Home » Amid economic and migration crisis, Cuba elects the National Assembly

Amid economic and migration crisis, Cuba elects the National Assembly

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Amid economic and migration crisis, Cuba elects the National Assembly

On March 26 in Cuba will be held the election of the members who form theNational Assembly of People’s Power. This body is part of the unicameral political system of the island and will be composed for the first time by 474 members with a five-year term. The number of elected members of the Assembly was reduced with the passage of a new electoral law in November 2019. The changes to the electoral system followed the entry into force of the new constitution, which was approved with 86% of the vote after a popular referendum in February of the same year.

What it means to “elect” in Cuba

Expressions such as “elections” and “elected members” take on a particular meaning in a country like Cuba. In fact, 50% of the nominations of candidates for the Assembly are established by National Commission of Nominationsan institution dependent on Cuban Communist Party (PCC), only party allowed on the island, which collects nominations from the country’s main social organizations, also linked to the CCP. The second half of the candidates is instead grouped according to the indications of the municipal governors.

Only one candidate presents itself for each seat, who is declared elected once the 50% vote threshold for his or her seat has been exceeded. If a candidate does not reach the minimum threshold, the seat will remain empty until the next election. Voting is mandatory, as in the majority of Latin American countries, even if in Cuba the compulsory threshold is lowered to those over the age of sixteen. All those who have applied for emigration remain excluded from the possibility of voting.

Due to the lack of free elections and the monopartitismothe regime of the current president Miguel Diaz-Canel it is still defined today as undemocratic. According to the most recognized think-tanks that evaluate the democratic rate of countries, such as The Economist Democracy Index, Freedom House and Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), Cuba remains among the countries with the worst democratic indicators in the region together with Nicaragua, Venezuela and Haiti. From V-Dem, a project of the University of Gothenburg which collects hundreds of political and social indicators, the Caribbean island is described as “a closed autocracy”, the worst possible category.

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From the municipal elections to the reappointment of Díaz-Canel

The March 2023 Assembly elections are part of a larger electoral cycle that began last November with municipal elections and will end with the Assembly nominating a president later this year. The confirmation of Miguel Díaz-Canel for a second term seems certain thanks to the possibility of re-election established by the 2018 constitution. The last municipal elections in November 2022 resulted in the election of more than 11 thousand municipal representatives, who are responsible for collecting complaints and carrying out supervisory functions in the various communities. Thanks to this capillary system, which branches out in every neighborhood, the CCP manages to exercise total control over what happens on the island.

However, the last municipal elections have highlighted what could become a significant problem for the Díaz-Canel regime, even more so than the opposition: abstentionism. In November, only 68.58% of eligible voters went to the polls, in a country where voting is compulsory and which has historically enjoyed very high participation rates, exceeding 90%.

This is the lowest figure since 1976, the year in which the current electoral system was introduced. This adds to a complex economic and migration context that has pushed the population to a “vote of punishment”, as the president himself acknowledged. Even the Cuban opposition, declared illegal in the country, has urged the population to abstain by relying on the current crises on the island.

Economic, migration and energy crisis

The Cuban migratory exodus has reached historic levels. About 250,000 people left the island last year, most of them headed for the United States. This is a figure that exceeds the Exodus of Mariel and the ‘Crisis de los Balseros’ put together, two historical episodes that marked the migration history between Cuba and the United States. The wave of immigration facilitated the reopening of Washington’s consular services in Havana, which resumed earlier this year. This step is part of a broader, though still very limited, re-engagement policy of the Biden administration with Cuba.

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Among the main causes of migration is certainly the economic situation of the island which is facing one of its worst crises since the post-USSR fall in the 1990s. The investigations of The Guardian and The Conversation illustrate the dramatic consequences ofgalloping inflationfrom the lack of supplies, medicine e gas.

At the same time, the island’s deteriorating energy system causes continuous blackouts even at peak times. The Cuban government has announced that an average of three hours of power outage per day is expected through May. The energy crisis has continued since 2022: a large part of the country has been affected by blackouts that have reached twelve hours a day.

The role of women and Afro-descendants

Despite Cuba’s undemocratic nature and the current complicated context, the National Assembly elections have for some time highlighted an interesting fact. According to the World Economic Forum, the average of donne in national congresses it stands at only 26%. In Cuba, on the other hand, more than half of the members of the National Assembly are women, 53%, making it one of the most equal congresses in the world. Cuba, together with Bolivia and Chile (in its Constituent Assembly), therefore represents an example of inclusiveness for the rest of the Latin American governments, whose regional average is around 34%.

The inclusiveness of the Assembly is not limited to the issue of gender. In fact, it also extends to the ethnic issue, considering that more than 40% of the members are Afro-descendant or of mixed ethnicity (a term that includes ‘mulatos’, part European and part Afro-descendant). However, the problem of racism on the island remains far from being resolved, as some Cuban academics point out. The generational issue should also be highlighted: more than 90% of the representatives were born after the 1959 revolution.

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The heterogeneous composition of the Cuban Assembly is to be commended, especially when compared with other national parliaments or congresses in the rest of the world. However, inclusiveness is not automatically synonymous with democracy. The members of the Assembly who will be elected on March 26 will limit themselves to following the indications of the party and to represent, but also to control, the communities to which they will be assigned.

Cuba is facing a difficult moment of economic and migration crisis which is putting a strain on the stability of the regime. As happened last year, the government could once again use the crackdown on dissent and protests to keep its grip on the island.

Article by Andrea Colombo, editor-in-chief of the Central and South American editorial staff of Lo Spiegone


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