What's behind the changes to the Constitution?
ROBERTO ÁLVAREZ QUIÑONES | Los Ángeles | 24 Mayo 2016 - 1:36 pm.
At the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the most
regressive of all those held thus far, Gen. Raul Castro announced that
major amendments will be made to the socialist Constitution.
The dictator said that they will be carried out in the future and,
although he did not provide any details, revealed that they would made
to "ratify the irrevocable nature of the political and social system
endorsed in the current Constitution, which includes the PCC's
leadership role in our society."
In short, they are bound to worsen the already appalling Constitution.
This is hardly a cause for surprise, because the two changes made thus
far, in 1992 and 2002, far from moderating its Stalinist character,
actually intensified it. The 2002 version was Castro's response to the
Varela project, spearheaded by opposition leader Oswaldo Payá (later
killed under quite suspicious circumstances), which called for political
reform to expand fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
The initiative had a national and international impact, cited in a
speech by former US president Jimmy Carter, before Fidel Castro, during
his visit to the island in 2002. The commander was furious, and ordered
the National Assembly of the People's Power to approve an amendment to
the Constitution stipulating the "irrevocable character" of the
The retrograde spirit of the only Communist Fundamental Law in
continental history jumps out when compared with the Constitution of
1940. That Constitution was drafted by a Constituent Assembly elected by
the people at the polls, and made up of prominent intellectuals, jurists
and politicians (76 in total) including six Marxist-Leninist
representatives of the Partido Unión Revolucionaria Comunista. The
nation's entire political-ideological spectrum was represented in that body.
The 1940 Constitution replaced that of 1901 and established rights not
enshrined in many constitutions in the world at that time, such as the
inalienable right of the individual to a decent job, a minimum wage, the
eight-hour workday, paid holidays, the right to strike, workers' freedom
of association, and social security protection against unemployment,
invalidity, old age, and other contingencies.
It also ensured the freedom of expression, assembly, and political
association as individual rights. It recognized the right to private
ownership over the means of production, and the separation of the three
branches of government. That Constitution was a source of national
pride, considered internationally one of the most advanced in the world.
Copied from the Soviets
The Constitution of 1976, in contrast, was drafted by a commission
cherry-picked by Fidel Castro, who appointed Blas Roca as its president,
a longtime leader of the Cuban Communists since in the 30s they were
allies of Fulgencio Batista. And it was copied from the USSR, with
aggravating elements imposed by Castro.
And I assert that it was copied from the USSR because Blas Roca told me
as much in early 1976. As he had been a delegate to the Constituent
Assembly of 1940, I asked him which constitutional text had been more
demanding and difficult to write: that approved 36 years ago, or that
which was receiving its final touches, to be approved shortly.
In his soft-spoken tone, he told me that the circumstances surrounding
the drafting of the two constitutions were very different, because in
1939 and 1940 each paragraph or important point had to be negotiated
"intensely with the bourgeois members" of the Constituent Assembly.
"However," he added, "this one now is more laborious because we do not
want to copy anyone, yet we have to take into account the constitutions
and the experiences of other socialist countries; Czechoslovakia's, for
example, has been very useful."
I think Blas Roca confessed more than he would have liked, and to
backpedal mentioned the Czech constitution rather than the Soviet. But
it is common knowledge that all the constitutions of the Communist
countries of Eastern Europe were essentially copied from that of the
In the Cuban case, it is obvious that the ideas of a president of a
Council of State controlled by the PCC, rather than a president elected
at the polls, and the fact that the PCC and its first secretary
constitute the highest echelon of power, above the head of State and
Government, were flown in directly from Moscow. Thus, the current
Constitution does not even recognize individual rights acknowledged
throughout the civilized world, including private property, but rather
State ownership (sovjoses), that of small farmers, cooperatives
(koljoses), and mixed ownership between the State and foreign investors.
Jurassic in nature, but ...
It is very naive to believe that the constitutional changes that General
Castro has alluded to will include the right to private property, or
facilitate structural reforms that the country needs, measures
incompatible with Castroism's Jurassic nature.
However, the collapse of leftist populism in Latin America, the dire
crisis suffered by chavismo in Venezuela, and the ouster of Dilma
Rousseff in Brazil, Castro's second most important ally, is leaving
Castro's cadre almost defenseless, which could force changes to the
Constitution in an effort to attract foreign capital and relax the
State's monopoly over the economy and trade.
In other words, the foreseeable breakdown of the Sao Paulo Forum and
"21st-century Socialism" will impose its own rules on Cuba, which have
nothing to do with those of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che Guevara or
Until there is new leadership on the island, however, and as long as the
two brothers continue to run the country, the Constitution will not
recognize the right to private ownership of the means of production, nor
citizens' basic rights.
The plan that the dictator had lined up when he announced the
constitutional reforms will need to be "updated" for simple reasons of
survival, but not for the benefit of Cubans. With today's low oil
prices, even if the disciples of Chávez continue in power, the current
flow of aid from Caracas to Havana cannot be sustained.
Guaranteeing the succession
In short, the core aim of these changes to the Constitution is to
institutionally guarantee the succession of the Castros and the
"historical" leaders back from the Sierra Maestra days, and to establish
a neo-Castroism consisting of a capitalism on the leash of an
authoritarian State, with some socialist, fascist, Chinese and
It is likely, therefore, that the positions of the President of the
Council of State and President the Council of Ministers will be
separated, and the head of State will be stripped of his status as
Commander- in-Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR); if Raúl
Castro is missing (due to his death, illness, or because he has finished
out his term) his replacement as head of State and the Government,
presumably Miguel Díaz-Canel, does not form part of the Military Junta,
but would become the supreme commander of the FAR without being the
First Secretary of the PCC ("number one").
For the first time a civilian without a revolutionary or family pedigree
would be the Commander-in-Chief of the FAR, and not the First Secretary
of the PCC, who is constitutionally the dictator, a genuine absurdity in
a Communist military regime. Fixing this institutional mess will be vital.
Of course, as neither China nor Russia will subsidize Cuba, and the
island will depend more than ever on the US, and anti-Castro Cuban
exiles (gusanos), anything could happen, albeit uncalculated by Castro's
Cubans' rejection of the regime, meanwhile, is accelerating like never
before. And as the song says, "La vida te da sorpresas..." ("Life
Source: What's behind the changes to the Constitution? | Diario de Cuba