September 5th, 1997
Issue 5 - Cuban Election Fever Builds
It is September 5th, 1997, I am returning to my rooming house along the sea front Malecon Drive in Havana's Vedado district, a notice on an apartment building entrance caught my eyes: Roughly translated: "Nomination Meeting, CDR #8" (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution), "Sept. 5, l997, 8 p.m.", "#53 M Street", "Purpose: To propose a candidate for delegate" (like city councillor in Canada) "in the municipal election for Circumscription #7" (~ 6 Sq. blocks of 1000 people). "The municipal election will take place Oct. l9, l997 by secret ballot."
The meeting location is one block from where I live. I explain to my host & hostess, Antonio and Nery Azcuy, my intentions. Nery volunteers to write me a brief note of introduction in Spanish and off I go, uninvited.
The meeting is outside in the street with just a couple of tables and a man stringing up lights. I approached the voter registration table where volunteer election workers are checking voters against the CDR #8 voters list which was compiled by enumerators in August. I hand in my note of introduction to a 50ish lady who introduces herself as Sanaida, President of CDR #8 as well as a volunteer on the election committee. She reads my note then passes it to the woman registering the voters in attendance. They both smile then Sanaida takes me by the arm and sits me down in the front row on the benches provided for the seniors and guests of honour.
I sit taking in the scene and activities around me: Children are playing noisily, the growing crowd of adults are visiting, the volunteers are busy moving tables and trying to get the lights to work, etc.
At precisely 8:45 p.m., the 8:00 p.m., meeting starts. We Canadians are all familiar with the “30 minutes later in the Newfoundland", well in Cuba, it can be 45 minutes or more. More than one Canadian has jokingly referred to this gap to Cuban friends as "Cuban time."
Suddenly a woman steps up to the table and after three attempts gets the crowds attention. A few noisy children playing at the periphery of the meeting can not be silenced so easily. A few "SSH" command from the adults does the trick. The announcer notes the presence of a Canadian visitor, Dave Thomas, who is interested in seeing the Cuban municipal election process since the Canadian Province of Ontario is at present preparing for a municipal election in November.
The crowd stands and sings the National Anthem with the Cuban flag draped over a balcony railing in the background. The election act is read to the voters, then a call for nominations, two are nominated. People are invited to speak to the candidate's abilities. About 6 people do so. There is a last call for nominations and speakers. The vote is called by a show of hands. By my estimate, Luis M. Plana, has it by 10 to 1 margin.
Luis is a mid-thirties black man who is both a member of the Communist Party and the CDR. This is not unusual since it is my experience these are the volunteer type of people with a strong sense of community, similar to those you would find in Canada with community or church leadership positions. Loud applause, he was obviously the people's choice.
The election volunteers continue to work feverishly tallying up numbers to show they have a quorum of 51% of voters present in order to declare the nomination valid (60% attendance is normal).
The presence of 11 to 15 year old children as interested observers was surprising to me. Cubans get the vote at age 16 years.
Ironically the whole procedure took place half block from the U.S. Interest Section (An embassy that is not an embassy when the U.S. refuses to recognise the Revolutionary Government of Cuba) which I could clearly see over my left shoulder. One wonders how they (the U.S.) can call Cuba's political system dictatorial when this most democratic process is taking place within shouting distance their front doors.
October 19, l997, municipal election day for city council, Luis will have his name on the ballet along with 2 other candidates nominated by other CDR's in his circumscription. The other 2 candidates are a father & his daughter.
No active campaigning is allowed. Biographies are made up in standard format, on one letter size sheet of paper for each candidate, showing : a bust photograph, usually in formal dress; date & place of birth; education & any degrees obtained; work career history; membership(s) in mass organisations; certificates of recognition for service to country; military service, if applicable. The body of the biography describes in more detail the personal accomplishments listed at the top in point form. An election commission checks the biography information for accuracy.
At least one month prior to election day the biographies of each candidate are posted side by side in several locations such as shops or meeting places. From then on voters gossip among themselves as to the virtues or failings of each candidate to arrive at a personal decision.