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Elections in Cuba

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Title: Elections in Cuba  
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Elections in Cuba

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Elections in Cuba involve nomination of municipal candidates by voters in nomination assemblies, nomination of provincial and national candidates by candidacy commissions, voting by secret ballot, and recall elections.[1]

Since Cuba became a one-party republic and the Communist party became the official political party, the Cuban political system has been condemned by certain opposition groups, international groups, and foreign governments. Some governments and international groups have also praised the nature of the Cuban political system. Although the media is operated under the supervision of the Communist Party’s Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which "develops and coordinates propaganda strategies",[2] the Cuban government contends that the Cuban political system is democratic. The nature of the political participation in Cuba has fostered discussion amongst political writers and philosophers. Varied conclusions have been drawn, with those arguing there is some form of democracy describing it as a grassroots democracy, a Soviet democracy, or a revolutionary democracy;[3] not a liberal democracy. The Cuban political system is normally described as undemocratic by human rights groups and academics and is usually described as a dictatorship or a totalitarian state.

Fidel Castro, leader of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was in power, first as Prime Minister and then as President, from 1959 until 2008. Castro's brother Raúl Castro was officially designated Fidel's successor at a Communist Party congress in October 1997.[4] Fidel Castro officially retired on February 19, 2008, leaving his brother as the sole candidate for president.[5]


  • Procedure 1
    • Municipal elections 1.1
    • Provincial elections 1.2
    • National elections 1.3
  • Right of legislative proposals 2
  • Political parties 3
  • Comments 4
    • Cuba 4.1
    • United States 4.2
    • European Union 4.3
    • Organization of American States 4.4
    • Other organizations 4.5
    • Political figures 4.6
    • Political writers and academics 4.7
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


According to the constitution, Cuba is a socialist republic where all members or representative bodies of state power are elected and subject to recall and the masses control the activity of the state agencies, the deputies, delegates and officials. Elections in Cuba have two phases:

  1. election of delegates to the Municipal Assembly, and
  2. election of deputies to the Provincial and National Assemblies.

Candidates for municipal assemblies are nominated on an individual basis at local levels by the local population at nomination assemblies.[6] Candidates for provincial assemblies and the National Assembly are nominated by the municipal assemblies from lists compiled by national, provincial and municipal candidacy commissions.[6] Suggestions for nominations are made at all levels mainly by mass organizations, trade unions, people's councils, and student federations.[7] Anyone older than 16 other than those mentally incapacitated, imprisoned, or deprived of their political rights can vote and be nominated to these posts.[6] No political parties (including the Communist Party of Cuba) are permitted to campaign. Instead, voters can consult candidates' biographies and photographs posted on public locations.[8] All elections take place by secret ballot. Suffrage is afforded to Cuban citizens resident for two years on the island who are aged over sixteen years and who have not been found guilty of a criminal offense.

Municipal elections

Candidates of the 2008 elections of the national and provincial parliaments in Santiago de Cuba

The election of municipal assembly delegates involves nomination by voters in nomination assemblies, compilation of posting of candidate biographies, voting by secret ballot, and recall.[1] Municipal assemblies are elected every two and a half years. Municipal elections are officially non-partisan.

Nomination assemblies are held about a month before the election in areas within the electoral districts.[9] During regular elections, over 90% of the electorate attend the nomination assemblies.[9] Municipal candidates must be at least 16 years old.[6]

In elections held on 21 October 2007, turnout was reported to be 8.1 million voters, approximately 95% of the population eligible to vote, which was less than the last such election on April 17, 2005, where voter turnout was 97%.[10] Elections were then held in 2010 and 2013.

Provincial elections

Municipal candidacy commissions submit nominations for provincial delegates to provincial candidacy commissions.[7] The provincial candidacy commissions produce the final list of provincial assembly candidates.[7]

National elections

Cuba's national legislature, the National Assembly of People's Power, has 609 members who sit for five-year terms. Members of the National Assembly represent multiple-member constituencies (2 to 5 members per district), with one Deputy for each 20,000 inhabitants.

