Changes in Cuba’s constitution, just announced, surely offer us an opportunity for reflection at the outcome of the communist project of the 20th century
“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths. You reproach us, therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.
In one word, you reproach us with intending to do away with your property. Precisely so: that is just what we intend.”
― Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto
“Deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, working in ten standing committees, yesterday July 18, began their individual study of the first draft of the proposed new Constitution…
…On the agenda is approval of a draft proposal for Constitutional reform, which will next be submitted to popular discussion and modification, and subsequently a referendum vote.”
Changes in Cuba’s constitution, just announced, surely offer us an opportunity for reflection at the outcome of the communist project of the 20th century; leaving all people with a radical and left-wing outlook with the question…ongoing since the 1990’s (if not the 1930’s) – where to from here?
“The first period of ordinary sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power’s 9th Legislature concluded yesterday, July 22, after addressing a full agenda of important issues, outstanding among which was the approval of a proposal for new Constitution of the Republic.
Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, and Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, were among the 600 legislators who approved plans to submit the draft, as modified during this session, to popular consultation, August 13 through November 15.”
The fall of the Soviet Union created an extraordinary economic crisis in Cuba known as the Special Period in Time of Peace. In response, the constitution was amended in 1992 “to remove certain limitations on foreign investment and grant foreign corporations a limited right to own property on the island if they established joint ventures with the government.” Another amendment established that Cuba is a secular state rather than an atheist state. At the same time, in 2002, the constitution was also amended to stipulate that the socialistic system was permanent and irrevocable.
However “…the reforms have slowed in recent years amid fears they have allowed some Cubans to enrich themselves, fostering inequality, and weakened the control of the state. This month Cuba issued regulations tightening control of the private sector and limiting business licences to one per person…” (Reuters)
So Cuba’s original 1976 constitution had already been amended in 1992 in relation to the difficult question of “private property” in order “to remove certain limitations on foreign investment and grant foreign corporations a limited right to own property on the island if they established joint ventures with the government”.
Now, this June 2, the country’s National Assembly met and President Miguel Díaz-Canel proposed a commission that would draft the new constitution, with Raúl Castro, leader of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), at the helm.
Fidel Castro as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba had exercised state power for over 50 years and was then followed by his younger brother, Raul Castro. Raul, now 86 year old, has just handed over the presidency this April to his “mentee Miguel Díaz-Canel”, 58, although Raul remains head of the Communist party until 2021. He also now heads the constitutional reform commission.
The recent appointment of a non-Castro to the presidency had to have been a profound change for the small island and obviously a break in the direct line of revolutionary command since the 1959 victory over the corrupt Batista regime.
What has Cuba Proposed for its 2018 constitution?
On July 14, 2018, the commission headed by Ex President Raúl Castro produced the draft of the new constitution. The Draft Constitution consists of a preamble and 224 articles, whose review began at Havana’s Conference Center, during the first ordinary session of the 9th Legislature. It is proposed it will replace the 1976 constitution…
The most outstanding of the changes are:
The recognition of private property, and the creation of a freer market;
The restoration of the position of Prime Minister of Cuba;
The creation of a two consecutive five-year term limit imposed on the president;
Banning discrimination based on gender, ethnic origin, or disability, leading to the possible legalization of same-sex marriage;
The creation of a presumption of innocence in the justice system.
The other, and perhaps notable outstanding change, is the omission of the stated aim of building a communist society. Instead the objective now is towards building a socialist society.
This version then is designed as a relative yet serious reform of the Constitution of 1976 based on the change in conditions and circumstances affecting the society.
The 1976 Constitution (24 February 1976) was recognized as giving expression to “Soviet-era communism”
“This constitution called for a centralized control of the market and re-committed the state to providing its citizens with access to free education and health care, as in the 1940 constitution. The state was further granted the power to regulate the activities of religious institutions and the private ownership of media was prohibited. Article 53 gave citizens freedom of speech, and Article 54 gave citizens the right to assemble.” (Wikipedia)
Of the proposed changes Prensa Latina says:
“…The lawmaker Ines Maria Chapman, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers…told Prensa Latina that this is a complete transformation of the body of the Constitution, but it takes into account the principles of socialism, humanism and unity that characterize the Cuban Revolution.
