Legal reforms in Cuba
The evolution of the Cuban socialist project continues
An October 29 article in Reuters, “Cuba approves laws granting greater rights as criticism of protesters' arrests heats up,” is written from a frame of reference outside of Cuba, based in the assumptions of representative democracy, which was born in the context of the class conflicts of the colonial and imperialist societies of the North.
Reuters acknowledges that the laws, approved by the Cuba’s National Assembly on October 28, “stem from the 2019 Constitution,” but it immediately proceeds to reframe the process of reform in the context of the short-lived U.S.-supported rebellion of July 11. The changes, Reuters says, “address legal voids identified by activists, who allege authorities flaunted due process following unprecedented protests on the island in July.” It then quotes Cuban specialists from the United States and Canada who say that the reform makes Cuban law much more consistent with international standards, but it remains to be seen if the reforms will be implemented, inasmuch as officials still have considerable discretion, and judges remain under the authority of the National Assembly.
Reuters’ acknowledgement that the four laws “stem from the 2019 Constitution” is such an extreme understatement that it misleads as its fails to inform. In the first place, we ought to appreciate that the reform and renewal of the Cuban socialist project has been a continuous process since the triumph of the revolution in 1959, and it has passed through various stages. The current stage has been unfolding for approximately twelve years. Its culminating moment was the new constitution of 2019, which was developed on the basis of recommendations of the Communist Party of Cuba and accompanied by an extensive popular consultation. The new Constitution builds upon previous historic moments of the revolution in power, such as the Constitution of 1976 and the 1960 Declaration of Havana; and it reaffirms the teachings of the Apostle José Martí and the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro. The 2019 Constitution mandated that appropriate entities submit legislative proposals to the National Assembly of People’s Power, in order that the concepts of the new Constitution would be implemented with the force of law. The four new laws with respect to the administration of justice are a dimension of this process. If we want to understand them, we ought not abstract them from the larger process; we certainly ought not frame them as related to the events of July 11.
The current process of change and renewal
The current stage of reform and renewal of the last twelve years has not been driven by a popular demand for “liberty.” The Cuban structures of popular power, first developed in the 1960s and institutionalized in the 1970s, enjoy far more legitimacy in the eyes of the Cuban people than do the structures of representative democracy in many nations, including those of the North. There has been almost no expression of popular discontent with the structures of people’s power, although those structures are taken for granted by some, without sufficient appreciation.
The present stage of reform and renewal of the last twelve years has been driven above all by a desire to elevate the standard of living of the people, which is the fundamental demand and desire of the people. The current process of change has resulted in the new social and economic model of 2012, the dimensions of which are still unfolding; and the affirmation in the Constitution of 2019 of a socialist market economy that includes private property.
The four laws pertaining to the administration of justice (Law of the Courts of Justice, Law of Criminal Procedures, Law of Administrative Procedures, and Law of Penal Procedures) were approved at the Seventh Ordinary Session of the Ninth Legislative Assembly of the National Assembly of People’s Power on October 28, 2021. They had been submitted to the National Assembly by the Council of Government of the People’s Supreme Court.
The National Assembly of People’s Power is the highest authority in the Cuban political system. Its deputies are elected by the people in a system of direct and indirect elections, a process that occurs without electoral parties and without election campaigns. As the highest body in the nation, the National Assembly of People’s Power elects the Council of State (the executive branch) as well as the magistrates and judges of the People’s Supreme Court (the judicial branch). The People’s Supreme Court reports on their work to the National Assembly of People’s Power.
Although under the authority of the National Assembly of People’s Power, the People’s Supreme Court has independence as the highest judicial authority, and its judicial decisions are final. The People’s Supreme Court is administered and regulated by the Council of Government of the People’s Supreme Court, which is composed of the President of the People’s Supreme Court and the presidents and vice-presidents of the specialized courts of the People’s Supreme Court. Said Council of Government of the People’s Supreme Court submits legislative proposals relevant to the judiciary to the National Assembly of People’s Power, and it promotes interpretations of the law and the Constitution before the National Assembly.
The submission of the four judicial laws to the most recent session of the National Assembly complies with a transitional disposition of the 2019 Constitution, which mandated that the Council of Government of the People’s Supreme Court present to the People’s Assembly of Popular Power a new law concerning the civil, administrative, labor, and economic procedures of the judicial system, taking into account changes established by the 2019 Constitution.
The four new laws submitted to the National Assembly by the Council of Government of the People’s Supreme Court are based on various antecedents (reviewed in the prologues to the proposed laws), which can be placed in five categories. (1) The recommendations and proposals approved at the 2011, 2016, and 2021 Congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, which asserted the need to improve the system of justice in many areas, including the protection of the rights of persons. (2) The 2017 recommendation of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which called for a comprehensive study and analysis of the system of justice. (3) The 2019 Constitution, which gave particular attention to access to justice and to due process, with full guarantees to the rights of persons. (4) Various laws, decrees, and judicial pronouncements that were introducing modifications in the judicial system, which were enacted, decreed or pronounced in 1997, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2016, 2019, and 2020. (5) Various international documents, including the 1985 UN resolution of the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Delinquency, the 2002 Declaration of Bangalore on judicial conduct, the 2003 UN resolution against Corruption, the rules adopted at the 2018 Latin American Judicial Summit, the 2015 Declaration of Doha concerning the prevention of crime, and the 2018 Vienna declaration on judicial integrity.
