Sunday, January 6, 2019

Reforms to Castro's Constitution seek to crush any attempts to offer a legal alternative to the existing regime

"It is clear that tested by the Constitution of the Sovet Union as revised and enacted in 1936, the USSR is the most inclusive and equalized democracy in the world." - Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 1937

Stalin and Castro presided over constitutional reforms in their respective regimes.
Those who claim that "Cuba could have a new government soon if draft Constitution takes effect" are not only ignoring history, but also current events. The 2019 constitution will be Cuba's third revision of a constitution patterned after the Soviet Constitution. The Constitution was drafted and "voted" on in 1976 and copied the Soviet constitution proclaiming "socialist legality" and rejecting the rule of law that is based in custom and tradition. Due to references to the Soviet Union, following the USSR's dissolution in 1991, it became necessary for the regime to update it in 1992. Due to the Project Varela initiative in 2002 where dissidents gathered 11,020 signatures for the reform of the system, the Castro regime revised it making its socialist character "permanent and irrevocable." Now Raul Castro, head of the Cuban Communist Party, is presiding over the revision of the current one.

June 26, 2002, Fidel Castro votes in favor of Cuban Constitution's modification
Stalin's Constitution, copied by the Cubans in 1976, guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. However all of these freedoms were conditioned on pursuing the objectives of the regime to build communism. The only legal political party in Cuba is the communist party.

Evidence that the newest version of the Constitution will be a continuation of the existing system, or worse, can be seen not only in the text of the new draft, but also in laws drafted and enacted in 2018 such as Decree 349. Censorship had already existed in Cuba since 1959 but now with Decree 349 artists are specifically targeted and radically restricted from their work. Cuban artist Coco Fusco in Frieze magazine outlines the full breadth of this law.
Decree 349, was made public last summer and went into effect on 7 December. It criminalizes independent cultural activity that is not authorized by the state. It entails the creation of a cadre of roving inspectors that will be empowered to shut down activities in private recording studios, home-based galleries and clubs. Sanctions range from stiff fines to confiscation of privately-owned equipment to the seizure of homes. Artists on the island see the law as a return to the repressive cultural policies of the 1970s. Before it became law, Amnesty International called Decree 349 a ‘dystopian prospect’ for Cuba’s artists.
Fabian Socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1937 believed Stalin's Soviet Constitution was a democratic example to be emulated by progressives and that the Soviet Union, under Josef Stalin was an inclusive democracy. The tens of millions of dead under Stalin, and the secret alliance with Hitler in 1939 to divide Poland that erupted into World War II led many progressives to grow disillusioned with the Soviet Union. The Webbs managed to continue defending the Soviet Union as a "new civilization" despite these unpleasant facts.

The favorable coverage today of the Cuban government, that ignores its efforts to consolidate the Castro family dynasty with a revised constitution and puppet leadership, is reminiscent of the coverage Stalin received at a time that his regime was engaged in crimes against humanity while unveiling a new constitution. Today, tens of thousands of Cuban troops serve as an occupation force in Venezuela, and Cuban officials are assisting the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua as it violently crushes dissent killing hundreds.

Finally, the fact that both Raul Castro and Josef Stalin served as head of their respective constitutional commissions, and personally invested great time rewriting their respective constitutions should be a cautionary reminder of the nature of the regime in Cuba for those now making optimistic assessments. Historian J. Arch Getty's words with regards to those who lauded Stalin's constitutional reforms should haunt many Cubanologists today:  
 Many who lauded Stalin's Soviet Union as the most democratic country on earth lived to regret their words. After all, the Soviet Constitution of 1936 was adopted on the eve of the Great Terror of the late 1930s; the "thoroughly democratic" elections to the first Supreme Soviet permitted only uncontested candidates and took place at the height of the savage violence in 1937. The civil rights, personal freedoms, and democratic forms promised in the Stalin constitution were trampled almost immediately and remained dead letters until long after Stalin's death.
Raul Castro's reform of the Cuban Constitution seeks to advance socialist legality which means being more effective at crushing any attempts to offer a non-violent and legal alternative to the existing Communist regime.  Considering the prominent role played by General Castro, one should call this newest charter of the Cuban regime, Castro's Constitution.

1 comment:

  1. Hi John,

    You're definitely right that Stalin pretended that the 1936 Soviet constitution was more democratic than it was, considering that Stalin's definition of democracy was fundamentally different from that employed by FDR and Churchill. However, the new Cuban constitution, while preserving one-party rule, is quite incomparable to the 1936 Soviet constitution because it allows for some limited market reforms, unlike the 1936 Soviet constitution, which called capitalism the domain of the imperialists; FDR's State Department would not comment on the 1936 Soviet constitution, and the mainstream US media would not offer favorable coverage of the 1936 constitution.