Cuban elections yesterday

Cubans voted Sunday in municipal elections touted as proof of democracy on the communist-led island, Reuters reports. An hour before the polls closed, officials said 93 percent of Cuba’s 8.4 million voters had cast a vote for delegates to local assemblies that deal with nuts-and-bolts issues of municipal government. The Communist Party is the only legal party in Cuba and the nation’s top leaders are not directly elected by the people.

Critics say the turnout is high because Cubans must vote or face problems with local authorities. Cuban officials say the local elections are an enviable example of democracy for the rest of the world because of the high turnout and the populist purity of the process. “In no other part of the world do as many participate in elections as in Cuba,” said Cuban vice president Esteban Lazo. “The delegates are chosen by their own people, who nominate the best and most capable,” he told reporters after voting.

Cuban television showed President Raúl Castro casting his vote in Havana, but ailing former leader Fidel Castro, 83, did not make an appearance. An electoral official said she had received a ballot from the elder Castro, who has not been seen in public since July 2006, and she was shown dropping into a ballot box. “He voted,” she said with a smile.

As Cuban television reported on the election, the small contingent of the Ladies in White tried to stage their weekly protest march on Havana’s Fifth Avenue, but they were swarmed by government supporters who roughly shoved then into a nearby park. There, the white-clad ladies linked arms in a circle and stood silently while the jeering crowd taunted them with insults and slogans such as “this street belongs to Fidel.” The women tried to leave several times, but were prevented by the crowd. Finally, after seven hours, the stalemate ended with them agreeing to be escorted by a ring of state security agents to a government-provided bus that took them out of harm’s way.

The pro-government crowd threw water bottles at the bus as it drove off. The women were similarly treated last week when they tried to march and during a week of protest marches in Havana last month. The harassment, and the February death of a dissident hunger striker, brought international condemnation of the Cuban government, which said it would not give into “blackmail” it believes is being perpetrated by the United States and Europe.

The government appears set on ending the Ladies in White marches, which have been the only known public protests permitted in Cuba since the early 1960s. It has demanded they seek a permit to march, the women have refused and the result has been the showdowns the past two Sundays. Cuba’s dissident community is small and not broadly supported, but Cuban leaders view them as mercenaries working with the United States and Europe to topple the government.

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