Years of masks, whispers and fears have made Cubans find delving into political issues as difficult as delving into enigmatic, dark abyss. The few surveys and inquiries conducted independently in recent decades have encountered a suspicion that leads us to question: Why are you asking me that? What will you do with the information?
However, there are times when our actions are the most conclusive and direct of responses. As in the elections held last Sunday for the Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power, where more than 1.7 million people didn’t vote, annulled their ballot, or left it blank, or even voted for one of the only two opposition candidates.
With as 88.3% participation, any foreign observer would think that we take the district elections very seriously. Amid voter apathy of so many democratic countries, the participation of Cuban voters could be misinterpreted as a sign of civility, but in fact it is evidence of the tight controls under which we have lived for over half a century. Going to the polls does not signal assent or support.
To not vote or abstain has for too long signified a act that marks us as disaffected or counterrevolutionaries, in a country where ideological fidelity opens doors, guarantees futures and results in privileges. On the other hand, the act of selecting our representatives has been taken over by automatic behavior, aware of our limited power to influence the solution of local and national problems.
The district delegate becomes a sort of scapegoat, one whose management capabilities are limited and lacking in autonomy
The district delegate becomes a sort of scapegoat, a target of the complaints and demands, but one whose management capabilities are limited and lacking in autonomy. How many years have to told this people’s representative, in successive “accountability meetings,” about the poor quality of the bread, the deterioration of the streets? Without, in the three decades of their existence, these figures managing to improve anything.
Hence the phrase, “everything, if nothing is going to change,” repeated by millions of voters, who also counsel their friends, “Go to vote so they don’t single you out.” A combination of disbelief and faking it, skepticism and fear, has been the principle force for “going through the motions” of marking a ballot, folding it and placing it in a ballot box as closely watched as it is ineffective. A reflexive gesture, some unavoidable paperwork that many try to get done with as quickly as possible, with neither hope nor confidence.
A combination of disbelief and faking it, skepticism and fear, has been the principle force for “going through the motions” of marking a ballot
To the more than 1.7 million Cubans who this weekend showed their disinterest or disagreement with the elections, the same number or twice as many individuals who think the same might join them, but they are afraid of standing out. For every person who doesn’t enter the polling station, scribbles on the ballot, or just writes nothing on it, should be added many more who wanted to but didn’t dare to be so bold. The voting booth might have hidden cameras – they think fearfully – or the ballot could be marked to detect disobedience, they tell themselves.
The president of the National Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro, said the nearly six percentage point drop in attendance compared to the last municipal elections was due to the absence of the “hundreds of thousands of Cubans” who are traveling abroad. The official has to know that this explosion of travel is also a way to vote against a system that hampers their personal and professional development within national borders.
It is worth emphasizing that the brave who chose not to give in to their fears are more than double the number of those who are active in the Communist Party. The courage it takes for the former far exceeds the effort to pay the annual dues of an organization that has hijacked the name of the country and boasts of representing the soul of all its citizens. In the ranks of those who refused to validate their vote is, therefore, greater willpower and honesty.
This Sunday, we sent a loud and clear message. Without our agreement, without spaces for us in the national mass media, and even in the face of possible punishments, 1.7 million Cubans stepped from the shadows of faking it to the harsh sun of assuming our positions publicly. A force for change that the government fears and that the dissent should channel.