39th Annual Business Meeting
Miami & Cuba
President Tully Seymour & Jan
Hon. Jay Ballantyne & Jan
Hon. Dennis Choate & Colleen
Hon. Warren Conklin & Joey
Hon. Richard Frazee & Elaine
Hon. William L. Hollingsworth & Jo
Hon. Malcolm Mackey & son Michael
Hon. Wendell Mortimer & Cecilia
Hon. Tom Murphy & Pat
Hon. Maren Nelson & William Hollingsworth
Hon. Lois Smaltz & Don
Hon. Robert Soares & Punky
Hon. Tom Thrasher & Sande
Hon. Dickran Tevrizian & Geraldine
Diane Bowen, CAO & son Chrispin
Mrs. Jean Godfrey
SUNDAY - MIAMI: The group arrived and transferred to The Savoy Hotel in Miami Beach. A Welcome Cocktail Party was held at the pool.
MONDAY: In the morning the group enjoyed a guided vintage architectural bus tour of South Beach. The afternoon was free.
ANNUAL BUSINESS MEETING
Horizon Room, Savoy Hotel, Miami At 5:30 p.m. the annual business meeting was convened with all members in attendance. President Tully Seymour called the meeting to order and welcomed everyone to the trip. He was very pleased at the large turnout for the trip to Cuba on the humanitarian/educational visitor permit. He indicated at the Welcome Dinner there will be two Cuban-American judges from the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Broward County as guest speakers. Diane Bowen, CAO, distributed the Cuba visas and departure documents and explained airport procedures for the charter flight to Cuba. Attendees were each given a Travel Affidavit which specified the IATJ group was traveling “under the auspices of a license issued by the U.S. Treasury Department to promote people to people educational exchange activities under 31 CFR 515.565(b)(1);” License Number CT-18626. Each traveler was given their individual Vaya Sojourns Affidavit, with a copy of the License. It was explained that the individual Visas issued by Cuba will be stamped as the group enters and leaves Cuba through Immigration. The minutes of the 2011 trip in New Orleans were approved ; motion by Judge Mackey, second by Justice Ballantyne. The 2012 Treasurer’s Report was submitted for Judge Keene by CAO Diane Bowen. The report reflects a beginning balance of $3,132.86 as of October 16, 2011. Income derived from dues, initiation fees and scholarship donations totaled $4,925.00; expenses were $4,420.15. The balance on hand as of October 9, 2012 was $3,637.01. Upon motion by Judge Seymour, second by Judge Murphy, the Treasurer’s Report was approved. The yearly membership report was discussed. One Fellow was delinquent in paying 2011 and 2012 membership dues. Motion by Judge Seymour, second by Justice Ballantyne, the Fellow was dropped for non-payment of dues. There are presently two members delinquent for the 2012 dues. They have been contacted. In 2012 four new members were admitted, there was one resignation due to an inability to travel; one Fellow retired from the Court and cannot be located; and two members passed away. There are currently no pending nominations. In accordance with the Bylaws, the Nominating Committee chaired by President Tully Seymour and comprised of all former Academy Presidents in attendance approved the slate of officers as follows: President, Judge Dennis Choate, President-elect Judge John Einhorn. No Chancellor was selected at the meeting. Judge Keene has indicated he would like to be replaced as Secretary-Treasurer, a position he has held since 1999. Judge Tully Seymour is nominated as Treasurer and Judge Tom Murphy is nominated as Secretary. There were no further nominations from the floor. The nominations were moved closed and the officers were unanimously approved. President-elect Dennis Choate distributed proposed itineraries prepared by Creative Travel Planners for a 2013 Vietnam/Cambodia trip or a Panama/Costa Rica trip. After discussion it was the consensus of the group that they would like to go to Vietnam and Cambodia. The itinerary will be prepared, dates selected for October 2013, and the membership will be notified before the end of the year to facilitate vacation planning. The price will be based on 24 participants. At 6:35 the meeting was adjourned. The Welcome Dinner was held in the Arlington Ballroom at the Savoy Hotel. Guest speakers at the Dinner were Cuban-American Judges Marina Garcia-Wood and Carlos Rodriguez, from the Broward County Circuit Court. In 1969 Judge Garcia-Wood came from Cuba with her family on a Freedom Flight to Miami as part of the airlift of Cubans into the United States from 1965-1971. Her father cut sugar cane in a labor camp under Castro for three years before the family left Cuba, leaving everything they had behind. For six months the family lived in one room. Because she did not speak English she was held back in school one year. Once she assimilated, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer to represent people who weren’t able to have a voice in court. She graduated from the University of Florida College of Law and began practicing commercial law in Ft. Lauderdale before moving to family law. Judge Garcia-Wood applied over ten times through Florida’s Judicial Nominating Commission for a judgeship. In 2000 she was nominated for a county court seat, but not appointed. She later became a general magistrate in the juvenile dependency division. She was elected to the Court in 2006, becoming the eighth Hispanic judge on the Circuit Court, and re-elected in 2012 to a 6-year term. She has served in juvenile, criminal and foreclosure courts, and is moving to a civil court in January. She is a founding member of the Broward County Hispanic Bar Association which now has over 300 members. She discussed her opinions of Cuba, U.S. visitors going to Cuba, family members being able to visit more often in the last few years, and the embargos. Judge Carlos Rodriguez left Cuba when he was five, when Castro brought in MIGS and Russian advisors. His father was a pilot for Cubana Airlines and wanted to get the family away from communism. They left everything in Cuba and sought political asylum in the United States and in 1967, he became a citizen. He grew up in Ft. Lauderdale and still lives there. His father ran the YMCA aquatics programs and owned and operated a scuba business where Judge Rodriguez worked during college and law school. Before taking the bench he was a Broward County Assistant Public Defender, then Chief Assistant Public Defender before going into private practice for 23 years, handling criminal, civil and commercial litigation matters. He was appointed to the Circuit Court in 2009, and in 2010 he was elected to a 6-year term. He is presently in a juvenile delinquency division court. Judge Rodriguez discussed his opinions about present-day Cuba and relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
