MIAMI – Cuban dissident Julio Aleaga was granted one minute to tell his neighborhood council why he wanted to be a candidate in the elections today, the first of several votes leading up to the expected re-election of Raul Castro in February.
Another candidate, Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Zayas of the Interior Ministry, did not show up for the Sept. 23 gathering, Aleaga said. But Zayas won the nomination with 40 out of the 60 votes. The votes against Zayas were not even counted.
Havana portrays the electoral system as a grass-roots democracy, although there’s only one legal party, the Communist Party, no campaigning is allowed, no dissident has ever been accepted as a candidate, and no national lawmaker has ever cast a no vote.
“I don’t see the most minimal interest in the election here because people know that’s not going to change anything,” said Mario Felix Lleonart, a Protestant pastor in the central province of Santa Clara who regularly criticizes the government.
Highlighting the depth of the disaffection, a group of “democratic socialists” who back the government on many issues has even urged voters to draw a “D” on their ballots, to demand direct votes for president and acceptance of international human rights pacts.
Official candidates usually win more than 90 percent of the vote. But analysts have noticed a rising number of blank or null ballots in recent elections, and dissidents have reported some small incidents surrounding preparations for today’s balloting.
Lleonart said his name mysteriously disappeared from the voter rolls, and that members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, historically repressed in Cuba, have told him that all members have agreed to cast blank ballots.