Candidates for the National Assembly are chosen by candidacy commissions chaired by local trade union officials and composed of elected representatives of "mass organisations" representing workers, youth, women, students and farmers. The provincial and municipal candidacy commissions submit nominations to the National Candidacy Commission.[7] The municipal candidacy commissions produce slates of recommended candidates for each electoral district, mainly submit nominations for candidates that are also municipal delegates, and first submit their nominations to their municipal assembly who may approve or replace nominations.[11] The final list of candidates for the National Assembly, one for each district, is drawn up by the National Candidacy Commission,[7] taking into account criteria such as candidates’ popularity, merit, patriotism, ethical values and “revolutionary history.”[12] At least half of the National Assembly candidates selected must have been previously elected as delegates to these assemblies.[13]

Although there is only one candidate per seat, candidates must obtain the support of 50% of voters to be elected. If a candidate fails to gain 50% of the vote, a new candidate must be chosen.

The most recent elections to the National Assembly were held on 24 February 2008. According to the Cuban Ministry of External Affairs, at the October 2002 elections to the Candidacy Commissions which preceded the January 2003 National Assembly elections, "32,585 candidates were nominated for the 14,949 seats up for election in October 2002 at grassroots assemblies in which 81.7% of the voters participated." So far no candidate for the National Assembly has ever failed to gain 50% of the vote, because the candidates put forward by the candidacy commissions usually get at least 84% support.[14]

Right of legislative proposals

Article 88(h) of the Cuban constitution, adopted in 1976, provides for citizen proposals of law, prerequisite that the proposal be made by at least 10,000 citizens who are eligible to vote. In 2002 supporters of a movement known as the Varela Project submitted a citizen proposal of law with 11,000 signatures calling for a national referendum on political and economic reforms.

The Cuban National Assembly Constitution and Legal Affairs Committee tabled the Varela Project citizens' initiative and responded with a counter initiative, the petition for which collected 8.1 million signatures, to request that Cuba's National Assembly amend the constitution to state "Socialism and the revolutionary political and social system...are irrevocable; and Cuba will never again return to capitalism."[15] At the same time, millions of Cubans took to the street in support of the government. The BBC reported that some citizens had felt pressured to sign the government petition.[16]

Political parties

The Communist Party of Cuba is the official state party,[17] and various other political parties have been active in the country since their existence was legalised in 1992. Nevertheless, they, along with the Communist Party of Cuba, are prohibited from campaigning in elections or public political speech. The most important of these are the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba, the Cuban Democratic Socialist Current, the Democratic Social-Revolutionary Party of Cuba, the Democratic Solidarity Party, the Liberal Party of Cuba and the Social Democratic Co-ordination of Cuba. Members of all of those political groups are free to put themselves forward at open and public candidate selection ("Town Hall") meetings and, if they command a simple majority of those present, will be entered onto the ballot paper and have their election materials posted.



Poster urging citizens to vote to make the socialist system permanent and irrevocable by amending the constitution

Fidel Castro has made many statements insisting that Cuba is a democracy or has democratic features.[18] In 1960, Castro made a speech to the General Assembly referring to Cuba in relation to other Latin American nations, “We are speaking of democracy. If Government is of people and democratic, people can be consulted, as we are doing here. What is more an example of pure democracy than meetings such as this one. If they cannot call such meetings they are not democracies.” Castro continued “Those who want to see people’s democracy let them come here and see this. We can speak to America and the world because we speak in names of a whole nation.” In this 1960 speech, Castro also criticized many Latin American liberal democracies, describing them as a “Pretense of democracy”, as, he claimed, they did not allow such gatherings.[19]

In 2006, President of Cuba's National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada, stated: "At some moment, US rhetoric changed to talk of democracy ... For me, the starting point is the recognition that democracy should begin with Pericles's definition - that society is for the benefit of the majority - and should not be imposed from outside."[20]

