Since Cuba’s election of a new president this past April, an official commission has been drafting a new constitution for the island nation. Recently, the commission presented the draft to the 7th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party and the Council of State, in which each of its precepts was “deeply analyzed.” On July 21-23 the draft will be presented for approval to Cuba’s national assembly (the National Assembly of the People’s Power), and later this year to the people in a national referendum.
On July 14, an official website of the Communist Party of Cuba, published a summary of the current draft of the new constitution that said it recognized both a free market and private property. More specifically, it said the draft “ratifies constitutionally the importance of foreign investment for the economic development of the country, with due guarantees. Regarding private property on the land, a special regime is maintained, with limitations on its transmission and the preferential right of the State to its acquisition through its fair price.”
On the other hand, this summary reaffirmed that state enterprise and central planning are the pillars of the economy and that the Communist Party would remain as the dominant political force.
Cuba expert Luis Carlos Battista at the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas cautioned that the acknowledgement of private property did not mean the government wanted to give private enterprise a greater role. Last week, he noted, the government published a set of regulations tightening control on the self-employed and hiking possible fines to include property confiscation.
Other changes in the draft are the creation of the position of prime minister as the head of government, making the president the head of the national assembly with a limit of two consecutive five-year terms and creating a new presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system. It will maintain religious freedom.
In addition, the draft expressly calls for “the promotion of respect for international law and multipolarity among States; the repudiation of all forms of terrorism, particularly State terrorism; the rejection of the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons, of mass extermination or others with similar effects; the protection and conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, as well as defends the democratization of cyberspace and condemns its use for subversive and destabilizing purposes of sovereign nations.”
The proposed new constitution, according to Cubadebate, was made necessary by “the experience of the years of the revolution [since 1959], the new directions drawn from the implementation of the guidelines for Economic and Social Policy approved by the Sixth Party Congress [in 2011], the objectives emanating from the First National Conference [of the Party in 2012], as well as the decisions adopted in the Seventh Party Congress [in 2016].”
The commission is headed by Raúl Castro while one of its members is the new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
On April 19, Miguel Diaz-Canel officially became Cuba’s new President of the Councils of State and Ministers. Born after the Revolution in 1960, he grew up in the central province of Villa Clara, about three hours from Havana, the son of a schoolteacher and a factory worker. He studied electrical engineering at the Central University of Las Villas, where he was active in political life. After service in the Cuban military and a civilian mission to Nicaragua, he started work for the Communist Party of Cuba in 1993, and has advanced within the Party and the government to the position of First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers before his inauguration as President.
President Díaz-Canel’s Inaugural Address
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, had the following introduction to the inaugural address: “On the morning of April 19, a historic date . . . [which saw] the first defeat of Yankee imperialism [at the Bay of Pigs in 1961] . . . [and which now] . . . sees the inauguration of a new [Cuban] government that makes evident the continuity of the new generations with the legacy of the historic generation that founded the Cuban Revolution in the highest leadership positions of the country, compañero Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez,.”
Below is a photograph of Díaz-Canel giving his speech.
Díaz-Canel began by recognizing the leadership of Army General Raúl Castro, the candidate for deputy to have received the most votes in the recent general elections; as well as the Comandante of the Revolution, “who on being in this room offers us the opportunity to embrace history.”
Díaz-Canel “also referred to the ‘dark attempts to destroy us’ of those who have not been able to destroy ‘our faith.’” (Emphasis added.)
With the inauguration of this new legislature, he emphasized, the electoral process comes to its conclusion. “The Cuban people, who have massively participated throughout, are conscious of its historic importance. They have elected their representatives based on their capacity to represent their localities, without media campaigns, corruption or demagoguery. Citizens have elected humble, hard-working people as their genuine representatives, who will participate in the approval and implementation of the country’s policies. This process has contributed to the consolidation of unity in Cuba.”
On the people’s expectations about this government, he stressed that the new Council of State must continue “acting, creating and working tirelessly, in a permanent bond with its dignified people.”
