They call it “a fraud,” “a trap” and “illegitimate.” Those are some of the words Cuban government opposition activists on the island and in Miami use to describe a proposed new constitution endorsed recently by the National Assembly.
The text would recognize private property — already legal in certain cases — and open the way to same-sex marriage, but retains the socialist nature of the political system and the Communist Party’s sole control of the government.
“Same-sex marriage will be approved … as part of a strategy to try to portray Cuba in a false manner, with a disguise of modernity,” dissident Ailer González said during a debate posted on YouTube from Havana by the Estado de Sats opposition group.
“What is unprecedented about this is that the fundamental freedoms of Cubans nevertheless continue to be denied,” González added.
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A draft of the revised constitution, made public on Tuesday in Havana, includes a formal recognition to the freedom of expression and association but within the limits of current laws that restrict those rights. It also does not provide for direct elections for top government jobs or guarantee the participation of emigrants in the life of the country — changes demanded by different groups on the island and abroad.
“At this time, when Gen. Raúl Castro, in charge of the Cuban Communist Party, arbitrarily announces a new constitution, we who oppose this one-party regime denounce the illegitimacy of the process and all laws that violate fundamental rights,” said a document on rights and freedoms published last week by the Interamerican Institute for Democracy in Miami.
Originally drafted by the Committee for Human Rights, the document has been endorsed by several organizations of exiles and dissidents on the island.
The proposed new constitution “is a fraud that the Cuban dictatorship wants to impose on our country,” said Rosa María Payá of Cubadecide, which is pushing for an independent plebiscite on the island’s political system. “This is a big trap. We don’t accept it. It’s not legitimate and the international community should not lend itself to this game.”
Much of the criticism of the proposed constitution is based on how it was drafted and the mechanism established for its approval.
Official news media reports indicate that the entire process was controlled by the Cuban Communist Party (CCP), and that the National Assembly joined the process only after the draft was well advanced.
“The project is the result of the work started by the Working Group, led by Army Gen. Raúl Castro Ruz, which was created by the (CCP) Political Bureau on May 13, 2013,” the official Granma newspaper reported. The members of the working group remain unknown.
Five years later, and after the CCP’s Central Committee approval, the National Assembly in June endorsed creating a commission “in charge of preparing the draft of a constitution” that was submitted to the Assembly six weeks later. Castro, whose presidential seat was passed to Miguel Díaz-Canel in April, also led that commission.
Castro gave more details about the process during a speech last week, saying that Cubans will be able to discuss the draft from Aug. 13 to Nov. 15, and that opinions gathered during that “popular consultation” will be taken into account by the National Assembly as it edits the final version of the constitution.
The consultation will be “a transcendental political and democratic exercise whose success will depend first and foremost on the active and committed participation of Cubans under the leadership of the Communist Party and the participation of the Communist Youth Unions and the mass organizations, which must ensure that each citizen understands the need for and reach of the changes that we must make in the constitution in order to guarantee the irrevocable character of socialism and the continuity of the revolution,” Castro declared.
The lack of citizen input as the text was drafted is one of its key “democratic deficits” of the proposed changes to the constitution, said opposition activist Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who is organizing a citizens’ initiative to come up with a separate package of constitutional proposals that would be submitted to the National Assembly.
“The government had the option of opening the conversation about sovereignty, about the role of citizens and their capacity to define the content of the constitution, but it did not,” he added.
Disappointment with the absence of a constituent assembly to draft the text also was evident among leftist sectors that had been studying the issue since Castro announced the eventual reforms in 2011.
“In the current institutional structure, only the (National Assembly) has constituent powers,” attorney Julio César Guanche wrote in the digital magazine OnCuba. “That fact carries with it a grave problem: the constitution transfers sovereignty from the people to the Assembly. It considers (the Assembly) as the constituent power, when it should be the citizens.”
A group of left-leaning experts and academics linked to the digital magazine Cuba Posible, which has been studying constitutional reforms since 2009, had drafted a list of rights that included “the social achievements won by the Cuban people” as well as democracy, truth and memory rights, among others. Most were not mentioned in the official draft.
The final text must be approved in a popular referendum. Some dissidents, like Guillermo Fariñas, are urging Cubans to vote no. Others say they don’t believe that voting no could derail an initiative viewed by the Cuban government as a priority for the survival of socialism.
“This constitution does not represent us. It’s not a matter of drafting a new one. It’s a matter of doing away with it,” said Cuban activist Lia Villares, who is visiting Miami. “Nothing that the dictatorship can write, add or change in that document will say something new. The issue is not to vote yes or no. The issue is that Cubans do not have a right to free elections.”
“When the Cuban people vote yes in this false referendum on the Castro ‘change fraud,’ they will be voting for more slavery. And if the Cuban people vote no, they will be voting for exactly the same thing” because it will maintain the current constitution and the supremacy of the Communist Party, said writer and opposition activist Orlando Luis Pardo.
Activists say the referendum also would lack validity.
“This supposed referendum does not meet the procedural guarantees because there’s no independent vote monitoring, no international community presence, no access to voter registries,” said Payá. “There is no freedom of expression, no possibility of campaigning (against it). No referendum under these conditions is credible.”
The draft of the proposed constitution in fact puts more obstacles before citizen initiatives such as the Varela Project, launched by Payá’s father, Oswaldo Payá, to demand civil liberties. He gathered 10,000 signatures, but the new constitution requires 50,000 signatures before such initiatives can be officially recognized.
Opposition activists stressed that the draft of the new constitution, as it now stands, does not meet the desires of Cubans on the island or abroad.
“I am convinced that it should not be limited to semantic changes or the incorporation of a few demands like same-sex marriage,” said Yoandy Izquierdo, editor of the independent magazine Convivencia and member of a research center by the same name. The center has drafted a proposal for a new constitutional framework that includes 45 proposed laws.
“To keep it from becoming an unpopular or cosmetic maneuver, the constitutional reforms must include the petitions and proposals of all free citizens who are ready to propose new roads towards a prosperous, peaceful, democratic and civilized co-existence for Cuba,” Izquierdo said.
“We must take into consideration the two lungs of the only Cuban nation — the island and the diaspora, which have long agreed on the need for a new constitution that is inclusive and pluralistic and respects the true freedom of Cubans,” he said.