February 25, 2019
Press Releases

Statement on Ratification of New Cuban Constitution

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Key points:

  • Overall a lost opportunity to significantly expand the political and economic rights of the Cuban people.
  • Mostly top-down process. Changes in response to public consultation largely cosmetic. Does not allow direct challenges to ruling power structure. New civil rights “limited”.
  • Some progress in recognizing private property and encouraging foreign investment. Substantial legislation to establish clear legal protections and certainty must soon follow.

The Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, Ricardo Herrero, issued the following statement in response to the announcement that a new constitution has been ratified in Cuba by public referendum:

“Yesterday, Cubans voted to approve a new constitution. This document represents the most substantial reform to Cuba’s socialist constitution since one was introduced in 1976. Yet in most respects, this milestone represents a lost opportunity to expand the political and economic rights of the Cuban people. Rising dissatisfaction was registered in the nine percent of Cuban citizens who voted “no”, a historically high dissenting vote under the current government.

“The new constitution significantly reshuffles the administrative hierarchy of the Cuban state, but it does not allow challenges to the ruling Cuban Communist Party. While it gives constitutional rank to new civil rights—like habeas corpus and habeas data—these and other enumerated guarantees, like freedom of the press, are subject to “limitations established by the law.” This leaves ample wiggle room for the continuation of exclusionary practices by the Cuban government.

“Indeed, the process of constitutional reform was more of a top-down exercise than a democratic one. The Cuban government invited citizens across the country to participate in hundreds of consultation meetings to discuss a draft document and propose changes. But a committee created the original draft in secret, and, as independent Cuban media have analyzed, most changes incorporated after the public consultation were semantic. Nor is it clear why the commission responded to some suggestions and not others. According to government reports, for example, 11,000 Cuban citizens proposed that they be allowed to elect their president directly—even within the frame of a one-party system. By contrast, only 575 Cubans proposed that the goal of achieving “communism” be reinserted to the document. And yet the latter was the only one of the two proposals incorporated into the final text.

“That said, the new constitution does reflect and portend notable changes in Cuba’s economic order. The document recognizes the strategic importance of foreign investment in the economy, but falls short of granting Cuban citizens equal investment rights. It also recognizes forms of private property, albeit in a complementary economic role. Such provisions open the door to further internal economic reforms, such as the legal recognition of small and medium-sized private enterprises. For this to become a reality, substantial legislation must follow. At the same time, if Cuba really wants to capitalize on foreign investment, it must provide investors with important legal protections and a predictable course of action against adverse or arbitrary government actions.

“At a moment of revived regional tension, the environment does not appear to favor internal economic reform. But in light of Cuba’s precarious economic position, authorities can hardly afford to wait. Of all of the work that needs to be done to adopt existing law to new constitutional tenets, Cuban authorities should prioritize economic matters. If they do, the constitutional reform may bring tangible and at least partially positive results. For now, this current reform falls way short of creating the kind of legal climate that will foster and attract foreign and domestic capital formation.”


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