Cuba Needs a Constitution That Serves Everyone / Ivan Garcia

Some dissidents believe the best place for the current constitution is a waste basket. Laura Diversent, an independent attorney, is more circumspect.

“Certainly, today’s constitution has innumerable shortcomings. I don’t believe it would be adequate in a democratic Cuba. But in the early stages, as part of a serious and profound process of reform, the constitution ratified in 1992 could be applied. Shortly thereafter, a constitutional convention could be called to draft a new Fundamental Law that is sober, has a solid legal foundation, and that covers the social and political rights of all Cubans,” says the legal expert.

Diversent does not see re-instituting the 1940 constitution as a option. “It is inappropriate, overly meticulous and obsolete for these times,” she claims. For a few years now, intellectuals and Cuban legal scholars from the moderate left, participating in open debate forums sponsored by various online organizations and the Cuban Catholic church, have echoed this theme.

The constitutional challenge cannot be put off. Setting aside their differences, lawyers, academics and political experts who have analyzed the issue have expressed their belief that a vigorous popular democracy is essential. For them, the future of Cuba must, by necessity, be a socialist one.

Voices such as those of Roberto Veiga, a legal expert and director of the publication Espacio Laical*, would prefer a less ideological system of government – one that is inclusive and more effective at managing the country. Veiga, who could accept either a new constitution or the current one with some corrections, foresees a socialist state but would prefer to opt for a moderate form of capitalism with a strong social program.

According this viewpoint the people should decide this at the ballot box. The debates, discussions and forums on the future of the Fundamental Law is a sign that many intellectuals on the island are not idly standing by.

The level of judicial ignorance among Cubans is appalling. In 1976 people obediently went en masse to vote for a new constitution that few had barely even skimmed. In communities and neighborhoods in the Cuban heartland a significant segment of the citizenry is unaware of its anti-democratic precepts. At the end of the 1980s I participatedwith Tania Quinteroin the production of a national television program called Disrepect for the Law. In on-the-street interviews an overwhelming majority ignored what was “the first law of the Republic.”

In an article published in the journal Espacio Laical, the attorneyJulio Antonio Fernández reports the results of a study carried out by te National Assembly of People’s Power in 1987 on “the factors that most affect the development of a culture of respect for law” in which people were asked, “What do you consider to be the law most important to a citizen?” Of the 1,450 who responded, 1,046 did not cite the constitution. Of the 44 who did cite it, 5 were political figures.

And it is the government of Fidel Castro that has been the most flagrant violator of the Constitution. For years it infringed Article 43, where it says that, “The State recognizes the right won by the Revolution of citizens, without distinctions of race, color of skin, sex, religious beliefs, national origin or any other damage to human dignity.” Among its statements it established that they “are served in all restaurants and other public service establishments” and “enjoy the same resorts, beaches, parks, social services and other cultural, sports, recreation and relaxation centers.”

Cubans were third class citizens in their own country. They had no right to stay in or enjoy hotels and facilities designed exclusively for foreigners. A shameful tourist apartheid.

The current Constitution is a complete farce. It needs urgent reforms. Or to be replaced by another. A Basic Law that most people don’t know should not be endorsed in the future. Currently, many do not see it as a protector of their inalienable rights. The current Constitution recognizes several social rights. But excludes political rights and freedom of expression, association and movement outside the authorized olive green autocracy.

In the hands of academics, political scientists, dissidents and citizens remains the task of deciding what do with the current Constitution. If the current one should be rewritten or a new one created. The future of Cuba needs a Constitution that serves all of us.

Photo from Martí Noticias.

*Translator’s note: Espacio Laical (Lay Space) is a journal published by the Archdiocese of Havana and officially tolerated by the Cuban government, whose articles and editorials discuss alternate proposals for social, political and economic change in Cuba.

November 4 2012