Cuba and European Union Draw Closer Together 

On September 9 in Havana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, pledged the EU’s help for development of Cuba’s economy.[1]

At a joint press conference with Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, Mogherini said, “The EU is Cuba’s top commercial partner and investor, and we have tripled cooperation in the last two years.” She also said the EU would continue to offer financial support for Cuba’s economic reforms that would encourage foreign investment on the island.

She noted that  the two countries already held bilateral talks on topics such as sustainable development and human rights within the framework of the 2017 Political Dialogue and Cooperation pact. She said, “We have also continued the dialogue on the situation in the region and cooperation, on Venezuela in particular.”

There also was discussion of the U.S. intensification of its embargo (blockade) against Cuba, and its extraterritorial effects.

Earlier Mogherini, met with Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel. She was accompanied by the EU Ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro; the Chief of Staff of the EU’s High Representative, Stefano Grassi; and the director for the Americas, Edita Hrda. Diaz-Canel was accompanied by Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla; its General Director of Bilateral Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, Emilio Lozada García; and the Cuban Ambassador to the European Union, Norma Goicochea Estenoz.

Last week the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPAC) and CubaDecide called for national protests on Sunday (September 8) against the conference with the EU, and on Sunday Cuban officials arrested more than 100 people who were planning to hold such a protest to demand a stronger EU stance on Cuba violations of human rights. Another Cuban group, the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba (PDC-Cuba), called on the EU to denounce Cuba’s violations of human rights and democratic freedoms. In addition, almost 400 activists sent a letter to Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs commending its criticisms of Cuba’s human rights abuses.

After Mogherini’s visit to Cuba, two Cuban opposition groups– Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC) and the International Group for Corporate Social Responsibility in Cuba (GIRSCC)—leveled denunciations of Mogherini’s statements on the island. They said, “It is outrageous to see this commissioner throwing flattery at the Castro dictatorship – one of the bloodiest and most repressive in the world, which for 60 years has violated, cruelly and systematically, the most elementary and precious rights of its population – at a time when that suffocates with renewed commitment to Cuban democratic dissent.”

Moreover, the two groups said, “We still do not understand, otherwise, how the commissioner, in her repeated trips to Cuba, has never approached the organized political expressions of the democratic opposition, not even a single opponent victim of oppressive actions of the dictatorship.”

These two groups recalled that “coinciding with their arrival in Cuba, State Security forces violently broke into the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), in Santiago de Cuba, arresting 22 of its militants and confiscating all documentary material and solidarity that was in that center.” Moreover, they said that this year “the actions of harassment, trials and arbitrary detentions against independent trade union activists and their families have become even more cruel and systematic, with the aim of suppressing ASIC and arresting its main leaders.”

Conclusion

The increased EU-Cuba economic collaboration is one of the consequences of the U.S. continuing embargo (blockade) of the island and the various Trump Administration’s policies and actions hostile to Cuba. In short, these U.S. policies and actions are also hostile to U.S. economic interests.

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[1] Acosta, Marsh & Osterman, EU stresses support for Cuba even as U.S. hikes sanctions, Reuters (Sept. 9, 2019); Diaz-Canel received Federica Mogherini, Cubadebate (Sept. 9, 2019); Federica Mogherini: the Government of Cuba ‘is a key partner for us,’ Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Bruno Rodríguez and Mogherini tie loose ends before the Cuba-European Union Council, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); Cuban organizations call on the EU to denounce the omission of Havana’s commitments, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); The EU must demand from Havana the same conduct as the rest of its member states: OCDH, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019); More than 30 activists released, ‘some of them very beaten,’ denounces UNPACU, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 9, 2019);Brussels offers Havana more financing to accompany the ‘update’ of its economy, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 10, 2019); Second Cuba- European Union Joint Council held in Havana, Granma (Sept. 11, 2019); Organizations consider Mogherini’s ‘outrageous’ statements in Cuba, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 12, 2019).

 

 

Cuba’s Legislature Approves Revised Draft of New Constitution

On December 22, Cuba’s National Assembly unanimously approved a proposed new constitution for submission to a national referendum on February 24, 2019. It incorporates into an original one published in July hundreds of mainly small changes proposed by citizens during a three-month public consultation at community meetings nationwide. [1]

Summary of Latest Draft of Constitution

This draft maintains Cuba as a centrally planned economy ruled by a single Communist Party, but recognizes private property for the first time and paves the way for a separate referendum on legalizing gay marriage. It  also creates the role of prime minister alongside the current president, as well as provincial governors.

