Legal System in Cuba

June 18 2015 | Committees
An all-star cast of lawyers presented the Report from the 2014 Delegation to Cuba which talked about the Cuban Supreme Court, Arbitration/Mediation, the Chamber of Commerce in Cuba, Constitutional Law, Maritime Law, Family Law, Private law firms (Bufetes), cultural aspects and even LSU football diplomacy. Walter J. Leger, Jr., NOBA President, moderated a panel discussion with Mark C. Surprenant, NOBA Past President, Philliip A. Wittman, NOBA Past President, Jose R. Cot, Chair, Study Group on Cuba, Mark A. Cunningham, NOBA Board of Directors & LSBA President, and Jan M. Hayden, NOBA Board of Directors.


Historical Ties and Shared Civil Law Heritage

The New Orleans Bar Association (NOBA) approved the creation of the Study Group on Cuba for the purpose of providing the local Bar a forum for the learned study of the Cuban legal system, including its constitutions, laws and regulations.  A central premise of this initiative was recognition of the historical ties between New Orleans and Cuba, as well as our shared experiences in the Civil Law tradition.  The Study Group underscored our belief that Louisiana's unique experience as a mixed jurisdiction would serve as a template for both American and Cuban lawyers to engage in collaborative legal and technical endeavors, and explore areas where comparative analysis could be helpful as Cuba transitions to a market economy. 

The Study Group vowed not to engage in political debate or to advocate agendas regarding U.S.-Cuba relations. Instead, the Study Group resolved that its mission would be to promote more nuanced understanding and analysis regarding the Cuban legal system.  In addition to sponsoring speakers and developing reliable materials regarding Cuban law, the Study Group also began the process of identifying contacts in Cuba with the objective of coordinating official travel to the Island.  To that end, the Study Group studied the applicable provisions of U.S. law regarding travel to Cuba and delineated a protocol to sponsor a NOBA delegation.     

•       Members of the 2014 Delegation to Cuba

1.      Mark C. Surprenant                       2013-14 President, New Orleans Bar Association,
                                                                    Leader, NOBA Delegation to Cuba

2.      Walter, J. Leger, Jr.                       2014-15 President, New Orleans Bar Association  

3.      Philip A. Wittmann                         2003-04  President, New Orleans Bar Association

4.      Judy Y. Barrasso                            2014-15 President-Elect, New Orleans Bar Association

5.      José R. Cot                                     Co-Chair, Study Group on Cuba

6.      Mark A. Cunningham                   Board of Directors, New Orleans Bar Association,
                                                                   2015-16 President, Louisiana State Bar Association

7.      Jan M. Hayden                              Board of Directors, New Orleans Bar Association

8.      Helena N. Henderson                  Executive Director, New Orleans Bar Association

•       Preliminary Meetings

Prior to traveling to Havana, we held several meetings during which background and technical information were exchanged, the preliminary itinerary was fine-tuned, and delegation members were briefed on various aspects of Cuban law and the Cuban legal system. 

•       U.S. Department of Treasury,  Office of Foreign Assets Control  Licensing / Visa Compliance

We traveled to Cuba pursuant to a specific license for professional research issued by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and corresponding visas issued by the Cuban government.  The trip was coordinated through Academic Travel Abroad, Inc. (Washington, DC) and their Cuban counterpart, Marazul, which is a travel agency of the Cuban government. 

•       Selected Materials / Outline of Issues/ Topics

Prior to our trip, we surveyed selected publications regarding U.S.- Cuban relations, Cuban law and the Cuban legal system, including law review articles, texts, and official publications of the U.S. government.  We prepared an outline of critical issues and topics for discussion during our scheduled meetings in Cuba. 

•       Direct Contacts with Cuban Lawyers/ Professors

We also made contact with several Cuban lawyers and law professors by way of making introductions, establishing initial contacts and identifying potential areas of discussion and collaboration.  These preliminary contacts proved beneficial in laying the groundwork for our discussion in Havana. 

