Cuba’s New Constitution and My Civic Experience

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Osmel Ramirez

HAVANA TIMES – Now we know the new Constitution’s content, which is currently being discussed to later be approved in a popular vote. This might seem like a democratic process on the surface, but there is no plurality in the people who drafted the reforms nor in the analyses being drawn. It requires everyone’s critical opinion, because it is for everyone. 

It’s true that the Cuban people will be able to give their opinion, it will be written down and made note of. However, millions of Cubans are asking themselves: what influence do we really have? 

We have already seen great reservations when Legislators were giving their opinion about extremely important matters and they were only receptive to trivialities, “this full stop shouldn’t go here,” “I don’t think we need that extra comma”; or whether it was in tune with the preconceived idea. If that was how the public debate went, how much can we trust their revisions and that they take thousands of opinions into account?

On the other hand, there has been a lot of discussion on alternative media platforms (which are banned or held in a negative light by the government) about Article 5. This in itself voids the republican and democratic nature of this Carta Magna. How can it keep placing an exclusive political party above the State itself, if there are, naturally and spontaneously, many political movements in Cuba like anywhere else?

Even though this new Constitution might imply valuable reforms such as the chance for same-sex marriage to be passed, that doesn’t mean it’s a democratic constitution. Both an opposition political party or a homosexual couple should be legal, if they want to. That would be fair.

Both of these things being banned is completely unacceptable. We even won this right for multiple parties to exist over a century ago. The Communist Party was itself illegal in the past, victim of discriminatory treatment. Why are they doing the same thing they themselves suffered now that they are in power? It’s very unfair and detrimental for our society and we desperately need to make headway in this regard. This would be a real game changer, there’s no doubt about it.

Six years ago, when I still thought the Communist Party was holding onto all power because it couldn’t find a foolproof way to open up a democratic path without putting the “Revolution’s achievements” at risk (I had my own doubts of course), I wanted to come up with a solution. And this daring act on my behalf brought me a lot of problems. I became a marked man, who was investigated, monitored and had many doors closed.

I had a simple proposition: “a working class government”.

If the party considers itself to be the avant-garde of the working class and holds absolute power not because of ambition but because they are safekeeping the rights of the majority (such as education, health, social security and other social achievements, which are in ruin because of the crisis), then it would be better to look for a democratic path forward which would free the PCC of such a responsibility. I sent a letter to Raul Castro via the provincial party, which I of course doubt he read. It must be his secretaries’ job.

Once a plural parliament (as it should be) has been established, a democratic institution regulated by the national electoral body would have been created, where only the working class and its representatives would be active members at Assemblies at every level. A kind of direct political representation of workers.

Thus, they would be able to directly defend their social interests better than they could through a single-party or divided into many different parties, which they would also participate in, of course. I suggested a working class government with the line-item veto (similar to what a President would have) which could be voided with a two thirds vote or more in order to prevent a dictatorship, at least in these matters.

This was something that was clearly framed in the Cuban context, which has been dominated by a single-party, for the sake of a step towards democracy. My proposal would allow for political plurality, a separation of powers, opening up the market and freedom of speech. The blockade, which is a real pain, would stop existing de facto.

The response I got for my initiative (daring according to them), was what I’ve already told you… I got blacklisted. I also received a response from the municipal party in Mayari, from a group of provincial leaders and a professor from Holguin University. They literally told me that “there were skilled professionals thinking about these things and that it was my job to dedicate myself to what I had studied, which is where I would be more useful to the Revolution and the country.” A completely elitist and feudal point of view.

The professor was like a robot, he just kept spewing out with theories, which were very abstract. He clearly wanted to undermine me. I stopped him and asked: “Is what you’ve said geared towards fixing the main problems with socialism today, which is for it to be viable in a democracy and to combine the essential role of the market into its doctrine, not as a temporary setback but as a necessary and permanent need?” His answer was “no”. So, I told him that he was an amateur and that I was more concerned about the urgently practical than abstract discourse.

Finally, the ideologist (who was much more skilled politically-speaking) told me that “maybe in 10 years, the party would be interested in revisionist theories, but that it was now busy immersed in the plan they had already conceived.” He was more honest. I understood and wasn’t expecting anything either from the conversations, it was a simple formality.

Luckily, I became an independent journalist and I have been able to externalize my opinions and ideas with my fellow Cubans. Or at least with the sector who have internet access, which remains to be very few, but it is growing every day. Right now, we are discussing the new Constitution in a critical and plural way, like we should be. It’s a shame that we won’t be able to hold enough influence because access is still very limited.

Maybe the idea I put forward wasn’t even good, I still don’t know. However, that’s not the most important point here. I’m more than sure that my wish to take part in coming up with a solution to my country’s problems is a very good thing and that I can help us have a better country in some way or another, one day. Even though I pay the price for my “civic daring” every day that passes by, I feel like I have really become a real Cuban citizen ever since then.