Cuba’s projection: Fundamental Law and the new challenges

The new historical juncture created by the U.S. agreement to initiate the reestablishment of relations takes place in a very complex international and national context, which requires an unbiased and reflective analysis that effectively opens the doors to the future.

That, taking into account the radically different positions in national and international political affairs and forms of thinking between the two governments. For both, the new challenges are on the table. New hopes are reborn; the lost hopes of mutually respectful peaceful and constructive coexistence are renewed.

The new situation creates more favourable conditions to air out our pending issues in terms of greater democratisation and popular participation in the country’s decisions. Any gradual transformation that takes place in social and institutional relations in Cuba, however, should not be seen as a consequence of a negotiation or concession with the great power, but rather as a result of the relaxation of historical tensions that favour a better climate for the domestic dialogue; now, possibly, under more constructive conditions.1

In this context, the purpose of this work is to carry out a critical and unbiased review of the important aspects of our Constitution that should and could be brought into question or modified, with a view to a renovation in current perspectives and the opening to a more democratic future regarding the idea of a “socialist society of progress and sustainable development,” without losing the humanistic principle on which this tradition is inspired, on its essences.

The new realities are going to need new focuses. U.S.-Cuba relations have been dragging on for more than 50 years of violence, misunderstanding, arrogance and even hate…frequently generated by recalcitrant attitudes, on the one hand, and in which positions of resistance broke out and other associated extremes, on the other.

A position of patient understanding – as much as possible – and of agreement will be required, in which all the parties gradually cede something of their intransigent positions to achieve a fairer and more far-reaching coexistence for all.

I understand that shock positions will not facilitate things. I believe that the means to be employed have to be carefully managed for an advance between the different positions to not favour chaotic positions. However, I also believe that the appropriate mechanisms have to be established for those dialogues and principles of social understanding, among all the sectors, excluding those openly subjected to the dictates of other powers and that play along with them. Nevertheless, these criteria should be managed within a social consensus, with an opening and flexibility. And faster than with pauses, but with good sense and a constructive spirit of the necessary freedoms.

The nation belongs to all, “with all and for the good of all”…as long as, in my opinion, the interests are healthy and patriotic and do not respond to grudges or incite positions of social violence.

The U.S. hegemonic position in the world is an almost insurmountable limit because of the sustained and supported ideas of Great Nation, though with considerable differences from the political institutions comprising it.

From the Cuban sphere, which is the one that interests us and about which we can project ourselves, it will not be easy to overcome, with a new spirit of opening, the obstacles of more than 50 years of negative experiences with the U.S. administrations and a part of the recalcitrant historic exile groups, with a large dose of hate and particular interests; on the other hand, insisting on a traditionalist conception of state centric “real socialism,” managed from the historic ruling position, with consequences in the conditioning that this has produced in the “mentality” of certain sectors of the population, can also be counterproductive.

It is about principal questions that can require changes of focuses and allow for advancing in the construction of a citizen conception and practice that make possible the carrying out of a rooted national ideal of progress, full social justice, freedoms and rights, which has also been limited by a state of things that the mutual disagreements between the two countries have nurtured for too long.

History could have been told another way…if from the start of the application of the revolutionary laws an intelligent and moderate policy of rapprochement and negotiation between the two countries would have been imposed. This would have favoured constructive situations with respect to our country’s national sovereignty, instead of the prevailing stubborn position of the repressive stick of the northern neighbour.

But history is not circular; the time line is not retroactive. Therefore those winds brought other storms. Now it is a question of changing, with the burden of time and the wounds, what wasn’t able to be done, what a new and more promising future has in store for us.

In our case, without forgetting the contexts of the confrontations we suffered – at times rather cruel and with all types of damages -, it is about overcoming great obstacles, in order to contribute to lessening the belligerence, arrogance and omnipotence of sectors that are resisting and generate new joint positions, more constructive, flexible and open.

In that sense, the reconstruction of archaic conceptions of other socialisms that responded to interpretations of their time and to the ideological tendencies of other social relations of their time and historical junctures is an essential aspect in which the country could advance.

