Raúl, the first to vote

The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, exercised his right to vote in a polling station located in the Santiago municipality of II Frente Oriental Frank País (Frank País Second Eastern Front)

SEGUNDO FRENTE. – With just a few minutes to go before the clock struck seven this Sunday morning, Cuban President Raul Castro Ruz arrived to vote in polling station 1, constituency 11, located in the Paquito Rosales Benítez School of the Santiago municipality of Segundo Frente.

Alongside other voters who had gathered early to exercise their right to vote, Raúl participated in the opening ceremony of the polling station, during which the Cuban flag was raised, the notes of the National Anthem were sung, the oath that governs the work of electoral authorities was read and the two ballot boxes were shown to be empty before sealing.

Raúl was the first to vote, followed by the First Secretary of the Party in Santiago de Cuba, Lázaro Expósito Canto. The Cuban President conversed with the electoral authorities and the two school girls who watched over the ballot boxes.

On exiting the polling station, Raúl shared anecdotes with residents regarding the founding of the Frank País Second Eastern Front (which this municipality is named after), and said it was a pleasure to have voted alongside them.

The municipality for which the Army General was a candidate to the National Assembly of People’s Power has a total population of around 40,000, divided into 79 electoral constituencies. A total of 114 polling stations were installed here.

This election day took on a special significance in this mountainous territory, as it occurred precisely on the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Frank País Second Front, under the command of the then Comandante Raúl Castro Ruz.

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Cuban Elections Marked by Massive Turnout

Still one hour to go before the polls closed in Cuban Sunday legislative elections, nearly 80 percent of voters had turned out to elect delegates to Provincial Assemblies and the National Parliament, according to preliminary reports.

Until 17:00 local time Sunday, 78,5 percent of 8,740.569 registered voters had casted their votes at the 24,470 polling stations, which were opened until 18:00. The National Electoral Commission is issueing the final report at a press conference this Monday.

Cubans were electing 1,265 delegates to 15 Provincial Assemblies and 605 lawmakers to the National Parliament that will be proclaimed in April.

To First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel, by exercising their right to vote that is secret and egalitarian, the Cuban people defended their sovereignty in the face of growing threats to the Revolution amidst a complex world juncture.

In the first of voting late last year, a total of 12,515 delegates were elected to the 168 municipal assemblies across the island. These bodies then chose the candidates for this second electoral round to elect members for provincial legislative assemblies and Parliament.

For the elections, more than 200,000 citizens were trained to work at the voting process as electoral commissioners and supporting staff at polling stations.

As a distinguishing mark, children from primary and secondary education levels in their school uniforms guarded the ballot boxes.

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Cuban People Defend their Sovereignty in Elections, Says Diaz-Canel

First Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said today that by exercising the right to vote, the people defend their sovereignty in view of the threats posed against the Revolution in a complex world situation.

After voting at a polling place in Santa Clara, Diaz-Canel reiterated that the elections are held in a context of damaged ties with the United States as a result of an administration that has offended Cuba and has returned to the rhetoric of the Cold War.

Diaz-Canel, candidate for the National Assembly of People's Power (Parliament), referred to the tightened U.S. policy towards Cuba after President Donald Trump took office, while deploring the U.S. Government's decision to go back to the Monroe Doctrine approach.

'With our vote we show that this country continues to be independent, free, sovereign and socialist,' he said after greeting voters, students and members of the electoral process.

Diaz-Canel also said that exercising the right to vote represents a commitment to the historic generation that shaped the Revolution and a tribute to historic leader Fidel Castro, as well as a support for President Raul Castro.

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The Pride of Our Democracy

They were all waiting anxiously. Students and professors gathered early to welcome the visitors. Some have previously met them in person. Others felt curious to know, via their biographies, the most important aspects of their careers.

Finally, they arrived. The school theater hosts the most significant event of all: the exchange of viewpoints.

There is some shyness at first. But the newcomers break the ice. They are not here as a matter of forms. They are here to remove the perception of a simple photo on a wall. They want to be known not only because of their merits —written in a piece of paper—, but also as common people, no matter the importance of what they do.

Soon the ambiance gets pleasantly informal. They talk now about future goals. Young people want to know everything: their work, the electoral process, the reason why they are not from the municipality, and how many times have they been nominated before.

Answers are given one after another. And questions raises from the other side about future careers, functioning of the school hours, and students’ knowledge on the electoral process, and the number of times they have voted before. It was a crystal-clear chat where there was no “they” or “we”, but “all.”

The words “delegate”, “congressmen”, “political system” are now common to all and assume greater significance. Everything is understood as gestures, smiles, and watchful eyes show. It does not only generate interests, but also a profound conviction of voting as a right and duty.