Cuba justifies the existence of only one political party by arguing that the PCC “is not a political party in the traditional sense… it is not an electoral party; it does not decide on the formation or composition of the government. It is not only forbidden to nominate candidates but also to be involved in any other stage of the electoral process… The CPC’s role is one of guidance, supervision and of guarantor of participatory democracy.”[21]

The Cuban government describe the full Cuban electoral process as a form of democracy. The Cuban Ministry of External Affairs describes the candidate-selection process as deriving from “direct nomination of candidates for delegates to the municipal assemblies by the voters themselves at public assemblies,” and points out that at the elections to the municipal assemblies, voters do have a choice of candidates. The ban on election campaigning is presented as “The absence of million–dollar election campaigns where resorting to insults, slander and manipulation are the norm.”

United States

U.S. State Department: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: "Candidates for provincial and national office must be approved in advance by mass organizations controlled by the government. In practice a small group of leaders, under the direction of the president, selected the members of the highest policy-making bodies of the CP, the Politburo, and the Central Committee."

"In 2003 there were national elections in which 609 candidates were approved to compete for the 609 seats in the National Assembly. The CP was the only political party allowed to participate in the elections. A small minority of candidates did not belong formally to the CP but were chosen through the same government-controlled selection process. The government saturated the media and used government ministries, CP entities, and mass organizations to urge voters to cast a “unified vote” where marking one box automatically selected all candidates on the ballot form.

During the year there were elections for nearly 15 thousand local representatives to the municipal assemblies. After the first run-off election, the government reported that 96.6 percent of the electorate had voted. While the law allows citizens not to vote, CDRs often pressured neighborhood residents to cast ballots. According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights, the government blacklisted those who did not vote. Although not a formal requirement, in practice CP membership was a prerequisite for high-level official positions and professional advancement."

European Union

Since 1976, official

"The human rights situation in the island continues to cause major havoc in its international relations. The EU has issued in the past demarches on concrete human rights issues in Cuba, e.g. death penalty, the trial of dissidents, the "acts of repudiations" against dissidents or families of political prisoners and so forth. Public political opposition in Cuba is not allowed, and political dissidents are pursued by the authorities. The Constitution and the Penal Code allow for severe sanctions against exercising freedom of expression if the activities of individuals are deemed to be "counter-revolutionary" or a "threat to national security."[22]

Organization of American States

Cuba was suspended from the [23]

"The nomination of candidates for election to the Municipal Assemblies is done by nominating assemblies, in which all voters are entitled to propose candidates. In practice, however, these district assemblies are usually organized by the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution or the Communist Party, which makes the selection of an opponent of the regime most unlikely.[24]

Other organizations

In 1999, the U.S.-government funded organization

  • Trade, Democracy and Peace: The Virtuous Cycle
  • U.S., Cuba and Democracy —By William Blum
  • Democracy in Cuba
  • Democracy in Cuba —by Louis Proyect
  • Human Rights and democracy in Cuba —Washington Office on Latin America
  • Elections in Cuba
  • The Electoral process in Cuba — Democracy in Cuba
  • Cuban Elections and events 1990-2001
  • Guide to Cuba's Political and Electoral System by the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  • Background Note: Cuba

