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Cuba’s Legal Composite: A Blend of the Familiar and the Foreign

Ancient American cars and ubiquitous posters featuring Che Guevara—these were among many reminders of the foreign and the familiar MSBA members encountered on their visit to Cuba.  The billboard reads, “We see you each day … pure as a child or as a pure man, Che Commander, friend”

Viewed through the lens of another country’s laws—similar, yet different from our own—the American legal system comes more sharply into focus. For 32 MSBA members who got special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department to visit Cuba and study its legal system last October, despite the current embargo on U.S. citizens’ travel there, the trip afforded insights aplenty. Meeting with Cuban judges, law professors and lawyers, the group enjoyed warm hospitality and access to aspects of the Cuban legal system not readily apparent from abroad. Their reflections below, while necessarily limited based on their experience, are offered in hope readers may share in these insights and so bring the underpinnings of both legal systems into sharper focus for themselves.

Cuban Government & Courts

On New Year’s Day 1959, Cuba’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista, fled Cuba in the face of the Cuban Revolution. Fidel Castro assumed the role of president. Repeatedly endorsed thereafter by the Communist Party, he was elected and reelected president by the National Assembly until he resigned in February, 2008. His brother, Raúl Castro, similarly endorsed and elected, now serves as president. When asked what role or position Fidel currently has, Cubans answer that Fidel does not need a title or position: “he is simply Fidel,” and still alive, though virtually invisible at age 85. By contrast, the deceased Ché Guevara appears everywhere on billboards, buildings, and souvenirs for sale. No one speculates openly on Raúl Castro’s successor. Although outsiders may think of the Cuban Revolution as an event long past, Cubans believe it is ongoing; this year they are celebrating the 53rd year of the Revolution!

Cuba is governed by the National Assembly of the People, which comprises 614 popularly elected representatives and meets infrequently. Between Assembly sessions, a “Council of State”—consisting of the president, the deputy president, five vice-presidents, one secretary, and 23 others elected by the National Assembly—governs.

Cuba’s constitution, crafted and proposed to the public in 1976, was voted on by 98 percent of the population and approved by 97 percent of the voters. The constitution has since been modified in 1978, 1992, and 2002 by the National Assembly—the only body empowered to do so.

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic has constitutional “jurisdiction over the control and preservation of legality by ensuring that the Constitution, the law and other legal regulations are strictly obeyed … and representing the state in the promotion and exercise of public legal action.” It is subordinate to the National Assembly and Council of State.

Cuba’s judicial system consists of municipal courts and provincial courts, as well as the People’s Supreme Court. The People’s Supreme Court is the court of last resort that hears appeals from the municipal and provincial courts; it can also propose laws and issue regulations. The 41 justices on the supreme court are all selected by the National Assembly. Per the constitution, courts are subordinate to the National Assembly and its Council of State; but in the function of administering justice, judges are independent.

In the United States, juries keep our system grounded by infusing practical, common-sense justice into legal proceedings. Although Cuba does not have trial by jury, it employs lay judges to imbue the judicial system with a similar type of common-sense peer justice.

Lay judges serve alongside professional judges at all levels of the Cuban judicial system. Article 124 of the 1992 constitution provides in part that “for administering justice all courts function in a collegiate form and professional and lay judges participate in them with equal rights and duties.”

Lay judges are nominated by workplace collectives and neighborhood associations and then elected by municipal or provincial assemblies for a term of five years, serving a maximum of 30 days per year. Similar to our jurors, lay judges tend to reflect the diversity of the overall population. When they are not serving as lay judges, they work in their regular employment. The professional judges seem to appreciate their lay counterparts.

The Cuban Ministry of Justice is responsible for training lay judges. Their training is centered upon the procedural rules of the court system and familiarization with legal terms, but is intentionally limited so as to preserve the view of the people.

Criminal Law & Prosecution

Cuba emphasizes written codes rather than precedent as the source of law, and utilizes an inquisitorial system of criminal procedure similar to that of Spain and France. Finding its roots in Spanish law, the Cuban justice system incorporated elements of American law—including habeas corpus and a separation between the courts and prosecutors—during the Spanish-American war occupation. The Revolution left the Cuban criminal law essentially unchanged.

