What is real democracy? Round Table Meeting held in the studios of Cuban Television on May 28th, 2002, “Year of the Heroes imprisoned
by the Empire”
(Transcript from the Council of State)
Randy Alonso: Good afternoon viewers and listeners. In his speech of May 20th in Miami, the American president, George W. Bush, had the audacity and indecency to talk about democracy, free and just elections, transparency, and international observers as prerequisites for Cuba, overlooking the scandalous Florida elections of 2000 and highlighting his obvious ignorance with regards to the democratic system in place in Cuba.
In this afternoon’s round table meeting, “What is real democracy?”, I am accompanied on the panel by José L. Toledo, Dean of the Law Faculty and President of the Parliamentary Commission for Legal Affairs; Rogelio Polanco, Editor of Juventud Rebelde newspaper; Reinaldo Taladrid, journalist of the Cuban Television News System; Francisca López Civeira, Professor of History at the University of Havana; Miguel Álvarez, consultant to the President of the National Assembly of the People’s Power; Lázaro Barredo, journalist of Trabajadores newspaper; Renato Recio, also of Trabajadores, and Arnaldo Silva, Full Professor of History at the University of Havana.
Also joining us in the studio this afternoon are representatives of the Ministry of the Economy and Planning and its Physical Planning Institute, representatives of the Ministry of Finance and members of the Ministry of the Interior in Pinar del Río Province.
(Brief images on the theme are shown)
Randy Alonso: When President Bush in his May 20th speech in Miami, and in Miami of all places, called on Cuba to carry out free, transparent non-fraudulent elections, we all recalled the electoral and “democratic” procedures that reigned in our country from May 20th, 1902 until January the First, 1959. To talk to us about the elections and the “democracy” that May 20th 1902 bequeathed us, I invite professor Francisca López to open this round table meeting.
Francisca López: Good afternoon.
I think it would be good to start with the elections that took place during the North American military occupation, of which there were two at the municipal level: the elections for the Constituent Assembly and the General Elections.
These elections were held under limited-vote conditions – all elections directed by the government of the military occupation were limited-vote elections – where people had to meet certain prerequisites in order to vote. Universal suffrage was non-existent; not everybody was able to express their opinions at the ballot box.
It would be useful to recollect, although briefly, that there were electoral scandals right from these first Municipal Elections. This fact was tackled by the press of the time, as candidates were being imposed on certain municipalities.
There was also favoritism in all of these elections of course, demonstrated by Governor Wood’s visits to various provinces, favoring certain candidates with positive publicity; in other words, the debut was quite a false start, by those who were supposedly going to teach us how to live with true democracy in an independent republic during the military occupation.
There were a multitude of parties at that time, the contest being for municipal positions. Later, with the signing of the 1901 Constitution, the political system and the type of vote were established –indirect or second degree vote in the case of the Senators, the Vice-President and President and the direct or first degree vote for the rest of the elective offices. Under these principles the elections which would bring Tomás Estrada Palma back to the power were held in 1906. This was another truly tense moment: a fraudulent re-election, imposed through massive coercion and the so-called war cabinet to impose Estrada Palma as president. All of this provoked the Partido Liberal (Liberal Party) uprising and the second North American intervention in its wake.
I would like to make a general description – so as not to describe election by election – of this political system and the political strategies established in Cuba at the beginning of the 1902 Republic.
The general trend was towards a two-party system. By 1905 the Partido Liberal had already been founded, the Partido Moderado (Moderate Party) was in the process of being established and was properly constituted in 1907 as the Partido Conservador (Conservative Party). There was a degree of balance of power between these two parties of which membership was highly fluid. This was due to the fact that this membership was not principally defined by programmatic or ideological principles, but rather by electoral possibilities; in other words, the party members drifted from one party to the other seeking the best chances for election.
What is more, certain political methods were established, such as “caudillismo”, on the assumption of leadership by figures from the independence movements who formed their own political groups, their own political “clientele” and installed themselves as “caudillos” (leaders of these political groups). With this image they moved within the Cuban political arena, inevitably implying the occupation of public offices in order to please their clients, friends and relatives, and to fill their own pockets of course. Corruption therefore became a common practice and this logically led to the use of the Treasury as a source of personal enrichment.
Let me reiterate, these were hegemonic figures emerging from the troops of the independence war; figures of great renown, of course, within Cuban society, acting as “caudillos” for their clientele.
Two fraudulent re-elections took place under this system. I have already mentioned the first one, which occurred in 1906, and the second was Menocal’s re-election in 1917, which once more led to a liberal uprising, known as “La Chambelona”. Let us talk a little about the environment of the time.
This period was characterized, first of all, by great symbolism amongst the people who identified these political figures with words such a “botella” (“bottle”); politicians that took positions and earned a salary without ever working, and even “garrafones” (“carafe”), for the same type of politician who held very high office.
The imagery of the goat is also used. If we study the cartoons of the time, there is an obvious code between the cartoonist and the public. The public knew that when the caricature included a goat, the government was involved in some sort of shady deal to make money on the side.
The “copo electoral” (“electoral peak”) meant that the candidate would go straight to the top in the elections; the “string-pullers”, the “ham”, all were very common images in the cartoons of the time. The “ham” is the symbol for the Treasury, and “get to the ham” meant getting close to the Treasury to cut oneself a slice of those riches, only achievable through one of those high government jobs.
This was the case with many figures of the Independence Wars; prestigious figures like José Miguel Gómez who participated in the three wars, but as soon as he entered politics, particularly into those politics, he was no longer General José M. Gómez, but “the shark”.
Randy Alonso: A shark that shared his kill.
Francisca López: First he was just the shark but he soon began to let others take bites from his kill.
Menocal was known as “The Boss”, Zayas as “Zayas the Chink” or the “the Moneybox”. In short, people created their own symbols to identify the existing political tactics and figures involved in this republican political corruption.
For example, the public labeled Menocal’s re-election in 1917 as “the Big Snuff Out”, because everyone knew that lights went out in the Secretariat’s office to allow a change of votes by candlelight. Everybody found out and called it the “snuff out”. In other words, this method of attacking corruption was part of a wider symbolism of resistance.
After the revolutionary process of the 1930’s, the two-party system faded away. A whole gamut of different parties came to the fore all participating in the electoral campaigns through electoral alliances or coalitions. Again, these alliances were not based on ideological or programmatic identities, a very clear example of which is the Alianza Auténtico-Republicana (Authentic-Republican Alliance) of 1944 and 1948.
The Partido Republicano (Republican Party) was recognized as the big hope of Cuban right wing and the Authentic movement was backed by the people; the electoral alliance was merely to guarantee electoral triumph in 1944 and 1948, and was successful in this sense.
From this moment on, even with the multi-party system and the usual tactics in place, history repeated itself and these parties were once more worn out by their own corruption. From the 1920s - as we said in yesterday’s meeting - they were unable to solve the crises in the system provoking a certain mobilization of a popular civic consciousness. I think this was very important in the rejection of the political methods established during the Republic, that always included corruption, vote-buying, electoral fraud and cronyism.
Randy Alonso: Thank you very much Professor.
(A video is shown)
Listening to President Bush’s speech, seeing them all gathered together; a presidency filled with sinister 1950’s type characters, like Mr. Rafael Díaz-Balart, it was obvious that Bush was proposing the electoral and democratic model of the 1950s for Cuba, the very system imposed by the hand of the dictator, Fulgencio Batista.
What were 1950s elections like? How did the model imposed by the military occupation and developed on the basis of the May 20th Republic pan out?
I propose professor Arnaldo Silva talks to us about this perios.
Arnaldo Silva: The 1950s witnessed the burial of the bourgeois democracy and the entire political system upon which the imperialist domination and the capitalist exploitation of the country rested.
It must be said – and I believe I made this point in a previous round table meeting– that it was Batista’s dictatorship and not the Revolution that buried the bourgeois democracy. The Revolution had the good sense and the virtue not to allow it to resuscitate.
The first thing Batista did after the coup d’état of March 10th, 1952 and the suspension of all former constitutional procedures that had reigned in the country since 1940, was abolish the 1940 Constitution and replace it with various constitutional statutes which suppressed the autonomy of all provinces and municipalities, amongst other things. This enabled him, by decree, to substitute all the mayors and governors who did not swear allegiance to such statues or those whom the dictatorship simply wanted to oust.
The first elections were held on November 1st, 1954 and attempted to disguise the dictatorship as a constitutional government freely elected by the people. These were multi-party elections attended by five parties, four of which formed the Cpalición Progresista Nacional (National Progressive Coalition): the Partido de Acción Progresista (Progressive Action Party), headed by Batista himself, alongside liberals, conservatives and republicans, all supporting Batista’s candidacy. Grau San Martín had registered the Partido Revolucionario Cubano Auténtico (Authentic Cuban Revolutionary Party), infuriating Prío, Tony Varona, Aureliano and other stalwart figures of the Authentic movement, since Grau had previously been expelled from the Partido Auténtico (Authentic Party). There were therefore five parties and two candidates in these elections.
