In an effort to modernize in an ever more changing world, Cuba this week approved a new constitution that, among other changes, removes the word Communism and allows for private property ownership and gay marriage.
Cuba’s National Assembly on Sunday “unanimously” approved a draft of the new Constitution. This is the first change in 42 years to the document, which called for a “communist society” and outlines that marriage is “the voluntary established union between a man and a woman.” Instead, the new document calls for “socialism” and does not define marriage.
The changes are led by the first non-Castro president in over 40 years, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. Having taken over for Raul Castro in April, the President proclaimed that his new constitution emphasized the “genuine democracy” of the Cuban nation. It introduces the position of Prime Minister and gives that position the power of the Head of the Council of State. Previously, this power belonged to the President, and makes the Prime Minister, in effect, head of the legislature and Secretary of State.
Further, the reforms reorganize councils of power to distribute nominal power across more individuals. It’s a continuation of policy reforms led by Raul Castro in his final days as president to create a more outwardly democratic and transparent government.
Although democracy may be a consideration, economic need is the primary factor in change. The economy grew at a sluggish 1.1 percent during the last two quarters, which is far below the 7 percent the Cuban government needs to recover from its economic woes. The fall of the Soviet Union and the chaos in Venezuela are the primary causes of this weak economy, who provided cash funds and oil to the country, respectively.
The government is also looking for foreign investment. In response to the opening of relations with the United States by President Barrack Obama and increased tourism revenue, the country is looking to capitalize on its moment in the international spotlight. However, the state recognizes that branding itself “communist” is not a path to economic success.
These reforms are limited in such a way that still allows for the continuation of party power, however. Although the President is losing power, the new Prime Minister, along with the Presidential candidate and council leaders, are appointed, either directly or indirectly, by the head of the Communist Party of Cuba, whose power has not faltered in this new Constitution. Until 2021, that man is Raul Castro, former President and the head of the constitutional reform commission, the group behind these reforms.
The social reforms themselves do very little to reduce Communist party power. Instead, they are likely a “carrot” of sorts for the people, to get them to comply with Communist Party rule. In fact, the omission of the marriage clause is led by Bermúdez’s daughter, who is the leader of the sex education commission. The choice to omit the clause, rather than put marriage equality into words, is likely intentional, intended to appease socially conservative Cubans.
“The new constitution will take into account all human issues and bring social justice to build a better political system for our people, and strengthen the national unity,” Diaz-Canel said.
Other reforms essentially legalized illegal government practices already occurring within the state. For example, although the constitution allows for self-employment, there are already 600,000 cuentapropistas in the country. And relaxations on foreign trade regulations reinforce a policy of economic openness that has existed for the past few years.
The economic reforms are not all rosy, however. These changes come at a time where the government has limited the number of tables in restaurants to 50, effectively capped the number of workers per company at 20 and maintains restrictions on selling services to foreigners.
The constitutional reforms were part of a package that confirmed President Diaz-Canel Bermúdez’s cabinet for the following year, which is largely a continuation of the previous Council of Ministers.
There is some opposition to the new constitution, largely from older Cubans who still value communism as an institution. The media has expressed concern over fears of individual greed, even as the constitution outlaws “concentration of property.”
The public will be able to weigh in until November 15, when it will go back to the National Assembly for revision before a public referendum. In spite of opposition by some, it is likely to pass this year.
“[The changes to the constitution] does not mean we are renouncing our ideas,” said National Assembly President Esteban Lazo. “We believe in a socialist, sovereign, independent, prosperous and sustainable country.”