Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cuba gives OK to unusual lawsuit

Posted on Thursday, 02.03.11

Cuba gives OK to unusual lawsuit

While not hopeful his case will be successful, a dissident Cuban lawyer
won a surprise hearing at Havana's Supreme People's Tribunal.

In a legal case unprecedented for Cuba's communist government, a Havana
appeals court has heard oral arguments on a lawsuit filed by a dissident
lawyer against the country's minister of justice.

``Contrary to what I expected, the court agreed to consider our appeal
and held a hearing on it on the 21st of January,'' said lawyer Wilfredo
Vallín, who filed the bold lawsuit two years ago.


Havana's Supreme People's Tribunal is required to rule on the appeal by
Wednesday, though Vallín noted that even if it rules in his favor, he's
not optimistic about the long-term outlook of the legal battle.

Cuba's legal system, tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party,
has never before been known to side with a citizen challenging the
government, according to the 63-year-old Havana lawyer.

Vallín's lawsuit is not exactly earth-shaking: He wants the Justice
Ministry to answer his request to legally register the Cuban Juridical
Association (CJA) -- a group of about 30 dissident and independent
lawyers who provide free legal advice, most often to government critics.

Cuban lawyers can work only for the government or government-approved
``Law Collectives'' that generally frown on defending government critics
or taking on any cases that could displease Cuban officials.

Vallín took the first step to register the CJA in 2009, asking the
Justice Ministry to certify that no other group was using the same name.

If the answer was no, he could then apply for a legal registration.

The Justice Ministry's Registry of Associations never legally recognizes
dissident organizations, and most often simply does not answer the requests.

Registry officials also did not answer Vallín's request, but unlike
others who quickly gave up, he filed a second request with the Registry
and -- after another silence -- appealed to Justice Minister María
Esther Reus González.

Reus didn't answer either, and he then filed a demand with the Havana
Provincial Tribunal as a private citizen, arguing that Cuba's Law for
Civil, Administrative and Labor Procedures requires Reus to reply to his

To his amazement, a three-judge panel not only accepted his documents
laying out his arguments but on July 28, 2010 ordered Reus to appoint
lawyers to defend her.

The panel dismissed his case based on ``procedural errors,'' but Vallín
then appealed to the Supreme People's Tribunal on Nov. 22, and was again
surprised when the court accepted his pleadings and set a hearing for
Jan. 21.


The hearing lasted 20 minutes and was held behind closed doors. Every
other case scheduled for that day in that court building was postponed,
he added, apparently to keep the case under wraps.

Cuba's official news media has not reported on the case, and its details
have been made public so far mostly in Cuban blogs, including the blog
Laritza's Laws, written by CJA member Laritza Diversent.

``As far as I have been able to investigate, there's never been a case
like this, in which a lawsuit by a citizen against the government gets
even this much of a hearing,'' Vallín told El Nuevo Herald by telephone
from Havana.

Vallín said that even if his case is eventually dismissed -- as he
expects -- it shows that Cuban citizens can at least try to hold the
government accountable to its own laws and administrative procedures.

CJA members have had few problems helping individuals with legal issues,
Vallín said.

But state security agents have intervened to block several association
efforts to hold seminars for dissident and independent groups on their
legal and human rights.

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