Cuba

Castro proposes changes to Constitution, including term limits for president, gay marriage

After leaving the Cuban government at age 86, Raúl Castro is proposing a new constitution that would limit the age of future presidents to 60 at the start of their first terms.

The constitutional reforms, discussed Saturday by the Cuban parliament, also would erase the word “Communism” from the document and open the way for same-sex marriage, according to official TV broadcasts of the gathering.

But the proposed constitution repeats that Cuba’s socialist system is “irrevocable” and says the Communist Party is the only legal party and holds a “vanguard” role in the country’s affairs.

Castro and his late brother Fidel ruled Cuba until well into old age. Miguel Díaz-Canel, 58, succeeded Raúl Castro as head of the government in April.

Castro has often spoken about the need for a “generational change” in the government leadership, and the need to enforce term limits on future presidents.

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba from 1959 until 2006, when he suffered a grave health emergency and passed the reins of power to Raúl.

Raúl Castro, who is still in charge of the Communist Party and heads the commission that wrote the draft of the constitutional changes, seems to be taking steps to avoid a long run at the top by another president.

The draft restricts presidents to two terms and says they must not be older than 60 at the start of the first term. The proposed new system of government also calls for a division of powers at the top.

The draft’s proposals for the posts of president, vice president and prime minister have sparked speculation about the powers that Díaz-Canel might really have.

The issue appears to be sensitive, and the secretary of the Council of State, Homero Acosta, spent time explaining to parliament that the president would not be a “ceremonial” figure, especially because it will be the president who will nominate the prime minister to the parliament.

It’s not a matter of “a ceremonial, figurehead president, but a president with [real] functions in the government,” Acosta said.

Nevertheless, the president will not be directly in charge of the Council of Ministers — which would be run by the Prime Minister — nor the Council of State, which Raúl and Fidel Castro and Díaz-Canel have headed.

Although U.S. analysts doubted preliminary reports published in the official news media, it has now been confirmed that the draft says the president of the parliament, the National Assembly, will also preside over the Council of State — making that person very powerful.

The Assembly, if the draft is approved as is, also would have the power to interpret the constitution — a role held by the highest courts in most other countries.

The official web page Cubadebate also reported Saturday that the new constitution would define marriage as “the consensual union between two people, regardless of gender.” That’s been one of the demands by LGBTI groups on the island and Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela, who heads a sex education center in Havana.

Acosta underlined that the language of the Constitution must be flexible, and that several laws will have to be changed in order to implement the constitutional reforms.

Other aspects of the draft have been less surprising.

The president will continue to be elected by parliament and not directly by voters — a change that many Cubans wanted.

And the new constitution will recognize private property but “retains the essential principles of socialist ownership by the people over the basic means of production and central planning as a principal component,” according to the official Granma newspaper.

The draft constitution must be approved by the National Assembly and will be submitted later to a referendum.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @elnuevoherald.com



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