On Tuesday February 19th Fidel Castro, arguably one of the world's oldest leaders, officially announced his retirement as the leader and commander in chief of Cuba. His retirement was no surprise. The daily operations of the country have been under the direction of younger brother Raúl since Castro's hospitalization in July of 2006. His retirement took place on the eve of the selection of new leaders of the Cuban Parliament and the next leader of their government.
The Cuban system of government is setup much like that of Great Britain. Its one party government allows for the representatives of the Communist Party to select the next head of state.
- "President Bush said Tuesday that the resignation of Fidel Castro 'ought to be a period of democratic transition' for Cuba, and that the country must hold free and fair elections to pick a successor after half a century of Communist rule.
- 'And I mean free and I mean fair,” Mr. Bush added, “not these kind of staged elections that the Castro brothers try to foist off as true democracy.'" New York Times 2008
This was a bold statement coming from a president who “won” a disputed election in the year 2000, which was hotly contested in the courts. Al Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes, but lost the election after the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of Bush.
This was the third time this has happened in American history. The other two times included the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 and the election of Benjamin Harrison in 1888. John Quincy Adams was installed as president over his opponent, in spite of the fact that he did not have a majority of the electoral vote or the popular vote, he was voted in by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Long after the election of Bush was completed charges of tampering with the counts in a number of counties heavily populated with African Americans, continues to reverberate into the present. So, for President Bush to accuse the Cuban government of staged, or rigged elections seems to be out of order. This is especially true considering the involvement of his brother Republican Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris who certified the election results, while simultaneously serving as the Florida co-chair of the Bush presidential campaign. With these two in charge the presidency was handed over to Bush on a silver platter. In the end Bush won with a margin of only 5 electoral votes.
Jimmy Carter made the following statement regarding the 2000 election.
- "The disturbing fact is that a repetition of the problems of 2000 now seems likely, even as many other nations are conducting elections that are internationally certified to be transparent, honest and fair.
Florida has played a pivotal role in presidential elections for over 100 years. Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina played a pivotal role in the election of Rutherford B. Hayes. His presidency ended Reconstruction and returned control of the south to the Democrats.
The end of Reconstruction ushered in the era, of segregation known as Jim Crow, the advent of the Ku Klux Klan, and the disenfranchisement of Black voters and elected officials for the next 100 years.
As we look at the circumstances of the 2008 election it's hard to overlook what appears to be an effort to steal this election, as well. We're coming into the downhill stretch of this election season. The race for pledged delegates has become extremely tight. As it comes down to the wire, Florida and Michigan voters may hold the keys to the kingdom. Both of these states and their 322 delegates have been barred from the nominating convention in June. The Democrats are facing a contested convention, which may lead to a splintered party in the fall. This would be a real boon for the Republicans as it could lead to their holding onto the white house for, at least, another four years.
Florida and its Democratic delegates are important now. Florida and its electors will also be of great importance during the general election.
For as, former President Jimmy Carter stated, in the same article cited above, "some basic international requirements for a fair election are missing in Florida." This was true in 2000 and remains true today, in spite of the work former Presidents Carter and Ford have done over the last 8 years to remedy the situation. We now see the specter of the "Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877," rising from the ashes like a phoenix.
The only difference is that heavily populated African American communities in northern states are being disenfranchised, as well. How can free and fair elections exist if we are returned to the days of voter disenfranchisement. Well over a million voters have been disenfranchised in the states of Michigan and Florida. The beneficiaries of these actions will be the Republican Party, as they continue to hold onto the white house.
Former President Carter also states,
- "It is unconscionable to perpetuate fraudulent or biased electoral practices in any nation. It is especially objectionable among us Americans, who have prided ourselves on setting a global example for pure democracy. With reforms unlikely at this late stage of the election, perhaps the only recourse will be to focus maximum public scrutiny on the suspicious process in Florida." Washington Post 2004
The words of Jimmy Carter seem as appropriate a description of the current electoral process, as they were of the electoral process in the year 2000. Electoral fraud has been alleged in large states such as Florida, New York, California and Texas. Reform of the electoral process, including the selection of electors, is way overdue on a national scale. Independent oversight must be put in place by necessity, in order to guarantee certifiably “free and fair” elections.
What President Bush should have done upon hearing of Castro's retirement is to ask permission to send some people down there for training on how to run a “free and fair” election. However, he did just the opposite and decided to take the high road. The problem is that he had no ground to stand on, in light of the poor track record of the U.S. and electoral politics.
The Cuban revolution began in 1953 with the attack on the Moncada barracks. At the trial of the leaders of that attack Fidel Castro made a 4 hour statement where he was quoted as saying “history will absolve me,” in the end it has. Cuba's government has been able to retain power for over 50 years, in spite of embargoes, blockades, overt and covert attacks on the government and it's leaders. These attacks continue under the present administration with continued calls to kill Castro.