The number of irregularities was such that Grau asked the National Electoral College to postpone the elections. The College denied this request under pressure from Batista and Grau withdrew his candidacy on October 31st, just one day before the elections which were finally held with only one candidate. Batista obviously won the elections and from that moment on was the President, elected in supposedly democratic, free and multi-party elections.
The second elections took place in a completely different context. They were held on November 3rd 1958, when the triumph of the revolutionary forces was imminent and inevitable. These elections were renowned, much like previous elections, for an extraordinary number of abstentions. The people had no interest in the elections; the people hankered for the triumph of the rebel forces, particularly the Rebel Army led by Fidel.
These last elections were even more multi-party, involving seven parties and four candidates: The Coalición Progresista Nacional, with the same parties as before, nominating Andrés Rivero Agüero, who had become Batista’s front man.
Randy Alonso: And he was this coalition’s candidate in these elections.
Arnaldo Silva: Yes, he was its candidate; in other words, they wanted to preserve Batista’s regime without Batista.
Grau ran once more, after registering the Partido Revolucionario Cubano in the elections. Alberto Salas Amaro, another of Batista’s straw men, created the Partido Unión Cubana (Cuban Union Party) and registered it in these elections; and Carlos Márquez Sterling, who had split from the Orthodoxy movement years before and had founded the Partido del Pueblo Libre (Free People Party): four candidates, seven parties. The government’s official candidate, Andrés Rivero Agüero, was victorious.
Let us examine some comments on the honesty and honorability of these elections; comments from individuals of whom nobody could suspect of any kind of socialist sympathies whatsoever.
The first protest– hidden, of course – appears in the book “The Fourth Floor” written by the American Ambassador in Cuba at the time, Earl Smith. This text unravels many issues concerning Batista’s relationship with the American Government at that time. There are extremely interesting things, let us see what Earl Smith says in this book:
“Batista’s ultimate mistake was not keeping the solemn promise he made to me to maintain free and open elections, acceptable to all the people”.
“If Batista’s candidate had lost and if the elections had been acceptable to the people, a peaceful solution would not have been ruled out”, according to him.
“He lost all of his supporters as a result of these elections. The people were now utterly disenchanted and in open opposition. He held on in opposition until the final moment; the elections were his attempt to seek a solution to the civil war and violence”. We already know that the people were seeking a solution through a revolutionary war and not through elections, but this was the author’s point of view.
“If Doctor Márquez Sterling had been elected he would have robbed Castro of his declared goal of ridding Cuba of Batista.”
It is evident in everything the book says that Márquez Sterling was the candidate of the American Embassy and the Department of State.
The United States saw these elections as a kind of magic trick that could bring about a solution, an alternative. In other words, Márquez Sterling wins the elections and the country returns to the situation prior to March 9th. There is no longer a dictator or a dictatorship and therefore, no further reason to prolong the revolutionary struggle in the mountains and cities.
Let us analyze what Jorge García Montes, one of the highest-ranking officials in Batista’s government, writes in his book “History of the Cuban Communist Party” – referring to the old Communist Party – published in Miami in 1971.
Jorge García Montes held important posts in the government and was the Prime Minister of the government from February 24th 1955, when Batista hijacked the elections, to the first days of January 1959. Let’s examine his opinion on these two electoral processes.
With respect to 1954’s elections he says:
“In spite of this, the government demonstrated its determination to win the elections by whatever means necessary. Doctor Grau asked for the elections to be postponed; the Electoral High Court refused and opted for retraction, allowing the government to win easily”.
“The outcome of the elections discouraged many supporters of the electoral system and even some members of the government expressed their disapproval of certain unnecessary frauds committed to favor candidates supported by the military elite”.
And with respect to 1958’s elections:
“The elections were held in a tumultuous climate of violent passions. The government was determined to triumph and did not think twice about its methods. Suffrage was channeled through vote rigging” – one of the ways they used to call electoral fraud. “The Government won because of its absurd mania for raising the number of voters however possible. A number of frivolous candidates were elected; people from the highest of society who couldn’t even stammer a single word in public”. These – I repeat – are the words someone who held very high office in Batista’s dictatorship.
These are the elections they propose for us: “democratic”, “free”, “multi-party”, “multi-candidate”, which are even included in the Helms-Burton Law, Chapter II, Section 205, which reads: ”Requirements and Factors for Determining a Government of Transition” – we can presume they mean a transition to a capitalist, dependant and neo-colonial government.
According to this law a transition government in Cuba is a government that has legalized all political activity; has made public commitments to organizing free and fair elections for a new government with the participation of multiple independent political parties.
And in Section 206, “Requirement for determining a democratically elected government” it states that this is a government which results from free and fair elections; in which opposition parties were permitted ample time to organize and campaign for such elections; and all candidates were permitted full access to the media;
These are the elections proposed to us by Mr. Bush in his May 20th speech in Miami.
Randy Alonso: Vote rigging – like you said -, vote-stealing, the political sergeants, it is all part of this democratic electoral model Mr. Bush has proposed for us.
Thank you very much, Professor.
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Randy Alonso: On May 20th, in the Miami coliseum, Mr. Bush addressed the government of the Republic of Cuba: “I am challenging the government to hold free and fair elections.” How free and how fair are the electoral processes and the system of democratic participation in the United States?, This is the question I pose to Miguel Álvarez.
Miguel Álvarez: Randy, they present themselves as the bearers of a paradigm which they attempt to apply across the globe. I will begin by talking briefly about the history of the universal suffrage and voters’ rights in the United States.
Let us recall that during the first 50 years after the foundation of that nation, only white, male landowners were allowed to vote. Then came the American Civil War and the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, which, in theory, gave the blacks the right to vote. In 18 of the 25 northern States, however, to give you some idea, the blacks were completely forbidden to go anywhere near the ballot boxes. This in the States that had won the war and were even opposed to slavery.
During the period Dr. Paquita was describing us, during the military occupation and afterwards, they tried to teach us what a democratic government was, in a time when women didn’t have the vote, which was only finally granted in 1920. At the same time, the Southern States denied the black vote. It isn’t until 1965 that the possibility of extending this right to black citizens was approved – now supported by law. This problem, however, remains unresolved even today despite the passing of the Rights to Vote Act.
It was only then that the voting tax was eliminated. This tax was obviously designed to prevent this sector of the population from exercising their right to vote. An 1970 amendment to this law also eliminated the literacy test. Only in 1970 was the voting age set at 18 years and upwards.
This brief history shows how the people have been struggling amidst great difficulties, step by step for almost two centuries, to win some of these battles. The problem still remains unresolved however.
I believe there are several myths surrounding the United States which we must simply try to analyze and explain to our people.
There is the myth of popular elections, for example. As everyone is aware the United States President is not elected by the people but by an electoral college. In this case there is a president who did not obtain the majority of the popular vote and was still elected president – Florida’s elections were a clear example of this and we will almost certainly analyze this aspect later. I will not go into this any further because I know we will be discussing it later, but this is certainly one of the myths; the direct election myth.
We must also consider the myth of the parties, the alleged multi-party myth which in reality is reduced to just two parties, as you may know. Or even into one sole party: the party of the large corporations that exercise sovereignty over the individual in the United States. In this situation there is a broad base, the lowest level of the pyramid where over 80 % of the citizens do not pay a single cent towards these elections, whereas on the other hand 1 % of society, representing those same corporations, contribute the enormous sums of money that are spent on the elections and which grow more and more vast every campaign. This group only includes around 253 000 people, who actually control the United States.
I have a couple of examples for you. One is the notorious ENRON, the company that went bankrupt. ENRON gave money to 71 of the 100 Senators of the United States and 186 members (43 %) of the House of Representatives. The auditor of the company went even further, he gave money to 94 of the 100 senators and nearly half of the members of the House of Representatives.
That is a perfect example; there are others. The tobacco industry, to mention just one, donated around 30-38 million dollars to electoral campaigns between 1987 and 1997, and in 1997 an amendment appeared. No-one knows who put this amendment forward, it is utterly author-less; it contained just 46 words: one sentence which handed over 50 billion dollars in tax exemptions to the tobacco industry in the United States, 50 000 million dollars.
Randy Alonso: A very profitable investment.
Miguel Álvarez: Exactly. You donate $30 million to the candidates and you get many, many times what you gave.
To give you an example a little closer to home, let us look at the case of the Fanjul Gómez Mena gang in Miami, very well known to our people. One is a democrat, the other a republican; the former, Alfi, is the president of the Finance Committee of one of the parties, and the latter, Pepe, is president of the Finance Committee of the Republican Party. Each one donates $250 000 to the presidential campaigns and receives benefits on the $64 million paid to the completely subsidized United States sugar industry, all at the taxpayer’s expense.
As you can see we are talking about one single party, the corporations’ party, the party of those who finance all of this, and the party of those who decide who the candidates will be and who will exercise this power.