External links

  1. ^ a b Roman 2003, pp. 103–104.
  2. ^ "10 most censored countries". The Committee to Protect Journalists. 
  3. ^ "Chavez appears with Castro in TV broadcast". MSNBC. 
  4. ^ "Profile: Raul Castro". BBC News. 2008-02-24. 
  5. ^ James C. McKinley Jr. (February 20, 2008). "Fidel Castro Resigns as Cuba’s President". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ a b c d Roman, Peter (2003). People's Power: Cuba's Experience with Representative Government. Critical currents in Latin American perspective. p. 103.  
  7. ^ a b c d e Roman 2003, p. 131.
  8. ^ Rice-Oxley, Mark; Sedghi, Ami (April 24, 2015). "The most one-sided elections in recent history". the Guardian. Retrieved April 24, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b Roman 2003, p. 104.
  10. ^ "Cuba vota para elegir concejales y ratificar apoyo a hermanos Castro". 
  11. ^ Roman 2003, pp. 131-132.
  12. ^ "IPU Parline". 
  13. ^ "Website of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs". 
  14. ^ "Granma". 
  15. ^ "2002 Constitutional Amendment". 
  16. ^ BBC. "Cuba backs permanent Socialism". BBC. Retrieved 29 December 2014. 
  17. ^ Wikisource:Constitution of Cuba
  19. ^ "Speech to the General Cuban People". 
  20. ^ Duncan Campbell (2006-08-03). "Propaganda war grips a land crippled by shortages". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 3 August 2006. 
  21. ^ "Cubaminrex". 
  22. ^ "EU Relations with Cuba". 
  23. ^ "Inter-American Commission on Human Rights". 
  24. ^ """IACHR on Cuba's "elections. 
  25. ^ "Special report by Freedom House". 
  26. ^ "Country Report". 
  27. ^ "Cuba". Human Rights Watch. 
  28. ^ "Human Rights Defenders in Cuba". Human Rights First. 
  29. ^ "Cuba Solidarity". 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Elections in Cuba". CubaVerdad. 
  32. ^ "Cuba libre". International Committee for Democracy in Cuba. 
  33. ^ Teresita Jorge. "Democracy in Cuba". 
  34. ^ Haroldo Dilla Alfonso with Gerardo González Núñez. "Participation and Development in Cuban Municipalities". 
  35. ^ Roman, P. (1993). "Representative Government in Socialist Cuba". Latin American Perspectives 20 (1): 7–27.  
  36. ^ "Participation is key to Cuba's democracy". Retrieved 22 August 2005. 
  37. ^ """IACHR on Cuba's "elections. CubaVerdad. 
  38. ^ William M. Leogrande Paper
  39. ^ August, A. (1999). Democracy in Cuba and the 1997-1998 Elections, Montreal:Canada-Cuba Distribution. ISBN 0-9685084-0-5.


See also

A book which studied the 1997-1998 elections argues that there were multiple candidates in the open nomination assemblies held for the nomination of these candidates for these seats.[39]

William M. LeoGrande, in a paper written for the Cuba Transition Project at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, wrote of the 1992 election law: "unprecedented openness in debate, not just among party members, but also among the entire populace, so as to foster greater participation and build 'the necessary consensus' for the government's policy response...Eventually, some three million people participated in the pre-Congress discussions", but "When the new electoral law was finalized… it dashed any hopes for a significant opening to alternative voices. The ban on campaigning was retained, and the nomination of provincial and national assembly candidates was entrusted to Candidacy Commissions. Through an elaborate process of consultation… the Candidacy Commissions… produced slates of nominees with just one candidate per seat. Voters only had the choice of voting yes or no. Thus, the election process at the provincial and national levels avoided the possibility of even implicit policy differences among candidates.”[38]

Critics argue that these local elections candidates are nominated in open meetings run by the CDR (Committees to Defend the Revolution) that are closely linked to police and security forces. They report and sanction dissent. Prison terms of 4 years threaten those that openly oppose the regime in that public meeting filled with [37]

American political scientist Peter Roman’s work on the subject led him to believe that Cuba’s “grassroots democracy” goes beyond the power to vote freely for one of several candidates representing both pro or anti-socialist positions. He argues that at the “people level” democracy exists in Cuba today and that this democracy has been strengthened during the 1990s by conscious decisions made at the top. Roman also writes that the historical origins of contemporary Cuban democracy are the ideas of the centrality of unity and consensus, and the rejection of a distinction between political and civil society. Thus, unanimous votes in representative bodies do not represent, as critics charge, imposition by the PCC, but rather legitimate consensus worked out in lengthy discussion at several levels.[35] British political professor Steve Ludlum wrote in his paper “Participation is key to Cuba’s democracy” that “Two models of democracy competed for support in nineteenth century Europe. The one we know is based on indirect representation by professional politicians controlled by party factions. The other model, associated with Rousseau’s concept of the ‘general will’ and made famous by the Paris Commune of 1870”. Ludlum likens Cuba’s local participation to the latter model.[36]

