Cuba plans to consult expatriates on new constitution

Ernesto Soberon, Foreign Ministry Director of Consular Affairs and Cubans Residing Overseas, delivers a message to the media in Havana, Cuba Aug 3, 2018. — Reuters

HAVANA, Aug. 4th  (AFP) Cuba plans to let its 1.4 million expatriate citizens contribute to its new constitution, the first time emigrants will have a say in the island’s affairs since the 1959 revolution.

The Caribbean nation’s parliament in July approved a new draft constitution that will be submitted for citizens to debate from Aug 13 to Nov 15. The current version was passed in 1976.

Residents abroad will be able to participate in the debate online from September.

“This constitutes an unprecedented development in the history of the revolution,” said Ernesto Soberon, who heads a directorate in the foreign ministry dedicated to Cuban expatriates.

The results of the consultation, which will solicit the views of more than eight million Cubans aged 16 and above on the island, will then be submitted to a referendum before returning to parliament for final approval.

It will recognize for the first time the role of the market and private sector in the island’s heavily controlled socialist economy, though under the watchful eye of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).

Soberon said the debate would be open to all Cuban nationals living abroad, but did not specify whether they would also be able to take place in the referendum.

The government estimates there are 1.4 million Cubans living abroad across 120 countries, with most concentrated in the United States, Spain, Mexico, and Colombia. The island itself is home to 11.2 million people.

Soberon dismissed the notion that anti-Castro expatriates could disrupt the process. “At present, those that advocate the overthrow of the revolution make-up only a small minority,” he said.

From 1959 to 1975, the government of the late Fidel Castro considered Cubans who left the island “deserters” and “traitors.”

But the process of rapprochement with those that did not maintain a hostile position against their government began in 1978, leading to several meetings with representatives from the 1990s onward and the sending of remittances.

According to the official newspaper Granma, Cuba will hold some 135,000 consultation assemblies during the debate period in workplaces, student centers and neighborhoods.