administration claims, Fidel isn't a dictator running his own private fief. We have strong socialist institutions and a young leadership that will carry on the struggle. If nothing else, the electoral process shows that Cuba is a grassroots democracy built on power-sharing and people's power," Quesada added.