What Human Rights Are They Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 6 February 2015 — The conversations about normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, which were held in Havana on 21st and 22nd January, didn’t, as far as we know, advance the matter of human rights, because of differing understandings about the topic.

From the Magna Carta in 1215, up to the international treaties of 1966 — by way of the Act of Habeas Corpus (1674), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the Declaration of American Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), and the Universal Declaration (1948) — human rights, at least in the west, are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and are expressed in concepts and principles to do with recognition, respect, and observance of judicial guarantees which protect the integrity and dignity of the human being. Therefore, the referred-to difference lies in reasons unconnected with this concept. A quick look at our constitutional history will demonstrate this.

In 1811, Father José Agustín Caballero, representative of the growing creole class, set out an Autonomous Government Bill for Cuba. This Bill envisaged an Assembly of Deputies of the People with power to pass laws and an Executive Power formed of a representative of the monarch, accompanied by a Council, which would give a collegiate character to the government.

In 1812, the independent-minded lawyer, Joaquín Infante, put together the Constitution Bill for the island of Cuba. This contemplated the division of powers (legislative, executive, judicial and military), tolerated religions, giving predominance to Catholicism, observed the rights and social duties related to equality, liberty and property and recognised freedom of opinion.

In 1821 the Constitution Professorship was created in the seminary of San Carlos. In his opening speech, Father Félix Varela, who was the head of that institution, declared: I would call this professorship, the professorship of liberty, of human rights, of national guarantees, of the regeneration of the illustrious Spain, the source of civic virtues.

In 1832, Father Varela presented to the Courts an Education Bill for the Economic, Political and Autonomous Government of the provinces of Ultramar, geared to Cuban circumstances. This Bill, which was not discussed due to the restoration of absolutism, disapproved of the putting in place of political  liberties and rights exclusively for white creoles. On this basis there was put together the first Cuban Bill for the abolition of slavery.

In 1869 the Constitution of Guáimaro was approved, which applied to the territories occupied by the Mambises. In this, the division of powers was endorsed, and it established that the House of Representatives could not attack the freedoms of worship, publishing, peaceful gatherings, education and petition.

In 1878, as a result of the Zanjón Pact, Spain established in Cuba, among other things, freedom of the press, of meeting and association, which gave birth to  Cuban society.  From those freedoms, the first political parties sprang up, fraternal associations, unions, journalism bodies and the first strikes.

In 1895 in Jimaguayú and in 1897 in Yaya, the second and third Mambisa constitutions were approved. In the first, military authority was split from civil and the civil government was devolved to a Government Council with executve and legislative functions. In the second, the Government Council had the right to pass laws and regulations in relation to the Government of the Revolution and military, civil and political life.

This included a part dealing with individual and political rights, in which everyone in the country had their religious opinions and worship protected, and had the right to freely express their views and also to gather and join together for legal purposes.

The 1901 constitution endorsed the division of powers, the idea of habeas corpus, freedom of expression, rights to gather and join together, and freedom of movement. Under its protection, a whole range of civic associations were created, and an immense network of newspapers and broadcasters. Its effect was reflected in the Protest of the Thirteen, struggles by the peasants, students, and especially the manual workers, who achieved the legalising of the First of May as Labour Day, and played a decisive role in the overthrow of Gerardo Machado in 1933 and the abolition of the Platt Amendment in 1934.

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by GH