HAVANA – Cuban lawmakers on Saturday approved the Cabinet named by new President Miguel Diaz-Canel, keeping most of the ministers from Raul Castro's government in place, except for in the key post of economic reform.
At the same time, the national assembly received a proposed reform of Cuba's 1976 constitution that would reshape its government, courts and economy, and pave the way for same-sex marriage, although it would maintain the Communist Party as the sole political force in the country. The charter will be put to a national referendum in the coming months then return to the assembly.
Among the ministers kept in place in Diaz-Canel's Council of Ministers were three historic vice presidents: revolutionary commanders Ramiro Valdes, Ricardo Cabrisas and Gen. Ulises Rosales del Toro. Foreign Minster Bruno Rodriguez, Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and Finance Minister Lina Peraza will also remain in their posts.
The main change was the absence of economic reforms minister Marino Murillo who had accompanied Raul Castro for a decade while he implemented modest openings to private enterprise in the socialist economy.
Diaz-Canel replaced Castro in April in a historic changing of the guard in Cuba, but Saturday's Cabinet suggests continuity rather than immediate change.
Cuban officials say the current constitution does not reflect changes made in Cuba in the decade since 1976.
The new charter would create the position of prime minister alongside the president, splitting the roles of head of government and head of state.
It would enshrine new recognitions of the free market and private property in Cuban society, though the communist state would remain the dominant economic force. It also creates a new presumption of innocence in the justice system and makes explicit the principal of not discriminating based on gender identity.
"We are before a total reform within the framework established by the principles of socialism," said Homero Acosta, the secretary of the Council of State in charge of presenting the reforms.
The current constitution was adopted at a time when Cuba was a potential Cold War flashpoint and a pillar of the Soviet Bloc. The document proclaims Cuba's adherence to Marxist-Leninist socialism.
Experts say the on-and-off economic reforms promoted by Raul Castro, which have sought to allow the limited introduction of private enterprise within the communist system, have been carried out in spite of the constitution.