News Americas

Thursday 29 September 2016

Two Cuban dissidents lose bids to become first opponents elected to office

Daniel Trotta

Published 20/04/2015 | 08:02

People watch as votes are counted in Havana REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
People watch as votes are counted in Havana REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Two Cuban dissidents lost attempts to become the first openly declared political opponents to win election in Cuba since the 1959 revolution, each failing in races for Havana municipal assemblies.

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Hildebrando Chaviano, 65, and Yuniel Lopez, 26, both said they had fallen behind by insurmountable margins and had no hope of winning.

The two were among of 27,379 candidates competing in midterm elections for 12,589 nationwide municipal assembly posts, the first rung on Cuba's political ladder.

"The vote was clean. The count was clean. The people don't want change. They still want the revolution," said Chaviano, a lawyer who writes for Diario de Cuba, a website fiercely critical of the government.

"I still consider this a success. People know who we are now."

Read more: Barack Obama removes Cuba from terrorism list in bid to improve relations

Final official vote counts were expected later on Sunday or early Monday. Incomplete results showed Chaviano finishing fourth in his district with 138 votes, behind three others who had 208, 201 and 194 votes.

Lopez was a distant third in another district with 65 votes, trailing candidates with 272 and 96 votes.

Neighbors of Lopez cheered his name even in defeat.

"I'm happy with the way the people supported me despite the campaign that was mounted against me," said Lopez, who belongs to an outlawed party founded by Huber Matos. Matos fought alongside Fidel Castro in the Cuban revolution but later turned against him and was jailed before going into exile.

The two ran in separate districts of Havana after getting on the ballot from a show-of-hands vote by neighbors last month.

Read more: Cuban leader Castro rallies in defence of US President Obama

Both said election officials altered their autobiographies to say they had ties to "counter-revolutionaries" based or financed abroad, code words for individuals out to harm Cuba.

No campaigning is allowed in Cuban elections. Instead, biographies and photos of candidates are posted side by side in public places.

Cuba's municipal assembly delegates are nominated by neighbors and do not have to belong to the Communist Party, but the path to higher office is controlled by the party.

Their candidacies were the first electoral challenge since the United States and Cuba agreed in December to renew diplomatic ties and end five decades of hostility.

After coming to power in 1959, Castro promised elections within two years, but the government resisted, citing the U.S. threat. By 1965 the Communist Party was in charge and instituted voting for municipal, provincial and national assemblies in 1976.

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