The Cuban people approved a new Constitution on February 24, 2019
Notes on the Revolution / Column #75
February 28, 2020
Cuba commemorates first anniversary of its 2019 Constitution
By Charles McKelvey
On February 24, Cuban commemorated the first anniversary of its new Constitution, approved in popular referendum on February 24, 2019, with a voter participation rate of 90%, and with 86.8% of the voters choosing “Yes.”
The Constitution previously had been approved for presentation to the people in referendum by the National Assembly of People’s Power. The process through which the Constitution had been formulated illustrates the very high level of popular participation in the Cuban political process in Cuba and reflects the legitimacy that the political process enjoys among the people.
In the period 2007 to 2014, the Communist Party of Cuba formulated and led the people in a discussion and implementation of a new social and economic model. The new model intends to improve the productive capacity of the economy by expanding self-employment, small-scale private property, cooperatives, and foreign investment, while maintaining state ownership as the principal form of property, and preserving the role of the state as manager and regulator of the economy. Although the National Assembly interpreted the new model as consistent with the Constitution, there was sentiment in the Party that the 1976 Constitution no longer corresponded with Cuban reality, as a result of the new social and economic model as well as other evolutionary changes in Cuban society.
In 2018, the Communist Party of Cuba proposed to the National Assembly of People’s Power the development of a new Constitution. The National Assembly appointed a Constitutional Committee, which prepared a draft of a proposed constitution to the National Assembly, which introduced some changes in the text and approved a second draft for presentation to the people.
An extensive popular consultation concerning the draft was conducted from August 13 to November 15, 2018. Some 133,680 meetings were held in neighborhoods and places of work and study. There were nearly 9 million participants, with an estimated two million attending more than one, so that the participation rate was approximately three-quarters of the population. The people made 1,706,872 commentaries, with 783,174 proposed modifications, additions, or eliminations. On the basis of the opinions and proposals of the people, the Constitutional Commission made further revisions in the text. More than 50% of the proposals of the people were included in the modifications; and nearly 60% of the articles were modified in some form. The Commission presented a report to the National Assembly, which further modified the draft and approved it for popular referendum.
The Cuban Constitution of 2019, therefore, was formulated and approved with an exceptionally high level of participation of the people. The extensive, vibrant, high-quality, and dignified participation in the popular consultation inspired a Cuban daily newspaper to describe the process as “an entire people constructing their constitution,” with a constitutional assembly of the people. In addition, the content of the Cuban Constitution establishes it as one of the most advanced in the world.
The Constitution of 2019 conserves in essence the structures of people’s power that were institutionalized in the Constitution of 1976. Said structures include free elections of delegates in small voting districts; nomination of candidates in neighborhood assemblies; election by delegates of deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power; the concentration of power in the National Assembly as the highest authority in the nation, with legislative authority as well as the authority to designate the highest members of the executive and judicial branches; the active participation of mass organizations of workers, women, students, farmers, and neighborhoods in the political process and in society; and the designation of the Communist Party of Cuba as the vanguard that guides the socialist project and educates the people, but without the authority to decide, legislate, or appoint state officials.
The Constitution of 2019 declares that “all persons are equal before the law…. They enjoy the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities, without any discrimination for reason of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic origin, skin color, religious creed, disability, national origin, or any other distinction damaging to human dignity.”
The Constitution of 2019 affirms social and economic rights, reaffirming rights declared in 1976. All persons have the right to dignified work, to equal salary for work of equal value, to workers’ safety and workers’ compensation, and to a limit to the working day. All citizens have the right to adequate housing; free, quality health services; free and accessible public education from the pre-school to university post-graduate level; to physical education, sport, and recreation; to art and culture; to clean water; to a healthy and adequate diet; and to social security. Persons of low income and the unemployed have the right to social assistance.
The Constitution of 2019 affirms equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for men and women. It assures women the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights, and it protects women from all manifestations of gender violence.
The 2019 Constitution establishes a stronger constitutional foundation for the social and economic model proposed by the Party, on the basis of an extensive popular consultation, and approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power in 2012. The Constitution affirms that the Cuban economy is a socialist economy that is directed and regulated by the State in accordance with its plan for social and economic development. It recognizes various forms of property, including socialist property of the people, in which the state acts as representative of the people; cooperatives; joint ventures; the property of mass, political, and social organizations; and private property. In addition, it recognizes the role of foreign investment in the economic development of the country, on a foundation of protection of natural resources and respect for the sovereignty of the nation.
The new Constitution affirms the right of Cuba to sovereignty in international relations. It affirms Cuba’s foreign policy principles of sovereignty, anti-imperialism, and self-determination. It recognizes the need for the unity of the Third World in opposition to colonialism, neocolonialism, and imperialism. It reaffirms the nation’s commitment to integration and solidarity among the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean. It condemns interference in the internal affairs of states. It describes wars of aggression and conquest as international crimes. It rejects the existence, proliferation, or use of nuclear arms and arms of mass destruction as well as the employment of new arms, including cyber arms. It repudiates terrorism in all of its manifestations, especially terrorism carried out by states.
The new Constitution introduces changes in the administrative structures of the state, with the intention of providing a foundation for a greater administrative efficiency of the state. It establishes a clearer distinction between the legislative and executive branches by separating the Council of Ministers, which is the executive branch directed by the President and the Prime Minister, from the Council of State, which represents the National Assembly between its legislative sessions. The President of the Republic and Prime Minister report to the National Assembly; these are newly created posts, replacing the previous post of President of the Councils of Ministers and State. The new Constitution also introduced change in the structures of local administration, creating governors of provinces and mayors of cities. The local administrative structures have more autonomy, but they must develop their activities in accordance with priorities established by the National Assembly.
During the past year, various laws have been enacted by the National Assembly, laws that are necessary for the implementation of various articles and provisions of the Constitution. At the same time, in accordance with the new Constitution, during the past year, the President and Vice-President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the governors of the 14 provinces, and the mayors of the 169 municipal assemblies have been elected.
The Cuban journalist Leidys María Labradror Herrera writes that the approval of the Constitution on February 24, 2019 was a transcendent moment, representing continuity with the past and at the same time a point of departure for the future. She declared, “Although the road be challenging, we do not renounce reaching for the stars.”
This is Charles McKelvey, reflecting on the unfolding global popular socialist revolution forged by our peoples in defense of humanity.
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