The holding of more than 80,000 popular consultation meetings on the draft Constitution to date, with the participation of more than a million Cubans within and outside the country, reveals the widespread interest in its content, and the confidence that all views will be considered and contribute to the final text.
Such categorical support for this democratic and sovereign exercise supports the essential definition offered by the First Secretary of the Party Central Committee, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, during the central act to mark the 65th anniversary of the assaults on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Garrisons: “The Constitution of the Republic is the fundamental law on which the state is based, and thus is the most important legal and political document of any country, since it defines the foundations of the nation, the structure of powers and their scope, as well as guaranteeing the rights and duties of citizens.”
This last aspect, outlined in “Title IV: Duties, rights and guarantees” of the draft text, is among those which have raised the highest expectations, as Doctor of Juridical Science, Martha Loyda Zaldívar Abad, told Granma International. She noted that this was because at the heart of constitutional texts are the duties, rights and guarantees outlined within them.
“The fact is,” explained the Professor of Constitutional Law and General State Theory of the University of Oriente’s Law Faculty, “that without belittling the rest of the important content, citizens naturally prefer to hear about respect for their rights and their guarantees, rather than paying attention to their duties.
“This happens all over the world and especially in Cuba, where the Revolution has always respected rights, has had people’s dignity at its core, and has granted them never-dreamed of guarantees, such that, given that legal-political link between Cuban citizens and the state, it is said that the Constitution is the reflection of society.”
On this basis, as soon as the meeting to discuss the draft Constitution in the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Department, in the province of Santiago, addressed the aforementioned Title, Major Melba Luna argued that Article 40, which reads: “All persons are equal before the law”; upholds José Martí’s principle of “With all, for the good of all.”
She added: “We are faced with a momentous change for Cuban society, when we cannot leave any loose ends, and as well as considering the protection of the family, motherhood, fatherhood, and marriage, set out are responsibilities and obligations in terms of conduct, the education of children, and their duties to their parents.”
In reference to one’s responsibility to care for their parents, non-commissioned officer Ángel Luis Silva noted that he was not raised by his parents: “I didn’t have them by my side during my childhood or in my youth, but today they are two elderly people, I feel no resentment toward them, and every day I feel the satisfaction of seeing how much they value me.”
Another consultation meeting, this time at the Hatuey Brewery, saw further suggestions regarding additions to the constitutional draft. Ariel García, in reference to the guarantees of legal certainty contained in Article 48, suggested that it be added to paragraph 158, that the right to “receive legal assistance to exercise one’s defense” applies from the moment of one’s arrest.
Undoubtedly, a sense of belonging has been evident throughout the country during this far-reaching process. In little more than a month of study and consultations on the future Magna Carta, the Cuban people have been able to learn more about constitutional matters.
Debates have focused on the wide range of rights contained within the text, such as public health, education, decent employment and remuneration, the protection of children and adolescents, and the right to live in a healthy environment. Also the various views expressed on the definition of marriage as the voluntary union of two people, cited in Article 68.
In addition, significant attention has been paid to the adequate protection of workers who are unable to continue working due to disability or illness; the support families should receive in the case of a worker’s death; the right to maternity and paternity leave; to social welfare; and to inheritance.
Regarding land inheritance, Captain Marciano Galindo proposed that heirs be allowed longer than the currently stipulated 90 days to claim their rights.
Meanwhile, at a further meeting held in the provincial National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) headquarters, Gloria Sánchez suggested that the social security protection afforded children of workers who die, currently up to the age of 17, be extended for those who continue their studies at university, until their graduation.
In the opinion of Dr. Zaldívar Abad, widespread identification with the draft text is due to the coherence and scope of the duties, rights and guarantees outlined within it, which, unlike in the current Constitution, are concentrated in a single chapter.
However, she noted that, as a result of the contributions stemming from this broad democratic debate, further improvements can be made to the text, before the final draft is put to a vote. She proposed the possible inclusion of a chapter dedicated to “collective” or “solidarity” rights, to incorporate both existing and new contributions in this area.
“In such a case,” she continued, “the right to live in a healthy and balanced environment (Article 86 of the draft); the right to water (Article 87); consumer rights (Article 89); the right to peace (Article 43), could all be grouped together, as well as possible new incorporations, based on the evolution, interests and needs of our society.”
Article 39 of the draft Constitution establishes the principle of progressive realization and non-discrimination as regards human rights, thus allowing for such evolution. Faithful to the country’s history, and the determination of the Cuban people to defend their gains, fundamental rights and duties are established and repeated throughout the text.
This is evident from the Preamble on, where the concern for, and importance of, a subject as sensitive as human rights is established, as part of the inspiration in the heroism and patriotism of those who fought for a free, independent, sovereign, and democratic homeland, with social justice.
In addition, it is stated that the Magna Carta is preceded by Martí’s wish that “... the fundamental law of our Republic be the tribute of Cubans to the full dignity of man.” Indeed, the first article reiterates that “Cuba is a socialist, democratic, independent and sovereign state of law, organized with all and for the good of all.”
Without having reached the half-way point of this singular popular consultation process, history is already being made. The legal-political ties that allow citizens to demand that they be recognized, that guarantee and protect their rights, as well as the imperative that they fulfill their duties to their compatriots and with the state, are a fundamental part of this process.
Article 40. All persons are equal before the law, are subject to equal duties, receive the same protection and treatment from authorities and enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities, without any discrimination based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic origin, skin color, religious belief, disability, natural origin or any other distinction that is detrimental to human dignity.
Article 91. The exercise of rights and freedoms foreseen in this Constitution imply responsibilities. These are the duties of Cuban citizens, in addition to others established in this Constitution and in law:
- Serve and defend the Homeland;
- Observe the Constitution and other national laws;
- Contribute to public expenditure as established by law;
- Show due respect toward authorities and their agents;
- Undertake military and social service in accordance with the law;
- Respect the rights of others and not abuse one’s own;
- Conserve and protect the property and resources that the state and society put at the service of all the people;
- Meet the requirements established for the protection of health and environmental hygiene;
- Protect the country’s natural resources and cultural and historic heritage, and ensure the conservation of a healthy environment; act in relations with other people in accordance with the principle of human solidarity and respect for the accepted norms of social coexistence.