Cuba's constitutional reforms bring hope

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Cuba's constitutional referendum in February displayed overwhelming support for the government. More than six million voted yes, while only around 706,000 voted no. The new constitution represents a step forward for the democratic, economic and social development of the country.

The National Capitol Building in Havana (photo by Antonio Castillo)In a country of more than seven million voters, where the vote is voluntary, the participation was high, 84.41 per cent. Almost nine million Cubans participated in debating the reforms; some 133,000 meetings were held in neighbourhoods and work and study centres. The high level of participation is a signal that Cubans are keen to be active participants in changing their country.

This new constitution is a significant step towards involving Cubans in further stages of the Cuban revolution. The document, which replaces the 1976 constitution, brings considerable political, economic and social change. Shortly after voting, Cuba's president Diaz-Canel said the new law 'was a text for the present and the future of the island'.

Cubans knew what they were getting into and what was at stake. There was fear that the achievements of the revolution could be lost. However the essence of the constitution, the things that Cubans consider as achievements, are reflected there: the right to health, to education, to safe streets and dignified poverty.

'Most impressive was the massive participation of our young people,' an old Cuban friend told me. And young Cubans were the most inclined to change the constitution. The new law strengthens the place of children, adolescents and young people; they are a segment of the population whose rights are systematically violated in many parts of the world.

Cuban women have also been central actors in this process. According to official sources, women constitute more than 65 per cent of the island's electoral authorities. Cuban women have been demanding significant changes, and it seems the new constitution has reflected their demands. Women overwhelmingly supported the new constitution, which offers them new protections by recognising their reproductive rights. Until now, abortion in Cuba has been institutionalised and easily accessible, but not technically legalised.

In a society where machismo is still a problem, and sexual harassment is not uncommon, the new constitution also offers new forms of protection for women against gender violence, not only in a domestic context but also on the streets, and against workplace harassment.

 

"The new constitution responded to the most urgent demands from Cubans: expansion of individual rights and guarantees, strengthening of popular power, the promotion of foreign investment, and the recognition of various forms of property, including socialist and private."

 

One of the most remarkable political modernisations in this new constitution is the creation of two figures, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, and the limit of two five years consecutive presidential terms. This is hugely important in the pursuit of a political system that guarantees transparency, accountability and the rule of law. These are the principles of 'good governance' the new generation of Cuban leaders are seeking to achieve.

One of the most recurrent grievances I heard from Cubans was that the 'historical generation' — the one behind the revolutionary process — 'has stopped listening to the people'. The 'new generation' — the one not involved in the revolution, including Cuba's new leader Miguel Díaz-Canel — has regarded this grievance as a prerequisite to good governance. Hence the new constitution has clearly indicated that the 'government should be in constant interaction with the population'.

And it seems Díaz-Canel is not wasting time in implementing this constitutional mandate. Just days after the referendum, he publicly asked for ideas to improve Cuba's economy. He appealed to what he called 'collective thinking' to boost the precarious financial situation of the country: 'We must listen to those who know best, approach the research centres and universities, to promote innovation.' 

When you look at the reasons behind the overwhelming approval for the new constitution it's obvious that it responded to the most urgent demands from Cubans: expansion of individual rights and guarantees; strengthening of popular power; the promotion of foreign investment and the recognition of various forms of property, including socialist and private.

The changes and modifications the new constitution has promised will take several years to implement. It must now be proclaimed by the National Assembly, in a session likely to be held in April, and then published in the Official Gazette.

The approval of the constitutional reform reflects once again that beyond its many limitations, errors and reservations, the island's political system enjoys a historical level of allegiance and loyalty among Cubans. And for Cubans, this new constitution holds hope for a better future.

 

 

Antonio CastilloAntonio Castillo is a Latin American journalist and Director of the Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, CPC, RMIT University, Melbourne-Australia.

Main image: The National Capitol Building in Havana (photo by Antonio Castillo)

Topic tags: Antonio Castillo, Cuba

 

 

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Existing comments

t seems odd Antonio that you link these changes to support for the "revolution" when they are inherently counter to the Stalinist policies of the last 50 plus years. Poor old Fidel will be turning in his grave! Hopefully, this is the start of a transformation to fully-fledged liberal democracy based on the inherent rights and dignities of each individual; to free speech, association, religion, rule of law and conscience etc. Totalitarianism, whether of left or right, is always bound to fail; only the time it takes varies.
Eugene | 18 March 2019


The "historical generation"s resistance to change is understandable. It's spent 6 decades resisting sabotage, murder and economic blockade by the brutal USA. Everyone who arrived on Granma and fought against the U.S. Empire, its Mafia, the Battista puppet government and its emigre fascists is now in their 90s or dead. Cuba was the only nation to assist the people of Nicaragua, beset by murderers, the "Contras", fascist U.S. agents. Cuba's public health system is superior to the U.S. Its medical schools are among the world's best, and training hundreds of Doctors for Timor l'Este. ¡Hasta siempre, Companeros!
James Marchment | 18 March 2019


So, when will Cuba be conducting free, multi-party elections and releasing all its political prisoners?
Chris Curtis | 18 March 2019


Cuba's New Constitution is a continuation of the Cuban Government listening to the people and it shows in the vote in adopting the Constitution that the People continue to support the Revolutionary ideals of Fidel and maintain their priority in Health and Education. Viva La Revolucion y Hasta Victoria Siempre
Peter Hood | 19 March 2019


Dignified poverty? And equally distributed dignified poverty as well - everyone but the nomenklatura. Give me freedom and inequality any day, and I will show you much less poverty, dignified or otherwise.
Bob | 19 March 2019


“One of the most remarkable political modernisations in this new constitution is the creation of two figures, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, and the limit of two five years consecutive presidential terms.” Russia has a presidential two consecutive term limit, a prime minister and a sort of diarchy of Putin and a pet prime minister, Medvedev, with whom he can swap office between paired-terms so he still retains executive power as de jure head of government and de facto power as head of state. The candidates for a Russian-style stitch-up are there: a Cuban Goh Chock Tong in Miguel Diaz-Canel to serve a two-term interregnum between Raul Castro and his son Alejandro, an intelligence services boss, and, later, when Alejandro exhausts his two terms, he can be prime minister and head of government while a trusted functionary like Medvedev warms the presidential seat for a term before Alejandro resumes the headship of state for another two terms. Then, he becomes prime minister for five years before returning to the presidency yet again.
roy chen yee | 20 March 2019


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