A Costa Rican journalist reports that Cuban dictator Raúl Castro claimed at the Summit of the Americas this past weekend that he will step down as head of state in 2018 and implied that Cuba may hold elections to replace him.
Glenda Umaña, an 18-year veteran of CNN who left the network in November 2014, was working at the Summit on behalf of the Panamanian network Telemetro, though she issued her short report on Castro via Facebook. “He told me that he would remain in power until 2018, and I asked him if there would be elections then, to which he replied: ‘there have always been elections in Cuba,” she wrote on the social network page. She also writes that he claims not to be interested in ever visiting Washington, D.C., but that he would like to see Miami.
In addition to relaying Castro’s comments on the election, she posted a short video, sent by a colleague, of her speaking to Castro. Castro kept the volume of his voice so low that most of his remarks are not audible, though he can he heard saying he was “excited” to attend the Summit of the Americas and calling the administration of President George W. Bush a “disaster.”
This year marked Castro’s inaugural visit to the Summit of the Americas, having been barred from all previous conferences as the leader of an autocratic state and followed President Barack Obama’s concessions to Castro in December. At least three major instances of threats and violence against Cuban dissidents–who were invited to the Summit as an attempt to give a legitimate voice to the Cuban people at the conference–were recorded, all at the hands of Cuban agents. Cuban agents arrested and threatened with violence political activist Rosa María Payá when she landing in Panama City; the Panamanian government subsequently apologized. The next day, Cuban government agents interrupted a ceremony by former prisoners of conscience at a public statue of Cuban revolutionary hero José Martí, prompting a melee caught on video in which communist Cubans can be seen beating dissidents violently in broad daylight. That evening, another group of communist Cuban agents stormed out of a pre-Summit civil society event, attacking dissidents who had been invited to the event and blocking the doorways along with Venezuelan allies, thus keeping representatives from other countries from attending the event in time.
The experiences of Cuban dissidents at the Summit of the Americas echo those on the island where, under Raul Castro, the Cuban government has broken numerous records in mass arrests of those calling for political and religious freedom, many of these arrests occurring during illegal Sunday Catholic masses.
President Obama, who arrived at the summit on Friday, did not address Castro agents’ multiple physical attacks on Cuban dissidents. Instead, he shook Castro’s hand and had a short discussion with the head of state, in which he refused to take blame for sanctions against Cuba and resolutely declared that “the Cold War is over.” President Obama also shook hands with the continent’s other socialist dictator, Venezuelan head of state Nicolás Maduro, who described his encounter with Obama as “cordial.”
Castro did not elaborate to Umaña what he meant by his claim that “Cuba has always had elections.” Cuba has occasionally held “elections” in which citizens are not allowed to vote for candidates outside of the Cuban Communist Party, widely labeled a “sham.” Cuban Communist Party candidates run unopposed even within their own party, guaranteeing that only those whom Castro wishes will be granted the very minimal legislative authority his regime allows the Parliament to hold. During the last parliamentary elections in 2013, only one choice was on the ballot across the nation for every position, something the Cuban government celebrated as a success, even leading to a public appearance by long-ailing former dictator Fidel Castro.