Cuba has been undergoing important modernization processes of the economic and social policies over the last few years. In 2018, the Cuban government, now propelled by a new generation of leaders, embarked on a constitution-making process that featured meaningful public engagement.
This included a referendum, held on February 24 2019, to gain final approval by the Cuban people for a new Constitution. The new Constitution, which found the support of 87% of Cubans, formalizes a series of significant changes aimed primarily at stimulating economic development. While the new constitutional document re-affirms a commitment to socialism, the revolution, and the leadership of the Communist Party, it also makes room for private property, and aims to build a more decentralized governance system, through strengthening the autonomy of provinces and municipalities.
It is in this context that the Forum of Federations received a request for cooperation from the Government of Cuba on the issue of fiscal and administrative decentralization. The Cuban state has been strongly centralized since the revolution, and there is a dearth of knowledge about federalism, territorial autonomy, and devolved governance. The challenges of implementing the reforms specified in the new Constitution on the territorial structuring of the state are therefore considerable. To support the implementation of this process, the Forum of Federations, with the financial support of Global Affairs Canada, organized a three-day workshop in Havana between October 22 and 24, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba and the Ministry of Higher Education. Three international experts, Laura Flamand, El Colegio de México; Luciana Díaz Frers, Government of Argentina; and André Lecours, University of Ottawa interacted during the workshop with 29 stakeholders (15 female and 14 male) in the current Cuban decentralization process.
The workshop was inaugurated by Ambassador Marcos Rodriguez Costa of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba and by Diana Chebenova, Senior Director at the Forum of Federations. Ambassador of Canada to Cuba, H.E. Perry Calderwood (http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/cuba) attended the opening of the workshops. The workshop participants were members of the national government, including the Permanent Commission for the Implementation of the Guidelines of Economic and Social Development, and a number of ministries including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Finance and Prices, Ministry of Economy and Planning, National Office of Tax Administration, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Ministry of Construction, Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, and Ministry of Justice. Representatives of two provincial governments – Mayabeque and Artemisa – were also in attendance, as well as a representative of the Cuban Federation of Women and academic experts from the University of Havana specializing in local government, decentralization, public administration, finance, economics and law.
The workshops covered three main themes. The first day was dedicated to discussing the principles and workings of federal and decentralized states, more specifically the issues of division of powers, intergovernmental relations, and administrative capacity-building. The second day featured discussions on fiscal questions, most notably fiscal autonomy, taxation and budgeting (including gender-sensitive budgeting), and regional development. The third day focused on municipal government, including questions of financing, coordination, service-delivery, and women’s participation and representation. Each day began with a broad one-hour presentation by one of the experts, which was followed by presentations on three specific themes where each of the experts intervened with shorter, approximately 15-minute presentation. There were two periods of discussion each day wherein Cuban participants could ask questions and make comments. At the end of the 3 days, a session was implemented where the participants were asked to comment on the usefulness of the workshops and the material presented, and on the topics they felt would required further analysis in the future. There were a number of issues identified from which the participants would benefit, such as how and in which sectors to start decentralizing, what should be the pace of decentralization, how the government can incentivize innovation at the local government level, what should be the division of competencies between provinces and municipalities, how to build fiscal and administrative capacities at the provincial and municipal level, among others.
All workshop participants agreed that they have increased their knowledge of fiscal and administrative decentralization issues and that they would use what they learned when making decisions in relation to decentralization in their work.