It’s so interesting to be here during the time of nomination (January) and now consideration of the candidates for 6 weeks until the March 11 elections for National Assembly. While everyday life goes on seemingly unperturbed, there was a strong undercurrent of hopefulness and anticipation as the candidates were rolled out at the start of the month. This is the big one, the one where there will be a new president. More it is the first generational change in top leadership since the start of the Revolution.
A lot of hard work at all levels has gone into preparing for these elections over the past year or year and a half and the rollout was accompanied by a lot of fanfare.
There are a number of things the elections are not.
These are slate elections, not competitive elections. These are not party elections with varying platforms from which to choose. The Communist Party sets the direction and goals for the country and so voting the party up or down is not at play. Not all candidates for the National Assembly are in the Communist Party or even in the Communist Youth. As membership in the party is considered a badge of honor and merit rather than an affiliation (see below as to how people join the party), it is weighed among other criteria as the electoral commission tries to achieve a balance of representation of the existing society. A complicated concept for those of us with a different set if criteria.
(In Cuba, joining the party is a rigorous process of nomination, review, probation, and approval. Obviously, some bad apples slip through but it is considered a privilege and responsibility, not a bene to be in the party, not a right of position or privilege, and there are as many simple workers in the party as so-called elites).
There is no individual campaigning. The fact that these are block (slate) elections, of course, makes such competition unnecessary. You are voting up or down.
Here is what the elections are.
The first step in the national election process took place late January, as I said. 12,000 candidates were proposed in 970 meetings of the mass organizations — Cuban Central Trade Organization, Committees for Defense of the Revolution, The Cuban Women’s Federation, The National Small Farmers’ Association, the University Students Federation, and the High School Students Federation.
The Election Commision with subcommissions throughout the country at the provincial and local levels then sifted through the 12,000 visiting the institutions, organizations and work centers of the nominees as well as the neighborhoods in which they live, conducting interviews and collecting opinions and impressions. The goal was to ensure the proposal included 50 % municipal assembly representatives, members of civil society, candidates representative of the varying interests at the local, provincial and national level.
The findings then went district by district to the 168 Municipal Assemblies (12,515 local representatives who been voted in at the municipal level in the fall elections ) who then made the final nominations for their districts. All voters 16 or over in each district will be voting (up or down) for the candidates to represent their district in the National Assembly. Voting is not compulsory but usually is between 87 and 95%.
And if you think this sounds complicated, it sure seems so to me too and I hope I haven’t gotten any of it wrong. (You can see the Cubans national elections site on the web, with charts and graphs, www.cubaenelecciones.cu or at www.cubadebate.com)
So where have we ended up?
287 of the 605 candidates to National Assembly (47.4%) are currently local delegates to the municipal assemblies. Every district has at least two candidates, one of which is a local delegate.
338 of the nominees are first-time candidates
The average age is 49, with 80 candidates between 18 and 35 years of age.
53.2% of the candidates are women.
38% are considered Afro Cuban or mestizo.
The historic generation of the Revolution is well represented but 89.25% of candidates were born after the Revolution, that is after Jan 1, 1959.
Other than ensuring that every district has at least one delegate? The further breakdown on the election website mentioned previously is
28 are farmers or members of farming cooperatives
24 are in scientific and other kinds of research
12 are in sports
47 are in education
22 in the armed forces
4 are small private business entrepreneurs or self-employed
39 are local, provincial or national leaders of mass organizations (such as CDR, FMC)
11 are leaders of social or civic organizations
9 are student leaders
4 are members if religious organizations
46 are political body leaders
7 are judges or other members of the justice system
41 are members of the government, meaning ministers or similar kinds of posts
22 are members of fiscal, administrative and other types of bureaucratic offices
That may not add up to 605 as I may have missed some. You can go yourselves to www.eleccionesencuba.cu and see anything I’ve missed. For instance, I haven’t noticed who’re candidates from culture and the arts, and I won’t have a chance to sort that out before sending this.
