- Created: Friday, 24 April 2009 17:34
- Written by Jim Craven and Cat Wiener
FRFI 168 August / September 2002
In early June, nine million Cubans took to the streets to support a constitutional modification declaring Cuba’s socialist system irrevocable. A petition in support of the same question held at the end of June was signed by 8,188,198 Cubans – 99.25% of the electorate – in just four days. As Julio Martinez, Second Secretary of Cuba’s Union of Young Communists, told FRFI on 1 July, this was the response of the entire Cuban people to the recent threats by President Bush who had demanded change in Cuba. ‘Effectively, we are going to change – to ratify that we will be socialist forever!’
The immediate and overwhelming support of the Cuban people to enshrine socialism in the constitution stands in contrast to the efforts of a small group of Cubans to gather signatures on a petition demanding their own changes to the country’s social, economic and political system. After six years, they have finally achieved the 10,000 signatures necessary to submit the petition to the Cuban National Assembly, as permitted in the Cuban constitution. The petition, known as the Varela Project after a Cuban priest, Felix Varela, was organised by members of the Christian Liberation Movement, an organisation akin to the Solidarity Movement in Poland in the 1980s, and other opposition groups. It calls for a referendum to ask voters if they support what the organisers call freedom of expression and association, an amnesty for political prisoners, a multi-party system and an economy incorporating private, individual and co-operative enterprises – in other words, a return to capitalism.
Inevitably, the apparent challenge to socialist Cuba from within was greeted with glee by President Bush and his friends in the Miami Mafia. After all, it is the US government and US businesses that fund, support and direct these fringe groupings. As Julio Martinez commented: ‘We think it shows the hand of those who want to destroy the revolution, not only internally but from outside the country also. It is a project I believe was not born from the Cuban people [but...] which has been orchestrated and designed outside the country.’ However, as Fidel Castro has pointed out, it is difficult to see how Bush could back changes proposed to a National Assembly which at all other times he claims has no electoral legitimacy.
In fact, the petition implies constitutional reforms, which only the National Assembly and not a referendum has the right to deal with. Furthermore, there is nothing in the Cuban constitution which obligates the National Assembly to carry out a national referendum. A petition from 10,000 citizens simply has the right to make legislative initiatives and as such, the Varela petition will be considered by the appropriate committee in due course.
However, the overwhelming support for the constitutional amendment proposed by the democratic mass organisation of People’s Power, both on the streets – the demonstration in Havana alone numbered 1.2 million – and in the voting booth makes clear that the vast majority of Cuban people entirely reject the Varela Project and the machinations of the US administration. The People’s Power petition ratifies the people’s identification with the current constitution, which states: ‘Cuba is an independent and sovereign socialist state of workers organised by all its people for the wellbeing of all, as a unitary and democratic Republic, for the enjoyment of political freedom, social justice, individual and collective wellbeing and human solidarity’. The petition goes on to demand that the constitution should now also ‘expressly set forth the will of the people that the economic, political and social system consecrated in the Constitution of the Republic is irrevocable.’
For Julio Martinez, the Cuban people are today more politicised and prepared than ever. The ‘Battle of Ideas’ in which Cuba is today engaged has given everyone an immediate consciousness of their own revolutionary role and a stark clarity about the true intentions of the United States. He calls the almost unanimous backing of the Cuban people for socialism ‘unprecedented in international politics’ and concludes: ‘I think that this is one of the greatest political defeats the US has had in their political confrontation with us. The people of Cuba demonstrated its position to the president of the United States and to the world - to preserve and develop socialism.’
Jim Craven and Cat Wiener