No banners. No posters. No placards. No advertisements. No slogans. No campaigning. It is Election Day in Cuba, yet I cannot see any sign of it. Some 27,000 candidates are competing for 605 seats in the Cuban National Assembly, yet I cannot see one.
It’s Sunday, Nov. 26, and there’s no sign either that yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Cuba’s "Eternal Commander-in-Chief" Fidel Castro.
I always knew elections are different in Cuba, but never thought it was like this: no sign of people voting to select who will take seats in the National Assembly of People’s Power.
But just as me, I suspect everyone else – from any other country – who is in Cuba today, would have been equally surprised to actually have to ask whether this was "Election Day" – or if it had been postponed.
Every Cuban I approached had (basically) the same answer: "That’s how we do it here!"
The 2017 national elections were not planned for much earlier than Nov. 26. But Hurricanes Irma and Maria intervened in September.
Yet this forced postponement allowed for timing the polls on the day after the first anniversary of the death of the man who led the process of inventing Cuba’s unique electoral process.
Unlike everywhere else, parties here don’t compete for power. (Yes, there’s only one party – the Communist Party of Cuba – but it’s legally forbidden from fielding candidates.)
And candidates do not have to belong to the party. Instead, they are selected by the people, in their communities, who debate the choices between themselves – discreetly and orderly, without being canvassed or consulted by competing candidates, whose history and platforms are published in advance for easy access and scrutiny.
PCC officials explain that voting in any election here is indeed voting for Cuba, as each vote cast will help decide who will be the parliamentarians making and taking decisions for the next five years.
But how, when and where did it all start?
Some 24 years ago (in 1993), elections were constitutionalized – and Fidel had much to say to explain (to Cubans and the world) what this process would mean.
Addressing the National Assembly session that sealed the new deal to introduce elections to the revolutionary process, Fidel said: “The elections are not a popularity contest; they are, in any case, a contest of merit and a contest of ability.”
He described it as “a miracle” whereby “a humble citizen of the people, without a cent, can be elected.”
But this "miracle" was not an afterthought or based on any other template. The approach was to devise a system that suited Cuba.
Tattoos Honoring Fidel Castro
In his February 23, 1993, address, Fidel said: “Fortunately, when we drew up the first Constitution, we did not copy, but rather we devised ideas about what elections should be in our country.”
He continued, “Everyone understood that our system was very democratic, in and of itself. Or, at least, it was more democratic than all the others being applied, both under socialism and under capitalism, because we had a key principle that was being expressed in concrete terms for the first time: that the people do the nominating and the electing.
“We had to create something new, something more just, something more equitable, more democratic and more pure, as our major concern was to preserve the purity of our electoral process.”
So, how does this translate?
People meet and nominate candidates – without any pressure or imposed conditions – and consider the merits of each based on their ethical values and commitment, not on how much or little money they have.
Electors can peruse candidates’ histories and biographies at public places – and even demand more information if needs be.
Voters then witness and certify that ballot boxes are empty before being sealed, as well as the counting of the votes. And it is Pioneers – primary school students – who watch over the ballot boxes while voters vote.
Electors are able to ensure their candidates are humble, modest, honest, hardworking people, to satisfy themselves that (according to Fidel) “among them [the candidates] there is not an embezzler, a thief, or someone who has become wealthy with the money of the people.”
Where else (I humbly ask) does a similar system – or even one that close – exist?
The 2017 elections to Cuba’s National Assembly was the first without Fidel Castro. But it is a process embedded in the country’s Constitution and enforced by the Party and State, in the interest of People and Country.
Those not even trying to understand that Cuba’s elections are free and fair – and held without fear – will continue to misunderstand and unfairly attack this unique democratic process, but on the basis of application of analyses and assessments that just do not fit the unique history of the Cuban Revolution.
These automatic critics will not understand that unlike elsewhere, it is not the amount of money a candidate has, or which party he or she represents, but simply his or her ability to win the confidence of individual voters – and without any external influence.
In the United States, candidates for elections to the House of Representatives or the Senate definitely need wads of money to finance their campaigns – and influence voters.
In Cuba, however, all you need is to be identified by the people in your community as someone they feel sure is honest and committed enough to truly represent them – and without the frills of money and campaign promises gift-wrapped in colorful paper not even worth its price per sheet.
Earl Bousquet is a contributor to china.org.cn, editor-at-large of The Diplomatic Courier and author of an online regional newspaper column titled, "Chronicles of a Chronic Caribbean Chronicler."