Another myth is the myth of the supposed competition. There is a study of the Public Policy Center that shows that in the last two elections there were 80 candidates with no opponent. These candidates didn’t have to wait until November 7th, they were elected long before because no one stood against them. It is quite simply because of the amount of money they have, no-one dares to stand against them.
In the current election, to be held in November of this year, there are really only two dozen or so contests that are truly competitive. These are contests where there is no incumbent, where he/she has either retired or died, leaving the election open.
Randy Alonso.- Or where the incumbent does not stand for re-election.
Miguel Álvarez.- Yes, where they don’t stand for re-election. What does all this mean in essence? It means that 98% of the incumbents are re-elected, because they are the people with the most money, they are the people with the political machinery to guarantee their re-election.
Another myth is the myth of participation. There are approximately 186 million people of voting age. Of these only 130 million registered for the last elections, 56 million simply decided not to register. We won’t talk here of the processes one must go through to register, what it implies in terms of prerequisites, in terms of the time needed, and obviously it is always more complicated to directly exercise the vote on the day of the election.
Randy Alonso.- Often they have to register on working days and the companies they work for don’t allow them the time off to go and register.
Miguel Álvarez.- And here of course we are talking about the people with work, but we must also mention those without work, who simply don’t register or are not assisted to do so or because they just don’t believe in that political system.
Randy Alonso.- We are talking about 56 million people Miguelito.
Miguel Álvarez.- There were 56 million who did not register, but that is not the final figure, there were also 19 million who did register but never voted. Add the 56 million who did not register to the 19 million who registered and never voted, we are talking about 75 million people who did not exercise their right to vote. Add to this 75 million the 5 million who voted and then their vote was lost, or in other words they were struck off the electoral lists after having voted, or their votes weren’t counted. We are talking of a total of 80 million people who did not participate in the elections. This is not the only problem, however, we must also mention those who wanted to participate and were unable to do so.
I have here a report of the Civil Rights Commission of the United States that analyzes the Florida elections and the number of black citizens who were unable to exercise their right to vote, whether because they were struck off the electoral lists, or because they arrived at the polling stations and were turned away or because they had never been instructed in how to exercise their voting rights.
Eleven percent of the voters in Florida are black, but when we come to count the number of rejected votes we see that blacks accounted for 54% of these, despite the fact they only total 11% of the electorate. I think this very clearly illustrates what we were saying at the beginning about the history and the laws that were passed in 1965. The black vote in the United States is still an unresolved issue.
As a result of this extremely high level of abstention only around 50% of the population actually vote. What does this mean? Let me offer an example, and I won’t address Bush’s case here, everyone knows that Bush won by one single vote, we can’t really talk of percentages of voters in his case, he won the election because of a 5 to 4 vote in his favor in the Supreme Court of the United States. Let me instead offer the case of the previous President, of Clinton, that was elected with 49% of the voters that voted. We are quite simply talking about a president of the United States who was elected by 24% of the electorate, 24.1%.
Randy Alonso.- He didn’t even reach one quarter of the American electorate.
Miguel Álvarez.- We could go on listing these myths, but I think that the main elements are the participation, the competitivity, the percentage of abstention, the fallacy of the so-called popular vote, a wealth of example that indicate the huge problems they have in that direction and how in the North American elections the real voter is money, the voter that exercises that right most often is money.
Right at this minute, whilst all of these things are occurring behind the excuse of the war against terrorism, surveillance systems are being developed, citizens’ movement s are being monitored and immigrants are being arrested without warrants. These are all factors that come together to make it more difficult to vote and also make it easier to control the bulk of the United States population.
Randy Alonso.- This is an interesting theme that is often debated amongst the American public. Just today a report from a so-called human rights organization emerged, that is in no way anti-American, far from it, that severely criticized the degree of control imposed on American society after September 11th. It points to the violations of civil rights of the public that undoubtedly place constraints on the so-called democratic participation of American citizens in the elections and any other democratic process in that country.
I would now like to play a clip that Taladrid showed on his program on Sunday. I think its worth repeating in today’s meeting so our people may see how North Americana democracy respects the rights and privacy of its citizens.
Journalist.- Tonight “The Eye of America” explores the most hidden aspects of the war of terror. The government is watching ordinary Americans. It seems that something else is going on since September 11th. Does this threaten our privacy and freedom of speech?
John Black, of CBS, has been close to the observers.
John Black.- This is something new for Americans: security and surveillance. From intensive checks at airports to tracking of the use of the Internet by government authorities, federal agents are watching citizens closer than ever. But for Barry Reingold things had gone too far when the FBI took an interest in comments he had made at his local gym.
The retired telephone worker had criticized the war in Afghanistan out loud. A few days later he received an unexpected visit.
Barry Reingold.- I said: “Who’s there?” and they replied: “It’s the FBI.”
John Black.- Reingold said that the two agents wanted to know more about what he had said in the gym locker room. “Someone informed us that you were talking about September 11th, terrorism and Afghanistan.”
The FBI insists that their agents do not question people because of their political views, but after September 11th 2001 the FBI admit that they need to spread their net in the search for information.
This raises the fear that the FBI could return the era of J. Edgar Hoover when agents used to monitor citizens who did not agree with its policies.
The current Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, says that today’s investigators are legal and accountable.
Robert Mueller.- If we receive a threat we question all those who may be able to help us regarding this threat. When a comment made in the gym leads to an FBI interrogation it is apparent that the agents are casting a wide net.
John Black.- Kate Rafael, a California activist who often joins peaceful demonstrations, was astonished when an FBI agent making investigations into some Muslims called her.
Kate Rafael.- If their job is to “hunt” Islamic fundamentalist terrorists then their job should also be to know that they don’t hang out with a Jewish lesbian in San Francisco!
John Black.- Josh Thayer was also surprised.
Josh Thayer.- To take part in a meeting these days is extremely stressful, especially when the FBI suddenly call.
John Black.- The agent wanted to know about the computer systems in the independent media, a leftist web site where Thayer works voluntarily as a technician. Do you know how the FBI got your name?
Josh Thayer.- Not really, no. That was what scared me the most. They are watching you, and you know it, as if what you did was anonymous.
John Black.- From the left to the right wings government surveillance after September 11th has increased fears for privacy.
Bob Barr.- In this filed what is left of privacy is smaller and smaller every day. Every incursion into our privacy by the government is more and more important.
John Black.- Conservative Bob Barr has joined liberal democrats in supporting new privacy legislation.
A.J. Brown.- It’s about freedom of expression.
John Black.- University student A. J. Brown thought that the government had gone too far when the Secret Service came asking about some banners, not from a public protest, but those that were hung in her apartment.
Randy Alonso.- Well, this shows us a little of the rights of North American citizens. The world’s greatest democracy is constantly spying on its citizens, even in their own apartments. This is not to mention the cameras in all cities that track people wherever they go. It is in this climate that the American electoral process takes place that – as Miguelito was saying – is a process of money and a process of the corporations that supply fortunes to one candidate or another, depending on their usefulness.
As early as March 1883, our own José Martí had written in Las Americas of New York that in the United States “the representatives tend to be the servants of colossal and opulent companies that, using their enormous weight at election time, decide for or against the prospective candidate.
I read two very interesting letters today in the Letters to the Editor section of the Seattle Times. One of these says:
In recent events, George W. Bush has promised to continue the damaging blockade against the Cuban economy until Fidel Castro holds open elections. In a later story we see that the United States Justice Department is suing the State of Florida for violations of the voting rights that could have tipped the balance in the 2000 North American presidential race in favor of the youngest Bush.
“If the President is truly honest in the enthusiasm he has just demonstrated for free and fair elections, we anxiously await his example. At what point in the immediate future may we expect him to invite international monitors to examine his own disputed election once and for all?” This was a letter from Joe Vinikow, of Seattle.
Another reader, Doug Nellis, also of Seattle writes:
“Wait a minute! I’ve just heard George W. Bush demanding that Fidel Castro hold genuine elections, listen to the voice of the Cuban people and count its votes! And he was in Florida when he made this demand? That’s a good one George!”
So writes Doug Nellis to the Letter to the Editor section in today’s Seattle Times. What president Bush did on May 20th was audacious on previously unknown levels and hypocrisy without limit: to talk of fraud, to talk of transparency, and on the other hand to talk of free elections, in the very city where the most scandalous fraud ever committed in North American elections was perpetrated; in Miami, and what is more to make the declaration surrounded by all those gangland bosses that committed this fraud.
I think we could say a lot about these elections if we are talking about “American-style democracy”. I’d like to ask Rogelio Polanco to say a few words.
Rogelio Polanco.- Well, he really must have no shame, Randy. To do what president Bush did in Miami, he must really be unscrupulous – as Ricardo Alracón said last week in his analysis of Bush’s speech in Washington and Miami – to talk of the rope in the hanged man’s house, so to speak. What president Bush did, to talk of free elections in the very city where the scandalous fraud of the presidential elections of 2000 took place is truly beyond belief.
