A Constitution, or Raúl Castro’s Bequest?
As I wrote in this publication publication some years ago, in mid-1975 I asked Blas Roca – designated by Fidel Castro as president of the commission that drafted the Constitution of 1976 – which constitutional text had been more arduous to write: the one approved in 1940, in which he participated decisively, or the one whose final touches are soon to be approved.
The leader of Cuba’s communists until 1959 answered me, in his slow speech, that the circumstances behind the drafting of the two constitutions had been very different. He told me, in a plaintive tone, that in 1940 every paragraph or important point had to be negotiated “extensively and intensely with the bourgeois members” of the Constituent Assembly.
Of course, he did not point out that this was, actually, a great expression of democracy. In fact, said process was so democratic that it allowed Blas and his five Communist colleagues in the Constituent Assembly to include concepts and points of view from the Communist Revolutionary Union Party (PURC) with regards to labour and social issues. Would Raúl Castro and his “constituents” do the same with the political parties on the island, despite the savage repression?
The Constitution of 1940 was drafted by a Constituent Assembly elected by the people at the polls and composed of 76 leading intellectuals, jurists and politicians, including the six Marxist-Leninist delegates of the PURC previously mentioned. The nation’s entire political-ideological spectrum was represented in that assembly.
And, best of all, the debates, at the National Capitol, were broadcast on radio and enthusiastically followed by the people. The Communist Party (PURC) launched the “From the factory to the Capitol” campaign, and the workers filled the assembly hall.
That Constitution – which supplanted that of 1901 – established rights that many constitutions in the world did not have: the individual’s inalienable right to decent employment, a minimum wage, a maximum eight-hour day, paid holidays, the right to strike, free unionisation, and government aid in the event of unemployment, disability, old age and other contingencies.
It also enshrined the freedom of expression, assembly, and political association as individual rights. It recognised the right to private ownership of the means of production, and the separation of the three branches of government. That Constitution was a source of national pride, considered internationally one of the most advanced in the world.
What a sad contrast. Almost 80 years later, in the 21st century, in Cuba the most disgraceful process in the West’s recent memory is underway to enact a new constitution. Its development is so outrageous that it will be undermined before the ink is even dry. The ultimate paradox is that it will be unconstitutional.
To begin with, it does not emanate from a Constituent Assembly elected by the citizens, but rather is being drafted in secret by a small group of cronies of the dictator, who appointed himself president of the team in order to exclude from the Constitution (that is, to place above it) the Communist Party (PCC) and the country’s top military brass.
In any normal country the powers of the nation, including that of its military hierarchy, are subject to a constitution and a sovereignly elected civil power. Cuba, however, is “different”. Raúl Castro, Cuba’s generals and the country’s traditional military cadre, who also make up its high command, will not be subordinated to the Constitution, or to anyone or anything. They have never been.
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