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Back to Guáimaro!

On April 10, 1869, six months after the start of the Ten Years’ War, the foundation of legal developments of the future Republic of Cuba took place: the Constitution of Guáimaro. The uprising started in the Demajagua insurrection, and was followed by the Camagüey Patriots in the Clavellinas. These events did not respond a single center and they had different ideas as to how to lead the fight. According Hortensia Pichardo: Camagüey would be subject to control of Céspedes who was considered dictatorial. Céspedes understood that his authority should be respected, for having been the first in the declaration. The need for unity led to the meeting held on April 10, 1869, in which there was a heated debate, from which emerged the first piece of legislation which came into force in the territories occupied by rebel forces.

The ideas of liberty, hoisted by the revolutionary movement, grew out of libertarian thought as contained in previous texts such as the Magna Carta (1215), the Habeas Corpus Act (1674) and the Bill of Rights (1689), all three from England; but most importantly in the Declaration of Independence of the United States (1776) and the Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), France, where the sprouts of the previous documents were present.

These texts are reflected in the Project for Autonomous Government for Cuba by Father José Agustín Caballero (1811), which argues for the need to create an Assembly of People’s Deputies with the power to make laws and an executive branch consisting of a representative Monarch, accompanied by a Council which would give the Government a collegial character; the draft constitution for the island of Cuba (1812) by the Bayamo attorney Joaquín Infante, based on the ideas of Independence, is a document that provided for the separation of powers and which raises the enforcement of social rights and obligations aimed at equality, freedom of opinion, property and security; the Project of Instructions for the Economic and Political Autonomous Government of the Overseas Provinces (1823), prepared by Father Felix Varela, who in addition to providing the division of powers, considered it harmful to put into force political freedoms and rights only for the white Creoles, and therefore Varela prepared the first draft for the abolition of slavery in Cuba.

The Constitution of Guáimaro, structured in 29 articles, endorsed the traditional division of powers: legislative, executive and judicial. The first, placed in a chamber with powers to appoint the President and Commander in Chief, the second in the President of the Republic in Arms; and an independent Judicial Power. As established, the Chamber could not attack the freedoms of religion, press, peaceful assembly, education and petition, nor any inalienable right of the people.

To understand of this constitution requires taking into account the work of Freemasonry in Cuba. Vicente Castro de Castro led the creation of the Grand Orient Lodge throughout the territory of the country, including Tropical Star in Bayamo; Tínima in Camaguey; Lodge of Trinidad in Las Villas, and also those of Jiguaní of Manzanillo and other locations. The officials of these lodges became the revolutionary committees who led the uprisings outlined above. This network of lodges was precisely one of the main ways in which the ideas of republicanism penetrated Cuba along with the separation of powers, popular sovereignty and liberty of the person, individual freedoms such as expression, assembly and association, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and social justice.

Another important fact is the close relationship between the individual and social, between the internal and public; because the freedoms are exterior obligatory norms that are interconnected with inner freedom, which is its source. Ignacio Agramonte understood this, and he was one of the leading figures in the debate and the shaping of the Constitution of Guáimaro and member of the Lodge Tínima. In defending his Master of Law thesis he said: The right to think freely and the corresponding right of freedom of discussion, doubt, opinion, are phases or directions of that. Fortunately, these, unlike the freedom to speak and act, are not subject to direct coercion and may force one to remain silent, remain still, perhaps it is fair to say that it is the highest injustice. But how can you prevent doubts about what he says? What do you examine the actions of others, which seek to inculcate as true, everything, in the end, and formulate your opinion about it?

From the Guáimaro Constitution, through that of Jimaguayú (1895), the Yaya (1897), and the constitutions of 1901 and 1940,  democratic ideas prevailed in the division of powers and fundamental freedoms. These freedoms were also endorsed in the revolutionary constitution of 1976 and the amendments of 1992 and 2002, but are now subordinate to the Communist Party. Freedoms can be exercised for one purpose: to build socialism and communism, and are, therefore, freedom for Communists until they stop thinking them as such. The worst of it lies in denying freedoms to the rest of the people who think differently and endorsing this unnatural state in the Constitution with finality. That is, the people, supposedly sovereign, can not transform a system about which those not yet born had no choice.

What a shame for José Martí, who chose as the symbolic date to found the Cuban Revolutionary Party, the anniversary of the Constitution of Guáimaro in April 1892, so as to highlight the democratic essence of the party and its aims. A century and a half after the emancipatory gesture initiated in La Demajagua, on the 151st anniversary of our first Constitution, Cuba may be the only Western country that can display an “achievement” in the legal field of having regressed to barely beyond the point departure of its Republican constitutional history.

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