Another Point For The Cuban Human Rights Agenda / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 20 October 2016 — An article I wrote was
published on this site in March 2015, on the subject of the announcement
in the official Cuban press that a new electoral law was to be enacted
in Cuba in March 2018. The article raised more than a few stings because
– among other topics on the subject in question – it launched the idea
of demanding that the new law include the right of Cuban emigres to vote
in the Cuban elections, especially since, from the point of view of the
Cuban authorities, a large part of them are considered as 'nationals',
and their right to enter their native country is consequently subject to
compulsorily carrying their Cuban passport which identifies them as such.
Another element in favor of the proposal was the advantage emigres have
of living in a free society and of being able to develop campaigns
through different media demanding that elementary civil right, and to
As an added advantage, Cubans residing abroad, especially in the US, are
today one of the most important sources of foreign exchange in Cuba,
therefore they have emerged as an economic engine of paramount
importance for the country. If emigres are a substantial economic force,
it is fair that they should also establish a political force with full
participation and rights. Seen in perspective, this exodus can be a
formidable political pulse to force changes within Cuba.
Some commentators were shocked at what they considered "legitimization"
of Castro's electoral farce, others accused me of "pandering to the
regime," while the most benevolent and patronizing branded me as naive.
Well-known Cuban personalities who live abroad, with whom I shared my
thoughts and substantiated my views, had similar attitudes, though I
must admit they showed an interest in the subject. In any case, the
matter was not an absolute novelty. Years ago, the prominent Cuban
opponent Oswaldo Payá was taking advantage of cracks offered by the
Constitution to promote a referendum through the Varela Project, and
surprised public opinion when around 25,000 signatures of voters within
Cuba were collected, despite the repression and all the risks involved
in so daunting a task in conditions of dictatorship.
There were those who mistakenly believed that the Varela Project was a
failure. On the contrary, not only did it demonstrate the ability to
seek the will of thousands of Cubans and to mobilize international
public opinion, but it placed the dictatorship on the defensive, forced
it to activate a scandalous plebiscite that revealed the government's
farce and brought to light the weaknesses of the Castro regime's own laws.
Currently, voices and projects have emerged that propose substantial
changes to consider in the new electoral law, announced by the
government for 2018, including the right of all Cubans to vote.
Fortunately, many groups among Cuba's internal independent civil society
and among its diaspora consider the moment conducive to influencing,
from an inclusive legal framework, a move towards a democratic Cuba.
Of course, recognizing the emigres' rights to participate in the
elections would imply a profound and radical transformation of the
current electoral law, which to date has not only had an ideologically
narrow-minded nature, but also is instituted based on 'geographical'
budgets. Except for those on official "missions" abroad, who can vote in
polling places set up where they are at the time, voters must cast
ballots for a candidate in the constituency where they are registered,
and can only exercise this right if they are within the national
territory; and 'biographical' since they vote on the candidate's
profile, made up by the Municipal Electoral Commission itself (CEM), led
by the Communist Party (PCC) and not by a government program promoting
Since it's only been about voting for this or that candidate at the
service of the same government, and not for genuine representatives of
the interests of the electorate, the first change that the new electoral
law should contain is precisely to endorse the right to true elections
for all Cubans, independent of his country or area of residence. To this
should be added the demand for general elections and not for mere local
officials without real power and without any commitment to the electorate.
Obviously, we shouldn't expect that the olive green elite has the
intention to voluntarily give up their "election" privileges. Hence the
role of the body of emigres to add additional value, given its ability
to influence public opinion and policy areas from their places of
residence in order to put pressure on the Cuban authorities.
The worst is that not just the Cuban guerrilla gerontocracy shows
records of obstinacy, nor is it the only one that has great interests to
protect, but that it slows down any transition or opening in Cuba, even
under the rapprochement favored by the Obama's administration.
Certain groups of the "so-called historical emigration" (any resemblance
to the "historic generation" of the Palace of the Revolution is no mere
coincidence) are often as wedded to confrontation as the ancient Cuban
In this vein, perhaps the political representatives of the Cuban
emigration in the US might get better results if, instead of opposing so
obtusely the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana and
the dialogue process between the two governments, it would decide to
take advantage of the new political scenario and consider forcing the
White House to include in the human rights agenda the demand from
members of the Cuban community to fully exercise their rights as
citizens in the country in which they were born.
And, given that before the fait accompli hangmen tantrums are useless,
the time is right to set aside shady interests that have nothing to do
with alleged patriotic jealousy and take advantage of the rapprochement.
A large number of Cuban emigres is already campaigning to demand that
their right to participate in elections in Cuba be endorsed in the new
electoral law. It remains to be seen if they receive some support from
politicians who claim to represent them, or if those on the US side,
supposedly willing to consider all proposals and criteria, and entrusted
with dialogue with the Cuban dictatorship on human rights, will include
on their agenda the legitimate claims of those others, disinherited of
homeland and rights by the laws of the Castro regime: the émigrés.
*Translator's note: Under Cubans current laws governing elections,
candidates may not actively campaign and are presented to the voters
only through a single-page biography that is prepared by Communist Party
officials and posted in a window in their district. Candidates are not
allowed to state "positions" on any issue. Thus, in recent elections
where two opposition candidates made it through the early selection
process, their biographies described them as "counterrevolutionary." One
candidate's biography read, in part: "In 2006 he joined the little
counterrevolutionary groups. From 2011-2014 he received training in
computers and journalism, organized by the United States Interest
Section in Havana. Currently he dedicates himself to publishing articles
against the Revolution financed by international organizations and
counterrevolutionary organizations abroad, who have also organized and
paid for his trips abroad."
Translated by Norma Whiting
Source: Another Point For The Cuban Human Rights Agenda / Cubanet,
Miriam Celaya – Translating Cuba -