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

  • August 13, 2014 at 2:25 am

    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.

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