Cuba Appoints Raul Castro Head of Commission to Overhaul Constitution
On Saturday, Cuba’s National Assembly appointed former leader Raul Castro to lead a commission charged with revamping the country’s constitution. The revisions are expected to provide the legal support for the country’s more open social and economic policies of recent years.
The appointment of the elderly Raul Castro shows that the Castro family still plays a vital role in the one-party state, despite having elected Miguel Diaz-Canel as the new president – the first leader from the non-Castro regime after nearly 60 years.
“As I said when I took this office last April 19, comrade and army general Raul Castro Ruz will lead the major decisions on the present and future of the nation,” the 58-year-old Diaz-Canel said in an assembly’s extraordinary session.
The 86-year-old Castro remains as the Communist Party leader until 2021. Cuba has revised the constitution three times since its creation in 1976.
The first reform was in 1978 and changed the name of Isla de Pinos to Isla de la Juventud, a special municipality south of Havana that is not part of any province.
The second revision was in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and opened the previously atheist Communist Party to religious followers. The third reform was in 2002 when 97 percent of the country voted to register the irreversible character of socialism.
What can Cubans expect from the upcoming revisions?
Revising the constitution is seen as creating the necessary legal support for social and economic reforms that have taken place since 2010, without abandoning socialism as the political model of the island.
Cuba has welcomed foreign investors since 2014 due to a new foreign investment bill. Despite facing trade-related threats from the U.S. and the devastating effects of hurricane Irma, Cuba’s economy recovered in 2017. The previous year, Cuba had its first recession in more than two decades.
The country’s economy minister Ricardo Cabrisas stated at the end of 2017 that Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) rose 1.6 percent. Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca said that it was the first time the country had achieved its goal of attracting $2 billion in foreign investment.
Economically, many saw the constitutional reforms as necessary considering Cuba’s opening economy. “Cuba has to make substantial changes to the constitution that endorse private property, and cooperatives as part of the Cuban economy,” stated Julio Perez, a political analyst and former news editor at state-run Radio Habana.
Raul’s daughter Mariela Castro said she is campaigning for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In 2011, a Cuban man and a transgendered woman got married, marking the first same-sex marriage in the country.
Homosexuality faced discrimination and persecution during the regime of Fidel Castro, but Cuba has started introducing LGBT rights since Raul took office.
In 2015, Mariela sponsored a blessing ceremony for 20 gay couples in a march in Havana that demanded the acknowledgment of gay marriage.
What is coming is an “update” of Cuba’s constitution, not the prologue to a “transition” or an otherwise dramatic break,” said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.
Other potential constitutional reforms include removing the constitutional prohibition to “obtain income from exploiting works of others” and to place age and term limits on political positions.
Once the constitutional draft is written, it will be discussed first by the parliament and then by the broader population. Later it will be submitted to a referendum.