HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro denounced on Wednesday what he called the United States’ renewed attempts to destroy Cuba’s leftist revolution and pressure its ally Venezuela, as the national assembly met to enact the new constitution.
FILE PHOTO – Cuban First Secretary of Communist Party Raul Castro Ruz gives a speech, on January 01, 2019, during the celebration of 60th Anniversary of Cuban Revolution at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Yamil Lage/Pool via Reuters
“We have told the U.S. administration Cuba is not afraid and will continue building the future of the nation without outside interference,” Castro told legislators, adding that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was also “writing admirable pages of resistance.”
Cuba’s priorities are the economy and defense preparedness in view of U.S. hostility, he said.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday the United States will announce additional action to hold Cuba accountable for its support of Venezuela.
The enactment of the new constitution will allow Cuba’s government to launch a modest update of its centrally planned single party system with dozens of laws expected on everything from the justice system to political structures.
Many observers are hopeful the government will further update Cuba’s still inefficient state-run economy, which is facing declining aid from ally Venezuela and a tightening of the U.S. trade embargo since Donald Trump became president.
Shortages of basic goods have increased recently, including flour, eggs and chicken, because of a chronic cash crunch, with the state even reducing the size and circulation of its newspapers due to a lack of newsprint.
Castro said on Wednesday the difficult economic outlook would not mean a return to the deep crisis Cuba experienced following the 1991 collapse of its former benefactor the Soviet Union, as its economy had diversified since then.
Cubans overwhelmingly ratified the new constitution in a February referendum 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 1991, 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 assembly must establish a timeline for the around 50 laws needed to bring governing practice in step with the constitution.
Analysts say the constitution gives some leeway in how far the reforms should go.
“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 the recent expansion of the 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.
The first laws are expected to deal with the government, not the economy. The constitution stipulates that the national assembly must approve a new electoral law to reflect the restructuring of government within six months.
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.
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 and Phil Berlowitz