The state centric and authoritarian conception of socialism, given the acute confrontations of the initial period of the revolution and coming from the ideas of the moment of the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” today have not only lost their validity – which does not obviate the validity of the classist character of social relations – but have also demonstrated – with the fall of the former European socialist camp and the changes in the Asian “socialism” – which are inefficient and incapable of mobilising society and its productive and moral forces toward higher stages of development.

That conception is expressed in our Fundamental Law, whose modifications today cannot be epidermal or naive. Despite the political debates, the referendums and plebiscites to which the proposals that gave it its definite shape at different times were subjected, a superficial analysis reflects numerous limitations and decontextualisations that would require an in-depth reanalysis in the face of a more mature and developed socialism.

In any case, it cannot be obviated that those public acts were impacted by a group of diverse phenomena that made up the subjectivity of the Cubans, among which one could mention:

– The presence of the historic leadership of the Revolution and the almost generalisation of a modus operandi in the Cuban construction of socialism.

– The “naturalisation” of such a conception of socialism like the one mentioned, not just among the leadership, but also among significant parts of the population.

– The advantages and improvements in the quality of life of the population in many known dimensions during the stage of the socialist camp and the ideal of the “brilliant communism.”

– The experience of all types of aggressions from the most recalcitrant sectors of the right in exile and the U.S. government, which strengthened the patriotic spirit of the population.

– The fear that they would “settle accounts” with the country in case of the defeat of the revolutionary position.

– The fear of the authorities’ punishment and social paranoia – always present for the cases considered ideologically “deviated” from the official norms and even when voting against or different in the elections.

– The lack of a promotion of an open reflexive-critical position among the population, instead of the obedience to the ineluctability of the leaders, among many other factors.

Based on the foundations of maturity of a critical political conscience that obviates the major part of the previous factors – today less present due to the debilitation in the system’s economic and political efficiency -, it is necessary to renovate our Constitution, to make it more modern and with a more constructive spirit and impregnated with protagonist popular citizen forms, decision-making and emancipatory – one of the principal essences of the socialist ideal.

We will thus comment on aspects of its articles that, in our opinion, would require questioning and even deep modifications, some because of their theorisation of origin; others because of the changes established in the Guidelines – or with suggestions of channelling them toward other directions, given the case.

Let these questionings of alternative opportunities serve as contribution to the reconstruction of the Fundamental Law that, as is known, is the object of “updating” by a Commission currently appointed by the Party-State.2

Art. 1.- “Cuba is a socialist State of workers.…” Is this the inclusive category today? Isn’t a more diverse society being generated in which not only the workers, but rather other social actors, are included?

“organised with all and for the good of all…for the enjoyment of political freedom.…” What do we understand by “all” in our current reality? Does it not suppose the declaration of diversity, today more than before far away from the always declared homogeneity? What can we understand today by political freedom if it isn’t the right to free speech, organisation and the diffusion of ideas based on a framework of respect? Isn’t it precisely the most limited aspect of our national reality under conditions of permanent war?

Art. 3.- “…the sovereignty resides in the people, from whom all of the power of the State emanates… exercised directly or through the Assemblies of People’s Power….” Is this not one of the most problematic points and of greatest possibility of renovation and development? Has power not been exercised “in the name of the people” under the mandate of a central leadership group, the possibilities of People’s Power being reduced to a minimum, while the people are not the architects of their decisions, nor their “representatives” have the real legal authority of expression, participation and the solution in the fundamental decisions?

(We shall return to this)

Placed in this article is the clause – possibly not very well understood and in which all the factors of limiting subjective value enunciated above operated – on the fact that “Socialism and the social revolutionary political system instituted in this Constitution…shall be irrevocable” (something that many must have understood as acceptable, as confirmation of the ideal of progress in force), but that, in a more detailed reading is qualified with: “and the revolutionary political and social system established in this constitution.”

That is to say, the clause not only affirms the socialist ideal in general (with whose diversity of expressions one could enter into constructive controversies), but rather it presents the formula that what is irrevocable is the form of the current political and social system, which must remain unaltered permanently – though the non-restoration of capitalism is mentioned further down; is this not a finished formula of history (paradoxically Hegelian and Fukuyamian!), that is to say, alien to dialectical and critical Marxism? And does this not close any possibility of proposal for creative changes in our social and political order?…precisely “everything that must be changed” (in the topmost leader’s manifesto of Revolution).

