Electoral processes and political elites.
Cuba in the Third Millennium
By Domingo Amuchastegui
Translated and edited by Walter Lippmann for CubaNews
The regime that Fidel Castro has headed for 44 years, suggests we make a careful study of the electoral processes and political elites, as one object of study, among many other topics. A general opinion is that Cuba does not have elections or competitive elections and, consequently, lacks democracy; another – no less general and repetitive – is to understand and project an image of power in Cuba absolutely centered around the figure of Fidel Castro, with no one else who is relevant or important.
The latter point has followed a certain and more recent corollary that grants the physical presence of Fidel Castro with magical powers, conditioning what could happen later or not, in terms of regime changes, transition, succession or continuity. Consequently, the special obsessive attention that exists regarding his health status, his fainting spells, incoherence and poor functioning of other vital signs.
The present analysis proposes to study these two dimensions – elections and political elite – to, first, review, both with a critical view, summarize the most outstanding features of the four decades of the Cuban regime, that is to say, the features the author considers that marked important high points for the current projection of these two dimensions. In second place, and through a discussion of the last elections held in Cuba between October 2002 and February of 2003, to analyze the behavior of both at the dawn of the third millennium.
In March of 1959, speaking in a mass event in the former Presidential Palace, Fidel Castro, when referring to the holding of elections in the near future, received a resounding rejection of such an idea from the hundreds of thousands of participants. As a personal witness and participant of the event, this did not seem prepared or manipulated but an accumulated reaction on which Fidel Castro was sure of obtaining such a result. The political or legal terms of this rejection were never defined and, thus, that NO to elections announced in the public plaza served as – there are many others that go beyond this analysis that also served these ends – one of the legitimate public features of the revolutionary regime, a situation that lasted from 1959 to 1976, the date when Popular Power was implanted and formed.
From 1976 until 1992, with a constitution approved and adopted – according to official statistics – with a 100 % of the voters, general elections have been held every six years. In the first, the PCC suggested to its militants who to vote for a total of six that were in the ballots with their biographies for the information on the candidates. On the one hand, the number of candidates has been reduced to two. Regarding the inference that the PCC directed its militants for whom to cast their direct vote, was rejected for the following elections.
From 1976 until 1992, with the adoption of an approved constitution – according to official statistics – general elections have been held every six years, with almost 100 percent of voters. In the first, the PCC instructed its militants to vote for one or several candidates for a total of six of those appearing on the ballots that included the biographies of the candidates as information for the voters. On the one side, the number of nominees has been reduced to two. As for the procedure of the PCC directly indicating to its militants who to vote for, this practice was abolished for the future elections. Although the PCC does not propose or formally or publicly launch the names of the candidates, all the voters in the neighborhood assemblies of each administrative division knew that the over-whelming majority of cases, the names proposed as candidates had the blessing of the Party, although they were not necessarily militants.
What is known as the National Assembly of Popular Power (ANPP) or Cuban parliament was made up of two groups. One, designated through deliberation or ratification of the Politburo in representation of the positions or posts that the Party and Government considered important for running the country and that they should be represented in the ANPP (a little over 50 percent). These designated, generally appeared also as elected in the different administrative divisions where the majority did not necessarily live in the areas nor was it their true residence. The second group, made up of the delegates of the provincial assemblies, usually previously chosen and accepted by the provincial and national instances of the party and, as national delegates, no additional voting was necessary because they had already been voted for in their administrative division – or according to what was promoted at the time – by indirect election while the Politburo, on the one hand, and the provincial assemblies, on the other, functioned as a kind of Electoral College or Great Elector with supreme powers.
By June of 1992 and under the impact of the internal crisis that occurred after the external events of 1989-1991, among the limited reforms that were made then, was the approval of a new electoral law (Reformed Electoral Law No. 78, 20/10/92) that introduced significant variations. The most important change was that all deputies proposed for the ANPP (609 members today) had to be elected or voted for individually and by more than 50% of the votes cast. In other words, although the mechanism of designation of the candidates to represent both groups (50-50) in the National Assembly, and with the situation that both groups now had to be elected on a personal bases, ended the procedure of indirect elections and an end to the monolithic image by making the election more individual and requiring 50% of the votes. This opened up a diversity of spaces for negative or punishment votes and, around the issue, the most diverse forms of political mobilization and transmission of messages and challenges to the regime. For the latter, these threats did not go unnoticed and formed part of the foreseen risks and part of the limited reforms then taken up.
