EspañolOn Sunday, April 19, Cuba held elections to choose some 12,500 delegates to the island’s municipal assemblies, but with a twist: two of the 27,379 candidates running for office were openly opposed to the Castro regime.
Their names are Yuniel Francisco López O’Farrill, 26, a member of the illegal Independent and Democratic Cuba party (CID); and lawyer and journalist Hildebrando Chaviano, 65, a member of the independent lawyers’ group Corriente Agramontista.
Both conceded electoral defeat, but denounced a dirty campaign on the part of state-security forces. In their government-edited biographies, pinned up at polling stations, they were the victims of a “public act of repudiation” and described as “counter-revolutionaries.”
Cuba’s elections, riddled with arbitrariness and irregularities, are the object of global curiosity, not least because Havana prohibits candidates from campaigning or putting forward manifestos.
Chaviano and López, well-known detractors of the regime, nevertheless had already passed the first hurdle and been chosen to run by a show of hands at neighborhood meetings.
The PanAm Post spoke with López, a Havana native and information and communication technology specialist turned opposition politician, who revealed the truth about the polls, government intimidation, and how one individual can confront a totalitarian state.
How did the elections turn out? Did you think that you could have won?
I genuinely was desperate to be elected to be able to represent the community that chose me. But I was very conscious that it was going to be really difficult to come out ahead, because I wasn’t only competing against two other candidates. I was going up against a totalitarian state that controls the media, has enough money to create campaigns, and uses political repression.
I also have a concern: when the people present after the vote began to shout “Yuniel, tranquilo, el pueblo está contigo” [Don’t worry Yuniel, the people are with you] there were various press agencies, and I’m worried that up until now the video still hasn’t surfaced. I know it happened from a video that a neighbor filmed on her phone and gave me last night.
Reuters, AP, and other agencies were filming. I don’t know why it hasn’t come out in the press.
Why did they support you?
It’s people from the community, the same electoral district. But the majority of people who were marching with flags and the thugs that were there, 80 to 85 percent of them were members of the state-security forces.
It was completely full of police and state security. They were preparing an act of public rejection that didn’t come about, because they tried to suppress my people. Thank God, I had the support of the people.
Did you face any kind of intimidation before the elections?
No. But one of the things that happened is that my grandmother surprised two state-security agents taking photos inside my house. Filming and taking images. Now the dictatorship is beginning to carry out reprisals against my family.
Just this morning [Tuesday, April 21] two inspectors came to my house to tell me that it had been constructed illegally. It could turn out that they’re going to slap a fine on me.
What were your proposals as a candidate?
Proposals? No, I didn’t do any kind of campaigning because the law here prohibits any candidate from campaigning.
The government did my campaigning for me, putting in my biography that I was a “counter-revolutionary.” What’s more, they held meetings between state security and members of the communist party to prevent people voting for me under any circumstances, to spread the idea that I was a “counter-revolutionary,” and spreading fear among many voters.
What would you say to the people that voted for you?
Before anything, I want to thank them a lot for the support they offered me, and I’m sure that many of those that voted for me were chanting in my support after the vote. They should know that I’m going to continue representing them, I’m going to continue working for my community, even though I haven’t been officially elected as a councilor. I’m going to be their champion.
Do you think that the electoral system in Cuba can be reformed?
These are things that are beyond my reach. It’s come to my attention that a new electoral law is going to come out this year, but I don’t know anything about it right now.
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll continue to do the work I was already doing. I’m a CID delegate [in the Arroyo Naranjo neighborhood of Havana]. We issue a newsletter called Semanario por la República (Weekly for the Republic) that goes out twice a week, I have a community project, and I plan to continue as a defender of the people.
EspañolAn 18-year wait came to an end on Monday, April 20, when Health Ministry authorities presented guidelines for Colombian doctors to perform euthanasia. The Constitutional Court ordered them to set the protocols in a February decision, after declaring the practice legal all the way back in 1997. Medical practitioners in the Andean country have routinely refused to support assisted suicide, fearing criminal charges. Even with the court judgment standing, there was simply no regulatory environment. Health Minister Alejandro Gaviría explained that only adults would be able to make the decision, and that a doctor must declare the patient to be in the terminal phase of his illness. Further, if the patient is unconscious, relatives must be able to show audio, video, or written proof of his previously stated preference for assisted dying. The process will cost the patient nothing, and the Health Promotion Agency (EPS) is tasked with finding an alternative doctor or health center if the patient's usual provider refuses to help him die. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_5uKxqIdtM The law explicitly excludes minors and patients with degenerative diseases from receiving assisted suicide, which will consist of supplying patients with a lethal drug. Steps to Follow The new regulations stipulate that terminally ill patients must express their consent to the doctor to undergo euthanasia. Once the expert is aware of the decision, he must present the patient with all the treatment options available to address his condition. If the patient insists on the terminal treatment, the physician has to present the case to a scientific committee composed of a medical expert, a lawyer, and mental-health professional. The specialists will then have 10 days to reach an agreement on whether the patient meets the requirements to receive for euthanasia. If the committee decides to approve the procedure, the doctor will have to confirm the decision with the patient. If the patient wants to continue at that point, the hospital is given 15 days to help end the patient's life. Long Road to "Mercy Killing" In 1997, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that Article 326 of the 1980 Criminal Code on "mercy killing" was constitutional, and asked congress to promptly legislate on the right to die to shield doctors performing euthanasia from criminal prosecution. In February, the court ordered the Health Ministry to establish bylaws to permit health-care providers to authorize euthanasia procedures. Carmenza Ochoa, director of the Foundation for the Right to Die with Dignity (DMD), has welcomed the ministry's latest resolution to comply with the order. She hails it as an important step in clarifying the legal status of terminally ill patients and the medical personnel who wish to support them. According to DMD's website, 16,509 Colombians have signed their testamento vital (consent to death under stipulated circumstances). The organization provides this document with information about the treatments available for various illnesses, but also allows people to state their preference for assisted suicide. The form, which needs the signature of two additional witnesses, would prevent further suffering of the patient and the family, the foundation claims. "Attack on Sanctity of Life" The Colombian Catholic Church rejected the measure in a statement sent to the Health Ministry, saying that the application of euthanasia "is a grave attack against the dignity of the ill and against the sanctity of the basic right to life, enshrined in Article 11 of the Constitution." Further, Catholic leaders have asked the ministry to provide solutions to other health-care issues affecting the country, which they claimed were more urgent. "It would be good, Mr. Minister, if your ministry, so interested in regulating euthanasia and abortion, put the same effort into finding an effective solution to the crisis in the health-care sector and the needs of the poorest," said the Church. Translated by Adam Dubove. Edited by Laurie Blair and Fergus Hodgson.