He also added that if anyone wanted to see Cuba in all its composition, it would be enough to look to its National Assembly, with women occupying decisive positions in the state and the government. However, he warned, it does not matter how much we resemble the country we are, if the commitment to the present and the future of Cuba is lacking. The raison d’être of the Councils of State and Ministers is the permanent link with the population.
Díaz-Canel pointed out that during the closing of the last Party Congress [in 2016], Army General Raúl Castro Ruz made it clear that his generation would hand over the flags of the Revolution and Socialism to the younger generations. This emphasizes the importance of the crucial mandate given by the people to this legislature, and as such its work in all areas of the nation’s life must be perfected.
“I assume this responsibility with the conviction that all we revolutionaries, from any trench, will be faithful to Fidel and Raúl, the current leader of the revolutionary process,” the new President of Cuba stated. (Emphasis added.)
He then stressed that the men and women who forged the revolution “give us the keys to a new fraternity that transforms us into compañeros and compañeras,” and highlighted, as another inherited achievement, the unity that has become indestructible within the Cuban Party, that was not born from the fragmentation of others, but from those who intended to build a better country.
For that reason, he said, “Raúl remains at the forefront of the political vanguard. He remains our First Secretary, as the reference that he is for the revolutionary cause, teaching and always ready to confront imperialism, like at the start, with his rifle at the ready in the moment of combat.” (Emphasis added.)
Regarding the revolutionary and political work of the Army General, he highlighted his legacy of resistance and in the search for the continued advancement of the nation. “He put his sense of duty ahead of human pain,” he said in reference to the loss of Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro on November 25, 2016.
Likewise, he highlighted Raúl’s grandeur as a statesman, forming a national consensus, and the manner in which he led the implementation process of the country’s social and economic guidelines. He also highlighted how he had made the return of the Five Cuban Heroes [in December 2014] a reality, so longed-for by Fidel.
Raúl has marked Cuba’s international relations with his own spirit: he directed diplomatic relations with the United States; he led the rotating presidency of CELAC; Cuba’s hosting of the Colombian peace talks; and he has been present in all regional and hemispheric summits, always defending Our America. That is the Raúl we know, Díaz-Canel stressed.
The new Cuban President also recalled how the Army General, still very young, participated in the Granma expedition, undertook the struggle in the Sierra Maestra, was promoted to Comandante, and developed government experiences that would be applied in the country after the revolutionary triumph.
“I am aware of the concerns and expectations at a moment like this, but I know the strength and wisdom of the people, the leadership of the Party, the ideas of Fidel, the presence of Raúl and Machado, and knowing the popular sentiment, I state before this Assembly that compañero Raúl will head the decisions for the present and future of the nation.” (Emphasis added.)
“I confirm that Cuban foreign policy will remain unchanged. Cuba will not accept conditions. The changes that are necessary will continue to be made by the Cuban people.” (Emphasis added.)
He also called for the support of all those who occupy leadership responsibilities at different levels in the nation, but, above all, of the people. “We will have to exercise an increasingly collective leadership. Strengthening the participation of the people.”
“I do not come to promise anything, as the Revolution never has in all these years. I come to fulfill the program that we have implemented with the guidelines of Socialism and the Revolution.” (Emphasis added.)
And as for the enemies of the revolutionary process, he said: “Here there is no space for a transition that ignores or destroys the work of the Revolution. We will continue moving forward without fear and without retreat; without renouncing our sovereignty, independence and development programs.”
“To those who through ignorance or bad faith doubt our commitment, we must tell them that the Revolution continues and will continue. The world has received the wrong message that the Revolution ends with its guerrillas.” (Emphasis added.)
Former President Raúl Castro’s Response
Immediately after the inaugural address, Raúl Castro, the former President and still the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, closed the second plenary session of the National Assembly of Popular Power [Cuba’s national legislature], with the following remarks: Below is a photograph of Castro during his speech.
Castro recalled the victory of Cuba during the mercenary invasion of Playa Girón [Bay of Pigs]. “That moment was of great importance, especially when Fidel declared the socialist nature of the Revolution, he said.”
“He also pointed out the opportunity of recognizing the work carried out by the electoral commissions and of candidates to all the instances, as well as of the set of institutions that collaborated for the good performance of the elections. He also congratulated the elections of the National Assembly to the State Council of the country.”
