Cuba’s political opposition has accused the government of blocking or scaring its candidates for the local elections this Sunday, and calls on Cubans to abstain from voting.
Municipal elections, which are held every five years, are one of the few opportunities ordinary citizens of the island have to participate directly in the electoral process.
The Cuban government says the system is a model of grassroots democracy, in which participants nominate candidates from their own neighborhoods in local assemblies and then freely vote for them.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted on Thursday that the upcoming vote was “a genuine expression of our participatory democracy.”
But the country’s opposition has been shattered since anti-government protests in July last year led to hundreds of people being tried and jailed for crimes ranging from disorderly conduct to vandalism and sedition.
Some have chosen to emigrate, while others say they were forced into exile. Those who remain say the government’s reaction has had a chilling effect on dissent.
“Obviously, this is affecting the ability of civil society to connect with what I consider to be the majority of citizens who seek change,” Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of the Council for the Democratic Transition in Cuba, told the Reuters news agency this week. . .
He said that the security of the Cuban State prevented the participation in their respective assemblies of the three opposition candidates with the greatest chances of winning.
The activist said he knew of only one opposition candidate, a 30-year-old baker named José Antonio Cabrera from Palma Soriano, a small town in eastern Cuba, out of more than 26,000 who had been nominated.
The government did not respond to a request for comment on Cuesta Morua’s accusations. Reuters was unable to independently verify his claims.
Yuliesky Amador, a law professor at Cuba’s University of Artemisa, told Reuters that “any Cuban citizen can be nominated.”
“The people nominate [the candidates]and having anti-government beliefs is not an impediment,” he said, adding that any other situation would be in contradiction with the constitution and laws of Cuba.
There are 26,746 candidates running for 12,427 district seats in Sunday’s elections, in a country of 11 million people. Campaigns are prohibited in Cuba, and candidates for district offices are nominated at neighborhood meetings based on personal merit, not political position.
They do not need to belong to the Communist Party. Some candidates are independent, but only a few opponents of the government have ever run. Cuba has long viewed opposition activity as subversive and says it is funded outside the island to foment unrest.
Cuba’s leaders say the country’s elections are more democratic than Western models, which they say are dominated by big business and corruption.
Reuters polled by telephone five prominent opposition activists who have remained in Cuba. None of them said he had plans to run in Sunday’s election, nor did they know of any opposition candidates who had been nominated.
“This is all a farce,” Berta Soler, leader of the dissident group Damas de Blanco, told Reuters by phone. “I don’t believe in the electoral system in Cuba.”
Instead, many activists have called on Cubans to abstain from voting.
The Archipelago opposition group, whose members are mainly based outside of Cuba, has asked voters to stay home, spoil their ballots or leave them blank.
“This could be a magnificent opportunity to say out loud to the regime and to the international community that the dictatorship no longer has the majorities it has boasted of for decades,” Archipielago said in early November.
Abstention has been increasing in recent years.
Cuba’s 1976 constitution was approved by 98 percent of voters, with turnout exceeding 98 percent, while the 2019 constitution was approved by nearly 87 percent of voters, with turnout dropping to 90 percent.
The government-backed referendum in September on Cuba’s Family Code won 67 percent approval. Turnout fell to 74 percent, a high level by international standards but an unprecedented low in Cuba since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959.