Cuba: Why Do We Vote?

By Iroel Sánchez on March 14, 2023

It might not be the best of landscapes that Cuba finds itself in for the March 26 parliamentary election. A mix of causes for our situation today has been insisted upon us. The most cited: the unprecedented tightening of the U.S. blockade; the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic activity in general and tourism in particular; the global economic crisis, which mixes the effects of the pandemic with the addition of price increases resulting from the war in Europe; the slow implementation of the economic reform approved since the VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011 and a monetary reordering, which did not count on the arrival of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus nor on President Biden’s loyalty to the Trumpist policy towards Cuba.

For others, the view is not complete, if one does not go further back and start from what was happening in relation to the economy in Cuba before the first visible effects of these processes began to manifest themselves, in early 2020.

A Little Bit of Memory

A topic that is not usually mentioned is the situation of Cuba’s main economic and political ally: Venezuela. The reaction of some is predictable: “Why do we have to depend on what happens in another country, China, Venezuela or Russia?”.

Here we go: Cuba is besieged by a country that, being potentially its natural and closest market, outnumbers it 30 times in population, that employs all its enormous diplomatic, media and economic power, the largest in the world, to chase any vent that means Cuban income or transactions; And can’t a country without great resources in hydrocarbons, with not very fertile lands, poor in hydraulic resources, located in a place where intense hurricanes are frequent, try to compensate that enormous asymmetry with mutually advantageous relations with countries that, like it, and do not submit to U.S. hegemony?

Beyond geopolitics… is there a single tropical country, oil producing or not, that has achieved some level of development without foreign investment, without asymmetrical trade relations with the developed world, or without an open economy? Has it achieved it without relating to the US economy and without receiving credits from entities such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, controlled by the US and forbidden to Cuba; has any of them done so with laws such as the Helms-Burton and Torricelli laws against it? Too much like the story of the boxer who is yelled at to fight clean after being tied hand and foot.

How the U.S. actions against Venezuela are seen by those who promote them as a way to impede Cuba’s economic progress is shown by the early obsession with it, since 2014, of spaces very interested in the advance of socialism on the Island such as the U.S. governmental broadcaster Radio y Televisión Martí and the Madrid daily El País, in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I quote a few early texts, of the many possible ones, in a brief tour just as an example (La economía cubana sin Venezuela, El País, February 21, 2014; Cuba will experience a serious crisis if Venezuelan aid ends, December 9, 2015, El País; Cuba suffers “Venezuelan shock” due to slow reforms, Radio y tv Martí, July 27, 2016).

It is also true, but little said that, after the death of Hugo Chávez, in March 2013, and in parallel with the beginning of its negotiations with Cuba, the Government of Barack Obama unleashed an economic war against Venezuela, one of whose milestones was the declaration of the Bolivarian country as an unusual and extraordinary threat to the National Security of the United States, shortly before the Summit of the Americas in April 2015, in Panama.

And that attack on Venezuela, as El País would advance, was felt in Cuba.

In June 2016, the Cuban Government had to take unavoidable measures to face the consequences of a significant reduction in fuel shipments from Venezuela, based on bilateral agreements paid by the Island with health services for majority sectors of the Venezuelan people.

On the other hand, an analysis of the Plenary of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, which evaluated in that same 2016 the policies implemented since 2011, the year in which the updating of the economic and social model began, recognized “errors in the planning of the processes and in their control”, points out that “not always the Implementation Commission managed to involve the bodies, agencies, organizations and entities so that, from the base, they were able to guide, train, support, control and account for their management”, and raises “insufficient integrality, limited vision on risk levels and incomplete appreciation of costs and benefits”, in addition to the fact that “in some cases the follow-up and control of policies have been deficient, several of which were deviating from their objectives, without timely correction”, and refers to “the lack of a tax culture in the country, the still deficient use of accounting as a fundamental tool for any economic analysis”, but does not fail to mention “economic and financial limitations that made it impossible to adequately support a group of measures that required investments”.

In April 2016, barely a month before the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, Barack Obama visited Havana. His communication strategy insisted on two objectives: to erase the idea of the United States as an adversary of the Cubans and to emphasize the internal obstacles as the cause of the daily difficulties they face; but he did not have one word for us about the permanence of the U.S. blockade, much less to the growing political, economic and military aggressiveness of his administration against the country that had the greatest commercial exchange with Cuba at that time: Venezuela.