So there is no campaigning as I think I said.
Still, as everyone is voting for candidates from their own district, if people have gone to any of the neighborhood meetings, or pay attention to sports, news, or television many of the candidates will be known.
Candidates have been posted in the newspapers with their pictures, age, occupation and organizational affiliations, and in special voting supplements. All candidates are also posted in multiple locations in the district where they are candidates, with the same information and alongside, a list of voters in that district (everyone over the age of 16). All candidates are also posted on television repeatedly throughout the day, province by province, 3 at a time.
The big question, of course, is who will be president. The president is elected by the new National Assembly once seated, so it will be April.
Speculation is rampant, centering not just on the so-called obvious successor, Vice President Diaz Canal but on two others in leadership, one in Havana and one in Santiago, both young and very well liked.
What we do know (we think) is that for the first time in Cuban history since the Revolution it won’t be a Castro. And it won’t be a member of what’s known as the historic generation.
It’s a very exciting time to be in Cuba. No one can be sure what’s ahead and while the country is moving ahead slowly along its chosen path, too slowly for many, moving ahead it is. Despite the local defeatists, cynics and naysayers one encounters, there’s still a sense of peace and stability rather than uncertainty and not either a sense of resignation. As a friend and strong supporter of the Revolution told me yesterday after a heated discussion with his 35-year-old son, “He told me, ‘look, Dad, we don’t agree on a lot of things but it’s still my country and my Revolution too. When push comes to shove, if anything happens you know I will be with you on the same side.'” Which he took to mean that even for the discontented youth, dignity, sovereignty, peace and well being are the paramount values and vision.
As I face going home to the cynical cartoon of government in Washington, the aftermath of another mass shooting in a school, and all the uncertainties we face on a daily basis, it’s a vision I wish I could look forward to too.
Havana February 16, 2018
As written with one finger on a phone, please excuse all typos. Please also excuse and feel free to forward verified corrections.
Please also forward to anyone you feel will be interested
July 31, 2015
In Miami today, Hillary Clinton forcefully expressed her support for normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba and formally called on Congress to lift the Cuba embargo. Hillary emphasized that she believes we need to increase American influence in Cuba, not reduce it — a strong contrast with Republican candidates who are stuck in the past, trying to return to the same failed Cold War-era isolationism that has only strengthened the Castro regime.
To those Republicans, her message was clear: “They have it backwards: Engagement is not a gift to the Castros – it’s a threat to the Castros. An American embassy in Havana isn’t a concession – it’s a beacon. Lifting the embargo doesn’t set back the advance of freedom – it advances freedom where it is most desperately needed.”
A full transcript of the remarks is included below:
“Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. I want to thank Dr. Frank Mora, director of the Kimberly Latin American and Caribbean Center and a professor here at FIU, and before that served with distinction at the Department of Defense. I want to recognize former Congressman Joe Garcia. Thank you Joe for being here – a long time friend and an exemplary educator. The President of Miami-Dade College, Eduardo Padrón and the President of FIU, Mark Rosenberg – I thank you all for being here. And for me it’s a delight to be here at Florida International University. You can feel the energy here. It’s a place where people of all backgrounds and walks of life work hard, do their part, and get ahead. That’s the promise of America that has drawn generations of immigrants to our shores, and it’s a reality right here at FIU.
“Today, as Frank said, I want to talk with you about a subject that has stirred passionate debate in this city and beyond for decades, but is now entering a crucial new phase. America’s approach to Cuba is at a crossroads, and the upcoming presidential election will determine whether we chart a new path forward or turn back to the old ways of the past. We must decide between engagement and embargo, between embracing fresh thinking and returning to Cold War deadlock. And the choices we make will have lasting consequences not just for more than 11 million Cubans, but also for American leadership across our hemisphere and around the world.