Art. 5.- It is key to the state-centric conception, which places outside popular sovereignty all the principal political guidelines: “The Communist Party… is the superior leading force of society and the State, organising and guiding the common efforts.…”

How is it possible, if it was stated that sovereignty resides in the people, that there exist a higher determining force not subject to popular election, participation and control? Is this not the old vision of the nation’s vanguard Party, “the enlightened” leader of the ignorant individuals and collectives of society? Contradictio in adjecto!

Would it not be better that the role of promoter of ideological-political platforms regarding which “the sovereign” would decide correspond to the Party (parties, political and social movements, etc.?) (even if this were a question of modalities of socialism, of alternatives within its broad conception as social system).

Art. 6, 7.- Is the form of recognising the social organisations (“representing the specific interests of the population”) not the one established with mass organisations built from the top, the ones that had defined historical missions and today, part of them, are a straightjacket for popular self-organisation and expression? Are not some of them out-dated in terms of the needs of the times and hyper controlled by the Party apparatuses, whose guidelines of the moment must continue at all cost, even when at other times they are replaced with others thought of from the Centre?

Are the diverse social, political, religious, professional interests, etc. considered as “specific interests of the population”?

Art. 9.- Is it not based on the supposition – illusorily demonstrated – that the State, per se is automatically: guarantor of the freedoms and rights, expresses the will of the people, is people’s power, guarantor of employment and the meeting of the population’s needs? Does this recognise the difference of position between governmental officialdom and the population in general, which in fact presents numerous distance and inequality nuances?

Art. 14. to 18.- “In the Republic of Cuba, the system of economy based on socialist ownership of the means of production by all the people prevails, and the suppression of exploitation of man by man.… The State directly administers the assets comprising the socialist property of all the people.…” Today we have more diverse forms of ownership and management, does the state “socialist” ownership – as it is conceived – consider the participation of work collectives, possible forms of workers’ self-management and co-management? Or does it, in fact, maintain, in a different way from the capitalist form, the alienation of the workers from the exercise and product of their work and shouldn’t it be reanalysed in depth? Does the Plan, on the other hand, as it is conceived, in centralised form, enable the participation of the social actors and the population, so that it is directly linked to meeting their needs?

Art. 21.- Private ownership of the means of work excludes the exploitation of others’ work, something that has remained obsolete with the profusion of forms of private ownership and subcontracted work, does this not require new formulas of social balance-justice between work and capital to maintain a really socialist course? Will it be possible for the value of both sides to be coordinated on bases of equal rights with profits and decisions?

Chap. II.- Citizenship.- it refers only to the legal formula of belonging to the country; would it not also ne necessary to refer it to the exercise of citizenship in the different modalities of its social application: to the forms of association and protagonist participation in the social and government spheres?

Art. 39.- One modality of “education” is considered: the communist (in the understanding of normative values of the ruling ideology of the institutions in power, would this not imply being subjected to explicit practices in our society, on behalf of the communist education as the magnification of the revolutionary realities and achievements or the ideas of the moment of the leadership and not as broader humanist values?). “Artistic freedom” is approved if the content is not opposed to the Revolution (is this not determined by the authorities of the moment?). Does the “participation of citizens” not remain restricted only to the mass organisations, strictly directed by the policy and under the control of the Party?

Art. 43, 45.- “Equal pay for equal work…. Work is remunerated according to its quality and quantity…social and economic development, without crises…eliminated unemployment…,” does all this, today, not constitute a euphemism and require new focuses of realism?

Art. 53.- “Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of socialist society,” is this not one of the central aspects of our social and political limitations, about which one has to imagine creative and not repetitive formulas of other “democratic representative” societies, but that guarantee those rights?

Art. 54.- “The rights of assembly, demonstration and association are exercised by…sectors of the people….” It is stated that for this there is (that is to say, it is only authorised) “The social and mass organizations…in which the members have full freedom of speech and opinion…,” is it really this way, when they are strictly oriented and controlled by the Party and where basically the related ideas are legitimised?

