Legal Research in Cuba

By Yasmin Morais

Yasmin Morais is the Cataloging and Reference Librarian at the Mason Law Library, David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia. She earned the degrees of BA (Spanish) and MSc (Government) from the University of the West Indies, (Mona), the LL.B (Hons.) from the University of London, and MLIS from the University of Toronto. Yasmin is the Chair of the Latin American Law Interest Group, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Section (FCIL), American Association of Law Libraries (AALL).

Published September 2018

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1. Introduction

This research guide was created to assist with researching Cuban Law. Cuba is currently a member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Association of Caribbean States. Cuba has also over the years maintained strong ties to member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

There has been much fluidity in Cuban law and politics in recent times, and particularly more so within the last decade as a result of fast-moving political, economic, and social changes in Cuban society, as well as the response of the United States in particular to those changes. In December 2014, the United States moved to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. By January 2015, the Obama Administration announced new rules to ease trade and travel restrictions. The April 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama marked the first meeting in over 50 years between leaders of the United States and Cuba. Cuba was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and on July 20, 2015, the United States resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba with the re-opening of the United States Embassy in Havana. This ushered in a period of expansion of travel and commerce, and increased accessed to communication for Cubans.

Since this guide was created in 2015, however, there have been changes of administration in both Cuba and the United States. In November 2016, President Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. There has since been a change in the direction of United States policy towards Cuba. In June 2017, President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum (NSPM) aimed to re-define the administration’s policy towards Cuba. Amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) and Export Administration Regulations (EAR) became effective November 9, 2017, creating changes to sanctions against Cuba. The main aims are to re-direct economic activities away from the Cuban military and other security forces and allow support for the private sector. There are also new travel restrictions on United States citizens. Individual travel is no longer allowed, and U.S. citizens will now have to travel as part of a group and cannot patronize a list of hotels associated with the Cuban military and security forces. In September 2017, 21 U.S. diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Havana fell ill, with symptoms which included hearing loss and problems with cognition. In response, the U.S. State Department withdrew all non-essential personnel. The U.S. Embassy in Havana now operates as an unaccompanied post, defined by the embassy “as a post at which no family members are permitted to reside”. (Website of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. Accessed April 25, 2018).

On April 18, 2018, Miguel Diaz-Canel-Bermúdez was selected to succeed Raul Castro as President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. Raul Castro remains Chief of the Communist Party of Cuba until 2021. It is still too early to tell how U.S.-Cuba relations will fare under the Canel-Bermúdez administration. For updates on U.S.-Cuba relations, see the U.S. Embassy in Cuba website.

2. Country Data

The Republic of Cuba is an island state located in the northwestern Caribbean. In addition to the mainland, there is territorial claim to the Isla de Juventud (Isle of Youth), and several other smaller islets. Havana, located in the northwestern section of the island, is the capital, and Cuba’s largest city. The United States, The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands are north of Cuba, while Haiti and the Dominican Republic are east, and Jamaica and the Cayman Islands are south of the island. Cuba’s total land mass is 109,886 kilometers. Cuba is divided into 14 provinces and 169 municipalities. At the end of the 2012 census, Cuba’s population was approximately 11.2 million. There is currently a dual currency system in place. The official currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP). However, Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC), which is pegged to the U.S dollar, is also legal tender, and is used mainly in tourism, stores, restaurants, and foreign trade. .

3. A Brief History

Spanish settlement and colonization of Cuba began after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. San Cristobal de Habana (present day Havana), was founded in 1515. France briefly seized control of Cuba from the Spanish in 1555. Cuba’s desire for independence from Spain resulted in three phases of struggle: The Ten Year’s War, (1868-1878); a smaller conflict (1879-1880), and the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). The intervention of the United States in the conflict in 1898 resulted in a three-month war with Spain, known as the Spanish American War which was ended by the Treaty of Paris.

As a result of the Platt Amendment, the United States occupied Cuba in 1906-1909, 1917, and 1921. The 1930s and 1940s saw the rise of dictatorships under Presidents Gerardo Machado and Carlos Manual Cespedes, and a brief revolution which brought Fulgencio Batista to power. After brief periods of democracy under Presidents Grau San Martin and Carlos Prio Socarras, Fulgencio Batista again led a coup d’état in 1952, and assumed power.

On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro Ruz, leading the 26th of July Movement, (Movimiento 26 de Julio), seized power in the Cuban Revolution, ushering in a one-party communist system of government. In October 1960, the United States imposed an embargo on Cuba and ended diplomatic relations in 1961. After failed attempts to oust Castro, such as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, heightened US-Cuba tensions resulted in The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 as Cuba moved closer to the former Soviet Union. In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which introduced tougher sanctions against Cuba, including sanctions against third-party states, companies or individuals engaged in commerce with Cuba. In July 2006, an ailing Fidel Castro transferred power to his brother, Raul Castro Ruz. On November 25, 2016, Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba over eleven U.S. administrations, died at the age of 90.

