Let’s talk about rigged elections.
No, I don’t mean Donald Trump’s tweet about mystery illegal voters. Nor is the topic a reference to Hillary Clinton’s ever-changing position on electoral tampering: “It can’t happen…unless I lose, then it might’ve happened.”
I’m talking about Cuba.
Fidel Castro had an electoral record that would make any politician jealous. In 2008, he was re-elected with over 98 percent of the vote. In 2003, it was over 99 percent. His brother Raul had similar margins of victory.
Rigged elections, indeed.
Yet, this is how it goes with tyrants. The Kim Jongs always saw their “coalition” “elected” to 100 percent of the seats in the North Korean legislature. Bashar al-Assad received 99.8 percent of the vote in Syria’s 2007 elections. And before the famous “coalition of the willing” toppled him, Saddam Hussein scored a perfect 100 percent in Iraq’s 2002 elections.
But unlike these tyrants, who were almost universally — except Russia — condemned, the Castros captured the imagination of many on the left side of the American political spectrum.
You see it in the Bangor Daily News. OpEds acknowledge the island nation was “no paradise,” while going on to cheer Castro’s demands for “economic and social justice,” championing “masses of displaced people,” and lauding the communist health care system.
It’s farcical. Men and women have risked life and limb to escape the island prison, many perishing en route to the United States. Castro harbored terrorists, cop killers, and bank robbers who fled the U.S. after convictions by juries of their peers. And he denied non-governmental organizations like the Red Cross access to his island, limiting exposure of his totalitarian regime.
In the context of the Democratic Party’s soul searching following Hillary Clinton’s loss, the spectre of Castro looms large. Liberals of Cuban heritage plead with their compatriots to recognize the vile, inhumane, totalitarian aspects of the Castro regime and denounce it as clearly as they do other tyrants. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders spent part of his primary battle — like BDN OpEd writers — acknowledging problems with Cuba yet simultaneously praising its “good” aspects.
This cognitive dissonance is best reflected in a statement from Jesse Jackson released after Castro’s death: “While Castro unfortunately denied many political freedoms, he at the same time did establish many economic freedoms — education and healthcare.” Without political freedom, government-established benefits — whatever you call them — cannot be free. Whatever America’s warts, there is a certain legitimacy provided by our democratic system of free elections.
Despite the political rancor, that holds true today. For all the accusations that the incoming Trump administration represents American tyranny, the very fact that his former challengers — be they Stein or Clinton — can credibly call for recounts and have those calls honored disproves the charge. And, as we’ve seen with Trump’s selections for Cabinet positions, he isn’t off the deep end as some feared he might be.
So, while the president-elect may take issue with President Obama’s Cuba policy, he might not simply scrap it. That’s a good thing. Nothing destroys totalitarianism quite like exposure to free markets and free thought. American investment and engagement can upend Fidel’s little brother much more quickly than a renewed embargo. The creativity and diligence of men and women working to better themselves — financially, academically, politically — can overcome repression in all its forms.
So here’s to Cuba and hope for a better deal. The once-most prosperous Caribbean nation will hopefully reach that distinction again, taking its rightful place alongside other free, western democracies.
And I hope the nation’s next president is elected with 51 percent of the vote — a sign that rigged elections are over. Maybe they’ll even have a recount. If they do so peaceably, we’ll know they have arrived.
Now, if only there were a way to stop their politicians from accessing Twitter…