The communist government of Cuba has announced its candidates for the municipal “elections” scheduled for November 26, a vote which will feature zero opposition candidates on the ballot.
The elections to replace the current communist municipal leaders with other communist municipal leaders will precede a larger nationwide vote scheduled for 2018, according to Havana, which would allegedly follow the end of Raúl Castro’s tenure as dictator of the island.
Reuters, in a report on the event this week, declared the absence of any non-government-approved candidates on the ballots a “failure” on the part of the opposition.
“Cuban opposition leaders said they failed to get anyone nominated as a candidate for municipal elections, falling at the first hurdle as the Communist-run island embarks on a political cycle that will end 60 years of Castro brothers’ rule,” Reuters reported.
Reuters notes that the lack of alternatives to communist candidates was not a product of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the pro-democracy dissident movement—an “unprecedented” number of opposition advocates numbering in the hundreds attempted to get on their local ballots. Yet the government prevented most of these from attending public nomination events or threatened them with force if they did not back down from their intentions.
Reuters adds that, as the Cuban government controls almost all the nation’s media and chose not to mention any opposition candidates in their propaganda, that “most ordinary Cubans did not hear about them.”
The government has not confirmed to Reuters that none of the opposition candidates got on the ballot. To do so would require them to confirm that the unprecedented interest in independent campaigns exists.
Over 27,000 candidates are approved to appear on local ballots.
By the end of October, the Cuban government had made clear that elections were a privilege reserved for communists. The Spain-based Diario de Cuba reported at the beginning of November that dissident groups did not believe they had managed to get any of their figures nominated.
“Some of [the candidates] managed to keep a low profile and we do not know about them yet,” Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a spokesman for the alternative citizen’s group #Otro18, told Diario—meaning it was possible that some of the candidates in some Cuban neighborhoods were not communists, but had not revealed themselves to be dissidents before signing up for elections. The group confirmed in the Reuters report this week that none of their candidates made it through.
To Diario, Cuesta explained that state police “did not allow them [dissident candidates] to assist [nomination] assemblies, authorities turned the assemblies into acts of repudiation and implicated some candidates in criminal proceedings.” “Acts of repudiation” is a term commonly used in Cuba for mob assemblies used to shame dissidents in which they are insulted, shouted at, intimidated, and often physically attacked.
Another opposition group leader, Julio Antonio Aleaga Pesant of Candidates for Change, told Diario that the state used “arbitrary detentions, police situations, and heightened police presence in assemblies” to intimidate candidates out of the race that would not uphold the Castro regime’s interests.
In a video dated February, Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel asserted that the Cuban government was “taking all steps to discredit” non-communist candidates before the release of the ballots, as the appearance of any non-approved candidates on the ballot “would be a way to legitimize the ‘counter-revolution’ within our civil society.”
At least one dissident group, Cuba Decide, has called for a full boycott of the elections, arguing that there is no reason to believe the elections will be free and fair. Instead of choosing a candidate, Cuba Decide leader Rosa María Payá has advised supporters to write in “plebiscite” as a candidate.
The word “plebiscite” is supposed to indicate a desire to see a referendum on one question: “Are you in favor of the convocation of free, just, and pluralist elections, exercising freedom of expression and the press, and freely organized by political parties and social organizations with all plurality?”
“It makes no sense to legitimize this,” Payá explained on television this week.
The Ladies in White, one of the most effective dissident groups on the ground against communism in Cuba, has experienced an increase in violent attacks on their members in anticipation of the vote.
“The regime wants to do away with the Ladies in White before Sunday the 26th, when they will be holding fraudulent elections here in Cuba,” Berta Soler, the leader of the group, told Diario de Cuba:
There are Ladies in many neighborhoods who go out every Sunday and protest peacefully. The Cuban regime, on a weekly basis, prevents us from going out and saying ‘down with the dictatorship, down Raúl Castro and freedom for political prisoners.’ They are worried about how they are going to control us if there are elections to monitor and people will be out on the street.
The Ladies in White are a group of wives, mothers, daughters, and other relatives of political prisoners in Cuba. Their main act of resistance is to attend Sunday Catholic Mass weekly dressed in white and holding gladiolas and the photos of their imprisoned loved ones. They face weekly police brutality, “acts of repudiation,” and other intimidation.