The four proposed laws were formulated by temporary work teams composed of representatives of the court system, the office of the Attorney General of the Republic, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Work and Social Security, the National Revolutionary Police, the Office of Criminal Investigations, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the National Union of Jurists, and the Federation of Workers of Cuba. During the course of their work, the temporary work teams received recommendations from deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, faculty of the University of Havana, the Federation of Cuban Women, among others.
The principal changes with respect to previous law
The Preamble to the new Law of the Courts of Justice stresses that Article One of the 2019 Constitution defines the nation as “a socialist State of law and social justice, democratic, independent and sovereign, organized with all and for the good of all.” Accordingly, the essential mission of the state is “to guarantee the instituted political-juridical order and to protect the rights and legitimate interests of persons and entities.” The four new laws seek to improve the judicial system, in order to facilitate greater fulfillment of this essential mission of the socialist state.
(1) The new laws strengthen the verbal aspect of all judicial processes, in order to facilitate greater communication between the court and the persons implicated.
(2) They amplify the possibility of appealing judicial decisions to the President of the People’s Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the Minister of Justice.
(3) They allow for demands, with the possibility of receiving appropriate compensation, against acts, regulations, and omissions of the Council of Ministers (the executive branch of the Cuban government, elected by the National Assembly); the provincial governments; and the municipal governments. Said right of demand excludes certain questions, such as those pertaining to national defense; the security of the State; foreign relations; monetary, financial, and banking policies; the plan of the national economy; the actions of the President, Vice President, and Prime Minister of the Republic; the acts of provincial governors that are related to the governmental functions; among others.
(4) They allow for compensation to persons wrongly sanctioned by the court system.
(5) They establish the right of the accused to a lawyer from the initiation of the process; and they set a maximum of 24 hours to file charges against all persons detained, five days in the cases of persons on conditional liberty. This modification responds to the people’s constitutional assembly of August 13 to November 15, 2018, during which some citizens proposed a definition of the moment in which due process rights should begin.
(6) They recognize the right of the victim as part of the criminal process, such as the right to attend as coadjutor of the prosecuting attorney. They amplify the possibility of the victim to file a civil action and receive compensation in certain cases.
(7) They establish the possibility for procedures that facilitate voluntary extrajudicial agreement among persons involved in conflicts.
(8) They strengthen provisions for the special treatment of accused minors, in accordance with suggestions of the International Convention of the Rights of the Child.
The National Assembly supports the government’s stance on the “protests”
In the debates concerning the four judicial laws, the U.S. financed rebellion of July 11 and the planned protests of November 15 were scarcely mentioned. But they were not completely out of mind in the deliberations of the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power. On October 27, the deputies of the National Assembly unanimously approved a declaration backing the decision of the government to confront and impede the convocation of unconstitutional demonstrations. The declaration rejected the creation and promotion of political campaigns through social media, with the intention of provoking destabilization, creating a false image of ungovernability, promoting chaos, and imposing a change of system. It maintained that the government of the United States organizes, instigates, and finances aggressions from its territory against Cuba, with the purpose of violating Cuban independence and destroying the constitutional order, the Revolution, and socialism in Cuba. It declared that the large corporations of disinformation seek to show a reality that does not exist in Cuba, cynically using fake news and manipulated images. It declared that in response to the unconventional war waged against Cuba by the United States, Cuba will defend its revolution.
The declaration of the National Assembly is reasonable. It is not a question of citizens with grievances petitioning their government. It is a question of a foreign power attempting to use the rights of public assembly and petition, with employed and unscrupulous local actors, in order to create conditions that could possibly lead to a change of system. It is a question of yet another action in the U.S. unconventional war against Cuba and other nations constructing socialism in Latin America. In the face of this unconventional war, Cuba has the right to defend itself.
The Cuban socialist political-economic system and its commitment to the sovereignty of Cuba are obstacles to U.S. imperialist policies with respect to Latin America and the Caribbean, a region the USA must continue to superexploit in order to sustain its advanced but continually weakening economy. As it has done for more than six decades, socialist Cuba continues to exemplify dignified resistance to the imperialist power, now in economic, political, and moral decadence.
I should clarify. I name the decadence of the USA because it is true, and not in order that we who are citizens of the USA would indulge in cynicism, collective self-pity, or the unpatriotic bashing of our nation. Do we not still believe that the truth will set us free? Do we not need to recognize the truth before we can restore the dignity of our nation? Surely it is not too late to renew the American Republic, if we can find the essential insights of renewal.
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