Changes in Cuba: fact or fiction?
On 13 July 2019, the Cuban Parliament approved a new electoral law restricting the presidency to a five-year term in office and a maximum of two consecutive terms, for the first time in nearly 60 years. This new law also means that a President will be elected by the National Assembly, and not by a direct vote of the people.
This new act constitutes the first legal provision issued after the amendments made on 22 July 2018, when Cuba's National Assembly unanimously approved the issuing of a new constitution. These amendments are a result of open discussions held during the second half of 2018, when Cuban citizens were given the opportunity to express their opinions and suggest “changes” to the initial proposal. This exercise culminated in a constitutional referendum that took place on 24 February 2019; 7.8 million citizens (90.15% of the voting population) exercised their right to vote, and 86.85% voted in favor of the amendments.
Most of the proposed amendments are still being drafted for implementation, however, these new modifications would allow a 'free market economy' yet keep the Communist party in control of the economy and of the state. A division of power at the top of government is also proposed, aimed at guaranteeing the preservation of the socialist system in a post-Castro era.
Although Raul Castro handed over power to Miguel Díaz-Canel, who was inaugurated as Prime Minister in April 2018, Castro will remain head of the Communist Party until 2021 (he has indicated willingness to go after that). Castro also heads the constitutional reform commission, so it is clear that he will have control until then at least.
The new constitution also creates the position of Prime Minister and designates the President of the Assembly as head of state, Cuba’s highest executive body. Nevertheless, the President will not be in charge of the Council of Ministers, which would be supervised by the Prime Minister as it has been up until now. Díaz-Canel is currently acting as both President and Prime Minister until the presidential election is held in October 2020 and the election for Prime Minister is held before the end of this year. The President will be chosen by the National Assembly (it is expected to be Díaz-Canel), while the Prime Minister will be appointed by the President and later ratified by the National Assembly.
Under the new constitution, free healthcare and education to all Cuban citizens continues to be guaranteed. However, some services, such as aesthetic procedures (which are excluded in almost all insurance policies worldwide) will not be covered. It will be the first time that Cuban hospitals will charge Cubans for medical services. Tourists will continue to need a mandatory medical insurance policy (issued by a foreign insurance company authorized by Cuban entities) to be allowed entry into Cuba.
Last year, the Trump administration banned all commercial and financial transactions with 180 Cuban companies (mainly linked to the Cuban Armed Forces); which has grown to 220 companies so far this year. Whilst entering a phase of gradual political transition, Cuba will continue to lack access to US reinsurers to protect risks.