Cuba to enact new constitution launching modest state revamp

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s national assembly is set to enact the new constitution on Wednesday, allowing the government to launch a modest update of its centrally planned single party system with dozens of laws expected on everything from the economy to political structures.

FILE PHOTO – Cubans attend a public political discussion to revamp a Cold War-era constitution in Havana, Cuba August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

In a February referendum, Cubans overwhelmingly ratified the new constitution after a year of debate, updating its 1976, Soviet-era Magna Carta.

While it retains socialism as “irrevocable”, it codifies changes in Cuban society since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, like the opening of the economy to free enterprise, and includes a political restructuring among other changes.

The document specifies some of the new laws to be elaborated within the next two years, while more broadly stipulating the national assembly must establish a timeline for the around 50 laws needed to bring governing practice in step with the constitution.

Analysts say that while the constitution establishes the broad framework of this intense legislative process, there is leeway for it to enact more or less reform.

“The formation of a more open and democratic country depends on this process and not on the constitution,” said Cuban lawyer and legal columnist for independent media Eloy Viera Cañive.

He said Cubans needed to participate in the process, with recent the expansion of internet giving them a powerful tool to do so. Online protests already led the government to partially backtrack on new regulations on the private sector and the arts last December.

Some hope the upcoming legislative process could result in a greater modernization of the stagnant state-run economy, battling with declining aid from key ally Venezuela and a tightening U.S. trade embargo.

“(We) will be closely watching whether, and how quickly, Cuba moves to turn the constitution’s recognition of new forms of private property into a law that provides ‘legal personality’ for small and medium-sized enterprises that are privately owned,” said Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American history at Florida International University.

Cuba’s growing bevy of self-employed citizens have been clamoring for such a law, that would give them the right for example to import and export, ever since former President Raul Castro started expanding the private sector a decade ago.

The first laws to be addressed, however, are expected to be others. The constitution stipulates that the national assembly must approve a new electoral law to reflect the restructuring of government within a half-year.

Within the following three months, it must elect a president, widely expected to remain Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Castro last April. That president must then appoint provincial governors and a prime minister,- a new post separating the role of head of state from head of government.

The Magna Carta stipulates that within 18 months, new laws reflecting constitutional changes to the judicial system such as the presumption of innocence in criminal cases and habeas corpus should also be introduced.

Meanwhile the process of a popular consultation and referendum on a new family code, that will address the controversial issue of gay marriage, should also be kicked off within two years.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by David Gregorio

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