Saturday, March 06, 2010

"Poder Popular" and elections: this is no democracy (but you already did know that!)

For my post today I need only to translate this fabulous text of Yoani Sanchez about the coming elections in Cuba.
Yoani Sanchez electoral "summons" (1)
I see my co-citizens go as robots to the small grocery store, hang out tamely at work and slid without any hope their ballots at the box.  Their lives go by while they buy bread _smaller by the day_, cash in a symbolic pay check that does not even cover a sub-life and they raise their hands in the assemblies to name candidates.  None of the chosen ones in the current electoral process will be able to solve these everyday problems which weigh heavily on Cuban's lives.  Of the proposed ones we barely know a picture and a biography full of "heroism", where s/he states -almost always- that s/he is of humble origins.  We do not see a word on his programs or intentions after they are sworn to office.

Curiously, almost all those who make it to circumscription delegate are militants of the Communist Party of Cuba and put party discipline above their duty toward their electors. They are not going to represent us in front of the government, nor be our voice addressing institutions, they just will serve as the announcers of the bad news coming from above, channels for these regulations and orders that a few decide. In the more than thirty years of their existence these representatives of the Poder Popular [People's Power] have not managed to have garbage picked up efficiently, to have bakeries work as they should or that the sewers do not ooze everywhere.  Neither do they represent the heterogeneity of our society.  They have reached these positions for their proven fealty rather than their managing skills.

Tonight is the meeting to propose a candidate in the concrete blocks where I live.  The citation has reached me a couple of days ago while on TV we were convoked to elect the best and more able.  However, I have not a shred of faith in a mechanism that has proven its uselessness and its sectarianism. I would like to lift my hand for that neighbor with the firm speech and concrete projects that lives across the hall, but there are orders to block the way to whomever proposes a "dissident", even those who merely lean toward some change.  It is very likely that the same delegate will be repeating, the one who for more than ten years promises us solutions knowing full well that it is not within his reach to fulfill them.  He is the safe candidate of these empty elections, and we are the figurines that must raise their hands of fill up a card.


This is of course, you do realize, what awaits us in Venezuela sooner than what you expect.  Or what do you think are those consejos comunales (communal councils) that the government is trying to build, at least in its sectors where it is still a majority so as to keep that "majority" under control.

Those consejos comunales are nothing else but the chavista version of the feared Cuban CDR, Comites de Defensa de la Revolucion (committee for the defense of the revolution), who sign the summons sent to Yoani above.  Under the pretext that they both guarantee the power to the people, Poder Popular in both countries political lingo, they are in fact clever mechanism of control, and fine tuned machines to kill democracy, or at least delay for ever any tendency to it that might exist, even after more than 50 years of dictatorship as Yoani Sanchez tells us.

The way they work is very simple: you vote on anything that such councils must vote on, with raised hands, while your boss, your local party representative, your fanatic neighbor watches.  Tell me, who is going to dare these people after they see what happened to the few who dared?  Castro Communism has understood very well that the secret ballot is at the end the very worst enemy they have.

True, there is still some occasional ballot voting, as Yoani herself indicates.  For example in Venezuela, the heads of a Consejo Comunal are elected on secret ballot.  But after that all debates and votes are public.  You can imagine very well by yourself that once a Consejo elects a chavista board it will be nearly impossible to have a non chavista board voted in the future.  Even in an opposition Consejo where chavismo represents a 40% you can imagine the psychological effect of red shirts attending the meetings.  That is why chavismo has no trouble allowing Consejos Comunales elect opposition leaders in many communities, their objective first is to control the barrios.  Little by little, the inner mechanism of these councils, allied to the lack of independent judicial, will make sure that someday even the La Castellana consejo be chavista.

To fasten the process chavismo is diligently killing decentralization, centralizing all decision making in Caracas with a series of recent laws.  That is, if in your local Consejo Comunal you wanted to, say, fix an oozing sewer, you need to ask for the money directly to Caracas.  Caracas will make of course a great show of those chavista councils that receive their grants while those in a non chavista council will notice that not a penny comes their way in spite of all the taxes they pay. 

