IACHR on Cuba's "elections"

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Report on United Nations Commission on Human Rights
Inter American Comission on Human Rights



37. The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man establishes the
right to vote and to participate in government at Article XX, in the
following terms.

Article XX. Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in
the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and
to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and
shall be honest, periodic and free.

38. Political rights, as considered by the Declaration, have two clearly
distinguishable aspects: the right to directly exercise power, i.e. to
participate in government; and the right to elect those who are to exercise
it, i.e. the right to vote. This presupposes a broad conception of
representative democracy, based on popular sovereignty, in which the
functions by which power is exercised are performed by persons chosen in
free and fair elections.

39. It is a doctrine of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that
the exercise of the right to political participation implies "the right to
organize political parties and political associations, which through free
debate and ideological struggle can improve social and economic conditions
and rules out the monopoly of power by a single political party."15 In
addition, the Commission has considered that "Governments have the
obligation, in respect of political rights and the right to political
participation, to allow and guarantee the organization of all political
parties and other associations, unless they are constituted for the purpose
of violating fundamental human rights; free and open debate of the main
issues relating to socioeconomic development; the holding of general
elections that are free and with the guarantees required to ensure that the
outcome represents the popular will."16

40. On January 11, 1998, elections were held in Cuba to choose 601 members
of the National Assembly of People's Power, and 1,192 delegates to the
Provincial Assemblies. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Cuba, in
his latest report, has analyzed the procedures and characteristics of these

One of the main features of the elections was that the two single lists
contained one candidate for each seat. Although voters could vote for
individual candidates, the authorities announced publicly that this was not
recommended and that it would be best to exercise the "combined vote", by
voting for all the candidates as a bloc.

Although the authorities say that candidates were chosen by the people and
that membership of the Communist Party was not an important factor for
election, in reality the system established by the Electoral Law of 1992
does not make it genuinely possible for persons opposed to the Government
and not looked on favourably by the authorities to compete freely. One of
the provisions of the Law is that lists of candidates are drawn up by the
Candidature Commissions, made up of representatives of the Cuban Workers'
Federation, the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution, the Federation
of Cuban Women, the National Small Farmers' Association, the University
Students' Federation and the Federation of Secondary School Students. In
proposing candidates, the Commissions must seek the views of any
institutions, organizations and labour federations that it deems necessary,
as well as of delegates to the Municipal Assemblies. These Assemblies can
approve or reject one or all of the proposed candidates, in which case the
Candidature Commissions must submit others. 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.

In addition to the election propaganda put out by the government press media
(the only ones allowed in Cuba), members of the Party and of the Committees
for the Defence of the Revolution, as well as children outside school hours,
made house-to-house calls to persuade people to go and vote, although in
theory voting is not compulsory. Furthermore, all the voters know about the
candidates is what is contained in the biographical notes distributed by the
government press, and candidates are not able to present their own electoral
platform. All in all, the electoral process is so tightly controlled that
the final phase, i.e. the voting itself, could be dispensed with without the
final result being substantially affected.

The results announced by the Government showed a 98.35 per cent voter
turnout, with the 601 candidates for the National Assembly and the 1,192
candidates for the Provincial Assemblies being elected. Approximately 5.01
per cent of ballots were blank or spoiled and 94.39 per cent of voters opted
for the combined vote.17

41. The foregoing text suggests that free debate and pluralist ideological
struggle were absent during the Cuban elections, as the only political party
allowed in the country is the Communist Party, which keeps other groups from
competing in a healthy atmosphere of ideological pluralism. It may be
considered that that limitation is the result of the action of several
factors, especially the requirement of ideological adherence, the
requirements that stem from the electoral mechanisms, and the intolerance of
the group in power to the forms of political opposition.

