Cubans crossing the Rio Bravo. Photo: screen capture.
A Plebiscite without Ballots: Cubans Voting with Their Feet
25 / agosto / 2022
The plebiscite was the law of the Concilium Plebis in Ancient Rome. It became Law for the entire Roman population, including patricians. Plebs occupied every magistracy until one of them became the pontifex maximus of Rome. Plebs demanded the Law be written and publicly known, managing – with a political strike – to have a magistrate with great powers: the Tribune of the Plebs.
Thus, a plebiscite was the Law voted in by common people. From that Concilium Plebis, we only have a popular referendum of a binding nature, used in extraordinary circumstances by modern political powers – which both loathe democracy and the spectacle of the people deciding as an assembly.
The spontaneous plebiscitary era of the Cuban Revolution ended many moons ago. There are no longer referendums without observing any protocol or formalities, in squares, parks, theaters, because they weren’t the result of a legal and political structure of civic engagement, but of the charismatic leader’s decision-making prowess that held referendums when he believed was the right time and beneficial.
Fidel created – alongside many other people -, mass organizations, the political principles of how the State should function, concepts elevated later to dogma status and even consultations about the possible revocation from positions.
However, referendums haven’t been exercised as a binding political/legal mechanism where the sovereign people – citizens – are asked about key national affairs, or when there are legal concerns.
Nevertheless, the Cuban people continue to protest, in the many ways they’ve found to take political action, ever since they understood that there aren’t legal and safe spaces for them to express their opinions about how the State should be led, how to administrate what they say belongs to “everybody”, or about how to create useful and fair policies.
As a result, Cubans have always been the joke of humankind, not only because of their frivolous acceptance of hardship, but because of their burlesque reaction to disaster and the Administration’s crudeness.
It is also very Cuban to speak about politics under your breath, to call political leaders by their, almost Homeric, nicknames; in other cases, feverishly and enthusiastically accepting dogma, slogans, victory chants, chauvenistic discourse about our alleged uniqueness in almost everything.
The Cuban people have never stopped voting in the referendums they aren’t called to, like any self-respecting citizen, and tries to escape poverty however possible, boldly stealing resources from state-led companies, lying about their faultless political loyalty while in a meeting, talking in whispers about their family in exile and fleeing the country that puts a gun to your head. They prefer the US, but they also include destinations like Serbia or Ukraine, Russia or Uruguay.
So far this fiscal year, the US Government has recognized the entrance of just over 200,000 Cubans, of all ages and social backgrounds, crossing the Mexican border.
Once again, the Cuban people deciding their own particular plebiscite. Making the Law where they haven’t been able to build their lives. What do parades of entire families – with the elderly, children, sick – visiting Nicaragua as tourists, to then embark on a journey by land to Mexico’s northern border mean?
What do the Cuban people have to say after selling their few treasured items in life, which they inherited from their predecessors?
They have also said in a clear and democratic referendum that they can’t bear life anymore in their country they are familiar with and love the most, or at least the country they were born in and have struggled in up until now.
People’s sovereignty isn’t only expressed with positive actions. Voting, electing, designating, having an opinion, debating, proposing aren’t the only sovereign acts. Opposing anything that might harm our sovereignty is just as valid, as are actions that limit tyrannical intentions or the destruction of the Republic.
There is a direct positive impact from the people, insinuated above, but also indirectly, which is manifested in what representatives of the people say and do on their behalf.
In addition to the people’s positive impact, there is also the negative – directly and indirectly. Direct action happens when the people act against anything that restricts their sovereignty with disobedience, a political strike, resistance to tyranny or exile.
Yet, the negative indirect forms of power remain in the glorious past of Tribunes of the Plebs; who were able to veto unpopular decisions, call upon the people, and help them when they were being attacked or violated.
Thus, the action of escaping a political order is a sovereign act with a negative impact. It is a way to stop oppression and to cry out without speaking a word, saying that citizens are unable to exercise their rights in a political space that the masses are supposedly able to decide in democratically.
There are many reasons why people are leaving Cuba. Among them freedom of expression is an important one, which stands out particularly in a referendum, as they lack trust in the State’s political and economic institutions, the kind that make the majority of decisions over our lives.
The sea, Central America’s rivers, the jungle and border control patrols are also the Cuban people’s ballot box. Hundreds of thousands of us are voting with our escape. Voting in a referendum with our march towards the unknown, we are saying we can’t take it anymore!
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