Monday, December 6, 2010

Report from Cuba - Day 4

Cuban Supreme Court Justices
Well, we certainly saved some of the best for last in our visit to Havana! We started the day today with a session with three members of the Cuban Supreme Court -- three Judges who sit in the divisions of that court that hear economic and commercial cases. They were very open about their judicial system, and we discussed how disputes over international transactions, environmental disputes and what they call "collective" disputes -- the closest thing Cuban law has to class actions -- are handled.

Some of the art on display
at Jose Fuster's studio

At the Fuster studio

A couple points were of particular interest to me. First, they explained that under Cuban environmental law, the person or entity who builds near an environmental hazard, and not the owner of the hazard, is responsible for protecting residents or workers at the new development from the environmental impacts of the hazard. Second, the judges explained to us that there is a void in Cuban law with regard to consumer protection. As a result, the only recourse consumers have when they are injured is to bring an administrative action charging that a person or entity has violated a regulation. Third, the judges told us that, in anticipation of the new economic reforms that will be implemented next year (see yesterday's blog on that topic), it will be necessary for Cuba to completely revamp its commercial code.

Artist Jose Fuster, second from left,
with Aurora Abella-Austriaco, me, and Beth McMeen
 After the Supreme Court session, many of us visited the studio of a Cuban artist, Jose Fuster. Fuster works in ceramic tile, sculpture and oil paintings. He has decorated his home and all of the surrounding homes in the neighborhood with beautiful sculpture covered with mosaics, as shown in these pictures. Several of us purchased examples of his artwork to bring back to Chicago with us.

This afternoon, Alderman Ed Burke, Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, Professor Alberto Coll of DePaul Law School and I met with the Vice Mayor of Havana, Noraima Tabares, in the official residence of the Mayor of Havana. Alderman Burke delivered to Senora Tabares a letter from Tom Rickets proposing a baseball exchange between the Chicago Cubs and one of the professional baseball teams in Havana. Senora Tabares was very interested in the proposal, and Alderman Burke promised to follow up with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs upon our return to Chicago. Senora Tabares is a very impressive and warm woman. Trained as an architect, she was formerly in charge of urban development for the City of Havana. She is also an avid baseball fan, and we promised her a front-row seat in Wrigley Field for the exchange.

About to enjoy lunch

The meeting was one more indication to us that the people of Havana are very interested in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba (as are all the members of our delegation, as a result of the wonderful experiences we have had and the friendships that we have made here in Havana). We have learned throughout this week that we as lawyers and judges have much more in common with the lawyers and judges of Cuba that we have differences. We have also found that the people of Havana are friendly, warm and giving. It has been a tremendous privilege to visit Cuba, particularly at this crucial time of changes in the nation's economic and political systems. We hope that our visit to Havana is only the first step in establishing relations between the people of Havana and the people of Chicago.

This weekend, we all return to Chicago. We promise you that we will hold seminars and report to you what we have learned about Cuban lawyers and the Cuban legal system. Adios, Havana!

From left, Justice Anne Burke, Vice Mayor of Havana
Noraima Tabares , Alderman Ed Burke, and me.
A group shot from the closing dinner