Islanders in favor of voting, poll says
The Washington Times
By David R. Sands

Cubans by an overwhelming margin want the right to vote on Fidel Castro’s successor and think a market economy would improve their standard of living, according to new poll being released today.

The poll, conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) between Sept. 5 and Oct. 4, is one of the first outside surveys of public attitudes on the island since an ailing Mr. Castro ceded day-to-day power to his 76-year-old younger brother, Raul Castro, in mid-2006.

“It’s a critical time for Cuba and it’s clear from what we heard that Cubans overwhelmingly favor a major change from the current system,” said Paul Fagan, deputy director of IRI’s Latin American division.

The survey, IRI’s first in Cuba, was conducted in face-to-face interviews by trained nationals of another Latin American country, with the results later compiled and tabulated by IRI researchers. The interviewers talked to nearly 600 Cubans in 14 of the country’s 15 provinces.

The poll found strong discontent with the current situation, with just under 40 percent of Cubans saying things in general were going “badly” or “very badly,” compared with just 9.8 percent who thought things were going very well. Some 87.6 percent said they did not believe the current regime could solve the country’s main problems, including falling living standards and a lack of political reforms, in the coming years.

Fidel Castro appointed his brother, the longtime defense minister, as “acting president” in June 2006, but the survey found overwhelming support for a democratic transition. Just under 74 percent said the Cuban people should vote on Mr. Castro’s successor.

By a similar margin, Cubans said that “real democracy” — with multiparty elections and guaranteed political freedoms — would lead to an improvement in living standards.

“Democracy, and the effect it would have on the system overall, is the No. 1 issue,” Mr. Fagan said.

The poll also found massive support for a shift from Mr. Castro’s command economy to a more market-based system. Eighty-three percent of those polled said a market economy would improve their lives compared with just 9.6 percent who said a more capitalist system would make their lives worse.

Nearly 43 percent cited low wages and high prices as the country’s biggest problem, with the “lack of freedoms” a distant second at 18.2 percent. Just 4.8 percent named the U.S. trade embargo as the country’s biggest problem.

IRI and its Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Institute, are funded by Congress to boost democracy by working with political and civic leaders around the world. IRI is formally releasing the Cuba survey at a conference today in Vilnius, Lithuania focusing on how the experience of once-communist states in Eastern Europe can be applied to Cuba.

The survey comes as Cubans prepare for a vote Sunday to elect 15,236 Municipal Council members who in turn will help select members of the new National Assembly. Only the ruling Communist Party is allowed to field candidates in the campaign.

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