Castro “said that Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez had worked as an engineer, and his work as an officer of the FAR. Then he was proposed as a professional cadre of the Union of Young Communists, from where he gradually rose to achieve his promotion as a Professional Party cadre.”
He pointed out that Díaz-Canel, during the [most acute phase of the] Special Period “was a member of the Provincial Party Committee in Villa Clara, where he spent nine years. Then he spent six years in Holguín. “He was born in Villa Clara, where he was quiet, because it was a territory he knew well; and it was after that that he was sent to one of the great provinces of the east, Holguin, as we did with more than a dozen young people, most of whom came to the Political Bureau, but who failed to be promoted. He was the only survivor.
Castro also stressed that Díaz-Canel had been a member of the Central Committee since 1991 and was promoted to the Political Bureau 15 years ago. He fulfilled a mission in Nicaragua and graduated from the National Defense College. In 2009 he was appointed Minister of Education. Five years ago he was elected First Vice President of the Councils of State and Ministers; and since then “a group of members of the Political Bureau had the feeling that we had hit the nail on the head,” referring to Díaz’s ability to assume the presidency. He was responsible in the ideological sphere of the Central Committee of the Party.
Raul pointed out that the election of Diaz-Canel is not a coincidence “because of his preparation he is the best and we know that because of his dedication he will have absolute success in the task entrusted to him by our supreme body of ‘Popular Power.” (Emphasis added.)
Comrade Díaz-Canel over the years he has demonstrated work capacity, ideological solidity and commitment to the Revolution.
The National Assembly of Popular Power has 42% new members and a female representation of 48.4%. Castro emphasized that women, young people and people of color occupy decision-making positions in the life of the nation.
“It is up to the Party, the State and the Government to fulfill and enforce, with due intentionality, the promotion of young people, women and mestizos, to posts that guarantee the renewal of the revolution.
He welcomed the ratification of the presidency of the National Assembly, and the proposal of Diaz-Canel, as allowed by the Constitution, so that the Council of Ministers will be made known at the next session of the Assembly, which will take place in July, because that it will allow for a prudent time for the movements of paintings to be made.
“I will continue to serve as Second Secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC, in what is my second and last mandate, which ends in 2021, when we will complete the transfer to the new generations. From then on, I will be one more soldier with the people defending this Revolution. So that there is not the slightest doubt, I want to emphasize that the PCC, in the figure of its First Secretary, will continue supporting the [new] president.” (Emphases added.)
Regarding the new generations, he warned that one of the permanent bets of the enemy is to penetrate, confuse and alienate youth from the ideals of the work and the revolutionary culture leading them instead towards disengagement towards ethics, solidarity and the sense of duty.
Castro said that in the next constitution there will be no changes in the strategic objective of the Party, which our people will support as in 1976, when Cubans voted in favor of the current constitution with 98% support.
He pointed out that in the Plenary Session of the Central Committee held in March of this year, the economic and social status of the nation was analyzed. The new constitution has lagged behind us, he clarified, because the country’s main problems are not resolved, because the participation of the organisms from the base was not achieved for the adequate implementation of the adopted policies.
We never had any illusions that it would be a short and easy process, because its dimensions reached all sectors of society, and we had to overcome egalitarianism and its negative consequences in the national economy, he added.
In the case of the socioeconomic context of the nation, Castro assured that the experiment of the non-agricultural cooperatives will continue and with respect to the monetary duality he said that he continues to give serious headaches, as well as the need for wage reform. He also emphasized the need for a coherent communication policy. (Emphasis added.)
He also recalled the difficult circumstances in which the country’s economy had to develop, and the considerable damages caused by the intense drought of the last 3 years and the recent hurricanes that affected most of the country. (Emphasis added.)
With regard to foreign debt, he stressed that a renegotiation has been carried out, which has helped to free the new generations of a sword of Damocles and the consequent restitution of the credit prestige of the country. The Army General congratulated the Minister of Economy, Ricardo Cabrisas, on his performance in that process.
He also made a call to save resources, claiming that we usually ask for too much, so we have to plan better.