The new draft also recognizes worker-owned cooperatives for the first time as a legal form of production in every sector of the economy, while maintaining Cuba’s largely inefficient and stagnant state-run industries as the central means of production.

The draft contains the following 11 titles:

  • Title I: Political foundations
  • Title II: Economic fundamentals
  • Title III: Fundamentals of educational, scientific and cultural policy (Old Title V)
  • Title IV: Citizenship
  • Title V: Rights, Duties and Guarantees.
  • Title VI: Structure of the State.
  • Title VII: Territorial Organization of the Stat
  • Title VIII: Local Organs of Popular Power
  • Title IX: Electoral System
  • Title X: Defense and National Security
  • Title XI: Reform of the Constitution.

Cuba Official Reaction to New Draft.[2]

In closing this session of the National Assembly, President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the island’s economic challenges — including a week 1.2 percent 2018 growth rate in 2018 and similar growth expected next year — required the acceptance of private business, joint public-private ventures and coops working together. He promised to fight widespread public-sector embezzlement and corruption that makes it virtually impossible to get anything done in Cuba without a series of small bribes.[3]

The modest changes to the draft constitution along with the recent changes to regulations governing private enterprise are seen by William LeoGrande, a U.S. expert on Cuba, as unprecedented responsiveness to organized public pressure. It “indicates both the government’s flexibility and also its recognition that the Cuba of 2018 is not one in which people will simply accept whatever the authorities dictate.” These changes also recognize the economic and financial difficulties facing the island.

Indeed, cash-strapped Cuba plans fresh austerity measures and will pressure the sluggish bureaucracy to tighten its belt and cut red tape to address weak growth, falling export earnings and rising debt.

Cuban Opposition to the Draft Constitution[4]

 According to Diario de Cuba, several Cuban organizations have launched a campaign to defeat this draft in the national referendum. Here are some of their principal objections:

  • The draft maintains the role of the Communist Party as the ” highest leading political force in society” and reaffirms state control of the economy.
  • While recognizing the role of the market and other forms of property, it affirms that Cuba “will never return” to capitalism because “only in socialism and in communism the human being reaches his full dignity.”
  • It does not allow for the existence of other political parties and independent media,
  • It denies the possibility of directly electing the president of the country,

The organizations supporting the “No” vote  are: Artists against Decree 349, Damas de Blanco Association, Asociación Pro Libertad de Prensa (APLP), Independent Trade Union Association of Cuba (ASIC), Citizens Committee for Racial Integration (CIR) ), Cuba Independiente y Democrática (CID), Cuba Piensa, Foro Antitotalitario Unido (FANTU), Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, Cuban Youth Dialogue Table (MDJC), Citizen Movement Reflection and Reconciliation, Cuban Reflection Movement, Maceista Movement for Dignity, Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), Observatory of Electoral Rights (ODE), Party for Democracy Pedro Luis Boitel, Project Di.Verso, OCDH Support Network and Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

 Amnesty International’s  Criticism of the Draft Constitution[5]

 Amnesty International had the following comments on the revised draft:

