Enrique Conejero Paz is Permanent Lecturer in Political Science at the Miguel Hernández University in Elche
On February 24, more than eight million Cubans are called to vote in the referendum to ratify or reject the modifications made to the Constitution of the Caribbean island, in force since 1976. Those who hoped that the new Magna Carta would open spaces for democratic transition will be greatly disappointed. The 229 articles of the new constitutional framework maintain the communist rhetoric and gear of the dictatorship woven over 60 years. New/old rules of the game that try to adapt to the important changes that have occurred in the nomenclature of Cuba since the last reform in 2002. In this period Fidel Castro had to leave the leadership of the country due to illness in 2006 and delegate it to his brother Raúl, who has officially served as President since 2008. Fidel died in 2016 and in April of last year the neoconservative Miguel Díaz-Canel took over so, for the first time in 60 years, there is no Castro at the top of the political system.
The new Constitution maintains the one-party system, with the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) as the backbone of power. Composed of 670,000 militants who only represent 6% of the population, they are in charge of nurturing the positions of the National Assembly of People's Power and its provincial and local levels, the Council of State and Ministers. For their part, the rights of association, assembly, freedom of expression and direct election to public office are conspicuous by their absence and are subject to the acceptance of communist society. Unfortunately, Cuba will continue to appear as a non-democratic country according to The Economist's 2018 Democracy Index, ranked at the 142nd position of 167 countries analyzed.
Of course, the more than 2 million Cubans who have had to emigrate will not have the right to vote, so the three great waves of emigration that have shaken Cuba since 1959 have taken not only people but also their rights. The first wave lasted until the 1970s when almost one million Cubans left the country, the second, known as the Marielitos wave, expelled more than 100,000 people in just five months in 1980. And the third is marked by the rafters crisis in 1994 and continues to this day. Exile and diaspora are a sad reality of Cuban tropical socialism.
The constitutional reform institutionalizes the garrison state model developed by Argentine political scientist Guillermo O'Donnell: not only is the militarization of society maintained but intensified. The military are part of the Council of Ministers, have two vice-presidencies and are in charge of the Ministries of Internal Affairs and the Armed Forces, as well as control the main tourism company (Gaviota) with Raúl's former son-in-law at the head. And if this is not enough, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and a tenebrous National Security Council are elevated to constitutional rank. The state monopoly of public opinion, the intensive popular mobilization and the permanent generation of a war discourse against internal and external "enemies" with a clear Schmittian tint that splashes the daily life of the Cuban people are maintained.
The only relevant novelties are the creation of the figure of the Prime Minister, a position to remove power and control the inexperienced Diaz-Canel and those who come later, and the Provincial Assemblies of People's Power are eliminated and replaced by appointed provincial governors. A Chinese style executive power guarded by the PCC and the military.
At the economic level, mixed and private property is recognized, but always controlled by the State and emphasizing that public property is the most relevant. Therefore, only the economic reality that has been operating in Cuba since the 1990s has been put on paper. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, its battered economy has had to resort to foreign investment in order to survive: Venezuela, China, Spain, Canada, Brazil, among others, are present on the island. Uncertainty, lack of infrastructure and legal insecurity mean that foreign investment is barely increasing. In 2018 it barely reached 2,000 million euros.
Curious referendum when there is no possibility for NO supporters to campaign. Let's remember that even Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile allowed the NO campaign in the 1988 plebiscite. For those who are nostalgic for the deliberation, we have social networks and at least there is an interesting debate going on between the labels #YoVotoYes, #YoVotoNo and #YoNoVoto, an unprecedented process in Cuba that we do not know what impact it will have. Since international observers are not allowed, we already know beforehand what the result of the constitutional referendum will be; we will only have the consolation of knowing how much vote against, null, blank or abstention there will be.I suppose it is easy to perceive that an important part of my life has taken place in Cuba, that cheerful country that Christopher Columbus baptized as "the most beautiful land that human eyes ever saw; if there is a paradise on earth with so much charm and wealth, here it is". A frozen paradise waiting for Cubans inside and outside to find their way towards a true democracy.