On June 21st, 2018 the first order of business for the 605 deputies of Cuba’s National Assembly for People’s Power, was to begin debating a newly proposed constitutional reform.
Although the proposal for a new Magna Carta was initially redacted by a chosen commission of 33 deputies and social experts, it will first have to be debated by the National Assembly, then proposed to a popular process of consultation and participation, and then submitted to a popular referendum before being approved.
The proposal for the new constitution includes new elements of consumerism like recognizing the strategic role of the market and private property in the economy, as well as foreign investment. At the same time, it maintains and reaffirms the socialist character of the Cuban political and social system, elements which the assembly indicates are non-negotiable and irrevocable.
Likewise, the national state objectives were reasserted to be the fight against climate change, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and working towards the construction of a multipolar word.
The process in which this constitutional reform takes place is defined in seven steps:
I – The National Assembly for People’s Power proposes and approves a Commission for Constitutional Reform to initiate redacting a new constitution.
II – The assembly debates the proposed constitution article by article before submitting it to a vote.
III – Popular consultation of the citizens to express and suggest changes to the proposed new constitution.
IV – Each opinion and proposal made by the people will be revised by the Constitutional Reform Commission.
V – The updated proposed constitution is once again debated by the National Assembly and submitted to a vote.
VI – The State Council, as established by the National Assembly, calls for a national referendum on the State official gazette designating the task to the National Electoral Commission.
VII – Final popular referendum for ratification through a free, direct, and secret ballot, that will approve the new constitution of the Republic.
It is expected that this completely reformed new constitution will obtain a larger social reach, as well as expand the mechanisms of participation particularly at the municipal level. The constitution contains a total 224 articles, and of these, 113 will be modified, 87 incorporated and 11 eliminated.
Some of the most general aspects of this newly proposed constitution are the ratification of the socialist character of the Revolution (and the constitutional right to defend it), as well as the leading role of the Communist Party of Cuba. Likewise, and with equal ferver it reaffirmed the irrevocable character of the political and economic socialist model of Cuba and its principals of social justice and humanism. There was also a big emphasis on the preservation of the environment.
One of the main points heavily debated in this first discussion on constitutional reform was regarding the private concentration of wealth, and the need to continue to regulate its origins from social relations of production incompatible with the principals of equality and social justice. Nevertheless, when debating about rejecting the concentration of wealth, it was proposed to substitute the use of concentration of “wealth” for concentration of “property”, not only because of the vagueness or ambiguity of wealth and the inability to establish a legal mechanism to define “amounts of concentration”, but also because through regulation of property you also regulate material wealth.
Regarding other economic aspects, the proposed constitution ratifies the socialist ownership of property as the economic nucleus, yet also recognizes other forms of property like cooperatives, mix-property, and private property. In addition, it reaffirmed state property as the primary subject of the economy and main generator of wealth, upholding therefore state control and direction over economic processes.
Moreover, the new constitution will reject the concentration of property by non-state subjects but will recognize the need of foreign investment as an important element for development. It also seeks to recognize private property over land and allow for inheritance. However, labor will continue to be the main economic resource of the country.
Another important reform is the incorporation of the National Electoral Council as a state entity with constitutional rank, in order to be better equip the state in handling electoral processes.
Regarding the territorial organization of the state, the focus was aimed at prioritizing ways in which to make municipalities more autonomous. Provincial assemblies of people’s power are to be replaced by a provincial government, directed by a governor and a provincial council, with the governor being designated by the National Assembly of Peoples Power.
Reforms to the judicial system are substantial. Among them are strong reinforcement of the independence and autonomy of the State Court System. The Supreme Court will have accountability with the National Assembly of Peoples Power and the roles of president and vice president were created.
With regards to the structure of the state, the State Council will continue to be a permanent body of the National Assembly, but with the inclusion of the president, vice president, and state secretary likewise as permanent members of the State Council. The president becomes the head of state with a five-year term and is elected by the National Assembly. The Council of Ministry is maintained as the highest executive and administrative body, constituting the government of the republic and will be under the charge of a newly created Prime Minister.
Lastly, the debate featured discussions on reinforcing equal rights and fighting discrimination, particularly seeking to address questions of discrimination based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, access to public health and education, and marriage, which is to be redefined as a “consensual union between two people regardless of gender”. The latter has been the most controversial and debated constitutional amendment so far, and activist groups in the capital, Havana, have engaged in “poster wars”, plastering neighborhoods with contending flyers against and in favor of same-sex marriage. This dispute comes on the heels of Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro “apologizing” for the “persecution of gays” in 2010.
Another layer of controversy is added by the fact that the most vocal activist for the constitutional amendment on marriage has been Isbel Diaz Torres, the Western-praised leader of the opposition Critical Cuba Observatory, which the Huffington Post lauds as a frontline group “challenging the Castro regime from the left.” In 2015, Diaz Torres campaigned for financial support from the US and EU by advertising his initiatives as wanting to “revive anarchism in Cuba” and protect LGBTQ rights against the “authoritarian regime.” Diaz Torres is also a voice of the controversial opposition blog Havana Times partially based out of – and possibly funded by – the United States, which also has a Nicaraguan branch that has been part of the recent information war and destabilization campaign against Nicaragua.
The controversy over the “equal rights” amendment and its ties to anti-government and foreign sources pose one possible dilemma to Cuba’s reform initiatives. This is just one case in which external forces and controversial interest groups might seek to imbed themselves with ulterior motives in Cuba’s reform process.
Let us hope that this new constitution empowers the people of Cuba and allows them to better determine their own future, with more sovereignty, democracy, equality, and social justice. It is also extremely reassuring to see that the constitution will maintain its political foundation as a socialist and revolutionary state.