Cuba’s constitutional history summarizes the struggles of the Cuban people for their independence and sovereignty, the creative thinking of their women and men in pursuit of the construction of a better country, the genuine values of a nation that aspires to be perfected every day.
To say the word Homeland is to have said everything that we need to do when, almost 150 years since the enactment of the first Constitution in Cuba, we are challenged to adjust it to present times, which is nothing more than to advance in the construction of our model of a socialist, sovereign, independent, democratic, prosperous, and sustainable society.
Constitutional reform in Cuba is a responsibility that involves all, that should reflect the economic, political, and social transformations of recent years. But this can not be divorced from the history of the preceding texts, nor the lessons that the nation’s development has left us.
“The destinies of peoples can also be explained through their constitutions,” stated the lawyer and Secretary of the Council of State, Homero Acosta Álvarez, at the inaugural conference of the 9th National Meeting of the Cuban Society of Constitutional and Administrative Law; wise words that encapsulate the commitment to defend what has been achieved and transform what is necessary, as the leader of the Revolution taught us.
The defense of our fundamental rights and principles will depend on what is written today in these sacred words, and their absolute respect; those that speak of Cuba in terms of equality and justice, that have made it an example of humanity.
— Constitution of Guáimaro (1869)
The first constitutional text enacted in Cuba was the Guáimaro Constitution, drafted by the Assembly that met in April 1869, in this town of Camagüey, with the aim of achieving the organization and unity of the revolutionary movement initiated by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes on October 10, 1868, and forming a national government that would govern throughout the Republic.
With this singular event in the history of the Nation, the first Republic of Cuba in Arms was born, and the first Constitution was written, which consists of a preamble and 29 articles. The constitutional text proclaimed the freedom and equality of all men, by abolishing slavery in Cuba, established the branches of government, and recognized the importance of the liberation struggle as a necessary means to achieve independence.
Although its application, as researchers acknowledge, was complicated given the war scenario, due to civilian intervention in the military sphere, among other elements such as regionalism, the lack of unity, and indiscipline that frustrated Cuba’s first independence struggle, it nonetheless provided an indispensable model for the future.
— Constitution of Baraguá (1878)
After the events of Zanjón and the Baraguá Protest, as a result of the ideology of the “Bronze Titan” General Antonio Maceo, and the desire to continue the fight until obtaining the definitive freedom of Cuba, the shortest of the Mambi Constitutions was approved, consisting of only five articles.
The second Cuban Constitutional Law established a Provisional Government to direct the Revolution, which would be composed of four individuals. Legislative and executive functions would be combined in this body, thus leaving aside the concept of three branches of government as adopted in the Constitution of Guáimaro.
— Constitution of Jimaguayú (1895)
The independence struggle was resumed in February 1895, under the unity of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, founded by José Martí. However, his death accentuated political differences that made the decision to adopt a new Constitution irreversible.
The Constitution of Jimaguayú was approved on September 16, 1895, which consisted of 24 articles, and eliminated contradictions between the civil and military command, following the experience of the Ten Years’ War. Hence, a Government Council with administrative and legislative powers was established, while at the same time the military command was granted full autonomy. In this sense, the Constitution of Jimaguayú marked a milestone in Cuban constitutional history.
Article 24 specified that if the war against the Spanish metropolis was not won within two years, another Constituent Assembly should be convened.
— Constitution of La Yaya (1897)
What was established in Jimaguayú was fulfilled on October 10, 1897, in La Yaya, with the participation of 24 delegates representing the insurgent Army’s six corps.
The new Constitution included five titles, and established the requirements to be considered a Cuban citizen, as well as the civic duty to serve the homeland, while military service was established as a compulsory duty of all male citizens.
Meanwhile, outlined were the requirements to occupy the Presidency of the Republic, and individual civil rights, including habeas corpus, freedom of correspondence, freedom of religion, tax equity, freedom of education, the right to petition, inviolability of the home, universal suffrage, freedom of opinion, and freedom of assembly and association.
However, as history recalls, the Constitution of La Yaya was a setback with respect to its predecessor, as contradictions between the military and civil command remerged.
— Constitution of 1901
As the Mambi victory over Spanish colonialism was frustrated, with the United States military invasion at the end of the War of Independence, discussions took place in 1901 among the delegates to the Constituent Assembly, who were to draft and adopt a Constitution for the country in this new context.
The voices of Mambi leaders like Juan Gualberto Gómez, Manuel Sanguily and Bartolomé Masó, among others, resounded against the appendix to the new Constitution – known as the Platt Amendment – which responded to the interests of the corridors of power of the island’s northern neighbor, putting Cuba at its full disposal, so that the U.S. could enter and intervene whenever it deemed necessary.
