My doubts about Cuba’s New Constitution

Cuba’s future Constitution. Illustration: Nestor Blanco.


By Julio Antonio Fernandez  (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES — On June 2nd 2018, a special session of the National Assembly of People’s Power was held, with 35 members absent, which is a lot for their first meeting. On that day, important agendas for Cuba’s present and future were passed without any kind of discussion.

When the only contribution to the administrative experiment (which has been developed in the Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces since 2011) was presented, the National Assembly’s plenary session approved the separation of duties between the presidency of Local People’s Power Assemblies and the presidency of their respective Administrative Councils; and as a result, the need to modify an article in the Constitution.

The Decree-Law of the Council of Ministers, which regulates the key points of the Artemisa and Mayabeque experiment, didn’t only refer to this separation of duties. Now, a huge doubt lingers about the rest of the matters they were trying out in these new western provinces. The idea was to fine-tune administrative duties, to make it work autonomously in everyday life, leaving People’s Power Assemblies with the tasks of governing, projecting and controlling.

The experiment originally had some omissions like the role of People Councils, which were blurred in the Decree-Law, and the new ways people could participate, which weren’t outlined anywhere, because it wasn’t one of the experiment’s priorities.

In reality, it was proven time and time again that the local population in Artemisa and Mayabeque had no knowledge about the experiment, they didn’t have any information about its objectives and the motives for its creation, and they formed no part of this transformative adventure.

In the heart of Artemisa city, I heard a resident talk about two new governments in his province. Using their ancestral knowledge, people had read that the only change here was an additional government headquarters, which wasn’t anything more than an office for the president of the administrative council (now Head), which doesn’t mean that there are two governments at all, but that nobody explained how this new order works to the population and, therefore, none of the population have consciously taken part in this new structure.

The duration of the experiment indicates that its results were confusing to say the least and now they are suddenly telling us that the duties of heads of local assemblies and the administrative council will be separated elsewhere in the country, but not a single thing has been said about how this experiment worked, what indicators improved, what benefits came from this abovementioned separation or what problems weren’t ever resolved.

It was even more worrying to see legislators not speaking in the right place and time for a discussion and debate, accountability and for democratic control, instead to watch them waiting for the show that two legislators from the analyzed provinces were going to put on to show how effective this new bureaucratic structure is.

The day unanimity became an insult to the Homeland, the National Assembly gave us a new lesson on silence and Party discipline which is great for a convent, hermit or monastery. There’s more discussing at a Papal Conclave to elect the a Pope than there is at Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

How can it represent the Cuban people with so much silence? Some of the legislators must have seen how chatty and rowdy Cuban people are, right? It was the time to talk and not a single comment was made about the experiment, not a single question, not a single doubt raised, the opposite: the National Assembly president told members of the highest Cuban state body that he hoped that they wouldn’t talk about this experiment during this Assembly again, thereby not recognizing the fact that legislators can talk about whatever they want to at an Assembly if they feel it’s important for the Cuban people.

Legislators didn’t make any comments about the integration of the National Assembly’s permanent committees either, as if it were just any routine drill. The day these new legislators appear to fulfill their duties, the majority of this legislative body’s members didn’t even put on the performance of a debate (which wouldn’t have been legitimate) but it would have been much better than the collective drowsiness we watched on national TV.

Later, we bore witness to the (unanimous again) naming and confirmation of the committee (headed by Raul Castro) that will write up the draft of the new Constitution, a reform which we know will be a complete do-over thanks to a flying remark made by the National Assembly’s President.

The approved committee leaves us with some significant doubts for the next few months. There is no working expert with knowledge of constitutional matters. There are some respectable jurists, professors, doctors in legal science among them, but none of them are studying or investigating Constitutional Law right now.

Why aren’t working Constitutional Law professors from every main university in the country on the committee? Why haven’t experts who have taken part in constitutional processes in Venezuela, Ecuador or Bolivia been invited? Why isn’t Cuba’s Attorney-General, the President of the Supreme Court, the Justice Ministry, the Dean of the Havana University’s Law Department on this committee?

The new Constitution will leave us with a new country, a new national project, it will stipulate who is the sovereign leader of the Cuban State, who Cuba’s natural resources belong to, what forms of property will exist and which will take dominance in the new economic system that is created as a result.

The Constitution that this committee with no experience whatsoever in writing such documents will have to consecrate human rights, guarantees so the Cuban people can exercise these rights, it will have to lay out how State institutions are organized, the limits of administrative duties, protecting the environment, the foundations and principals of the electoral system, the People’s Power’s resulting structure.

If none of these matters are written down or treated conservatively or in an unpopular or anti-democratic way, this will be on the shoulders of those who have now been named to draft the constitution.

It was really strange that no full timetable of the committee’s work was presented, nor includes when the first draft version will be put forward, how it will be made known, the way it will be discussed with the population and when this will happen, the time period the National Assembly has to present the final version and the day set for the final referendum.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pass a “note” to the National Assembly’s President because if I had, I would have sent thousands of my own questions and those of others, questions which Cuba’s stupefied free citizens are asking themselves.

2 thoughts on “My doubts about Cuba’s New Constitution

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  • El Toque doesn’t appear to comprehend that it is not his role as an average Cuban citizen to question the decisions made by a dictator and then rubber-stamped by a National Assembly comprising in its entirety of members of the Communist Party of Cuba.
    The current constitution supposedly defines certain rights upon citizens, but those rights have been denied repeatedly. Examples abound such as the right to enter hotels which was denied until 2013.
    El Toque expresses many hopes, but there is little reason to believe that any of them will be realized.

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