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CUBA EXPERIMENT A "SUCCESS" FOR PUBLIC SERVICE STUDENTS

by Matthew Brady 2L

Cancun, it wasn’t. Fifteen enterprising students spent spring break in Cuba studying the legal system in one of the remaining strongholds of communism. Students met with Cuban leaders to discuss the country’s legal system and human rights’ issues. One student writes about the exhilarating experience.

Cuba had always been a desired destination for me. I spent the majority of my undergraduate years studying communist systems, primarily the Soviet bloc, and then later traveled through many of those countries to see firsthand how the people lived. So, when a group of 1L’s gathered in January to discuss a possible spring break public service initiative in Cuba, I was as eager as any in the room to learn about the legal structure of Fidel Castro’s ongoing communist experiment.

Less than six weeks later, a group of fifteen students and one administrator from Penn Law was en route to Havana for an eight-day pilot educational and public service initiative sponsored by Penn Law’s Public Service Program (PSP) and the International Law Organization (ILO). We received approval from both the U.S. and the Cuban governments. The U.S. Department of Treasury granted a license for educational exchange and the Cuban Interests Section located in Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C. issued visas.

Old Havana
Our group traveled from Philadelphia to Miami where we boarded a charter flight direct to Havana with Christian missionaries. We were met at the airport in Havana by one of the three state-run travel agencies through which all foreign visitors must register. Our designated travel agent informed us that Cubans may legally use three currencies: the Cuban peso, the national peso, and the U.S. Dollar. I quickly learned our dollar is the strongest and most reliable currency used by locals, who did not see any contradiction in their communist regime openly permitting the use of capitalist currency.

The National Union of Cuban Jurists (UNCJ), which hosted our group, is the Cuban government’s vehicle for legal education and reform. It is a state-run nonprofit organization, and its membership comprises attorneys, judges, professors, and researchers. The UNCJ arranged discussions and meetings with representatives of the Cuban government, foreign nongovernmental organizations, and Cuban activists to discuss Cuban and international law, as well as possible placement for our group members.

 
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