The Right to Defend Rights in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg

Photo: Ivana Beluzec

HAVANA TIMES, March 3 –  A few days ago a Cuban residing abroad asked in this blog: “Where did Ravsberg take the photo for his article? – because there aren’t any commercial signs on the streets of Havana.”

What I found quite symptomatic was the fact that he didn’t recognize the capital of his own country.

Undoubtedly the changes taking place on the island have “disoriented” those who insist on assuring that nothing is happening.  At times I have the impression that some fear the reforms more than the immobilism.

This occurs, despite situations as visible as the opening of hotels to Cubans, the possibility of them now building their own homes, buying computers and cellphones, or setting up their own business and having access to Internet in cybercafés.

There are also subtle but no less interesting changes, such as the publication and sale of copies of the Constitution, the placement of giant billboards on that topic and even a forum on the Radio Rebelde website where burning issues were debated.

Cuban legal scholars responded to the participants — residents who were both on and outside the island — about freedom of travel, the right to free movement within the country, dual citizenship and the former prohibition against access to tourist hotels (this was eliminated in 2008).

The forum was something truly novel for Cuba, and not only because the questions published questioned the constitutional legitimacy of some measures taken by the Cuban government, but also because of several of the answers the jurists gave.

One of the participants pointed out the existing contradiction between a Constitution which holds that a Cuban “may live in any sector, area or neighborhood of a city” and the government resolution that restricts migration into Havana.

The answer by attorney Andry Mantilla was that — in this case — the authorities took “more into account the objective circumstances that condition the situation than they did their own higher judicial framework, which should serve to limit them.”

My impression is that the jurist is affirming the unconstitutionality of that government measure.  In fact, he subsequently appealed for new mechanisms and demanded “responsibility in the face of the neglect of constitutional provisions.”

A peculiar debate ensued around the matter of dual citizenship.  The Constitution reads that “when foreign citizenship is acquired, one loses their Cuban citizenship.” However government authorities demand anyone born in Cuba to travel with a Cuban passport when visiting the island, despite their having become citizens of another country.

The experts explained that “since there is no a formal pronouncement” from any institutions, the person will continue being Cuban.  What that means — in this case — is that the “Law of Laws” has no validity because the authorities refuse to apply it.

Where they detected no contradiction was in the requirement of an exit permit to leave the country.  The scholars emphasized that the Constitution does not establish it “as a right or freedom (…) therefore the requirement does not constitute a direct violation of the text.”

In any case, they recognized that the obligation produces disaffection among members of the public and also that the Constitution can be modified.  “The laws respond to the times in which they were approved, and to the degree in that society changes, these too must adapt.”

Andry Mantilla therefore assured that the reform underway “should be done in consonance with what is provided in the constitutional text, otherwise an adaptation of that text should be made to then reflect such changes.”

The authorization allowing self-employed workers to hire other workers, for example, runs head-on with Article 14, which prohibits “man’s exploitation by man” – a phrase that Marxists embrace to argue against any profiteer who uses wage-labor.

However, I believe that it was attorney Marta Prieto who contributed the central idea of the debate, disqualifying those who understand “critiques or complaints against rights as something alien or harmful to the system, while forgetting that the defense of rights is one of the most important rights of the human being.”

A Havana Times translation of the Spanish original authorized by BBC Mundo.


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