On Sunday, March 26, eight million Cubans will have the opportunity to vote in the elections to elect the 470 members of the National Assembly of People’s Power. The Assembly has the duty of discussing and passing laws that affect the lives of the Cuban people. Half of the candidates to the Assembly are elected at a municipal level, and half are nominated by the different sectors of society, such as the mass organizations of women, students, workers, peasants, among others, whose electoral representation is a unique aspect of Cuban democracy.
The National Assembly is the body that is responsible for electing and appointing persons to various state offices such as the President and Vice-President of the Republic who are elected from among its members, the leadership body of the Assembly, the members of the Council of State, the members and leadership of the National Electoral Council, the president and judges of the Supreme People’s Court, the attorney general and comptroller general of the Republic, and the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers and other members of the Council of Ministers.
The members of the Assembly will begin to exercise their functions on April 19, the same day they will elect the president, and will serve for the next five years. Unlike most other countries in the world, the members of the Cuban National Assembly do not receive an additional salary and their role in the legislature is in addition to their daily work. Among the candidates are Cuba’s current president Miguel Díaz Canel, former president Raúl Castro, Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban who as a child was in the middle of a litigation dispute between the US and Cuban governments, among others. The diversity of the candidates running in these elections is notable, with the highest number of Black people, women, and young people in history.
One of the candidates is Llanisca Lugo, from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center, who is a candidate for the Assembly for the Boyeros municipality in Havana. She spoke to Peoples Dispatch to explain the importance of these elections in the difficult moment the country is facing, what the electoral process means for the Cuban people, and the participatory democracy that is being built on a daily basis in Cuba.
Peoples Dispatch: Can you tell us about what people are voting for and what these elections mean for Cuba?
Llanisca Lugo: These elections are taking place at a very complicated moment for the country, at a moment when the project of the revolution is faced with many challenges and the people have a high level of dissatisfaction with issues that the country is going through. I believe that the call being made by the Cuban people themselves is to try to emphasize the fundamental political meaning of a process that is not the election of a few people, because lots of Cubans would have merits to assume the tasks of the National Assembly, but, with this process, it is emphasizing again that the project of the revolution is a collective project. It is a project of the people, that the people are sovereign, and that the way for us to deepen socialism is the way to exercise the right of the people to vote and to vote for that collective project.
We vote so that Cuba can have the possibility of deepening and determining the things that the Revolution has not yet finished. And that in the resistance against the enemies who will not give up, we can create paths for more socialism, for more justice, for more equality. Because there is no place for democracy, for justice, for equality in systems where money is part of the electoral process, in systems where the parties are monopolized by money or private interests, in systems where there is no accountability.
There is now a moment where there is a lot of discussion about what the sovereignty of the people means in the Cuban political system. People’s power is the essence of the Cuban political system. [We discuss] how to generate proposals for the candidacy and then when the candidates become deputies, how they can be accountable to the people, and how the people can be linked to their governance, to respond to the immediate problems of the people.
All this is in today’s scenario to make it an increasingly democratic process, where the symbolism of the revolution, the symbolism of unity, the symbolism of what it means to resist alone against a gigantic enemy and against an organized capital with a terrible force, requires each one of us to place ourselves above the immediate to think about the future.
PD: Can you explain about this process of the National Assembly elections and how the candidates are chosen?
LL: The Assembly is reducing its membership this year. It’s a new thing this term. In the 10th legislature, the Assembly is going to have 470 deputies from an assembly, instead of the more than 600 at present. People are nominated as candidates to the Assembly by the plenaries of the mass organizations and by the delegates of the Municipal Assemblies and Councils who are elected directly by the people.
In other words, those who are selected as candidates come from the organizations of people’s power on a local level, as well as from different sectors of mass work, representing different issues and interests of Cuban society.
It is an assembly that we want to be diverse, that looks a lot like the Cuban people. The next legislature will have more women and young people than the previous one, if the candidates are elected. It is a legislature that must also represent the plurality of the current Cuban society, [where there is] a revolution that is being revolutionized from within, through struggles and processes based on identities. The revolution is very dynamic and the assembly will have to respond and resemble those processes.
I was called by the Candidacy Commission which told me that I had been proposed as a candidate to the Assembly, and then a process began of submitting information and of interviews. Then I had to meet and do an interview with each one of the delegates of the Municipal Assembly from where I was nominated, and they have to approve your candidacy. In my case, in the Boyeros municipality there were 109 proposed candidates and all of them were interviewed. Then there is an assembly with all of the potential candidates together, and there the candidates are voted on and approved in the territory. These things happen before you go as a candidate to the National Assembly, that is to say, the territory for which you are elected or proposed, has to support your candidacy in the Assembly which gathers all the delegates who are part of the entities of people’s power there.
