Cubans go to the polls today to vote in a referendum on changing the constitution. The current charter was approved in 1976 whereby 97.7 percent of the population voted yes.
The draft constitution contains important changes but retains the Island’s one-party communist system. The new document will acknowledge private property for the first time, the role of foreign investment, and the Internet in Cuba.
It will also limit the presidential term to two consecutive five-year terms, and creates the position of prime minister to oversee day-to-day state affairs.
The constitution expands the discrimination ban on the basis of sexuality and gender identity. An earlier draft of the constitution included marriage equality, but in a vote, the clause was removed.
It recognizes the free market while enshrining communism as the island’s official political ideology.
The constitution also introduces the presumption of innocence in the judicial system.
Cuba has sought to make its economy more sustainable in the long-term but has been hampered by the 60 year U.S. embargo and the recent economic crisis in Venezuela. The U.S. maintains an aggressive policy against Latin America in general, and specifically targets Cuba for regime change.
The new constitution legitimizes private businesses that have emerged over the past decade and acknowledges the importance of foreign investment. Since 2010, former President Raul Castro has been lifting market restrictions to improve the economy by encouraging private business development and foreign investment. According to government statistics more than 580,000 Cubans are now self employed.
According to Reuters, foreign businessmen in the country believe that changing the constitution is a step towards a mixed, modern economy and society.
Community meetings held over a three month period across the Island were held when the first draft was published in July allowing citizens to voice their opinions.
Supporters of the new constitution say it is a framework for modern-day Cuba, reflecting developments on the Island.