On December 21, 2018, at a Plenary Session of the National Assembly, Homero Acosta, speaking on behalf of the Constitutional Commission, made an excellent four-hour presentation of the revisions in the document made by the Commission, based on the popular consultation. Beyond his duties as a Commission member, Acosta is Secretary of the Council of State, which is the executive branch of the Cuban government, elected by the National Assembly.
Acosta described the principal changes in the text. Concerning the Preamble, the phrases “clandestine struggle” and “proletarian internationalism” were added, even though very few proposed it, because they were good suggestions. The word “communism” was included to eliminate confusion over its not being included, which only had to do with the fact that communism pertains to a future stage.
The few proposals rejecting the socialist character of the revolution and the constitutional definition of the role of the Party were rejected by the Commission, because of the few number of people proposing it, and because of the ample popular support for these principles. In addition, the Commission rejected the proposal of 4,802 citizens to change name of the country to “Socialist Republic of Cuba,” for historic reasons and because of tradition.
There were some changes made with respect to the section on Economic Fundamentals, specifically the article that defines the various forms of property in the context of a socialist economy. The description of private property was amplified, such that its complementary role in the socialist economy is affirmed. There were more than 400 proposals for the elimination of private property, and a few proposals to eliminate the market. Acosta maintained that these proposals “do not know our reality.” Some compañeros are prejudiced against self-employment, but workers that are not part of the state sector are part of our revolutionary process, Acosta argued. “This is a reality that we have to accept; this is the reality of socialism in our circumstances.” Foreign investment, also, is necessary for our development, Acosta affirmed. The Constitutional Reform of 1992 recognized this. Even the Constitution of 1976, when there was no foreign investment, suggested possibilities of cooperation of this kind. We have to abandon prejudice against foreign investment and recognize its place, as well as that of self-employment, in the socialist economy, he maintained. The article now makes more explicit that the state regulates and controls the manner in which all the forms of property contribute to economic and social development. And the new constitution continues with the affirmation of the 1992 reform, that the socialist property of all the people, in which the state acts in representation of the people as proprietor, is the principal form of property.
An article was added with respect to science: “The state promotes the advance of science, technology, and innovation as necessary elements for economic and social development.”
One article affirms that “the State creates conditions for guaranteeing the equality of its citizens.” Acosta maintained that this is different from absolute equality. The State works to create more equality, but it also has to create more wealth, and this sometimes involves adopting measures that promote more inequality. The adoption of internal use of foreign currency in 1993 is an example, but it had to be done. We do not presently have the conditions for total equality, and we cannot do things that are beyond our capacity, Acosta argued. However, responding to the concerns of some for growing inequality, the Commission amended the article to include, “the State makes effective this right [to equality] through the implementation of public policies and laws that promote social inclusion and the safeguarding of the rights of persons whose condition requires it.”
The Commission amplified the article on the right to employment, identifying the role of the state to help the unemployed to find employment. It amplified the article on health, designating the responsibility of the state to ensure that the system of public health is accessible to the population and to develop programs of prevention and education. It amended the article on education, rescinding the proposal in the draft to exclude post-graduate education from the right of citizens to free, quality education at all levels.
In response to the polemical debate on the proposal to define marriage as “union between two persons” (see “The Cuban people speak” 1/18/2019), Acosta explained that a new chapter on “Families” has been included. He stressed the designation of families in the plural affirms that there are many types of families, including traditional families, single parent families, and multigenerational families, as well as couples. Among Cuban couples, 52% are married; and 47% are consensual unions. And there are homosexual couples. This is the reality, and the Commission believes that the Constitution has to legitimate what exists.
However, Acosta continued, the Commission believes it must accept and be respectful toward the various opinions, on both sides of the debate. We want to arrive at a position that respects both sides; this Constitution must reflect equilibrium and consensus. Therefore, the new formulation does not mention the subjects that enter into marriage. It sets aside the debate for another moment, by requiring that the National Assembly develop a new Family Code within two years, and that development of the Code include a popular consultation and a referendum.
Acosta declared that with this resolution of the issue by the Commission, there are no winners and losers. We all win (a declaration greeted by applause). We continue to affirm the rights of all, and we will not abandon the struggle. But we have to recognize what is possible today, in a form that respects the positions of all.
Acosta took issue with persons who maintained that presidents are elected directly in other countries. This is not true, he stated. Many systems of parliamentary elections have second level elections for head of state. Including the United States (referring to the Electoral College). He maintained that the Cuban system is more democratic, because of the direct vote of the people in the formation of municipal assemblies, and the direct vote of the people affirming the second-level elections for the National Assembly. “We have to defend our form of election. We respect the systems of other countries. Ours too should be respected.”
With respect to the limit of two consecutive terms on important offices of the government and the setting of age limits, Acosta maintained that these proposals came from the Party, and they did not originate in the Constitutional Commission itself. He cited comments by Raúl on various occasions, who argued that the situation is different from the earlier years, when the Revolution confronted many challenges. Acosta also cited Fidel on this matter. The Commission wishes to maintain these proposed restrictions, in accordance with the views of the Party, its historic leader, and its present leader.
A modification was introduced in one of the articles with respect to proposed changes in the structures of government. The new office of provincial governor is to be elected by the delegates of the municipal assemblies of popular power in the province, rather than being designated by the National Assembly.
Homero Acosta concluded his four-hour presentation with the affirmation, “Never before in the world has an entire people participated in the development of a Constitution.”
I will discuss the debate on the new Constitution in the National Assembly in my next post.