Raul Castro to head commission to draft new Cuban constitution

Cuba's National Assembly on Saturday approved the makeup of a commission to draft the country's new constitution that will be headed by Communist Party leader and former president Raul Castro.

Cuba's new President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who replaced Castro in April, proposed the commission's members to the assembly on behalf of the Council of State. The slate was unanimously approved by lawmakers. 

The commission will draft what is expected to be the broadest update of the constitution since it was first adopted in 1976 during the Cold War.

Castro first announced the need for a new constitution in 2011. after embarking on a series of reforms cautiously opening up the economy to foreign investment and the private sector in order to make Cuban socialism sustainable.

Labour issues may be addressed

Some clauses in the current constitution, such as one forbidding Cubans from "obtaining income that comes from exploiting the work of others," are at odds with those changes.

"Cuba has to make substantial changes to the constitution that endorse private property, self-employment and cooperatives as part of the Cuban economy," said Julio Perez, a political analyst and former news editor at state-run Radio Habana.

Newly elected Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, and Raul Castro wave during a National Assembly session in Havana on April 19, 2018. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)

"Politically, it will have to affirm that presidents will be elected for five years and can only can be re-elected for another five."

Term and age limits are among the various measures to strengthen Cuba's political institutions proposed by Castro, 86, who handed the presidency over to his 58-year old protegé Diaz-Canel in April after two five-year terms.

Castro backs Communist Party as guiding force

The constitution was last changed in 2002 to make socialism "irrevocable" in Cuba. During the transfer of power, Castro said the definition of the Communist Party as the guiding force of Cuba would not be changed in the rewrite of the constitution.

Castro will remain party chief until 2021.

His daughter, Mariela Castro, director of the Centre of Sexual Education, said in May she is also campaigning for the new constitution to acknowledge same-sex marriage.

Cuba, which discriminated against homosexuals in the early years after the 1959 revolution, has come a long way in terms of gay rights in recent years, for example, approving and funding sex-change operations.

Once the constitutional draft is ready, it is slated to be discussed first by the parliament and then by the broader population, before being submitted to a referendum.

U.S.-Cuba postal services extended

In a separate development, Cuba and the United States are making the re-establishment of postal services permanent after a trial run, the state-run Cuban News Agency reported on Friday.

The former Cold War foes first restored direct mail service as a pilot program in December 2015 as part of the policy of détente pursued by then-U.S. President Barack Obama with then-Cuban President Raul Castro.

Since taking office in January last year, U.S. President Donald Trump has struck a more hostile tone toward the Communist-run island and has rolled back parts of the normalization of relations, making trade and travel more difficult once more.

But Trump has left in place key Obama-era changes such as restored diplomatic relations, regular flights from the United States and cruise ship visits. Bilateral talks continue on cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as security.

"The re-establishment of this service allows [the postal service] to send post in direct flights between Cuba and the United States," the Cuban Post Office said in a statement.

Direct mail service between the United States and Cuba was suspended since 1963. Despite the ban, letters and other mail still flowed between the United States and the island nation 145 kilometres away through other countries such as Canada, Mexico and Panama.

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