IN the report presented December 21 by Homero Acosta, secretary of the Council of State, during the Second Ordinary Session of the National Assembly of People’s Power’s Ninth Legislature, on the outcome of the popular consultation on the draft Constitution of the Republic, one of the most discussed issues was that referring to the figure of the President of the Republic.
In general, the same wording was maintained in the new version presented to the Cuban Parliament, with some very specific changes.
In this Title, there are four aspects related to the figure of the President of the Republic on which people expressed their opinions (term limit, minimum and maximum age limits, as well as his or her popular election), which remain as they appeared in the draft text, in accordance with the decisions of the Party Congresses and its First National Conference.
In the case of the minimum age requirement, constitutions establish an age in which it is assumed that the individual will have reached the necessary maturity, and have the sufficient experience to accede to the Presidency; the age of 35 is generally accepted.
With regard to the term limit, the document includes what was approved in the Sixth and Seventh Party Congresses and in its First National Conference, where it was agreed to establish term limits on the holding of fundamental state positions. The draft Constitution does not create this limit, but rather assumes a policy already discussed and approved, debated by part of the population and also backed by National Assembly agreements.
This is linked to the maximum age limit. When the draft was discussed for the first time, Army General Raúl Castro offered a broad explanation of the historical and political reasons why he considered that terms should be limited, as well as the argument for a maximum age limit of 60.
When the Proclamation by the Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro was announced on July 31, 2006, in which he provisionally delegated his responsibilities, the Army General was 75 years old.
On February 24, 2008, at the moment when he was elected President of the Councils of State and Ministers for the first time, he was close to turning 77 years old.
When he was ratified as President and his second term began, February 24, 2013, he was close to 82 years of age.
During the Sixth Party Congress, in April 2011, on presenting the central report and referring to the cadre policy, Raúl spoke about the way in which this could be perfected and strengthened: “This will advance further with the strengthening of the democratic spirit and collective work of the leading Party, State and Government bodies, as we guarantee the systematic rejuvenation of all Party and administrative positions, from the grassroots to the comrades with the highest responsibilities, including the current President of the Councils of State and Ministers, and the First Secretary of the Central Committee elected in this Congress.
“In this regard, we have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to limit the holding of the fundamental political and state positions to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.
“This is possible and necessary in the present circumstances, very different to those prevailing in the first decades of the Revolution, then not yet consolidated and the target of continuous threats and aggressions.”
At the same time, Fidel, in a reflection titled “My absence from the Central Committee,” April 18, 2011, stated: “Among the many points addressed in the draft report to the Sixth Party Congress, one of those that most interested me was that relating to power. It reads as follows: ‘…we have reached the conclusion that it is advisable to limit the holding of the fundamental political and state positions to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.’ (…)
“I liked the idea; it was an issue on which I had meditated a lot. Accustomed from the early days of the Revolution to reading news agency wires on a daily basis, I learned of the developments in our world, the achievements and mistakes of Parties and men. Examples abound in the course of the last 50 years.
“I will not mention them, so as not to expand too much on the subject or offend sensibilities. I am convinced that the fate of the world right now could have been very different, if not for the mistakes made by revolutionary leaders, who stood out for their talent and merits. Nor do I entertain the illusion that the task will be easier in the future, quite the opposite.
“I simply state what I believe is an elemental duty of Cuban revolutionaries. The smaller a country is, and the more difficult the circumstances, the more obliged it is to avoid mistakes.”
During the First Party Conference, on January 29, 2012, Army General Raúl expressed: “I take this opportunity to reiterate that, as we move forward in the definition of all the necessary adjustments to the Constitution of the Republic and the complementary legislative framework, among other issues, we will implement the decision to limit to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms the main political and state positions (...) Party Statutes and other guiding documents should likewise be modified.”
And in the 7th Party Congress, in April 2016, he said: “That is why we propose establishing 60 as the maximum age to join the Central Committee, and 70 to assume a leadership position in the Party, which in addition to the limit of two consecutive terms in political positions, will guarantee the systematic rejuvenation of the entire system of Party cadre, from the grassroots. And I repeat that subsequently this will need to be regulated precisely, because there will be those who at 75 or 80 years of age can undertake an important task, but not an important leadership activity, for obvious reasons, and because of the very experience with which we are speaking to you.
“As is logical, if this proposal is approved by the Congress, appropriate modifications will be made to the Party Statutes. We believe that this same policy must be implemented in state and government institutions, and in mass organizations.
“In my case, it is no secret that my second term as President of the Councils of State and Ministers will conclude in 2018, and I will relinquish these responsibilities to whoever is elected.”
In the Army General’s last speech as President, December 21, 2017, he stated: “Finally, compañeras and compañeros, I wish to reaffirm what I have already expressed in the Sixth and Seventh Party Congresses about the benefit of limiting the nation’s principal positions to two five-year terms.
“Consequently, when the National Assembly of People’s Power is constituted on April 19 of next year, my second and last term leading the state and the government will conclude, and Cuba will have a new president.”
On the day of the Constituent Session of the National Assembly’s 9th Legislature, April 19, 2018, when Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez took office as President of the Councils of State and Ministers, Raúl noted: “The 6th Party Congress, held in April 2011, approved the proposal to limit to a maximum of two consecutive periods of five years the holding of fundamental political and state positions.
“The 7th Congress stated the same two years ago, and although this limit has not yet been introduced in the Constitution – a question that we hope will be established within the framework of its reform – since I assumed my second term as President of the Councils of State and Ministers, on February 24, 2013, I expressed that this would be my last, which I reiterated last December when, from this same spot, I affirmed that beginning today Cuba would have a new President.
“It was not necessary to wait to undertake a constitutional reform to keep my word and act accordingly; more important was to set the example.”
These quotes demonstrate that this has been a well thought-out issue, and for this reason the Drafting Commission proposes maintaining the age of 60 and the two terms of office.
As for elections, doubts emerged about how the president is elected, and parallels were also drawn that have nothing to do with the concept and definitions of the Cuban electoral system, or with the way in which its political and institutional systems are organized.
According to the government model and system endorsed in the current Constitution, Cuba most resembles a parliamentary system. Many people say “I want to vote for the President, as in all countries”; and this is a misconception. In parliamentary systems – those that predominate in continental Europe – the President or Head of State is not directly elected, as he or she is chosen in second-degree elections.
Cuba does not need to assume another model as a matter of imitation, or to appear to be more democratic, because its model is deeply democratic. The first condition is that the President is elected a deputy by an electoral district.
In addition, he/she is then elected by the body that represents the will of the people, by representatives directly elected by the people. Those who built the fallacy of direct elections do not follow it; in the United States, for example, the election is indirect, on many occasions it is not the popular vote that elects the president.