“I know that for many in this room and throughout the Cuban-American community, this debate is not an intellectual exercise – it is deeply personal.
“I teared up as Frank was talking about his mother—not able to mourn with her family, say goodbye to her brother. I’m so privileged to have a sister-in-law who is Cuban-American, who came to this country, like so many others as a child and has chartered her way with a spirit of determination and success.
“I think about all those who were sent as children to live with strangers during the Peter Pan airlift, for families who arrived here during the Mariel boatlift with only the clothes on their backs, for sons and daughters who could not bury their parents back home, for all who have suffered and waited and longed for change to come to the land, “where palm trees grow.” And, yes, for a rising generation eager to build a new and better future.
“Many of you have your own stories and memories that shape your feelings about the way forward. Like Miriam Leiva, one of the founders of the Ladies in White, who is with us today – brave Cuban women who have defied the Castro regime and demanded dignity and reform. We are honored to have her here today and I’d like to ask her, please raise your hand. Thank you.
“I wish every Cuban back in Cuba could spend a day walking around Miami and see what you have built here, how you have turned this city into a dynamic global city. How you have succeeded as entrepreneurs and civic leaders. It would not take them long to start demanding similar opportunities and achieving similar success back in Cuba.
“I understand the skepticism in this community about any policy of engagement toward Cuba. As many of you know, I’ve been skeptical too. But you’ve been promised progress for fifty years. And we can’t wait any longer for a failed policy to bear fruit. We have to seize this moment. We have to now support change on an island where it is desperately needed.
“I did not come to this position lightly. I well remember what happened to previous attempts at engagement. In the 1990s, Castro responded to quiet diplomacy by shooting down the unarmed Brothers to the Rescue plane out of the sky. And with their deaths in mind, I supported the Helms-Burton Act to tighten the embargo.
“Twenty years later, the regime’s human rights abuses continue: imprisoning dissidents, cracking down on free expression and the Internet, beating and harassing the courageous Ladies in White, refusing a credible investigation into the death of Oswaldo Paya. Anyone who thinks we can trust this regime hasn’t learned the lessons of history.
“But as Secretary of State, it became clear to me that our policy of isolating Cuba was strengthening the Castros’ grip on power rather than weakening it – and harming our broader efforts to restore American leadership across the hemisphere. The Castros were able to blame all of the island’s woes on the U.S. embargo, distracting from the regime’s failures and delaying their day of reckoning with the Cuban people. We were unintentionally helping the regime keep Cuba a closed and controlled society rather than working to open it up to positive outside influences the way we did so effectively with the old Soviet bloc and elsewhere.
“So in 2009, we tried something new. The Obama administration made it easier for Cuban Americans to visit and send money to family on the island. No one expected miracles, but it was a first step toward exposing the Cuban people to new ideas, values, and perspectives.
“I remember seeing a CNN report that summer about a Cuban father living and working in the United States who hadn’t seen his baby boy back home for a year-and-a-half because of travel restrictions. Our reforms made it possible for that father and son finally to reunite. It was just one story, just one family, but it felt like the start of something important.
“In 2011, we further loosened restrictions on cash remittances sent back to Cuba and we opened the way for more Americans – clergy, students and teachers, community leaders – to visit and engage directly with the Cuban people. They brought with them new hope and support for struggling families, aspiring entrepreneurs, and brave civil society activists. Small businesses started opening. Cell phones proliferated. Slowly, Cubans were getting a taste of a different future.
“I then became convinced that building stronger ties between Cubans and Americans could be the best way to promote political and economic change on the island. So by the end of my term as Secretary, I recommended to the President that we end the failed embargo and double down on a strategy of engagement that would strip the Castro regime of its excuses and force it to grapple with the demands and aspirations of the Cuban people. Instead of keeping change out, as it has for decades, the regime would have to figure out how to adapt to a rapidly transforming society.
“What’s more, it would open exciting new business opportunities for American companies, farmers, and entrepreneurs – especially for the Cuban-American community. That’s my definition of a win-win.