  1. At first glance, it appears to strengthen a host of human rights protections. But at a closer look, it quickly limits them to what is already found in national law. . . many of which are contrary to international law and standards.”
  2. On paper, it provides better protections to people accused of crime—like the right to a defence lawyer. In practice, all lawyers work for the state and rarely are prepared or able to mount an adequate defense without losing their job.”
  3. It maintains undue restrictions on freedom of expression. While article 59 ‘recognizes, respects and guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience and expression, Article 60 retains control over the organization and functioning of all media. This is inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, that require states not to have monopoly control over the media and,instead promote a plurality of sources and views.”
  4. It also stands to continue online censorship. On the one hand, the text proposes the “democratization of cyberspace. but on the other it condemns the use of the Internet for ‘subversion’ (Article 16.l). This could allow for criminal laws to be applied arbitrarily against independent journalists and bloggers, who already work in a legal limbo that exposes them to arbitrary detention, and whose work is already being blocked and filtered.”
  5. It continues to place undue restrictions on freedom of assembly, demonstration and association. Article 61 states that these rights, ‘For lawful and peaceful purposes,’ are recognized by the State whenever they are exercised with respect to public order and compliance with the mandatory provisions of the law.’ However, international law and standards are clear that the only legitimate reasons to restrict these rights is for  the protection of national security, public order, public health or morals, or the rights of others. In practice, protest by political opposition groups and human rights defenders are not tolerated by the authorities. For example, representatives of the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of prisoners detained on politically motivated grounds, continue to be arbitrarily detained, usually for several hours each weekend, solely for exercising their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly,”
  6. “It undermines artistic expression. Article 95.h protects artistic expression, but only when it conforms with ‘socialist values.’ Not only is this provision an undue restriction of freedom of expression, but in practice, anyone who dares to speak out against the government is quickly labeled ‘counter-revolutionary.’ One of the first laws signed by President Díaz Canal was Decree 349, a dystopian new law which stands to censor artists.”[6]
  7. “The reforms are unlikely to strengthen the independence of the judiciary or protect the right to fair trial. Article 48 protects the right to be tried before a ‘competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law.’ These are all key elements to ensuring the right to a fair trial. At the same time, Article 8 subordinates all organs of the state – presumably including the judiciary – to ‘socialist values’ which in practice may allow for undue interference by the presidency in judicial decisions. Serious and ongoing limitations on the independence of lawyers and the judiciary have been documented by Amnesty International and the UN for decades.”
  8. “If approved, it will pave the way for Cuba to become the first independent nation in the Caribbean to legalize same sex marriage. The revised Constitution defines marriage as between two people (Article 68) and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity (Article 40). While these provisions are a huge step forward in the path for equality and dignity for all, LGBTI activists say authorities still tightly control LGBTI activism outside of state-sanctioned spaces.”
  9. “It guarantees several economic, social and cultural rights. The proposed Constitution recognizes that human rights cannot be divided and depend on each other to make them happen in a progressive way and without discrimination (Article 39). The state recognizes its responsibility for the protection of older people (Article 73), and people living with disabilities (Article 74). It recognizes the right of people to “dignified housing” (Article 82), and the responsibility of the Cuban state to guarantee the rights to “public health” (Article 83), education (Articles 84), water (Article 87) and food (Article 88). Nevertheless, in a context where the judiciary is not independent, enforcing these rights through the courts will be unrealistic in practice.”
  10. “It commits Cuba to promoting the protection and conservation of the environment and to confronting climate change, which it recognizes as a ‘threat to the survival of the human species’ (Article 16). Cuba could strengthen this commitment further by joining fellow Caribbean countries in signing the Escazú Agreement, a major step forward for the right of people to access information and participate in policies, projects and decisions that affect the environment.”

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[1] Assoc. Press, Cuban Assembly Approves Draft of New Constitution, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2018); Reuters, Cuban Lawmakers Approve New Constitution Which Heads to Referendum, N.Y. Times (Dec. 22, 2018); Intervention of Romero Acosta in the National Assembly, on the main changes of the Constitution from the Popular consultation, Granma (Dec. 22, 2018).See also prior posts about the new constitution in the ”Cuba’s New Constitution, 2018” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA.

[2] Gamez Torres, After 60 years of revolution in Cuba, cracks in leadership emerge, Miami Herald (Dec. 27, 2018); Reuters, “Reality” Bites: Cuba Plans More Austerity as Finances Worsen, N.Y. Times (Dec. 28, 2018).

[3] See Cuba Relaxes Some New Rules Regarding Private Enterprise, dwkcommentaries.com (Dec.7, 2018).

[4]  Start a campaign for the ‘No’ to the new constitution, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 23, 2018); 20 reasons to vote NO on the constitutional referendum, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 26, 2018); The new Constitution will not reflect the society to which Cubans aspire, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2018).

[5]  Amnesty Int’l, 10 ways reforms to Cuba’s constitution would impact human rights (Nov. 21, 2018); Tillotson, Ten repercussions for the human rights of the reform of the Constitution of Cuba, El confidencial (Nov. 21, 2018).

[6] See Cuba Tightens Censorship of the Arts, dwkcommentaires.com (Dec. 26, 2018).