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Elections under totalitarian control: to participate or not to participate, that is the question

'For Latin American Democrats, the recent experiences of Cuba and Venezuela are still fresh.'

La Habana

"It is impossible to recognize the results of an election in a country where there are no guarantees ensuring the effective exercise of democracy," said Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, in reference to the recent elections in Venezuela.

There are many experiences in European and Latin American history featuring democratic forces' participation in electoral processes in countries under totalitarian control. But there are no patterns that can be followed.

"For Latin American Democrats, the recent experiences of Cuba and Venezuela are still fresh." In Venezuela, the opposition to el chavismo participated in legislative elections in 2015, and won them, by an ample margin. Later, they recently participated in elections for governors and lost, also by an ample margin.

But they were two very different elections.

In the former there was still respect for Chávez's Constitution. International observers participated. The second ones, for governors, just held, on the other hand, were convoked after forces loyal to Nicolás Maduro disregarded the opposition Congress popularly elected in the first election, after brutally repressing major opposition demonstrations, and after the Government had convened and approved a new, clearly fraudulent Constituent Assembly, which it publicly presented as legal.

No. There is no comparison between the two elections.

Therefore, the question is not whether or not one should ever participate in elections convened by a totalitarian government, but rather to determine whether the conditions under which these elections would be held merit participation, according to a cost-benefit analysis.

If there is a respect for the freedoms of expression, association, choice and economic activity; in short, if opposition is being allowed, and not being violently suppressed and repressed; if it can express itself, meet, campaign, defend its platforms, and freely choose its representatives; and elections are held featuring guarantees confirmed by international observers, and it can be considered that there exist reasonable possibilities of securing public positions, it would be worth participating.

In short, if a dictatorship accepts these conditions and is able to allow those freedoms in practice, then it is possible and expedient to participate in the elections, to promote platforms, and candidates, and even to win them.

But when the opposition is crushed by violence, divided and imprisoned; small and medium-sized business owners are in crisis because of the government's monopolistic actions; workers' rights are violated; people are struggling to eat, impoverished and fleeing the country however they can... to participate in the elections convened by a dictatorship may only undermine the opposition's failure and yield a transitory consolidation of the regime. What has happened in Venezuela.

These are simulations of electoral processes, convened by dictatorships that do not really seek a democratic solution to the country's crisis, or to guarantee the fundamental freedoms that would facilitate it, but rather the mirage of a democratic veneer, in order to consolidate the regime. As such, the opposition has more to lose more by participating.

Inside Cuba 

In Cuba Poder Popular "elections" will soon be held to determine local delegates. However, there are no basic democratic guarantees that allow the opposition to present its proposals or candidates. The Government of General Castro has made every effort to obstruct participation by opponents in the elections, from making them prisoners, with or without any grounds; to preventing them from attending meetings, to pressuring them with family matters so that they do not participate, etc. In Cuba many political prisoners remain jailed, opposition is openly repressed, and basic freedoms and guarantees are lacking.

Under these conditions, movements such as Candidatos por el Cambio (Candidates for Change), Otro 18 (Another 18), Somos+ (WeAre+) and other projects have sought to present candidates who, at the very least, have served to demonstrate once again the absence of such freedoms and guarantees. And much less can be expected from the "elections" for deputies to the National Assembly

All the "electoral" processes carried out under the Constitution of 1976, including those carried out after the subsequent constitutional changes, demonstrate that the first task of the opposition and dissidence is to work towards the restoration of political, civil and economic rights that can guarantee truly free and democratic elections.

Until then, any attempt to attain even a simple position of local delegate will be in vain.

What can be done to achieve the full restoration of fundamental freedoms and rights that guarantee free and democratic elections? Quite a bit has been written on this question, but this vital effort must go on until it succeeds. I will address this issue in an upcoming article.

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