When the meeting seems to come to an end, a new question raises. “Boys and girls, if you are nominated one day, are you going to accept?”

Some look to each other with surprise. No words to say yet. Doubts are written in some faces. And some says “even though we are 16 years old, we are still too young, and being delegate entails great responsibility.”

Nonetheless, to everyone’s surprise, a young face requested the floor. He has already fulfilled such mission and feels the need to share his experience:

“He is right. It is tough. But it is a school to be better women and men. If you were nominated to represent citizens, then do not hesitate. Take it with courage. You only need three things to reach the goal: will, effort, and human sensibility. And there you have a delegate in Cuba.”

The audience faces show light, a light of a simple and irrefutable truth. The ovation is a sign.

This is not a fictional story. I was there and I am pretty sure there have been other meetings similar to this one. The exchange of our congressmen with citizens is far from what we are used to watch all over the world in electoral campaigns.

This is not about delegates looking for aberrant populism. It is about delegates looking to be closer to citizens without obstacles. No one swaps promises for votes. This is a meeting point to share, talk as equals. There is no discrimination in Cuba. There is only one common cause: to defend the Revolution. This is, no doubt, the true face of what we call with pride Socialist Democracy.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Diaz / CubaSi Translation Staff

Brazil's Lula Da Silva Launches Candidacy, Says 'They Can Arrest My Flesh But Not My Ideas'

Lula emphasized that he's unsure what will happen in the coming months.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio 'Lula' da Silva has launched his pre-candidacy for this year's presidential election during an event hosted at Expominas in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais. Speaking to the crowd on Wednesday, he said that his “torturers,” in reference to judges, the corporate media and others who have pursued him on alleged corruption charges, can arrest “my flesh, but my ideas will carry on free. They will not detain our dreams.”

RELATED: Brazil: Lula Appeals Sentence on 'Technical Grounds'

Lula emphasized that he's unsure what will happen in the coming months. “What I do know is that I do not respect the (court's) decision ... For this reason, I'm a (presidential) candidate. I'll return to ensure that our people benefit from their rights and live better.”

Criticizing Globo, Brazil's largest media outlet, Lula said numerous hours of negative coverage had been dedicated to demonizing him. “What they don't understand is that the people know me,” he said adding "I doubt that their conscious is calm.”

Lula pointed out that the problem faced by the mainstream media is not him, but millions of others who believe in his ideas. “They can try to do away with me, tell the number of lies they tell headed by Rede Globo; they can try to demonize PT (Workers' Party). They are dealing with a different human being because I'm not me, I'm the incarnation of a piece of cell in each of you.

During a radio interview before his speech, Lula commented on the military intervention in the state of Rio de Janeiro. “I fear that the intervention in Rio de Janeiro is pyrotechnics, a maneuver of political interest... If the state is absent regarding public policies in impoverished areas, violence appears.

”He added: “Temer has found a way to become a presidential candidate and believes that public safety can be an important issue to secure a niche.”Lula has appealed his 12-year sentence for corruption on “technical grounds.” His lawyers say the written indictment contained 38 omissions, 16 contradictions and five areas that were unclear.

The faults raised should "result in the annulment of the whole process or acquittal of Lula," his lawyers said.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is greeted by supporters during a rally in Belo Horizonte, Brazil February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Washington Alves



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Bolivia: Massive Rallies Launch Evo Morales' Reelection Bid

Massive rallies were held in four Bolivian departments on Wednesday to launch President Evo Morales' 2019 presidential candidacy. Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) organized the support rallies in collaboration with the Federation of Campesino Workers of Cochabamba, Cocaleros (coca leaf growers) and neighborhood assemblies.

In Cochabamba, Jhonny Pardo, leader of the campesino federation, addressed the crowd of roughly 50,000 MAS supporters saying “we will guarantee the continuation of the process of change, even if it costs us our lives, we will achieve the continuity our brother Evo Morales.”

In La Paz, Sandro Ramirez of El Alto’s neighborhood assembly rallied supporters in Plaza San Francisco and criticized the opposition. “The right-wing’s goal is for Evo (Morales) not to participate in the 2019 elections, of course, because they don’t have a candidate,” Ramirez said.

In the Tarija and Cobija departments, the MAS party organized separate rallies. Via Twitter Morales thanked his supporters.

"I thank the Bolivian people who demonstrated in several cities to support the Democratic and Cultural Revolution and the Process of Change. Your love makes me commit to continue working for our homeland," Evo wrote.

Morales's opposition also took to the streets in what they called a national civic strike. Alfredo Reda, a government official, said the demonstrations were a failure because “it didn’t generate sufficient impact to paralyze productive, service and commercial activities.”  

