Cubans living in the United States and other countries will be able to send suggestions and comments on proposed changes to the island’s Constitution, which will ultimately be presented to voters in a referendum, the government said Friday.
“[The] Cuban Government invites all Cuban citizens abroad to participate in the debate on the draft Constitution,” Cuban diplomat Ernesto Soberón announced on Twitter.
“This participation confirms the will to have the opinions of ALL Cubans,” added the official, who heads a department dealing with the Cuban diaspora at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to Soberón, Cubans abroad will be able to make proposals or comments through an online form that will be available on the digital site www.nacionyemigracion.cu in September.
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The draft Constitution, designed by the Communist Party and recently approved by the National Assembly, will be discussed in a “popular consultation” spearheaded by the Communist Party and will take place between September and November. The final draft of the new Constitution must be approved in a referendum.
Yumil Rodríguez Fernández, a Cuban deputy who was a member of a parliamentary commission in charge of drafting the document, cautioned on Friday that “although all the proposals will be analyzed, they may not all be included in the constitutional text,” the official Cuban website Cubadebate reported on Friday.
Several Cuban exile organizations in the United States and members of the opposition on the island have called the constitutional reform a “fraud” because of the lack of citizen participation in its preparation and the absence of clear guarantees in terms of human rights and political rights.
Some exiles and opposition activists called the government’s invitation a ruse.
“This is theater,” said Rosa María Payá, promoter of the Cubadecide campaign to bring the political system in Cuba to a plebiscite. Payá, who travels often to Miami from Havana, is the daughter of the late opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, who previously tried to change the constitution through a citizens’ petition drive known as Proyecto Varela.
“The day the government allows exiles to travel to Havana and present their reforms, I will believe in their intention to dialogue,” said exile activist Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement in Miami.
Lawyer Laritza Diversent, who lives in Memphis, said that including exiles in the debate is positive but that she worries about the way in which the process would be organized: “How can we be sure that what we contribute will be taken into account? We are more than three million living abroad. This is not a simple assembly in some neighborhood in the country,“ she said.
Soberón’s Twitter post said that “the participation in the debate of all Cubans abroad on the new Constitution project is an unprecedented fact in the history of the Revolution.”
Under current Cuban laws, citizens who leave the island for more than two years lose some rights, including the possibility of voting in the referendum. Modifications to these policies are not included in the draft document for changes to the Constitution recently approved by the National Assembly.
One change that is included in the draft would have repercussions for Cubans settled in the United States and other countries. If approved, Cubans with dual citizenship visiting the island will be recognized solely as Cuban citizens. This was already happening informally but there was much confusion even among the various authorities on the island because it is not part of the current constitution.
The change formalizes the already established requirement that those born in Cuba must enter that country with a Cuban passport, regardless of whether they have acquired another citizenship.
The changes also could mean that Cuban Americans born in Cuba would receive the same free services that Cubans receive from the state. However, it would limit support that the U.S. Embassy in Havana could provide to those Cubans naturalized as Americans.
If the current version of the Constitutional draft is approved, Cuban Americans born in Cuba also would not benefit from incentives for foreign investment because they would be treated as Cuban citizens. The government prevents Cuban citizens from owning and investing in companies.
El Nuevo Herald reporter Mario J. Pentón contributed to this story.