Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Elections in Cuba, Venezuela and the USA

Elections in Cuba, Venezuela and the USA
September 18, 2012
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Nominating is underway in Cuba for candidates who will
run in the general elections, which will end with the election of
parliament deputies and the president of the republic. In this first
stage, grassroots assemblies are being organized in all neighborhoods,
and candidates are being chosen from among local residents.

More than half of these municipal offices will be filled with new
delegates, but no one expects any surprises at the national level. Most
Cubans are convinced that Raul Castro will be reelected, along with
almost all of the deputies being members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

Much more attention is focused on the Venezuelan elections, because any
change there could dramatically affect the lives of Cubans. The main
source of income for the economy comes from the exchange with Caracas of
medical services for oil.

Similarly, the outcome of the US election could have a major impact on
the daily lives of people on the island, many of whom fear the return of
travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans and reductions in remittances.

Citizens' Concerns

Edel Rivero, a 25-year-old teacher, believes "the elections in Cuba are
symbolic because they're not going to produce change." He adds that
what's more important is "the election in Venezuela, because that
relationship is key to Cuba," along with "the US elections, because what
happens there always affects us."

"There will be no surprises in Cuba," said dissident journalist Miriam
Leiva, "the candidates nominated by the PCC will be elected, but we'll
have to wait and see what happens in the United States and Venezuela. If
Chavez loses or weakens, the Cuban economy will spin into crisis."

"The Cuban elections don't stir great expectations, but the ones in the
US do, because a Republican victory would mean cuts in remittances and
travel," says Enrique Lopez, a 70-year-old specialist in religions,
adding "if Chavez lost, the supply of oil would be cut and our economy
would collapse."

The Cuban media is also giving special attention to the electoral
processes in the US and Venezuela. This past Saturday, for example,
official television made these their principal topics on the news
program "La mesa redonda" (The Roundtable).

The value of health

The services of Cuban doctors in Venezuela account for the bulk of the
country's foreign exchange earnings, around $5 billion (USD) annually.
According to Cuban economists, this surpasses the combined revenue
coming from tourism, remittances, cigars, sugar and nickel.

Most of the labor of Cuba doctors, teachers and athletic coaches is paid
for in the form of oil, but some sources claim that the sale of those
services has reached such a level that Caracas is paying Havana an
excess amount of money to keep the relationship balanced.

Bilateral cooperation is key for the reelection of President Chavez, who
is running his campaign based on the social achievements of "missions"
such as his "Barrio Adentro" program, where Cubans provide professional
health care, education and sports service to the poorest areas of Venezuela.

Although opposition candidate Henrique Capriles said he will not suspend
the agreement with Cuba, no one on the island believes that 35,000 Cuban
doctors will remain in Venezuela if the opposition beats Chavez.

Tourism based on exiles

The other electoral process being carefully followed by Cubans is the
one in the US. Most of them believe that if the Republicans manage to
unseat President Obama, there will be more difficulties ahead for family
relationships and therefore for their personal incomes.

Remittances from the US amount to around $1.2 billion (USD), equivalent
to a quarter of what Cuban doctors produce in Venezuela, but this has
great social significance because it's money that goes directly into the
people's pockets.

Yet many fear that a Republicans return will mean prohibitions on travel
to the island by Cuban-Americans, as occurred under President George W.
Bush. Obama lifted the restriction but Miami Republicans are calling for
its re-institution.

Since travel to Cuba was allowed, about 400,000 Cuban-Americans visit
the island every year. According to the Bureau of Statistics, they have
become the third largest tourist group staying in hotels – behind
Canadians and Cubans who live on the island.
(*) See Fernando Ravsberg's blog.

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