The private press with U.S. money, which emerged in Cuba from the second term of the Obama administration, predicted then the return of massive blackouts, a double-digit decline in the Gross Domestic Product and a return of the shortages that Cubans knew in the 90s of the last century, after the disappearance of the USSR and its favorable trade relations with it.

But the situation announced by Cuban analysts akin to George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and magazines paid from Miami did not arrive even then; so it would be necessary to further tighten the aggression against both nations.

In mid-2017, Donald Trump’s government began to rain on Cuba 243 additional measures to the blockade, at an average rate of one a week, but even in Cuba there were neither shortages nor blackouts as announced from Miami and Madrid.

In February 2019, on the border of Colombia with Venezuela, while a destabilization operation disguised as humanitarian aid was being carried out, in further proof of how much one thing has to do with the other, Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, a self-confessed promoter of all those Trump measures against Cuba, tweeted in bully mode, euphoric and threatening, to the Cuban President, “see you soon”. He is still expected in Havana.

Shortly after, in April of the same year 2019, a senior Washington official made clear the objective of the pressures on Venezuela, what the collaborators of El País and Radio and TV Martí had been demanding since Obama’s time was still being pursued, less diplomatically, in the Trump era: “While we do not expect immediate political change in Cuba, because of our direct sanctions on Venezuela and direct and indirect sanctions on Cuba, we believe that at least one result will be changes in the Cuban economy, because of what the [Juan] Guaidó Administration is doing with respect to oil exports to Cuba, and we are helping interim President Guaidó achieve his goal of no longer subsidizing the Cuban regime. Cuba will have to adjust to losing 30% or more of its heavily subsidized oil imports, and that means allowing a more market-based economy.”

Another blow had come shortly before from Brazil, when in late 2018 the government of Jair Bolsonaro canceled an agreement under which 11 000 Cuban doctors were working in that country, and which brought an estimated $400 million annually to Cuba.

However, in June 2019, even on the Island they were still maladjusted to what the Trump Government intended and their close colleagues writing in the great international press would have reason to despair: the new Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel was raising pensions and salaries of the budgeted sector, frozen for a long time, and despite facing the impact of the sanctions on shipping companies that transported fuel to Cuba, which caused tensions in the supply to gas stations and transport for several weeks in the second half of the year, it managed to weather the impact on public transport in a not very long time. Earlier, in another show of resilience, new collective cab services emerged in Havana and national railroads; while, at the end of that year, the Cuban capital celebrated its 500th anniversary in style.

Finding itself, as Trump’s officials announced, in the need for unforeseen expenses to invest a good part of its foreign currency in acquiring the fuel it used to receive from Venezuela, the Cuban economy did not collapse then either.

Five years after the double aggression with “direct sanctions” (against Cuba) and “indirect sanctions” (via Venezuela), Trump’s officials said, what was announced by El País and Radio and TV Martí -or would these prophetic beings be part of the psychological component of the war itself?- remained unfulfilled.

The 243 measures of the Trump Administration had to accumulate, including the cut in travel and remittances and the persecution of shipping companies transporting fuel to Cuba, crowned by the spurious designation of the Island as a country sponsoring terrorism; with its consequent impediments to international financial transactions, for the 2014 announcements to manifest themselves in accordance with the wishes of their auguries… six years later!

At the beginning of the second half of 2021, already with Biden in the White House, but with the same Trumpist policy towards the Island, the combination of a pandemic peak with the Delta variant of sars-cov-2, coupled with power and water outages, a shortage of retail trade already very noticeable, and the effects of a monetary reordering, which counted on a control of the pandemic and a change in U.S. policy that did not occur, brought to the streets on July 11 of that year the intoxicated irritation from the digital networks, in many cases resulting in vandalism.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, delayed his promised “review of the policy towards Cuba”, which, to this day, he has reviewed very little.

Earlier, in November 2020, people prepared for the U.S. regime’s strategy of change capitalized on the effect of a provocation masked as a defense of artistic freedom.

Disguised as defenders of freedom of expression, they managed to mix real artists in search of dialogue with trained provocateurs, and in a maneuver in front of the Ministry of Culture of the Island, just on the eve of Biden’s arrival at the White House, they made the most extremist sectors of Miami then demand a military intervention and turn the President, who would take office in January 2021, contrary to his campaign promises, into their friendliest and most compliant servant.

