An overwhelming majority in Cuba said yes to a constitution that brought new regulations while declaring the socialist system "irrevocable.”

Voters cast their votes at a polling station during a constitutional referendum in Havana, Cuba, February 24, 2019.
Voters cast their votes at a polling station during a constitutional referendum in Havana, Cuba, February 24, 2019. (Reuters)

In Cuba, voters said yes to a new constitution reaffirming socialist rule last Sunday. While critics complained about the lack of a fair campaign ahead of the referendum, many view the changes as promising.  

This is how the referendum came to be and what it means for Cuba:

Opponents cite an undemocratic campaigning process and concerns about the expected changes

Critics of the new constitution say the ratification will be a further continuation of Communist Party rule and oppression. 

In Cuba, the government has a monopoly over traditional media and indulges in internet censorship preventing access to several websites. Arguing that the government has campaigned for the ratification in an uneven playing field, opponents say the new constitution was approved through an undemocratic process. 

Despite internet restrictions and the high price of 3G to access international media, dissidents who found no voice in the mainstream media managed to get the #I’mVotingNo (#YoVotoNo) hashtags to trend on Facebook. Many of those saying ‘no’ didn’t necessarily oppose the changes, but they were against the unfair nature of the process.

However evangelical Christians and some of those who didn’t approve the ratification were more concerned about the proposed changes rather than the process itself. The evangelicals in the country mainly object to language that eliminates a requirement for marriage to be only between a man and woman, paving the way for the future legalisation of same-sex marriage. 

The government backed down on redefining marriage as a ‘union between two people’ but said it would raise the issue again in the future.

For others who said no, any change within the same political system means a further strengthening of Cuba’s socialist system which has only one political party, the Communist Party. 

An overwhelming majority ratified it

Nearly 87 percent of 8.7 million potential voters in the country ratified the proposed constitution in a vote on Sunday, replacing the 1976 document that was confirmed under late leader Fidel Castro. 

More than 700,000 Cubans, 9 percent of voters, said no to the new document and 4.5 percent of the ballots were deemed invalid. The turnout decreased to 84.4 percent from 98 percent in 1976, when Cubans ratified the previous constitution.  

Although citizens were allowed to observe the count, there were no independent observers monitoring the process.

It restructures the government, economy, and some civil rights

The new constitution restructures the government by introducing the role of prime minister while limiting the terms a president can serve. Other executive functions such as provincial governors and municipal mayors have also been introduced with the aim of decentralising governance.

The new constitution is also seen as a legal standing for Castro’s economic reforms, which were not being applied under the Cold War-era constitution. Legalising private property for the first time, promoting foreign investment, and encouraging entrepreneurship are seen as significant steps towards bringing reforms in line without legal restrictions. The new constitution also offers a direct tax system. 

Legal representation upon arrest and the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ are some of the other changes introduced with the new system. 

It declares the socialist system ‘irrevocable’

The new constitution reaffirms the one-party socialist system as irrevocable, and its new goal has been set as ‘the construction of socialism’. The previous constitution had a goal of ‘building a communist society’.

Critics say the constitution, which states thta humans can reach full dignity through socialism and communism, fails to guarantee individual freedom of expression.

It might further deter US-Cuba ties

In a press statement on February 26, the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called the entire process a carefully managed political theatre and repression of public debate.  

Under the US presidency of Barack Obama, the countries restored relations in 2016, when he lifted trade and travel restrictions that were adopted in 1959 during the Kennedy administration. However, the administration of Donald Trump has stunted the normalisation process since he came to power. 

Tensions rose in February this year with the crisis in Venezuela, where the US supports the opponents of Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Pompeo’s comments came after Trump described Maduro as a “Cuban puppet”.

Source: TRT World