During these decades, the historical political elite – the leading nucleus and pillars of the of the insurrection and revolutionary regime after 1959 – were drying up for several reasons (repeated failures, abuse of power, repeated incapacities, corruption, bureaucratization, disproportionate intolerance, regional conflicts, personality clashes, loss of charisma and others) until reaching the reduced numbers to their minimum expression of what it is today.
However, during this process of depletion, the Cuban leadership noticed and recreated, with some success, the generational substitution, that is, the process of a systematic promotion of young persons throughout the entire structure of power and all of civilian power on which the power resides.
At this point, tendencies never before seen appeared publicly. First, the V Congress of the Young Communist Union (UJC) in 1998 and under the direction of Roberto Robaina, gave free reign to criticisms of policies and old leaders that was applauded by all: the generation responsible for so many errors, was not able to assume and solve with the necessary criticism the errors of the past. This was only possible by part of the new generation.
In a more conciliatory tone, but with the same demolishing charge of criticism, the discussion of a document appears in 1990, known as the Call of the Party to the IV Congress and whose writing and debate were promoted by the then twosome Raul Castro-Carlos Aldana. In the document there was full acknowledgement of the generational problem, although not in the critical terms of the V Congress of the UJC. Instead, it analyzed the existence of three groups of three different generations: the one that made and defended the revolution since the beginning or the historical generation; the intermediate generation that was in their 40s at the time (today bordering their 50s); and the third or younger generation from which the cadres and leading figures were gleaned – clearly, the new political elite – of a current and future substitutive group of the historical elite. This latter, with still certain exceptions, has no longer become the main source from which new figures appeared to occupy new posts or changeovers.
The exile began to be aware of these tendencies with the adequate scientific rigor during the latter decade of the 20th century, by the multidisciplinary team of the Florida International University (FIU) in its first study about the transition in Cuba. The changes in the Cuban leadership during that same decade, widely confirmed the preliminary documented analysis of the FIU team.
The team offered more proof during the second half of that same decade. In 1996, during the only military parade of the past 20 years, the Brigade General that headed it was in no way related to the historical elite, either by age, family ties or any others. We were confronting a new generation of military chiefs, a key component of the new elites. A year later, the V Congress of the PCC served to offer new proof of the tendency that confirmed a deep transformation in the composition of the political elite of the Cuban regime.
After 26 years of electoral processes, the last elections took place between October 2002 and February of 2003. The repeated objections are well-known and more than well known but, currently, the result today has continued to be the same: the voters overwhelmingly endorsed the options presented to them by the regime. Some reading and new proposals must be reflected upon to refresh this approximation and the analysis of this phenomenon. Our contribution today leads in that direction and the latest elections offer an excellent opportunity.
Let us start by saying that, after 10 years of a reformed electoral law – as described above – no political current of dissidence or internal opposition has been able to structure an effective mobilization for a negative or punishment vote; nor by the exile nor, much less, an agreement between both forces. There can be differences in interpretation but the fact is one: this has not been achieved; no one can coherently propose it and for almost all it seems unimportant.
The Cuban regime is interested in the electoral process as restructured because it has an important instrument of internal and external legitimization. It has amply exhibited and divulged the figures obtained because they developed a crushing support thanks to the many mechanisms used to promote almost total assistance to the ballot boxes. But let us not forget the following: what happens in the voting stations where the voter use their rights, ballot in hand, without any control has not become, until now, a recourse of unrest, much less of an opposition. Regarding the claim of altered statistics or major frauds, direct observation demonstrates, simply, that this has not been necessary and, consequently, nor have the recurring publicity claims concerning the data.
