The National Capitol and Future Political Reforms in Cuba
The National Capitol and Future Political Reforms in Cuba / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 28 June 2016 — The northern end of the “Capitolio,” Cuba’s
National Capitol, is already completely restored. Scaffolding has now
been erected at the southern end of the colossal building
Some of he beautiful gardens and wrought iron lampposts surrounding it
have been rescued. The hustle and bustle of construction workers and
technicians is constant.
Sections of the Paseo del Prado surrounding the Capitolio have been
restored. The avenue’s new pavement is made from cast concrete and
parking has been banned. Dozens of palm trees have also been planted and
Three months ago the state-run Cuban News Agency reported that,
beginning in April of 2016, the National Assembly of People’s Power
would occupy the north end of the building, though this has not been
Ileana Mulet, head of the Office of the Historian’s Prado Investment
Group, was quoted by the official press as saying that air conditioning
had been installed in part of the lower floor and well as on the third
and fourth floors, noting that the work would not affect the chambers’
Mulet confirmed that security systems appropriate to a building of this
type were being installed, including technology to detect explosives and
break-ins as well as closed circuit television.
The investment specialist added that each seat in the semi-circular
legislative chamber — the space where National Assembly deputies will
meet only twice a year — will offer simultaneous translation, electronic
voting, a telephone and internet access.
Some 90% of the materials used in the restoration are imported, mainly
marble from Italy, which she notes “has on many occasions impacted the
speed at which the restoration is being carried out.”
The restoration project is supposed to be completed by 2018, though
Mulet acknowledges that the work “is far behind schedule.” The city’s
Office of the Historian will be responsible for maintenance and
conservation of the building.
A cabinetmaker working on the project estimates that, in the best case
scenario, the Capitolio’s completion date “could be the middle of 2019
or even the beginning of 2020.”
Cuba’s National Capitol was built in four years under the direction of
architect Eugenio Raynieri Piedra, who was appointed by Cuba’s president
at the time, Gerardo Machado. It was inaugurated in 1929 and housed both
chambers of Congress, the Republic of Cuba’s legislative body.
Inspired by the US Capitol, the building has a neo-classical facade and
a dome which measures 91.73 meters at its highest point. Situated in the
center of the capital and bordered by Prado, Dragones, Industria and San
Jose streets, the Capitolio marks the official starting point of the
1,139-kilometer-long Central Highway, built between 1927 and 1931.
After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, Congress was dissolved
and the building became the headquarters of the Ministry of Science,
Technology and the Environment as well as the Academy of Sciences.
For some analysts, the future home of the well-trained one-note
parliament raises some interesting issues.
In 1958 legislative power on the island was held by two chambers: the
House of Representatives and the Senate, which was made up of fifty-four
senators, nine for each of the then six provinces (Pinar del Rio,
Havana, Matanzas, Las Villas, Camagüey and Oriente). The House of
Representatives had one delegate for every 35,000 constituents or
fractions thereof larger than 17,500 constituents. Both chambers
combined had a total 220 members (for a population of six million).
The current National Assembly has 612 members for a population of
slightly over eleven million. But the numbers do not add up.
The chamber of the House of Representatives contains only two-hundred
seats. If — as specialists from the Office of the Historian insist —
physical changes to the Capitolio are being carried out without
violating its original design, the million-dollar question is: How will
it work if 412 members do not have a place to sit?
It is clear the current National Assembly is bloated. It is
proportionally larger than the legislature of China, a country with more
than 1.3 billion people.
A new election law has been brewing in the sewers of power for the last
three years. Presumably, it will reduce the number of delegates while
expanding their privileges and autonomy.
For now, everything is speculation. Another interesting question is how
sessions of the National Assembly will be conducted. When the Capitolio
was the legislative seat of the Cuban republic, its meetings were open
to the public.
Even Cuba’s 1976 constitution — a carbon copy of the Soviet constitution
— anticipated sessions would be open the public, something that has
These are not the only questions. Moving to the Capitolio will involve
reforms to the constitution, of which there have been many rumors.
There are several events that happen to coincide. Raul Castro will
retire in 2018, probably before the Capitolio becomes fully operational.
The outlines of the Cuban political scene is becoming a conundrum due to
a lack of transparency.
What is evident is that the island’s autocratic system of government
might endure long after the Castro brothers are gone.
With the Capitolio or without the Capitolio.
Source: The National Capitol and Future Political Reforms in Cuba / Iván
García – Translating Cuba –