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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013

President’s Message in Cuba. For example, the Cuban government now allows small businesses to open. As a result, many people are converting their apartments into restaurants, known as Paladares. Under the looser government regulations, these Cubans are able to keep the profits they earn from their home-based businesses. While modest by our standards, these changes are causing big shifts in how Cubans think about work and the role of government. The Cuban government is reducing the size of the large public workforce and Cubans are encouraged to start fledgling businesses, find private employment and participate in capitalism, albeit on a small scale. It will be fascinating to watch how far these changes will advance over the next few years. Will Cuba evolve into something similar to the Chinese model of capitalism and government control or something closer to our system of capitalism? Only time will tell. Legal Issues that Need to be Addressed in Cuba After the revolution, private businesses were nationalized and much private property, including residences whose prior owners left the country, was expropriated by the Cuban government. Additionally, personal liberties were not protected by the Cuban legal system in the way we expect. Many of these problems persist today as there continue to be reports of prosecutions of journalists and other critics of the government. These reports are vigorously contested by the Cuban government, and as with many ideological disputes, the underlying reality is difficult to determine. Freedom of Speech and the Press Cuba is very restrictive when it comes to press freedom. The constitution prohibits private ownership of media outlets and allows free speech only if it “conform(s) to the aims of a socialist society.” Violations of the law can lead to criminal prosecution. I asked one person about the ability to criticize the government. I was told that instead of making a direct criticism of the government, Cubans make light of the situation, but not the cause of the situation. Access to the internet is very limited. There are, however, new internet kiosks that are being installed in public places. Our experience was that internet access was limited primarily to tourist hotels. The internet connection was extremely slow and made it impossible to do much more than check a few e-mails. But, internet capabilities should expand as a fiber optic cable from Venezuela to Cuba has now been completed. Property Rights and Inheritance Until recently, Cubans could not legally buy and sell real property. The only means to change ownership of real property was through legal swaps of properties roughly equal in value. Cash money was not supposed to be part of those transactions, although we were told that cash under the table always played a role in those swaps. Now, these rules have been relaxed so that property can be sold to a natural person, but not a corporation. Inheritance rules are being relaxed, though Cubans who left the island after the revolution cannot inherit property from relatives in Cuba. Presumably, as Cuba continues to expand the ability to own businesses and earn profits, the laws regarding inheritance will be modified to allow for the transfer of this wealth. Foreign Investment Foreign investment is allowed in Cuba, except in the areas of education or health care. Because of the U.S. embargo, U.S. firms do not make such investments. We did, however, see examples of hotels that were built by investors from Spain, Germany and France. It is important to note that Cuban law requires that the Cuban government own at least 51% of any such investment. Thus, there are considerable risks in making such investments in Cuba under the current state of the law. Despite the many changes in recent years, Cuba remains a socialist state. Unless this changes, the laws of Cuba, even as they become more liberalized, still must fit within this model of government. Future Role for Alabama lawyers Interestingly, Alabama is in a very favorable position to develop relationships with Cuba. Both the American Bar Association and the Florida bar, presumably for political reasons, have not forged close relations with the Cuban legal community. Alabama, however, presently exports a large amount of poultry and other agricultural products to Cuba, but Cuba must pay for these products in cash because of 10 Birmingham Bar Association


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013
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