A Letter to SimplyCLE Regarding Its Cuba CLE Seminar

July 12, 2018

Via Email: info@simplycle.com
David Doyaga Jr., Owner and CEO
SimplyCLE

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.

Sincerely,

Jorge L. Piedra
President

 

 

Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/201801world_report_web.pdf (accessed June 24, 2018)
2 Id.
3 Id.
4 Id.
5 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014, Cuba http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/cuba?page=1 (accessed June 24, 2018).

A Letter to the International Law Section of The Florida Bar Regarding the ILS Journey to Cuba

July 12, 2018

Via Email: alacayo@sequorlaw.com
Mr. Arnoldo Benjamin Lacayo
Chair, International Law Section, The Florida Bar
1001 Brickell Bay Dr., Fl. 9
Miami, FL 33131-4937

Re: ILS Journey to Cuba – October 19-22, 2018

Dear Mr. Lacayo:

The Cuban American Bar Association (“CABA”) is aware of the excursion to Cuba organized by the International Law Section (“ILS”) of The Florida Bar for October 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 the differential treatment of Cuban-born members of the Florida Bar. The fine print on the promotional materials state that “Cuban born travelers, please contact Cuba Cultural Travel prior to mailing your deposit and registration form. Fees associated with special visas for Cuban born travelers are not included.” When one of our members inquired as to what these additional steps were, he was told that there “are rules the Cuban government has set in place” and therefore, he had to apply for a special permit. The permit application process requires an additional fee and a myriad of information, including a “reference in Cuba (must know exact name and address).” It is outrageous that the Florida Bar would acquiesce to Cuba’s policy which, clearly, remains intent on tightly controlling the nature of any allegedly “open” cultural exchanges between Cubans and Americans, and on prohibiting the type of “tourists” who might inconveniently bring to light Cuba’s deplorable human rights.

Another significant concern is the branding of this excursion as a “cross-cultural educational exchange,” with a glaring absence of any education on the disgraceful human rights issues facing Cubans on the Island. The promotional materials for this excursion claim that ILS “promises” to include high-level discussions regarding . . . human rights.” Yet, the cast of “prominent” members that the ILS has selected to “educate” members of our Bar fails to include even one member of the Cuban dissident movement or one human rights activist.

In order to promote liberty and freedom for the Cuban people––and if the true intent of the excursion is at least in part to educate members of our Bar on Cuba’s human rights––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.

The ILS should be aware that it is sanctioning a trip to Cuba at a time when the Cuban government is still one of the worst violators of human rights in the world. 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 the ILS and its excursion participants when contemplating this trip:

  • 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 the ILS and its members 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.

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.

Sincerely,

Jorge L. Piedra
President

 

CC: Michelle Renee Suskauer, President, The Florida Bar
Via Email: michelle@dkrpa.com

CC: John M. Stewart, President-Elect, The Florida Bar
Via Email: jstewart@rosswayswan.com

 

 

1 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2018, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/world_report_download/201801world_report_web.pdf (accessed June 24, 2018)
2 Id.
3 Id.
4 Id.
5. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014, Cuba http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/cuba?page=1 (accessed June 24, 2018).

 

An Open Letter Regarding Child Separation

July 12, 2018

An Open Letter Regarding Child Separation

                On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA), a voluntary bar association comprised of over 1,000 lawyers in the South Florida community, this statement addresses recent events concerning the separation of migrant families at the U.S. border.

                Recently our country has been consumed with reports concerning the separation of minor children from their families at our nation’s border. Minor children—as young as toddlers and even babies—were being separated from their parents due to a so-called “zero tolerance” illegal immigration policy enacted by the U.S. Department of Justice.  In short, as part of the Trump Administration’s border enforcement strategy, in May 2018 the DOJ announced that it would prosecute every illegal entry case presented to it, including where the alleged offender attempted to enter with his or her children.  This policy resulted in the criminal prosecution of approximately 2,000 Central American and Mexican migrants (including those seeking asylum) who crossed the U.S.-Mexican border with their minor children, and, consequently, the knowing separation of children from their parents due to these criminal proceedings. See Pete Williams, “Sessions: Parents, Children Entering U.S. Illegally Will be Separated,” NBC NEWS (May 7, 2018) (U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law. . . If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”). Some government officials even stated that this enforcement approach would serve as a deterrent to illegal immigration.

