New “rights” mean nothing to slaves if they remain slaves to the state.
Cuba’s new constitution preserves Communist power
Its liberalising reforms largely reflect facts on the ground
CUBA is famous for being a place where time seems to stand still. Its cars and buildings look much the same as they did in 1959. Yet change has been afoot ever since Fidel Castro’s brother Raúl succeeded him in 2006. The first reforms were economic. The younger Mr Castro legalised self-employment, and let citizens sell their homes. Next came a thaw with the United States—only partly reversed by Donald Trump—in which the two re-established formal relations.
And what of political reform? In April Mr Castro handed the presidency to Miguel Díaz-Canel, a younger Communist Party official. Raúl has spent the past few months working on a revision to the constitution, passed in 1976 when Cuba was a Soviet satellite. The National Assembly approved the new text on July 22nd. It has not yet been released, but will be sent out for public consultation before being put to a referendum. It can be safely assumed that Yes will win.
To judge from excerpts published in Granma, the state newspaper, the revised constitution will write Raúl’s “updating” of the Cuban model into law. It will reorganise the national and local governments, legalise private property and pave the way for same-sex marriage. A clause labelling Cuba as progressing towards a “communist society” has been dropped.
Yet for all the headlines Raúl’s reforms have yielded, the twin pillars of Fidel Castro’s rule—the Communist Party’s monopoly on power, and the state’s domination of the economy—remain in place. Rather than scrapping the old ways, Mr Castro is trying to preserve as many as possible, given the constraints of an era when Cuba lacks the charismatic leader and foreign patronage (from the Soviet Union and then Venezuela) that sustained it for so long.
By keeping the private sector down, the government is protecting its own loss-making firms, which dominate the economy. During the legislative debate over the constitution, Oscar Luis Hung Pentón, an economist, vowed that “they will continue as the main source of funding upholding the revolution’s social advances.”
The real challenge for Cuba is how to sustain its grossly inefficient centrally planned economy in the absence of a foreign sponsor. At his speech in the assembly, Mr Díaz-Canel cited America’s trade embargo as a cause of Cuba’s economic struggles, likening it to “El Dinosaurio”, a one-line work of fiction by the writer Augusto Monterroso. “When he woke, the dinosaur was still there,” it reads. The same could be said of the Communist Party.
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