Monday, September 7, 2009

1958: Constitutional Rights restored

Cuba History Timeline Events
January 25, 1958
Coincident with the Granma invasion landing, the Batista government suspended constitutional rights on December 2, 1956 in four provinces: Oriente, Pinar del Río, Camagüey and Las Villas. The 1940 Constitution provided for such suspensions of rights by presidential decree, for a maximum of 45 days. Responding to a wave of terrorist incidents (resulting in 60 deaths in the preceding six weeks), on January 15, 1957 a suspension was announced for Havana and Matanzas the two provinces not covered by the earlier decree. These suspensions were rescinded on 25 February 1957, shortly before lapsing as 45 days expired.

Late in December 1957 another suspension was imposed (including press/media curbs), in response to increasing frequency and scale of terrorist acts. As the year before, revolutionary terrorists targeted celebrations as a time to stage multiple New Year’s Eve bombings in Havana. January terror included bombing of the Havana Aqueduct.

The suspension of constitutional rights (suspensión de garantias constitucionales) meant restrictions limiting protections afforded by enumerated articles in the constitutional Bill of Rights such as habeas corpus, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, free assembly and free speech.

Under pressure from the US (through Ambassador Smith) and domestic opposition parties, Batista restored the constitutional Bill of Rights on January 25, 1958. As the Times reported, this immediately took effect in all provinces except Oriente, where rights were restored on February 4.

The Batista regime faced a major challenge. Choosing to restrict civil liberties to exercise more aggressive surveillance, interrogation and detainment of revolutionary terrorists, allowed more control of the rising terrorism—but at great political expense. Alternatively, restoration of full constitutional rights invariably resulted in dramatic increase in revolutionary terrorist operations and strength. This can be glimpsed from the news coverage earlier mentioned New York Times coverage and in Time reporting on the rights restoration.

Another suspension was declared in March as the terrorist campaign to derail the elections intensified. Throughout 1958 Batista increasingly moved towards use of suspensions, culminating in a special decree in mid-May declaring a national state of emergency. Subsequent extensions of suspension of rights in 1958 were passed on 23 July (Decree 2418), 7 September (Decree 3023), and 22 October (Decree 3548). These decrees were published in Gaceta Oficial de la República de Cuba.

based on Manuel Márquez-Sterling's Cuba 1952-1959 and
Cuba 1952-1959 Interactive Timeline

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