Cuba Urgently Needs a New Constitution

Amid the vagueness of the reform process

Pedro Campos

Reflection. Photo: Marisca Verbeij
Mriska Verbeij

HAVANA TIMES — The first and main problem, the original sin of the “reform process” and its “guidelines” approved at the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), is its failure to define the type of society it seeks to create and the aims and means of production of this society.

Everything is aimed at “developing the economy and gaining in efficiency and productivity,” a slogan that could well have been defended by slave-holding sugar plantation owners in the 19th century as much as by the foreign capitalists who operated in our country before the nationalizations that took place in the years following 1959.

Before the Congress, some of us insisted that the Party, in conjunction with society, begin by defining what was understood by “socialism”, the type of society we were aiming to build and what its objectives, means of production and methods would be. The answer was sheer indifference.

Of course, all political parties have the right to leave their aims and the means of reaching these undefined. But such lack of definition and inconsistencies are paid dearly, as we’re already beginning to see. The lack of a clear political definition by the PCC may be owed to the fact that those who made the previous mistakes are trying to fix them without having criticized these thoroughly, which means that they are trying to obtain different results with the same or similar methods.

In this single-party political system that claims to represent all of the people, society should also have discussed and approved proposals as to how it wished to live, what it understood by socialism, what future it wanted, without having a script imposed upon it, as it had by the leadership of this one party, on the basis of the anti-democratic Article 5 of the constitution.

Hence such irregularities as decrees that encourage private capitalist development but maintain insurmountable monopolistic and State restrictions, which discourage and deform socialist progress, and even impede any development of the productive forces and those who expect international capital to come and “rescue Cuban socialism.”

To confront these serious institutional problems, there is no better alternative than a new democratic constitution. It is more than evident that Cuba’s 1976 constitution has been left behind by history and discredited by the failures of the State-command and centralized economy it established, as well as by the need to impel the democratization and socialization of a political and economic order that favors the development of our society, today in a multi-sector crisis.

The constitution approved nearly 40 years ago stemmed from concrete historical, national and international circumstances that have drastically changed.

Quality improves with age. Photo: Matt Smith

The disintegration of the USSR and “socialist bloc,” the transformation of China into a vast capitalist economy and the economic, political and social disaster endured by Cuban society have demonstrated the inconsistencies of “Marxist-Leninist” (or, better, Stalinist) principles, upon which the said constitution was conceived.

On February 24 this year, President Raul Castro said before Parliament: “In accordance with the agreements reached at the 6th Congress, it will be necessary to harmonize the postulates of the Constitution with the changes related to the gradual implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and Revolution.” Clear as day: we run the risk of seeing what has already been decided by the Communist Party becomes “constitutionalized”, if we Cubans, as a people, are unable to secure a true democratic constitution for ourselves.

In addition to this, as part of a rather unhealthy polarity, some Cubans believe we must start off from the 1976 constitution, while others from the 1940 constitution. Though both have redeemable components, our reality today is very different from what it was at those two points on history and the world we live in is entirely different.

A Commission for Constitutional Affairs is supposedly operating within the National Assembly of the People’s Power (Parliament), but its decisions are not made public. A group called Casa Cuba made open and concrete proposals for a constitutional reform. Those of us who defend a participative and democratic form of socialism approached the 6th PCC Congress with the proposals for a new constitution. Several intellectuals – and not exclusively experts on juridical matters – have also insisted on the advisability of this.

A group of Cuban social democrats is also developing positive and constructive ideas and actions aimed at developing a constitutional consensus that will include Cubans from across the political spectrum, with a view to creating conditions favorable to a new constitution. All of these are valid efforts that ought to be known by the general public.

In order to represent the interests of the people, the drafting of a new constitution would have to be the work of all Cubans and not a small group of them, appointed by self-appointed entities.

Collective taxi. Photo: Massimiliano Doddi

This broad popular debate should be carried out before and during the open and public discussion of these matters, on the television, radio and press, including the Internet, to be organized by the representatives that will submit the proposal to a referendum. Such representatives ought to be elected democratically and proportionally represent all of the political notions that co-exist within Cuban society. This would require a political parties law or an adjustment/broadening of the current associations law.

In order to clear the road to a new constitution, however, Cuba will require a previous process of democratization that must involve the current government – be it of its own will or in response to the demand of broad social sectors – and allow for the free expression and association of Cubans, as well as an end to all sorts of persecution for political reasons, such that different points of view can be defended, explained and argued before all of the people in a horizontal fashion.

Of course, it is not a question of “asking for permission” or begging for rights. I am speaking of the need to create a nationwide atmosphere of harmony and democracy that is to involve official institutions and help us overcame the many years of authoritarianism we’ve endured.

Such a process would allow us to openly discuss and decide what type of socialism or society we want as Cubans, without curtailing the rights and interests of minorities.

The imminent disappearance of the Cuba’s “historical leadership” from the political vanguard makes this democratization process all the more urgent. The “legitimacy” afforded the government by the revolution of 1959 dies with them. If we do not establish a new social contract to guide Cuban society in the coming years, no one will be able to say what will come later.