She stated that this is a historic moment due to the presence in the constitutional reform process of the historic generation of the Revolution, led by the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), Army General Raul Castro. In addition, in the presence of Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, as the continuity of the historic development of Cuba’s social project, she noted.
Chapman noted the introduction of new elements such as the change in the structure of the State and the inclusion of what was approved in policies and resolutions at the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party.
…Doubts will be clarified during the consultations, but always maintaining the socialist nature of the Revolution and the State, which is invariable, she said.”
The proposed changes in the República de Cuba’s revolutionary constitution has attracted widespread attention
Media coverage has been extensive, internationally, perhaps acknowledging the significant status this small island of revolutionary activity has achieved despite much criticism and its many enemies…
The Guardian: “Cuba ditches aim of building communism from draft constitution”
“The draft omits a clause in the 1976 constitution on the ultimate aim of building a communist society, instead simply focusing on socialism.”
“This does not mean we are renouncing our ideas,” the president of the national assembly, Esteban Lazo, was quoted as saying by state-run media. Cuba had simply moved into a different era following the fall of the Soviet Union, he said.
“We believe in a socialist, sovereign, independent, prosperous and sustainable country.”
Homero Acosta, secretary of the council of state, said:
“…it included the recognition of private property, a principle long stigmatised by the Communist party as a vestige of capitalism. That change should give greater legal recognition to the micro-businesses that have flourished following market reforms to the ailing state-run economy. They have fostered a small but vibrant private sector and attempted to attract more foreign investment.”
Cuba’s constitution previously imposed strict limits on private property recognising only state, cooperative, farmer, personal and joint-venture property.
However, let it be noted, Article 224 of the new constitution continues to reaffirm the socialist character of the Cuban political system, and the “guiding role of the one and only Communist Party”.
“The constitutional rewrite is hoped to bridge the gap between the restrictive wording of the current constitution and the recent opening of the economy which has occurred under Raul Castro and now Díaz-Canel. Given the vast changes to the Cuban economy that have occurred since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rewrite will have to respond to the island’s growing financial concerns.
When the Soviet-era constitution was first introduced in 1976, the island was heavily dependent on Russian subsidies and held a guaranteed market for its sugar exports. From 1959 to 1991, the island’s sugar economy experienced unparalleled growth and expansion.
These uniquely favorable terms between the USSR and Cuba were undoubtedly reflected in the writing of the 1976 constitution. That constitution prohibited Cuban workers from “procur[ing] income derived from exploitation of the work of others.” In essence, this short phrase forbids small, family businesses from employing workers. This wording is particularly problematic given the current state of the Cuban economy, which no longer has the support of the Soviet Union and is instead buoyed by the remittances of Cubans abroad.
Today, Cuba is quite dependent on Venezuela as well as its record high oil prices. In 2000, Venezuela and Cuba signed a series of bilateral agreements which provided the island with 115,000 barrels per day (bpd) of subsidized, crude oil from Venezuela. This was invaluable to the Cuban economy and helped the state sustain its energy consumption. In return, the island has provided Venezuela with Cuban doctors. However, due to the current instability in Venezuela, beginning in 2016 the number of bpd has dropped drastically to 42,310 bpd from the regular 115,000 bpd. The result: fuel allocations reduced by 28 percent to state-run companies and public lighting cut by 50 percent.
Concerning the vast changes that have occurred in the economy and the newfound fragility brought about by dependency on Venezuela, the constitution is expected to respond to the new economic needs of the island. As a solution, the commission may include wording in the constitution to make legal the ownership of private businesses and continue fostering the opening of the market economy to compensate for the long-standing weaknesses in the state’s economy.”
Reuters “Cuba aims to build socialism, not communism, in draft constitution”
“The draft also appears to strengthen political institutions and create a more collective leadership structure, after nearly 60 years of rule by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul Castro…
Under the new constitution, the president will no longer be the head of the council of state and council of ministers.
