Five Questions: Cuba’s Constitutional Reforms

A street scene in downtown Havana, Cuba.
By Barbara Gutierrez

A street scene in downtown Havana, Cuba.

Five Questions: Cuba’s Constitutional Reforms

By Barbara Gutierrez
Will proposed changes to Cuba's Constitution make a big difference to the island nation? UM News asked UM's experts.

Cuba’s top lawmakers made changes to the Cuban Constitution the weekend of July 21 that appear to be a way to move the island into the 21st century. Among the changes are the acknowledgement of private property and the legalization of same sex marriage.

UM News asked several of the University of Miami’s experts on Cuba what these changes might mean for the future of the island.

UM News: Why are these Constitutional changes significant?

Andy S. Gomez, former UM assistant provost and former interim director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

These are the most significant changes since the start of the revolution. Raul Castro is very pragmatic and understands that the revolution needs to streamline its system in order to survive. These are domestic policy changes that demonstrate how the Cuban government will move forward once Raul Castro is no longer alive.

One of the most significant changes was creating the role of a prime minister who will run the day-to-day operations of the country, as well as creating provincial governors, which they never had before. The role of the prime minister is to coordinate the work of the state and provincial governments. I believe they want to create an infrastructure to facilitate local and state economy and attract more investment.

Lillian Manzor, associate professor of Modern Languages and Literature, UM College of Arts and Sciences:

These changes to the Cuban constitution, although they are being voted upon now, are the result of discussions that were started about ten years ago about the role of the PCC (Communist Party of Cuba) in Cuba’s economic and political system as well as about private enterprise. Some changes, such as the redefinition of marriage, for example, and setting limits on the presidential term (five years with option to be reelected only once) are significant but overall the main tenets of the proposed constitution are the same as the previous one: the state will continue to regulate economic activity centrally. From the press coverage it seems that the proposed constitution is catching up with the times. Cuba today is not the Cuba of the 1970s, and its relation to the world is also different than what it was 40 years ago.

 

UM News: Why was the word Communism removed from the Constitution?

Michael Touchton, assistant professor of political science, UM College of Arts and Sciences:

This is cosmetic, from a policy perspective, but it is a serious, important public relations move. The government gains legitimacy by no longer fighting a battle for global communism that was so clearly abandoned everywhere else with the end of the cold war. Fighting instead for socialism, equality, and sustainability represents a much more palatable rebranding that may resonate with the Cuban people and contribute to perceptions of government legitimacy.

Andy S. Gomez, former UM assistant provost and former interim director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

Former Cuban President Raul Castro has been talking about the “advanced socialist state” and current Cuban President Miguel Diaz Canel continues to be clear that the Communist ideology will be a guiding force in ruling Cuba. However, removing the word communism from the constitution is a recognition that the majority of Cubans, especially the youth, no longer support the Marxist Leninist ideology.

 

UM News: Why make same sex marriage legal at this time?

Andy S. Gomez, former UM assistant provost and former interim director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

Mariela Castro (Raul’s daughter) has advocated for this issue for years. To me, this is a way to allow a bit of pressure out of a social pressure cooker and allow certain segments of Cuban society, including the LGBT community, to have some breathing room.

Lillian Manzor, associate professor of Modern Languages and Literature, UM College of Arts and Sciences:

Same sex marriage will require legal changes. However, the redefinition of marriage as “between two people” as opposed to “between a man and a woman” is significant. Again, Cuba’s approach to homosexuality has been changing because society has changed and Cubans have changed. This is not to say that there is no homophobia; homophobia continues to exist and there is bullying in schools. Mariela Castro along with the team at CENESEX and other groups have been working very hard for many years to bring about changes with respect to sexuality in medicine, in education, etc. Homosexuality was de-penalized in 1997 and the Labor Code in 2013 was changed in favor of regulating against discrimination because of sexual orientation. So these changes reflect what the society has accepted in spite of the opposition from various religious groups. The constitutional change may then facilitate changes in the legal system.

Michael Touchton, assistant professor of political science, UM College of Arts and Sciences:

One way to look at this is as a concession to rapidly changing social norms and a drive for civil rights, but without extending political rights, like freedom of speech or assembly. Thus, the move is likely to be popular among young Cubans and seen as progress, but does not threaten the party’s power in any way.

 

UM News: Acknowledging private property could be perceived as weakening the power of the state. Why now?  

Lillian Manzor, associate professor of Modern Languages and Literature, UM College of Arts and Sciences:

Private property has already been recognized. Cubans have been buying and selling homes for quite a while. We have not seen the text of the constitution but I don’t think there is any weakening of the power of the state. It recognizes various types of property that can coexist and it includes private property but it seems clear that the state will continue to control and plan the economy centrally.

Andy S. Gomez, former UM assistant provost and former interim director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

The Cuban government wants to give the perception that they will acknowledge personal property. It is a way for them to attract foreign investment. What foreign investor will invest in the island if there is no acknowledgement of personal property?

 

UM News: What remains the same in this constitution?

Andy S. Gomez, former UM assistant provost and former interim director of UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

The Cuban government is still firmly in power. The upper echelon of the Cuban National Assembly and the Council of States is still the same, not many ministers have changed. We may be seeing a more open model, but the government is still in power.