Art. 58 to 62.- About “freedoms and penal regulations,” the system of citizens’’ guarantees as prescribed by the laws is referred to, are they known and are they carried out, or are they sufficient? And there remains the broad spectrum of interpretation that would be: “contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist State.”

Art. 68.- “…the masses control the activity of the State agencies, their deputies, delegates and officials; those elected are obligated to render an account of their performance, and may be recalled from their positions…,” is this not precisely what must be achieved with adequate mechanisms of citizen participation and transparency and not – in the best of cases – through indirect means, frequently controlled by the Party lines and, in general, in a bureaucratic way, at all levels and not by popular means?

Art. 69, 71.- “The National Assembly…represents and expresses the sovereign will of all the people…the deputies are elected through a free, direct, and secret ballot by the voters, in the proportion…,” would it not be necessary to analyse more the character of the representatives?; that is, in what sense are they representatives, based on what and for what are they elected, to which authorities do they respond…? Is the “free” vote not conditioned to enforced practices of previous selection based on spurious elements and not on the socio-political alternatives and solutions projected by those who are nominated?

Art. 80, 84, 88.- “All sessions of the National Assembly of People’s Power are public…the deputies maintain direct contact with their electors…the proposal of laws is the responsibility (among others)…of at least 10,000 citizens who are eligible to vote”….are the municipal assemblies public or are their subjects known, let’s not say the National Assembly?; are not the district delegates the only deputies in direct contact with their electors and for very specific questions? The rest is pure formalistic fantasy in the cases in which direct contact is established; are the destination of the 10,000 signatures for the proposal of laws known…when they are not liked by the Party-State leadership bodies, without their being popularly endorsed?

Art. 131, 133.- “All citizens… are entitled to intervene in the direction of the

State, either directly or through their representatives…can be elected…” does anyone believe this is carried out this way? Are the nominations not drawn up by the political institutions and based on revolutionary trajectories – loyalty, merits idem and personal qualities, not by positioning and critical and constructive agendas of society? Moreover, are proportions of the National Assembly not decided according to the nomination of those organisations, which respond to the Party lines of the moment? Would that guarantee the expression of the diversity of the people’s ideas, proposals, meeting of their needs and projections?

The aspects presented as problematic only indicate, perhaps, the complicated horizon in which the need for substantial modifications are expressed, some because they are a fundamental part of the established practices, others for not corresponding to the changes taking place in our society, beyond the considerations of the pace and complexities of their processes.3

In a new context of inevitable respect between the different systems and the rooted counter positions, the advance toward forms of stabilisation are required that achieve the development of the basic socialist principles: the population’s active and protagonist participation – in the diversity of their positions; construction of an active citizenry with a constructive ethics of respect for all human rights; predominance of collective forms of ownership and management of the economy – with new formulas to balance the work-capital relationship with the private and state actors and of social and economic self-management; the construction of a new consensus in the ideal of development, social progress and sustainability.

This will also require the participation of the adversaries – not just of the U.S. government, but also the fundamentalist opposition, a toning down of imputations, moderation and understanding of the new reality, beyond the usual defamatory and punitive slogans, so that this leads to the country and its social actors defining the guidelines of their more democratic future.

The contradictions of the Fundamental Law of the Republic to carry out such a historic task can require a gradual and patient strategy – in which everything cannot be changed immediately -, that tends to establish necessary openings and coherences, in dynamic stages, to the extent that the so much mentioned “change of mentality” must and can be spread, understood and made aware as forms of reorientation of the country’s integral development for all the population…and begin through the leadership of the social organisations and the nation.

In this sense, it’s worthwhile to consider the difficult and complicated economic situation of the country, in the face of which any abrupt change could have disastrous results. While some of the changes made according to the Guidelines of the Communist Party of Cuba, in some cases, would seem they are taking too long or have great limitations (municipal autonomy, decentralisation of state enterprises, boosting cooperatives, associations of small private businesses and the exercise of their social responsibility, integration to local and community development, foreign investment, etc.), others like the elimination of a double currency4 are very complex and difficult and even some, like the necessary participation of workers in economic management and in the enterprises, are absent from the outlined perspective.