TUESDAY - HAVANA: The group departed from the Ft. Lauderdale Airport on a charter flight to Havana. After clearing customs the group was met by their Cuban Guide, Osmin Rivero Soto, and transferred to Parque Central Hotel The group met for cocktails on the rooftop of the hotel overlooking Havana and after watching the sunset, departed in vintage convertible cars for a drive around Havana, including the Plaza de la Revolución. Dinner was at the El Alijibe Restaurant.
WEDNESDAY - HAVANA: In the morning the group visited a Municipal Court in a suburb of Havana. They were met by Dra. Dorys Quintana Cruz, of the Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba. She is involved with the Cuban Lawyers Association and is the coordinator for “interchange between judges and lawyers [relaciones internacionales] from other countries.” She acted as an interpreter, and introduced the Academy members to Presidente Pedro Medina of the Municipal Court.
The Court is a “provincial” court, handling lower level matters. The members watched a trial taking place involving drug trafficking. Defendants can testify in court by making a “spontaneous” statement, or by answering questions. In this case the defendant “used his right to make his own declaration as to what happened during the crime.” Three professional judges and two lay judges hear the case and decide guilt or innocence by a majority vote. The lay judges are not paid, this is a “social contribution.” The evidence is recorded on a computer as it is dictated and paraphrased by one of the professional judges. Lawyers from both sides can ask to have statements included in the record. In this case, the defendant said he had nothing to do with the drug trafficking, and another accused person said that he had done it. Every person is innocent until they have evidence. The same burden of proof required in the U.S. is required in Cuba: “beyond any reasonable doubt.”
After listening to the proceedings for a time, the Academy judges were taken into a conference room to meet with several judges and staff. Dr. Elizhabet Ruiz and Dr. Alisa Ruiz Perez met with the Academy members. They discussed the trial with the Academy judges. They informed the Academy judges that while attending law school at the University of Havana (there are also law schools in other provinces), a person interested in becoming a judge can take a one year class directed by the Supreme Court relating to judicial information. Then a very rigorous test given by the Ministry of Justice must be passed. The Provincial and Municipal Assemblies appoint judges to the Provincial and Municipal Courts; Supreme Court judges are appointed by the National Assembly. Judges are elected for lifetime careers; “appointments are not political.” Lay judges are nominated in workplace assemblies and are given training before they begin. In Cuban law, judges are required to be independent in judgment and free from the influence of government. “They owe allegiance only to the law.” In Cuba there are 15 Provinces and 168 Municipalities. Municipal Courts hear matters of “lower importance,” such as family law, labor related matters, and crimes with sentences under three years. Provincial Courts “deal with serious crimes such as murder and cases with sentences that go beyond three years.” They do have the death penalty but no one has been put to death in many years. They also handle economic labor related civil cases. There is no jury system. All cases can be appealed to the higher court. Following the court visit, the group enjoyed lunch at the Hotel Habana Polynesian Restaurant with Dra. Dorys. After lunch the group went to the offices of the Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba and met with Attorney Emilio Ramirez Kindelan. He welcomed the group saying, “It is a good opportunity to be part of this exchange with you.” He sees other groups of students and lawyers from other countries, “[B]ut has never seen before a group with so much experience like this group, all together. I probably will not be able to teach you anything, I will probably learn more from you. I am one of the persons that studies business for mutual benefits for both countries. The world is very complex and there is always a person with different points of view that can contribute to the ideas of the world. It happens that we are neighbors, we live almost next door and we won’t be able to move out to go any place else. And the best thing that we can do is to have normal relations and take advantage of each other’s experience. This should have always been that way and unfortunately we have not been able to do it. But you are part of this first step that has been taken and the first step is always the most difficult. So we are now going to ask questions and I will try to answer.” Attorney Kindelan discussed the concepts of Cuban law today. Cuban law is dedicated to advancing equality among the people. The court adapts to the changing circumstances in Cuba. With the downfall of the Soviet Union, the laws changed to respond to new conditions and began to recognize forms of non-socialist government. Bufetes Colectivos are collective law offices established by the Ministry of Justice. In order to practice in a bufete a lawyer has to graduate from law school in Cuba. Once in a bufete, the lawyer may practice anywhere in the country. Currently there are approximately 2,000 lawyers in over 250 bufetes throughout Cuba. Lawyers typically have large caseloads and work very hard. Independent legal practice is not permitted. In the evening the group rode in horse drawn carriages to the Hotel Mundos Ambos for a traditional Cuban dinner on the rooftop terrace, and enjoyed a live band with Salsa dance instruction following dinner. This was the hotel Hemingway stayed in while writing For Whom the Bell Tolls.
