Debra Leo, Esq. of Leo & Associates, formerly of the EEOC, supplied this synopsis of the trip she, Cassandra Adams and Quentin Brown took to Cuba in November.
A delegation from the Dispute Resolution Section of the American Bar Association visited Cuba from November 9 through November 14, 2014. Of the 31 delegates, three were from Alabama – Debra Leo, Cassandra Adams and Quentin Brown.
The purpose of the trip was to discuss dispute resolution processes in the Cuban justice system. The delegates initially met with the National Union of Jurists of Cuba, a professional organization for lawyers, to discuss legal education in Cuba. The universities are free, however, it is extremely competitive to get in. Between 1982 and 1992 graduating law students were required to practice in a “bufete” for three years as a social service. Now graduating students can provide their social services at a wide array of legal jobs. Bufetes are collective law offices, first established by the Ministry of Justice after the private practice of law was abolished, and currently under the oversight of the National Organization of Bufetes Colectivos (ONBC).
The delegation met with a local trade union, CTC, to discuss labor mediation. They also met with the Cuban Society of Constitutional and Administrative Law to discuss the Cuban legal system, analysis of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba and the Cuban electoral system. The Cuban Society of Civil and Family Law discussed the Civil Code and its institutions, experiences of Family Court, family mediation processes, and resolution of family disputes through the courts. The delegates also met with criminal law specialists (judges and expert members of the Cuban Society of Penal Sciences) and had an exchange with litigant lawyers.
Professional judges in Cuba are elected for unlimited terms, serving until they are no longer capable or until removed by the electoral body. Persons seeking to become judges are required to pass an examination given by the Ministry of Justice. The requirements to be a judge include age, citizenship, and a requisite amount of legal experience that varies depending upon which court one is to serve on (10 years for Supreme Court; five years for Provincial Courts; two years for municipal courts.)
Membership in the Cuban Communist Party is not required to be a judge. Lay judges serve alongside professional judges in all levels of the judicial system. Candidates for the position of lay judge are nominated in workplace assemblies and are screened by the Ministry of Justice to ensure they meet the age and citizenship requirements. They are given training before their employment begins. Lay judges are elected for terms of five years, serving a maximum of 30 days per year (This is because lay judges continue their regular employment.) On a whole, lay judges tend to represent the overall population in terms of race, gender, employment, and education.
It was not surprising to find that no formal dispute resolution process is institutionalized in Cuba’s justice system. As in the United States, mediation was used primarily in the family court system. The parties we met with were receptive to dispute resolution processes and interested in how they are used in the United States. The Cuban court system did not appear to be as overburdened as our courts are, and the judicial process was not as time consuming as it is in the United States. It was interesting that the majority of judges that met with the delegation are female.
The delegation also met with the wife of one of the Cuban 5. It was quite interesting to hear her perspective, along with the attorney who represented Alan Gross. We also met with a community project and discussed discrimination issues in Cuba.
I believe it was a general consensus of the delegates that Cuba was a lot more progressive than expected. Renovations were ongoing throughout Havana. Cubans appeared optimistic because of changes that had occurred in the past five years and were interested in the United States and our way of life. It was surprising to find a great number of tourists in Cuba (excluding Americans). The delegates had some free time to explore Havana and experience the private restaurants and clubs.
With the restrictions between Cuba and the United States lifted, it will be interesting to see the revitalization continue.