The gradual strategy, without catastrophic shocks, could go through different means, but would require the recognition of the diversity of thinking and essential freedoms. I subscribe to the reasoning of the famous intellectual and patriotic personality Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes,5 when he dealt with the issue, inspired in his Martí quote of a “brilliant moderation”… “whose foundation is none other than responsible freedom; a nation that has banished, in principle, all forms of violence in human relations…(through) an ingenious argument and thus achieve subtle but stable harmonies.”

However, what’s most probable is that the magnitude of the existing confrontation between the most polar positions, well rooted in facts and historic intransigencies, in the damages caused – moral and at times mortal -, make a rapprochement or even a will for understanding in basic questions among some sectors not very probable. Tolerance, a sense of forgiveness in the context of the lived realities, will not always impose themselves with the calls to good sense and moderation. But there are many nuances in the positions that today exist about Cuba’s socio-political reality, between the Cubans from one tendency or another. We defend a sense of humility and understanding between all people of goodwill and a future vision, of all those who can take the beautiful task of patriotic agreement beyond intransigence and hate. In that strategy of gradualness, Monsignor considers that “one should not start with the most arduous approach, in which the social consensus is more difficult to achieve. The matters under discussion could be organised in such a way that, from consensus to consensus, a climate of greater trust, without extreme tensions, will be created.”

Under the perspective of relativity and creativity, this climate of trust fundamental for the national dialogue (beyond sharing the social system that must emerge from our revolutionary and socialist nationalist traditions) would remain open to debate and possible gradual steps or changes, as the issues pointed out by Monsignor:

“The traditional constitutional division of (the three) powers; …the existence of a single political party that includes in its ranks diverse currents, or of several different political parties, in principle because of their political-ideological platforms…the method of political elections for all public posts of real importance…the sphere of the penalised political crimes”…etc.

I consider of utmost importance his idea that: “In today’s Cuba any project of changes, for a better human promotion, even if it is only temporary, interim and open to ulterior reviews, for it to be congregational and efficient, cannot avoid the exchange or confrontation in dialogue between a very varied gamut of positions, above all what integrates life, be it in its individual dimension, be it in the social….” “It would be a new project of coexistence and integral human promotion, without appealing to fissures or agonies, sharing one same fraternal table of deliberations, exchanges and agreements that really commit us.”

All this is enlightened based on what he considers as “the extraordinary importance, in the immediate term, of the structuring of an effective device of popular control that operates based on decisions, processes and actors…,” which, in his opinion, could coincide with an “original social democracy,” “21st century socialism” or the so-called “participatory socialism.”

In conclusion, the substantial renovation of our Constitution is indispensable, even more so in the new junctures, so that a substantial deliberative and effective popular participation is exercised which, taking into account the range of current social positions of diverse sectors of the population, would try to ponder to the utmost the role of the individual and the collective in their personal and common initiative in all walks of life, as social subject for citizens’ full exercise in the construction of a Nation “with all and for the good of all.” (2015)

1 This coincides with the analysis of Rafael Hernández in his article: “Cuba y Estados Unidos: un nuevo juego” (Cuba and the United States: a New game), in January 9, 2015.

2 NOTE: from now forward, our appreciations are shown in italics and the constitutional text in normal type.

3 Regarding this I recommend the articles by de Julio César Guanche, Julio Fernández, Roberto Veiga and Lenier González who, in the last issue (2-2014) of the magazine Espacio Laical, deal in detail about many questions and proposals on the constitutional issue. As well as diverse publications by Aurelio Alonso, Juan Valdés Paz, Fernando Martínez, Rafael Hernández, Pedro Campos  and others who have significantly worked on the subject.

4 Regarding this, also illustrative is the excellent analysis in the article: “La reforma monetaria en Cuba hasta 2016: entre la gradualidad y el big-bang” (The Currency Reform in Cuba up to 2016: Between Gradualness and the Big-Bang), by Pavel Vidal and Omar Everleny, in Espacio Laical no. 1 2014, year 10.

5 “Cuba hoy: Perspectivas de cambio” (Cuba Today: Perspectives of Change), in Espacio Laical ibid.

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