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Finding your Bliss in Cuba

Friday, March 09, 2012 5:40 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

Pick your passion--Latin jazz, salsa dancing, delicious seafood, vintage cars, historic preservation, tropical baseball, contemporary art, Hemingway trails, environmental restoration, religious fusion, colonial history, comparative law or international relations---and you can find your bliss in Cuba.                                                                   

                     Partying with the Buena Vista Social Club at the Hotel Nacional

CLA recently organized a government-approved, educational excursion to Havana with Cuba Tours and Travel. Our group of 36 included lawyers from New York, Texas, Illinois, California and DC, as well as artists and other professionals.  Our Cuba trip photo gallery has some additional photographs.

On our first night in Havana, we walked through the brightly lit Plaza Vieja to the inner courtyard of the Santo Angel Restaurant. Skewered lobster dramatically mounted n individual stands was served to each guest as the rich baritone voice of Ivan Pozos serenaded us with violin, bass and trumpet players. Every day after that, the wonderment grew.

Cuba is famous, of course, for its restored vintage cars, which are ubiquitous. Reuse and recycle seem to be a driving theme of the Cuban landscape.

Large-scale renovation is taking shape in Old Havana, as funds generated from commercial activity are being reinvested in this UNESCO-designated world heritage site. The land use lawyers in our group saw an analogy to the tax-increment financing which has, until recently, fueled redevelopment projects in California (see our post dated Feb 8, 2012.) One by one, old buildings are being evaluated to see if they should be restored or demolished and replaced. Displaced families are invited to return after renovation or relocated elsewhere.

Under the administration of President Raúl Castro, Cuba is seeking more foreign investment through international joint ventures.  An overall goal is to raise the standard of living by increasing income from tourism and other sources while maintaining the best outcomes of the Cuban revolution, including universal health care and free education up to the level of advanced degrees. In November, 2011, the government announced that Cubans could buy and sell property--to other Cubans. Small businesses, including in-home restaurants, called "paladars," are encouraged, but, there's a limit on how many rooms one can rent, how many taxis one can own, etc.

As a condition of our trip, we all agreed to do professional research, which included: a seminar on the Cuban legal framework with Professor Laura Gomez of UCLA School of Law; a visit with attorneys who specialize in international arbitration at the Bufete de Servicios Especializado, a Cuban law firm; and seminars with Cuban judges and law professors organized by Dorys Quintana Cruz of the Union Nacional de Juristas de Cuba. During our visit, the National Congress of Cuban Attorneys was taking place. We were told that they were being assigned the task of working out the legal arrangements for the changing economic landscape.

We also visited Las Terrazas, in the Pinar Del Rio province. In this now bucolic "biosphere" reserve, six million trees were planted to restore land that was stripped for agriculture during the era of Spanish colonialism. At lunch at the Casa del Campesino, we were introduced to "ropa vieja," a classic Cuban dish of shredded meat prepared over a wood-burning stove.

We brought gifts to the Coco Project, which provides art and handicraft lessons to
seniors and children in Havana's El Serro
neighborhood.  In addition to art supplies, we distributed baseball caps donated by the law firm of Bryan Cave and the LA Dodgers.   

Projecto Coco is led by art students Lisandra Ramirez Bernal and  Osmeivy Ortega, a husband and wife team who volunteer their time to teach the students and elders.  A few days later, this dedicated couple met us at the Instituto Superior de Arte, the national art academy, which was built on the sweeping grounds of the pre-revolutionary Havana Country Club.

Recycle, reuse and reclaim.... 

Alma Robinson, Executive Director
California Lawyers for the Arts



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