For the first time since 1976, the Cuban government is drafting a new constitution. Earlier this year, long-time President Raul Castro stepped down and selected Miguel Díaz Canel to replace him, marking the first time in over forty years that a Castro no longer held the office. With this change in leadership, Cuban officials have also moved to increase government involvement beyond a select group of leaders. On Sunday July 22nd, 600 national assemblymen met to propose a new set of laws, meant to address these new political goals along with changing social and economic realities on the island.
Although the proposed constitution still needs to pass a national referendum, it has already made international headlines, specifically due to its omission of a significant clause from the 1976 edition that promoted the building of a communist society. Despite the redaction of such wording that explicitly supports communism, Cuban leadership has since clarified that Cuba remains a socialist country with its traditional one-party political structure. However, the newly developed constitution reflects the changing political realities of the twenty-first century. In addition to the omission of the term “communism,” the new constitution also sets term limits for presidents. Following the resignation of Castro, future presidents must be under 60 years of age when they take office and can only hold the position for two consecutive terms of five years each, for a maximum of ten years. Furthermore, the constitution establishes the position of prime minister, who would be nominated to parliament by the sitting president and lead the Council of Ministers and the Council of state.
The new constitution also addresses the major economic crisis that has persisted in Cuba for almost three decades. Following the collapse of their leading trading partner, the USSR, in 1989, Cuba experienced the worst economic crisis in Latin America, characterized by mass emigration, food shortages, and low employment. In an effort to stimulate economic growth, Castro legalized the U.S. dollar in 1993 and implemented policies that increased the tourist sector of the economy, promoted private business, and allowed remittances to flow in from U.S. expatriates. Unfortunately, these policies resulted in a growing inequality throughout the country, particularly along racial lines since white Cubans were more likely to receive remittances from U.S. family members, acquire tourist sector jobs, and have the tools necessary to begin their own private businesses due to their historical advantages over their Afro-Cuban counterparts. The newly proposed constitution accounts for these economic changes, specifically in the realm of private property. Once considered by the government a capitalistic concept, the new constitution legalizes private property. Through a combination of this legalization and recent policies restricting the number of private business licenses to one per citizen, the government hopes to limit the impact of the private sector on economic inequality. Legalizing private property will allow more people to open their own private businesses, while the restriction of one such business per citizen will allow these economic benefits to be shared more equally.
In addition to addressing major economic and political issues, the new constitution also acknowledges recent social changes. Specifically, the current proposed version of the constitution redefines marriage as being between “two individuals regardless of gender.” This more flexible language has been encouraged by LGBTI activists and groups in Cuba, including Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela. With the adoption of this language, several laws would also have to be changed to remain consistent with the new constitution, but it is a step in the right direction for the Cuban LGBTI community.
The new Cuban constitution has only made it through the first stage on its path to ratification, with the current draft still needing to be approved by the National Assembly and to pass a public referendum. However, it already promises major changes to contemporary political, economic, and social conditions in Cuba. The redaction of the word “communist” from the current draft in addition to alterations to the existing power structure represent major shifts in the national politics of Cuba. Furthermore, a new regulation on private property and a new definition of legal marriage have the potential to alter the socio-economic conditions of many Cubans if the current draft passes.