Cubans living in the United States and other countries will be able to send suggestions and comments on proposed changes to the Cuban Constitution, which will ultimately be presented to voters in a referendum, the government said.
The “Cuban Government invites all Cuban citizens abroad to participate in the debate on the draft Constitution,” Cuban diplomat Ernesto Soberon announced on Twitter. “This participation confirms the will to have the opinions of ALL Cubans,” said Soberon, who heads a department dealing with the Cuban diaspora at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cubans abroad will be able to make proposals or comments through an online form.
The draft constitution, designed by the Communist Party and recently approved by the National Assembly, will be discussed in a “popular consultation” spearheaded by the Communist Party and will take place between September and November. The final draft of the new constitution must be approved in a referendum.
Yumil Rodriguez Fernandez, a Cuban deputy who was a member of a parliamentary commission in charge of drafting the document, cautioned Friday that “although all the proposals will be analyzed, they may not all be included in the constitutional text,” the official Cuban website Cubadebate reported.
Several Cuban exile organizations in the United States and members of the opposition on the island have called the constitutional reform a “fraud” because of the lack of citizen participation in its preparation and the absence of clear guarantees in terms of human rights and political rights.
Some exiles and opposition activists called the government’s invitation a ruse.
“This is theater,” said Rosa Maria Paya, promoter of the Cubadecide campaign to bring the political system in Cuba to a plebiscite. Paya is the daughter of the late opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, who previously tried to change the constitution through a citizens’ petition drive known as Proyecto Varela.
“The day the government allows exiles to travel to Havana and present their reforms, I will believe in their intention to dialogue,” said exile activist Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement in Miami.
Lawyer Laritza Diversent said including exiles in the debate is positive but that she worries about how the process would be organized: “How can we be sure that what we contribute will be taken into account? We are more than 3 million living abroad. This is not a simple assembly in some neighborhood in the country,” she said.
Soberon’s Twitter post said that “the participation in the debate of all Cubans abroad on the new Constitution project is an unprecedented fact in the history of the Revolution.”
Under current Cuban laws, citizens who leave the island for more than two years lose some rights, including the possibility of voting in the referendum. Modifications to these policies are not included in the draft document for changes to the constitution recently approved by the National Assembly.
One change that is included in the draft would have repercussions for Cubans settled in the United States and other countries. If approved, Cubans with dual citizenship visiting the island will be recognized solely as Cuban citizens. This was already happening informally but there was much confusion even among the various authorities on the island because it is not part of the current constitution.
The change formalizes the already established requirement that those born in Cuba must enter that country with a Cuban passport, regardless of whether they have acquired another citizenship.
The changes also could mean that Cuban-Americans born in Cuba would receive the same free services that Cubans receive from the state. However, it would limit support that the U.S. Embassy in Havana could provide to those Cubans naturalized as Americans.
If the current version of the draft constitution is approved, Cuban-Americans born in Cuba also would not benefit from incentives for foreign investment because they would be treated as Cuban citizens. The government prevents Cuban citizens from owning and investing in companies.