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Popular Comments on the Cuban Constitution – Marxist-Leninist Constitutonalism with Caribbean Characteristics?

On August 22, the Reuters news agency announced that the Trump administration is going to reduce diplomatic staff in Havana to a maximum of 18 persons, “due to a mysterious illness”. The Reuters dispatch observed that:

Outreach to civil society and human rights activists has also been reduced at a time when Cuba is transitioning to a new generation of political leaders, internet access is spreading and a revamped constitution is headed for a referendum vote.

The reduction in diplomatic staff has come while China, Russia, Venezuela and the European Union are all trying to advance their interest in the island. At the same time, the Cuban political-administrative apparatus is undergoing deep changes. Each one of these changes is of relevance to China experts interested in comparing reforming Marxist-Leninist systems.

The governance reforms outlined by the Conceptualización del modelo económico y social cubano de desarrollo socialista and the Lineamientos de la Política Económica y Social del Partido y la Revolución para el periodo 2016-2021 have begun to see the light:

  • on July 22, the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular) concluded a two-days debate on the project of constitutional reform;

  • on July 30, the draft Constitution of the state was published by the website Cubadebate;

  • a total of 135,000 popular consultation meetings on the Constitution started on August 13, and will continue until November 15;

  • a constitutional referendum will take place on February 24, 2019

Those interested in learning more about the 2018/29 constitutional revision in Cuba will find various reference materials on the website of the Coalition for Peace and Ethics – a big thank you goes to their folks.

In light of the changes in the policy of the United States towards Cuba [1], the decision to downsize the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana does not come as a surprise. The style of negotiation and foreign policy approach of the present U.S. administration are creating uncertainties among domestic and international observers. The decision to reduce the diplomatic staff in Havana however will produce effects coherent with the choice to channel investments away from entities on the Cuba Restricted List.

In the meantime, the popular debate on the Cuban constitution continues. The Coalition for Peace and Ethics has made available some aggregated data on unofficial comments to the project of constitutional revision. The data is useful to get a sense of what the most important themes in the new constitution are, to a sector of the Cuban public opinion.

The public debate on the constitutional revision seems to be involving a tiny fraction of the public. The difficulties in accessing Facebook and other social media services may have played a role in limiting the availability of online comments to the project of constitutional reform. On the other hand, the public debate has just begun, and it is likely that unofficial comments will intensify as we get closer to the February 24 referendum.

This far, the theme to attract most comments and discussion has been the new definition of marriage as the consensual union of two persons, regardless of their gender. This definition allows the possibility of same-sex marriage, and has provoked a relative majority of comments (37,20%), at least compared to general discussions of the constitutional revision (26.44%).

What it is striking is:

  • the percentage of comments not directly relevant to the constitutonal revision (28.45%)

  • the limited attention paid to the theme of labor compensation (7.16%)

  • the very low number of actual comments on certain specific articles of the new constitution, as opposed to comments on themes such as marriage, labor compensation, and others.

While it is still early to detect a stable trend in unofficial discussions on the constitutional revision, these initial comments provide a useful window on the interests and concerns of those who are using alternative fora to express their views on the constitutional revision project.

[1] In July 2017 the memorandum “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” outlined the Trump’s administration policy towards Cuba as including an: “end to economic practices that disproportionately benefit the Cuban government or its military, intelligence, or security agencies or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people.” In November 2017, changes to authorizations for travel to Cuba were introduced. A list of restricted entities associated with Cuba, with which direct financial transactions would be prohibited was published, financial transactions were restricted, and the licensing policy was amended. A task force composed of government and non-government representatives was created, to examine the challenges and opportunities for expanding internet access in Cuba.

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