Someone arrested for a crime in Cuba today receives no Miranda-type warning and can be questioned by police for up to eight days before seeing a court or a lawyer. Plea bargaining is not permitted. The complaint, filed by either police or an individual, alleges the facts supporting the crime. Following research, the prosecutor decides whether to proceed and recommends bail or confinement. The defendant can hire an attorney or use a public defender, either of whom has ten days to file a rebuttal. The prosecutor then commences a pretrial proceeding that continues the investigation, after which she (71% are women) issues an analysis of the case and law and gives the court a recommendation for sentencing. The defense receives this information and files another rebuttal.

The defendant can then plead guilty or go to trial, which is somewhat abbreviated. The court consists of one professional judge and two lay judges in lower courts, which handle lesser crimes (like misdemeanors), or three professional judges and two lay judges in the higher courts for more serious matters (like felonies). Approximately 90 percent of the matters brought before these courts go to trial.

The defendant can choose to be the first witness in trial. Those who choose not to testify (about 15% do not) must assume the court will draw a negative inference from their silence; such reversal of the burden of proof leads one to question whether innocence is presumed. Witnesses can be called and cross-examined, if the judges allow them. A simple majority of the judges can disallow witnesses and choose to rely on statements or summaries. Experts can appear or testimony can be supplemented by reports. (No troublesome confrontation clause here.) The defendant is allowed to make a statement to close argument.

The court then has ten days to decide the case and the conviction rates (85% to 90%) are comparable to those of our federal courts. The right to appeal exists but there is no double jeopardy to stop retrials of defendants who are acquitted. Forfeiture is a very popular penalty and may divest those convicted of most of their property. Death sentences are executed by firing squad, but rarely and never for women. If the police or prosecutors commit misconduct, they do not go to trial but face a private court martial.

Juvenile Law

Juvenile delinquents in Cuba (miscreants under age 16) are not tried in a court of law. Rather, their alleged delinquency is addressed by a multidisciplinary team of teachers, sociologists, psychologists and other professionals who decide the outcome, such as sending the child to a boarding school, allowing the child to remain in regular school, or imposing some form of punishment. In this way, Cuban juvenile legal process resembles the dispositional phase of U.S. juvenile law. The age of criminal responsibility in Cuba is 16 and children 16 or older are tried in adult courts; however, youth aged 16-21 are given some leeway at sentencing. Youth under age 20 may be offered probation, which will typically be for a period equal to one-third of the total sentence. Many youths are incarcerated, and there is talk of converting some prisons into universities. As in the United States, the burden of proof in Cuban criminal matters is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and Cuba claims to recognize the presumption of innocence. However, as noted above, there’s some question as to the reach of this presumption.

An alley in Havana is filled with art (and performance art) influenced by uniquely Cuban religions, such as Santeria and Yoruba.  The Catholic Church remains a powerful influence and Judaism also retains a foothold in what used to be an officially atheist country.

Cuban child welfare law seems to make it very hard to be a bad parent; community-based child welfare nets, including schools and neighborhoods, are active in child-rearing. Removal of a child from biological parents is rare and typically occurs only where the parent has committed a crime against the child or has behavioral problems. In such situations, grandparents can obtain custody of the child. The Cuban child welfare system also provides protection for orphans and abandoned children, although the latter are quite uncommon. Since “Operation Peter Pan” in 1975—which resulted in over 14,000 Cuban children being sent to the United States to live with other families—Cuban couples are given priority in adoptions of Cuban-born children. Children under 18 must obtain parental consent, or, in exceptional cases, consent from a court, to marry.

Family Law

The 1975 Cuban Family Code covers marriage, divorce, paternity, adoption, and parental responsibilities for the care and education of children. Marriage is defined by the constitution as a voluntary union between a man and a woman. Yet, Mariela Castro (daughter of Raúl Castro), the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana, has been a long-time activist for GLBT rights. Her efforts led to the passage of a law in June 2008 that provides for sex-reassignment surgery for transgendered Cubans at no charge. The constitution provides that all children have the same rights, whether born in or out of wedlock.

Divorce laws are liberal and the process is inexpensive, with uncontested divorces typically handled by a notary public (who is a lawyer) in a matter of minutes. With few ownership rights to real property or businesses, couples have little property to dispute except personal property. The accumulation of personal property is also limited because most cannot afford much more than basic necessities.

The divorce rate in Cuba is notably higher than in the United States, with estimates ranging from 60 percent to greater than 70 percent (reportedly not including divorces of persons previously divorced). While divorces are relatively easy to obtain, the economic realities of divorce are harsh. Housing is scarce and multiple generations reside together in inadequate space due to inability to buy and sell real estate. Former spouses may therefore live together for weeks, months, or even years after divorce.

