The Cuban Constitution
The Guarantee of Human Rights
The concept of rights is a complex proposition. The term right itself is controversial and there is disagreement about what should be included in the framework of human rights. The meanings assigned are influenced by many factors including the cultural framework and ideological dogma propagated by ones society. Some notions of human rights are more legal in nature and expressed as constitutional rights; while others are designed to meet the basic human needs of all members of the society.
A nations constitution is a set of fundamental principles by which the society is governed. The constitution establishes a relationship between the state and the people and guarantees a certain set of rights for the populace. The culture of the society; - its beliefs and values - are major determinants of a sovereign nations codified constitution.
For instance, the major value that undergirds and influences the lives and aspirations of citizens of the United States is individualism. Looking out for the self, competition, getting ahead, and materialism are the values that influenced the authors of the United States Constitution, a majority of which were slaveholders at the time. The Constitution of the United States recognizes and protects the individual rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. Citizens of the United States were guaranteed the right to: freedom of speech, expression, and the press; freedom of religion; freedom to meet and associate; the right to the same protection from the law; and the right to due judicial process and to a fair trial.
The core values of the Cuban people can be found in the moral principles, philosophy and writings of the national hero Jose Martí. The values of human dignity; personal, cultural, national identity; patriotism; human solidarity and connection to others; and social justice profoundly influence the Cuban Constitution. The Cuban people whose culture emphasizes cooperation and support for the well-being of all of its citizens requires a Constitution that guarantees basic human rights. The Constitution of Cuba adopted in 1976 by 99.02% of voters committed the state to providing its citizens with access to free education and health care. The Constitution also guarantees that all Cubans have the right to: work; education; medical care; culture; a life free of racial and gender discrimination; the right to make decisions about and participate in the running of the state; to organize; and to train for the nations defense.
The rights provided citizens by a nations constitution determine and influence the quality of life of its citizens. Jose Martí, the national hero, said, The only way to be free is to be educated. Being true to their Constitution, the Cuban people are the most literate in the Americas. Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the Americas Western Hemisphere and one of the highest in the world, with 98.2% of the population having an eighth-grade education.
The Cuban Constitution mandates the right to health care. Cuba has one doctor for every 200 inhabitants, the highest per capita in the world. There is free access to medical exams, vaccines, bone marrow transplants, heart transplants, chemotherapy, medication, and even cosmetic surgery. Free health care is provided to mothers-to-be, and infants receive medical care from inception. The Cuban people have forged a distinctive national cultural identity. The African cultural influence is ubiquitous in Cuba. It is evident in the spirituality, art, music, festivities, holidays, and home life of Cubans.
While racism still exists in Cuba, their constitution has made it possible for Afro-Cubans to have opportunities never dreamed of prior to the Revolution. The transformation of women has been described as a revolution within a revolution. The majority of Cubans would argue that there is participatory democracy in Cuba and that according to their constitution, they participate in the running of the state.
There is often great criticism of the Cuban definition of human rights and the rights which are guaranteed by the Cuban Constitution. Does a nation have the right - and more significantly - the responsibility to establish and adopt a constitution that meets the needs and desires of its citizens? Is one constitution or set of constitutional rights superior or more moral than the other? Most importantly, does one nation have the right to criticize or denounce the constitution and the rights afforded citizens of another sovereign nation because that constitution embodies values alien to its own?