Cuba and its Wasted Constitution

Clive Rudd Fernandez  (Café Fuerte)

The Cuban constitution.
The Cuban socialist constitution, amended in 1992.

HAVANA TIMES — My grandmother was obsessively opposed to letting things go to waste, particularly food and clothes. If you helped yourself to a large serving of food and only ate a small part of it, my she would say you were “eating with your eyes only” and that you were inconsiderate. If you bought clothing you never wore, she harped on and on about your wasteful ways.

These episodes of my childhood in Nuevo Vedado, Havana, came back to me quite vividly after hearing rumors about the possibility of establishing a new constitution for Cuba.

At the beginning of the month, an article titled ¿Una nueva Constitucion? (“A New Constitution?”), published by Cuba’s official weekly newspaper Trabajadores (“Workers”), suggested that, “in addition to providing a legal framework for the reforms,” such as the need to restrict the terms of the main government positions to a maximum of two, consecutive five-year periods and other economic issues, the decentralization and autonomy called for by a number of sectors in the country must lead us, among other things, to giving citizens greater participation in the making of legislation.”

Cuba has been in urgent need of a new constitution for many years, for the two constitutions established during the reign of the Cuban Communist Party are full of inadequacies and silent about the fundamental rights of Cubans, while the few rights that they establish are seldom exercised.

Separation of Powers

What my grandmother simply did not tolerate under any circumstance was going to a tailor, having a suit made to one’s measurements and then putting away in a closet and never using it. And that could well happen to a new constitution. First, the three government powers (the Judiciary, Legislature and Executive) must be separated. The media must also be independent (currently, they are all operated by the government, the Communist Party, that is, which is defined by the current constitution as the “higher, leading force of Cuba’s society and State”).

Therefore, whenever there is any doubt in Cuba as to whether something is constitutional or not, the Communist Party, the undisputed leader of society, has the last word, such that a Constitution, even one tailored to the country’s needs, has very little weight and very few consequences for Cubans.

I doubt very much that any revision of the constitution will give greater importance to the right to freedom of expression and association of Cubans. None of Raul’s reforms, when all is said and done, have pointed in that direction.

Rumors of Change

Rumors of change aren’t the only ones being heard these days – rumors of this nature rarely come unaccompanied. The accompanying gossip says that the Cuban government’s main commercial partners, the ones that are investing hundreds of millions into projects such as the Mariel port, have approached Raul Castro and suggested he modify the constitution so as to offer investors greater guarantees. It makes complete sense.

If both rumors are true, we may be about to witness one of the most flagrant affronts on the rights of Cubans. The cries of civil society are completely ignored, but the requests of Raul Castro’s business partners are a top priority – something that makes sense when you don’t need the people to elect you directly and democratically.

In any event, I have a message for all investors who lay their trust on Cuba’s new constitution. If it comes about, tailored to your needs and interests, it will most likely be put away in a closet so as to never be used again. My grandmother will of course complain about so much wastefulness at the top of her lungs, and you will regret having invested in a country where the constitution is one more decorative garment in a general’s wardrobe.

3 thoughts on “Cuba and its Wasted Constitution

  • Nonsense, they do have the right to express their own opinions and they do it every day virtually anywhere, including public spaces (as anyone who has spent any time in Cuba can attest), what they DON’T have is the means to disseminate their opinion.

    Also you are wrong in your second statement: no one is forced to listen to anything. Most people don’t even bother with the newspaper or watching the “mesa redonda” or the “noticiero” and ask politely their leaders to shove their opinion (quoting) where the sun doesn’t shine and AFAIK thats perfectly legal and the authorities don’t bother them at all.

  • In Cuba, the people do not have the right to express their own opinions if they differ from those of the rulers. However, they are forced to listen to the opinions of the rulers, constantly and for 55 years.

  • Lol, talk about clueless. The current constitution is in “read only” mode as a side effect of the Varela project, but of course thats anti-democratic and anything approved by the majority can be revoked by the majority, although I don’t see that happening as long as Fidel is alive (it would mean the public recognition that he was completely wrong pushing that specific change)

    That “small” issue aside, as in any republic there IS power separation in the Cuban constitution with individual roles and limitations properly specified; the problem is that the Cuban implementation is faulted because individual members typically follow the party lines for all decisions. Thats a common flaw in most countries where a majority party rules unopposed and the ONLY what to solve it is to actually have lots of different voices at the legislative level.

    In the particular case of Cuba, the PCC is NOT an electoral party, so is NOT a requirement for ANY position in the legislative, executive or judiciary to be a member of the party. If you want more voices heard in the national stage, start voting for people with your own viewpoints (or at least not members of the PCC) to the local and national assemblies, after all the executive is elected amongst the National Assembly members and THEY are the ones appointing members of the judiciary.

    Yes, that would take ages and requires citizen participation, but what else did you expect? Even if they change the constitution and allow electoral parties, alternative parties STILL need the citizen votes to get their candidates to positions where they can make a difference.

    The call to an independent media is simply ridiculous, no media anywhere in the world is independent anymore… and I’d go as far as to say that for the most part, journalism is dead and buried and all we have is gossip and propaganda.

    And as usual, you are confounding the right to speak freely with the right to disseminate your ideas freely; the first means that you can say whatever you want without fear of prosecution, but YOU DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO FORCE OTHERS TO LISTEN TO YOUR OPINIONS.

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