Voting, regardless of thousands of restrictions, is important. Just let us recall when the individual and secret vote was installed in the IV Congress of the PCC, there were delegates who did not support Fidel and Raul Castro, a few, but there were and there were several members of the Politburo who got laughable numbers while members of the Central Committee won more votes. This sent a clear message with many implications.
The strangest things is that, this time, during the course of the last elections, without being called for nor guided, an important sector of the population, one way or another, decided not to support the candidacy of the regime. Let us study the data of the municipalities that are more important and representative, to some extent.
The term representative, avoiding unnecessary debates, is applied because in the municipalities the voters know the candidates perfectly well; he or she is a neighbor, they have the same problems, interact, buy in the same grocery shop or buy the same things, under the table, from the same vendor, go to the same doctor or policlinic and, therefore, know each other perfectly well and this has an influence on how they cast their vote and is, thereby, defined as representative in opposition to the majority of those designated of whom there is not this direct knowledge or interaction.
Let us go now to a careful study of the data of the last municipal elections:
Registered voters Did not vote Blank ballots Spoiled ballots
8 352 948 4.25% 2.78% 2.54%
The total percentage was 9,57. Rounding the number, almost 850 thousand persons that could suggest the figure was around the million mark.
Here, two points should be remembered that influence the makeup of the final negative or punishment votes. One is an estimate or suggestion that among those 850 thousand are included, in some manner, those who have explicitly asked to participate in the visa system to go to the U.S. that are approximately half a million.
The other point to remember is that the electoral vote does not include the emigration that still hold their Cuban citizenship and also recall – a no lesser important issue – that within the ANPP there were deputies who came out for the adoption of double citizenship with obvious direct implications for the election process, a motion that was disapproved.
Regarding the data mentioned above, it is important to examine certain hypotheses. The first is that the data of the negative or punishment vote has not been the product of a strategy or tactic of the organized opposition, much less from the exile, as called by some historians. A second is that the most important documents presented by the opposition, the Payá Sardinas and Cuesta Morúa, after months of propaganda merely received, respectively a little over ten thousand. This hypothesis is only to observe the enormous schisms existing between the very modest numbers for both projects and the almost million negative and punishment votes of the last elections. This schism demonstrates how far the organized or dissident opposition and exile are able to guide, mobilize and coherently capture those thousands of hundreds.
Another important hypothesis, is that the almost million votes may, also, reflect the vote of the almost half a million who seek to leave the country. If this is the case, the importance or transcendence of almost a million becomes relative and loses potentiality. This also ratifies that one of the main causes to explain the weakness of the exile and the internal opposition has been, and continues to be, what could be typified as a pattern of evasion; that the greater part of the strongest dissatisfied do not come together in answering terms nor feeds the forces of opposition but is only interested in leaving the country and once out, they lose political activity.
The last hypothesis about these figures is to study the possibility that regime can or not assume political changes and local and territorial improvements that would allow them, eventually, to stop and revert the tendency of these votes.
For both – the regime and the opposition – these hypotheses should make up, in good measure, their protagonist potential.
When, on January 19, 2003, the candidates to deputy – chosen among the mass of delegates voted for in the municipalities – were submitted to popular vote – the general or national election or ratification of the designated – little over 91 percent, or, almost 9 percent rejected, one way or another, to ratify the candidacy to deputy. The variation in the municipalities and national wide was scarcely 1 percent. The difference to the previous electoral processes where the government could exhibit figures of 95 and 98 percent, this time the figures went from 90 to 91 percent.
These figures had never occurred previously and the public admission was no less unusual. A simple arithmetic progression – and this is another important hypothesis – could create, in a period of six years, numerical proportions that would completely and definitively demolish the monolithic image of the past, consolidate the image of a sufficiently numerous and broad sector that could not be hidden, denied and politically and legally continue to be ignored in terms of its own constitutional and legal framework.