“Now I know some critics of this approach point to other countries that remain authoritarian despite decades of diplomatic and economic engagement. And yes it’s true that political change will not come quickly or easily to Cuba. But look around the world at many of the countries that have made the transition from autocracy to democracy – from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America. Engagement is not a silver bullet, but again and again we see that it is more likely to hasten change, not hold it back.
“The future for Cuba is not foreordained. But there is good reason to believe that once it gets going, this dynamic will be especially powerful on an island just 90 miles from the largest economy in the world. Just 90 miles away from one and a half million Cuban-Americans whose success provides a compelling advertisement for the benefits of democracy and an open society.
“So I have supported President Obama and Secretary Kerry as they’ve advanced this strategy. They’ve taken historic steps forward – re-establishing diplomatic relations, reopening our embassy in Havana, expanding opportunities further for travel and commerce, calling on Congress to finally drop the embargo.
“That last step about the embargo is crucial, because without dropping it, this progress could falter.
“We have arrived at a decisive moment. The Cuban people have waited long enough for progress to come. Even many Republicans on Capitol Hill are starting to recognize the urgency of moving forward. It’s time for their leaders to either get on board or get out of the way. The Cuba embargo needs to go, once and for all. We should replace it with a smarter approach that empowers Cuban businesses, Cuban civil society, and the Cuban-American community to spur progress and keep pressure on the regime.
“Today I am calling on Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell to step up and answer the pleas of the Cuban people. By large majorities, they want a closer relationship with America.
“They want to buy our goods, read our books, surf our web, and learn from our people. They want to bring their country into the 21st century. That is the road toward democracy and dignity and we should walk it together.
“We can’t go back to a failed policy that limits Cuban-Americans’ ability to travel and support family and friends. We can’t block American businesses that could help free enterprise take root in Cuban soil – or stop American religious groups and academics and activists from establishing contacts and partnerships on the ground.
“If we go backward, no one will benefit more than the hardliners in Havana. In fact, there may be no stronger argument for engagement than the fact that Cuba’s hardliners are so opposed to it. They don’t want strong connections with the United States. They don’t want Cuban-Americans traveling to the island. They don’t want American students and clergy and NGO activists interacting with the Cuban people. That is the last thing they want. So that’s precisely why we need to do it.
“Unfortunately, most of the Republican candidates for President would play right into the hard-liners’ hands. They would reverse the progress we have made and cut the Cuban people off from direct contact with the Cuban-American community and the free-market capitalism and democracy that you embody. That would be a strategic error for the United States and a tragedy for the millions of Cubans who yearn for closer ties.
“They have it backwards: Engagement is not a gift to the Castros – it’s a threat to the Castros. An American embassy in Havana isn’t a concession – it’s a beacon. Lifting the embargo doesn’t set back the advance of freedom – it advances freedom where it is most desperately needed.
“Fundamentally, most Republican candidates still view Cuba – and Latin America more broadly – through an outdated Cold War lens. Instead of opportunities to be seized, they see only threats to be feared. They refuse to learn the lessons of the past or pay attention to what’s worked and what hasn’t. For them, ideology trumps evidence. And so they remain incapable of moving us forward.
“As President, I would increase American influence in Cuba, rather than reduce it. I would work with Congress to lift the embargo and I would also pursue additional steps.
“First, we should help more Americans go to Cuba. If Congress won’t act to do this, I would use executive authority to make it easier for more Americans to visit the island to support private business and engage with the Cuban people.
“Second, I would use our new presence and connections to more effectively support human rights and civil society in Cuba. I believe that as our influence expands among the Cuban people, our diplomacy can help carve out political space on the island in a way we never could before.
“We will follow the lead of Pope Francis, who will carry a powerful message of empowerment when he visits Cuba in September. I would direct U.S. diplomats to make it a priority to build relationships with more Cubans, especially those starting businesses and pushing boundaries. Advocates for women’s rights and workers’ rights. Environmental activists. Artists. Bloggers. The more relationships we build, the better.
