Cuba’s New Constitution: Challenges and Rights

Leduan Ramirez Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Political and economic changes in Cuba today would make you think that the system is undergoing a growing process and evolving. Some academics discuss the spontaneity, lack of discussion and non-participation that has always gone hand-in-hand with Cuba’s reforms processes.

They highlight the fact that these changes have strengthened the government’s position, which Cuba has had since 1975. These academics describe examples which support how laws have been interpreted and implemented in Cuba. Let’s just take a moment to think about that constitutional loophole[1] which led to the Varela Project in 1997 and the fact that it didn’t lead to greater socio-political repercussions because the Cuban government quickly modified these articles in all haste.

Constitutional reform is only ever made in Cuba when times are desperate and the government absolutely needs to. Today, Cuba is facing a serious economic crisis, the loss of its international allies, strong social changes both on and off the island, new influential players, as well as the country now being led by a new generation.

To that effect, this new Cuban constitution stems from a situation which comprises complex challenges and a lack of civil rights. In the global democratic system, laws are put forward as citizens’ initiatives and they are then discussed greatly among representative groups via the Legislative Power. In Cuba, a country which isn’t used to surprises, the new Constitution won’t exactly be a Law for Everyone because it doesn’t recognize Everyone. This problem lies in the government’s inability to recognize, establish and implement Cubans’ rights in different situations today (whether they are civil rights or not). The key problem that this document needs to resolve is inclusion, in my opinion at least.

Alone in the park

Constitutions are documents which try to objectively consider, in an abstract manner, Duties and Rights in the land that a government rules. Therefore, as abstract documents, they are centered on recognizing borders, contexts and the components which make up a given State. While it is true that the Cuban Constitution does recognize and is very progressive when it comes to social rights, it isn’t so much when it comes to recognizing and respecting civil and human rights, like you would imagine. The Cuban constitution’s background limits representation, asserting a national agreement where a single entity [the Communist Party] can vote and full rights to make decisions on behalf of everyone. If we are talking about rights, it is our freedom to be represented that is being cut short.

If we are talking about politics, this constitutional reforms process will have to adjust the mechanisms Cuban people have to access the Cuban government. This isn’t a minor detail given the fact that this is where all of the Cuban government’s criticism stems from because it shares the same characteristics of an authoritarian regime. The changes needed are no small thing. Questions come from these which still haven’t been answered, such as the handing over power, the definition of people’s mechanisms to access this power and the continuity of a political system which has proven to be obsolescent. At the same time, it’s a text with a utopian view in that very few citizens believe in the Cuban socialist project.

I believe that national unity is the greatest challenge for this new Constitution. The Cuban State has upheld an official discourse of historic unity, but it hasn’t gone into details about how this discourse has been constantly fragmented in recent years. Cuban society has become very diverse at its core, different positions, contexts and territorialities have been established.

Meanwhile, the cultural and political capital that has been acquired during this time via different channels, strongly contrasts with the reality of national discourse. This diversity will need to be recognized in some way or another in the new Constitution. Sectors with a great presence in the country like emigrants, self-employed workers with their own organizational bodies (unions), groups in favor of freedoms and sexual rights, as well as a new generation with opposing interests to the government will all need to be analyzed in this document.

A store where rations are sold at subsidized prices.

The new Constitution will need to promote Marti’s interest in unity through consensus and not in the opinion of a select few. It should also establish mechanisms for interpreting and making these laws universal which will allow them to adapt quickly to new situations in the future and efficiently so as not to violate any recognized right. I also think that it should be an inclusive Constitution and that this is exactly what no member in the current system wants to say anything about because Raul Castro is the one leading this process. It would be an opportune time for Cuban citizens to exercise their right to participate freely.

[1]Article 88, Part G of the 1992 Cuban Constitution declared that law proposals could be made in the National Assembly whenever a Cuban citizen did so directly with 10,000 signatures from Cuban citizens who sign their petition or proposal.