THURSDAY - VIÑALES: In the morning the group departed for a drive through the Las Terrazas Nature Park where they stopped at a grammar school in the local community and distributed gifts for the students, and visited a local artist’s workshop, followed by lunch in the country at a farmhouse. In Viñales the group stayed at Los Jazmines and enjoyed a leisurely afternoon around the pool. After the evening sunset the group was taken in [somewhat] restored vintage cars to a local paladar (small privately-owned restaurant) for dinner.
FRIDAY - HAVANA: In the morning the group toured the Valley of Viñales, with bulbous limestone cliffs in the Sierra de los Órganos mountain range. The Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The group also visited a local tobacco farmer, where the farmer demonstrated rolling cigars and gave “samples” to the group. Many Christmas card pictures were created showing “samples” being puffed on. Thereafter, the group took a tour of Cueva del Indio where they walked into the cave and were brought out on motorboats. Lunch was at Palenque de los Cimarones, and then the group returned to Havana and the Parque Central Hotel. The evening was free.
SATURDAY - HAVANA: In the morning the group visited the Revolución Museum located near the hotel. It was built in 1920 and served as the Presidential Palace. Exhibits are devoted to the revolutionary war in the 1950s. Around the perimeter of the museum was the yacht which took Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba, a surface-to-air missile of the type used during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and various vehicles and tanks used during the revolution.
Thereafter, the group returned to Hotel Mundos Ambos to meet with Dr. Elpidio Pérez Suárez, who in the last month retired from the Cuba Supreme Court, and Dr. Alejandro Vigil, a Law Professor at the University of Havana. Dr. Pérez is presently the President of the Economic Court, who advises the government regarding external trade matters. Professor Alejandro teaches economic and commercial law and property rights. They explained there had been many, many economic reforms and changes in Cuba in the last five years. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused Cuba to enter a time known as the “special period” defined by shortages of energy affecting industry and agriculture, causing widespread shortages. Cuba is coming out of this period. Many changes are taking place now. For the first time in 50 years Cuban people are buying and selling real estate. Prior to this people “swapped” real estate, because private real estate ownership was prohibited, although Cubans were allowed to hold title. The government has started to issue self-employment licenses so that Cubans can open small businesses. Restaurants [paladares] can be opened in private homes. The government presently has entered into trade agreements with other Caribbean countries, and has joint ventures in the tourist trade, to develop resorts, including golf courses and hotels with other countries. China is one of the largest trading partners for Cuba in the technology fields. Cuba is not a member of the World Bank financial organizations, it is excluded. Following the meeting the group walked through the old colonial section of Havana to the Santo Angel Restaurant, joined by Dr. Pérez and Dra. Dorys. Following lunch members were taken by cocotaxis back to the hotel, or to a craft market containing many vendors selling Cuban arts and crafts. Dinner was at the El Guijones paladar, located next to the hotel, the site of the former Havana German Club. Following dinner, several members of the group attended the open air Tropicana Club to see the cabaret show, famous since before the Revolution. When it opened in the late 1940s, it was advertised as the most beautiful night club in the world, tall trees rising over the tables, a chorus line of 50 and dancers performing on catwalks in colorful costumes. In 1956 Cubana Airlines had a Tropicana Special, a round-trip flight which returned at 4:00 a.m. to Miami. Nowadays mostly tourists attend the show, but are still given cigars and bottles of rum, and the tables are still in the open covered with trees.
