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The Shattered Mirror: Democracy and Anti-Democracy on Both Sides of the Florida Straits, 2021 (Part III)

Luis Martinez-Fernandez on

Recent developments on both sides of the Florida Straits stand as pieces of the shattered mirror through which Cuba and the United States increasingly reflect each other in political and civil rights matters, such as the restriction of public protests, voter suppression and assaults on academic freedom.

Protests

The world has witnessed the brutal repression unleashed by the Cuban government against peaceful protesters since July 11: wholesale beatings of brave Cubans (men, women and children) who have taken to the streets; over 1,000 arrests; over 100 unaccounted-for protesters and dissidents; severe prison terms for the victims of Cuba's swift justice; and one confirmed killing by police.

I am not suggesting an equivalence between the Cuban regime's suppression of peaceful protests and restrictions on protests mandated by Florida's new "anti-riot" law, but I am deeply concerned about anything that constrains the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

With the ostensible goal of preventing violent protests by Black Lives Matter and other activist organizations, in April, Florida's Republican-controlled legislature passed the "Combating Public Disorder" bill. Signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 19, it criminalizes protesters' obstruction of traffic on streets and highways.

Ironically, the so-called anti-riot law has been first applied, albeit with extraordinary leniency, to Cuban Americans staging mass marches throughout the state in solidarity with their (our) brethren on the island.

 

Elections

Cuba holds regular elections, yes, but it would be more accurate to call them "nominations." The electoral system is a pyramid scheme in which voters nominate municipal delegates who in turn nominate individuals to provincial assemblies and the National Assembly, the latter of which "elects" the president and vice presidents. From top to bottom, there is usually only one candidate for each position, always a Communist Party militant. Free and fair elections are the regime's perpetual "gran mentira," one spread by the Cuban government's friends around the world.

The United States, the claims of former President Donald Trump and other "big lie" spreaders notwithstanding, holds impeccably fair and democratic elections in which voters freely elect their officials, from municipal dogcatcher -- at least until 2018, if you lived in Duxbury, Vermont -- all the way to the president.

But our sacred right to vote has recently come under attack. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of June 21, 17 states had enacted 28 laws that make it more difficult for people to vote. In my own state of Florida, it is now harder to register to vote and obtain mail-in ballots; partisan observers are now free to potentially intimidate voters inside polling places; and it is now illegal to hand out water and snacks to voters while they wait in line. If and when the Senate passes and President Joe Biden signs the For the People Act, many of these restrictions will be overturned.

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