                The controversy over this policy transcended legal and political circles.  Everyone has followed this story. It was a story closely followed by everyone.  For most everyone can empathize with the anguish of being forcibly torn from a son or daughter or from a mother or father.  And, as Americans, putting politics aside, we were justifiably alarmed, for it appeared that our country had failed to adhere to its paramount standards of decency and morality. This is an especially sensitive matter for the Cuban American community, which had so many of its sons and daughters emigrate to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors on the Pedro Pan freedom flights. Our community knows firsthand the lasting emotional scars that can result from even a temporary separation from one’s family.  We lived it—and still do.  And, though the circumstances are different, we sought asylum in the U.S. for reasons similar to those families crossing the border now: because we wanted a better life for our families.

                In the end, the public outcry to the Administration’s policy was overwhelming and our democracy worked. Pictures and audio clips of young children in holding facilities; stories about parents desperately seeking to be reunited with their children; and accounts of children who could not be “found” after they were placed in custody of HHS—it was all too much to bear.  President Trump acknowledged this, signing an executive order requiring that parents who are prosecuted for illegal entry be held with their children.  We applaud the President’s executive order.  But it is not enough.  It can be rescinded, by this Administration or a future one. There is too much at stake here to allow that. A permanent solution is needed. We therefore call on Congress to enact legislation ensuring that this will not happen again—that our government will not divide families as a means to penalize and deter those whose try to emigrate to this country in search of a better life (even if they have violated the law in doing so).

                In concluding, we note that this statement is not a political message on the issue of general immigration policy, or a condemnation of government efforts to enforce our immigration laws.  To be sure, the government is within its authority to prosecute those illegally entering the U.S. It is a valid enforcement approach, setting aside political considerations as to whether our underlying immigration policies should be overhauled.  It is not valid, however, to tear families apart in these situations.  It is immoral.  And it is beneath the dignity of this great democracy.

Sincerely,

Jorge L. Piedra

President

Resolution in Support of Subcommittee to Study Florida Criminal Discovery Rules as they Relate to Child Victims & Witnesses

VIA E-MAIL TO MHIGER@BERGERSINGERMAN.COM

President Michael Higer
The Florida Bar
651 E Jefferson St
Tallahassee, FL 32399

Re: Resolution in Support of Subcommittee to Study Florida Criminal Discovery Rules

President Higer,

On behalf of the Cuban American Bar Association, enclosed please find a Resolution in Support of Subcommittee to Study Florida Criminal Discovery Rules as they Relate to Child Victim and Witnesses.

Thank you,

Jorge L. Piedra
President

CC: State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle

 

LINK TO RESOLUTION

Letter to the Office of the Mayor Regarding CABA’s Steadfast Support for the Construction of a New Miami-Dade Civil Courthouse in the Downtown Miami Area

Hon. Carlos A. Gimenez
Office of the Mayor
Stephen P. Clark Center
111 N.W. 1st Street
29th Floor
Miami, Florida 33128

Dear Mayor Gimenez,

I write you on behalf of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA), a voluntary bar association representing the Cuban American legal community. CABA’s membership—comprised of over 1,000 members—includes local lawyers, judges, and public servants. On behalf of our membership, this letter expresses CABA’s steadfast support for the construction of a new Miami-Dade civil courthouse in the downtown Miami area. We also are in agreement with Chief Judge Bertila Soto that the County should proceed with its original plans to build a more expansive new courthouse, rather than the scaled-back version under consideration.

As you know, the need for a new Miami-Dade civil courthouse—to handle the County’s overcrowded docket of civil cases—is beyond dispute and of an immediate nature. As a bar association comprised of attorneys who regularly litigate in the civil courthouse on 73 W. Flagler Street, we submit that the building—originally constructed in 1928—is woefully inadequate to handle the County’s civil litigation workload. The building is in disrepair. There are not enough courtrooms. Meanwhile, most of the existing courtrooms are completely unsuited for jury or even bench trials, because they are too small, because of their impractical layout and because they lack in even basic technological capabilities. During morning sessions, the courthouse is severely overcrowded—with throngs of lawyers, clients, and jurors jam-packed into tiny courtrooms or judge’s chambers. And this is just a short list of the countless problems with the existing courthouse.

Our County’s residents and its businesses deserve—and more important, need—a new, more expansive courthouse. As Mayor, you oversee what has become a world-class county. This is a thriving, growing metropolitan area with a massive economy that is a world-wide hub for international commerce. As a consequence of this growth, our County courts oversee a civil caseload that continues to expand and includes highly significant disputes. The current courthouse facility simply cannot meet our County’s growing legal needs. Unfortunately, the nearly-century old courthouse building simply has exceeded its lifespan.

There is no dispute about this. As you know, the Miami-Dade Court Capital Infrastructure Task Force prepared a nearly 800-page report, where it voted 7-1 in favor of an expansive 50-courtroom courthouse (with a cost of $360 million), and the County Commission unanimously passed a resolution requesting that your office solicit bids for the construction of a new courthouse in downtown Miami near the existing courthouse. So, what remains to be decided is the design, location, and funding for the new courthouse. That is why we write you this letter today.

