The Cuban opposition movement will try to register more than 170 independent candidates for the upcoming general election, which begin in October.
But they have almost zero chance of winning, particularly because Raúl Castro's government is already working on a strategy to discredit “counterrevolutionary” candidates, first Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel said in another snippet of a recently leaked video that has stirred controversy.
During a gathering with members of the Communist Party in February, Díaz-Canel mentioned “six projects related to the 2018 elections, which seek to postulate counterrevolutionary people as candidates for delegates of the People's Power ... If they become delegates, they could reach the Municipal Assembly, and they could reach the Provincial Assembly, and the National Assembly, and it would be a way to legitimize the counterrevolution within our civil society.
“And now we are taking steps to discredit all that,” Díaz-Canel said in the video snippet, the third from the same meeting made public by Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles. He has not revealed how he obtained the video.
“In this battle, which we are already fighting, we are going to be involved in this whole process in the second half of the year,” Díaz-Canel told Communist Party members.
Although there is no direct vote in Cuba to elect the National Assembly delegates or the country’s president, the upcoming elections — which are scheduled to take place from October through February — have generated great interest because the new Assembly would have to endorse a new head of government, if Castro fulfills his promise to retire in February 2018.
In naming him as first vice president, Castro hinted that Díaz-Canel, a rising star in the Communist Party, could be his successor. However, many dissidents, including Rodiles, believe that the Cuban leader plans to maintain power within the Castro family by appointing his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, as the island’s new president.
Several members of the opposition have joined the citizens platform #Otro18 to challenge the government in the elections. Díaz-Canel reminded the participants in the meeting that in the previous municipal elections, in 2015, three dissidents had tried, unsuccessfully, to be elected as local delegates of the People’s Power. In a press conference last week, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, one of the coordinators of #Otro18, said more than 170 candidates are vying for a spot on the ballot but many are being harassed by State Security.
Several have already been imprisoned for other reasons, because the “great fear [of the Cuban authorities] is the legitimization of alternatives of power through their own institutions,” said Morúa.
The leaked video confirms that such a challenge is a concern at the highest level of government. Independent journalist Reynaldo Escobar further notes that by admitting the interference in the elections to discredit opposition candidates, Díaz-Canel would be committing an “electoral offense”.
“The current rules are strict: ‘The [electoral] propaganda that will be carried out will be the dissemination of the biographies, accompanied by reproductions of the image of the candidates,’ ” Escobar wrote on the Cuban digital site 14ymedio. “No individual or organization is allowed to add programmatic details, political tendencies or advertising to these few elements.
“The ruling [communist] party also insists that the party does not nominate any candidate, an assertion that has just been denied by Díaz-Canel when he reveals that the organization will discredit opponents, or what is the same, will make negative propaganda against them and will boycott their nomination,” he added.
Rodiles, meanwhile, criticized members of the opposition for taking part in an election which he calls “a farce.”
Adding his own comments to the Díaz-Canel video, Rodiles said: “When people started talking about using the regime's tools to bring about change, that was obviously illusory. The regime has repeated it a thousand times, that they are not going to give up a millimeter.”
This story was supplemented with information from el Nuevo Herald wire services.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres