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Cuba Planning Major Changes to State and Legal System

Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel talks to the press after voting in a referendum to approve or reject the new constitution in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel talks to the press after voting in a referendum to approve or reject the new constitution in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
Cuba Planning Major Changes to State and Legal System
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The Cuban government is set to launch major changes to its centrally planned, single-party political system. The new laws could reshape everything from criminal justice to the economy.

Nearly a year of debate and discussion ended last month with the approval of Cuba’s first constitutional reform since 1976.

Some observers see the new constitution as making minor changes, but nothing substantive. They say the new constitution is aimed at ensuring that one of the world’s last communist systems does not get any serious reforms for years to come.

But others see the possibility for a slow-moving but deep change that will speed the modernization of Cuba’s government.

Cuban legal experts say they expect the government to send the National Assembly between 60 and 80 proposed laws over the next two years. They told The Associated Press that these measures, when approved, would replace laws considered outdated.

The assembly is almost sure to approve all government proposals, as it has for years.

“I expect to see big changes in Cuba with the new constitution,” said Julio Antonio Fernandez, a law professor at the University of Havana. “A new state structure, a transformed political system, led by the Communist Party, of course, but different and confronting big challenges,” he added.

One of the first changes will be in Cuba’s political system. In the next five months, the government is required to pass a new electoral law. The measure would split the duties of head of state and government between the current president and a new position of prime minister.

Also, new governors will replace the Communist Party first secretaries as the highest official in Cuba’s 15 provinces.

The Communist Party remains the only political group permitted in the country. However, the wording in the new constitution could give voters a choice among different Communist Party candidates instead of just voting “yes” or “no” for a single candidate chosen by the government.

A new business law could create an official role or position for small- and medium-sized businesses. Until now, all private workers and employers are legally defined as “self-employed.” This means hundreds of thousands of “self-employed” Cubans go to work each day for the “self-employed” owners of restaurants and family-operated hotels.

Business owners hope legal recognition will bring them new rights, including the ability to import and export. Such rights currently only exist for state-controlled businesses.

A new family code is expected to deal with the issue of same sex marriage, which was struck from the new constitution after popular resistance.

A new criminal code will, for the first time, require the government to fully explain a citizen’s detention. It will also give Cubans the right to know what information the government holds about them.

Experts say the changes to criminal law could also include stronger measures against family violence, and greater environmental protections and animal rights. The changes could also create stronger punishments for corruption and wrongdoing by government officials.

Cuba’s powerful military and intelligence ministries employ tens of thousands of agents and informants. They control much of the economy. And they are often thought to be outside of the rules that apply to the civilian parts of the government. It is not yet known whether the Interior Ministry and Revolutionary Armed Forces will be subject to the new limits in the legal reform.

Cuba is in its fourth year of little or no economic growth. The government feels increasingly threatened by the United States. It is especially concerned over the U.S. support for the overthrow of Venezuela’s Cuban-allied government. Cuba sees such efforts as the first step in an offensive against socialist governments across Latin America.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

confront - v. to deal with (something) in an honest and direct way

challenge - n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

province - n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into

apply - v. to have an effect on someone or something

code - n. a set of laws or regulations