- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

HAVANA Cuban lawmakers voted unanimously last week to make socialism an "irrevocable" part of the constitution in an effort to ensure the nation will remain socialist long after Fidel Castro is gone and that "capitalism will never return again" to the Caribbean island.
Mr. Castro, who came to power in the 1959 revolution, declared Cuba's government socialist two years later, on the eve of the aborted Bay of Pigs invasion by a U.S.-trained exile army.
"We need socialism more today than ever," he declared before the vote last week. "To guarantee the future, a strong ideological base is needed."
The constitutional amendment was proposed because Cuba feels increased pressure at home and abroad to carry out democratic reforms.
The proposal originally described Cuba's system as "untouchable," but the National Assembly's commission on constitutional and legal affairs decided "irrevocable" was more precise.
Vice President Carlos Lage, a top leader in both the government and the Communist Party, declared, "The best political system is of just one party. True democracy is socialist. And the only way to defend human rights is in a society of equality and social justice."
"For our people to return to the past is undesirable, unthinkable, impossible," Mr. Lage said of Washington's recent demands that Cuba embrace capitalism and U.S.-style democracy.
At 50, Mr. Lage is among the younger high-ranking government officials expected to help guide Cuba after the deaths of Mr. Castro and his brother and designated successor, Defense Minister Raul Castro.
Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 37, said a week ago that the measure was necessary to protect the system after the Castro brothers die. It was a rare public reference to their mortality. Fidel will be 76 in August, and his brother is 71.
The government said the amendment is its answer to President Bush's refusing in May to lift American trade and travel restrictions until Cuba undertakes reforms, including multiparty elections.
Government opponents said the measure also appeared intended to undermining the Varela Project, which seeks a referendum on whether voters favor guarantees for such liberties as freedom of expression, releasing political prisoners and the right to own a business.
The collapse of communism in Europe more than a decade ago obviously weighs on the thoughts of Cuba's elderly communist leaders.]
In a weekend speech, Mr. Castro said Russia had betrayed Cuba and formed an alliance with the United States when Moscow severed agreements with the communist island after the collapse in 1991 of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party daily Granma said the Cuban leader made the remark in a speech Saturday, marking the recent renovation of more than 100 primary and secondary schools in Havana.
Cuba is still struggling to recover from the economic crisis triggered by the loss of aid and preferential trade agreements as the Soviet bloc disintegrated. Because of the severe economic crisis, hundreds of schools in the nation's capital had classrooms without windows, bathrooms without doors, leaky roofs and antiquated plumbing.
Mr. Castro said that despite abandonment by the Soviet Union and the sanctions squeeze of the United States, Cuba, a "small country, a few miles from the victorious and hegemonic superpower, decided to fight under the best principles of the socialist ideal."


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