We only need remember a few of the things that happened on that occasion. Firstly the premature congratulations that the winning candidates made to each other and the television companies that announced the winners before the ballots were counted. Secondly the veritable universal scandal of 35 days without a president, this in the world Mecca of democracy and elections, the country that has attempted to impose its opinions on democracy on the rest of the planet.
What happened in Florida was fraud and robbery. We remember the days of counts and recounts, of people holding the ballot papers up to the light, of counting the ballots again and again, automatically or by-hand, of the Supreme Court talking of a recount, of votes arriving from overseas that changed the percentage of one or another candidate, the appeals of the candidates to the Florida Court or to the United States Supreme Court, and finally the unprecedented intervention of the Supreme Court to annul the decision of the recount followed by the unbelievable order to give the presidency to Bush on just a single vote. This revealed, as was pointed out at the time, a deep ideological current running through that Court, that was largely made up of judges nominated by the most conservative sectors, once again placing the Supreme Court’s impartiality and credibility in question.
Miguelito was talking just now of the executive summary of the report of the United States Civil Rights Commission to which Alarcón also referred a few days ago. This declared that the most outstanding aspect of those elections was the number of black citizens who were not permitted to vote.
In the case of Florida, 188 000 new voters turned out, black citizens that went to vote for the first time. In other words, the electorate was swelled by all these people that were going to vote for the first time. We know that this vote is overwhelmingly Democrat, it has historically been so, but these people were prevented from voting in many ways: they were prevented from entering the colleges, they were asked for two forms of identification; sometimes they were not on the lists; they had to wait in long lines until the colleges were finally closed; there were shortages of ballot papers in some places; the ballot boxes arrived late in others and there was the enormous theft perpetrated with those butterfly ballots, which we all know were a trick, putting the electorate in an order that led to mistakes with people voting for the wrong candidate.
Randy Alonso.- Thinking they were voting for Gore they were actually voting for Buchanan.
Rogelio Polanco.- For Buchanan and the Reform Party.
In some cases it was also suggested that electors had been given instructions that led to voting errors. Some were told to make a hole in each form for example. If this were a two-part form it was obvious that fraud would be produced, by annulling votes in favor of the Democrat Party.
There was also other examples, the newspapers themselves reported tactics that had been used in Cuba before 1959: votes from dead people, votes from prisoners, that is obviously prohibited by the law in the case of the United States; postal votes that were altered and ballot boxes that appeared in unusual places.
This ridiculous series of events led to the cost of the Florida elections rising to $6 million, because of what went on there, the counts and recounts over 35 days.
A great spectacle was made of this. Looking through some of the reports of those days I found this on the Mayor of Palm Beach County, Aronson, who, after all that had happened, announced a public auction of the very voting machines that had produced the fraud, well, the machines that were blamed for the fraud, because this had already been committed. They said that through this public auction they were going to pay the election costs.
One year later we read in another report that the auction would be used to raise funds for a new computerized and automated system for the 2004 elections. Well, the least we can hope is that the fraud of those elections will be electronically covered up.
We also see the enthusiasm of this same Mayor with the auction of the truck that transported the ballot papers from West Palm Beach to Tallahassee, the state capital. We will remember the huge number of ballots that were taken to the capital. The price of that truck suddenly rose from $17 000 to $67 000 all because of the absurd spectacle that those fraudulent elections represented.
Many reports were made in the year following the elections. I remember that one of these was to be presented around September 11th and it was postponed, allegedly because of the terrorist attacks, just like many other things were postponed. Many different independent bodies, including the press, made reports.
I have a report here presented by various newspapers, including the Washington Post and other media, on November 12th, one year after the elections, that still questions who was actually elected.
This report claims that if the limited recounts that Gore and the Supreme Court of Florida were requesting had been made, Bush would have won by 493 votes to 225 in Florida; but if a recount of the entire state had been made, Gore would have won by 171 to 60 votes. In other words, a year after the elections speculation still continues in the press and independent bodies on just who won the election.
I remember the Granma editorial entitled “A Banana Republic” that held that the only true way of knowing who had won in Florida would be to hold the elections again, at least if they wanted to maintain the fiction that some sort of democracy existed in the United States. This was not done and, of course, the president was not elected but rather appointed by a Supreme Court completely lacking credibility and legitimacy.
I think we must therefore ask Bush to which free elections for Cuba he is referring? Is he referring to those free elections which he himself did not win and in which it was only possible to have a president 35 days later through fraud; or is he referring to those elections where less than a quarter of the United States electorate choose their president, as in the previous American elections; or is he referring to those elections that in the last analysis were dominated by the paradox that Gore won the popular vote and Bush, allegedly, the vote of the electoral colleges. This same great paradox which continues to demonstrate that this electoral system is widely criticized for its obsolescence, its antiquated and anti-democratic character.
Or if he was referring to the free elections that were eventually decided by the judges. Or those that, in the face of the blatant fraud that occurred in Florida, international observers were not allowed to inspect.
If it had been a Third World country of course, that had spent 35 days without knowing what was going on, there would have been an invasion, to impose a candidate at the end of a gun.
Randy Alonso.- There would have at least been punitive measures from the International Monetary Fund, from the World Bank, in loans granted, as the very same United States is doing today against Haiti; that would have happened at the least.
Of course, as we all know, the United States controls the International Monetary Fund; there would have at least been cuts, or if not one of those invasions that they are fond of making at the drop of a hat; or the country in question would have been hauled before the Human Rights Commission, as the Europeans and Americans attempted to do to Zimbabwe after the recent elections there.
Rogelio Polanco.- These are the free elections, Randy, that President Bush is recommending for Cuba, the elections of freedom with money, freedom with the three thousand million dollars they cost from beginning to end, the electoral process, the presidential elections; the freedom of the majority of abstentions, of the two dominant parties, of the big abstention party in the United States; the freedom to prevent blacks form voting, the freedom of electoral fraud.
I would like to finish by quoting – as we did in those days – a few of the phrases of this illegal candidate turned president, in wich he was talking of democracy and political strategy.
Bush remarked: “If we are not successful, we run the risk of failure.” That unforgettable Bush phrase. Or on democracy, and we are now talking about true democracy: “I believe we have an irreversible tendency towards more freedom and democracy, but it could change.” This is the president of the United States talking.
Randy Alonso.- As a matter of fact, I have just been e-mailed an article from the New York Times with the latest Bush gaffes in his tour of Europe, but I think I’ll save them for another meeting. What is certain is that, as Martí said in 1884: “In the marrow, in the very marrow vice lies, where life in this land has no more purpose than to amass fortunes, where the power to vote is in the hands of those incapable of voting.” Martí’s words from May 9th, 1884 written in Century Magazine.
He spoke at that time of the American elections. We see his idea very clearly when examining the elections of today, especially the elections in Miami that is without a doubt a reproduction of the Cuban Chambelona of before 1959. I would like to ask Reinaldo Taladrid to comment on this theme.
Reinaldo Taladrid.- It would be my pleasure, Randy.
To be honest, on the 20th and 21st I had a doubt: was it Cuba 1958 or Miami 2002 that was being recommended? And I thought for a while.
I would like to explain some of the characteristics of those elections in Dade County and in Miami city, from where the political life of that county is controlled.
The dead people that voted in those elections, for example, people that died some time ago, both technically and legally, and appear voting for the mayor of Miami city. Or those people belonging to the largest party in the United States, the abstention party. These are the people that do not vote, they stay at home and then one day they find out that although they stayed home and decided not to vote, their name turns up on the monitoring panel at the polling station, generally voting for the winning candidate. Both of these things are common in Miami, don’t take my word for it, let Xavier Suárez tell you.
Xavier Suárez, Mayor of Miami city, closely linked to the Cuban-American National Foundation, entered the election against the notorious Joe Carollo. Xavier Suárez won but had to resign from office shortly afterwards. Why? Because of the two things I have mentioned, because he had won the election with the votes of dead people and of those who had abstained. The scandal is exposed, he hands over the mayorship and Joe Carollo comes to office. I trust I don’t have to remind everyone of what Carollo did. This is not just a question of the election, but of the entire American political system that produces such an election. Yes, Xavier Suárez was removed, but Joe Carrollo stepped into his shoes and we all know what that meant.
Let us look at the last election, where Manny Díaz was elected as mayor, the man we all know as one of the kidnapper’s lawyers.
The parameters that Álvarez offered us are reproduced perfectly in that election: less than 40% participation, even less than in the presidential elections; less than 40% voting for any of the candidates. Manny Díaz was elected City Mayor with less than 25%. But when we add up the vote of those who did not vote, of the Afro-Americans and of the Latin American minorities, Díaz was elected to be mayor of Miami city where the majority of the citizens of that county are against him. In other words, he is a dictator in the Roman sense of the word, a man in power that was not elected by the majority of the people. The majority voted against Manny Díaz or did not vote. That is the situation at the local level.