Instead it creates the position of prime minister and designates the president of the assembly also as head of the council of state, Cuba’s highest executive body.”
BBC NEWS “Cuba to recognize private property under new constitution…”
Al Jazeera “Cuba’s draft constitution omits the aim of building communism…”
The New York Times “Looking Towards the Future: A New Cuban Constitution”
The Havana Times see the changes as being multi-faceted including: recognizing private property, abandoning the term communism, term limits, foreign investment, same-sex marriage and a President of the Republic and new mechanisms of territorial and State administration…
One piece of news – different world views..?.. one step forward – 2 steps back?.. or where to now?.. maybe, as we go in search of future societies of justice and democracy in a world increasingly falling prey to, or being bought and sold, seized, stolen, and polluted by enormous predators with even more enormous power in an extremely complex environment and with their often covert non-democratic tentacles reaching into every corner of an increasingly comodified world.
For many the Cuban Revolution of 1959, confronting, as it did (with few resources but with great commitment) the arrogance of a petty dictator backed by US politicians and American mafiosi and pimps, stood out in an increasingly dark world – (on November 4, 1956, remember, soviet tanks had brutally crushed a workers’ uprising in Hungary) – as a beacon of light for all oppressed people across an increasingly shrinking globe. This was followed by Ernesto Guevara’s call for a world revolution as if the time had come for all tyrants and exploiters to begin to shake in their oppressors’ boots. Guevara’s pathetic murder, (pathetic on behalf of the people who needed it, called for it and executed it), in a way marked the end of an era. An end from which those of us committed to radical change in life on this planet are still waiting to emerge from…waiting…in the hope that we can build a better world, one with respect for all living beings, with justice and (participatory) democracy as its foundation:
Ernesto “Che” Guevara (from ‘Man & Socialism in Cuba’):
“In this period of the building of socialism we can see the new man and woman being born. The image is not yet completely finished — it never will be, since the process goes forward hand in hand with the development of new economic forms.”
Now we can only wish the Cuban people well for their ‘experiment’ offered freely to humankind for a just social order.
We know there has been much unhappiness in recent years with the hardships suffered by the Cuban people and that these need to be addressed; that said, the world also needs the example of societies built on justice and without exploitation and the corruption of living beings to serve another’s needs.
“The road is long and full of difficulties. At times we lose our way and must turn back. At other times we go too fast and separate ourselves from the masses. Sometimes we go too slow and feel the hot breath of those treading at our heels. In our zeal as revolutionaries we try to move ahead as fast as possible, clearing the way. But we know we must draw our nourishment from the mass and that it can advance more rapidly only if we inspire it by our example.” (Ernesto “Che” Guevara)
Despite all changes, revolutionary Cuba will always remain, for many, a candle of light and hope in the darkness of an increasingly vicious and irrational capitalist project…
…right up to its destruction of life on this, our collectively beautiful planet!
“The road is long and, in part, unknown. We recognize our limitations. We will make the human being of the 21stcentury — we, ourselves. We will forge ourselves in daily action, creating a new man and woman with a new technology.” (Ernesto “Che” Guevara)
…That said, and for the rest of us: the question we must now come together to address, now and always:
…where to from here?
At the least, this simple question, where to from here?.. voiced in an ocean of darkness, must continue to raise its head from the unholy ranks of the now well-off dead and this culture of death: the commodity and its puppet-master: profit…
…where to from here?.. so we can move beyond this culture of celebrities and wasted wealth and resources, as well as free our dreams from the endless “gnawing criticism of mice” and monsters and forgetfulness…
This photo was taken on March 5, 1960, in Havana, Cuba, at a memorial service march for victims of the La Coubre explosion.
By Museo Che Guevara (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara en La Habana, Cuba).
This work was created in Cuba and is now in the public domain because its term of copyright has expired. According to Cuban law #14 and subsequent amendments, copyright terms in Cuba…