All Cubans who aspire to securing true democratic changes to the current political and economic system through peaceful means could and should coordinate our efforts, even if there are strategic differences among us, in order to try and impel this needed process of democratization, a process that will overcome censorship and self-censorship and establish frank, open, non-secretive, non-sectarian and non-elitist dialogue free from the spirit of revenge or intolerance and allow us to find a common path towards the future, in which all citizens can participate on the basis of the principles agreed to by all.

17 thoughts on “Cuba Urgently Needs a New Constitution

  • I certainly have read it see SEC. 204. TERMINATION OF THE ECONOMIC EMBARGO OF CUBA. It says that the embargo will be lifted when the President and congress agree (and when has that happened) that the elections are fair. It doesn’t say that international observers have any input to the decision and their views have been completely ignored in the past eg Nicaragua. This carries the huge potential of manipulation – if you dare vote for anyone other than the US choice, the embargo will remain. Again this is not me being cynical, it happened in Nicaragua.

  • Thanks to all the commenters for their contributions. Cuba has great tradition by constitutions and no work will cost to make and vote on a new constitution. The government plans to reform the 76, but when put to try to narrow the Constituion, the ideas of “actualizción” raulista, will end up changing it so much that they will realize that it will be subject to a referendum, because the be content changes.

  • Even though I don’t agree with the policy, the US has a right to refuse trade with Cuba. The points I would make are – there is no excuse for the things that are illegal/near illegal (though a lot have been addressed by now) that affect trade between Cuba and third countries. Not all aspects of the conflict involve trade – the US blocks Cuba from international bodies and has seized assets. There is a moral imperative to take notice of UN resolutions. The UN is there for that reason – you can’t expect other countries to comply if you don’t.

    The issue of trumped up charges is a danger in every country, but unless you look at the evidence of each case individually there is no way of telling whether the charges are valid or not. Amnesty International specialize in doing that and I go along with their findings and other reputable independent bodies. I agree with some of your points on poder popular but a discussion on all that will have to wait for another day.

    Section 295 (5) “Requirements … has ceased interference with Radio Marti or Television Marti broadcasts”. I don’t think that corporate media is the answer – there are other options available. Section 295 (3) “has dissolved the present Department of State Security in the Cuban Ministry of the Interior,including the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Rapid Response Brigades”. see SEC. 204. TERMINATION OF THE ECONOMIC EMBARGO OF CUBA. Nobody knows what market-oriented means – some say Raul is moving towards one others say he isn’t and there are people in Cuba and outside who don’t agree with the direction and may have valid arguments to put on the table.

    Your final sentiments are genuine and admirable.

  • The Act calls for international observers. Have you really actually read it yourself or are you reading from a Castro Ministry of Information cheat sheet?

  • Your overall objection to the US exerting an opinion is faulty. Cuba retains the right to stay exactly as they are. HB simply stipulates that the US, in our sovereignty has the right to choose who will do business with the US. We choose not to do business with Cuba as Cuba is currently governed. Given your support for Cuban sovereignty, you should understand that the US has the sovereign right to choose our economic allies. You know that Cuba has hundreds of political prisoners. The Castros simply label them as common criminals by charging them with bogus crimes. Silly point. Poder Popular is a joke. The people get to vote for 10 candidates for 10 positions. If you are Cuban you should know this and if you are not, just ask one that if Cubans were to reject or deface a majority of ballots, they would simply be asked to vote for another slate of equally unknown and powerless Municipal Assembly candidates. At the street level, no one votes for national candidates. It doesn’t strike you a little odd that the same family has been in power 55 years? Again, silly point. HB does not stipulate what private medio will be legal in Cuba, nor does it disband MININT or the CDR. You did not read that in the Act. Yes, it does stipulate a market-oriented economy. So what? Raul is doing that now. China and Vietnam are market-oriented as well. You have misinterpreted or simply misread the Act if you have read it at all. Cubans, in a free and open society will have the right to choose for themselves whatever form of government and whatever leaders they wish. How is that a bad thing?

  • I forgot to say I also object to the fact that the act states that the US rather than Cubans or the international community decides whether the elections are fair.

  • My suggestion is very different from the Helms-Burton Act because it doesn’t enfringe on Cuba’s right to self-determination and it also requires America to commit to non-interference.

    Though I’m repeating myself I object to most of the tenets of the Act. It isn’t up to the US whether the Castros are in government or not. The nature of Cuba’s constitution and type of elections is also up to them, for example they may wish to keep things as they are, further develop poder popular or move to a multi-party system. As long as the constitution demonstrates it has the support of the vast majority and human rights are respected that is their business. The issue of political prisoners is really minor. Amnesty International claims there are two. Before Christmas there was one in the US (not counting Guantanamo). There is legalised free speech and assembly, but I agree that there are some issues around people losing their jobs and repudiation rallies. But I object that the US sets itself up as the judge and jury on issues of human rights on Cuba when they ignore other coutries such as Honduras where six unarmed protestors were shot recently and completely fail to put right the gross illegality in Guantanamo. But if your country does really lose sleep over las dames blancas, why not negotiate this issue by agreeing to stop sending exploding cigars and organizing flash mobs etc.

