Thursday, December 31, 2015

Spanish Lessons for Cuba

Spanish Lessons for Cuba / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua
Posted on December 29, 2015

14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Havana, 28 December 2015 — The general
elections held in Spain this 20 December (20-D) contain a number of
important lessons for Cuba and for Cubans, as we look ahead to the
electoral process in 2018. Here is a reflection on these lessons, at a
distance of space and time.

I participated in 20-D as a kind of international observer in the role
of representative of the initiative #Otro18*. In the Principality of
Asturias, where I was invited – and which I would like to thank, not
only for the beauty in miniature of a city like Oveido, but also because
the workings of the political systems can be better observed far from
the major metropolitan cities – I observed on my arrival the calm bustle
in which all the competing political groups prepared, in various ways,
for the important exercise of choosing among the diversity of parties
and between the four major faces: Mariano Rajoy (Popular Party, PP, in
power since 2011), Pedro Sanchez (Spanish Socialist Workers Party,
PSOE), Pablo Iglesias (Podemos, (We Can)) and Albert Rivera (Ciudadanos,

Upon my arrival I was quickly driven to the House of the People in
Oviedo: an exquisite and well-preserved example of the architecture of
the 18th century which once served as a home for Catholic nuns and now
is home to the PSOE. Being held there, and this is the first lesson for
us, was the most fortunate of those typically boring meetings we humans
commonly hold. It was the usual meeting, prior to the election cycle, of
the different political groups among what they call auditors and
guardians: a troop of party members who, on election day, monitor the
transparency and fairness of the process.

The meeting included: a rereading the manual updated for the
elections; a recounting of the incidents and problems associated with
previous elections (the municipal elections held in May throughout
Spain); a reminder, in the case of old auditors and guardians, and
guidance in the case of new ones, of their duties and rights on the
election day; a discussion in detail of what constitutes, according to
the code, an electoral offense; and the locations of the local polling
stations, among the total of 23,000 to be opened in throughout
Spain. All of this was part of the necessarily boring night meeting in
one of the PSOE headquarters. I learned there that this also was taking
place among the other political parties.

This boredom of this process is a fortunate thing for a political
exercise as important and complicated as elections. We should grasp the
need for it because it is the only way to tackle one of the key axes of
democratic systems: the nervousness that spreads among the political
class faced with the uncertainties of citizens' votes.

The second lesson is that, when it comes to elections in pluralistic
system, we must be prepared for surprises. It is not always what you
expect, whether it is the trends that mark traditions, or the currents
expressed in opinion polls, that do or do not coincide with what happens
in reality. In the 20-D elections there were several surprises: a clear
end of bipartisanship — that is the dominance of two major parties; the
emergence of new parties in Congress (Podemos and Ciudadanos); the
dissolution of the arrogant majorities; and a return to the culture of
dialogue and agreement needed to advance public policies.

The third lesson is that democracies cannot be hegemonic and respect the
rights of minorities. One complaint I hear constantly is that
majoritarian systems unleash the temptation to ignore the needs and
interests of the minority, to manipulate the mass of voters and to turn
the opposition into a noisy species unable to reverse pernicious
decisions legitimated by the weight of the majority. Ultimately, and
this is a modern element relevant to at least all Western countries,
globalized societies are highly fragmented by a multitude of minorities
– religious, political, ideological, ethnic or cultural – so that
democracies should encourage coalitions that take into account the
interests of all. For Cuba this lesson is urgent.

However, the most important lesson for us Cubans is the tolerance and
respect for diversity displayed in a society like Spain's, despite the
bitter tone of political debate.

*Translator's note: #Otro18 refers to the citizen's initiative
"AlternativaCuba2018", which anticipates multiparty democratic elections
in Cuba in 2018, the year in which Raul Castro has announced he will
step down as president.

Source: Spanish Lessons for Cuba / 14ymedio, Manuel Cuesta Morua |
Translating Cuba -

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