Thursday, December 2, 2010

Report from Cuba - Day 2

An image of Old Havana
Today we had a day filled with meetings with different members of the bar, the courts and the Cuban National Assembly of Peoples' Power.

We started off with a panel of constitutional law scholars and practitioners, discussing the Cuban Constitution. We learned that the Cuban Municipal, Provincial and National Assemblies are elected by popular election from neighborhood "electorates," which each nominate a candidate. There are no political parties involved in Cuban elections, although at the National level, approximately 2/3 of the members of the Cuban National Assembly of Peoples' Power are members of the Communist Party.
The Cuban Capitol Building
A church in Old Havana

We asked whether the Cuban Constitution provides for any individual rights. The discussion on that issue was among the more interesting discussions of the day, at least in my opinion. At first, one of the scholars told us that the Constitution establishes rights to association, of free expression, of freedom of religion, and equality. Then, another scholar said, of course, in view of the fact that Cuba has been "under attack" since 1951, it is necessary for the people to tolerate certain restrictions on those rights. To quote him, "Our system has to place controls on how to exert political rights. So long as there is that much hostility [toward Cuba from the United States] we cannot be as free as we would be otherwise. If you are under attack from your neighbor you cannot live a normal life." Indeed, the Cuban Constitution protects free speech, but only "free speech consistent with the objectives of the socialist society."

That session was followed by a session with three members of the National Assembly (the equivalent of our House of Representatives and Senate combined). The session was dominated by Dr. Jorge Lezcano Perez, who gave us a whopping dose of party line about the "power of the people" in Cuba. Among other things, Dr. Perez said that the supreme power in Cuba rests in the National Assembly, and the Cuban President has no significant powers.

Justice Anne Burke of the Illinois Supreme Court (second from left)
and Justice Joy Cunningham of the Illinois Appellate Court
visited with several Cuban judges.
In the afternoon, we had a wonderful discussion with several Cuban judges, led by Dr. Armando Torres, President of the Provincial Court for the Province known as City of Havana. Also joining that discussion was a prominent criminal lawyer, Jorge Bodes Torres, assistant to the Minister of Justice. We had a very free question and answer session, with questions ranging from criminal procedure to the caseload of the Cuban courts to how judges are selected to what rights Cuba protects in intellectual property. Of much interest to me, the judges told us that in a criminal case, by law a statement by the defendant is not sufficient evidence to support a conviction -- it must be corroborated by other evidence. We also learned that during interrogations, criminal suspects in Cuba have the right to remain silent, and once a decision is made whether to keep the suspect in custody, the right to a lawyer. We also learned that, while the prosecution must share its evidence with the defense pretrial in a criminal case, there is no right to pretrial discovery in civil cases.

Donating medicine at the Presbyterian church in Havana
Following our session in the afternoon, Tom Sullivan, Dan Cotter and I made a visit to the Presbyterian Church in Havana, where we delivered over-the-counter medicines that members of our group brought with us to donate to the church. The church was in a very poor-looking neighborhood, but the sanctuary was beautiful.

Tonight we visit a private enterprise restaurant in a home -- part of Raoul Castro's capitalist reforms. Hasta manana, CBA!