Reports from Cuba: More about the constitution

Fernando Damaso in Translating Cuba:

More About the Constitution

Arlequín. Héctor Catá.

The 1940 Constitution, considered one of the most democratic, advanced and well-balanced constitutions in the world, was prepared by important and well-known representatives of Cuban society, politics and economics, selected by way of free and honest elections, to form the Constituent Assembly, in order that each party could publicly set out its constitutional programme.

It ended up with seventy-seven selected delegates (42 opposition and 35 government), including statesmen, intellectuals, lawyers, polemicists, parliamentarians, experts in international law, workers’ leaders, and political leaders, representing all ideological and political perspectives, from the most radical to the most conservative. Although some historians say there were eighty-one, I am going on the figures provided by Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling, which I consider the more accurate. In the end it was signed by seventy-one delegates.

All the debates were public and transmitted on the radio, with the press giving its opinions and debating the issues, putting things before the public and creating an atmosphere of patriotic fervour and real popular participation and discussion.

What is happening now, as in 1976, and its subsequent reforms, ends up as a totalitarian reform, with a project put together by a chosen group of Party and government officials, whom the people don’t know and, most of them having no public reputation apart from representing the different current national ideologies and politics. The process is run by the ancient Party and government directors, like an updating for the present day economic situation, without touching the policies, which are dogmatically maintained, with the objective of holding onto power for as long as possible.

They consider that a Constitutional Assembly is unnecessary because the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power has within its functions that of drawing up or reforming the Constitution. It is well-known that this doesn’t serve present-day Cuban society, but only the monopoly Party, to which it is completely subservient.

The public don’t know what is being debated either, as discussion is held behind closed doors, with only skimpy information provided later by the official press. Everyone knows that the so-called popular participation, opinions and suggestions, are swamped by a massive formal exercise, so that most people have no idea what the Constitution stands for, and, even less, its legal complications, having to just get on with accepting without question whatever is proposed, as has been the custom for the last sixty years.

It seems to have been forgotten that constitutions are not academic documents or bureaucratic formulas, but wide-ranging social pacts, which are routed in vigorous controversy, and in which consensus may be found. It is by way of such processes that constitutions are validated and acquire their relevance.

The current process, which excludes any democratic debate or participation by all Cuban social points of view, makes for a second rate constitution, incapable of achieving the importance of the 1940 version.

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