Will support Venezuela despite US 'blackmail': Cuban leader Raul Castro

CubaUpdated: Apr 11, 2019, 07:53 AM IST

File photo of former Cuban President Raul Castro. Photograph:(AFP)

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Castro said Cuba had been upping defence preparedness in recent months in view of increased US hostility.

Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro said on Wednesday said Cuba would never abandon its leftist ally Venezuela despite US "blackmail," even as the Trump administration threatened more sanctions over its support.

In a speech to the national assembly, meeting to enact the new constitution, Castro said Cuba had been upping defence preparedness in recent months in view of increased US hostility.

The island nation had also been adopting economic measures to contend with the Trump administration's tightening of the decades-old US trade embargo, Castro told legislators.

US Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday the United States would announce additional action to hold Cuba accountable for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The enactment of the new constitution allows Cuba's government to launch a modest revamp of its centrally planned single party system with dozens of laws expected on everything from the justice system to political structures.

Many observers are hopeful the government will open Cuba's still inefficient state-run economy further to free enterprise with a law recognising private businesses, not just self-employment, although they do not expect that to be among the first pieces of legislation it tackles.

That could give a boost to an economy which has had to contend with declining aid from Venezuela and a resulting cash crunch over the past three years, prompting the government to introduce austerity measures.

Cubans overwhelmingly ratified the new constitution in a February referendum after a year of debate, updating its 1976 Soviet-era Magna Carta. While it retains socialism as "irrevocable," it codifies changes in Cuban society since 1991, like the opening of the economy to free enterprise, and includes a political restructuring among other changes.

The constitution stipulates that the national assembly must approve a new electoral law to reflect the restructuring of government within six months. Within the following three months, it must elect a president, widely expected to remain Miguel Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Castro last April. That president must then appoint provincial governors and a prime minister - a new post separating the role of head of state from head of government.

The Magna Carta stipulates that within 18 months, new laws reflecting constitutional changes to the judicial system such as the presumption of innocence in criminal cases and habeas corpus should also be introduced. The process of a popular consultation and referendum on a new family code, that will address the controversial issue of gay marriage, should also be kicked off within two years.