The Cuban flag hangs next to the photographs of late Cuba's President Fidel Castro and his brother, Cuba's former President Raul Castro, in Havana
By Sarah Marsh
HAVANA (Reuters) - A draft of Cuba's new constitution keeps the Communist Party as its leading political force but states as its aim the construction of socialism rather than communism, reflecting changing times, top officials told lawmakers this weekend.
Cuba is replacing its Soviet-era constitution with a new constitution to reflect and implement political and economic changes designed to make its one-party socialist system - one of the last in the world - sustainable.
The constitution will for example recognize private property, something long stigmatized by the Communist Party as a vestige of capitalism, the secretary of the council of state, Homero Acosta, told lawmakers on Saturday.
This should give greater legal recognition to the micro businesses that have flourished in the wake of market reforms. Cuba’s current 1976 constitution only recognizes state, cooperative, farmer, personal and joint venture property.
The draft also appears to strengthen political institutions and create a more collective leadership structure, after nearly 60 years of rule by late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul Castro.
Castro, then 86, handed over the presidency in April to his mentee Miguel Diaz-Canel although he remains head of the Communist Party until 2021. He also heads the constitutional reform commission.
Under the new constitution, the president will no longer be the head of the council of state and council of ministers, according to Acosta. Instead it creates the position of prime minister and designates the president of the assembly also as head of the council of state, Cuba's highest executive body.
The draft also sets an age and term limits for presidents, stating they must be under 60 when they first take office and can carry out no more than two consecutive five-year terms.
The draft omits a clause in the current constitution on aiming to build a "communist society".
Instead, it simply talks about building socialism, reflecting the fact Cuba has moved into a different era following the fall of the Soviet Union, according to the president of the National Assembly Esteban Lazo.
"This does not mean we are renouncing our ideas," Lazo was quoted as saying by state-run media.
One of the most hotly awaited and controversial changes in the draft is the recognition of marriage as between two individuals rather than a man and a wife, opening the path to same-sex unions.
The national assembly is expected this weekend to pass the document, which will then be submitted to a popular consultation, meaning changes are possible. A final draft will later be put to a national referendum.
At the start of the assembly meeting on Saturday, new President Diaz-Canel named his cabinet, keeping a majority of ministers from Castro including in the key posts of defense, interior, trade and foreign relations.
Marino Murillo, the head of the Communist Party's reform commission and previously one of the council of ministers' vice presidents, was the only top figure omitted from the new lineup.
Under Castro, Murillo spearheaded reforms to the state-run economy to give a greater role to foreign investment and the private sector. He remains head of the Party's reform commission and a member of the political bureau.
The reforms have slowed however in recent years amid fears they have allowed some Cubans to enrich themselves, fostering inequality, and weakened the control of the state.
This month, Cuba issued regulations tightening control of the private sector and limiting business licenses to one per person.
Two octogenarians will remain vice presidents while two fifty-year olds will be promoted to that position, reflecting the slow generational transition in Cuba's leadership.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana, Editing by Franklin Paul and James Dalgleish)