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).

More Cuban Arrests of Dissidents

On Human Rights Day (December 10) the U.S. State Department launched an international campaign calling on 10 governments around the world to free 10 political prisoners. Such Political prisoners, the U.S. said, “should be free to believe. They should be free to be loved. They should be free to be home.”

One of them is Cuban Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo, who is ‎”affiliated with the Cubalex Legal Information Center, an NGO that works to provide citizens with free legal assistance. On September 23, authorities arrested Julio during a raid on the organization’s Havana office, where they also confiscated office equipment and files, and even strip-searched some of the staff. He had a suspended three-year sentence from allegedly falsifying public documents, a charge which civil society groups say is politically motivated. Julio Alfredo’s family didn’t know his whereabouts for several days after the arrest, but he has since been able to communicate with his daughter.”[1]

There also have been recent arrests of other Cuban dissidents.[2]

On December 18, in Santiago de Cuba, the police raided the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba and eight other homes of activists in that city, Havana and Palma Soriano.

A total of 115 UNPACU dissidents were arrested. This included their leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. As of December 20, several were still detained and two, Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez and José Luis Álvarez Chacón, were allegedly charged with alleged “attempted” crimes.

In addition, the police seized UNPACU laptop computers, CDs, cell phones and other equipment used by the dissidents.

Members of another dissident group, Ladies in White, were arrested this past Sunday and prevented from attending mass at a Catholic church, and on December 20 more than 40 such members were detained and prevented from attending a Literary Tea in Central Park in Old Havana.

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[1] A prior post discussed the raid and arrests at Cubalex.

[2] Ferrer, UNPAC and the homes of several activists, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); The regime breaks its own repressive marks: 115 UNPACU activists were detained on Sunday, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016); Some 30 Ladies in White arrested in Havana and Matanzas, Diario de Cuba (Dec. 18, 2016); More than 40 Ladies in White detained in Havana to prevent them from attending a literary tea, DiariodeCuba (Dec. 20, 2016).

Cuban Police Search and Seize Property of Independent Legal Center

On September 23, the Havana office of the Independent Legal Center (“Cubalex”), which investigates and advises on human rights issues, was raided by the Cuban Revolutionary Police and State Security. They seized six computers, several hard drives, USB drives and cell phones and informed the Center’s Director, Laritza Diversent, that she could be accused of “illicit economic activity.” The officers also forced the lawyers to strip naked and squat to verify that there was nothing hidden in their bodies.[1]

The independent lawyers asserted that the officers never showed a warrant and did not meet the requirements for a legal search. Diversent said the raid could have been the government’s response to the organization’s mid-August “Report on the situation of freedom of expression and opinion in Cuba” to [the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of] the U.N. Human Rights Council.”[2]

A more detailed protest of this raid was posted on the Cubalex website along with a video and photographs of the raid.[3] It said that “the attorney general of Cuba, Beatriz Peña de la O, and Lt. Col. Juan Carlos Delgado Casanova, the instructor of the Criminal Investigation Division and Operations, and policemen “illegally entered the property [and]  broke the padlocks that protected the entrance arguing that . . . Cubalex had [lodged] a complaint against [them] for illegal economic activities.” After the seizure of computers and other equipment, “members of Cubalex were subjected to interrogations and five of them (four women and one man) were forced to strip in order to conduct a body check.” In  addition, two team members were arrested. One was released after 12 hours while the other (lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo) as of September 29 was still in solitary confinement.

Earlier, in early May, Cubalex published on its website a searing criticism of the Cuban regime.[4] It concluded the following about current conditions on the island:

  • “1- That the Cuban citizens have rights to birth, but not to feed, clothe, recreate, inform us when we grow up.
  • 2- That citizens seniors could survive up to 78 years, but without balanced diet, lack of calories corresponding also not enjoy traveling, have, help, because their pension is less than $ 15 a month.
  • That there is one doctor for every 400 inhabitants, but are virtual statistics because between closed offices, doctors employed abroad and unconditionally Centers for work, attention is getting worse, this situation, that lack of resources and equipment in the provinces, overload the service in hospitals in Havana, with a corresponding impact on quality.
  • 4- The rights of working women (those who suffer most), are also fallacies in Cuba [that] do not fool anyone. [They do] not . . . for their double tasks–work home center or stipends to encourage them to procreate, commercial services in sales of home appliances. The Espín could never make the human life, [any] more fertile to their counterparts to ensure the productive forces tomorrow, given that in every community there exists a subsidiary FMC Center and sexual attention.
  • 5- Of the workers, . . . [their] wages are below the poverty line. The minimum wage in Cuba is the lowest in the world, and [for] those with better contracts the state takes away more than half of their pay, also they are prohibited from striking, [organize] freely, being that Cuba [is] a member of the ILO and a signatory to the Conventions 87 and 98 on this subject.”

This earlier statement also asserted, “great Cuban monopolistic [government-owned] corporations such as CIMEX, Shops TRD, ETECSA, TRANSVAL . . . [violate] all kinds of transparency, democracy and legality regarding functions, powers and duties. . . . In recent months [there are] new cases of related desertions or state of defenselessness of workers mainly because their labor disputes . . . [are not investigated].”

Washington, D.C.’s American University Washington College of Law has started a fundraiser in support of Cubalex. The seizure of the Center’s equipment has put the organization in a “precarious financial situation,” and it”needs funds, not only to replace what has been lost but also to cover operating costs and continue their important work.”[5]

According to a Cuban newspaper, Diario de Cuba, the raid on Cubalex was just one of many recent government harassments and arrests of other dissidents: the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the Independent Trade Union Coalition, the Ladies in White, the Committee for Racial Integration (CIR), the Partido Arco Progresista (PARP) and other unorganized dissidents.[6]

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[1] Cuban police storm independent legal center in Havana, seizing computers, InCubaToday (Sept. 26, 2016); Laritza Diversent: “They want to disqualify me as a lawyer and paralyze the work of Cubalex, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 24, 2016)

[2] Marti, Assail consulting Cubalex, Cuban lawyer who met twice with Obama (Sept. 24, 2016).

[3] Cubalex, Cubalex condemns the recent attack made [on] its facilities and demands an end to government repression (Sept. 29, 2016) The Cubalex lawyer who has been detained is Julio Alfredo Ferrer, who has been a previous subject of government persecution. (Gonzalez, Julio Alfredo Ferrer, the price of being an independent and efficient lawyer, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 26, 2016).)

[4] Cubalex, No rights, no human (May 4, 2016).

[5] The American University raises funds for Cubalex, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 1, 2016).

[6] Editorial, The regime unleashes repression all over the island, Diario de Cuba (Sept. 26, 2016).