Some Gen Z Cubans won’t vote in election: “The candidates don’t represent me”

By Juan Carlos Espinosa

Havana, Mar 22 (EFE).- For Maria, a 21-year-old Cuban, the best act of rebellion in the upcoming parliamentary elections on the communist island will be to spend the day in bed, saying “My dream time is worth more.”

She’s not alone. As the university student told EFE, “Ninety percent of my friends think the same: The March 26 elections not only don’t represent them, but they have ‘zero’ importance. So, people won’t go to vote.”

“I don’t see it as an ideological thing, rather it’s noncomformity. Normally, you go because you have to do so, not because you want to,” she said.

This young woman’s sentiments were repeated by three other members of “Generation Z” – people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – with whom EFE spoke, the names of whom have been changed because they spoke on condition of anonymity.

Their remarks are relevant because this Sunday’s elections for the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) is being held under the shadow of public abstention and analysts say that voter participation is a key element in maintaining Cuba’s socialist system.

Although historically voter abstention has been below 10 percent, the trend has been upwards in recent years and in last November’s municipal elections it reached its highest level in history: 30 percent.

Apathy, disaffection, lack of interest and even resignation regarding the country’s course were some of the feelings expressed by the four young people with whom EFE consulted. In Cuba, voter intention surveys that delve into these questions are not published.

Three of the four young people agreed that this attitude is largely due to age differences. “My grandfather is a person from another world, different from what I’m experiencing today,” said Mario, 19.

His grandfather watches the state-run television news each night and feels that voting is a citizen’s duty, but Mario said that “I don’t know any of (the candidates) or whether they understand my problems. They don’t represent me.”

Gabriela, 24, said it’s not only a question of age. “People who go (to the polls) do so because there are military personnel in their family, because they belong to mass groups (groups affiliated with the Cuban Communist Party – the PCC – which is the only legal political party) or simply to avoid problems,” she said.

Julia, also 24, commented along the same lines: “My mom has the idea that you have to go because the best thing you can do is to remain unnoticed and comply.” Another interviewee said that you risk public “shaming” if you get on the bad side of the Revolutionary Defense Committees (CDR), which are the neighborhood political groupings.

Although it’s true that lack of interest in elections within Gen Z is something that occurs in other countries, too, the Cuban case is more noteworthy, Cuban researcher Hilda Landrove, with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told EFE.

“(In Cuba) you have a social model in which ideology is at the center. (Apathy or lack of interest) is subversive when it has an impact or when people don’t participate in the rituals for reproducing the system like the May 1st (celebration) or elections,” she said.

Landrove argues that if the official discourse has not permeated Gen Z that’s because “ideology has been defeated and provides no prospect for the future.”

Mario didn’t learn that there were going to be any elections – despite the intense campaign in the state-run media – until a few weeks ago, when representatives of the government-affiliated University Student Federation (FEU) showed up at his classroom to “invite us to participate.”

“I don’t want to go to vote. Perhaps I’d do it because the FEU and CDR people constantly ask you to. The truth is that my goal is to leave the country, to be part of the elections isn’t among my priorities,” he said.

He was referring to the unprecedented and ongoing exodus of people from Cuba, with about 3 percent of the country’s population having left the communist island in 2022 alone. The majority of the migrants are educated or trained young people and young families, and they’re abandoning the island because of its serious economic crisis.

Maria agreed with Mario and added: “The idea is for us to graduate from the university, to take advantage – in other words – of the free education we’re receiving, and have a diploma so we can leave (the country) and find work.”

In her opinion, “it makes no sense” to become part of the electoral process in a country where “nobody sees a future.”

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