What's behind the changes to the Constitution?
At the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the most regressive of all those held thus far, Gen. Raul Castro announced that major amendments will be made to the socialist Constitution.
The dictator said that they will be carried out in the future and, although he did not provide any details, revealed that they would made to "ratify the irrevocable nature of the political and social system endorsed in the current Constitution, which includes the PCC's leadership role in our society."
In short, they are bound to worsen the already appalling Constitution. This is hardly a cause for surprise, because the two changes made thus far, in 1992 and 2002, far from moderating its Stalinist character, actually intensified it. The 2002 version was Castro's response to the Varela project, spearheaded by opposition leader Oswaldo Payá (later killed under quite suspicious circumstances), which called for political reform to expand fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
The initiative had a national and international impact, cited in a speech by former US president Jimmy Carter, before Fidel Castro, during his visit to the island in 2002. The commander was furious, and ordered the National Assembly of the People's Power to approve an amendment to the Constitution stipulating the "irrevocable character" of the Communist system.
The retrograde spirit of the only Communist Fundamental Law in continental history jumps out when compared with the Constitution of 1940. That Constitution was drafted by a Constituent Assembly elected by the people at the polls, and made up of prominent intellectuals, jurists and politicians (76 in total) including six Marxist-Leninist representatives of the Partido Unión Revolucionaria Comunista. The nation's entire political-ideological spectrum was represented in that body.
The 1940 Constitution replaced that of 1901 and established rights not enshrined in many constitutions in the world at that time, such as the inalienable right of the individual to a decent job, a minimum wage, the eight-hour workday, paid holidays, the right to strike, workers' freedom of association, and social security protection against unemployment, invalidity, old age, and other contingencies.
It also ensured the freedom of expression, assembly, and political association as individual rights. It recognized the right to private ownership over the means of production, and the separation of the three branches of government. That Constitution was a source of national pride, considered internationally one of the most advanced in the world.
Copied from the Soviets
The Constitution of 1976, in contrast, was drafted by a commission cherry-picked by Fidel Castro, who appointed Blas Roca as its president, a longtime leader of the Cuban Communists since in the 30s they were allies of Fulgencio Batista. And it was copied from the USSR, with aggravating elements imposed by Castro.
And I assert that it was copied from the USSR because Blas Roca told me as much in early 1976. As he had been a delegate to the Constituent Assembly of 1940, I asked him which constitutional text had been more demanding and difficult to write: that approved 36 years ago, or that which was receiving its final touches, to be approved shortly.
In his soft-spoken tone, he told me that the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the two constitutions were very different, because in 1939 and 1940 each paragraph or important point had to be negotiated "intensely with the bourgeois members" of the Constituent Assembly.
"However," he added, "this one now is more laborious because we do not want to copy anyone, yet we have to take into account the constitutions and the experiences of other socialist countries; Czechoslovakia's, for example, has been very useful."
I think Blas Roca confessed more than he would have liked, and to backpedal mentioned the Czech constitution rather than the Soviet. But it is common knowledge that all the constitutions of the Communist countries of Eastern Europe were essentially copied from that of the Leninist motherland.
In the Cuban case, it is obvious that the ideas of a president of a Council of State controlled by the PCC, rather than a president elected at the polls, and the fact that the PCC and its first secretary constitute the highest echelon of power, above the head of State and Government, were flown in directly from Moscow. Thus, the current Constitution does not even recognize individual rights acknowledged throughout the civilized world, including private property, but rather State ownership (sovjoses), that of small farmers, cooperatives (koljoses), and mixed ownership between the State and foreign investors.
Jurassic in nature, but ...
It is very naive to believe that the constitutional changes that General Castro has alluded to will include the right to private property, or facilitate structural reforms that the country needs, measures incompatible with Castroism's Jurassic nature.
However, the collapse of leftist populism in Latin America, the dire crisis suffered by chavismo in Venezuela, and the ouster of Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Castro's second most important ally, is leaving Castro's cadre almost defenseless, which could force changes to the Constitution in an effort to attract foreign capital and relax the State's monopoly over the economy and trade.
In other words, the foreseeable breakdown of the Sao Paulo Forum and "21st-century Socialism" will impose its own rules on Cuba, which have nothing to do with those of Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Che Guevara or Fidel Castro.
Until there is new leadership on the island, however, and as long as the two brothers continue to run the country, the Constitution will not recognize the right to private ownership of the means of production, nor citizens' basic rights.
The plan that the dictator had lined up when he announced the constitutional reforms will need to be "updated" for simple reasons of survival, but not for the benefit of Cubans. With today's low oil prices, even if the disciples of Chávez continue in power, the current flow of aid from Caracas to Havana cannot be sustained.
Guaranteeing the succession
In short, the core aim of these changes to the Constitution is to institutionally guarantee the succession of the Castros and the "historical" leaders back from the Sierra Maestra days, and to establish a neo-Castroism consisting of a capitalism on the leash of an authoritarian State, with some socialist, fascist, Chinese and post-Soviet elements.
It is likely, therefore, that the positions of the President of the Council of State and President the Council of Ministers will be separated, and the head of State will be stripped of his status as Commander- in-Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR); if Raúl Castro is missing (due to his death, illness, or because he has finished out his term) his replacement as head of State and the Government, presumably Miguel Díaz-Canel, does not form part of the Military Junta, but would become the supreme commander of the FAR without being the First Secretary of the PCC ("number one").
For the first time a civilian without a revolutionary or family pedigree would be the Commander-in-Chief of the FAR, and not the First Secretary of the PCC, who is constitutionally the dictator, a genuine absurdity in a Communist military regime. Fixing this institutional mess will be vital.
Of course, as neither China nor Russia will subsidize Cuba, and the island will depend more than ever on the US, and anti-Castro Cuban exiles (gusanos), anything could happen, albeit uncalculated by Castro's elite.
Cubans' rejection of the regime, meanwhile, is accelerating like never before. And as the song says, "La vida te da sorpresas..." ("Life surprises you").