On the 10th of April 2019, the new constitution of Cuba became operational after it was unanimously adopted by the Cuban National Assembly on 24 February 2019.
On behalf of the Windhoek Observer, freelance columnist Vitalio Angula (VA) sat down with the Deputy Head of Mission of the Cuban Embassy in Namibia, Aldo Fuentes (AF), to gauge the sentiment of the Cuban people on this historic milestone, which was necessitated by the economic and social transformations implemented after the last two congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011 and 2016 respectively.
VA: Could you please acquaint us with the principle motivations for the adoption of a new constitution for the Socialist Republic of Cuba?
AF: Cuba is a one-party socialist republic. The Communist Party of Cuba is highly regarded as the vanguard of the Cuban people in its objective of constructing a socialist state. It is a system which is enshrined in the Cuban constitution approved by referendum in 1976. Given the 43 period up to now; it was resolved through wide consultations and deliberations that the revolutionary people of Cuba should once again be afforded the opportunity to determine their future as citizens of this great socialist republic. This entailed removing certain provisions of the constitution that had effectively run their course; modifying provisions to align with global trends taking into account the will, hope and aspirations of the Cuban people; and adding new laws which are necessary for the development and economic enhancement of the people of Cuba.
VA: Could you please provide a brief account of the modalities leading up to the adoption of the new constitution of Cuba.
AF: Cuba is a grassroots based democracy which places emphasis on the Cuban people as the principle custodians of the country’s revolution. It is in this regard that on the 21st of July, 2018, a draft constitution was presented to the people of Cuba for wide consultations before a referendum could take place for its adoption. Over 133,000 meetings were held within neighborhoods, schools, universities, the farmers’ association and members of civil society to discuss the draft constitution and recommend changes and approvals.
The meeting was guided by government officials who were tasked to oversee a process where each and every Cuban citizen was empowered with an opportunity to actively participate in the drafting of the final constitution. This is no easy feat in a country with a population of more than 11 million. However, the Communist Party is the direct representative of the Cuban people so it is only right that it takes instruction from the citizens of Cuba on what their supreme law of the land should entail. As a result the Cuban people made 760 changes to 134 articles of the constitution and three of them were eliminated or as you say in more majestic English ‘repealed’.
VA: Which laws were repealed, changed/modified and which were kept?
AF: Cuba has always held that it would never return to capitalism and will remain a Socialist Republic governed by the will of the people; guided by the revolutionary principle of a fairer and just society. Therefore the Cuban people suggested and the National Assembly adopted that Cuba will function as an economy which accommodates both state and private business.
The natural means of production such as land and mineral resources, e.g. Nickel, remain the property of the people and controlled by the state. It was however also resolved that for Cuba to facilitate its vision for wider economic growth in all spheres of society, the right to private property should be respected to attract Foreign Direct Investment. In this regard the state has loosened control over the previously centralised command economy and adopted a more liberal approach as directed and influenced by the Former President and Current First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, Raul Castro. The fundamental change is that Cuba has adopted or rather modified its economy from strictly state to one that accommodates both state and private
VA: In terms of social constructs, what can Cuban people expect from the new constitution?
AF: The question you pose is somewhat nuanced but understandably so. You see it is not advisable to ask what the Cuban people can expect from the constitution because the Cuban people are the authors of the constitution that has been adopted. But to answer your question I will highlight one of the more controversial amendments sought for the constitution, which was rejected by some of the Cuban people. The draft constitution proposed the recognition of marriage as a contract between two people. The Catholic Church and other members of civil society rejected this proposal because it entailed the recognition of same-sex unions. Of course Cuba as a nation that respects human rights and the equality of all members of society regardless of race, colour or sexual orientation, could not object to this objection.
It was adopted on the 24th of February, 2019, that marriage is recognised by the state in accordance with the country’s constitution. However, legislation known as the ‘family code’ will be deliberated upon and formulated by the National Assembly. After wider consultation with the country’s citizens, the law will provide for what actually by Cuban law would constitute a marriage. As the constitution currently stands nothing is stopping more than two people to be partners in a marriage, including those who would want to be married in a same-sex union. I advise you follow the developments in the drafting of legislation as it will also include provisions for the instances of Gender-Based Violence in domestic relationships, which is currently a hot topic for discussion in Namibia.
VA: Please elaborate further on why Gender-Based-Violence (GBV) will be addressed in the ‘family code’ and how.
AF: Well, you see! Before the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, Cuban society held a deeply entrenched patriarchal societal culture which is referred to as ‘machismo’. This led men to believe they were superior and can never be equal to their female counterparts. Our late leader of the Cuban Revolution Commandant Fidel Castro dispelled this notion of male superiority complex because women played an equal role in the overthrow of Cuban dictator, Batista, and fought equally and sometimes braver than their male counterparts in defending the Revolution. So why would they not be equal members of society? Even though the Cuban state’s position is clear that all men and women are equal, there are still pockets of men who need to be debriefed of their toxic masculinity and this will be addressed again in the new family code.
VA: Can you prove that men and women are truly equal in Cuban society and that you are not just regurgitating rhetoric?
AF: 53.22 percent of all members (Deputies) of the Cuban National Assembly are women. Cuba is second in the world in female representation in the National Assembly. Number one is Rwanda with 68 percent woman representation. Moreover, we have three women vice-presidents and three male vice-presidents.
VA: How does that work?
AF: In accordance with the Constitution of 1976, the highest government structure in Cuba is the National Assembly, which is comprised of 612 deputies who are proposed by the people and elected directly by their municipalities, which in Namibia you might refer to as constituencies (I speak under correction). This National Assembly is the highest decision making organ of the State and is comprised of elected officials such as farmers, athletes, teachers, doctors, etc.
The Council of State is the organ that assumes the functions of the Assembly between its two annual sessions. It is composed of 31 elected officials from amongst its deputies. That number includes the President who is the Head of State and Government, the First Vice President and five Vice Presidents. We have also a Council of Ministers that is headed by the President of the Council of State and their members are appointed by the National Assembly or the Council of State on the proposal of the President of the Council of State.
VA: That is extremely complicated form of governance, don’t you think?
You see it is simple but at the same time complicated! For that reason and taking into account the will of the Cuban people, and to avoid the duplication of roles, beaurocracy and to provide for greater efficiencies. The new Constitution will place a new government structure taking into consideration the principle of the separation of powers. We will have a President of the Republic, elected by the Assembly; we will continue to have a Council of State, with the same mandate but now headed by the President of the National Assembly; and we will have a Prime Minister, a completely new position, appointed by the National Assembly on the proposal of the President. Key changes at the provincial and municipality levels have also been approved and will give greater autonomy in the administration of municipalities and provinces.
VA: How do you determine that it is truly the will of the people?
AF: The new constitution was put to the Cuban people to choose whether to vote for its adoption or not via a referendum. There was a 90.15 percent turnout in the referendum. Over 7.84 million votes were counted. 86.8 percent voted YES. Nine percent voted NO. A1.6 percent of the votes were annulled (spoiled ballot) and 2.5 percent voted blank (vote was cast but did not vote yes or no).
VA: Why is the adoption of new constitution of the Socialist Republic Cuba of particular relevance to Namibia?
AF: Cuba and Namibia have fraternal relations dating back to the liberation struggle of Namibia’s independence from South African apartheid colonial rule. The new constitution provides opportunities for growing and strengthening the economical and commercial relations of Cuba with the rest of the world.
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