Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Report from Cuba - Day 1

The Old Spanish Fort
Yesterday, 32 members of the Chicago Bar Association arrived in Havana, Cuba. Our delegation includes CBA Offices Aurora Abella-Austriaco and Dan Cotter, Justice Anne Burke and Alderman Edward Burke, Appellate Court Justice Joy Cunningham, and several judges of the Circuit Court. We traveled here to meet with and learn from Cuban lawyers, law professors and judges about the Cuban legal system. The trip has already been eye opening.

Our first evening, we observed the Canon Ceremony at the old Spanish fort, which guarded Havana Harbor during Cuban colonial times. Today, we began our meetings with a panel discussion by the President of the Union of Cuban Jurists, Dr. Ramon de la Cruz Ochon, Dr. Delio Carreras Cuevas, a former Attorney General of Cuba who now practices as a criminal defense lawyer, and Dr. Mayda Goite Pierre, Professor of Law and Assistant Dean of the Law School of the University of Havana. We had a far-ranging discussion, which included the Cuban ethics code, the structure of the Cuban Courts and how lawyers in Cuba are compensated for providing services. (There is a set schedule of fees prescribed by the Ministry of Justice, and each firm charges the same amount for each type of service). 

At the Old Spanish Fort are from left, Dan Cotter,
Judge Clare McWilliams, Beth McMeen, me
and  Justice Anne Burke

Of particular interest to me, we discussed the state of the death penalty in Cuba. There are many similarities between Illinois and Cuba on that issue. While both jurisdictions have the death penalty, Cuba has had a moratorium on executions since 2003, like Illinois. There have been only a few death sentences imposed in Cuba since 2003. Recently, a published interview with former President Fidel Castro quoted Castro as saying, “I believe that the death penalty is not a solution.” This prompted Dr. Cuevas, who is opposed to the death penalty to say, “we count Fidel in our group.”

Guards at the Canon Ceremony
This afternoon, we met with Josefina Vidal, head of the North American Section of the Cuban Foreign Ministry. Senora Vidal, in my opinion, recited for us the “party line” on the U. S. foreign policy toward Cuba. While many in our group share her view that the U. S. should drop the travel ban and economic embargo, she clearly was sent to speak with us about the government’s position on all matters bearing upon the relationship between our two countries. Nonetheless, she was a dynamic speaker, and it was very interesting to hear the Cuban side of U.S./Cuban foreign policy.

We’ll keep reporting this week as internet connections allow. Hasta Manana from Cuba!

Justice Anne Burke
and  Dr. Delio Carreras Cuevas,
Profesor Emeritus, Universidad
de la Habana
The University of Havana Law School

Inside the Law School