A Highly Questionable Constitution / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 February 2016 — The current constitution — ratified on February 24, 1976 and with significant amendments added in both 1992 and 2002 — was based on document developed by the executive committees of the Council of Ministers and the Politburo, and submitted to the chairman of a drafting committee created for this purpose.

Unlike the 1940 constitution, it was not drafted under the direction of an elected constituent assembly, one in which the full range of political opinion — from extreme left to extreme right — was represented. Nor was it debated article by article before being adopted.

In addition to the base document, the current constitution incorporated aspects of the constitutions of all socialist states existing at the time. The first version was pieced together with scissors and glue, borrowing heavily from the constitutions of the USSR, both the one in effect at the time as well the Stalinist era constitution. After various revisions, a final draft was presented for public comment to so-called mass organizations (in essence government-run organizations) in a manner consistent with all formal public referenda in Cuba. It was later submitted to the First Communist Party Conference in 1975 before being approved in a public referendum.

The 1992 revisions were fairly minimal. One amounted simply to changing the name of the Isle of Pines to the Isle of Youth. In light of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, language was inserted allowing for limited foreign investment. It eliminated the phrase “being subject to” in reference to Soviet Union, which had ceased to exist. In an over-controlled economy, it allowed for self-employment in some non-essential areas. Some organizational changes were made to local government assemblies. And terms were altered to declare Cuba a “secular” state rather than an “atheist state.

Fearing a segment of the dissident movement led by the now deceased Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas might take advantage of a constitutional loophole — a referendum was hastily called in 2002 to pass an absurd amendment declaring socialism in Cuba to be “irrevocable.”

Cuban constitutions prior to this one, beginning with the Guaimaro constitution, have always been considered temporary and valid only as long as they respond to the conditions under which they arose and the objectives which they pursued. Their final articles always stipulated they could be amended or changed. None have ever purported to be eternal or declared that any of their articles are irrevocable.

Unlike its predecessors with their non-eternal character, the current constitution is overly specific. It attempts to squeeze every aspect of Cuban society into a straightjacket — a new feature also not shared by the others — giving rise to contradictions which are difficult to reconcile.

Unlike the 1940 constitution, the latest constitution has never been one in which citizens had a stake or one which was concerned with their interests. They have looked upon it as just another document, not even bothering to familiarize themselves with its key points. In fact, the authorities themselves have made little use of it, not even teaching it in schools. Today’s average Cuban is completely unaware of this so-called Law of Laws and could not care less if it is amended or completely revamped.

Given this sad state of affairs, the excessive government propaganda surrounding the fortieth anniversary of the constitution’s adoption is striking.