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Constitutional reform

Cuba: Dissecting the New Constitution

Why any Cuban citizen who honestly wishes the best for his country should vote against the new Constitution.


I shall not address here the origins of the draft version of the new Cuban Constitution, its authors, the legitimacy of the process, or the impossibility of a free and open exchange among Cubans. Rather, my goal is to touch on, as best as is possible, some of the most important points of the project that may be discussed in Cuba.

As I said earlier in these pages, the opportunity initiated by the Cuban government, although far from ideal, should be exploited so that citizens might gather as best they can and exchange ideas on topics of great national interest, issues that are not discussed frequently and that should be permanently open to public debate. The talks should include citizens who still seem to be at peace with the regime, as the collapse of the socialist block teaches us that many of the agents of change in Cuba may currently occupy key positions in the Government and in the Communist Party itself. No Cuban, wherever he is, can deny the reality of the profound and prolonged failure of socialist Castroism and what it has meant for the country.

Seen as a whole, the draft version of the new Constitution says more than when we examine its parts separately. A simple analysis of its articles can become a mere distraction. The critical elements of the synthesis I present are: the definition of a socialist state, the role of the Communist Party, property systems, the planning of the economy, individual liberties, the separation of powers, the absence of a judicial power, and the right of citizens to be freely elected as deputies to the Assembly of the People's Power.

One not need be a scholar to understand the many weak points of the Constitution project and what it would mean for Cuba's citizens and the future of the country.

The "socialist state" and the role of the Communist Party

To begin with, Cubans should ask for clarification and thoroughly discuss just what "socialist" State means, how it is defined, and why it should be characterized as such. How should Cuban socialism be interpreted after so many years of being presented as a preliminary phase of a society termed but not well defined as "communist"?

Closely linked to this issue, we must ask and discuss the Communist Party's role in the Constitution in detail. In the draft the Party portrays itself as a mysterious and incomprehensible chimera, leading one to think, based on the history of Cuba since 1959, that it is a supreme and unassailable power ruling over Cubans. No responsible citizen can ignore this issue. It is reasonable, even for – or, rather, especially for – those who still wish for a socialist society for Cuba, or who classify themselves as Communists, to expect such a society to clearly define the rules under which it should operate.

Property systems

When we examine the provisional text that deals with the systems governing ownership of the means of production – that is, the companies that produce the goods and services that the country needs – it is very clearly stated that the primary form of ownership is to be socialist, or that by the State, with marginal forms of private property being accepted, only when allowed by State authorities.

In other words, Cubans will not have the freedom to start a company, and much less to have more than one, or to grow the one they have. It follows from this that neither will they be able to work wherever they wish, nor will they be able to negotiate better wages and living conditions, as the State will continue to be the main employer. Even when a given production or company is considered economically or socially necessary, Cubans are obligated to wait for State bureaucrats to approve and develop it. 

Under this constitution, the State or socialist control of productive enterprises is defined as "ownership by all the people." In addition to being vague and abstract, this concept is demagogic, deceitful and dishonest, as it serves to deceive the gullible into thinking that they have some power and access to the country's wealth, when in reality it is just the opposite. They possess no such property, nor do they control or benefit from the wealth these enterprises generate – at least not as much as those who actually manage them, with this system ultimately serving to make them immensely dependent on the State.

Instead of being efficiently managed by those who create these properties when they are prosperous, they will have to be administrated by persons loyal and acceptable to the Government and the Party, which, as we can appreciate, based on the experience of all these years, does not guarantee that the companies will be efficient, stable or productive.

The open discussion of these concepts is an opportunity for Cubans to understand that private property, to which every citizen should be entitled, is not only the cornerstone of each one's personal finances, but also the source of his civil liberties.

A citizen without any property is deprived of any power to influence the affairs of the society to which he belongs. When the State owns almost the entire productive system of a country, the ordinary citizen without property becomes, in practice, a pawn of those who manage state property.

The "property of all the people" mantra is a veil hiding the fact that the corresponding companies must be managed by personnel beholden to the Government and the Party, not the interests of the population, as workers or consumers. And, as we have seen in recent years, this has meant that the country's most important companies are in the hands of military officers, who, as expected, enjoy benefits and privileges to which the people have no access. Inevitably, this generates surreptitious, informal and illegitimate forms of privatization, creating a new class that we might call a socialist bourgeoisie, which, without being formally property-owning and capitalist, functions as if it were when it comes to the benefits it reaps, even if it does not efficiently produce in a way that benefits workers or consumers.

Under these conditions, the small private companies that the new Constitution allows cannot realize their full potential, for many reasons, mainly because they lack access to resources that are assigned primarily to State companies. And, as has been evident since Raúl Castro granted them a role in the economy (so that they might generate the employment that the State could not), they are subjected to countless acts of arbitrary treatment by state officials and the police.

The predominance of State enterprises requires the creation of a centralized apparatus to control the economy as a whole. Thus, the Constitution enshrines the need for central planning, entailing a system to control prices, wages and production, and the distribution of everything that is needed in the country, which ends up making it impossible to meet the people's needs without depending on foreign aid, as has happened thus far.

This aspect of the new Constitution underscores the failure of the Castro government to recognize the experience of the former European socialist bloc, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which largely resulted from the inefficiency of central planning, while also overlooking the recent experiences of Vietnam and China, whose regimes have replaced obsolete government planning with private companies and free market mechanisms.

This stubbornness in maintaining an unsustainable economic system is difficult to explain, but all Cubans, including those who defend the regime, must understand (and this is part of the strategic objective of taking advantage of the debates and discussions) that its perpetuation will mean a chronic stagnation of the economy, and a future characterized by permanent poverty and limited freedoms.

Political freedoms

The proposed text of the Constitution is a genuine catalogue of the many and varied restrictions on Cubans' freedoms, with others being added to their economic limitations, to which the vast majority of citizens submit, like a flock obeying the orders of a small but powerful oligarchy, under the delusion that they are building a more just and egalitarian society. On the contrary, the inequality in the distribution of political power is clearly seen in the lack of any provision guaranteeing the freedom to express one's political thoughts, and the lack of any right to private ownership over the means of expression and communication. 

All the institutional rigidity reflected in the new Constitution converges harmoniously in the lack of the right to participate as freely elected representatives in the Assembly of Popular Power, which, under other circumstances, might function as an instrument, as its name entails, for citizen participation in the country's government.

Finally, the notorious fact that this Constitution does not recognize the separation of the Judicial Branch from the Executive and Legislative ones, rounds out a design calculated to manipulate and exploit the Cuban people.

Any Cuban with common sense, and who honestly wants the best for his country, will realize that one must vote against this text.

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