This cancer becomes metastatic at the federal and national levels and the elections to the United States Congress held in Miami Dade county and in Miami city warrant further analysis.
Let’s look at the rabid wolf, Ileana Ros, for example. Perhaps her lupine nature intimidated her opponents and she enters the election unchallenged. IN the great democratic exercise nobody opposes Ileana Ros, she runs in the election alone. This is not only due to fear, we mustn’t forget that, besides, fear, there is the question of money. If you saw that the money of all the city’s powerful factions was in the hands of Ileana Ros what would you do? Ask for a loan? They wouldn’t give it to you. Amass enormous debts and then when I lose I will be forced to pay it all back? Not likely. So, who decides? Here is a clear example of how money makes the decisions before the election is even held.
When anyone dares to challenge Ileana Ros they always say the same thing: “Take care of the District’s problems and leave the issue of Cuba alone.” The problems of the District are not considered, this in the section of the city with the highest poverty rate as compared to the American average; there are considerable problems with delinquency, there are flaws in the education system – of course there would be with Demetrio Pérez in charge of on of the city’s education systems – and there are problems with other Latin American minorities and the Afro-Americans. Not one of these issues has been addressed in an electoral speech of this woman.
I would like to focus on another: Lincoln Díaz-Balart, the arch Batistiano. Again, don’t take my word for it, ask him yourself, let some journalist someday ask him if he renounces Batista and you will hear his response. Someone once tried, but it would be interesting to have a second go.
In 1998 a North American lawyer, Patrick M. Kusack, decided to run for the seat in Congress occupied by Lincoln Díaz-Balart. A while ago we were able to speak to some of the people who participated in the running of the election campaign of that candidate and they gave us permission to talk a little of how Lincoln Díaz-Balart was elected to the United States Congress.
Firstly, we have already seen the butterfly ballots and that kind of thing; the people that didn’t know where to mark their ballot paper. In the case of Lincoln’s election, there were people from his electoral team in all the colleges of the district and when the so-called “Cuban oldies” entered they were told: “Don’t worry old fella” and Lincoln’s people marked their voting card for them, the old people did not perform the act of voting, they were just told: “I’ll mark it for you.” And that’s what they did. This went in all the electoral colleges of the district where people of one of the candidate’s team marked the voting cards of some voters.
How could they do this with impunity? We have to turn to money once more for the answer. Lincoln Díaz-Balart’s opponent, the lawyer Patrick Kusack couldn’t afford to pay for observers in the electoral colleges, so Diaz’ people dominated in all stations.
Another strange thing happened during the campaign, yet another violation of the law. The following people: Rafael Díaz-Balart, one of Batista’s ministers; Ileana Ros Lehtinen, Tomás Regalado and Alex Penelas, made an announcement – without saying it was a paid announcement to avoid the conditions placed on such – that was broadcast on La Cubanísima radio and on Radio Mambí, in which they said – don’t forget we are talking about the county mayor, a commissioner, a federal congresswoman and a Batistiano minister – in public that Patrick Kusack, Lincoln Díaz-Balart’s opponent was “soft”. Everyone knows that in Miami Dade county slang when you call someone “soft” you are referring to their homosexuality. They also called him a confirmed communist and suggested that his hands were stained with blood, because, since he was a communist and had defended Fidel Castro and his regime, his hands were stained with the ‘Brothers to the Rescue’ pilots’ blood.
The first thing to point out is that this is a breach of the rules of the United States Federal Communications Committee prohibiting this type of broadcast. If you do it in another state you are liable to be sued, go to prison, the radio station could be closed down or find itself in serious trouble.
Secondly, I was able to ask Kusack’s wife if there was any truth in what was being claimed.
Who is this Patrick Kusack whom they accuse of all these things? He is the son and grandson of policemen, he is a volunteer preacher in the weekends in V.S. prisons, he is a lawyer in a firm that only deals with cases concerning United States army officers.
What was his campaign program? He said: I don’t want us to talk of Cuba in our district; I want us to talk about the District’s problems, of education, of employment, of the minorities, of social security and all the other problems. Lincoln Díaz-Balart – he said this in his campaign- has not brought a single cent of federal government money to this district since he was the federal representative.
I asked her, considering everything that had happened, why her husband had decided to stand against Lincoln? She told me: Well look, he’s Irish, he’s stubborn and he wants to save Miami from these people.
I want to finish by saying that this was how Lincoln won the election, this was how a representative in the Federal Congress was chosen. But I also want to say that Lincoln is a delinquent. I say this because his campaign was investigated twice by the General Accounting Office, a department within the United States Congress, and on both occasions they discovered that he had violated federal law, had committed crimes. In what way? He had simply “forgotten” to declare more than $100 000 of donations he had received. He just forgot to declare them. We all know how the money would have been shared out “if the investigation had not taken place. And of course nothing happened, nobody went any further, nobody presented any accusations, nobody did anything whatsoever.
Perhaps for this reason, Randy, Bush, or the person that wrote Bush’s speech, was thinking of 1958 Cuba, because it has been so faithful reproduced in Miami and has adapted to those conditions so well. There’s no doubt that when the President of the United States said that in his speech he was thinking of the arch Batistiano Lincoln Díaz-Balart. Bush said: “I would like to thank two excellent members of Congress for their presence here: Ilenana Ros and Lincoln Díaz-Balart.” These were the values that the President of the United States was selling that day.
Randy Alonso.- Thank you, Taladrid, for your efforts.
(Brief image son the theme are shown)
Randy Alonso.- Turning a blind eye to everything we have talked about in our meeting today, all of which he is perfectly aware of because he was behind the strategy of the vote stealing from his general headquarters in Texas; President Bush went to Miami for no other reason but to say, amongst other things, that “all elections in Castro’s Cuba have been fraudulent; the voice of the Cuban people has been smothered and their votes are completely worthless. This is the truth.”
I, therefore, propose to allow Professor Toledo, on the basis of these statements from Bush, to explain the electoral system and the system of democratic participation in our society that were so olympically overlooked by Bush in his speech.
José Luis Toledo.- This morning I was reading a declaration that our Commander in Chief made in 1959. He said: “I will never consciously allow immorality.” Our Commander’s thought was necessarily translated into a principle of our society and our Revolution and it was this thought that led us to reject the so-called representative democracy paraded by the United States governments as the only acceptable model and as essential for a state to be classified as “democratic”. It also inspired us to search for and formulate a truly Cuban institutional system permitting the flourishing of real and effective democracy amongst our people.
The democratic content of society in Cuba is not expended solely and wholly in elections, but rather involves a much broader and systematic participation inseparable from all aspects of social life.
Specifically, our electoral system takes as its base the fact that it is our citizens, our people who choose, nominate, vote for, control and expel our representatives. This is the essential foundation of our electoral system.
It is also worth noting in terms of our electoral system that the Constitution of the Republic in Article 131 states, and I quote: “All citizens with legal capacity to do so have the right to participate in the running of the State, whether directly or through the mediation of their representatives elected to form the Bodies of the People’s Power and to participate, for this same purpose, in the manner foreseen by the law, in the periodic elections and popular referendums where the vote will be free, equal and secret. Each elector has the right to one single vote.”
In this way local elections are held in Cuba every two and a half years to elect the members of the municipal assemblies of People’s Power and general elections are held ever five years in which, aside form electing members of the municipal assemblies provincial members and representatives of the National Assembly are also elected.
Other fundamental characteristics of the Cuban electoral system would include the following: “Universal, automatic registration free of charge for all citizens.” Therefore, as soon as a Cuban citizen reaches 16 years of age he/she is automatically registered on the electoral roll, without any kind of catch.
Randy Alonso.- Two years before voters in the United States and without all the legal or even fictitious requirements that are demanded from the North American voter for registration.
José Luis Toledo.- What is more, the electoral registers are posted prior to the elections in all popular places in every electoral district. Why? In order that citizens may check to see if they are included. If they are not they may go immediately to the electoral Commission in their area and be re-registered upon producing their identity documents. What is more, if a voter does not appear on the electoral register on voting day, they present themselves before the electoral college with their identity documents to prove their identity and their status as a citizen area over of the age of majority and they will be included in the register and allowed to vote. I explain this to demonstrate the simplicity and ease in this sense.
The other aspect is the nomination of the candidates by the voters themselves.
Political parties do not exist at any stage of our institutional system, nor does the Party indicate whom to vote for. Our Party, the Communist Party of Cuba does not participate in the electoral contest, it is forbidden to do so by its own organizational principles.
Who elects the representatives? Their own neighbors elect them in an act to which they are summoned. It is here that the people who will go to make up the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power are elected through a show of hands, on the basis of the relevant characteristics of the different candidates. These Assemblies form the institutional foundation and at least two and up to eight from every district are chosen through the electoral process.
Randy Alonso.- And this is an Assembly, Toledo with extraordinary importance because the whole neighborhood comes together to elect people who become de facto members of the Municipal Assemblies but who may also become a representative in the National Assembly. Practically 50% of the representatives in our National Assembly are elected in their own neighborhoods.
