Meditations: Why should we be surprised?

Photo: Trabajadores

By Rodolfo Alpízar

Electing, selecting, choosing. It means taking some elements from a larger set using certain value criteria (choosing an avocado for a salad, or a hotel for a vacation, or a president for the country, from among several possibilities).

The current system in Cuba is the one of indirect presidential elections. An indirect presidential election is that in which the Head of State is chosen by a parliament from a list of candidates with several proposals (at least two) submitted by political parties or other social powers represented in parliament. As much as many of us would prefer the direct election of the president, the indirect election is a model that is just as valid and respectable.

The indirect election of the president in Cuba first appeared with the Constitution of 1976. Since a referendum has never been held to ask the citizens which model they’d prefer, we must content ourselves for the moment with the one the rulers themselves have imposed. It’s not exactly what you’d call democratic, but we make do.

The opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions about that, and perhaps to earn for ourselves the right to have direct elections, did exist. It was the discussion of the draft of the Constitution. However, the occasion was wasted because, among other reasons:

a) a large number of people (including academics) deemed more interesting to stick up against the possibility of civil marriage between people of the same sex than to defend their rights as citizens, including the one to choose on the manner of electing those who’d run the country;

b) a significant number of Cuban intellectuals had their possibility to participate as a social group on the debates reduced by the refusal of the previous leadership of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, which branded as elitist and divisive all those who tried to discuss with their peers serious and though-out proposals that covered nearly the entire content of the draft.

In an evident display of lack of civic awareness, many citizens (some quite well-educated), failing to see the seriousness of their actions, allowed themselves to be tangled in the web of discussion of an article which seemed to be in the text only to divert attention from matters of utter importance, such as the presidential election system itself, the rights of Cuban citizens residing overseas (including the right to representation in parliament), the right to freely express ideas in the media, the death penalty, and even the right of citizens to propose motions to the National Assembly, which increased from 10,000 signatures as a condition for acceptance to 50,000, an impossible number to reach without the support of the government.

What if the government didn’t agree with the motion? Nobody asked.

Few were interested in those fundamental elements of the Constitution. Then, why should we be surprised now of what will happen on October 10?

That new and original way of electing the president and all the other officials with no previous popular election of those who’d do the choosing, a system only understood by those tasked with defending it in the media, is the result of many factors, but it is also a consequence of the lack of civic awareness that smothers us and of which the discussion process of the constitutional draft was an example.

Perhaps I am wrong, but that’s what I think, and I say it. I wish someone –with arguments, not with slogans for one side or the other– were able to make me change my mind. I really do.

I come back to what will happen next October 10:

In any indirect elections system, a new parliament must be elected (TO ELECT –see the definition in the first paragraph– is not to choose three out of three, or two out of two, as it is done in Cuba against all common sense), and then this ELECTED parliament (that is, selected by voters from a candidates list in which there are more candidates than positions to be filled) should choose, from SEVERAL CANDIDATES (at least two), the president. And so on with the other positions.

Since Cuba has a one-party system, in order to have an ELECTION one assumes a candidate should be put forward by the ruling party, plus a number of other candidates proposed by the social organizations represented in the National Assembly. Considering the possibility of alliances between organizations, one might expect a number of at least three candidates for the presidency next October 10, so that delegates may choose, from among them, the one who proposes a more attractive government program.

If we mean to show the world that Cuba has a system that’s different, but no less democratic for it, that would be an option, though there are better ones. If the intention is to do something else altogether, they could have spared us the show.

Because of the smoke blown in our eyes about the article on marriage, barely anyone was able to see that two special provisions were made in the Constitution’s draft, the first of which stated: ‘The delegates of the National Assembly of People’s Power in the 9th Legislature shall remain in office until the end of their term.’ That is, something as important as the possibility of electing those who, in turn, would elect our rulers for the next five years was excluded as a civil right, and millions of people agreed to that. Therefore, whatever happens on October 10 is endorsed by the new Constitution, and those who didn’t oppose it –which is the majority of citizens–, gave their approval. I repeat: there’s nothing to be surprised about.

Yes, of course. Homophobes are happy because the possibility of constitutional marriage between people of the same sex was eliminated, which is more important for them than electing the President of the Republic or than the death penalty.

The reactionary sectors within religious denominations (luckily not within all of them) are also happy, because they were allowed to campaign freely, without police interference, even when their actions were a threat against the normal development of children. The made a test of strength, and it turned out well for them. The death penalty wasn’t important for them; they did not campaign about that. They can glimpse on the horizon other battles to be fought and won, like the one against abortion. Am I exaggerating? We shall see.

What about civil liberties? Those, apparently, interest only a few. And if they interest only a few, I repeat: we should not be surprised by what will happen on October 10. It’s what we earned for ourselves.

(Translated from the original)