Cuba plans 135,000 meetings to get public feedback on its proposed constitution

A member of the National Assembly studies the proposed update to the Constitution, in Havana, on July 21, 2018.
A member of the National Assembly studies the proposed update to the Constitution, in Havana, on July 21, 2018. ACN via AP

Copies of Cuba’s proposed constitution went on sale this week in preparation for three months of national meetings where Cubans will be asked for their opinions and suggestions in advance of a constitutional referendum.

Cuba still hasn’t released a complete timeline for its constitutional approval process, but the comment period will run from Aug. 13 to Nov. 15 with the referendum expected early next year.

The constitutional rewrite makes changes such as adding a prime minister, restructuring the top echelon of government, imposing term limits, and allowing gay marriage.

The government said the changes were needed to reflect current Cuban reality as well as to incorporate reforms that began when Raúl Castro was president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers. He retired from those posts in April, but still heads Cuba’s Communist Party.

More than 135,000 meetings will be held in workplaces, schools, community centers and abroad to solicit feedback on the draft, according to Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party. The meetings will be run by 7,600 two-person teams who will receive specialized training.

On Tuesday, the first of about 600,000 copies of the proposed constitution went on sale for one Cuban peso (4 cents) at newsstands and post offices in Havana and the central provinces, and the government also posted an online version for download. By Friday, the government hoped to have copies of the text available across Cuba.

After the feedback period, a constitutional reform commission will evaluate the public’s suggestions and the constitution will be sent back to the National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, for approval. That’s expected to happen late this year or early next year. When the final version of the constitution is set, there will be a nationwide referendum where voters will be asked to vote yes or no by secret ballot.

Carlos Alzugaray, a Cuban academic and retired diplomat, said he expects the referendum will be held by next Feb. 24 at the latest and then the new constitution will probably be implemented in the July 2019 session of the National Assembly of People’s Power. But Cuba also might call an extraordinary session of the National Assembly before that.

This is the first time that Cuba has done a total rewrite of its constitution since 1976. The government has been working on the new 224-article constitution since 2013. It has 87 more articles than the current constitution. Eleven articles stayed the same; 113 were modified and 13 were eliminated.

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