José Luis Toledo.- This is certainly possible, Randy, and what is more, the manner in which the election is carried out provides the opportunity for the citizens to confirm their choice on election day through a direct and secret vote.
I have some statistics here that I believe are illustrative.
Since 1976, since the 1976-1979 term that is, which were the first elections for members of the municipal assemblies after the establishment of the Bodies of the People’s Power, 277 277 comrades have been nominated and 127 894 have been elected. Of those 127 894, as you were saying, 1 377 have been elected as representatives of the National Assembly of the People’s Power, representing 51.3% of all the representatives our National Assembly has had in its history.
We are talking of the two hundred and seventy seven odd comrades that have been elected, but this does not represent the total amount, because more than one candidate is always nominated. Here we are talking about the candidates that were actually elected. We could multiply this figure by at least two, and even by eight in some areas to get the final, much higher number of comrades involved in this process.
Of those elected, 22 376 were workers, 16 416 were administrative or service workers, 5 172 were farm workers, 1 094 were homemakers, 6 793 were members of our armed forces, 3 980 were retired people and 24 443 were students. Of this total, 18 126 were women. These figures clearly demonstrate the active presence of our people as the fundamental actor in our electoral process.
I think another important element to highlight here, in the context of discussing the high abstention rate and the issue of those people who do not exercise their right to vote in the United States, is the participation of the Cuban people.
Lázaro Barredo.- Before you carry on allow me to underline something that we all know but that remains very important. This is the fact that to be elected a candidate must receive at least 50% of the vote, this even includes the condition which allows for a second round of voting where this 50% plus one vote target is not met. The elections are repeated in the neighborhoods, in the same electoral district and at that stage the candidate with the most votes is elected.
Randy Alonso.- There has never been a case of a candidate elected with a quarter of the electorate’s support in the district or area, as was the case with President Bush and other American presidents.
José Luis Toledo.- I had planned to mention Lázaro’s point in my appraisal of the theme of the total transparency and fairness of the elections, but I would first like to finish my former point.
When we study the statistics of the electoral participation, from the elections of members of the municipal assemblies in 1976 to the latest elections in 2000, for the 2000-2003 term, there has never been less than 95% participation.
I would like to cite the examples offered in the three previous terms:
In the 1995-1997 term: 7 545 821 people voted representing 97.1% of the electorate.
In the 1997-2000 term: 7 760 582 people went to the ballot boxes, representing 97.5% of the electorate.
In the 2000-2003 term 7 913 112 electors turned out, equal to 98.1% of the electorate.
If we go back to the 1992 elections for representatives in the provincial and national assemblies, 99.57 % of the electorate voted.
This massive turnout does not merely represent participation in the electoral contest but also as a means of ratifying support for the Revolutionary process.
Another aspect of our electoral process that I would like to highlight is the total absence of electoral campaigns, as we are all aware. Candidates are completely forbidden from carrying out any kind of electoral campaign for their own benefit. This avoids the truly repulsive situation of transnational corporations donating money to election campaigns, of buying promises that will be fulfilled after electoral success and that, in pre-1959 Cuba, saw the city completely smothered in electoral banners and posters. This no longer occurs.
The only campaign permitted is the placing of a photo and the biography of the candidates in a pre-arranged location. In the general elections some tours of all the representatives are organized by the comrades in charge of the electoral process. A number of us here are representatives and we have taken part in these tours to workplaces, to community meetings with citizens, school visits, etc. No type of personal reference is made to any one individual.
Another aspect is the utter transparency and fairness of the elections.
Well, Lázaro has already mentioned the percentage of votes needed to be elected and the repetition of the election if no candidates reach that figure.
As well as this, however, we must mention how our elections are conducted and who monitors our ballot boxes. When we see elections in other parts of the world the army is often put onto a state of alert and thousands of soldiers are mobilized.
Who monitors our ballot boxes? Our pioneers, our young pioneers who participate in their hundreds of thousands throughout the country are the monitors of our polling stations.
Who form part of the electoral inspection body? The neighbors of the electoral districts.
Who carries out the count? Before the election begins the ballot box is shown to all the neighbors present and is then sealed. After the election , once the count is completed the population is called to attend the electoral colleges and the count is made once more in their presence, the figures are immediately recorded on an annulled ballot paper and posted outside the electoral college for the information of the whole population.
I have already mentioned the role the Party plays.
The electoral act is not the sum of democracy in our country. It is our duty to mention some elements of our representative system here, and I would like to use Article 68 of the Constitution of the Republic as my basis.
In this Article the Constitution states: “That state bodies be formed and perform their duties on the basis of the principles of socialist democracy that are expressed in the following rule:
All representative bodies of state power are elective and renewable.
The popular masses control the activity of state bodies, of the deputies of the representatives and of the officials.
The electors are obliged to offer reports on their activities and may be removed form their post at any time.
Every state body broadly develops, within the parameters of its competence, initiatives designed to utilize local resources and possibilities and the involvement of social and mass organizations in its activity.
The rulings of higher state bodies are obligatory for inferior bodies.
The inferior state bodies answer to their superiors and must provide reports on their operations.
Freedom of discussion, the exercise of criticism and self-criticism and the subordination of the minority to the majority govern in state collegial bodies”
I would like to pause momentarily here on the theme of the National Assembly.
Our National Assembly is a single-chamber body, formed solely of deputies.
It is not permanent body, unlike in other places, the deputies are not professional politicians and we don’t earn a salary for this activity, they are honorary positions that we hold with great pride and satisfaction. Even in cases where some of us chair a commission or some such other task, we do not earn a wage.
All the deputies provide progress reports on their activities before the municipal assembly of the people’s power that nominated him/her.
Currently, the National Assembly of the People’s Power is made up of 601 deputies, of which 166 (27.6%) are women; 189 are aged between 18 and 40 (31.4%); 374 between the ages of 41 and 60 (62.2%) and 38 comrades are older than 60 (0.6%).
What is more, it is worth noting that 24.13% of deputies are directly involved in production or services, are workers of this country; 10.65% are involved in other activities within the country, but the vast majority are involved in production. As you mentioned earlier, another considerable number are representatives in the municipal assemblies of the people’s power, in other words, comrades of the foundations of power that also form part of the National Assembly.
As I said just now, the National Assembly is not a permanent organ and therefore from its members it elects a Council of State which, whilst the National Assembly is not in session, is the supreme body of state power. It was for this reason that I commented on the specific case of the President of the Council of State, but the same could be said of the 31 members of this Assembly. These undergo two electoral processes: firstly to be elected deputy and secondly, the direct and secret vote that takes place within the National Assembly to select the members of the Council of State.
There is something important to highlight here: every single deputy elected to the National Assembly is interviewed by the Candidacy Commission in order to present their candidacy for the Council of State, everyone from the President of the Council of State to a simple deputy. Every deputy attends this interview with 31 nominations and it is from there that the proposed candidacy is constituted.
Lastly, I would like to mention the legislative process as the utmost expression of democracy in our country, although time is short I feel it is my duty to do so.
When the National Assembly meets some people comment: ”But they hardly discuss anything.” This is the bread and butter in other places. I have known people, deputies and senators in other countries who do not earn three or four thousand dollars, they earn 10, 11, 20 000 dollars. There was a big scandal recently in a Latin American country with an extremely difficult economic situation in which the Congress took the savine decision to increase its own salaries. This occurred in a country we are very familiar with because we often visit.
When we meet in plenary session in the National Assembly in Cuba, intense efforts to achieve a consensus on the issues to be discussed has already been made. I have three concrete example here not to talk in mere theory.
On July 13th 2000 we approved the Law of the People’s Councils. Let me make the following analysis here: we have never considered our system to be perfect; we are in a continuous process of improvement, of perfection, in the search for improved results in the genuine and effective democracy in Cuba. This Law of the People’s Councils is complementary to the democratic life of the nation. When we met in the Assembly to discuss this project, the 11th version was finally approved; in other words ten versions had already been discussed.
The first stage – I was able to talk to comrade Cárdenas about this recently, he presides over the Local Bodies Commission in the Assembly – was to meet with a group of experts from the municipal and provincial assemblies where the first version of this law was drafted. Two further meetings were then held in every province with the presidents of the People’s Councils of the entire nation. These presidents were not deputies. Still later, another meeting was held in every province with the presidents of the councils who were deputies. Finally, two research tours of the entire country were made on different occasions with the participation of all the country’s deputies.
During this whole process, 1 600 opinions were collected and duly analyzed by this law’s working group.
Another law I would like to mention is the Law of Mandate Revocation of those elected to the Bodies of the People’s Power, Law 89, passed on the 14th of September 1999. What we approved in the Assembly was version 21; 22 bills or draft bills had undergone a similar analysis to which I referred.
And finally, what is the Assembly currently working on? We are working to take the Law of Agricultural Cooperatives to the next term of ordinary sessions. And what is being done with this Law of Agricultural Cooperatives, comrades? It is being discussed with every rural nucleus in the country, with every rural inhabitant and every family that will be affected by this law.