We are aware of the unsolicited bid for the construction of the new courthouse by the New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners (“Flagler Development”), which was submitted on January 11th and to which you must respond by February 10th. We take no position on this unsolicited bid. It is not appropriate for us to provide recommendations regarding the acceptance of bids by private developers, especially before the bidding process is open to the public.

However, the Flagler Development bid does raise three issues for your consideration that we believe are important and merit our advocacy.

First, it is our recommendation that the County return to its original plans for a more expansive new courthouse. Initially, the County’s plans for a new courtroom envisioned a 600,000 sq. foot building with 50 courtrooms. We understand that recently you have sought plans from the County’s Internal Services department for a scaled-back courthouse, with 525,000 square feet and 48 courtrooms, with two floors of shell space for the construction of additional courtrooms. We agree with Chief Judge Soto on this issue. Given the rapid increase in the local civil case docket, we believe that the original, more expansive version of the new courthouse is the most sensible approach. We do not want to build a new courthouse that may become obsolete within a short period of time. Nor do we want to be the position where we have to return to the County to request construction of new courtrooms in the shell spaces.

Second, we advise that timing be of the essence for this courthouse project. We believe that by opening the unsolicited bid, we will accelerate the time line on this long overdue and already seriously delayed project. Time is the greatest enemy of such an undertaking of this magnitude and we are concerned that the RFQ process will delay construction, and ultimately completion of the project, deep into the next decade. Our citizens deserve a civil courthouse that meets minimum safety, sanitary, and health standards, and we cannot suffer even another half of a decade practicing in a building that would otherwise have been condemned was it not County property.

Third, we believe it is important to affirm the County Commission’s recommendation that the new courthouse be located near the existing courthouse. In particular, we submit that the most suitable location for the new courthouse would be adjacent to 73 W. Flagler Street courthouse. This particular site will pay proper homage to the iconic Miami-Dade County Courthouse while re-invigorating the Flagler street corridor.

In conclusion, we applaud the County for moving forward with plans for a new courthouse, and appreciate your efforts towards this important project. We hope that this letter provides useful insights as the County’s leadership makes key decisions about plans for the new courthouse. We are glad to make ourselves available to discuss this matter with you or anyone at the County.
Sincerely,

Jorge L. Piedra
President

CC: Honorable Bertila Soto

CABA’s Night with the Marlins Raises $20,000 for CABA Pro Bono Project

The night began with crowds of proud Cuban Americans entering the iconic Marlins Park in honor of Cuban Heritage Night and CABA’s 2nd Annual Night with the Marlins. People of all ages gathered together to watch America’s national pastime, reminisced as they watched episodes of Que Pasa, U.S.A.?, listened to some of Miami’s upbeat music, and ate the best ballpark food around. To make the evening even better, the cast of Que Pasa, U.S.A.? attended the game and made special appearances throughout the evening.

CABA’s 2nd Annual Night with the Marlins was an exceptional night, not only because of experiences shared and the memories made, but because of the cause. All the funds collected this year benefitted CABA Pro Bono Project and totaled over $20,000! These funds will be used to assist the poor and indigent community in Miami-Dade County by connecting them with attorney volunteers, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation or national origin. These funds will go a long way in helping CABA Pro Bono achieve its mission to help our community.

This night would not be possible without the generous contributions of our generous sponsors:

Home Run Sponsor:

  • Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson, P.A.

Diamond Sponsors:

  • Arista Law & Tax
  • Avila Rodriguez Hernandez Mena & Ferri, LLP.
  • Interamerican Bank
  • Luis E. Barreto & Associates, P.A.
  • The Law Office of Mendez & Mendez, P.A.
  • Holland & Knight, LLP.
  • Akerman, LLP.
  • Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A.

In-Kind Sponsors:

  • Scardina
  • CC Homes – a Codina-Car Company
  • Esquire Deposition Solutions, LLC.
  • Professional Bank

Past President Liz Hernandez to receive the NAWJ Florence K. Murray Award

CABA Past-President, Elizabeth Hernandez, will be presented with the Florence K. Murray award by the National Association of Women Judges, at the upcoming annual conference in Seattle Washington on October 8, 2016.  This award was instituted by its namesake, the Honorable Florence K. Murray, for presentation to a non-judge who, by example or otherwise, has influenced women to pursue legal careers, opened doors for women attorneys, or advanced opportunities for women within the legal profession.  Congratulations Liz!