In accordance with its orientation to provide a constitutional foundation for economic measures and policies that are designed to increase productivity, the new constitution also seeks to found a greater administrative efficiency of the State. To this end, the new constitution makes changes in the structure of the State, without in any way changing or modifying the logic of popular power. As we have seen, in the Cuban structures of popular political power, the people elect directly and indirectly the deputies of the National Assembly; said National Assembly is the highest authority in the State and the nation, inasmuch as it elects the highest members of the executive and judicial branches, and it possesses the authority to legislate, to interpret the Constitution, and to make constitutional reforms (see “The new Cuban Constitution: Continuity” 1/28/2019). The intention of the changes in the structure of the State is not to change its base in popular power, but to increase its effectiveness in responding to the daily and concrete needs of the people.
Whereas the 1976 Constitution established a Council of State and Ministers elected by the National Assembly, the new Constitution divides functions, creating a Council of State (which represents the National Assembly) and a Council of Ministers (which is the executive branch). The members of the Council of State are elected by the National Assembly from among its members. The Council of State is the legislative branch; it represents the National Assembly between sessions of the Assembly, inasmuch as the Assembly has three or four sessions a year, since the majority of its deputies continue to work in their respective professions or occupations or continue with their studies. The decrees of the Council of State are subject to the ratification of the National Assembly at its next session. The President of the National Assembly presides over both the National Assembly and the Council of State. The President, Vice-President, and Secretary of the National Assembly have the same charges in the Council of State.
The Council of Ministers is the Executive Branch. It is directed and formed by the President of the Republic, who is the Chief of State. The President of the Republic is elected by the National Assembly for a term of five years, with a maximum of two consecutive periods. The President of the Republic presents the members of the Council of Ministers, including the Prime Minister, to the National Assembly for approval. The Prime Minister is designated by the National Assembly, upon the recommendation of the President of the Republic, for a period of five years.
The President of the Republic represents the State, directs foreign policy, presides over the Council of Ministers, presides over the Council of National Defense, and declares states of emergency. The Prime Minister reports to President and manages the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers organizes and directs the execution of the political, economic, cultural, scientific, social, and defense activities agreed to by the National Assembly; approves and submits international treaties to the Council of State; directs and controls foreign commerce and foreign investment; and develops legislative proposals for submission to the National Assembly or the Council of State. The Council of Ministers renders account of its activities to the National Assembly.
Thus, the new constitution seeks to improve governmental effectiveness by creating two offices in the executive branch. First, the President of the Republic, who is the chief of state. Secondly, a Prime Minister, who is responsible for managing the various ministries of the government. The President is the higher authority of the two, in that the President designates the Prime Minister and presides of the Council of Ministers, which the Prime Minister manages. Both the President and the Prime Minister are elected by the National Assembly; and both report and must answer to the National Assembly, which, to remind, is elected by the people in a system of direct and indirect elections, and which is the highest authority in the nation.
Changes were also made in the structures of local government, seeking to improve governmental responsiveness at the local level. The new Constitution replaces the fourteen provincial assemblies of the nation with provincial governments. The provincial governments are directed by governors, who are elected by the municipal assemblies in their respective provinces. The provincial governors convoke and preside over meetings of the Provincial Council, which are composed of the Provincial Governor, Provincial Vice-Governor, and the presidents of the municipal assemblies of popular power in the province. (To remind, the delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies of the nation are elected by the people in a direct and secret vote, in which voters choose from among two or three candidates that emerge from neighborhood nomination assemblies).
As in the Constitution of 1976, the new constitution defines the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power as the highest local organ. In the new Constitution, delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies of the nation are elected for terms of five years, changing the 1976 Constitution, which established terms of two and one-half years for delegates of the municipal assemblies.
As is evident, the new constitution, as it seeks a greater administrative efficiency of the State, preserves the hallmark characteristics of the Cuban political process, which were beginning to emerge in the 1960s, and which were institutionalized in the Constitution of 1976. As we have seen, it is, in sum, a system that concentrates authority in the National Assembly, which is the legislative branch. The National Assembly elects and oversees the executive and the judicial branches; it enacts laws; and only it can reform the Constitution. The deputies of the National Assembly are nominated by the delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies, and subsequently elected by the people in referendum. Said delegates of the 169 municipal assemblies are elected previously by the people in secret and direct voting in 12,515 voting districts, choosing from two or three candidates nominated by the people in neighborhood nomination assemblies, without the participation of electoral political parties.
As we have seen in this series of posts on the new Cuban Constitution, the new Magna Carta of the nation has been developed through a thorough and careful process, illustrating the relations among the Party, the government (the National Assembly), and the people. The Party initiated reflection and analysis on a new constitution in 2013, and it submitted a proposal to the National Assembly in 2018. Most of the members of the Assembly are Party members, but in evaluating the proposal of the Party, they are functioning as the elected deputies of the people. Upon receiving the Party’s proposal, the Assembly formed a Constitutional Commission, consisting of some of its members. The Constitutional Commission submitted a draft to the Assembly, which debated and modified it, and approved it for a popular consultation. The consultation consisted of 133,680 meetings held during a period of three months in neighborhoods and places of work and study. Approximately 75% of the adult population (16 years of age or older) attended the meetings, and 25% of those present expressed an opinion or made a proposal, and each opinion or proposal was noted by a representative of the Constitutional Commission. The Commission undertook a thorough analysis of the opinions and proposals, on the basis of which it modified the draft, and presented the modified draft to the National Assembly. The National Assembly debated and modified it, demonstrating seriousness and political maturity in their debate. The Assembly approved the draft with its final modifications for popular referendum, to be held on February 24, 2019. Here we see the basic dynamics of the Cuban political process: The Party guides, educates, and exhorts; the people, through there own capacity to speak and their own mass organizations, and through their elected deputies to the National Assembly, decide.
The people, their elected deputies, and the Party are most satisfied with the process that is nearing culmination. No one doubts that the people will vote overwhelmingly in support of the Constitution on February 24. When they do so, they will vote for sovereignty, affirming the right of the nation to decide for itself the characteristics of its political-economic system. They will vote for democracy, confirming the structures of popular democracy that they have been developing since the early 1960s, which ensure that political power is in the hands of delegates and deputies of the people, and not in the hands of politicians with debts to those who finance their political careers. They will vote for continuity, proclaiming that the passing from the scene of the generation of the revolution does not mean rupture, but a continuation by a new generation of the same struggle that was launched in 1868, when a landholder freed his slaves and formed an army of national liberation, and that reached a more advanced stage with the revolutionary triumph of 1959.