Cuban law­mak­ers ap­prove new con­sti­tu­tion which heads to ref­er­en­dum

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

HA­VANA (Reuters) Cuban law­mak­ers yes­ter­day unan­i­mously ap­proved a re­vised draft of a new con­sti­tu­tion that re­tains the is­land’s one-party so­cial­ist sys­tem but re­flects its so­cio-eco­nomic open­ing since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The draft new con­sti­tu­tion, which has 229 ar­ti­cles and will re­place a Cold War era one, will main­tain the Com­mu­nist Party as the coun­try’s guid­ing force and the state’s dom­i­nance of the econ­omy, ac­cord­ing to state-run me­dia. A copy has not yet been distributed to the pub­lic.

The doc­u­ment, how­ever, also le­git­imises pri­vate busi­ness that has blos­somed over the last decade, ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tance of for­eign in­vest­ment and opens the door to gay mar­riage, ac­cord­ing to state-run me­dia.

It im­poses age and term lim­its on the pres­i­dency, af­ter late rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader Fidel Cas­tro and his younger brother Raul Cas­tro ruled the coun­try for nearly six decades, and in­tro­duces the role of a prime min­is­ter.

The cur­rent draft 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. It will go to a ref­er­en­dum next Feb. 24.

“This process is a gen­uine and ex­cep­tional de­mon­stra­tion of the prac­tise of power by the peo­ple and there­fore of the markedly par­tic­i­pa­tive and demo­cratic na­ture of our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem,” Pres­i­dent Miguel Diaz-Canel told the na­tional as­sem­bly in a speech clos­ing its week­long, twice-yearly ses­sion.

The 58-year-old took of­fice from his men­tor Raul Cas­tro in April although the lat­ter re­mains head of the Com­mu­nist Party un­til 2021.

Crit­ics say the fun­da­men­tals of Cuba’s sys­tem were never up for dis­cus­sion and the gov­ern­ment only in­cluded sug­ges­tions it wanted to.

Some, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion groups that typ­i­cally do not mo­bilise many peo­ple, are al­ready cam­paign­ing against the con­sti­tu­tion on­line us­ing the hash­tag #yovotono (“I vote no”).

One of the ar­ti­cles re­vised re­gards the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of prop­erty. Whereas the first draft orig­i­nally banned this, the re­vised con­sti­tu­tion sim­ply stip­u­lates that the state must reg­u­late it, ac­cord­ing to state-run me­dia.

How­ever, the lat­est draft also rein­serts the aim of “ad­vanc­ing to­wards com­mu­nism” that was taken out of the first draft.

One con­tro­ver­sial re­vi­sion is the elim­i­na­tion of an ar­ti­cle that recog­nised mat­ri­mony as the union of two per­sons as op­posed to the union be­tween a man and a woman as in the 1976 con­sti­tu­tion.

That ar­ti­cle was the one that sparked the most con­tro­versy in a so­ci­ety that has made great strides in les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der rights in re­cent years but re­mains con­ser­va­tive on the topic.

The new draft re­moves the def­i­ni­tion of mar­riage al­to­gether thus still open­ing the door to same-sex union al­beit not giv­ing it the same sym­bolic level of back­ing.

The gov­ern­ment has said in­stead it will up­date the fam­ily code and put it to a ref­er­en­dum in the next two years.

“There is no setback,” wrote Mariela Cas­tro, the daugh­ter of Raul Cas­tro, who has cham­pi­oned LGBT rights in Cuba in re­cent years, on Face­book.

“The fight con­tin­ues, let’s give a ‘yes’ to the con­sti­tu­tion and then close ranks to achieve a fam­ily code as ad­vanced as the new con­sti­tu­tional text.”

She asked for per­mis­sion to briefly in­ter­rupt the as­sem­bly meet yes­ter­day to hug her fa­ther in an un­usual pub­lic dis­play of af­fec­tion within the Cas­tro fam­ily, thank­ing him for his ex­am­ple “as a par­ent and as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary”, spark­ing ap­plause.

Still, the de­ci­sion to put the fam­ily code to a ref­er­en­dum has an­gered Cuban in­tel­lec­tu­als who say fun­da­men­tal Raul Cas­tro

hu­man rights should not be put up for vote. Other laws have not been put to a ref­er­en­dum.

“Equal rights to mar­riage in Cuba should be a pres­i­den­tial de­cree, not a ref­er­en­dum that ex­on­er­ates the state from re­spon­si­bil­ity and opens the door to con­ser­va­tive ho­mo­pho­bia,” said Harold Car­de­nas, a pro­fes­sor of Marx­ism and blog­ger.

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