Control in Venezuela has still been difficult to establish because of the inherent inefficacy of chavismo, too burdened by ideological content to clean up sewers, pick up trash, bring you light and water.  But that is OK as far as chavismo is concerned, they are aware that it is necessarily a slow system to establish as Venezuela is not an Island and not in 1958 anymore: what Chavez in the end wants is a solid base where to recruit red shirts to beat up on occasion, as needed, opposition Consejos.

Finally with time Consejos will become mere CDR.  The way to rise to the top of your Consejo, to be nominated and elected will be to rat on your neighbors, to write reports on who is patriotic and who is not.  It is also implicit in such systems where accusations are public and in the open and where the best way to survive is to be the first one to accuse.  We saw quite often in our modern world, namely since the French Revolution Terreur.  that way even if the country is broke and cannot really pay you anything it can still offer you the sweet drug of power over your neighbor.

Some of you may laugh, but what Yoani describes could be Venezuela's reality within years of Chavez retaining the Nazional Assembly this September and reelection in 2012, when a new constitution makes away with governors and mayors, leaving Chavez alone with an inorganic mass of Consejos and a weak Assembly elected by the consejos and not by the direct vote of the people. Do not say that you dd not see the coincidences with the Cuban system, that you have not been warned.  Venezuela as a Cuban colony is bound to adotpo its political system just as many English colonies adopted representative democracy with great success.  It is inherent to the colonial system.

1) Translation of the summons (it is an invitation but we all know that you better show up)

Information to the voter
Comrade [abbreviated]  Yoani, elector living in the area where the CDR Nº 6 is located Name [empty, curiously, no hero name used?]
through this way we inform you that as accordign to Electroal Law you ahve the right to attend the ASSEMBLY FOR THE NOMINATION OF CANDIDATES FOR DELEGATE TO THE MUNICIPAL ASSEMBLY OF THE PODER POPULAR  that will be held march 5 of 2010, at 8:00PM, at the door fo your building.  Electoral comission of Circumscription Nº 72.

My Notes: Yoani is defined according to her CDR, not her municipal or electoral district.  In fact, we do not even know the name of the province where she votes.  The capital bold letters of the subject matter imply by themsleves that you certainly should not miss such an important event.  Although Yoani does not say it is quite possible that such note was hand delivered by the local CDR boss, to make sure you know that you have the "right" to attend.


  1. Excellent post.

    Little extra warning I do all the time: "consejo" in Russian is "soviet". These idiots have repeatedly said Venezuela's socialism will be different than what they had in Europe because there will be the consejos...but consejos are the same crap as the "Soviets" (thus "consejos") had. In reality, those consejos are, like the Russian soviets, a farce: they are all the time controlled by the Party.
    In the Soviet Union the Cheka played a vital role in intimidating people, mobbing, moving crowds to attack those who thought differently, eventually getting rid of undesired persons

    In Venezuela I have read there is already some legislation on the pipeline about the role of the PSUV in consejos, which is absolutely an attack to democracy, you cannot make a party integral part of a permanent system.

    I am very worried because I don't see people in the opposition going to explain the things you are explaining. Instead of having those 20 heavy weights as Ravell et alia waisting time in competing for two seats in the capital's East, at least half of them should just spend their resources trying to educate people. We all should do our best to try to tell people about how they will lose control with these consejos.

    Great job, Daniel, pero escribe eso en castellano! :-)
    Kudos to Yoani

  2. I actually saw the Nicaraguan version (Comites de Defensa Sandinista) established with Cuban and East German help - and they were very bad news, as Daniel describes. I don't have any doubt at all that the same thing will happen in Venezuela, assuming no one opposes the idea...

    Correa's politburo (and that's what it's called, el buro politco) has come out with the idea of establishing Comites de Defensa de la Revolucion here in Ecuador (these guys are so original in their thinking!). Fortunately (at this point, anyway), the opposition within the Asamblea Nacional, in the media and in other sectors, has nixed the idea, and the Correa government has backed down for the moment.

    Still, the Correaista Mayor of Quito has called for the establishment of comites barriales, ostensibly for the purpose of improving dialogue between local neighborhoods and the Ayunatmiento. Political analysts are keeping a wary eye on this development and we'll see what happens....

    In the meantime, I wish your consejos comunales the very worst of luck, and please, please, please come up with a decent political philosophy around which an effective opposition can coalesce, before Chavez runs your country into the ground completely...


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