SUNDAY - TRINIDAD: The group departed Havana for Trinidad, and enjoyed lunch at the Palacio del Valle overlooking the Bay of Cienfuegos. Cinfuegos is on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Palacio is a former palace, at one time a casino and now a restaurant and gift shop, with turrets and arches in the venetian and moorish styles. The group checked into the Iberostar Grand Hotel in Trinidad and the evening was free.
MONDAY - TRINIDAD: In the morning the group enjoyed a city walking tour to explore Plaza Major, the Romantic Museum and Casa Cantero and visit the Artisans Market, followed by a drive through the verdant valley known as Valle do los Ingenios [Valley of the Sugar Cane] to Hacienda Manaca Iznaga, a colonial mansion built in 1795, for lunch. The afternoon was free followed by a Farewell Dinner at the Sol Ananda Paladar. The Academy group presented a thank you gift to Tully and Jan Seymour for all their hard work putting the trip together and celebrated Tully on his second successful term as President of the Academy. The Academy group then presented CAO Diane Bowen with gifts to commemorate her 25th trip with the Academy.
TUESDAY - MIAMI: Following an early morning departure from Trinidad, the group flew back to Miami and stayed the night at the Crowne Plaza Miami Airport Hotel before leaving for flights home on October 24, 2012.
POSTSCRIPT: President Tully Seymour and Jan had previously been to Cuba 8 years prior to this trip. Tully’s reflections on present day Cuba follow:
My wife Jan and I were in Havana about 8 years ago, just after the Russians had pulled their financial support of the economy. Our impression then was that the city had come to a stand still. What a difference this time. As our bus drove out of the airport parking lot, we noticed that the lot was filled with recent model cars, including higher end European makes such as Audis and Mercedes, as well as Toyotas. On the streets we saw new traffic signals with large monitors showing numerically when the traffic lights would change. There were newer model buses, instead of the camel buses we saw on our previous visit. Our bus for the entire trip was a Chinese bus, very comfortable and well made.
We stayed at the Hotel Parque Central which is operated by the Ibero-star hotel chain. It was excellent, very well run and the staff had high morale. My understanding is that the government is doing a number of joint ventures with foreign companies based on splitting the profit and having a co-manager appointed by the Cuban Government. We dined at several paladores in Havana. There was one around the block from the hotel which was superb. It was in a facility that used to be a German Club as I recall. We saw the show at the Tropicana. It was wonderful and reminiscent of pre-Castro Havana. We traveled to Vinales which has a national park with beautiful limestone mountains and an interesting cavern. The local guide there was very outspoken. he said the food ration that all Cubans receive is pathetic, mostly rice and beans and 1/4 of a chicken, not enough to sustain a person. To maintain reasonable health they have to access the money economy which is based on the convertible peso. From what we could observe there is little hope of a better life on the part of the average Cuban. Unless, they can get access to hard currency they are out of luck. The mainstay of the economy is tourism. With Obama in office I believe that tourists from the US will come in greater numbers. If the cruise ships from the US were allowed to come to Havana, it would make a huge difference. The regime seems to be taking some steps toward economic change, such as allowing some private farming, and joint ventures in the tourist economy such as hotels and restaurants. There also were some modest signs of redevelopment of the old historic buildings along the Malecón. However, the regime is perverse in the way it treats the citizens who try to develop private businesses. For instance, we learned that our bus was not permitted to transport us to private restaurants and our guide was not allowed to go with us to the restaurants. It is difficult to figure out whether the regime is really interested in allowing more economic freedom or whether it is simply going along with some changes in order to promote more facilities for tourism. It was interesting to learn of the program to promote bed and breakfast accommodations in private homes. This will facilitate more individual travelers, but will not help with more affluent groups accustomed to more refined accommodations. We were impressed with the friendliness and kindness of the people we encountered in our travels. They maintain their dignity and joy of life despite the oppression and poverty they are forced to live with. I am inclined to agree with Carlos that the best policy for the US would be to engage with Cuba; to encourage economic development, more tourism and to do what it can to open up the internet and the flow of information. The regime should be exposed and put in the spotlight for its failure to allow basic human rights. My hope is that the newer generation of leaders will see the benefit to themselves from economic development. Perhaps something like the Chinese matrix could be adapted to Cuba. I really believe that a higher standard of living would bring an increased demand for political freedom. I also think that a revolution is unlikely. The people seem resigned to a life without relief from the heavy hand of the regime. I wonder if the fact that so many people like your parents and the subsequent waves of people who left their homeland removed the kind of people who would have been more energetic in seeking change, thus providing the regime a safety valve. Our group were very pleased with our trip. This was the second time that my wife and I visited Cuba. It is certainly in a better place than when we were there before right after the Russians left. I would like to see more of the country some day soon.
Written by Diane Z. Bowen,
Judge Tully H. Seymour, President