All this could seem unimportant for many here and that others ignore or keep quiet about, but it had an enormous political impact in the Cuban power structure. While many leaders of the PCC and government considered the results to be satisfactory – considering the extreme economic and social tensions of the period –, for Fidel Castro the results were hardly admissible. He immediately called meetings to examine the results in detail and abundant criticisms and warnings were levied against provincial leaders with the highest numbers of what could clearly be identified as negative or punishment votes. Later changes of these leaders suggest a clear connection between these and the statistics of the mentioned elections.
Curiously, several of the provinces with the most alarming results were those exposed to foreign investments and tourism such as Havana (13,45 percent), Matanzas (10.20 percent) and Holguín (9.31 percent), while the provinces of La Habana, Pinar del Río, Cienfuegos and several eastern provinces were noteworthy for the low index of negative or punishment votes. This phenomenon reminds us, once again, of the imperative need of territorializing the socio-political studies of the Cuban reality because it becomes more evident that a linear reading of the patterns of social and political conduct is not possible nor of mentioning a people that do not demand their representation in absolute and linear terms.
The statistics, again, suggest the need to pay attention to two questions of special importance. They are, first the need to test and analyze the patterns of voting that offer some significant territorial variations by province and, secondly, that in the majority of the cases mentioned there may be a clear coincidence with the highest indexes of punishment votes in the three territories (provinces) with a higher degree of foreign investment and tourism, a question that can be an important reference to the endless debate about the pros and cons of the embargo and tourism.
It is also worth noting how another important chink appeared in punishment that also was not used this time: there were no significant individualized votes in any case and the vote was in favor or against in block, with the government slogan of a unified vote or vote for the whole list of candidates, either way, the massive selectivity to individualize and penalize the most conspicuous cases prevailed.
It should be remembered that the slogan A United Vote or A Vote for All occurred after the reform of the electoral law and its objective was, and continues to be, that the fragmentation of votes or individual votes for some and not others could indicate that many candidates would not have the sufficient votes, mostly those designated from the central power. It may be either a problem in the second round but a mechanism of punishment that could be used in many ways and that up to now has not been proposed nor employed in any way. The government was deeply concerned when it observed, through the surveys made after the electoral vote, how many of the interviewees were inclined in favor of voting for some and not others; in other words, with a possibility of having a differential or selective vote in the case of the designated persons. The solution – maintained till now – was to prepare a very strong propaganda in favor of the United Vote. Many useful experiences can be understood this way with interesting results, an issue completely ignored by the internal opposition and the exile.
The first studies of a decade ago already clearly indicated an important social and political rise among the intermediate and younger generations. The tendency in this last decade continued to win ground and spread towards new categories of activities and posts in which this new elite grew significantly.
This began to cover several sectors of the scenario of civil society, the PCC and the government, that today it totally covers.
Let us observe these categories and posts:
a) At the level of the Politburo, young persons of the so-called intermediate generation, such as Carlos Lage, Abel Prieto, Yadira García, Roberto Robaina, Juan C. Robinson, Pedro Sáez and Jorge L. Sierra, currently between the ages of 43 and 53; in other words born between 1951 and 1961.
b) At the level of first secretaries of the PCC in all the provinces with ages ranging from 32 and 50.
c) At the level of the Council of Ministers, the changes have been greater. The ministers of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Finance and Prices, Accountancy, Transportation, SIME, Public Health and Assistant to the President, are in the hands of persons under the age of 40 while the Judiciary, General District Attorney, Culture, Agriculture, Industry, Fishing and the Team of Coordination and Support of the Commander in Chief are in the hands of the intermediate generation, between 45 and 53 years of age.
d) The election of 2002-2003 was equally revealing and marks notable promotions in relation to 1992-1993. Of the 14 946 delegates voted for at the administrative level, a total of 6 652 are under 40 and 4 847 are between 41 and 50, a figure that surpasses with a wide margin, two thirds of the delegates. At the same time the promotion of women was 3 493 for 35,96 percent representing an 8 percent in increase in relation to the previous election.
e) Another significant variation in relation to the first 12 years of elections is the actual proportion of deputies with university degrees and higher mid level education that already reaches 99,1 percent. Among the leaders of the intermediate and younger generations, the predominating professional profile is engineering.
