Cuba votes in referendum on new constitution

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel prepares to vote as his wife Lis Cuesta exercised her vote during the referendum to approve the constitutional reform in Havana. (Reuters pic)

HAVANA: Cubans began voting in a referendum on a new constitution Sunday with the backdrop of mounting pressure from the United States and continued support for Venezuela’s socialist regime.

“We Cubans are voting for our new constitution, we’re voting for Latin America and the Caribbean,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel said when placing his vote.

“We’re also voting for Venezuela, we’re defending Venezuela because in Venezuela the continent’s dignity is in play.”

More than eight million Cubans are registered to vote in a referendum the government has turned into a plebiscite on the “irrevocable” role of socialism in the island nation.

Some 25,000 electoral colleges opened their doors at 7am (1200 GMT) on a calm day. Results are expected late Monday.

Diaz-Canel hit out at the presidents of Chile, Colombia and Paraguay for joining Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Saturday in his attempt to force humanitarian aid across the Colombian border into Venezuela.

“A group of presidents on the Colombian border, they look like clowns,” said Diaz-Canel.

Cuba has been trying to galvanize international support for its ally and against American “military aggression.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claims the humanitarian aid, mostly supplied by Washington, is a smokescreen for a US invasion.

“Today we’re going to have a victory that is ours, that is Latin America’s and the Caribbean’s and also a victory for Venezuela, an important support for Venezuela,” said Diaz-Canel.

Cuba’s vote comes after the latest attack on socialism by US President Donald Trump, who last week said socialist ideology is “dying.”

But analyst Carlos Alzugaray told AFP that Trump’s words served only to boost those voting in favour of the new constitution, which reiterates the central role of socialism and communism in the country.

“Many people, seeing his quotes, will vote yes because they want to defend their independence against the US threat,” said Alzugaray.

US Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents are Cuban, hit out at the Havana regime on Twitter.

“The so-called ‘referendum’ in #Cuba is another manoeuvre by the Cuban dictatorship to hold its grip on power,” he wrote.

“Today’s plebiscite is nothing more than a farce and a fraud of the communist party. #IllegalConstitution.”

The new constitution, replacing the 1976 version, recognises a limited role for the free market and private investment, but only under the control of the Communist Party.

It enshrines socialism as the country’s only ideology, a move criticised by the Catholic Church.

Cuba’s banned opposition, which normally calls for abstention at elections or spoiling ballot sheets, has this time campaigned for a no vote.

“It is obvious that this goes beyond a no to a constitution, it’s a no to a regime that aims to perpetuate itself in power,” dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer told AFP.

The referendum contains only two options: yes or no to the new constitution.

“Two options, one that favours the regime and the other that represents the only opportunity the people have had in years to say no,” added Ferrer.