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What does the new Cuban constitution mean for the island nation and its revolution?

ON June 2 this year, an extraordinary session of Cuba’s National Assembly (its parliament), created a commission to draw up an initial draft of a new constitution for the island nation which for 60 years has defied US efforts to end its revolution.  

The commission, made up of 33 deputies of the National Assembly and headed by Raul Castro, has drawn on work that has been ongoing for many years and has taken into account previous experience within Cuba, as well as the constitutions from other Latin American, Asian, European and African states.  

Homero Acosta, secretary of the Council of State and a member of the Constitutional Commission, told the National Assembly last Saturday that the proposed draft represented a total reform of the current constitution, which was adopted in 1976 and amended in 1992 and 2002.  

The proposed new constitution includes reference to the imperative of mitigating the impact of climate change, respect for international law, repudiation of all forms of terrorism, rejection of the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons and of mass extermination and condemns the use of cyberspace for subversive and destabilising sovereign nations. 

Acosta said: “I do not think that there is a constitution [in the world] that has pronouncements as firm as those of Cuba in the international arena.”

As the first details of the proposed changes to the Cuban constitution emerged, the Western press took its lead from the Reuters headline “Communist Cuba to recognise private property in new constitution,” seizing on this as either the hope that it signals a move away from Cuba’s socialist path or as an attempt to sow doubt about the revolution’s steadfastness among its supporters outside Cuba.  

However, rather than signalling a change of direction, the recognition of private property is a formalisation of changes which have already taken place.  

The process of revising the Cuban constitution is part of a wider process which has been under way in Cuba since 2008.  

The Lineamientos (Guidelines) for economic and social policy, which followed the Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 2011, were subject to thoroughgoing national consultation and were part of this process.  

Another contribution to the process was the Cuban Economic and Social Model for Socialist Development, produced in 2016, described by Raul Castro as “the most studied, discussed, and re-discussed documents in the history of the revolution.”   

Addressing concerns expressed by some National Assembly deputies, Acosta reaffirmed that concentration of private property and wealth would not be allowed and private companies would operate in well-defined limits. 

He made clear that the core means of production will remain in public hands and the economy will continue to develop along lines planned and agreed by the nation as a whole.

As expected, the draft constitution limits the mandate of president of the republic to two five-year terms, and states that the incumbent must be under 60 years of age on taking office.  

There is no suggestion that the president be directly elected by the population, so the practice of the National Assembly deputies electing the president of the republic is likely to continue. The proposals also include the creation of the post of prime minister.  

Currently, Cuba’s president is head of state and also leads the Council of Ministers which is the highest executive and administrative body — effectively “the government.”   

In the draft proposals, the president would no longer head the Council of Ministers, as this role would be carried out by a prime minister.

The president will propose the candidate for prime minister, who must be an elected deputy, as happens in France.  The nominee will then have to be elected by 50 per cent of the National Assembly.  

Municipal and provincial government has been given little attention outside Cuba and this is reflected in the lack of commentary in the foreign press on the proposal to make significant changes to government at these levels.  

The 2016 Cuban Economic and Social Model for Socialist Development stated that directives from central government must be combined with decentralisation of implementation and referred to the experiments in the Province of Mayabeque and that of Artemisa which have been ongoing since August 2011.  

These experiments have sought to improve the effective and efficient functioning of municipal and provincial government and have informed the draft of the new constitution which proposes that the current 16 provincial assemblies — effectively elected regional governments — be eliminated and replaced with a provincial government, composed of a governor and a council made up of the presidents of all municipal assemblies within the relevant province and the heads of the municipal administrations.  

Although more details have yet to be released, this represents a significant change, as elections to provincial assemblies would no longer be necessary as the presidents of the municipal assemblies have already been nominated and elected by the communities they serve.  

In addition, it is proposed to increase the term of office of elected municipal delegates from two-and-a-half years, to five years, in line with the terms of the deputies elected to the National Assembly.  
This change was proposed in 1992 but was rejected by the National Assembly, up to half of which is made up of elected municipal delegates. 

Furthermore, municipal assemblies will be accorded greater autonomy. Acosta spoke of the municipalities as a “decentralising element, which enhances the direct relationship of those representatives with their people.”

Another significant change in the new draft is the definition of marriage, which, in the current constitution, is defined as being between a man and woman. The new draft changes the wording to “between two persons,” opening the way for same-sex marriage.  

The draft reiterates the right to equality, which has to do with non-discrimination for a group of characteristics — gender, sexual orientation, disability and any other aspect that is harmful to human dignity. Such discrimination will be punishable by law.

The Cuban National Assembly approved the draft of the new constitution at its session on Sunday July 22.  

The next stage is for the draft to be submitted for nationwide public discussion and debate. This will take place between August 13 and November 15. 

Addressing the National Assembly, President Diaz-Canel, referring to the work ahead, said: “Everything done in these months is directed to hear Cuba.” 

Suggestions for changes to the draft text will be carefully recorded and fed into a second draft of the new constitution that will be put to a national referendum probably in early 2019.  

The long task then begins of amending existing legislation, and enacting new laws, to give the new constitution force.

 

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