Mon, Dec 24, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Cuba passes constitution to legitimize businesses

Reuters, HAVANA

Cuban lawmakers on Saturday unanimously approved a revised draft of a new constitution that retains the country’s one-party socialist system, but reflects its socioeconomic opening since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The draft constitution, which has 229 articles and would replace a Cold War-era one, is to maintain the Cuban Communist Party as the country’s guiding force and the state’s dominance of the economy, state-run media reported.

A copy has not yet been distributed to the public.

However, the document also legitimizes private business that have blossomed over the past decade, acknowledges the importance of foreign investment and opens the door to gay marriage, according to state-run media.

It imposes age and term limits on the presidency, after late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his younger brother, Raul Castro, ruled the country for nearly six decades, and introduces the role of a prime minister.

The draft incorporates into an original one published in July hundreds of mainly small changes proposed by citizens during a three-month public consultation at community meetings nationwide.

It would go to a referendum on Feb. 24.

“This process is a genuine and exceptional demonstration of the practice of power by the people and therefore of the markedly participative and democratic nature of our political system,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the national assembly in a speech closing its week-long, twice-yearly session.

The 58-year-old took office from his mentor, Raul Castro, in April, although the latter remains head of the party until 2021.

Critics have said the fundamentals of Cuba’s system were never up for discussion and the government only included suggestions it wanted to.

Some, including opposition groups that typically do not mobilize many people, are already campaigning against the constitution online using the hashtag #yovotono (“I vote no”).

One of the revised articles pertains to the accumulation of property.

Whereas the first draft originally banned this, the revised constitution simply stipulates that the state must regulate it, according to state-run media.

However, the latest draft also reinserts the aim of “advancing toward communism” that was taken out of the first draft.

One controversial revision is the elimination of an article that recognized marriage as the union of two people as opposed to the union between a man and a woman as in the 1976 constitution.

That article was the one that sparked the most controversy in a society that has made great strides in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the past few years, but remains conservative on the topic.

The new draft removes the definition of marriage altogether, thus opening the door to same-sex union, albeit not giving it the same symbolic level of backing.

The government has instead said that it would update the family code and put it to a referendum in the next two years.

“There is no setback,” wrote Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul Castro, who has championed LGBT rights in Cuba, on Facebook.

“The fight continues, let’s give a ‘yes’ to the constitution and then close ranks to achieve a family code as advanced as the new constitutional text,” she added.

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