New Cuba Constitution, Recognizing Private Property, Approved by Lawmakers

Members of the Cuban National Assembly in Havana on Saturday, during a session debating constitutional changes.

MEXICO CITY — Cuban lawmakers on Sunday approved a draft of a new Constitution that would seek to modernize the nation by recognizing the right to own private property and opening the door to the possible legalization of same-sex marriage, among other economic, political and social changes.

The document would also encourage foreign investment and strengthen the judicial system, including recognizing the presumption of innocence.

The draft Constitution would significantly reorganize the government. It calls for creating the position of a prime minister, who would share power with the president, and governorships for the nation’s provinces.

Before it can become official, the document, which would replace the current 1976 Soviet-era Constitution, will be put before the public in a series of meetings around the country and then be voted on in a national referendum, a process expected to take months.

President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, who replaced Raúl Castro in April, said the approval process would unify the Cuban people and underscore the “genuine democracy” of the nation.

“This exercise of direct participation of the people acquires political relevance and will be a further reflection that the revolution is based on the most genuine democracy,” he said Sunday, according to Granma, Cuba’s state newspaper.

The economic reforms envisioned in the charter would provide a degree of constitutional recognition for market changes that have already been underway, including the private enterprise that has sprung up.

During his two terms as president, Mr. Castro took steps to loosen the state’s grip on the economy and open up the nation to a small but vital private sector and to more foreign investment.

“Essentially, they’ve changed so many things in the last two years that a lot of things that are happening are technically unconstitutional,” said Ted Henken, professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York.

While the draft omits a clause from the current, 42-year-old Constitution laying out the goal of building a “communist society,” it still reinforces the one-party system with the Communist Party as the guiding force in society.

Indeed, the Cuban leadership has insisted that the proposed changes do not represent a move toward the adoption of a capitalist system. Socialism, Granma declared, “is irrevocable, and Cuba will never return to capitalism.”

The president of Cuba’s National Assembly, Esteban Lazo Hernández, said the deletion of the reference to communism did not suggest that the nation’s political leadership was “renouncing our ideas.” Their vision, he said, remained one of “a socialist, independent, prosperous and sustainable country.”

Andy S. Gomez, the retired director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, called the draft Constitution a “really big” development.

“This is the first time that they’re trying to give some domestic order to how their government functions,” he said.

Mr. Gomez said the vote Sunday followed days of legitimate debate within the National Assembly, perhaps for the first time ever, with scores of legislators weighing in.

While Cuba under the proposed Constitution “is far from a democracy,” Mr. Gomez said, the reforms seemed to point toward “a very different government than we have seen in the last almost-60 years.”

Some of the changes contained in the draft Constitution — which has not been publicly circulated, but has been described in some detail by Granma — would also modernize the law to catch up with changing social attitudes throughout Cuba and Latin America.

Homero Acosta, the secretary of Cuba’s council of state, told lawmakers on Saturday that the draft defines marriage as a union between two individuals, not exclusively between a man and a woman, Reuters reported.

“The possibility of marriage between two people strengthens our project’s principles of equality and justice,” Mr. Acosta said, according to Reuters.

He said, though, that legal recognition of same-sex marriage would require more legal changes. Even the proposed constitutional change redefining marriage will probably meet strong opposition from religious conservatives in Cuba, who have been lobbying against it.

Sunday’s vote, which was unanimous, according to Cuban state media, came a day after lawmakers in Havana approved a new cabinet appointed by Mr. Diaz-Canel. Most of the ministers from Mr. Castro’s government will continue in their posts.

Analysts also said that many details of the proposed Constitution remained to be publicized, leaving many Cubans and observers wondering whether the document will include certain reforms that would probably find widespread support in Cuba. These include more freedom for nonstate media and greater liberties of association and expression.

“If they allow these rights to be exercised, it is a great step forward,” said Rafael Rojas, a Cuban historian and professor at CIDE, a university in Mexico City. “But we must see the final text of the Constitution to know.”

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