Groups or individuals that describe Cuba is a “democracy” or claim that there is some level of democracy in the political system generally focus on community participation at local municipal level. For example, Cuban Teresita Jorge writes that democracy in Cuba “takes place from the grassroots up in the selection of those who will represent the people at all the levels of government“.[33] Similarly, Political scientists Haroldo Dilla Alfonso and Gerardo González Núñez study what they describe as Cuba’s “community power and grassroots democracy”. They write that “this participatory system contained an interesting combination of direct democracy and the use of representation as granted by election. In general, it attempted to provide citizens with the ability to choose the local leadership, express claims, oversee and evaluate local policy and its results, and become involved in projects of community benefit.” The pair concluded that “we ought to consider Municipal Assemblies as a remarkable step forward in building democracy”.[34]

Political writers and academics

Many other notable political figures have commented on Cuba and democracy. At a conference held by the International Committee for Democracy in Cuba called “Towards democracy in Cuba”, former Czech leader Václav Havel stated, “democracy and prosperity in Cuba depend on the support for Cuban dissidents, the better the chances for a future peaceful transition of the Cuban society to democracy.”[32] Havel has also described Cuba as “the biggest prison on earth”. In 2006 Peruvian Presidential candidate and Bolivarian Ollanta Humala stated that “Obviously, according to our standards Cuba does not qualify as a democracy,” but added that Peru “is democratic, we have democratized poverty”.

Political figures

"Local elections candidates are nominated in open meetings run by the CDR (Committees to Defend the Revolution) that are closely linked to police and security forces. They report and sanction dissent. Prison terms of 4 years threaten those that openly oppose the regime in that public meeting filled with informants. People not supporting can be threatened with losing their home and jobs."[31]

Critics argue that whatever the merits of the system for electing the National Assembly, that body is itself a facade for the reality of PCC rule in Cuba. The Assembly meets only twice a year for a few days which is the basis of these beliefs. The 31-member Council of State, in theory elected by the Assembly but hypothetically in practice appointed by the PCC, wields effective state power, and the PCC Politburo is assumed to be the ultimate political authority. Although the Assembly has eight standing committees, they do not exercise any effective authority over legislation. During its biannual plenums, the Assembly is said to play a passive role as audience for various government speakers. Once the Council of State's legislative proposals have been presented, they are summarily ratified by unanimous or near unanimous vote of the Assembly.[30]

[29] Cuba’s supporters argue that the Cuban system is more democratic than that used in multi-party democracies. The

Human Rights defenders in Cuba from Human Rights First states: “Cuba remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere to reject democracy and effectively outlaw peaceful advocacy for human rights and democratic reforms. Independent civil society in Cuba – including human rights defenders, democracy activists, and independent journalists and scholars – are the targets of constant persecution. The universally-recognized rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are systematically violated by the State and victims have virtually no means of redress within the judicial system.”[28]

The 2006 report from Human Rights Watch states: “Cuba remains a Latin American anomaly: an undemocratic government that represses nearly all forms of political dissent. President Fidel Castro, now in his forty-seventh year in power, shows no willingness to consider even minor reforms. Instead, his government continues to enforce political conformity using criminal prosecutions, long- and short-term detentions, mob harassment, police warnings, surveillance, house arrests, travel restrictions, and politically-motivated dismissals from employment. The end result is that Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.”[27]

In 2002 former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spoke in Havana with support from Human Rights Watch and representing the Carter Center. Whilst calling for democratic change, Carter also stressed that he was not using a U.S. definition of “democracy.” he explained that “the term is embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948. It is based on some simple premises: all citizens are born with the right to choose their own leaders, to define their own destiny, to speak freely, to organize political parties, trade unions and non-governmental groups, and to have fair and open trials.”

[26] The

Freedom House has also given Cuba the lowest rating in its: “Freedom in the World 2005” report for political rights, and the lowest rating in its “electoral democracy” category. [25]

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