Cuba’s New Constitution “Should Recognize Freedom of Speech”

By Jancel Moreno

Maykel Gonzalez Vivero

HAVANA TIMES – On August 13th, the popular consultation phase of the draft Constitution began and it will end on November 15th, according to information published by the government press.

We spoke with Maykel Gonzalez Vivero, an independent journalist and LGBTI activist in Villa Clara province, about this process that has just begun on the island.

HT: Do you believe that amendments needed to be made to the Cuban Constitution?

Maykel Gonzalez: Of course. And they were urgent. More than anything else, the country’s economic and social situation weren’t well-described by a Constitution written in the 1970s which also mirrored the Soviet system. It’s a shame that the new Carta Magna isn’t the result of strictly citizen demands and needs either. It was created out of the political power’s need to win legitimacy, update itself and ideas from the previous century which aren’t appreciated by the international community anymore.

HT: Official media doesn’t stop boasting about what it calls the pro-democratic nature of this process. Do you really consider it to be democratic compared to other constitutional processes in Cuba’s history?

MG: For starters, there wasn’t even a Constituent Assembly. The new Constitution has been in the works for years now. Many previous constitutions weren’t especially democratic either. There are more than enough examples. Of course, the last Cuban Constitution, the 1940 Constitution, did have irrefutable democratic origins and debate. It was the result of demands that the 1930 Revolution promoted. Political minorities were able to take part in the drafting process, even the Communists.

HT: The Communist Party has made a special emphasis on them remaining as the superior body of government as well as on the irrevocable nature of socialism in Cuba. From your point of view as a Cuban citizen, what does this mean?

MG: These are the points that those in power aren’t willing to negotiate and they are enough to do away with any shred of democratic legitimacy this Constitution might have. It even states that the Communist Party and its role in national government is above the Constitution and its laws. It’s a legal abomination. These articles prove that the new law, even when renewing some administrative or social conditions, is only to benefit those in power, as if it wanted to give the ruling elite a place in history.

HT: The popular consultation phase has already begun, and the draft Constitution is in the hands of ordinary Cubans. If Cubans did rise-up in their neighborhoods and demand freedom of association and plural elections, what do you imagine the government’s response would be to such a petition?

MG: That won’t happen, except for in isolated cases. “Ordinary” Cubans, like you say, have no political culture or enough social conscience to stand up to the ruling elite. The draft Constitution isn’t in the hands of Cubans either. They will be given just enough room for it to look like participation, like so many other times in the past, and it’s very likely that nothing substantial will change in the document.

HT: The decision to keep socialism in Cuba as the only system of government possible is contradictory when the late Fidel Castro himself said that socialism isn’t a feasible system. What is this decision based on then?

MG: In this discourse, socialism is a sentimental subject and the government’s grounds for remaining coherent. If you look closely, it isn’t even socialism anymore, at least not in a formal sense, it doesn’t want to be Marxist and it has adopted concepts that belong to liberal political thought. It talks about “Rule of Law” for the first time. The government wants to breathe life back into concepts and bring them closer to international ideas, as a strategy. Of course, this is just in form. The Constitution wants to establish economic practices that “real” socialism had rejected, but now they are not only feasible, but also useful for those in power to survive. This is why this socialism will only remain the same in its authoritarian aspects.

HT: One of the greatest changes and one of the ones that will lead to popular debate is without a doubt the amendment to the concept of marriage, giving way to same-sex marriage in Cuba. How do you think this measure will benefit Cuba’s LGBTI community?

MG: It will benefit this community in terms of inheritance rights, pensions, etc., but it will especially help in symbolic terms. It is the first time that equality of the LGBTI community is being publicly discussed. Even though these laws by themselves can’t eradicate discrimination on a small scale, this decision does knock prejudice hard. We have to take this as a victory.

HT: As an LGBTI activist, what does this amendment to the Constitution mean to you?

MG: Independent activists have also been fighting for this, not only because marriage is an aspiration, but because it was a step forwards towards equality. In fact, marriage is in crisis today as an institution and it seems like it gave power to those who wanted to control personal commitments. Of course, we are really talking about equality in the eyes of the law. It’s a shame that the article about marriage is taking up so much of constitution-related debates because the Constitution includes points that are more worrying for the future of Cuban society.

HT: To finish off, what other changes or amendments would you make to this new Constitution as a Cuban citizen?

MG: The new Constitution should finally recognize freedom of speech and opinion, once and for all. It would recognize this if were truly inspired by democratic principles. We will have to wait and see if these public debates can include, at least, the demands of small groups and agendas that are seemingly unimportant in political terms, like the animal rights movement.