•       Meeting with Rolando Anillo, Esq.

On November 8th, the delegation traveled to Miami and met with attorney Roland Anillo, who is a member of NOBA and admitted to both the Louisiana and Cuban Bars.  Mr. Anillo has been actively involved with the Study Group from its inception and has provided valuable technical advice to the Study Group regarding the Cuban legal system and travel to Cuba.  Mr. Anillo provided an overview of the Cuban legal system, including the legal profession and the practice of law in Cuba.  He also answered technical and logistical questions regarding various aspects of our trip.


•       National Union of Jurists of Cuba (UNJC) -- Meetings with Law Societies

On November 9th, we arrived at José Martí International Airport in Havana, where we were met by representatives of Marazul, including our guide and interpreter, Jesus García.  We were then taken to the hotel Meliá Cohiba located in the Vedado district of Havana. 

During November 10-12, we attended meetings with Cuban lawyers, jurists and law professors through the various law societies of the National Union of Jurists of Cuba (UNJC) (Cuban Bar Association). Our key contact at UNJC was Dra. Dorys Quintana.  Specifically, we met with the Cuban Society of Commercial and Maritime Law, the Cuban Society of Constitutional and Administrative Law, the Cuban Society of Civil and Family Law, and the Cuban Society of Economic, Financial and Commercial Law.  The meetings were very engaging, insightful and informative. The round-table format was conducive to open exchanges and lively discussion.  We covered a broad range of issues and were impressed with the expertise, qualifications and candor of our counterparts in Cuba. Most notably, we enjoyed our discussions with Lic. Elpidio Perez Suarez, former Justice of the Cuban Supreme Court and a member of the Society of Commercial and Economic Law of the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

We presented copies of the Louisiana Civil Code to our counterparts, a gesture which was well received. 

•       University of Havana

On November 12th, we toured the University of Havana, including the law school and main administrative buildings.  In the afternoon, we met with Vice Chancellor Rita Rial and Dr. Jose Manuel Febles Gonzalez, Director of International Relations, and presented them a football signed by LSU Head Coach Les Miles by way of commemorating a friendly game of American football played between the universities in 1907. Mark Surprenant was instrumental in obtaining the autographed football and coordinating the details with LSU.  University of Havana representatives expressed gratitude for this gesture and indicated that the autographed football would be displayed in the University of Havana’s trophy room.  This was a very memorable experience for all of us and one of the highlights of our trip to Cuba.

•       Cuban Chamber of Commerce / Court of International Commercial Arbitration

On November 12th, we visited the Cuban Court of International Commercial Arbitration (CCICA), which was created by Decree Law No. 250 in 2007.  The Court is an autonomous non-governmental agency with its main function being to support Cuban foreign investment and trade.  The Court is linked to the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, where it has its official seat.  The meeting was led by Cuban arbitrators and mediators, who discussed the Court's jurisdiction and legal framework, its governing rules and procedures, the recognition and enforcement of arbitral awards in Cuba, and the evolving field of mediation and ADR in Cuba.  We were particularly impressed by the presentations made by Dr. Armando Castanedo Abay and Prof. Ana Maria Pozo Armentero.  Dr. Castanedo is a member of the Arbitration Court and Prof. Pozo is a professor of family law and a certified mediator.    

•       Bufetes Colectivos  (Collective Law Firms)

On November 13th, we participated in a group meeting with other American lawyers and our Cuban counterparts who are members of the Bufetes Colectivos (BES) (law firm collectives) to discuss various aspects of Cuban law, including criminal law and procedure, civil trials, the practice of law in Cuba, the role of lawyers in the political process, and other aspects of civil law and procedure under Cuban law.  The meetings were sponsored by the Organización Nacional de Bufetes Colectivos (ONBC), which exercises governance and regulatory authority over the individual Bufetes Colectivos. The key speaker was Dr. Ariel Manteon Ramos, President, and Dr. Hernandez Groheba, Executive Secretary.  Unlike the meetings that we attended at the Cuban Bar Association, this was a much larger group which did not afford a good opportunity for closer engagement.  Nevertheless, we raised a number of important substantive questions regarding the importance of an independent Bar, including the ability of private citizens to seek redress for tortious conduct and remedies against the state / government agencies.     

