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FALQs: Cuban Legal System

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The following is a guest post by Gustavo Guerra, a foreign law specialist covering a number of Spanish-speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress.  It is the second post in our “Frequently Asked Legal Questions” series, following on from our post yesterday on French terrorism laws.  This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series. As always, we welcome your feedback and suggestions for this series!

Photo by Flickr user Stewart Cutler, Sept. 1, 2009. Used under Creative Commons License,
Photo by Flickr user Stewart Cutler, Sept. 1, 2009. Used under Creative Commons License,

In light of initiatives to improve relations between the United States and Cuba, and the recent visit of a U.S. government delegation to Havana, I decided to provide answers to a few questions about the Cuban legal system and where one could locate Cuban laws and information about them. Most of the links used in this post lead to websites maintained by the Cuban government, and we cannot be sure that all information is recent or up to date. Please use this post for information purposes only.

1.  What are some of the major principles of the Cuban legal system?

Cuba is governed by a legal system based on principles derived from European Continental law, also known as civil law, which has been adapted to the socialist system. According to the Cuban Constitution, major principles include strict regulation of personal property, an economic system based on the “socialist property of the people over the fundamental means of production” (arts. 14, 21), government control of the economy (art. 16), and certain rights for citizens, including the right to education and health (Chapter VII, arts. 50, 51). The Constitution states that the Communist party is the leading and guiding force in the Cuban society (art. 5). The Constitution of Cuba was passed in 1976, and then substantially amended in 1992 and 2002. Among other major principles, the Cuban government states that the legal system includes:

  • Independence of judges;
  • Administration of justice by professional judges with support from citizens; and
  • Availability of an appeal process for all disputed judicial decisions.

2.  How are legal disputes resolved in Cuba?

Disputes are adjudicated by Cuba’s judiciary, which is comprised of courts at the municipal and regional levels with authority to hear cases on criminal and civil matters, and by the Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the country.  The Supreme Court has the authority to hear appeals derived from cases originated in the lower courts as well as having original jurisdiction for certain cases that fall under its authority. Information on the Cuban judicial system is available on EcuRed, a website maintained by the Cuban government.

We are often asked for help locating information on cases adjudicated by the Cuban Supreme Court. The Supreme Court publishes select recent decisions on its website. Additionally, the Court publishes a biannual review of its rulings and practices in applying and interpreting the law. It is mandatory for all lower courts to follow guidance issued by the Supreme Court.

3.  How are Cuban laws codified?

Cuba has enacted a number of codes that compile rules on specific topics and serve as major legal acts regulating a particular area of law. For example, personal and real property, intestate successions, wills, and contracts are governed by the Civil Code.

The Family Code regulates domestic relations, including marriage and parentage, and is available in Spanish on the website of Cuba’s Supreme Court.

The Criminal Code defines acts that constitute criminal offenses and provides for applicable penalties.

Cuba’s Labor Code is the main body of law on labor matters in Cuba. It regulates unions, labor contracts, salaries, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, dispute resolution procedures, master labor agreements. This code is available on Cubadebate, an online news service maintained by Cuban journalists.

In addition to codes, the body of Cuban legislation consists of laws passed by the National Assembly of the People’s Power (legislature), regulations, executive resolutions, and circulars issued by the government.

4.  What laws are relevant to doing business in Cuba?

Those who are interested in doing business in Cuba have to comply with a number of statutes, including Law No. 118 on Foreign Investments, which includes guarantees for investors, a special tax regime applicable to foreign investments, and dispute resolution procedures. Additional information can be found on the website of the Cuban Center for Promoting Foreign Investment.

Technical requirements applicable to food products, agricultural machinery, environmental protection, etc., are included in a catalog of Cuban technical standards.

Authority over intellectual property issues is exercised by the Cuban Office on Industrial Property (OCPI). A comprehensive list of statutes and regulations on industrial property, including patents, trademarks and relevant treaties, is available on OCPI’s website (click on “Legislación”).

The Cuban Customs authority has published a list of customs regulations in force.

5.  Can Cubans receive money transfers from abroad?

Cuba’s financial rules can be found in the Banking Regulation Manual, which is a comprehensive compilation of financial regulations issued by Cuba’s Central Bank. The Manual governs several aspects of Cuba’s financial system, including monetary policy, banking oversight, and bank accounts.

The website of Cuba’s Savings Bank (Banco Popular de Ahorro, a Cuban commercial bank) provides information on the steps that must be followed by Cuban nationals in order to receive monetary transfers from abroad.

Money transfers sent to Cuba from the United States or from individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are governed by applicable U.S. regulations. More information on this topic is available on the website of the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Frequently Asked Questions Related to Cuba, January 15, 2015. IV. Remittances, page 8) and on the website of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

6.  Are statistics on Cuba available online?

Yes. Cuba’s National Office on Statistics publishes statistical information on a wide variety of topics, such as population, jobs and salaries, education, etc., on its website.  This includes information related to the 2012 Census of Population and Housing.

7.  Where can I find more information on Cuban law?

A good starting point for a research on Cuban laws is the Law Library of Congress’s Guide to Law Online, an annotated collection of government and legal sources of information. A collection of short articles on legal developments in Cuba can be found in the Law Library’s Global Legal Monitor. Another blog post that will highlight the Law Library’s collection of Cuban legal materials will be published soon. Also, our readers can always submit reference requests through our Ask A Librarian Service, and we will respond.

Comments (3)

  1. It is worth noting to your readers that in Cuba lawyers are organized in collectives, they cannot practice, as we do in the United States, as independent lawyers.

  2. How does Cuba pass a law?

  3. when was this updated last

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