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Cuba Votes on Updated Constitution, Accepts Private Property

Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel talks to the press after voting in a referendum to approve or reject the new constitution in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.

Cubans voted Sunday on a new constitution that expands recognition of private property and updates a Soviet bloc-era charter for the socialist nation.

The new document, which had been tweaked after a series of public consultations, maintains control by the Communist Party, but adjusts the nation’s legal system to account for years of greater opening to small-scale private enterprise and closer ties to Cuban emigrants abroad.

Passage of the measure was assured, despite opposition by some evangelical Christian leaders upset that the document opens the possibility for eventual legalization of gay marriage.

Lines stretched from schools used as polling places on Sunday following days of heavy official promotion for a “Yes” vote and less prominent opposition sentiment expressed on social media sites recently opened to a broader range of Cubans.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel took to Twitter to encourage support, writing “CubaVotesYes” and saying the document “guatantees the rights of each and every citizen of the nation.”

The previous constitution was adopted in 1976 at a time when Cuba depended heavily on Soviet aid and trade and tightly restricted private enterprise. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union slammed Cuba’s economy in the early 1990s, the island has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to launch small private businesses, though their scale has been tightly restricted. The new constitution would allow some such businesses to legally hire a few workers.

Islandwide consultations led to numerous changes in the document, notably omitting an article that would have legalized gay marriage. But evangelicals were alarmed that it seems to open the way for eventual legalization by omitting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

The document also would create the post of prime minister, promote cooperatives and recognize dual citizenship.