•       The Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP)

On November 12th, we also visited the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) which is a non-governmental organization designed to reach out to the international community and form ties of friendship between Cubans and citizens of other countries.  ICAP coordinates work brigades comprised of international volunteers who are eager to learn about Cuban society.

•       Historic Havana / Paladares / Fine Arts Museum

Throughout our trip, we visited both government owned restaurants as well as paladares, which are privately owned businesses. We also toured Havana’s historical center, including its fortification system, which was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1982.  We also visited the Fine Arts Museum, which boasts of an impressive collection of art and sculptures by renowned Cuban artists.


•       Briefing on U.S.-Cuban Relations by Deputy Chief of Mission, Conrad Tribble

On November 11th, we visited the U.S. Interest Section of the Embassy of Switzerland in Havana, which is the de facto U.S. Embassy in Cuba.  We met with Deputy Chief of Mission, Conrad Tribble, who provided us an in-depth briefing of U.S.-Cuban relations.  The discussion was most interesting, informative and insightful.  Mr. Tribble, his wife, Christina Tribble, who is the Cultural Affairs Officer and members of their staff, were very supportive of our delegation and encouraged us to establish contacts with independent lawyers in Cuba. 


•       Feedback from Meetings

The delegation received significant praise from the many Cuban lawyers, jurists and law professors with whom we met while in Havana.  They were impressed with the questions that we posed to them and our challenge of the limitations of the Cuban legal system, particularly on the important issue of human rights.

•       Post-trip contacts with Cuban lawyers

We have remained in close contact, via the Internet and telephone, with many of our counterparts in Cuba and expect that these contacts will grow in the future.

•       Post-trip contacts with the U.S. Interest Section

We have remained in contact with officials at the U.S. Interest Section, particularly regarding our potential networking with independent Cuban lawyers and the recent announcement by President Obama regarding normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations.

•       Feedback from New Orleans Bar Association lawyers

We have received very positive feedback from members of the local Bar, with many expressing interest in joining the Study Group and participating in future NOBA-sponsored delegations to Cuba


Since returning from Cuba, we have gathered to reflect upon the trip, Cuba’s reality, the Cuban legal system, the recent announcements made by President Obama regarding normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations, and the Study Group’s next steps.  Based on this analysis and reflection, we make the following recommendations to the NOBA Board regarding the Study Group’s agenda and future work:

•       Although the Study Group should continue to refrain from offering views on Cuba’s political future, its mission should be expanded to further identify ways in which we can offer technical support to Cuban lawyers as they reform their laws and develop the necessary legal institutions to support Cuba’s transition to a market economy.

•       NOBA should continue to sponsor professional research delegations to Cuba.

•       The Study Group should continue to pursue collaboration with the Cuban Bar Association (UNJC), including sponsoring speakers, CLE programming and providing technical assistance and support to Cuban lawyers. This should include sponsorship of Cuban jurists and lawyers as appropriate to develop a better understanding of the Cuban legal system. A component of these efforts could be sponsorship of a workshop on the legal and technical aspects of small businesses.   

•       The Study Group should continue to study developments in Cuba and compile resource materials regarding Cuban law, the legal profession in Cuba and the Cuban legal system.  These materials will be available to members of the NOBA.  

•       The Study Group should work with the recently-formed NOBA Study Groups on Mexico and Panama in order to develop a coordinated approach to the region in light of recent reforms regarding Mexico's oil and gas industry and the issues associated with the expansion of the Panama Canal.  Likewise, the Study Group will continue to collaborate with other NOBA Committees addressing issues of interest regarding Cuba. 



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