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Other Havana: One Year of Constitutional Reform in Cuba

Iuliia Vashchenko  Ph.D. en Ciencias Políticas, La Paz, Bolivia
Iuliia Vashchenko,
PhD in Political Science,
La Paz, Bolivia

In February, Cuba will mark a very important event in the modern political life of the state. For almost a year, the Freedom Island has been trying to build a new reality in accordance with the Constitution adopted in February 2019, which was supported by 73.3% of the country’s citizens in a referendum. How has Cuba changed over the past year? How much has the new fundamental document affected the lives of Cubans?

Let us turn to the historical aspect of the issue. Back in 2011, Raul Castro took the initiative to amend the main state legislative document. Then he proposed to limit the maximum age of being the chairman of the State Council to 70 years, in turn, the age of the head of the Communist Party of Cuba to 60 years. By the way, Castro himself resigned as head of the State Council, having been there for 10 years, although at that time corresponding changes were not made to the Constitution. In April 2018, Raul Castro officially transferred his powers to his deputy, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez).

Almost a year ago, at a general referendum on the adoption of the New Constitution of Cuba, there was a high turnout among citizens with voting rights – 84.4% of the population. The basis for the country’s constituent document proposed in 2019 was the right to private property. In addition, the New Constitution does not contain the previous provision on the construction of communism, but retains the features of the country’s socialist character and the leading role of the Communist Party. The new legislative document of Cuba established the posts of president and prime minister and fixed a restriction of two five-year terms for one person to remain in senior government posts.

Of course, such liberalization in the political and economic spheres on the Freedom Island caused a stir abroad, then for a number of analysts the topic of the Constitutional reform in Cuba became very discussed and controversial. It is worth noting that over this period the number of foreign delegations and tourist flow, especially from Western Europe, has significantly increased. Last March, Havana was visited by the Prince of Great Britain – Charles. As part of his official visit, he held a series of meetings with young Cuban entrepreneurs. One of the outcomes of this event was the success of the British Culture Week in Havana. By the way, Japan and EU countries expressed their readiness to support financially Cuban reforms.

In accordance with the New Constitution, for the first time since 1976 on October 10, the Cuban parliament elected Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez as President of the country by a majority of votes (575 votes out of 605). Prior to this, the 59-year-old Diaz Canel served as head of the Cuban State Council. An interesting fact is that he became the first politician unrelated to the Castro family. Last year, 18 candidates claimed the post of head of state. Salvador Valdes Mesa (Salvador Antonio Valdés Mesa) became Vice-president of the country. Instead of Diaz Canel, the head of the National Assembly and the State Council of Cuba passed to Esteban Lazo Hernandez (Juan Esteban Lazo Hernández), who in the past served as speaker of the country’s parliament.

The Chairman of the State Council of the PRC Li Keqiang was the first among the leaders of foreign countries to congratulate the newly appointed head of the Cuban government. Beijing continues to intend to expand trade and economic cooperation with Havana, as well as deepen the degree of bilateral cooperation. Today, China ranks first in terms of turnover among the entire spectrum of Cuba’s trading partners. After the adoption of the New Constitution of the Latin American state, there has been an increase in Chinese investment in the Cuban economy, as well as great attention has been paid to the development of friendly relations and the intensification of contacts with the Cuban armed forces. Despite Washington’s sanctions, China is demonstrating its willingness to assist in the construction of infrastructure for military facilities in the Cuban army.

Another major factor in the new constitutional reform has been a sharp increase in tourist flow. The new Prime Minister of Cuba, before this position, headed the Ministry of Tourism, one of the leading departments of the country’s economy, where the tourism business has always been the main source of foreign exchange funds to the state budget. According to the provisions of the Constitution of 2019, he is now entrusted with the leadership of the entire economy of the country, which is under the most severe economic blockade by the United States. According to experts, Washington’s sanctions not only slow down the economy, but also do not allow it to be fully modernized to increase efficiency. Thus, the locomotive of this process may be allowed private property, which is attractive to investors among the Spanish and Chinese corporations that are already actively developing in Cuba. It is worth noting that the planned abolition of several categories of the national currency can also serve as the attraction of foreign investors. Today, two types of pesos are still in use on Liberty Island: convertible (equal to one US dollar) and regular (25 ordinary pesos equal to one US dollar).

By the way, the current leader of Liberty Island identifies himself with the course of «orthodox communism» and declares that under the new government, the Cuban economy will evolve and renew, but will not give up its history and deviate from its socialist past. An example of such an ideological orientation is the fact that under the New Constitution, there were no easing of very strict laws of the state in the field of restriction of freedom of speech. Private publications are still banned in Cuba, the information published must comply with the main «goals of a socialist society». Violations of state information policy are considered by government agencies as «enemy propaganda». For example, publishing on the Internet space of ideologically incorrect materials is punishable by imprisonment for up to 20 years. Electronic messages in social networks are controlled by special programs that identify specific words or phrases.

How has the Freedom Island changed since the adoption of the New Constitution? – still remains a very topical issue. On the one hand, such democratic positions as the holding of elections, liberalization in the private sector and the attraction of foreign investors are very large-scale changes, especially in the country’s economic life. However, according to a number of experts, Havana had to take these measures under the pressure of sanctions from the White House, which prompted the Communist Party of Cuba to seek new investors and strengthen interaction with its traditional partners: primarily with Russia and China. However, the social life of the Latin American state has not undergone structural modification. Today, the Cuban leader Miguel Diaz-Canel is trying to balance between relative liberalization of the economy and maintaining adherence to socialist ideas, which could already lead to an increase in tourist flow and the launch of new infrastructure projects that Cuba urgently needs.

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