“We should be under no illusions that the regime will end its repressive ways any time soon, as its continued use of short-term detentions demonstrates. So we have to redouble our efforts to stand up for the rights of reformers and political prisoners, including maintaining sanctions on specific human-rights violators. We should maintain restrictions on the flow of arms to the regime – and work to restrict access to the tools of repression while expanding access to tools of dissent and free expression.
“We should make it clear, as I did as Secretary of State, that the “freedom to connect” is a basic human right, and therefore do more to extend that freedom to more and more Cubans – particularly young people.
“Third, and this is directly related, we should focus on expanding communications and commercial links to and among the Cuban people. Just five percent of Cubans have access to the open Internet today. We want more American companies pursuing joint ventures to build networks that will open the free flow of information – and empower everyday Cubans to make their voices heard. We want Cubans to have access to more phones, more computers, more satellite televisions. We want more American airplanes and ferries and cargo ships arriving every day. I’m told that Airbnb is already getting started. Companies like Google and Twitter are exploring opportunities as well.
“It will be essential that American and international companies entering the Cuban market act responsibly, hold themselves to high standards, use their influence to push for reforms. I would convene and connect U.S. business leaders from many fields to advance this strategy, and I will look to the Cuban-American community to continue leading the way. No one is better positioned to bring expertise, resources, and vision to this effort – and no one understands better how transformative this can be.
“We will also keep pressing for a just settlement on expropriated property. And we will let Raul explain to his people why he wants to prevent American investment in bicycle repair shops, in restaurants, in barbershops, and Internet cafes. Let him try to put up barriers to American technology and innovation that his people crave.
“Finally, we need to use our leadership across the Americas to mobilize more support for Cubans and their aspirations. Just as the United States needed a new approach to Cuba, the region does as well.
“Latin American countries and leaders have run out of excuses for not standing up for the fundamental freedoms of the Cuban people. No more brushing things under the rug. No more apologizing. It is time for them to step up. Not insignificantly, new regional cooperation on Cuba will also open other opportunities for the United States across Latin America.
“For years, our unpopular policy towards Cuba held back our influence and leadership. Frankly, it was an albatross around our necks. We were isolated in our opposition to opening up the island. Summit meetings were consumed by the same old debates. Regional spoilers like Venezuela took advantage of the disagreements to advance their own agendas and undermine the United States. Now we have the chance for a fresh start in the Americas.
“Strategically, this is a big deal. Too often, we look east, we look west, but we don’t look south. And no region in the world is more important to our long-term prosperity and security than Latin America. And no region in the world is better positioned to emerge as a new force for global peace and progress.
“Many Republicans seem to think of Latin America still as a land of crime and coups rather than a place where free markets and free people are thriving. They’ve got it wrong. Latin America is now home to vibrant democracies, expanding middle classes, abundant energy supplies, and a combined GDP of more than $4 trillion.
“Our economies, communities, and even our families are deeply entwined. And I see our increasing interdependence as a comparative advantage to be embraced. The United States needs to build on what I call the “power of proximity.” It’s not just geography – it’s common values, common culture, common heritage. It’s shared interests that could power a new era of partnership and prosperity. Closer ties across Latin America will help our economy at home and strengthen our hand around the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific. There is enormous potential for cooperation on clean energy and combatting climate change.
“And much work to be done together to take on the persistent challenges in our hemisphere, from crime to drugs to poverty, and to stand in defense of our shared values against regimes like that in Venezuela. So the United States needs to lead in the Latin America. And if we don’t, make no mistake, others will. China is eager to extend its influence. Strong, principled American leadership is the only answer. That was my approach as Secretary of State and will be my priority as President.