f) In the make up of the new elites, a component not less notable and especially sensitive for the Cuban reality is the racial factor. The subject was strongly debated during the 1980s, particularly during the III Congress of the PCC where there was a prolonged discussion of the subject. Last decade and what there is of the current one, the blacks and mestizos have registered an important increase. This controversial subject finds in the Cuban leadership two positions. One is of Fidel Castro who, publicly, has touched on the subject from a Marti point of view – that the definition of the human being covers all and that this, white, black or female is recognized and advances according to its merits in a society that opens up all the opportunities to the individual person. The position of Raul Castro, repeatedly, has been to refer explicitly to the presence of the problem, to call it by its name, in relation to opportunities, social mobility and progress and the need to have more presence, stable and numerous, of black and mestizo representation in all the structures of power and where the FAR is the best example. The promotion of officers to majors, colonels and brigade generals during these last ten years, has been the highest of all times. In the ANPP with 609 deputies, 67,16 percent are white while 32,8 percent are black and mestizo, a figure that represents an increase of 4,55 percent.
g) The generational succession within the FAR is, for obvious reasons, of critical importance. In the first place, it should be remembered that higher officials with combat experience should continue until 2015, including a numerous group of brigade generals who received ascension during the past decade and who represent the intermediate generation. Those representing the younger generations such as majors and colonels come from the ranks of the camilitos, the military schools founded during the 1960s where pre-cadets are formed and who will later join the ranks of the military academies of the FAR. The camilitos move on to those institutions between the ages of 16 and 17.
Regarding the formation of this new elite, their present and future role in FAR and the rest of the power structure of the country, Raul Castro declared during the latter part of 2001 that: “men and women who will occupy, in the future, important responsibilities in defense as well in the rest of the spheres of the country, including the maximal leadership of the nation, are not waiting to arrive, they are among us … in the case of the FAR there are already camilitos who are generals or colonels at the head of important combat units and the majority of the key posts of the higher command.”
Thus, the old generations in the process of exhaustion and extinction, those names that are historical, have prepared for a wide process of generational substitution of power but, also, by doing so, have promoted the format of a new elite.
The election results of 2002-2003 clearly demonstrate how the Cuban election mechanism, since the reform of 1992, could be an important tool to reflect a variety of national, territorial and local dissatisfactions.
Neither the Cuban opposition or dissidents, nor the exiles – unless playing into the hands of the regime or if it manipulates the statistics – has proposed or formulated serious studies in this field. From these extremes, it is impossible to experiment and test the potential for such a mechanism for the political struggle.
The figures of 2002-2003 seem to offer a wide volume for a different activism and potentially more effective than any considered up to now and its message does have a tremendous impact on the structure of power as was proven this time. Opposition and exile are enormously apart to be able to take advantage of this power and use this resource.
The diseased obsession to continue the absolutism, even today, of the power in Cuba around the figures of Fidel and Raul, is unnatural, prevents seeing and understanding the great transformations that have occurred within in terms of figures who represent the elite who are completely new, whose social, cultural, technological, psychological and political components are, also, completely new and who the opposition and exile will have to deal with in the coming decades.
And I say coming decades, not as a lapse, but because the subjective position that perceives a downfall, ipso facto, upon the disappearance or death of Fidel, I invite you to reread the words of Raul Castro: “the new generations or elite are already an important part of power and tomorrow will control all power and they are responsible for its restructuring, redesigning and reorientation These will be the new elites, in relation to their experience and vital interests, are the ones who will have rethink their own formulas of continuity and change. It would be naïve to imagine that if they were invited to hand over power they would do so submissively. This is not the way the game will end. At least, this is the scenario of the events and not the wished that seem to outshine with more force.”
In the meantime, the exile will die biologically and politically. Young people, blacks and mestizos who left the Island and who have become politically active in recent years are only some exceptions while the young persons of the second generation in exile separate themselves from effective activism, In the great majority. A generational substitutions and elites as has happened in Cuba and that continues to be produced has no equivalence neither from here nor among the opposition and the Cuban dissidence.
The author is a professor at the University of Miami.