Contested matters are handled in court and typically include the issues of custody, parenting time, child support, and spousal support (granted in limited circumstances). An unemployed spouse, if married at least one year, may be granted financial support from his or her employed spouse. That support is limited to a term of six months if a couple has no children and to one year if they have children. Spousal support may also be granted if a spouse is incapacitated such that employment is impossible. In those cases, spousal support continues for the duration of the incapacitation. A parent’s contribution to a child’s support is based on ability to pay.

Contested custody matters are addressed by a multidisciplinary team that can include social workers, psychologists, and extended family members—a remarkable approach considering the country’s isolation for so many years. While the law presumes mothers will be granted custody, this is not automatic.

Domestic abuse is a crime in Cuba, and there are organizations where victims of domestic violence may find assistance. There is, however, no civil law equivalent to our domestic abuse statute and no ability to seek protection from domestic violence in family court. Amendments to the Family Code are pending and the issue of domestic violence is under discussion, as is the issue of same-sex marriage.

Practice of Law

The practice of law in Cuba is conducted in three general areas, with the Cuban government being the employer of lawyers in at least two areas.

The first area is dominated by a corporate law firm called the “Consultoria Juridica Internacional” or “International Legal Consultancy.” The Consultoria deals directly with companies (all owned by the Cuban government) regarding their internal workings and their relationships with other companies and the government. This firm also deals with export/import and general services of registry (covering travel agents worldwide and tourists traveling to and from Cuba). The firm has offices in all 14 provinces of Cuba. A tax firm called “Dr. Ruhbeck, Abogados y Economistas y Cia S.C.” is also included in this area, and is believed to work in conjunction with the Cuban government as regards tax issues in Cuba.

The second area comprises the offices of “La Organización Nacional de Bufetes Colectivos” (ONBC) or “National Organization of Collective Law Offices in Cuba.” This is an independent legal entity acting as a voluntary association offering information to Cuban citizens and working with the largest of the Cuban law firms. These are called Bufete Especializado (BES) and include 1,600 lawyers who are separately funded and located countrywide. Clients pay BES, which in turn pays the attorneys and may lend them money for expenses. At year-end, BES distributes any profits (including a smaller amount to nonlawyers). The salary for an attorney is about $25 U.S. per month, which is typical for all Cuban jobs.

There is a schedule of legal fees and Cuban citizens pay up to $25 U.S. for a case; a person with little money will be charged less. A foreign company or individual is charged around $170 per hour. Fees are approved by the Minister of Justice, after hearing from the Minister of Finance and Pricing.

Cubans typically contact lawyers for family, criminal, and estate matters. Two lawyers from the same law office not uncommonly represent opposite sides in a dispute between Cuban citizens. Personal injury actions from car accidents start as a criminal matter and if the driver is guilty of violating a traffic law, the sentence includes restitution for damages. Since all medical treatment is free, there are few personal injury cases. The longest trial in Cuba—a criminal prosecution of a Cuban citizen for terrorist activities—lasted less than a week.

The third area is the Prosecutor’s Office described under “Criminal Law,” above.

Legal Training

Cuba has 14 law schools, the largest of which is in the University of Havana. A student starts law school at age 18 or 19 and goes through a five-year program. Women comprise 80 percent of the law students. Only 43 percent of the graduates pass the bar examination on their first try. After the bar exam, they are required to perform three years of public service to repay their free education and each is required to work an additional three years as an assistant prosecutor, in tourism, in a law collective giving free legal advice, or in training to become a law professor. After they have completed these tasks, all students are offered a job in one of the areas of law in Cuba.

Notaries Public must be lawyers approved by the Minister of Justice. Mediators and copyright specialists do not need to be lawyers.

Ethics & Discipline

A written code of ethics governs the conduct of lawyers and judges in Cuba. All judges and lawyers belong to the National Union of Cuban Jurists, which promulgates a national Code of Ethics. In addition, there are also codes of ethics governing particular areas of the judiciary and law practice, such as prosecutors and litigators. In the area of “conflicts of interest,” the codes specify specific relationships between a lawyer and an adverse party that will result in disqualification. The Cuban concept of a recognizable “conflict” does not include the American concept of “a material limitation on the representation” (Model Rule 1.7). In criminal cases, the lawyer’s duty is to the client and not to the state. Communications between attorney and client are recognized as being privileged, just as in the United States.

