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Cuba’s first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel (center front, blue shirt) and his wife Lis Cuesta line up to vote in the general election. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Sara Gómez Armas, Havana, 12 March 2018 —  Cuba voted this Sunday for the deputies that will form the National Assembly, charged with electing a new president in April, in elections that are the last step before the replacement of Raul Castro. The elections are conceived by the Government as a defense of socialism and the Revolution, which they consider “under attack” by the United States.

The island’s first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, stressed that Cubans are expressing their support for the Revolution, which is being “attacked and threatened” by the United States, which in recent months has approved measures that are “offensive and harm millions of Cubans.”

Diaz-Canel, who by all accounts will be the next president, exercised his right to vote before a large collection of national and international media in his hometown of Santa Clara, from which he aspires to a position as a national deputy.

In an image unusual among the leaders of the country, where senior officials bypass the line altogether, Diaz-Canel lined up to vote for about twenty minutes, accompanied by his wife, during which time he took the opportunity to talk to and greet other voters in that city, where he has been beloved since he served as the first provincial secretary of the Communist Party, between 1994 and 2003.

Diaz-Canel, 57, accused the Trump Administration of launching “insults against Cuba” and restarting the “rhetoric of the Cold War” amid the retreat in the bilateral relationship, marked by the tightening of the embargo, the reduction of personnel in the American embassy in Havana and the suspension of the office’s consular work.

“We have been constantly attacked for almost 60 years and we stand firm here. History tells us who succeeds, those who persevere and those who keep their principles intact,” he said.

More than eight million Cubans were called to the polls to vote for the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which will be sworn in on April 19, when it will choose from among its members those who will fill the 33 positions on the Council of State, the highest body of Government, which includes the president.

At 5:00 PM local time, an hour before the polling stations closed, 6.93 million people had already voted, 78.5% of the electorate, according to the latest data that were available yesterday.

On Monday, the National Electoral Commission will present the final data of the day, during which 41 municipalities were authorized to remain open for an additional hour due to the rains that affected part of the island.

According to the president of the Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro, the  results of the day were “satisfactory and positive,” with the “massive,” “enthusiastic” and “disciplined” participation of the population.

With the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) as the only legal party, the elections, in practice, are simply a ratification of the names of the ballot, since there are 605 candidates throughout the country and the same number of seats in the Parliament.

The deputies that do not belong to the PCC come from pro-government mass organizations linked to the party, and although independent candidacies are allowable under the law, the candidancies of people linked to the opposition do not prosper.

Regarding this electoral process, Díaz-Canel highlighted that the broad participation reflects a “commitment” of the Cuban people to “the historical generation” that has led the country “and that forged the Revolution.”

“It is a tribute to Fidel and a support to Raúl, our president, who in the midst of this difficult situation has led the process of updating our economic and social model,” said Díaz-Canel, who has been “number two” in the Government since 2013.

President Raúl Castro, 86, was the first to vote in the municipality of Segundo Frente, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, for which he is a candidate for deputy for the upcoming term.

After exercising his suffrage, Raul Castro spoke with the electors at the school that served as his polling place, who recalled that the Second Eastern Front that he led in the Rebel Army had been created there, and rose in arms in the Sierra Maestra against the regime of Fulgencio Batista until the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

Although he is leaving the presidency, Raúl Castro will continue until 2021 as head of the PCC, which controls the power structures on the island, so he will remain involved in the decision-making process.

For the holding of the elections, 24,470 polling stations have been set up, distributed across the 12,515 districts, to which more than 38,400 children have been summoned for the first time, to stand by the ballot boxes and salute each voter.

The 1,265 delegates to the Provincial Assemblies are also being elected at the same time, since provincial elections are held in parallel.

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