“Now it is often said that every election is about the future. But this time, I feel it even more powerfully. Americans have worked so hard to climb out of the hole we found ourselves in with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in 2008. Families took second jobs and second shifts. They found a way to make it work. And now, thankfully, our economy is growing again.
“Slowly but surely we also repaired America’s tarnished reputation. We strengthened old alliances and started new partnerships. We got back to the time-tested values that made our country a beacon of hope and opportunity and freedom for the entire world. We learned to lead in new ways for a complex and changing age. And America is safer and stronger as a result.
“We cannot afford to let out-of-touch, out-of-date partisan ideas and candidates rip away all the progress we’ve made. We can’t go back to cowboy diplomacy and reckless war-mongering. We can’t go back to a go-it-alone foreign policy that views American boots on the ground as a first choice rather than as a last resort. We have paid too high a price in lives, power, and prestige to make those same mistakes again. Instead we need a foreign policy for the future with creative, confident leadership that harnesses all of America’s strength, smarts, and values. I believe the future holds far more opportunities than threats if we shape global events rather than reacting to them and being shaped by them. That is what I will do as President, starting right here in our own hemisphere.
“I’m running to build an America for tomorrow, not yesterday. For the struggling, the striving, and the successful. For the young entrepreneur in Little Havana who dreams of expanding to Old Havana. For the grandmother who never lost hope of seeing freedom come to the homeland she left so long ago. For the families who are separated. For all those who have built new lives in a new land. I’m running for everyone who’s ever been knocked down, but refused to be knocked out. I am running for you and I want to work with you to be your partner to build the kind of future that will once again not only make Cuban-Americas successful here in our country, but give Cubans in Cuba the same chance to live up to their own potential.
Thank you all very, very much.”
For Immediate Release, July 31, 2015
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Cuban media coverage, an example:
Hillary Clinton Calls in Miami for Lifting of U.S. blockade on Cuba
HAVANA, Cuba, Aug 1 (acn) Democrat pre-candidate to the 2016 presidential elections in the United States, Hillary Clinton, asked Congress on Friday, from Miami, Florida, to lift the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba since 1962, the Prensa Latina news agency reported.
In a speech at the International University of Florida, the former Secretary of State asked lawmakers to take advantage of this decisive moment, after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries and the reopening of embassies in the respective capitals on July 20.
The U.S. policy towards Cuba is at a crossroads and next year’s elections by the White House will determine whether we will carry on with a new course in this regard or return to the old ways of the past, she added.
We must decide between commitment and sanctions, between adopting new thinking and returning to the deadlock we were during the Cold War, she pointed out.
She added that even many Republicans on Capitol Hill are beginning to recognize the urgency of continuing onward to dismantle the sanctions and this is the moment when their leaders must join this task or get out of the way of those who carry on.
Clinton added that the blockade must end once and for all; we must replace it with “more intelligent measures that manage to consolidate the interests of the United States,” and called the red party leadership on Capitol Hill to join this policy.
The former Secretary of State reiterated her support for the policy of rapprochement with the island that began after December 17, when Cuban President Raul Castro and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, announced the decision of reestablishing diplomatic relations.
For years, the state of Florida was the base of a strong opposition to bonds with Havana, which made the blockade an untouchable issue among those who aspired to be elected for posts in that territory, especially for Republicans.
On several occasions, the former first lady has defended the lifting of the blockade against the Caribbean nation, particularly in her book Hard Choices, in which she assures that while she was Secretary of State (2009-2013) she recommended Obama to review the policy towards Cuba.
A survey conducted last week by the Pew Research Center showed that 72 percent of U.S. citizens are in favor of lifting the blockade against Cuba and 73 percent approve Obama’s decision of reestablishing diplomatic relations with the Caribbean island.
A survey by the McClatchy newspaper chain and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion released on Friday showed that 44 percent of likely voters prefer Clinton; 29 percent Republican Jeb Bush; and 20 percent controversial aspirant Donald Trump, for the November 2016 elections.