Millions of Cuban residents “voted” in elections on Sunday, November 26th for ward delegates to municipal assemblies. I use the term “voted” lightly since Cubans were of course left with no choice other than to vote for those of the Communist Party.
The ward positions are the only part of the electoral process that is contested publicly and with direct participation by ordinary Cubans, but the candidates for those positions are nominated by commissions composed only of representatives of Communist Party-controlled organizations.
A young woman told Reuters: “I am happy to vote, but I must say, like most young people I do not think it makes any difference.” Most of the 160 pre-candidates run by opposition groups were blocked by state security from nomination meetings and none were allowed to be on the ballot.
The ruling Communists have outlawed political campaigns in Cuba, and if you wish to be a ward delegate, you need the right connections to be nominated at neighborhood meetings. As a result, only a few government opponents have ever competed.
The head of the Communist Cuban government, 86-year-old dictator Raul Castro, had promised in 2013 that he would step down in 2018, and as unlikely as that is, it would make little difference to the dissidents in Cuba if he did.
If he steps down, Raul will still be the party’s first secretary until 2021 and is likely to choose his vice president of the Council of the State, Miguel Diaz-Canel, to replace him as president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. In August, a video of Diaz-Canel promoting severe anti-dissident crackdowns in a private meeting with Communist Party members was leaked and spread across social media.
In the meeting, the possible new Cuban dictator declared that Cuba would not make any concessions to the United States and that it was necessary to shut down multiple websites, centrist think tanks, and any Miami-based media and entrepreneur groups. Diaz-Canel shamelessly declared: “We are going to close [their] digital platform. And let the scandal ensue. Let them say we censure, it’s fine… Everyone censors.” According to the Miami Herald, he also told party members that he was “personally involved in designing strategies to counteract the opposition and independent civil society on the island.”
Moreover, the municipal elections coincided with the anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death, an event marked by public remembrances. According to former prisoners of the regime, it is illegal to refuse to mourn the late dictator’s death.
Many in the dissident community, such as artist Danilo Maldonado, say they see little hope for change in Cuba. “The political environment remains the same… I would even say it’s worse: total uncertainty,” Maldonado told the Huffington Post. Many dissidents have criticized the past diplomatic efforts of the United States to appease the communist regime.
President Trump has since rolled back many of President Obama’s Cuba policies, making it clear that his policy towards the regime will not be a friendly one as long as it continues to oppress the Cuban people. So we can be sure that as long as Cuba descends deeper into tyranny, the two nations will likely continue their state of cold war and we can expect the stream of rafts full of Cubans escaping communism to continue.