The Opposition has, however, vowed to continue their protest with street blockages, and "massive marches". Juan Flores, president of the civic committees, said “we will coordinate with all the institutions an indefinite national civic strike. A national march towards La Paz will follow to ask the president to obey the will of the people.”

Rolando Villena, a former Bolivian ombudsman, has also voiced opposition to Morales' candidacy stating that the group, who are opposed to it will request a hearing with the Inter American Commission of Human Rights (ICHR), to present their arguments for the lawsuit against the state.

"We are going to request a hearing so that we can know the state (of the lawsuit) and where we are and continue in this action because there has to be a report from the International Commission on Human Rights," Villena explained.

Opposition groups presented a lawsuit against the decision by Bolivia’s Constitutional Tribunal to allow Morales to enter as a candidate in the 2019 presidential elections after Bolivians narrowly rejected a proposed constitutional reform preventing re-election.

Despite the results of 2016 referendum, several international organizations, groups, and political leaders have proclaimed their support for Morales.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, a former Spanish president, said while speaking to gathering in Bolivia on Wednesday: "I'm here because I've seen Bolivia change, improve... If there has been a great president that is Evo Morales." Zapatero comments were supported by, Alberto Garzon a Spanish politician, economist, and member of United Left said: "We are twinned, the fight of Evo is the struggle of the peoples and workers of the whole world."

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Cuba Prepares For March 11 Elections

Cubas 24,470 polling stations will be administered by more than 200,000 polling stations for the country's March 11 national elections. 

Cuba is assuring the quality and transparency of its upcoming elections by training some 200,000 people to administer the over 24,000 polling stations where voting will take place March 11.

US Congressmen Arrive in Cuba to Address 'Sonic Attacks'

In total, there will be 24,470 polls set up throughout the country for citizens to cast their ballots, 141 of which will be set up to attend to an above average quantity of voters. 

National Electoral Commission spokesperson, Marina Capo Ribalra, says the stations will include full lists of candidates, ballots and computer equipment to facilitate people's voting.

Cuba's 8 million people will vote for 605 national parliamentary delegates and 1,265 representatives to represent its 15 provinces in the Popular Power Assembly. 

The country's current parliament has the world's largest number of women representatives. Candidates for this parliamentary cycle are over 40 percent mestizo or Black. 

Cuba's newest president will later be elected by a parliamentary committee.

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Brazil: Lula Supporters Convene in Porto Alegre Before Trial

Construction of the “Encampment for Democracy and in Defense of Lula” is currently underway by members of the Popular Brazil Front.

Dozens of jurists, intellectuals and politicians have convened in the Federation of Workers in Financial Institutions of Rio Grande do Norte, Fetrafi, to discuss the legal right of former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva to run in this year's presidential election, as well as defending democracy. 

RELATED: Brazilian Prosecutor Say He 'Sees No Reason' to Detain Lula as Former President Pledges to Clear His Name

A sticking point in the discussion revolved around a number of irregularities in the Operation Car Wash investigations. Lula has been sentenced by judge Sergio Moro for his alleged connection to the graft scandal. His appeal ruling is scheduled for Jan. 24.

“Maybe much greater than those judicial deficiencies is the use of the Criminal Law for political ends,” said Jacson Zilio, professor of Criminal Law at the Federal university of Parana, UFPR. “This is a process in which what is in debate is precisely that destruction of the democratic state governed by the rule of law in which criminal processes are configured as processes of exception.”

Another professor of Criminal Law at UFPR, Juarez Cirino, shared Zilio's opinion, according to Brasil de Fato. He said that as a result of successive electoral losses by Lula's political opponents, as well as the projected loss at the polls later this year, “they've discovered this method of political struggle, dislocating the electoral campaign from public squares” to the Fourth Regional Federal Court, TRF-4 in Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

Cirino went on to note that Lula, as many people had anticipated, “was condemned without proof and the people are here, united, in in order to support him at this point in time.”

Having left office with a record approval rating of 83 percent, according to Datafolha, Lula now leads upcoming presidential polls conducted by Vox Populi, Datafolha, Data Poder 360, Instituto Parana, the National Confederation of Transportation/MDA and Ipsos. His two terms in office were marked by slew of social programs, lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty and removing the country from the U.N. World Hunger Map. He also made significant improvements in housing and education, which stand in contrast to those who governed the country in the past.

Brazil's Fourth Regional Federal Court, TRF-4, will rule on his passive corruption case on Jan. 24. Some argue that the trial was scheduled in a loathsome twist of planning as it falls on the one-year anniversary of his wife's stroke that led to her death.

Construction of the “Encampment for Democracy and in Defense of Lula” is currently underway by members of the Popular Brazil Front and landless farmers. The site will play host to supporters of Lula's cause as they accompany the ruling in Porto Alegre.

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