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Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013

President’s Message independently, the reality is that the judicial branch does not enjoy the independence we know in the United States. Cuba’s legal background is based upon the civil code, like systems found in Spain and other European countries. In criminal cases, judges, not juries, decide the outcome of a case. The defendant is offered an opportunity to make a statement in defense of the charges against him. But the failure of a defendant to testify can result in a negative inference against him or her. Witnesses, including experts, may be permitted to present testimony by way of written statements or live testimony. Questions may be posed by the judges, the prosecutor or the defense attorney. The judges must decide the case within ten days and conviction rates are reported to be in the range of 85-90%. In family law matters, Cuban law is more liberal. Divorce is relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain, and because most Cuban citizens have few belongings, there is little property to contest in these proceedings. We were told that Cuba is beginning to develop Family courts, using the U.S. system as a model. It remains to be seen how these specialized courts will work in practice. The Legal Profession in Cuba The University of Havana hosts the largest law school in Cuba. We were welcomed to the law school and enjoyed meeting with several of its professors. Law school is a five year program in Cuba. After graduation, the students must pass a bar exam. The lawyers then work for three years in public service and then an additional three years as an assistant prosecutor, in a collective law office offering free advice or in training as a law professor. Afterwards, the lawyer can go to work in a collective law office, as a prosecutor or in another position employed by the government. There is very limited private law practice in Cuba. There are collective law offices known as Bufetes Colectivos. To practice in one of these collectives, lawyers must graduate from a law school in Cuba or a school in another country that has been validated by the Cuban government. Practicing attorneys represent individuals and businesses, including both citizens and foreigners as well as foreign businesses. Offices have established fee schedules, generally based on per-hour billing. National Union of Cuban Jurists (UNJC) The UNJC is a voluntary professional organization for lawyers. With its office in Havana, the UNJC essentially is a bar association with approximately 17,000 members located throughout Cuba. The UNJC publishes a law review, comments on proposed legislation and sponsors conferences. During our visit, we were able to stop by an international conference as guests of the UNJC and make some valuable contacts for our own research. Our delegation was warmly welcomed by several representatives from the UNJC. We were able to meet and talk with many lawyers and professors who spoke with us about the rule of law in Cuba. Cuba in Transition One of the first things we learned is that Cuba has two currencies. The peso is used to pay wages to its citizens and the CUC is tied to world currency rates and is used in tourist hotels and restaurants. A CUC is worth about the equivalent of one dollar. A Cuban peso is worth 1/24 of a CUC, or about four cents. The CUC currency was created following financial penalties imposed by the Bush administration in the mid 2000s and after the loss of financial support following the break-up of the Soviet Union. The two currencies create quite a dilemma for the locals whose wages are paid in pesos. For example, a medical doctor said that his monthly salary is the equivalent of about fifty CUCs, while a college professor’s pay was reported to be roughly thirty-eight CUCs per month. With these meager wages, the Cubans are quite creative in working to acquire CUCs. The tourist industry is very attractive for Cubans as tips are paid in CUCs. As a result, we found that several of the people working in our hotel and taxi drivers actually were engineers and other professionals. As a socialist society, the idea of private property has been anathema since the Revolution in 1959. That view, however, is beginning to change on a small scale Birmingham Bar Bulletin/ Fall 2013 9


Birmingham Bar Association Bulletin - Fall 2013
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