 42. Intolerance of all forms of political opposition is the main limitation
on participation. Article 62 of the Cuban Constitution provides the
constitutional basis for this intolerance; this provision has been analyzed
many times by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.18 While it is
reasonable to proscribe unconstitutional acts, the text of this article even
limits the mere freedom of expression. Discourse critical of the objectives
of the socialist state, though not linked to other actions, may be

43. In addition, the articles of Chapter VII of the Constitution, on
fundamental rights, duties, and guarantees, drastically limit the formal
political rights that are necessary in any democratic government, which are
enshrined in Article XX of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties
of Man. Article 53 recognizes freedom of expression and freedom of the
press, but only "in accordance with the aims of socialist society." To
dispel any doubts, the Article 53 also stipulates the condition that "The
law regulates the exercise of these freedoms." The freedom of expression is
also limited in Article 39(ch), where it is indicated that artistic freedom
exists "so long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution." The
Constitution, therefore, lays the legal basis for censorship, since it is
the state that can determine whether oral and written forms of expression,
and art, are contrary to the revolution. The Constitution also sets forth
the legal bases for the state to direct all activities in the areas of art,
culture, and the press, all of which is at odds with Article IV of the
American Declaration.

44. Indeed, political practice has demonstrated that the cards are generally
stacked against the opposition. Since 1960, all information media have been
in the hands of the state. There are no legal means for openly challenging
the policies of the Government and the Party, or for competing, as a group,
movement, or party organization, for the right to govern, to replace the
Communist Party and its leaders peacefully, and instituting new and
different policies. The main criticisms expressed in public against
government policies come from the very members of the upper echelons of the
Government. Nonetheless, it is impossible to make an open and organized
criticism of the Government and Party that makes the highest-level leaders
susceptible to assuming responsibility, being held accountable, or being

45. It is, therefore, a regime that continues to be severely authoritarian
and that continues to use methods--control of information and of scientific
and cultural pursuit, imprisonment, harassment and forced migration of
opponents abroad, etc.--to restrict and indeed eliminate all forms of
political opposition. While it is true that the current regime has been
subjected to all manner of pressures, both internal and external,
authorizing it to take certain exceptional measures for its defense, it is
also true that the eradication of any type of opposition is clearly
indicative of political intolerance that goes beyond the limits set for a
legitimate response by the state to defend itself. In addition, the
Commission considers that the methods used have often been unlawful and
disproportionate to the magnitude of the presumed infractions committed.

46. Based on the above, the Commission finds that the Cuban political
system, in its normative structure, establishes principles which, if
implemented, could adequately safeguard human rights. Nonetheless, the
non-existence of the necessary separation of powers means that the
activities of Cuban society as a whole are subordinated to the political
authorities. This situation is reinforced by the use of subjective terms and
concepts in the Constitution that tend to undercut the effective observance
of the principles of objectivity and legality, which are essential
guarantees against the violation of citizens' rights by the political

47. The Commission considers, as well, that the Cuban political system
grants an exclusive and exclusionary preponderance to the Communist Party,
which constitutes, in fact, a force above the state itself, and impedes
healthy ideological and political-party pluralism, which is one of the
foundations of democratic government. Consequently, the most important state
organs are controlled by members of the Communist Party, who are also
decisively involved in the operation of the mechanisms for selecting
candidates to occupy elective posts. All this presupposes ideological
adherence that is uncritical and dogmatic, and incompatible with Article XX
of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

48. In the opinion of the Commission, the existence of supreme collegial
bodies is a positive trait of the Cuban political system, since it
emphasizes negotiation to reach the consensus needed for effective political
action. In principle, the collegial organs are a good basis for achieving
broad citizen participation in national politics. The practice, however,
indicates that the main organs of the state and of the Communist Party are
controlled by a small group, and that this has been the case from the very
beginning of the current Cuban political process. Within this group, special
mention should be made of the role played by the Head of State, who is the
one who effectively and ultimately exercises power in Cuba. This situation
has been attained through the exercise of marked intolerance towards all
forms of political opposition, which has been eliminated often by the use of
unlawful methods, or methods disproportionate to the magnitude of the
presumed infractions or threats.

49. The Commission hopes that conditions are created, internally and
internationally, to achieve the effective and authentic participation of
Cuban citizens in the political decisions that affect them, in a framework
of freedom and pluralism, which is essential for the effective observance of
all human rights.

See : http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/98eng/Chapter IV Cuba.htm


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