I recently attended the Abogacia 2015 conference in Cuba with 700 other lawyers, 150 of them foreigners. This was my sixth trip to Cuba since early May 2002 (the same week Osvaldo Payá took his Proyecto Varela before Cuba’s national legislature), the first time I returned to the island I left when I was eight years old.
From the very first one of those trips, I have established contacts and have had direct interaction with my Cuban colleagues. Through those contacts, I have been able to follow, as closely as I can from afar, the development of Cuban laws (the same laws Payá’s Varela Project wisely and boldly compelled the Cuban government to enforce and/or adjust for the benefit of all Cubans). It’s now close to 15 years since even before that first trip, in 2001, I’ve been part of a small group of Cuban-American lawyers behind something we called the “US-Cuba Legal Forum”. We created it for precisely those same purposes: interacting and developing relationships between legal professionals from both sides of the Florida Strait, to better understand our respective legal systems.
I have made great friendships in this process, especially in Cuba, where I have the honor and the privilege of calling several brilliant lawyers my friends — many of them among the best I have dealt with anywhere in the world in over 40 years as a lawyer.
I have also generated some controversies in the process, and even lost some other dear friends among my colleagues in Miami, since many here consider it absurd to study a Cuban legal system which, from their very particular perspective, does not even exist: they claim there is no law in Cuba, and no lawyers as a result (en Cuba no hay derecho, ni abogados…).
The laws that affect regular Cubans
My interest in Cuban law has never been like that of other lawyers who focus on foreign investment opportunities in Cuba. For years I have heard announcements regarding the imminent building of golf courses, marinas, resort developments for retirees, etc., etc., which are perennially waiting for the Cuban authorities’ green light and never pan out. That is not the part of the Cuban legal system I am interested in. My focus is on the part of the legal system that directly affects the daily life of the cubano de a pie — the average Cuban — the quality of life of those who live and toil in Cuba, their children and, eventually, their grandchildren.
Most of Abogacia 2015 had to do with that nuts-and-bolts side of the Cuban legal system that governs (and often frustrates) the daily life of Cubans. Beyond the high quality of the papers presented by my Cuban colleagues — some of them very young — and the spirited debate they generated at the conference, I was impressed by the subtle and intelligent way in which my Cuban colleagues work to promote and facilitate the changes the island is undergoing, since those changes need to support themselves on a constant and continuous evolution of the Cuban legal system.
Of particular interest in view of the path chosen by the Cuban authorities in order to expand the incipient private sector of the Cuban economy was a prize winning paper written by Jorge Luis Dueñas Bejerano and Roberto Luis Martinez Piñer on the topic of tax incentives for cooperatives in Cuba. I plan to be writing extensively on the role of cooperatives in the expansion of Cuba’s private sector.
The Spanish transition
As a youngster, I followed closely — although only from the perspective of the proverbial fly on the wall — what was known as the Spanish Transition. My father, Juan Manuel Pallí, was one of the founders of OTI (Organización de Televisoras Iberoamericanas) and its First Secretary General. Many of his friends in RTVE (Spain’s public radio & TV system) who where players at OTI ended up being key players in the process that allowed Spain to transition from the Franco era to what it presently is.
This Spanish transition towards democracy was accomplished on the backs of two formidable jurists, Landelino Lavilla and Torcuato Fernández Miranda, and the key to its success was the idea that it was necessary to keep the process on a rail of legal continuity, an idea don Torcuato brilliantly crafted in his phrase, de la ley a la ley, a través de la Ley (from the — old — law, to the — new — law, through the laws). The transition was also anchored in the role of a king whose youth virtually forced the transfer of the reins of power to a younger generation of Spaniards, all of them in the king’s same age group.
Which is why I have always seen the direct contact with Cuba, with its youth, and with my fellow lawyers in the island, as an essential part of the road I should travel. That’s without any assurances, of course, that the road we Cubans have ahead of us will be the same the Spaniards took, but in the hope it will be similar.
But where can we find in Cuba, or in “the other Cuba”, someone like don Torcuato Fernández Miranda, or those who can properly visualize his legal bridge between the past and the future, and are willing to build it? There will certainly be some Cubans up to the task, even in the midst of such a dense atmosphere that weighs down on so many Cubans, some of them convinced that, inevitably, “one of the two Cubas is bound to freeze his or her heart”. The key, in my humble opinion, is in defeating that negative attitude.
Within Cuba, there is a slow, perhaps, but perceptible change of attitude and mentality from the one incarnated in the Tribuna Anti-Imperialista. This literal stage facing what is now the U.S. embassy on Havana’s Malecón, set the boundaries to Cuba’s Battle of Ideas or Batalla de las Ideas. There is still a long road ahead, though, winding between prudence and gradualism on one side, and impatience and frustration on the other. Many Cubans see no other way out for that frustration than migration (when I told a friend from Santa Clara about the purpose of my visit, he said he could visualize all the lawyers attending the conference holding hands while singing together “It is great to be poor”…).
Talking to foreign businessmen also visiting the island, it seemed obvious to me that many still felt uncomfortable with the imagery of Fidel, of Ché, and slogans around them. Cuban authorities need to listen to these businessmen so they can adjust the Cuban model in a way that facilitates the interaction with foreign markets.
Stepping down from the Anti-Tribune
Returning to Miami after a week in Cuba felt like returning to the past. The message and the view from our several “Anti–Tribunes” (anti-communist, anti-Castroist, anti-Chavist, anti- Kirchnerist) only emphasizes what is negative, a message in which the world is a place where nothing changes and everything is conditioned by Manichaeism: if your views are different from mine it can only be because you are the incarnation of that which I am fervently against (upon my return to Miami I faced another worried friend’s question regarding my alleged preference for the Cuban system over his own confused and diffused ideas as to what a “liberal” should stand for).
But what should be more worrying for all of us in Miami is our affinity for a series of ineffectual “Anti Tribunes”, our inability to overcome the cloud of intolerance, polarization and pessimism that hangs over us like the medieval plague. It is that polarized and paralyzing atmosphere what distances us from Spain’s transitional model.
Miami can and deserves to be not just the main door for the rest of the Americas when it comes to doing business in the United States, but also the epicenter of cultural and ideological diversity, of dialogue and understanding among all in the Americas (the northern, the central and the southern), and not just what it looks like today, a tribune for agitprop activities by the exiles of a series of nations against those who rule them.
Miami can also contribute to the corps of engineers called upon to build the bridge between the Cuba of today and that of the future, but following always a plan or map that only the 11 million Cubans in the island can draw. If Miami is to contribute something to that process it is vital for all of us in Miami to be able to understand and properly interpret what the Cubans in the island feel and want, and that can only be accomplished by getting close to them and interacting directly with them. I don’t think anyone from the Miami side can effectively contribute to that process without first getting close to and interacting directly with the legal system presently in place in the island.
And to properly understand the need to get closer, without prejudice, to the people in the island and to their legal system and become the lynchpin between Cuba’s present and its future, we Miamians must first adjust our individual and collective attitude and our mentality, without resorting to the childish argument that says it is “the other side” that must first adjust its discourse, its attitude and its mentality. It is we Miamians who can and should lead the way towards an eventual reconciliation, between Cubans, Venezuelans and all other nationalities in Miami’s multinational exile community. We must step down from the “Anti – Tribune” and become “Anti – Anti”.
José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org