“Defend unity, resist and resist, that is the duty of revolutionaries,” he said.
Regarding foreign policy issues, said the recent Summit of the Americas was marked by the neo-hegemonic attitude of the United States, whose commitment to the Monroe Doctrine was ratified, especially with the exclusion of Venezuela from that international event. (Emphasis added.)
It was known that they would set up a show, and Cuba went to Lima with its own right and its head high, which confirms the determination of the Cubans to defend their principles and their values. The Cuban delegation, together with that of Bolivia and other countries, prevented a single front against Venezuela. The interventions of our foreign minister, on behalf of the government and Cuban people, constituted a worthy response against the contents of the interventionist speech of the Vice President of the United States, Raul said. (Emphasis added.)
“The members of civil society defended the voice of Cuba and the peoples of America with vigor. I take this opportunity to congratulate all the members of the Cuban delegation that participated in this event, “he said.
The Army General stressed Cuba’s commitment to ALBA because we are the world’s region of greatest inequality in the distribution of wealth, and the gap between rich and poor is huge and growing despite the efforts made in the past decades, when Progressive governments pushed for policies to mitigate this evil, he said.
He rejected accusations of human rights violations in Cuba. He highlighted diplomatic relations with the European Union and the progress of ties with China. (Emphasis added.)
“In just 11 days our people will march together united by our streets and squares commemorating the International Labor Day and showing the majority support of the Cubans to the Party and its Revolution.
As anticipated, these comments by Díaz-Canel and Castro demonstrate a collective intention to continue Cuba’s current direction, domestically and internationally. Their mutual admiration is shown in the photograph below.
In another post we will look at U.S. reaction to the change in Cuba leadership. Some of that reaction was recorded before the actual inaugural of Díaz-Canel.
On October 18 a Washington Post editorial blasted certain aspects of Cuban human rights while simultaneously criticizing the Obama Administration for not doing more to combat these concerns.
First, the editorial states, “The Castro regime has arrested almost as many peaceful opponents so far this year (8,505) as it did in all of 2015 (8,616), according to the nongovernmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation. The ranks of the repressed include dissident lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who was thrown in prison Sept. 23. His law firm was also ransacked and documents were taken.”
While I have no independent knowledge about the validity of the statistics cited by the editorial, a prior post did criticize the Cuban police raid on the law firm (Cubalex) and the arrest of Senor Ferrer.
Second, the editorial said, “Havana’s municipal government has just banned new licenses for private restaurants and instructed existing ones that it will start enforcing onerous taxes and regulations more tightly. It was, Reuters reported, “a new sign that Cuba’s Communist-run government is hesitant to further open up to private business in a country where it still controls most economic activity,” following similar retrenchment in agriculture and transportation last year.”
The Post’s reactions to the latter restrictions may be overstated. The restrictions on new licenses may just be temporary, and one restaurant entrepreneur said her recent meeting with officials over regulations “gave her peace of mind. I thought it was going to be very tense, but it was not. [The officials] were very communicative. They even told us that our businesses are important to the economy and that there were irregularities not only in private business, but in state-owned businesses as well.” Moreover, some of the problems mentioned in the meeting “are real.” The authorities mentioned as major issues the use of public parking to accommodate restaurant customers, buying supplies on the black market, tax violation and money laundering and even prostitution rings and illegal drugs used in some places.
I also suggest the recent Havana measures regarding private-owned restaurants may be driven more by economic problems, than human rights concerns. As Raúl Castro admitted and welcomed in his speech to last April’s Communist Party of Cuba’s Congress last April, Cuba needs the private-enterprise restaurants and other tourist-oriented businesses to generate foreign-exchange earnings, and as a result, Cuba’s plan allocated more electricity to them while restricting power to residents and state-owned enterprises. The recent Havana actions against such private-enterprise restaurants may suggest that electric power for residents and state-owned enterprises might be being squeezed too severely.
Finally, as discussed in a recent post, the U.S. and Cuba on October 14 had a meeting about human rights issues. Although the U.S. State Department has not commented on what the U.S. mentioned at this meeting, presumably the U.S. criticized the recent arrests of Cuban dissidents.