What We Gained and Lost with Cuba’s Constitutional Referendum
Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
March 1, 2019
UNPACU activists in Havana campaigning for a NO to the constitution
Let’s assume that the results disclosed by the National Election Commission are trustworthy; ignoring how suspicious it was that it took almost a whole day to announce the results to the public.
Suppose that it doesn’t matter that the electoral register had increased by almost 700,000 voters after the preliminary count at 5 PM; believing that the government is “incapable” of tampering with the election, even when it holds complete control over the electoral process and opposition monitors do not participate, let alone international ones.
Even with so many doubts and suspicions, it would be interesting for us to analyze what we have gained and lost with Cuba’s constitutional referendum process and its final results.
Activists discuss in detail the draft constitution and conclude that it is excluding, discriminatory and dangerous
What did we gain?
- The number of Cubans who dared to stand up to the system has increased greatly, when compared to previous votes, which were approved of almost unanimously compared to this 73%, declining election after election as a growing trend.
- The opposition were able to create a propaganda campaign for the first time ever, even if it were only online and Internet access is low and very expensive.
- People were fiercely advocating for voting NO and abstention. Many social sectors joined this movement and we gained civic spirit and citizens were able to voice their views. Bearing in mind the fact that we have the right and duty to participate in “public affairs”.
- The government found itself pressured by civil society and the opposition, to the extent that they were afraid of the Vote NO campaign and took repressive measures against activists, which ranged from arrests, operations to threatening summons, which have been actively denounced by victims and has helped to give visibility to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Cuba.
What did we lose?
- The opportunity to unite the opposition a little more in their struggle against the government.
Even though the vote YES and NO campaigns only played out online, the YES campaign would have won anyway. Anyone who knows how this system works, will be fully aware that while the government/Party still have control of the Cuban people’s usurped sovereignty, they won’t go into any battle that they aren’t 100% sure they are going to win. If this isn’t the way, it’s something similar. That’s why they don’t fight on a level playing field and deny their adversaries legal recognition and the opportunity to promote their ideas.
If, in spite of the overwhelming and manipulative YES campaign, and the impossibility of campaigning for NO outside of the Internet, they could always resort to manipulating ballots, like they presumably did anyway.
Because they not only feel defeated with anything over 50%, they need to put on a show of mass popular support, which they don’t have, and even 60% would be unacceptable for them. Ultimately, they would prefer to rig the election than recognize that the people’s disapproval is growing and that we are demanding change.
The Vote NO campaign ran into many obstacles and enemies. It was a very tough battle to win, although it wasn’t completely impossible. However, given the adverse conditions, hoping for a victory would have been too optimistic. If we are realistic, any percentage higher than previous election results is a victory. It’s a step in the right direction. A sign of citizen’s waking up to reality.
Our Cuba is experiencing a crisis, in every sense of the word, and we can’t believe that we can change the system and fix everything just like that with this small opportunity, as if we had a magic wand. And, it’s not a matter of a “stalemate”, as it seems. Yes, we do have a real chance of building a better Cuba, but our people are just as damaged as our country is and they need an intensive course in civic spirit and self-esteem.
In this regard, the battle against this Constitution of “continuity” was a complete success. We can’t allow ourselves to be disheartened by these results, or to judge our fellow citizens, or interpret it negatively. There are more positives than negatives and it’s crucial that we continue to move forward. This is the only way to go.