On the presentation of this law, on completion of this consultative process, Comrade Lugo recently informed the President of the National Assembly that meetings had been held in 3351 agricultural, credit and service cooperatives where 212 779 cooperative workers and their families, 89% of all possible attendees, participated. Opinions and judgements were offered and collected. This consultation is now complete and the deputies’ process is beginning. A national tour will begin this month to discuss this bill province by province with all the deputies. In other words, when the decision is finally taken by the Assembly’s leadership to present this law in the period of ordinary sessions, it has already been discussed at length and consensus between all the members of the Assembly has been sought.
It is not only the deputies that participate in this process, the opinions of the mass organizations and of expert organizations are heard; the universities and scientists and anyone else with an interest in offering their judgement are welcome to do so. A similar process, although on a smaller scale, occurs in the Council of State.
Every time the Council of State approves a Decree-Law it does not merely pass this amongst its 31 members and then take a decision. No, it is rather circulated amongst a broad social spectrum whose opinions are heard and considered, the project is discussed and is circulated once more until consensus is reached. Consensus and the active presence of the people have always defined the course of the Revolution. Therefore, when I heard comrade Miguel talking of the myths of American democracy, and because of everything I have presented here, I can confidently state that the principles behind the People’s Power Bodies of the country mean that the power of the people, and oh what power, in Cuba is not a myth, it is a reality.
Randy Alonso.- As you were saying, our democratic system is as yet imperfect, but it is, nevertheless, the most democratic in any society of our time, allowing the participation of the people in society at every level and through every action.
A vivid example of what our democratic system really is and how our electoral system really works are the representatives of our electoral districts, the grassroots power, the real power of the people. Nuria Cepero has brought this report on Fidencio Rodríguez Lobaina, the representative of electoral district No. 20 in Old Havana, who has been working in the local bodies of the People’s for the last 25 years.
Nuria Cepero.- Fidencio Rodríguez Lobaina is of humble birth, 68 years ago in the Guantánamo municipality of San Antonio del Sur.
Today we are going to meet this modest man who is the representative of the People’s Power in electoral district No. 20 in the municipality of Old Havana in the capital. It was his own neighbors who nominated him and subsequently elected him representative in the first People’s Power elections in 1976. He has been their representative for the last 25 years.
Fidencio Rodríguez.- Nobody has helped us to stay in the representatives’ job; the people elected us, and they have kept electing us right up to today.
Nuria Cepero.- His own supporters say that Fidencio is tireless. His electoral district and the ‘Plaza Vieja’ People’s Council he has chaired since 1995 support this statement. Not a single problem that emerges in that tumultuous area escapes his notice and dedicated efforts.
Fidencio Rodríguez.- The population has confidence in us, and where there are problems that can’t be solved we explain why they can’t be solved. The most important thing is that the people are informed. The population usually agrees that if you can’t solve a problem you must at least explain it to them and tell them the truth.. I have always tried, ever since I became a representative, to hide nothing, to never lie and to always say what can and what can’t be resolved.
Nuria Cepero.- Do people like you?
Fidencio Rodríguez.- We think so. We think so because the people that are elected every year are always comrades that attend to the people’s needs, and sees their problems as if they were his own, and is loved by everyone because there has never been any problems, as far as possible – as I’ve already told you – problems are solved whenever the population...
Nuria Cepero.- Is he a good man?
Voter.- He is a good man, he’s very modest, from a very modest family. He doesn’t have it easy.
Voter.- He is always very concerned about the people’s conditions, about the health conditions mainly. With regards to those of us who work in health, he is always looking after us, improving conditions in special social cases, of the cases with any problems.
Voter.- He is a very good man, much loved by everybody, very concerned about everybody, he sacrifices himself for all of us. I can certainly say that of him.
Nuria Cepero.- Fidencio is one of the thousands of representatives across the length and breadth of the country that have been nominated and elected by his own neighbors. People for whom rest is a thing of the past and whose greatest reward is serving as loyal defenders of the interests of the people, a people who wisely know who their true representatives are.
Randy Alonso.- Everything we have heard about our electoral system, about or our system for the democratic participation of the people, about the example offered by Fidencio, elected by the people to work for that very same people, everything was and continues to be olympically overlooked by President Bush who cynically declared in the Miami meeting room: “We are in an era in which all nations in our hemisphere have chose the path of democracy, except Cuba.”
What do the Latin Americans think of their democracies? I would like to present a survey carried out last year that shows some interesting results.
Journalist.- And only one in four Latin Americans are satisfied with their democracy and less than half support it as the best political system. This figure is drawn from a survey carried out in 17 countries in our region.
Alberto Pando reports from Santiago de Chile.
Alberto Pando (Chile).- Democracy, a government of the people has no meaning anymore for Latin American people. So declares the Latin Barometer, a study carried out by a private company in 17 countries in the region.
In 1996, 60% supported democracy, now only 48% prefer it. Ex-Chilean President, Patricio Aylwin is concerned.
Patricio Aylwin.- In democratic countries human rights, people’s freedoms, life, privacy are all respected, whereas in dictatorships the truth is that human rights are ignored, people disappear, or are arrested summarily or are simply murdered, as happened in Chile during the dictatorship.
Alberto Pando.- Some suggest the economic crisis and the low prestige of some politicians could have provoked this crisis of credibility. This opinion is shared by the survey’s organizers.
Angélica Speich.- Since the installation of the new democracies there has been an explosion in people expectations and these have not been met, even less so during the economic crisis. This inevitably leads to reduced support.
Alberto Pando.- To such a degree that 51 % now consider economic development as more important that democracy, compared to only 25% who believe the opposite.
The judiciary, the Parliament and the political parties are the institutions in which Latin Americans show less confidence.
Randy Alonso.- This is the democracy implanted throughout Latin America, except Cuba, to which Bush refers. An utterly discredited democracy for both the system and for the political parties.
Lázaro Barredo will talk to us on this theme.
Lázaro Barredo.- Every time the presidents meet, let’s say in the Summit of the Americas, or in a Rio Group meeting, we always hear politicians, especially US politicians, saying that the only country with no democracy is absent. They constantly attempt to play down the importance of Cuba’s participative system.
President Alwyn’s statements are no surprise. If we look at history, 40 years have passed since the creation of the Alliance for Progress, that the United States supported with a 20 000 million dollar budget, at the rates existing then. 40 years! The United States went to all this effort in an attempt to isolate Cuba, to counter-act Cuba’s example, Cuba’s alternative. 40 years of civil and military governments, of liberals and conservatives, populists and fascists, developmentalist, protectionist, and neo-liberal doctrines. The result? Over half of the Latin American population lives in poverty with an obvious trend towards political and democratic marginalization 40 years afterwards.
In Costa Rica, the “Switzerland of Central America”, elections have just been held in which 44% of the electorate did not vote, and this is the lowest abstention rate in Latin America. In other countries 50% or 60% of the people don’t bother, not seeing what politics has to do with their lives.
I can show many declarations of Costa Ricans explaining why they didn’t vote. They say they were not prepared to favor the increase of the corruption of their governors, they don’t trust their own leaders, they don’t believe in the political parties, they don’t believe in Latin American political institutions. This is the big disappointment. What happens in the United State is spreading to Latin America: big money involved in campaigns to generate motivation amongst the people; campaigns in which – and this is truly unbelievable – the entire political discourse is against neo-liberalism. Once safely elected as presidents, these same people apply ever more neo-liberalism. This is what is happening. It is more than just talking about abstentionism, about just declaring that the biggest party in Latin America is the abstention party, it is facing the fact that these presidents are loosing popularity, to such an extent that the people no longer believe in them. Take Alejandro Toledo for example, who two thirds of the Peruvian population don’t trust, have no faith in what he is doing; look at president Fox, where almost 65% of people in a recent survey expressed skepticism on what he is doing; and president Moscoso in Panama where 50% of the population don’t believe her government. We could carry on with individuals such as Duhalde, of the amusing Uruguayan, Batlle, in whose country the people have no future, no security, they go to sleep every night not knowing what will happen the next day, not to mention the other characters such as the “breath of fresh air” that runs the San Nicolás del Peladero[*] of Central America.
Frankly, the most outrageous thing is to hear how these people use the word democracy, in the permanent verbal diarrhea they suffer from in their speeches, taking important decisions without bothering to consult anyone anymore.
Menem, by way of example, changed the entire Argentinean economic panorama in one afternoon when he signed the country away to privatization.
They consult no-one, not even enough to keep up appearances in their parliaments. We have just seen a stark example of this in the vote in the Commission on Human Rights – the Mexican Congress opposed the vote, the Peruvian Congress opposed the vote, the Argentinean Congress opposed the vote, and the presidents didn’t pay them the slightest attention.
The truly important decisions are not discussed with anyone anymore, except perhaps the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank who are the ones really laying down the law. These are the big clients and from here springs the clientilism that reigns in Latin American politics.
