Cuba set to debate draft constitution paving way for gay marriage

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Cuba set to debate draft constitution paving way for gay marriage

Thursday, November 15, 2018

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HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) — A draft new constitution for Cuba that paves the way for same-sex marriage as well as the right to private property was ready to go before lawmakers on Thursday for fine-tuning ahead of a referendum next year.

The government on Thursday formally wound-up three months of consultative debates in town halls, workplaces and universities across the Communist-run island of 11 million people.

"The people can be proud of having built a constitution," said the head of the state council, Homero Acosta, one of the architects of the project.

A commission of Communist Party experts will submit an amended text to the National Assembly for approval in December, ahead of a referendum on February 24.

The hottest topic in the town hall debates was the text's definition of marriage as a union "between two persons" — not a man and a woman as specified in the Soviet-era constitution drafted in 1976.

The change effectively provides a gateway for same-sex marriage during the term of the first post-Castro president, elected in April, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

That would mark a sea-change on the island where sexual minorities were stigmatised in the wake of the Castro revolution in 1959.

Homosexuals were harassed and some were sent to re-education camps, after which they were excluded from any public appointment.

Evangelical churches have campaigned against the proposed change.

Diaz-Canel has backed same-sex marriage since taking office and said the change "responds to the problem of eliminating all types of discrimination in society."

It has also been championed by Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro, who has been a staunch supporter of gay rights in Cuba.

Abraham Jiminez, head of online media company El Estornudo, said he's in favor of "marriage for all," but believes the focus on the constitution's Article 68 which redefines marriage was "a diversion to disguise all the other problems" in the text.

The right to private property is being enshrined in the constitution for the first time, though with many restrictions.

"I think that's it's one of the weakest and most ambiguous points in the text, because it talks about wealth but without stating clearly at what moment one is deemed to be wealthy."

The new constitution also officially recognizes the role of foreign investment, although this has been part of a move towards a more market-oriented economy over the past decade under the rule of Diaz-Canel's predecessor Raul Castro.

The new draft says foreign investment is "important for the economic development of the country."

On his weekly TV program, popular comedian Panfilo has made a habit of mocking the way local entrepreneurs are harassed with cumbersome regulations while the red carpet is rolled out for investors from around the world.

"It's enough to make you want to leave," he said.

Maykel Galindo, who owns a guest house in Havana, has similar concerns. "I ask myself, if we are looking for millions (for the Cuban economy) why don't we look inside the country?"

"Why are they not interested in people like me who honestly wants to develop the country?"

The unusually open debate around the constitution has also sparked calls for direct election of the president, who is currently chosen by the one-party state's National Assembly.

"It's been a demand of the Cuban people for a long time," said Julio Antonio Fernandez, a constitutional lawyer.

"Maintaining the indirect poll is one of the hard core problems of the project and I don't think that's about to change," Fernandez told AFP.

In broad terms, "the constitution is already written," said media entrepreneur Jiminez, adding that he expects "small changes" in the final version.

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