Cuba Politics

Cubans “vote” for political leaders and neighborhood representatives

Posted October 08, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Politics.

original title: In Cuba, democracy a block at a time

By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press Writer

This is democracy, Cuban style: salsa music and a show of hands on a street corner in Old Havana.

The beat pours from curbside speakers, signaling to about 150 neighbors to gather and choose candidates for the capital’s municipal assembly.

“Just observe &#xu2;014 it’s democracy,” says Mario Hernandez, a leader of his block’s Revolutionary Defense Committee, jabbing a meaty finger into a reporter’s chest at the corner of Villegas and O’Reilly Streets.

“Here there are no rifles, no repression,” adds the 71-year-old, a fat stogie clenched between his teeth. “You’ll see.”

Cuba’s communist system rests in part on these block-by-block gatherings, convened every 2 1/2 years, where anyone 16 and over can nominate and elect neighbors to local government posts.

These “nomination assemblies” are organized by election officials and the Revolutionary Defense Committees, which keep tabs on residents and are located on nearly every block across the nation of 11.2 million. Nominated candidates vie for seats on municipal assemblies, which help choose candidates for Cuba’s National Assembly. That national legislature in turn approves appointments to the island’s supreme governing body, the Council of State.

Real power has always rested with President Fidel Castro, who has never had to put his job to a free vote. The 81-year-old hasn’t been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede power to younger brother Raul in July 2006. He officially still heads the Council of State, but unless his health improves, council members could replace him with Raul next spring.

The United States says Cuba’s system is antidemocratic because it doesn’t allow direct multiparty elections for president. Cuba retorts that in America, the candidates who raise the most money usually win. It also maintains that the U.S. doesn’t have direct presidential elections either, pointing to the electoral college that gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush, even though Al Gore got more votes.

And while the Communist Party runs the government, a third of the 37,328 candidates chosen at nominating assemblies to run for municipal posts won’t be party members, but men and women chosen because their neighbors like them.

Critics note, however, that when municipal assembly seats are determined in a secret ballot election on Oct. 28, the only winners of the more than 15,000 posts will be Communist Party members.

Moreover, the initial nominating that ran until Sept. 26 was by a show of hands, not a secret ballot, which effectively bars dissidents from running, say critics such as Alejandro Tru, of the tiny, opposition Liberal Party of Cuba.

Residents of the Nuevo Vedado neighboorhood attend a meeting during municipal elections in Havana, Sept. 11, 2007. Cuba’s communist system is built in part on these block-by-block gatherings, where anyone 16 and over can nominate neighbors and vote on candidates for local government. (AP Photo/Prensa Latina)

If anyone raised a hand for a dissident candidate, “there are 1,000 subtle and not subtle ways” to intimidate them into withdrawing their nomination, he said.

Since Cuban elected bodies exist mainly to rubber-stamp government policy, membership doesn’t offer much of a legislative challenge. Nor does it pay much. But it carries a prestige that attracts top artists, singers and authors to vie for seats.

Voting isn’t mandatory, and younger Cubans aren’t much in evidence at the nominating assemblies, even though participation is strongly encouraged and organizers even take attendance slips.

On O’Reilly Street, families spill out of crowded apartments for the vote. Struggling to be heard over the music, a veteran organizer shouts to the crowd that the assembly will soon begin.

“Raise your hand to vote, but do not raise your hand more than once,” she warns. Soon a microphone is produced, the music silenced and four candidates nominated.

“We all know him as a good neighbor who completes his work,” one woman says in support of the first nominee, party member Buenaventura Fernandez.

“We could leave behind the ‘machismo’ that we’ve always had and nominate a ‘companera,’” a man implores, praising the lone female nominee.

But the final vote isn’t close. Fernandez’s name is called first. Without a word, 63 hands go up. The other three get just 39 votes between them.

Everyone applauds. “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!” they cry, before drifting home. The whole process has taken 27 minutes.

Fernandez is middle-aged and a first-time nominee, but “he was already known by people,” says Jorge Guerrero, a 59-year-old port mechanic and voter, explaining the landslide victory.

Asked if he hopes one day to vote like this for Cuba’s president, Rene Grana, a 77-year-old retiree, replies that Fernandez could win an assembly seat and work his way up from there.

“Maybe we just elected the president of the republic,” he says.

Member Comments

On October 08, 2007, publisher wrote:

What a sad joke. Sure, you sit there in public next to all your neighbors so everyone can see how you vote. More importantly the local government representative watches you vote.

On October 08, 2007, Cuban Dan wrote:

Its ok publisher, because Castro says they have a democracy…. therefore they have a democracy, because Castro never lies about anything right?

On October 09, 2007, anders wrote:

Good thing you present an article on this matter but as usual there are some strange things about it. I comment on them as they appeared in the article.

A nomination meeting at a street corner in central Havanna ? Jesus ! They have public halls, galleries, restaurants, schools etc for this sort of thing !

Only 150 citizens present at the meeting. In Vedado the constituencies hold 1200-1800 members. Requirements are 75% of the voters taking part in the process to make it valid.  What kind of meeting was this really ?

Fidel is an elected member of the National Assembly. Only members of the NA can be elected to the Council of State as it is its working committée in between sessions. This still makes it a part of the legislature.

the supreme governing body is the Cabinet which is approved by NA.

claiming only communists will be elected during the Elections 21/10 suggests Will Weisert knows more than the cubans themselves. I have met several members of local assemblies and a couple of members of the NA that are not party members. the most well known would be baptist referend Raul Suarez Ramon from Marianao, western Havanna.

Calling the NA “a rubber stamp” body reviels WW is not so familiar with recent political events. most well known Bill to be turned down is probably the proposal to introduce a common income tax. no small matter indeed.

No cuban politicians recieve any pay at all. they keep their salaries from thier ordinary jobs.
Public office certainly isn´t anything one could vie for. Campaigning is considered improper. Sometimes artists are asked to accept a nomination, Silvio Rodrigues would be one example but since it requires so much time it rarely works out well. Neither for their careers or the constituents.

I wonder if the good citizens of Vedado did not play a little practicle joke and show for some gullible “democraticos”. Mr Weisserts hollow knowledge of Cuban political order suggests he would be susceptible to it.

On October 10, 2007, cubanpete wrote:

Democracy involves the ability of the governed to change the government.  Including the executive branch, which is not now possible in Cuba.  When Fidel took over in 1959, he promised free elections within a year.  Still waiting.

On October 10, 2007, anders wrote:


you launched the same comment on another topic. Come again !

I´m doing my best to show some of the dynamics within their system. You ought to be able to recognize such things. Unless you think I´m lieing of course but that is not a part of my culture.

They can change both the presiders and the policies, including the executive. And they do so. The most likely reason, to my understanding, why the staffing change less frequently than policies is because their system is based on popular mass movements. Scandinavian political culture is also based to a large degree on mass movements which means the politicians mostly have a very strong social base and are leaders not only of a party at various levels but also represents different unions, leagues and other activist organisations.
In such a political culture the politicians do not represent themselves but strong groups in their circumscriptions. Exchanging political representatives means discontent with their capacity to listen. To me it is remarkable as many as 1/3 of the cuban politicians are newly elected after each election, as an average.

Is your definition of a free election that the outcome is liberals governing a country ? Other than that cuban elections are reasonably free, I think.

On October 10, 2007, publisher wrote:


So many words, so little knowledge.

Tell Fidel I said Hi.

On October 10, 2007, anders wrote:

I´m impressed by the substance of your comments !