A client or any other person can file an ethics complaint against a lawyer or judge. The complaint is considered by a commission of three lawyers. The commission can prescribe disciplinary measures, including suspension or the total inability to continue in the practice of law. A disciplined lawyer may appeal to a higher tribunal, and if (in rare cases) granted, may appeal further, ultimately to the Minister of Justice.

Ownership of Property

The general rule of property ownership in Cuba is that the state owns all property, real and personal—or, as the constitution says, all property is “socialist state property which is the property of the entire people.”

Cubans only recently gained the right to convey real property to one another and many extended families continue to share housing such as this for lack of opportunity to move.

This general rule is subject to a number of exceptions, but they are relatively limited as compared with ownership rights in the United States. The constitution lists the following private ownership rights:

  • Small farms and small farm cooperatives, but no land leases, sharecropping, or mortgages on such lands, or any other acts which permit a lien on the land or any grant to private individuals of the right to a small farmer’s lands.
  • Personal earnings and savings arising from an individual’s own work.
  • Personal dwelling, with the right to inherit a home or farm as well as personal goods and chattels.
  • Other possessions and objects which serve to satisfy one’s material and cultural needs.
  • Personal or family work tools.
  • Intellectual property (as discussed below).
  • Joint ventures, companies, and economic associations that are created as prescribed by law.

Individual Cubans cannot currently form a corporation, but recent economic reform allows more small enterprises, such as repair shops. Cubans can now sell their houses or cars directly to another Cuban, instead of to the government. Several reforms have been approved by the Party and the National Assembly, but are just beginning to be implemented and it may not be an easy transition. More revisions in the law applicable to small businesses are being considered. These are designed to encourage a free-market approach to small businesses, including greater ownership rights in the properties of those businesses. Cuba has lifted the limit on funds that can be sent from the United States to Cubans, but local bank loans are limited and there is still an old Spanish commercial code—all detriments to private enterprise.

Intellectual Property Law

Advanced intellectual property protection exists in Cuba. Our notion of intellectual property is broken into two areas: “Derecho de Autor” (copyright law) and “Propiedad Industrial” (industrial property law, or patent, trademark and trade secret law). Any trademark, copyright, or even a patentable idea can be registered; the industrial model category protects our notion of a design patent.

Companies that registered trademarks and patents prior to January 1, 1959 retain those rights subject to meeting renewal obligations. Companies wishing to register trademarks and patents for the first time may do so with the Cuban Office of Intellectual Property (OCPI). In the past year 135 patents were published, mainly concerning biotechnology, chemistry, metallurgy, and food science.

Many foreign corporations file patent applications in Cuba. These include many U.S. companies hoping to get a jump on their competition, keep their foot in the door, and protect their property while waiting for the embargo to be lifted.

Cuban trademark law appears as advanced as ours, allowing for the registration of sounds, colors, and even smells as marks. As we sampled the ubiquitous Havana Club rum one evening, we learned that Cuba and its marketing partner, Pernod Ricard SA, are engaged in a decades-long global trademark battle with Bacardi Ltd. over the mark “Havana Club.” (Bacardi distills “Havana Club” rum in Puerto Rico, while Cuba distills its rum in Cuba). Cuban inventors are seeking patent protection in the United States as well as in Cuba. Cuba retained the right to file for U.S. patents and trademarks because intellectual property was exempted from the U.S. trade embargo. U.S. patents issued to Cuban inventors are typically assigned to Cuban government entities.

Although we were assured that laws protecting patents, trademarks and copyrights can be enforced, individual Cubans currently seem to be unfamiliar with opportunities to invent, create, or advertise and be protected under their intellectual property law. Perhaps this is because 53 years of a socialist economic system has not encouraged such activities. Reforms are being put in place which may encourage entrepreneurs.

Foreign Investment

Due to the U.S. embargo, direct investment in Cuba by U.S. companies is negligible. Nevertheless, the United States is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba (mainly food and humanitarian aid) for which Cuba must pay cash up front ($675 million in imports from the United States in 2009). The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year (the nonpartisan Cuba Policy Foundation estimates over $3 billion in lost exports).

