Cuba’s new constitution: What’s in and what’s out
Cuba will have its first new constitution since 1976
A draft of an updated constitution for Cuba approved by the island’s National Assembly on 22 July has made headlines as much for what was left out as what was put in. Here are highlights of what’s in, what’s out and what’s staying in the proposed new Cuban constitution.
Why the plans for a new constitution?
The proposed 224-article new constitution will replace the 1976 national charter that enshrined one-party communism on the island following Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution.
Acknowledging that Cuba and the world had changed since 1976, newly-elected Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said the new realities meant the constitution was “obliged” to be updated, and he called the reform “deep”.
Mr Díaz-Canel, who took over from Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl on 19 April – the first time for decades Cuba’s head of state has not carried the name Castro – said the new document would reflect “the now and the future of the nation”.
Miguel Díaz-Canel: The man succeeding the Castros
Proposed changes that recognise same-sex marriage, but drop a previously stated objective of constructing a “communist society” in Cuba, have drawn intense media attention.
However, the Caribbean nation definitely will be keeping its one-party socialist political and economic system, by the Communist Party of Cuba.
While it has already been approved “unanimously” by the 600-plus assembly deputies, Cuban officials said the document would be subjected to a process of “popular consultation” among the island’s people, to gather comments and suggestions, before being submitted for final approval in a national referendum.
One alteration that attracted comment both inside and outside the island was the proposal to redefine the institution of marriage as being between “two persons” rather than “a man and a woman” – a change effectively opening the way for the legalisation of same-sex marriages.
Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc after 1989 which pushed Cuba to open up more to the outside world, official attitudes to both religion and homosexuality have eased.
In the 21-22 July debate by the National Assembly on the revised constitution, Cuban media made a point of highlighting the support for the marriage re-definition expressed by “deputy Mariela Castro” – the 55-year-old daughter of Cuban Communist Party leader and former president Raúl Castro.
Mariela Castro, who is the director of the Cuban National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX), has gained prominence as a defender of LGBT rights.
Small private businesses are becoming a more common sight
While reaffirming the overriding principles of a “socialist” economy and central economic planning, the proposed new charter gives formal juridical recognition to the “the role of the market”, and “private property” as one of a range of types of property existing in the Cuban economy.
The “market” and “private ownership” are both key elements of Western capitalism which were long pilloried as corrupting generators of inequality by Cuba’s Communist Party rulers.
So the changes reflect the realities of Cuba’s own experience, which saw the island forced to open itself up more to foreign tourism and investment after the disappearance of its Soviet benefactor, including allowing of private self-employed economic activities and enterprises for which more than half a million Cubans currently have licences.
Observers saw the constitutional tweaks moving Cuba in the direction of – but still far from close to – the types of “market socialism” currently practised by political allies like China and Vietnam.
However, unlike those countries, Cuban officials and state media were still expressing public aversion to the idea of excessive individual enrichment, and the revised constitution continues to prohibit private “concentration of property”.
The constitutional reform introduces proposed novelties in the organisation and hierarchy of the Cuban state.
One is the creation of the post of prime minister, to lead the Council of Ministers (cabinet) in the day-to-day running of the country.
This prime minister would be designated by the National Assembly at the proposal of the president.
This reinstates a position that had existed in the early years of the Cuban revolution.
Another change is a proposal to have governors ruling Cuba’s 15 provinces – instead of the current presidents of provincial assemblies – but the new constitutional text also stresses the importance of “municipal autonomy”.
There is no shortage of communist literature to be had in Cuba, but the draft constitution has dropped a reference to a communist society
The elimination of the phrase “to advance towards communist society” has generated the most attention and comment.
The revised article retains the goal of “the construction of socialism”.
Staying: Communist Party of Cuba and single-party system
Cuban leaders and official media made very clear however the island was not giving up its one-party socialist system, or the pre-dominance of the ruling Communist Party, specifically defined as “Fidelist” and “Marxist-Leninist”.
Communist Party daily Granma declared on 23 July: “The [constitution] project reaffirms the socialist character of our political, economic and socialist system, as well as the directing role of the Communist Party of Cuba.”
In comments carried on state TV, Cuban National Assembly President Esteban Lazo assured viewers that “the ideology” was not being “lost” but updated to aim for “sovereign, independent, democratic, prosperous and sustainable socialism”.