So it is a complex process and the Candidacy Commission puts in a lot of work. Once the candidacies are confirmed and till the elections, it is the time for us to visit the municipalities, to know what the neighborhoods are like, the main problems that the people are having, and the different kinds of work going on in the area. It is really an exercise in the role of service, which is what it should be.
PD: And at the polls, what are you voting for?
LL: Well, there you have several options. The option of voting for one person which is legitimate because there are several candidates for each district and next to each one, there is an option to vote for that individual. But there is also the option of voting for all which means that you are voting for a project to which these people contribute in different ways and saying that you trust in the will to build with all the contradictions, more democracy in Cuba. The vote for all, or the united vote, comes from a proposal made by Fidel in 1993, in an understanding of the difficulty of people just supporting specific candidates.
And here [with the vote] it is not a question of personal profiles. In other words, the revolution really has to be capable of dialoguing more and more with the people. It was made from the people, it is made with the people, and the people have to feel that they are in the assembly. And for that there is no one person with more capacity than another.
The people have to know that there will be mechanisms which will be constantly improved, for the people to have real power within the assembly, even if they are not sitting there. It is not an assembly of professionals, it is not an assembly of professional politicians, it is an assembly of normal people who work in a lot of things and who, during their spare time, put themselves in the service of legislating the country, so that the people may be happier. So that notion of the common good and service, of the task, of duty, is transmitted through that vote. You are voting for people who are assuming the task. It is nothing more than that.
PD: What are some of the proposals or ideas you have for, on the one hand, continuing to deepen the revolution and, on the other, guaranteeing the participation of people in your territory in this exercise?
LL: Well during this time that I have been visiting different areas, I have seen that there is diversity in the ways that the communities express themselves. The people are diverse, not everybody is the same and some people are deeply sensitive about the moment we are living in and have great commitment, but there is also a certain level of exhaustion and you can perceive it when you listen to the people. And the debates have not always been about the project of the revolution. Sometimes they have been about immediate problems, about the roads, street lighting, the schools, and transportation, because people have immediate needs and you have to be able to discuss politics in the immediate, not in the abstract project.
And I am learning a lot from that. For me, the ability to stand by the side of the people and listen to even the deepest criticism is an exercise of permanent humility, it has to be a mandate of the Assembly, a mandate of every deputy. To be there not only with your constituents, because they voted for you, but to be in the territory, doing everything you can to try to be a bridge, because what you are is a bridge. You have to be someone who is a bridge, with the necessary judgement, with political sensitivity, and always at the side of the people.
And that is a very big challenge, because the people express their pain, their anguish, in such a way that there are many ways to interpret them, not to feel them as a threat, but to feel them as something that can deepen the revolution, or at least to have the capacity to incorporate them to a force of change, with faith. It is very important to have faith in the people. The people may be a bit tired, they may be a little bit discouraged, but the people will always respond when they feel that there is a project that responds to them and has the capacity to generate changes and to assume leadership.
And so I believe in that very much, infinitely. I believe that people can get involved and be better each time and that the collective is a positive force and that belonging to something improves people’s lives. Something that brings people together, is better than people who are fractured, isolated, alone, who have no way to be happy.
I believe that it is up to us to bring people together, to build networks so that people feel supported in these collective processes and feel the strength to contribute to the country in the moment we are going through.
PD: What are the lessons you have learned from your international experience?
LL: For me, the international work always left me a lesson which is that for people outside Cuba, (even though we say that Cuba is not a beacon, it is not a light) Cuba is a symbol that still has a lot of meaning and this has to be carried with humility and responsibility. Knowing that it is not a perfect process, knowing that the revolution is not over, that we did not achieve everything we wanted, but what has been possible, and that what has been possible means a different world or a different life for the majority of the people. That is very important and that is something that you carry with any task that you assume. Now for me it is in the Parliament, but it is true for every task.
The other thing you learn is about the capacity of the people when they organize. We are all organized here, but we have learned to be organized in a way that sometimes prevents us from being aware of the potential of organization.
In some sense, we naturalize being organized and we make routines of being organized, but when you go across Latin America, when you see the effort that people make to organize themselves, the consciousness that people have, what it means, the struggle of people to organize themselves, you realize that you have a power, a force and that the way forward is to organize people. Nobody has the moon, nobody has the wisdom, nobody has the power, nobody can save Cuba except the organized people.
If you believe in this, you can have clarity, even if the problems do not have a clear solution. The way forward is the organized people, with political culture, with sovereignty, with independence, with love for our country. We can discuss about how to build socialism, because nobody has that certainty, nobody has the recipe, nobody has fully achieved it. You can discuss some things, but there are others that you cannot discuss. And those that you cannot discuss you have to defend with the organized people. And with the people there is hope and strength. And I believe that if we are not afraid of the organized people, the revolutionary power of Cuba will grow.