In Cuba, Civic group challenges government and presents candidates for municipal elections

A Cuban civic group calling itself #Otro18 said Thursday that despite harassment by authorities, it plans to present more than 170 independent candidates in upcoming nationwide municipal elections.

  The group’s spokesman, prominent dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua, told a press conference in Havana that the ruling Communist Party is manipulating the legal system in a bid to exclude potential candidates.

  Though the Communists remain Cuba’s only legal political party, elections for city councils are officially non-partisan and as such, open to independent candidates, Cuesta Morua said.

  The #Otro18 candidates are not receiving any monetary support for their campaigns, he said, seeking to pre-empt the Cuban government’s traditional criticism of internal opponents for accepting money from abroad.

  “We are seeing a tension between the official party of the Revolution – not all of us are revolutionaries – and the constitution itself,” Cuesta Morua said. “For us, everybody matters under the law, revolutionaries or not. For this party (the Communists), the citizens they don’t tolerate don’t matter.”

  He said that all of the #Otro18 candidates, including a dozen he described as “certain winners,” have been subjected to threats and harassment by State Security.

  Two aspiring city councilors have been locked up, the spokesman said.

  Rolando Colombie, a resident of the eastern province of Holguin, was sentenced to six months in prison for the alleged theft of a bag of maize worth no more than 25 pesos (less than $1) just to prevent him from running for office, Cuesta Morua said.

  Another #Otro18 hopeful, Rolando Casares, is serving a five-year sentence after police decided to revive a lapsed 2012 prosecution for contempt.

  The “great fear” of Cuban authorities “is the legitimation of alternatives through their own institutions,” the opposition activist said.

  The winners in the Oct. 22 municipal elections will elect provincial assemblies that will in turn choose the members of new parliament to name a successor to President Raul Castro when he steps down in February 2018.

  Cuesta Morua said that #Otro18’s ultimate goal is to see Cuba move toward direct election of the president.