The recent total defeat of the Democratic Party in South Florida has proven the error of the bet to compete with the political ultra-right, which controls that state, on who is tougher on Cuba; but it is not yet apparent that what Marco Rubio openly calls “fear of the Cuban exile” has left the minds of those who decide U.S. foreign policy.

Only the sustained increase of Cuban migrants arriving at its border, spurred by the economic crisis in Cuba, to which the closure of its consulate in Havana and the magnet of an immigration policy that turns Cubans who manage to set foot on U.S. soil into refugees, made Washington return to talk with the Cuban government and reopen the services in its Havana embassy, while keeping more than 90% of the Trumpist sanctions in place.

On March 26

Calling repeatedly to the polls -six times in six years-, in the midst of the difficult scenario that Cuba has lived and is living, where daily life has been hit by shortages in the supply of all kinds of products, including medicines and food, high deficits in public transportation and systematic power cuts, is an act of courage that reveals a deep trust in the conscience of the people.

It is to assume that the majority of Cubans are politically literate enough to know that we are facing a brutal economic war and a communications war campaign to return us to pre-1959 pro-imperialist subordination and dependent capitalism.

Liberal democracy, which is sold to us as a model, is conceived for the reproduction of the capitalist system and, when, in spite of this, an alternative that could pose a threat to oligarchic interests reaches the Government, thanks to the erosion of the system itself and the consequent popular mobilization, the other powers are there to strike judicial, media, parliamentary and even military blows in defense of what they consider should be the natural order of things.

Everything is tried: the assassination of a candidate, the unjust imprisonment of another, or the threat of the banks, if it is not possible to prevent a leftist from governing and carrying out leftist policies as he promised to do.

For capital, democracy is only elections in which money and the media intervene in a decisive way, never in the power of the majorities, but always dependent on advertisers and shareholders. They are processes carried out in the midst of enormous economic, educational, cultural, communicational inequalities…, where representatives of the economic elites organized in political parties settle their differences in a great media spectacle to obtain, first financing and then votes.

Those who object to our democracy hide the fact that, in Cuba, without the intervention of money or any party, it is the neighbors, organized in neighborhood assemblies, who nominate candidates, who then go to a ballot up to eight in each district, and by secret vote of the citizens elect a delegate to the Municipal Assembly, which is the highest organ of power in each territory. Why don’t the candidates of the counterrevolution and liberal democracy win there? Why are they not, no longer a majority but, even if only, a tiny minority in that Municipal Assembly, made up of delegates directly elected by the people? Will the lists made depending on the loyalty to the interests of national and foreign financiers proposed as a model, be more democratic than those who vote in those assemblies to make up the highest power of the State, proposed by mass organizations made up of millions of citizens? Did we or did we not see the plenary sessions of those organizations at all levels proposing candidates? Candidates for which the people will again have to vote directly and secretly to form the National Assembly.

It is a system that may still be perfectible, but it is that of a country without illiteracy, with nine compulsory grades of education, where health and education are universal guarantees and citizens should not pay with their vote favors to politicians for access to these services, as it happened before 1959 and still happens in many countries.

The Cuban electoral exercise is closer to the democratic ideal advocated, but not practiced, by those who attack Cuba.

And beyond elections, Cuban society has many other forms of democratic participation and defense of the rights of workers, students and the inhabitants of the communities, superior to those of capitalism.

A participation that, although in its concrete practice may suffer from formalisms and deviations, which society itself and its leaders criticize, has nothing to do with the deformations caused by the economic interests that corrupt and dominate politics in most capitalist societies.

Others will decide this March 26 to coincide with the call of the haters, of Marco Rubio and the like, and thus facilitate, consciously or unconsciously, the work of those who have imposed the 243 new sanctions on us. It is their right and no one will bother them for exercising it. Their conduct, although the press that demands plurality and looks at us unanimously will not say so, will also be a resounding denial to those who claim that in Cuba repression and social control force people to behave in one way or another and obey calls such as the one to go and vote.

But for those of us who want a sovereign Cuba that continues to seek social justice against all odds, it is time to rise above doubts, mistakes and shortcomings and send a message of strength, unity and future.

There would be no worse mistake than doing what the enemy wants. To vote and to vote united is the energetic response to put the Homeland safe from those who dream of imposing here -through bloodshed- politicians at the service of mafias and lobbies, in the image and likeness of those who control Miami and controlled Cuba until 1958. For Cuba and against that we will vote on the 26th.

Source: La Pupilia Insomne, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – US