Cuba’s Constitution, Law and Rights

Fernando Ravsberg

Havana Street. Photo: Raquel Pérez

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 6 — On Monday at a party, I ran into two friends who were euphoric.

One of them, a culture promoter, can finally put the title of his Russian Lada car in his name.   The other, a university professor, can now transfer the ownership of his car to his daughter “without having to die,” the only previous way to transfer a car to one’s offspring.

It must be said that the Sale of Vehicles Law is another step by the present government to free the society from prohibitions as absurd as the banning of cell phones, hotels accommodation for nationals, buying computers, etc., etc., etc.

Because of this, society is normalizing a little more.   Now, tens of thousands of clandestine car sales may be legalized and the real car owners will have their “carritos” in their name and not in the name of the first purchaser.

The truth is that the sales of vehicles never ceased, despite the express prohibition by the government.  Cars were traded from hand to hand without officially registering the property; instead, handshakes sealed the deals.

Because of this recent step, it will appear that a buying fever has broken out, although in reality what will be happening is that notaries will be called upon to put the house in order, meaning that they will act to legalize all sales made over the past 50 years clandestinely.

Equality, more or less

The move is certainly a step in the direction demanded by Cubans for many years.  However, some aspects of the law were surprising because it doesn’t give equal rights to all citizens.

Cuban journalists asked the deputy minister of Transportation, Eduardo Rodriguez, why some Cubans could buy new cars and not others.  In short, his response was that these were the guidelines established by the Communist Party.

Beyond the issue of who “recommended” this restriction, the truth is that it will exclude many citizens, even some with sufficient purchasing power, such as those people returning from years working on medical missions abroad, farmers and some self-employed workers – sectors whose importance is growing daily.

It’s difficult to understand why a painter or a musician would be allowed to buy a new car while this would be prohibited for a farmer who has earned their money with the sweat of their brow in the field so that all Cubans can eat and the country can save on imports.

Viewing the legislation in the light of the priorities of the nation, this seems short-circuited.  Undoubtedly culture is important, but the officials who drafted the law should know that people need food somewhat more than illumination.

Second class citizens
The other marginalized group is made up of independent (non-government) workers, whose number has tripled and who will one day be the majority of the workforce.  I don’t know how to explain to the person laying bricks that functionaries sitting in an office will have more rights than they will.

But what’s most surprising is that physicians who complete missions abroad are prohibited from buying new cars.  In fact they’re the only “earners of hard currency” who are expressly excluded in the fine print of the new law.

This seems even more unfair when you realize that the work of health care personnel abroad is the main source of the nation’s foreign exchange income.  It’s what’s paying the national oil bill.  No one should have more rights than them.

Perhaps the Ministry of Justice is able to present the legal arguments for excluding a part of the citizenry, especially when President Raul Castro just recently said, “All Cubans, without exception, are equal before the law.”

Instead, this legislation favors some Cubans over others, even though Chapter VI, Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic states that “all citizens enjoy equal rights” (3) and therefore no law should violate this principle.

The color of money

It’s also strange that people are required to demonstrate that their incomes are in convertible pesos (CUCs) when the state pays wages in Cuban pesos (CUPs).  Much of the domestic trade is conducted in that latter currency and there are money exchange houses.

The Central Bank of Cuba established the convertibility of the currency at a rate of 24-1, so if a dealer sells a car in 10,000 CUCs, the correct thing would be for a citizen to exchange 240,000 CUPs to buy it.

Experiences in Cuba show that absurd prohibitions have only served to promote illegal speculation and the black market.  People have never obeyed these; they’ve simply sought the best way to get around them.

No law could prevent some Cubans from having cell phones, Internet, staying in hotels or selling their cars and houses.  Farmers circumvented directives that came down from the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture and self-employed workers existed before they were legal.

Since 2008 the government has been gradually correcting those idiotic prohibitions, but the present law is moving in the wrong direction when its solutions create first and second class citizens, thereby establishing a legal precedent that is as potentially disastrous as it is unnecessary.

While this terrain could involve a violation of the constitution, in practice it’s ideal for new illegalities. Politically it’s incomprehensible that they would exclude rights to three key sectors of the new socioeconomic model: self-employed workers, farmers and doctors.

5 thoughts on “Cuba’s Constitution, Law and Rights

  • This article is shocking. I’m a socialist transformationary hoping to win 200,000,000 US citizens to the vision and program of socialist transformation of the US, through a non-violent, Constitutionally mandated path to the socialist Cooperative Republic. How the hell is this winning of the people ever to be accomplished if the vision and program of socialism is misconstrued as a Cuba/Soviet-style, state monopoly perversion of socialism?

    Socialism is right here for the asking and taking if we socialists will only jettison the Marx/Engels stipulation that private property rights must be abolished immediately by the socialist state monopolizing the land and all instruments of production; and by embracing a new understanding of what workable socialism truly is.

    Workable socialism is a cooperative republic that values and utilizes private productive property rights and the conditioned trading market, and proceeds through democratic socialist political norms.

    The state monopoly form of socialism comes from Marxism, and it must choke up society with bureaucracy and corruption and all the disgusting attributes revealed in this article. It is time for socialists everywhere to either redefine socialism as cooperative and democratic, with only partial, non-controlling state co-ownership.

  • SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE : A sweet life if you belong to Cuba’s upper crust- September 29 – Jonathan Curiel

    Everyone knows that Cuba is one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries. Its economic indices lag in nearly every category, including gross domestic product and household income. Yet the stereotype of Cuba as a strict post-Communist backwater – a kind of Shangri-la of egalitarianism – has taken a beating in the past year.

    First, there was an article in the Economist that quoted Ada Fuentes, a woman who returned to Havana after living in New Jersey for five decades. “If you have money,” Fuentes said, “life’s good here.”

    Now there is Michael Dweck’s photo project that shows Cuba’s privileged side – a side of beautiful models, late-night partiers, daytime surfers, hard-working guitar players and other people who make up Cuba’s “creative class,” as Dweck calls them. Two of Fidel Castro’s sons (Alex and Alejandro) are on the periphery of this strata. So is the son of Che Guevara, Camilo Guevara, who’s a photographer.

    The revolution that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara brought to the island nation five decades ago has evolved into something unexpected: Guilty pleasure. As Dweck notes in his new book, ” Michael Dweck: Habana Libre,” some of the people he photographed are “embarrassed” about their relatively elite standing; others, he says, “are afraid to draw attention to it for fear the socialist government will punish them for having a good life.” An exhibit of photos from “Habana Libre” continues at San Francisco’s Modernism gallery through Oct. 29.

    “Artists, writers, filmmakers, dancers – they live this secretive life under the radar in Cuba that is really cool and lends itself well to a narrative,” says Dweck. “I’m playing on the theme of privilege in a classless society.”

    Not surprisingly, some Cubans didn’t want to cooperate with Dweck. One woman he met there told him, “I think this project is going to get a lot of people in trouble, and you’re on your own.” But Dweck, based in New York City, was never really on his own. Within hours of first flying to Havana, he befriended a well-connected British expat who told him about a private party at an old 20,000-square-foot oceanside residence, where Dweck met Cubans he would photograph for “Habana Libre.”


    BOOK : Michael Dweck – “Habana Libre” web site

  • Those three key sectors are the ones making the money and also the ones doing most of the work in Cuba.

  • Of course when you talk to members of the many Cuba Solidarity Campaigns they will plead ignorance or completely ignore reality. Like scientologists and Jehovah’s Witnesses they always just know their own propaganda.

  • Yes, it is absurd to “exclude rights to three key sectors of the new socioeconomic model: self-employed workers, farmers and doctors.” But, unless and until Cuba converts to a cooperative, state co-ownership mode of production, this and other such absurdities will continue.

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