According to a high Cuban official, foreign corporations, except U.S. corporations, are allowed to invest in nearly any aspect of the Cuban economy other than education and health care, which are reserved for the Cuban government. In order to invest, a foreign corporation must present an investment proposal to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, which performs a feasibility study. If the proposal is accepted, the foreign venture moves forward, but at least 51 percent must always be owned by the Cuban government. Distribution of profits can be negotiated—even a 50/50 division is possible.

Given Cuba’s efforts to improve its economy and gain stature globally, it seems very unlikely that nationalization is a current threat. Asked whether a foreign corporation should worry about an asset being nationalized, an official responded, “not likely in the current environment; we are doing all we can to encourage foreign investment.” Nevertheless, “anything can be negotiated” and terms of a joint venture agreement could provide a hedge against nationalization, such as requiring a letter of credit drawn on a foreign bank or a cash deposit offshore to assure the foreign corporation that its investment will be safe.

Cuba is a signatory to the International Court of Arbitration and the Cuban Chamber of Commerce conducts specialized arbitrations. Cuba has also signed an international convention for buying and selling goods and 63 bilateral trade agreements with various countries. If commercial disputes are brought to the courts, they start at the provincial level, with only issues of law (not fact) being brought to the supreme court.

Sources emphasized that Cuba wants economic relationships with more countries, especially the United States, since shipping costs would be less than from Europe and China. Moreover, the potential benefit of such relationships is evident in that simple things like soap, toothpaste, aspirin, etc., are hard to find.

Environmental Protection

Cuba devotes much of its resources to medical care, housing, and rations: “people first, then things.” The shortage of resources means a lower priority for environmental protection, despite constitutional recognition of its importance:

The state protects the environment and natural resources. It recognizes the close links they have with sustainable economic and social development to make human life more rational and to ensure the survival, well-being and security of present and future generations.

Despite limited resources, Cuba has accomplished a lot. Ninety percent of the schools in rural areas rely on solar energy and there are ongoing efforts to reduce air pollution. Alternative energy is another focus, including bio-mass energy from sugar cane and bio-gas from manure. Sources estimate that 5-10 percent of Cuba’s energy is supplied by renewable resources.

Che and Fidel extol Cuban medical care.  The slogan, quoting Che, reads: “The life of a single human being is worth, but millions of times more, than all the properties of the richest man on earth.”

Little available agricultural land is farmed because of shortages of machinery, parts and fuel. There are no limitations on chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides, but they too are in short supply. The U.S. trade embargo is often cited for poor production of crops and failure to cultivate land. Private farmers also have limited access to markets to sell goods they produce, and may sell only through government enterprises that act as distribution brokers.

The Antonio Nuñez Jimenez Foundation of Nature and Man, which provides environmental education and undertakes environmental projects, has trained fishing communities regarding sustainable practices, and has educated thousands through school programs, camps, and community gardens. Cuba also has a strong environmental protection policy, covering 13-14 percent of the land, including forests, parks and wetlands, and a Foundation reforestation program is a source of pride.

Religion in Cuba

The 1959 revolution imposed official atheism in Cuba, which lasted until 1991, when the Cuban Constitution was amended to provide for the free exercise of religion. Cuba, an historically Catholic country reaching back almost to Columbus’s landing 519 years ago, became officially secular when Fidel Castro seized power and created a socialist state.

Today, however, a variety of houses of worship are open and apparently growing in membership. In 1991, the Communist Party first officially allowed believers to join the Party and amended Article 42 of the constitution to ban discrimination on religious grounds. Article 55 of the constitution, however, gives the state power to regulate religious institutions and individual religious beliefs. Article 55 reads: “The State … respects and guarantees every citizen’s freedom to change religious beliefs or to not have any, and to profess, within the framework of respect for the law, the religious belief of his preference … . The law regulates the State’s relations with religious institutions.” (Emphasis added.)

Although the Catholic Church estimates that 60 to 70 percent of all Cubans are Catholic, other religions are also represented. The leader of the Cuban Jewish community reported that Fidel Castro had visited their synagogue a few years ago to speak and to light a candle on the Menorah for Hanukkah, and that Raúl Castro visited in 2010.

An extensive, open-air artist gallery in Havana is dedicated to the syncretic religions of Cuba, such as Santeria and Yoruba. These religions grew out of faiths and practices that were brought by the Africans who came as slaves. Modified and blended with Catholicism and other African religions over time, these evolved to become unique, new religions found only in Cuba.

