HAVANA – The Cuban National Assembly published on Wednesday the country’s new Constitution, which maintains the country’s communist political and national aspirations at the same time that it cements the timid economic opening of the past decade, this coming at a time when concerns about the lack of foreign currency are hanging over the island.
The text, publicly endorsed in February with the support of 86.85 percent of the voters and which entered into force on Wednesday after its publication in the Official Gazette, replaced the 1976 charter drafted in the middle of the Cold War under the leadership of the late Fidel Castro.
The central remarks at the solemn act of publication were delivered by former President and current leader of the Communist Party Raul Castro, who also headed the commission tasked with preparing the constitutional reform that he announced in April 2018 as he turned over power to Miguel Diaz-Canel.
The new Constitution entered into force on the 150th anniversary of the launching of the process to draft the island’s first constitution and, Castro said, is a text that is a “product of its time” that “guarantees the continuity of the (Cuban) Revolution and synthesizes the aspirations of all those who have fought for a Cuba of social justice.”
But Castro’s speech, above and beyond discussing the new charter, also focused on the tense economic situation facing the island at this point, where the specter of the Special Period still prevails, a deep recessionary period that Cubans suffered through during the 1990s resulting from the withdrawal of subsidies from the defunct Soviet Union.
Over the past year, the Cuban government has recognized on several occasions the existence of what it calls “financial tensions,” a situation that in practice has resulted in intermittent shortages of basic products such as flour, cooking oil, chicken and certain medications in the state-run supply network.
Castro urged his countrymen to “be prepared for the worst variant” of the economy and predicted that “the situation could get worst in the coming months,” although he ruled out a new Special Period because “today the panorama is different regarding the diversification of the economy.”
The tightening of the US embargo, the woeful and long-standing inefficiency of the state-run business system, the crisis in Venezuela – Cuba’s main economic ally – and the weather disasters over the last three years all factor into explaining the country’s current economic problems despite the slight economic opening fostered by Raul Castro during his 2008-2018 mandates.
Given this situation, the former president called on the public to “redouble your efforts” to increase production, especially of food, adopt habits to save resources, optimize the use of energy and prevent fuel theft.
He also called on his fellow Cubans to “resist and overcome the new obstacles that are being placed around us by the escalation of the economic and financial siege,” an allusion to the US embargo, and emphasized that “the old yearning to topple the Cuban Revolution by means of economic asphyxiation and penury failed in the past and will fail once again.”
The new Cuban Constitution includes 229 articles and a number of other features and during a three-month period was submitted to public debate and discussion.
The text acknowledged private property and considers foreign investment to be necessary, although it maintains the Communist Party as the “superior guiding force” and confirms that communism is the goal.
The new charter will also be bolstered by more than 100 new laws, the first of which to be taken up by the parliament will be the election law, according to Castro.
Before the end of the year, those laws will implement most of the small political modifications contained in the new document, including establishing the posts of prime minister and provincial governors and limiting the president to two consecutive terms in office.
The latest elections on the island – municipal, provincial and general – were held between the end of 2017 and April 2018 and culminated with the handing over of power by Castro to Diaz-Canel, a 58-year-old engineer who is the first Cuban president without the surname “Castro” in five decades.