Years later, President Gerardo Machado promoted a reform of the Constitution of 1901 with the aim of extending his term in office, which was approved in 1928; and in 1934, on the orders of President Mendieta, rapid reforms took place, but none were particularly significant.
— Constitution of 1940
The most advanced Constitution of the Americas at that time was signed in Guáimaro, on October 10, 1940. With a progressive spirit, the Constitution, according to lawyer, intellectual, and political leader Armando Hart Dávalos, expresses, “The Cuban political thought of the 1940s, achieved by public consensus and formalized by the Constituent Assembly, in which both figures of the right and a prominent representation of Communists and the revolutionary forces who emerged in the fight against Machado were present.”
Among other contributions, the new text recognized the right of workers to strike, declared the inalienable right to work, banned discrimination based on sex or skin color, established special protection for the family and women’s equality, defended free, comprehensive education, and public health accessible to all.
Workers’ mobilized, led by Lázaro Peña, around Havana’s Capitolio building during the approval process. However, it was a Constitution frustrated, as “Its most progressive measures were never fulfilled because corrupt and submissive governments prevented this.”
— Constitution of 1976
With the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, a new constitutional law was required. A group of jurists, appointed by political and mass organizations, drafted the new Constitution, which was submitted for discussion, in which more than 6 million Cubans participated.
The document was then considered in the First Party Congress and, as a result of proposals, the preamble and 60 of the 141 articles were modified. “On February 15, 1976, men and women of the people, at least 16 years of age, took to the polls to exercise their free, secret vote. The Constitution was approved by 96% of the voting age population,” explains journalist Pedro García. On February 24, 1976, this Constitution was proclaimed in a solemn and public act.
Later, with the creation of the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP), on December 2, 1976, the election of the Council of State, its president and vice presidents, and the appointments of the Council of Ministers, the institutional framework of the Revolution was strengthened.
— Constitutional Reform of 1978
On June 28, 1978, the National Assembly of People’s Power, in use of its constitutional powers, agreed to amend Article 10, subsection a) of the Constitution, to the effect that the Isle of Pines would be renamed and known from then on as the Isle of Youth.
— Constitutional Reform of 1992
On July 12, 1992, the National Assembly of People’s Power, convened for this purpose, approved the Constitutional Reform Law, aimed at implementing the recommendations of the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, and making the necessary adjustments to the economy to face the Special Period.
In order to make Cuba’s democratic institutions even more representative and to improve their organization, powers, and governing functions, new forms of election were established for deputies to the National Assembly and delegates to Provincial Assemblies. Following the approval of the reform, candidates for these positions were elected directly in neighborhood constituencies.
In addition, the definition of the country as a secular state was included, and the freedom of citizens to practice the religion of their preference. The scope of these fundamental rights for foreigners residing on Cuban soil was also specified.
The Constitution was also amended in order to guarantee and extend the exercise of numerous fundamental rights and freedoms, and the civil and political rights of citizens and foreigners.
— Constitutional Reform of 2002
In 2002, the hegemonic and provocative speeches of then U.S. President George W. Bush motivated mass popular marches throughout the country, at the same time that a new constitutional reform process began.
In an unprecedented popular process, more than eight million Cubans supported the socialist content of the Constitution, and expressed to the National Assembly of People’s Power the need to reform it, to expressly state the irrevocable nature of Cuba’s socialism and the revolutionary political and social system it had designed, as well as to emphasize that economic, diplomatic, and political relations with any other state can not be negotiated under the aggression, threats, or coercion of a foreign power.
On June 26 of that same year, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the agreement that approved the Constitutional Reform Law.
— Beginning of the constitutional reform process of the current Constitution
At the close of the National Assembly of People’s Power extraordinary session, June 2, 2018, the creation of a commission of deputies responsible for the drafting and presentation to the parliament of the new Constitution of the Republic was announced.
The Council of State agreed to propose to the Assembly the beginning of the constitutional reform process, and approved the commission, which is chaired by Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and includes a representation of the most diverse sectors of Cuban society.
According to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, President of the Councils of State and Ministers, this structure has as its fundamental mission to write “a draft proposal of the Constitution of the Republic, which in accordance with the principles of our socialist democracy, will be submitted to broad popular consultation, with our people acting as a constituent body, and after an analysis of the results by this Assembly, in the exercise of its powers, the Constitution will be submitted to a referendum, in which the nation will make its decision on the matter.”
He added, “The principles of the new Constitution will take into account the humanist and social justice principles that shape our political system,” while considering “as unshakeable pillars, the irrevocable nature of our socialist system, sovereignly adopted by our people.”