Despite growing religious practice and new religious freedoms, many consider Cuba secular and estimate that only 2 percent of Cubans attend church regularly. Pope Benedict XVI intends to visit in 2012 and Pope John Paul II visited in 1998. Such religious leaders hope to reestablish religious practice in Cuba after this long hiatus.

Freedom of Speech

The Cuban Constitution, consisting of 137 articles, has several wonderful provisions. A favorite is Article 38 that requires children to respect and help their parents! Many provisions are imbued with equality and fairness that most people would agree with. But then there is the negative that is an anathema to lovers of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment: Article 53 of the Cuban Constitution allows for freedom of the press and freedom of speech, so long as that speech complies with socialist principles. It also provides that all media must be owned by the state. Article 53 states:

Citizens have freedom of speech and of the press in keeping with the objectives of socialist society. Material conditions for the exercise of that right are provided by the fact that the press, radio, television, cinema, and other mass media are state or social property and can never be private property. This assures their use at the exclusive services of the working people and in the interests of society. The law regulates the exercise of those freedoms.

Article 39 (d) regulates freedom of artistic creation in a manner similar to freedom of speech: “There is freedom of artistic creation as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution. There is freedom of artistic expression.”

A professor of U.S.–Cuban relations said there is freedom of the press in Cuba now. Every Friday afternoon the newspapers publish letters to the Editor in which the people can say whatever they want to say. The professor himself has three blogs in which he feels he can comment freely. Of course, most Cubans do not have computers and even fewer have Internet connections.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, as of December 2010 there were four journalists in Cuban jails due to their work activities (out of 145 imprisoned journalists worldwide.) At times in the decade there have been many more imprisoned journalists. See: http://www.cpj.org/ for more information about this.

Thomas Jefferson once said: “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” It remains to be seen how soon this can be accomplished.

* * * * *

These MSBA delegates traveled to Cuba in October to learn more about the Cuban legal system and convey good will on behalf of MSBA.

The MSBA Delegation had an amazing trip to Cuba and felt a great affinity for the Cuban people. But we left feeling the Cuban people do not have the means to become well-informed. This trip makes us value our 1st Amendment and the freedoms we enjoy more than ever.

The exchange of ideas, knowledge and collegiality we shared with the Cuban lawyers, judges, and law professors who hosted us was unsurpassed. We look forward hoping that, once the U. S. embargo is lifted, we will be able to engage in greater exchange with our Cuban colleagues in efforts to improve both legal systems.

Contributors to this article were Thomas Bauer, Jeffrey Brown, Steven DeRuyter, Joseph Dudley, Daniel Gilchrist, Mitzi Gramling, Shannon Hoagland, Michelle LeGault, Juanita Luis, Hon. Richard Luis, Hon. Mary Madden Arroyo, Sonia Miller-Van Oort, JoMarie Morris, Larry Peterson, Allen Saeks, Jon Scott, and Cassandra Ward Brown.

Travel to Cuba

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations (Cuba Regulations) are enforced by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). These regulations apply to all individuals under the jurisdiction of the United States, regardless of where they are located, and regardless of whether they travel to Cuba directly from the United States or through another country. While purely tourist travel is still not authorized or licensed, recently amended regulations make it easier for American educational, religious, and cultural groups to visit Cuba.

The recent rule amendments provide, among others, for travel to Cuba for educational activities, travel to Cuba for religious activities, and remittances to certain Cuban nationals and organizations. The regulations, while allowing broader access, continue to require the application for and issuance of general licenses, specific licenses, and certain “other” licenses for travel to Cuba. Additionally, Cuba imposes its own requirements on visitors. One such requirement is that visitors must have non-U.S. medical insurance. If a traveler cannot provide proof of such insurance, the Cuban government requires the purchase of a temporary policy through Cuban authorities. On entry forms, Cuba also requests personal and confidential health and medical information, including HIV status, although it does not require testing or other verification of the information provided.

While the United States does not have an embassy in Cuba, the U.S. government provides consular and other services to U.S. citizens through the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (USINT), which operates under the legal protection of the Swiss government. Travelers should note that access to USINT is generally only available in Havana, and that even with the presence of USINT, they are subject to the laws of Cuba.

Individuals or organizations seeking more information or interested in travel to Cuba under a license should contact the Licensing Division of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 1500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Treasury Annex, Washington, DC 20220. Tel.: (202) 622-2480.

For further information, see the complete OFAC Rules, codified at 15 CFR Part 515. The following websites also provide useful information:


 

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