Is Cuba a dictatorship? A look at the Cuban electoral system

Cuban children inspect the ballot box.

By Savio Peres, Pinar del Río, Cuba.
Published in A Verdade #267, March 2023.

One of the countries that fascists and liberals attack most in Latin America is Cuba. They shout that Cuba is a dictatorship and that the Castro family owns the island. They even say that in Cuba there are no elections. However, in Cuba not only do elections exist, but they also have active popular participation.

In 2019, a new constitution was approved in Cuba (the country has already approved more than three constitutions since the 1959 Revolution). In this way, legislative updates were subsequently made, such as a new Criminal Code, the Code of Families, and Electoral Law No. 127 – the latter will serve as the basis for this article.

Municipal Assemblies

The first thing to understand is that the Cuban electoral process has two forms – one direct and the other indirect. Let us start with the Municipal Assemblies, which is one of the direct voting processes. In Cuba, each municipality has a Municipal Assembly. The Municipal Electoral Council meets months before the elections and makes a proposal to divide the municipality into constituencies.

From there, a delegate (what we call councilor) is elected by the constituency of the municipality. To make it easier to understand, in comparison with Brazil, suppose that Barreiro (region of the city of Belo Horizonte) is a region of the Municipality of Belo Horizonte. Then the people of Barreiro will elect a person from the region to represent them in the Municipal Assembly. In the same way that the residents of Pampulha will elect the representative of their region and so on until the Municipal Assembly is formed.

How do you run within a constituency? Suppose you want to be a delegate of your neighborhood within the Municipal Assembly. Then, before the electoral contest begins, a popular assembly is organized in that neighborhood. This assembly is open to everyone and the people in the constituency who want to run make themselves available, and argue why they want to be candidates. In this previous people’s assembly, all citizens have the right to speak for or against the person’s candidacy.

After the open discussion within this assembly, there is the first vote in the assembly itself (open and public), which will elect the people who can run for delegate (minimum of two and, at most, eight elected). Those with the most votes will have their biographies presented in the localities defined by the law and, finally, days later, each citizen will be able to go to the polls to choose who will vote for the delegate of the municipality in free, equal, direct, and secret voting.

An important observation: the vote is on paper and the counting of votes is done publicly, in the presence of the candidates, the members of the electoral bodies, the representatives of the political and mass organizations, and any other person (voter or not) who wishes. Here there is the possibility of a second round if necessary.

National Assembly

The election for deputy of the National Assembly is also made by free, equal, direct, and secret vote by the population. A person running to become a candidate for deputy of the National Assembly also goes through a previous ballot, both by bodies called candidacy committees as well as by the Municipal Assemblies themselves.

There are three types of electoral commissions: municipal, provincial, and national. The members of these commissions are representatives of the Cuban Workers’ Federation (CTC), the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs), the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the National Association of Small Farmers, the University Student Federation (FEU), and the Federation of High School Students.

These commissions organize the list of people who will be proposed as candidates for the National Assembly, in a complex and interconnected process, and people who have already been elected within the Municipal Assembly (delegates) and people from outside the Municipal Assembly must be chosen, in a proportion of, at most, 50% of municipal delegates.

In the end, this list goes through a vote within the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, and some people may be removed from the process if they do not have half the votes of the delegates of their municipalities.

Once the nomination of the candidates is over, the dissemination of their biographies by the broad media begins for a certain period of time, and then the voting is carried out by the population – along the same lines as the election for delegates.

Once the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power have been elected, this body will elect the President, Vice-President, and Secretary of State – an indirect election at this stage.

Therefore, to say that Cuba is a dictatorship is, in fact, to ignore the democratic and participatory electoral process of this country. It is worth mentioning that on March 26, Cuba held its direct vote for new members of the National Assembly.

Categories: Cuba, Elections, International

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