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175 Cuban dissidents tried to run for office. Here's how Castro's government reacted.

Nora Gamez Torres, El Nuevo Herald on

Published in News & Features

Some 12,215 candidates will be elected to municipal councils across the island of 11 million people. Provincial and national balloting will conclude with the election of the national parliament, then the selection of a new head of state to replace Castro will follow.

In theory, those elected to municipal councils can then run for the provincial assemblies and the national legislature. But "candidate commissions" made up of groups controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (CPC) in fact select the candidates at the provincial and national levels.

"No political parties other than the Communist Party are legal. Although most local candidates are not party members and the law prohibits the party from endorsing candidates, it has the ability to influence elections by mobilizing its members against candidates it regards as dissidents," William LeoGrande, an American University expert on Cuba, wrote recently in World Politics Review. "That's what it did in 2015, when two dissidents nominated by their neighbors as candidates for municipal councils in Havana were both easily defeated in the general election."

Even against the odds, part of the Cuban opposition wanted to try the electoral road, to expand their legitimacy if they won or prove that the process is unfair if they were blocked, several dissidents said. Others, like Antonio Rodiles and Ailer Gonzalez, frown on the idea of participating in a process they branded as "a farce."

Even though the opposition's chances of success were minimal, the Cuban government took the challenge very seriously.

A leaked video of a CPC meeting in February showed Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is Castro's apparent successor, saying that the government planned to "discredit" candidates it viewed as "counterrevolutionaries. He added: "We are totally engaged in this process, in this battle we are fighting."

Another organization that backed independent nomination campaigns, Candidatos por el Cambio (Candidates for Change) also reported several detentions designed to block its members from winning endorsements in the nominating councils.

Zelandia de la Caridad Perez Abreu told Martinoticias that State Security agents summoned her to a meeting at a police station at 5 p.m. on Oct. 23, the same time that her electoral district was holding its nominating council. Police did not free her until after 9 p.m. when the council had ended.

The independent Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 578 arbitrary detentions for political motives during the month of October, the highest number this year.

In other cases, the methods used by the Cuban government to turn away dissidents from the electoral process were less dramatic -- as simple as hiding the date and time of the nominating gatherings.

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