4. The Cuban Constitution

Since attaining independence from Spain, Cuba has been governed by four constitutions: the 1901, 1934, 1940 and 1976. The present was amended on June 26, 2002. On June 2, 2018, the National Assembly of People’s Power announced that there will be an amendment to the current constitution. A thirty-three-member Commission, headed by former President Raul Castro, will prepare a draft constitution. Some likely changes will include presidential term limits, more rights for the gay and lesbian community, including same-sex marriage, and economic reforms. After the draft is completed, it will be discussed and then submitted to a referendum. For more details on the Cuban Constitution, see the Law Library of Congress Cuba Profile.

5. Government

5.1. Executive Branch

Executive power operates through the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. Cuba’s sole political party is the Cuban Communist Party, the PCC (Partido Comunista de Cuba). Miguel Diaz-Canel-Bermúdez was elected President of the Council of State and President of the Council of Ministers at the most recent elections held in April 2018. Salvador Vales Mesa was elected First Vice President, along with five Vice-Presidents, namely Ramiro Valdes Menendez, Roberto Tomas Morales-Ojeda, Gladys Maria Bejerano Portela, Ines Maria Chapman, and Beatriz Johnson. The Cabinet consists of Council of Members who are proposed by the President of the Council of State and appointed by the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular).

5.2. Legislative Branch

Under the Cuban Constitution, legislative power rests with the unicameral National Assembly of People’s Power, which has approximately 614 seats. The National Assembly meets twice each year and is responsible for appointing the members of the Council of State. For more information on the National Assembly, see the Government of Cuba Official Website.

5.3. Judicial Branch

The People’s Supreme Court, (Tribunal Supremo Popular) is headquartered in Havana, and exercises jurisdiction for the entire Republic. It consists of a Court President, Vice-President, 41 professional justices, and lay judges. Justices are elected by the National Assembly for 2 ½ year terms, and lay judges are appointed to serve 5-year terms. There are also provincial courts, municipal courts and military courts.

6. Primary Legal Resources

7. Secondary Legal Resources

7.1. Government Websites

7.2. Law Schools and Law-Related Associations

7.3. Libraries

7.4. Books

  • Chomsky, Aviva. A History of the Cuban Revolution. 2d ed.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.
  • Chomsky, Aviva. The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press Books, 2004.
  • Cot, Jose R. and Anillo, Rolando. Cuba: A Legal Guide to Business. Thomson-Reuters, 2016.
  • Erisman, Michael & John M. Kirk (eds.). Cuban Foreign Policy: Transformation Under Raul Castro. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018.
  • Evenson, Debra. Law and Society in Contemporary Cuba. 2nd ed.Kluwer Law, 2003.
  • Farber, Samuel. Cuba since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment. Haymarket Books, 2011.
  • Farber, Samuel. The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered. University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
  • Garibaldi, Oscar M. Expropriated Properties in a Post-Castro Cuba: Two Views. Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, University of Miami, 2003.
  • Gordon, John D. “This Practice Against Law”: Cuban Slave Trade Cases in the Southern District of New York, 1839-1841. Talbot Publishing, 2016.
  • Gott, Richard. Cuba: A New History. Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Grant, Julienne E., Sergio D. Stone & Marisol Floren-Romero (eds.) Guide to Cuban Law and Legal Research. 45.2 International Journal of Legal Information 76 (Summer 2017).
  • Guerra, Lillian. Heroes, Martyrs, and Political Messiahs in Revolutionary Cuba, 1946-1958. Yale University Press, 2018.
  • Guerra, Lillian. Visions of Power in Cuba: Revolution, Redemption and Resistance, 1959-1971. University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Hayden, Tom and Alarcon, Ricardo. Listen, Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters. Seven Stories Press, 2017
  • Huddleston, Vicki. Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle with Castro’s Cuba. The Overlook Press, 2018.
  • LeoGrande, William M. & Kornbluh, Peter. Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Ness, Gabriel. An Exile Revisits Cuba: A Memoir of Humility. McFarland and Company, Inc., 2016
  • Perez, Louis A. Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution. 5th ed.Oxford University Press, 2014.
  • Perez-Stable, Marifeli (editor). Looking Forward: Comparative Perspectives on Cuba’s Transition. University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.
  • Joaquin Roy. Cuba, the United States and the Helms-Burton Doctrine: International Reactions. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.
  • Segrera, Francisco Lopez. The United States and Cuba: From Closest Enemies to Distant Friends. Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.
  • Staten, Clifford L. The History of Cuba. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Sweig, Julia E. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2012
  • Tarrago, Rafael E. Understanding Cuba as a Nation: From European Settlement to Global Revolutionary Mission. Taylor and Francis, 2017.
  • White, Nigel D. The Cuban Embargo under International Law: El Bloqueo. Routledge, 2015.
  • Zatz, Marjorie. Producing Legality: Law and Socialism in Cuba (After the Law). Routledge, 1994.

7.5. Journals

Below are links to both subscription-based and open source journals which regularly publish articles on Cuba.

7.6. Newspapers, Radio and Television Stations

7.7. Blogs

8. General Sources