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A dubious referendum on a (slightly) revised constitution shows growing opposition to the revolution in Cuba
February 27, 2019
(The Global Americans) Given the significant numbers of votes against the reform, the results of the referendum call into question the unanimity on which Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) have always attempted to stake the legitimacy of the revolution.
Por Gabriel C. Salvia

(The Global Americans) Both Fidel and Raúl Castro, as well as their government officials and fanatical defenders inside and outside Cuba, have always played down the domestic opposition to their government and the revolution. They predictably decry any dissent as minimal and likely funded by a foreign power. However, in the wake of the first-ever vote on an official proposal for constitutional reform, the Castro regime found itself having to reject more than one million votes—despite legal prohibitions on dissent.

The constitutional reform was proposed by Raúl Castro days after Miguel Díaz Canel replaced him as head of state and the renewal of Cuban National Assembly. The government-proposed document was opened for consultations, which did produce changes from the original proposal, but the new constitution always maintained the one party regime and the “irreversible” character of the revolution.

On Sunday, February 24, Cubans took to the polls to “vote” for the reform.

The new constitution, which will replace the 1976 document, obtained 86.8 percent of votes in favor, of nearly eight million total votes, while 9 percent of voters voted no on the new constitution and the remaining 4.1 percent either left their ballots blank or cast null votes. At the same time, levels of abstention reached almost 1.5 million eligible voters, including those who refused to participate because they considered the entire process fraudulent.  

According to the website 14ymedio, “An initial calculation shows that the sum of votes against the reform, blank votes and null votes is 1,032,174. If the abstention rate (1,449,934) is added, the figure reaches a total of 2,482,108 Cubans, or 26.69 percent of eligible voters, who do not approve of the new constitution.”

Given the significant numbers of votes against the reform, the results of the referendum call into question the unanimity on which Castro and the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) have always attempted to stake the legitimacy of the revolution.

The enlightening nature of Sunday’s vote doesn’t stop there. The opacity of the referendum vote—it’s highly unlikely that more than 70 percent of Cubans truly support a further consolidation of PCC power—calls into question whether the Castro regime would survive a plebiscite of the type that occurred in Chile in 1988, leading to the end of Pinochet’s rule. In the run-up to the plebiscite that put an end to the Chilean military regime, the opposition was able to campaign against the Pinochet government, even in public media. In addition to the Catholic Church, the military, and international observers, the parties that would later make up the Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia, which led Patricio Aylwin to the presidency in 1989, were able to oversee the electoral process.

In the build-up to Sunday’s vote, only the “Yes” camp was able to campaign, and on the day of the vote, officials provided voters with a simple ballot (and a pencil!) with two options: “Yes” and “No.” The results of vote were made public 21 hours after the close of voting.

What was the actual result of the vote? Only the top brass of the PCC likely knows the truth. In any case, the political cost of sustaining a one party, mono-ideological regime is higher than before Sunday, given that at least 20 percent of the Cuban population showed their opposition to the new constitution in some form.

Raúl Castro’s formal successor, Miguel Díaz Canel, already knows that the result of Sunday’s vote reflects current levels of support for the revolution. And more than anything, the (relatively) high levels of dissent indicate a desire for increased political openness among Cubans.

For the opposition, despite repression and lack of international support, modern technology will allow a slightly revitalized movement to circumvent censorship in an attempt to mobilize the more than one million Cubans who rejected constitutional reform.

Though it may not seem revolutionary now (pun intended), nothing will be the same in Cuba following Sunday’s vote, especially as the legitimacy of the Cuban regime in the international arena begins to draw increased scrutiny. Across the Caribbean, the possible return of democratic institutions to Venezuela looms on the horizon. If successful, it could signal a potential coup de grace for what would be the last remaining true one-party state in Latin America.

Gabriel Salvia is the general director of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL). He is based in Buenos Aires.

Source: (The Global Americans (United States of America)