Cuba is all set to vote on a Constitutional referendum on the Presidential term limits and also widening of discrimination ban. The people of Cuba will vote today on the new draft Constitution which gives its assent to the free market although still retaining communism as the underlined ideology of the island nation. The new draft was approved by the National Assembly last December after many popular consultations. The Cuban Constitution was presented during the Cold War in 1976.
The new Constitution not only gives recognition to private property but also puts a tab on Presidential term to only two consecutive terms of five years each. In addition, a few other changes are also introduced like a new Constitutional position of Prime Minister is created who will look into daily affairs of the state, introduction of a presumption of innocence in the judiciary and also extension of a discrimination ban based on sexuality and gender identity. The clause of marriage equality was a response to a Church pushback. Experts have already expressed the need for a new Constitution as the ground realities in the country have changed in recent times especially the expansion of the private sector.
The people who support the same have stated that the new Constitution is a reflection of various developments which have been taking place in the country ever since the Cold War came to an end. Also, there has been an apparent thaw in relations with the United States after nearly decades of frozen ties. However, the critics state that the changes which have been introduced have grossly missed restructuring of political power as there are no changes made to the one-party system. Also, the President will not be elected by a direct vote. The media is largely promoting a “yes” vote while the opposition is vying for a “no”. Latter will actually spell a huge win for the Cuban opposition symbolically as the referendum is not just for the new draft of the Constitution but also on the newly formed government of Miguel Diaz-Canel who had taken office last year. Diaz-Canel had succeeded Raul Castro.
It is learned that even the government supporters have different visions and thoughts about the draft but all those voices are overshadowed by the need for unity in the wake of a highly aggressive foreign policy by the US.
The country has been severely hit by the 60-year old US embargo. The economic crises which unfolded in Venezuela had a bearing on the oil access in Venezuela. The government in recent years have pushed to make the economy more sustainable. It started when the Raul Castro government lifted restrictions on market and encouraged the development of private businesses and also foreign investment. As per the official statistics of the government, nearly 580,000 Cubans have independent employment. Earlier in the week the government also cleared many more activities which will support entrepreneurial ventures including artistic productions. All these changes have been formalized in the new Constitution by recognition of private property. Other forms of property are state, cooperative and joint ventures.
The US President Donald Trump has expressed doubt over the recent normalization of bilateral relations and even the economic ties between US and Cuba which had been achieved by the former US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. In a stark contrasting of viewpoints, Trump has completely advocated further tightening of economic barriers while Obama had always called the economic embargo as outdated. The experts have stated that the referendum will not have much effect on the US hostility towards Latin America largely and Cuba in particular and latter will continue to be a target.
President Trump had stated last month that he was considering reactivation of a US law, which had been lying dormant since 1996, which will actually make lawsuits possible against all the businesses which make a profit from property taken by the Cuban government during 1959 revolution. The Helms-Burton Act, Title III which spells potential litigation is revived will make various investors and businesses even from other countries more cautious of putting cash in Cuba. It cannot be ignored that enacting the Tier III will be a grave mistake for national interests of US as it will alienate Canada, Mexico, EU the major US allies and also introduce a flood of lawsuits in US courts. This will thus rule out all possibilities of normalization of relations between the US and Cuba in the future.
It is only a faint possibility if any that President Trump will ever have a change of heart in case of Cuba as he had lately stated in a rally earlier in the week that socialism is dying. President Diaz-Canel took to Twitter to reply to the speech and labeled the latter as arrogant, cynical, immoral, offensive, threatening, interventionist, hypocritical, warmongering and dirty. He stressed for peace in Latin America.
The referendum if passed will lead to prominent changes in the political system of Cuba. It will not only seek to protect the private property but also reintroduce the role of prime minister as a first in the country. The document will thus enshrine the political system for the coming generations. A victory by a huge margin will also mean a grave rebuke to the policies of the existing government. The whole media which is controlled by the state, like TV, radio, print, has only reiterated a “yes” vote.
People are being urged to come forward and vote by the supporters of the government by putting up signs on buildings, doorways and even school buses. There are hardly any supporters of a “no” vote. The government has also conducted many meetings suggesting modifications to the Constitution. The referendum is a golden opportunity for the Cubans to express dissent with the government as the government has guaranteed complete secrecy to the vote and said that all those who either vote no or even leave the ballots blank will not face any kind of retaliation. The official communication, however, maintains that the voters should approve the referendum even if they are not in agreement with all the clauses of the new draft.