July 12, 2018
Via Email: [email protected]
David Doyaga Jr., Owner and CEO
Re: Cuba CLE Seminar – September 17 – 21, 2018
Dear Mr. Doyaga, Jr.:
The Cuban American Bar Association (“CABA”) is aware of the excursion to Cuba organized by SimplyCLE for September 2018. After reviewing the itinerary for the trip, many of our members have expressed concerns about the nature of the travel being provided.
Of particular concern is SimplyCLE’s marketing of this CLE as a “vacation,” stating in its materials that “this is a vacation after all.” As you should be aware, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the US Department of the Treasury regulates all travel to Cuba. OFAC provides regulations for travelling to Cuba pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, (“CACR”). The regulations allow for travel under specific circumstances (e.g., Family visits (see 31 C.F.R. § 515.561)); official business of U.S. government, foreign government and certain intergovernmental organizations (see § 515.562); journalistic activity (see § 515.563); professional research (see § 515.564); educational activities (see § 515.565); religious activities (see § 515.566); public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (see § 515.567); support for the Cuban people (see § 515. 574); and humanitarian projects (see § 515.575); etc.). “[V]acationing” in Cuba does not qualify under any of these approved exceptions.
In any event, SimplyCLE should be aware that it is sanctioning a vacation to Cuba at a time when the Cuban government is still one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. CABA cannot help but wonder what amount of, if any, due diligence was done by SimplyCLE prior to organizing this trip concerning the human rights abuses that occur daily under that regime. To that end, I would like to bring to your attention a summary of some of the human rights abuses that occur daily under that regime that should be taken into consideration by SimplyCLE and its excursion participants when contemplating this CLE:
- Arbitrary Detentions. The regime continues to rely on arbitrary detention to silence dissenters. Detentions are also used pre-emptively to prevent persons from participating in events viewed as critical of the government. In the ten-month period between January 2017 and October 2017, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation received more than 4,500 reports of arbitrary detentions. In April 2017, political activist Eliécer Ávila from the group Somos+ was arrested twice in three days for recording and broadcasting a protest message after authorities confiscated his computer in the Havana airport.2
- Severely Restricted Freedom of Speech. The Cuban government controls virtually all media outlets in Cuba and restricts access to outside information. While a small number of journalist manage to communicate information, the Cuban government blocks access to where that information is published. Then, to the extent the government considers the communications critical of the Cuban government, the journalists are subjected to smear campaigns and arbitrary arrests.
- Imprisonment and Political Prisoners. Persons who criticize the regime are charged with crimes, denied due process, and imprisoned. Judicial independence does not exist as the courts are subordinated to the government. As of May 2017, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported scores of political prisoners—including 54 members of the group Cuban Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica de Cuba).3 For instance, Dr. Eduardo Cardet Concepción, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (Movimiento Cristiano Liberación), was sentenced three years in prison on March 20.4 He was detained on November 2016 after criticizing in interviews with international media former President Fidel Castro shortly after he died.
- Unsanitary and Inhumane Prison Conditions. More than 57,000 Cubans are held in overcrowded prisons or work camps. Prisoners who protest conditions are placed in solitary confinement, subject to beatings, restr5icted from family visits, and denied medical care.5
CABA realizes that there has been a significant change in United States policy toward Cuba over the last few years, despite established facts confirming that the regime is just as totalitarian, just as intolerant, and just as repressive as ever. Therefore, we urge SimplyCLE as well at its clients who choose to visit the island to do so not because they are, in reality, being offered a fun-filled island vacation with rides through the crumbling remains of a once world-class city in vintage American ‘50’s convertibles, but because they want to make a meaningful contribution to the establishment of a freely-elected government that not only respects the rights of its citizens, but is held accountable to them. We ask our colleagues to keep in mind, as they exercise their freedom and right to embark on this journey, that Cuba continues to be a repressive dictatorship and its people are not free, and more particularly, is a country where our brothers and sisters in the law are routinely muzzled and unable to freely practice our beloved profession.
Additionally, in order to promote liberty and freedom for the Cuban people, we suggest that the travelers take time to meet with members of the Cuban dissident movement, human rights activists, and others fighting for freedom in Cuba. To that end, we suggest meetings with, among others: the Damas en Blanco (The Ladies in White), a dissident group comprised of the wives and mothers of Cuban political prisoners who march through Havana in protest every Sunday after attending Catholic mass, resulting in their arrest and detention on an almost weekly basis; Antonio Rodiles, head of Estado de SATS (a forum which was created in July 2010 to encourage debate on social, cultural and political issues in Cuba), who organized and submitted a petition to Cuba’s National Assembly demanding that the Cuban Government ratify international covenants on human, civil, and economic rights, and who was savagely beaten by Cuban agents in July of 2015, a few days before the opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba; Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, who received a U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts promoting human rights in Cuba; Jorge Garcia Perez Antunez, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and human rights activist; and, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and labor leader.
On behalf of CABA, thank you for your consideration in this matter. Should you wish to discuss any of this in greater detail, please feel free to contact me.
Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/201801world_report_web.pdf (accessed June 24, 2018)
5 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014, Cuba http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/cuba?page=1 (accessed June 24, 2018).