Cuba

New movement tackles constitutional changes in Cuba

 

ngameztorres@ElNuevoHerald.com

More than 300 roundtable sessions that attracted 2,400 people were held last weekend in Cuba, part of a project to reach a consensus among political players and civil society — inside and outside Cuba — on a proposed constitution.

The debates of the so-called Constitutional Road Map, driven by opposition figure Manuel Cuesta Morúa, include the hope that thousands more people will sign on to the project, known as Constitution Assembly Now.

Morúa, leader of the Progressive Arch movement, said that the discussions focused on finding a consensus about whether to reform Cuba’s current constitution, reinstate the 1940 constitution or create a new one.

The initiative comes as a government commission is conducting a closed-door study of possible changes to the constitution.

Although the 72 organizations currently working on the road map are mostly in the opposition, Morúa said Tuesday that “the idea is to open the process to all citizens. It’s about reaching a wider legitimacy with the participation of citizens not linked to the opposition. This is not a discussion among opposition groups, and this first activity proved it.”

Morúa said that among the 2,400 participants were many people who were not activists or opponents of the Cuban government, and that the roundtables should fairly “open the discussion to citizens in their communities.”

To avoid government control — authorities often prevent similar meetings — the nature of the meetings and the places where they were to be held were not announced in advance.

The last attempt by civil society to change the constitution, known as Varela Project and driven by the late opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, was dismissed by the National Assembly in 2002 after it was presented with more than 10,000 signatures. The Varela Project advocated for a new electoral law, as well as laws protecting free expression, freedom of the press and to peacefully assemble, and other measures.

In 2002, the National Assembly passed the Law of Constitutional Reform, which affirmed that “Socialism and the revolutionary political and social system established in this constitution . . is irrevocable, and Cuba will never go back to capitalism.”

But Morúa is confident that, unlike in the 1990s, “the need for change is now shared by the majority of Cuba’s population. We don’t want to stay with the minimal 10,000 signatures required by the Cuban constitution to ask for changes, but we want to create a movement and a critical number of supporters so that the authorities will not be able to file away the proposal in a drawer.”

Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban political expert living in Mexico, thinks the initiative has little chance of succeeding, though it does constitute a good political strategy, and “retakes the legal issue of citizens’ rights. To appeal to any rights, even those in effect, is highly subversive in a context like the Cuban society. On the other hand, it picks up on the idea of coexistence among Cubans.”

In recent years, the debate in Cuba on the need to reform the constitution has spread among academics, jurists and other members of civil society that present themselves as being independent from the government.

In a recent interview, Cuban jurist and historian Julio César Guanche said the current constitution is “outdated” in contrast to the United Nations’ human rights accords. In his judgment, “it’s very important to widen the catalog of citizens’ rights and guarantees in Cuba.”

Guanche said that the economic reforms underway in Cuba should be accompanied by constitutional changes. “The magnitude of the changes that are being made and must be made deserve a new constitution.”

In February, the magazine Layman Space, which is published by the Archdiocese of Havana and has debated the issue for years, hosted a panel at which Roberto Veiga, the magazine’s editor, said that the constitutional changes should include laws to defend the people, the revision of Article 5, which turns the Communist Party into “a control force beyond politics,” and the direct election of the head of state.

In an article that the magazine devoted to this topic in 2009, Veiga also advocated for reinstating habeas corpus, the legal doctrine that requires a detained person to be brought before a court.

Another panelist, Dimitri Prieto, had asked to insert “freedom of movement, religion, expression, the press, and assembly and demonstration” in a future text.

Veiga does not believe in “a great conciliation with totalitarian aspirations,” for what “we need is as many groups and proposals as possible and then foster a dialogue among these groups and the society. But for that, it would be necessary for the Cuban government to open a public space for such discussion.”

Morúa believes that debates like those of Layman Space “remain in the elite. This is about reinventing the citizens’ legitimacy as a mechanism to drive change. If the citizens’ discussion finally determines that the current constitution must be reformed and not create a new one, we will follow what the citizens say,” he concluded.

Morúa said that in July an event similar to the “Round Tables of Constitutional Initiative” will be held in Miami.

Read more Cuba stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
This is the raft on which 16 Cubans sailed from Cuba to Alligator Reef Light off Upper Matecumbe Key this week.

    THE KEYS

    Cuban migrants found suffering from dehydration off the Keys

    Sixteen Cuban migrants were intercepted off the Upper Keys on Wednesday afternoon, and seven of them needed medical attention after suffering from extreme dehydration.

  •  
Sixteen migrants are found crammed in this tiny boat around Alligator Lighthouse, which is about four miles offshore of Islamorada in the FLorida Keys.

    IMMIGRATION

    More than a dozen Cuban migrants rescued at sea in Keys; several taken to hospital

    A small blue homemade boat with a blue-and-white sail was discovered floating near Alligator Reef Lighthouse, about four miles offshore of Islamorada, on Wednesday. Crammed inside the motorless vessel were 16 Cuban migrants lying down, suffering from dehydration, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

  •  
Elsa Lopez looks at her clothes and shoes she wore when she left Cuba with her parents at the age of two at the time. Her items are among several donated by Exiles on display at the VIP opening and presentation of the The Exile Experience: Journey to Freedom, at the Freedom Tower. The exhibit is a pictorial account of the struggles that the Cuban exile community has endured since Fidel Castro's rise to power, and the successes they have achieved in the United States, organized and curated by the Miami Dade College and The Miami Herald, on Wednesday September 10, 2014.

    MIAMI

    Exhibition chronicles Cuban exiles story

    More than 1,000 people crammed into the Freedom Tower Wednesday night for a peek at an exhibition that honors one of the city’s oldest buildings – and captures the tales of hundreds of thousands of Cubans who fled the island and made Miami their new home.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category