    I also object to some of the other things in the act which you haven’t mentioned like the insistance that Cuba allows private/corporate media and TV/Radio Marti which is US government funded. The act’s insistance that Cuba adopts a Market economy with private property rights (Capitalist?) and that they must disband Minint and the CDRs I also object to. But even more than that I object to the Act itself. Where is there another example of a law that is put in place to stop all future leaders from exercising foreign policy as they see fit at the time. In a fast changing world this is the height of stupidity.

    My beef is not with Donahue buying his beachfront property or the unscrupulous Cuban oligarchs who may well sell it to him it is US government policy which seems to be holding out in the hope of an eventual jackpot rather than negotiating a just and honourable settlement today.

  • Diaz-Canal is a place holder. The Castro clan will continue to wield the power behind the thrown. Lopez-Callejas, as you mentioned above, and Alejandro Castro Espín, a powerful figure in the Ministry of the Interior, aka, the State Security apparatus.

  • The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 provides for a scenario similar to your suggestion. Are you familiar with it? It simply asks that the Castros leave political life and power, schedule open elections, free political prisoners, and legalize free speech and assembly. Which of these changes do you oppose for Cubans? By the way, if “Donahue” does get “his beachfront property” it will be because a greedy member of the Castros’ military complex sold it to him. Don’t blame the buyer, blame the unscrupulous Cuban oligarchs who will sell beachfront and Malecon properties to the highest bidder as soon as they get the chance.

  • Besides setting up structures for governing a state–congresses or parliaments, executive branches and judicial systems–constitutions are also “mission statements” of what their writers hope to accomplish by such a document. While our own U.S. Constitution is an admirable document, as is the Cuban Constitution of 1940, still the real economic and political powers in a society always wind up subverting such documents. The realities of the Cuban pseuedo-republic of 1902-1959, and for that matter, our contemporary American republic, have ever less-and-less to do with the realities on the ground. For a cogent example in classical history, look to the demise of the Roman Republic. During its earlier epoch, there were a series of “checks-and-balances” which protected the economically powerless (e.g. besides the Senate, which generally represented the patrician aristocracy, there were the Assembly of the Tribes, the Assembly of the Plebs, the Tribune of the Plebs, the Consuls, etc. As these became subverted, however, the political situation became more and more murderous, ’til in the century before the establishment of the empire, politics was characterized by revolutions and counter-revolutions, murders and massacres. Finally, to bring peace, the empire was established, and generally worked when there were good emperors, like Caesar Augustus, Tiberius (despite what some historians say), Claudius, Marcus Aurelius, etc. Although the U.S. has a two-party “duopoly,” both parties have essentially sold their souls to the military-industrial complex and the multinational corporations (which are really one in the same). Any person who perceives what real democracy is, is utterly alienated from contemporary American political institutions. Laws may be fine and good, but they are powerless against those with wealth and power who seek to subvert them.

  • A wonderful post which ties in quite nicely with my suggestion that the US offers to drop the embargo/blockade and all other interference immediately if the Cuban government agrees to a constitutional referendum within a couple of years. However the US seems only interested in grinding the country into the ground so that Donahue can get his beachfront property. In my view discussions could only involve genuine patriots. Anyone who has supported the US invasion, terrorism or the embargo should have to go through a decontamination period of at least ten years.

  • A dogs life in Cuba is awful. But when the humans are on rations with old age pensioners receiving $8 per month, it is difficult to feed the family. The 21st century in the free world does not equate with the 21st century in Cuba.

  • Future Presidents may be limited to two five year terms, but when the next President – Diaz-Canel has been personally selected by Raul Castro Ruz, continuity of policy is assured. The real economic power will not lie with Diaz-Canel, it will lie with the militarily controlled economy under General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas – the Castro controlled business empire will continue unimpeded.

  • Mr. Campos brings up a good point about the need for changes to the wording of the 1976 Cuban constitution:

    “In accordance with the agreements reached at the 6th Congress, it will be necessary to harmonize the postulates of the Constitution with the changes related to the gradual implementation of the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines of the Party and Revolution.”

    Since Raul Castro has over and over again spoken of the need to restrict future leaders to two five-year term limits and stressed that such action requires a tweak to the 1976 constitution, my best guess is that if Cuba one day decides to amend its constitution, it may change the wording just to reflect the economic changes that have occurred over the past five years

  • It was ostensibly the very same constitution Castro said he wished to restore. …..Well, we know how that turned out.

  • Animal Protection Laws Against Cruelty should be at the top of the list!. This is the 21st Century.


    The 1940 Constitution of Cuba, was implemented in 1940, during the presidency of Federico Laredo Brú. It was primarily influenced by the collectivist ideas that inspired the Cuban Revolution of 1933. Widely considered one of the most “progressive” constitutions in existence at the time, it provided for land reform, public education, minimum wage and other leftist ideas. It consisted of 286 articles in 19 sections and took six months to write.

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