By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans go to the polls Sunday to ratify a Communist Party-proposed overhaul of the island’s 1976 Magna Carta.
The proposed constitution maintains the one party political system, socialist economy, universal and free healthcare and education, but would also codify changes in Cuban society that have occurred since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union while restructuring the government.
Here are details of how the charter might change Cuba, how open the process of adopting it has been, and what it means for investors.
The new version keeps the Communist Party as the only legal party and maintains its role as the guide of the nation, stating that this is irrevocable. At the same time, it eliminates a ban on the use of private property to exploit the labour of others.
The new version reinforces the state’s dominance over the means of production and land, as well as the role of centralized planning. This too is deemed irrevocable. However, for the first time it recognises the market as a fact of economic life, though it can be countermanded at will by the government.
Private businesses and non-farm cooperatives are included for the first time in the new version as legitimate economic actors. The role of joint ventures and other forms of foreign investment is upgraded from secondary to “important” or “fundamental.”
The president of the nation, who is elected every five years by the national assembly, may serve only two consecutive terms and must be under 60 years of age when first taking office.
The president of the national assembly will now head up the Council of State, previously led by the president of the nation.
A prime minister has been added at the national level to supervise the day-to-day operations of the government, in particular the state-owned economy. The prime minister will be appointed by the president.
Provincial assemblies modelled on the national assembly are eliminated in the new version and replaced by a presidentially appointed governors and deputy governors, whose nominations must be ratified by municipal governments. The governor will preside over a provincial council made up of municipal leaders.
Municipal authority is strengthened. Terms of ward delegates to municipal assemblies are doubled to five years. The position of mayor has been added to that of president of the municipal assembly.
The prohibition of discrimination in the new version adds sexual orientation to an existing ban on differentiating on the basis of race and gender.
The new version adds the presumption of innocence in criminal cases and the right to a lawyer immediately upon arrest and habeas corpus. For the first time a person can sue the state for damages and negligence. However, the judicial system remains unchanged and all lawyers are government employees.
Government opponents have blasted the top-down process as a “fraud” and the referendum as “illegitimate”.
They say that since the final version was approved the government has used its monopoly over the media and most public space to campaign for ratification while censoring other points of view and harassing dissidents.
Cubans are expected to ratify the new constitution, but by a lesser margin than the 97.6 percent ratification of the current one. [L1N20A0US]
The proposals do not by themselves reduce risk or change the rules of doing business in Cuba, but they do further legitimize foreign investment and are another step toward a mixed economy and modern society, according to foreign businessmen and diplomats.
Cuban officials say changes in government structure aim to improve accountability and administration of the state-run economy.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Steve Orlofsky)