Cuban Ambassador on Sunday's elections

Campaign News | Sunday, 20 January 2008

As his country votes, Cuban ambassador to Britain RENE MUJICA CANTELAR tackles criticism of its electoral system

by Richard Bagley for the Morning Star, UK

THE contrast couldn't be clearer. As the media circus surrounding this year's United States presidential elections plays to the candidates' multimillion-dollar tune, elections 90 miles away in Cuba on Sunday were noticeably short on hype.

But, while the second phase of the island's elections may lack the big-money razzamatazz that increasingly defines Western polls, Cuban ambassador to Britain Rene Mujica Cantelar believes that its absence is a key strength of his country's parliamentary system.

His message is effectively that, while the Cuban system may not be perfect, it gives the average citizen a lot more say over their representatives than the flawed multiparty structure seen in the US, one that Washington would love to impose on the people of Cuba.

"We do not claim that our system is perfect," says Mujica. "We think it's a good system - better than that which the US wants to impose on us, but we think that it can be improved and perfected.

"There is a widespread view that there are no regular or free elections - or any, for that matter. The media talks of a Cuban dictatorship.

"In fact, since 1976, there have been regular elections for all levels of its government - to the municipal, provincial and national assemblies and to the highest organs of power," says the ambassador.

For the uninitiated, Cuban general elections have two key phases. The first took place last October, when over 50,000 candidates nominated locally at grass-roots level contested 15,236 municipal assembly places.

Mujica explains that no candidate is permitted to solicit for voters' support. Instead, their biographies are posted locally before a poll.

The successfully elected municipal assembly candidates, who remain unpaid, as are all but a few of the highest elected representatives in the Cuban system, then decide who from among their ranks will compose around half of the candidates on a national assembly list. The rest are put forward by grass-root organisations such as the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, the Cuban Workers' Confederation, the Cuban Women's Federation and the Federation of University Students.

On Sunday, Cubans voted on whether to endorse the proposed lists of 614-national assembly and 1,202 provincial assembly delegates, who must each win over 50 per cent of the vote to take their seat.

The national assembly, in turn, elects a 31-member council of state from its members, including its president, currently Fidel Castro, who nominates the council of ministers - the cabinet - for the national assembly's approval.

"One important characteristic which distinguishes the Cuban system from any other is that candidates are nominated directly by the people or their elected representatives, not parties," says Mujica.

"Any citizen able to elect or be elected can nominate a candidate. Voters don't have to just accept candidates proposed by a party elite as in other systems, and the US for that matter."

For Mujica, this is one of the crucial characteristics that renders the Cuban system superior to Western-style multiparty democracies - particularly in the US.

"Some of the same people who call the Cuban system undemocratic tend to view the US system, in which only the rich have access to government, as democratic," he says.

"Any Cuban citizen could become a member of the national, municipal or provincial assembly without paying one cent."

The ambassador highlights the nature of elections in Cuba's hostile neighbour.

"A multiparty set-up doesn't provide more alternatives - that is an absolute deception.

"No matter how many parties you have, in all cases, a multiparty structure restricts the means and ways in which the people may take part in the nomination of elected representatives.

"The trick in any democracy is not in the election, it is in the nomination. When you go to cast your vote, whoever controls the options controls the result. Party elites, they control the results.

"In the US, there are only two parties - only two sources for nominating candidates. The US system is peculiar because candidates are often self-promoted or drafted by parties.

"So much money is required to become a presidential candidate that the pool of options is severely limited.

"That doesn't happen in our system - it is citizens who control the options. Our system is more democratic hands down."

Although many candidates are members of the Cuban Communist Party, a fact which Mujica acknowledges, he rejects criticism that the party determines candidates as a "falsification."

"The party plays no role and there is no requirement to be a member. Not all the candidates are members of the Communist Party.

"I presume that the majority are members of the party, because those people who are more committed, more engaged, will tend to be nominated," he says.

Certainly, the final make-up of the list for the national assembly would put most Western legislatures to shame in terms of gender and ethnicity. Women formed over 42 per cent of nominees, explains Mujica, while at least 36 per cent are of black or mixed-race origins.

And, while just over 36 per cent of the list is made up of individuals seeking re-election, the remainder are new faces. If approved, they will meet twice a year for a full session of the assembly to consider the policies being pursued by the council of state. However, many of the national assembly's members will be drafted into special permanent commissions that each oversee an important area of policy.

Among the names that reappeared on the list this year was one Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, whose poor health has been the subject of intense media speculation over recent months.

Mujica comments: "Constituents exercised the right to nominate him like any candidate. As a deputy, he has the right to be elected.

"He has indicated that he will not stand in the way of younger leaders. At the same time, he has indicated that, if the assembly thinks that he can still be useful, he's prepared to be on hand. He's not asking to retire, but deputies have to weigh up all the considerations."

While Mujica is understandably unable to second guess the results of Cuban elections, all the signs are that Castro will win a national assembly seat representing a constituency in eastern Santiago de Cuba.

However, by the time that the new parliament meets in February or March, Castro will have to decide whether to seek re-election to the presidency or take on a senior statesman role.

Whichever path the president chooses, one other interesting election statistic provided by Mujica should give Washington cause for concern.

The US is pinning its hopes for Cuban "regime change" on the post-Castro era. But, with over 60 per cent of national assembly candidates born after the 1959 Cuban revolution, it may yet be sorely disappointed.

For more information on Cuban elections go to:

Read Cubans head to polling booths at:

Or download Cuban article on their electoral system at:

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