Finally, and most outrageous, they spend all their time talking, or at least recommending others to call referendums, but they don’t dare, don’t even dream of calling referendums on the barbarities that they themselves do, on the privatization of oil, of the banks and service, of the mortgaging of their very nations. These things are never put to popular referendum.
Latin America is swept by a wave of neo-authoritarianism, a new brand of government in the style of the military regimes in which these individuals are constantly talking of democracy.
In conclusion, really I think what is being established in Latin America is not just the new Monroe doctrine, it is a new Platt Amendment for Latin America. Protest against this has already emerged as we saw in the scenes in the Chamber of Deputies in Argentina where a deputy from the Congress asked that a new flag be raised, the flag of the stars and stripes. I think this sums up just what is happening in our continent.
Randy Alonso.- This is the democracy that Mr. Bush proposes for us, the combination of Cuba of the 1950s and modern day Latin America, in which the most important party is that of the widespread abstention. The people no longer believe in either political parties or politicians.
An example of this disgrace is the case of Peru.
Journalist.- Many Peruvians are keen to show President Alejandro Toledo that they don’t want him anymore because he has not fulfilled many of the promises made in his campaign. The polls are against him and when the people see him in public they shout at him, heckle him and even threaten to attack him.
María L. Martínez.- Alejandro Toledo has only been in power for 11 months and he already suffers massive unpopularity and the disenchantment of a public that once more heckled him in a public appearance forcing him to retreat into his protected car. The President’s defenders claim his opponents are behind these street counterdemonstrations, but the people continue to accuse him of failing to meet his promises and cry for work.
Citizen.- No more promises, no more promises, no more promises.
Citizen.- The people want to work.
Citizen.- Don’t make any more promises, man, there’s no work. That’s why the people are angry.
Citizen.- The people reject him for many reasons, firstly because there is no work and secondly because in his last election campaign he made a lot of promises.
Citizen.- We just want work, work, nothing else; we don’t want anything but work.
Citizen.- Ever since he came into the government the businesses have been going bust.
María L. Martínez.- Toledo has been reluctant to comment on his plummeting popularity in the polls which, according to the Empresa Analistas y Consultores is as low as 23%.
Commentators admit that it is too early to judge his office, but more than one believes it is his economic program that should be altered.
The discontent spills onto the streets and into the constant demonstrations around the country.
Bush’s visit raised Toledo’s profile, but the effect is rapidly wearing off.
The government asks for patience to allow the effects of the economic plan, classified as stable by risk-assessment agencies, to be felt.
Randy Alonso.- this is an example of what is occurring in Latin America, an example of what Mr. Bush’s lessons are guiding towards, this from a man who doesn’t realize that democracy is so much more than elections. I would like to give the final word on this theme to Renato Recio.
Renato Recio.- To be honest, Bush – as we have said so often already – should refrain from talking of democracy because he himself occupies the presidency wholly illegally. The history of the American governments in this respect should also keep him quiet, governments long before his own in which the double-speak of “free elections” that are never free was already widespread.
The United State has often manipulated, sabotaged or prevented these same “free elections” whenever it was convenient for them to do so in whichever country you may mention, especially in the Third World. This has occurred many times.
Firstly, for example, the ex-president Dwight Eisenhower wrote a book in 1963 in which he admitted that his government obstructed the elections in Vietnam in 1953 because it was predicted that 80% of the population were going to vote for Ho Chi Minh instead of the puppet of the French regime, Bao-Dai.
Secondly, US governments do not and cannot tolerate – another of their infuriating practices – popular governments emerging from “free elections” as they themselves exhort. Three are many examples: Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954; the notorious case of Salvador Allende in 1973; the Sandinistas in the 1980s and the recent example I am sure is in everyone’s mind, Hugo Chávez, bombarded by the full bulk of American power in an attempt to crush his government. They supported a coup, as everyone knows, against possibly the most justly elected President the world has ever know. These are their double standards, the opportunistic use of the concept of “free elections”.
Thirdly, United States governments have wholeheartedly supported all sorts of fraudulent elections in countries where it was in its own advantage to do so, using electoral rigging and that kind of thing.
In Republican or pseudo-Republican Cuba there were endless cases of this nature, but they have also occurred in Panama, in the Dominican Republican, El Salvador, in a long list of countries.
I think this already discredits the concept of “free elections” that Bush proposes to us. Furthemore, the Cuban people, the cultured, educated and well prepared Cuban people will never accept the idea that elections and democracy are mutually inclusive. We certainly appreciate the importance of suffrage as an intrinsic element of the concept of democracy, but attending periodic elections, depositing the ballot paper in the box does not remotely constitute democracy, as I think Toledo has already made clear.
We Cubans know that elections where half or less than half of the electorate participate cannot constitute democracy; governments elected, as we have seen this afternoon, with 25% or 30% or sometimes even less of the electorate cannot be considered democratic; electorates with 20 to 30% of their number unable or barely able to read or write cannot be expected to participate in real democracy. This is the situation that occurs with such frequency in countries impoverished by the very system that this electoral process advocates.
After exercising their right to vote these people have no further input. There are examples of this every day in surveys where the voters admit that they no longer support the candidate they elected just a few months before. These people have no way of forcing the candidate to honor the grand promises made. There is no accountability, there is no way to change governors, no way to demand accountability. And it is in this climate, this moment of supreme neo-liberalism that the governors bombastically declare they are not responsible for the most important things, the things that make abuse their populations and make them suffer, as we saw in the case of the Peruvians demanding work, work, work. When you say to a governor today: “Unemployment is soaring and salaries are falling.” This governor says: “No, we aren’t responsible for that, that is world trade that is slowing down, we can’t do anything about it.”
When child mortality rises for example, a governor might say: ”No, no, that’s not my fault. The thing is that the poor have no sex education and they breed like rabbits.”
There are countries where paramilitary groups not officially linked to the government murder and repress and the politicians say: No, no, that’s nothing to do with me, that’s not a state issue, not a government issue at all.” This happens all the time.
The theory of free elections has reached the dizzy peak of governments who feel no responsibility and are not ashamed to declare the fact.: this is the Monetary Fund, contemporary globalization, that kind of thing.
I think that the proposal, that is not really a proposal, but a demand as Randy said at the outset; Bush’s demand that Cuba holds the kind of elections that he and his cronies call “free elections” is really the demand that the Cuban people unconditionally surrender before that hegemonic power. I think Bush and most of his people should already know, and if they don’t then they definitively will know, that we Cubans haven’t the slightest intention of surrendering or in using, practicing or even believing in the false “free” democracy they demand of us.
Randy Alonso.- Thank you Renato for your comments. Thank you also to the rest of the panelists and our studio guests who have accompanied us this afternoon.
With bald audacity and utter cynicism president Bush went to Miami on the 20th of May for nothing other than to give us Cubans a lesson on free, transparent and supposedly democratic elections. Lacking all scruples and the most basic dignity, Mr. Bush proclaimed himself the champion and teacher of democracy, in a hall in Miami, surrounded by anti-Cuban terrorist mob who helped him to the unprecedented and scandalous theft of the US elections of 2000, just like in La Chambelona in Cuba before 1959.
Not a single line of Bush’s “democratic lesson” was dedicated to the 56 million Americans who did not register in the last elections; to the 19 million who registered but did not go to the ballot boxes on elections day, to the 5 million whose votes disappeared; for the black voters who were denied their electoral rights; for the millions who voted for the candidate who obtained the popular majority and then woke up one month later to discover that five judges had decided to grant the presidency to someone else.
Mr. Bush also failed to mention that the last elections were the most expensive of all time, with the exorbitant sums of money involved coming almost exclusively from 1% of the population, from the owners of the large corporations who after all stand to gain the most from the political actions of senators, representatives and members of the administration.
With his cynical words, Mr. Bush omitted to mention that while he came to power in an election where barely half of the voters turned out, in the last Cuban elections 98.1% electorate went to vote.
What the American head of state did not say was that far from the squandering of millions of dollars the Cuban electoral process involves no expenses other than the running of the electoral commission and the printing of the ballot papers. What is more there are no slur campaigns between candidates, there is no discrimination based on color, or background, there are no financial requirements to be nominated candidate, the individual merits of the nominee is all that counts.
Mr. Bush forgot to say that while the United States elections are a circus of millionaires, the supreme power in Cuba, the National Assembly, is made up of workers, farmers, students, scientists, teachers, artists and grassroots representatives.
In short Mr. Bush, you know what you can do with your lessons. We Cubans learnt to win and defend our rights 40 years ago, when Martí showed us the way with his teaching that “the best way to defend our rights is by knowing them well; only then will we have faith and strength. The whole nation will remain unsatisfied unless all its children are educated.”
In the fight for education and justice we Cubans raise our imperfect but authentic and true democracy.
The fight will continue!
[*] San Nicolás del Peladero: A TV show that depicted and critized the political life before the Revolution.