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Monday, March 16, 2015

Yale Law School Holds Roundtable Discussion on U.S. – Cuba Relations

Over the past year, Yale Law School has been at the forefront of an evolving national conversation on U.S. and Cuban relations. The School hosted the first-ever “Roundtable on Cuba-U.S. Relations” on March 13, 2015.

The Roundtable consisted of three panels: “Bolstering Civil Society: Leveraging a Loosened Embargo?”; “Economic Liberalization: An Opportunity for Partnership?”; and “Regional Implications: A Reset for the U.S. and Latin America?” See the full program here.

A diverse group of speakers participated, including Kenneth Roth ’80 (Executive Director of Human Rights Watch) and John Caulfield (former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba), among other distinguished guests. The Roundtable provided neutral space for substantive discussion and debate. Through this dialogue, students aimed to stimulate creative, law-based solutions to advance development, human rights, and the rule of law in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The idea of holding a Roundtable conference about Cuba emerged during the “U.S.-Cuba Relations” Seminar offered by Professor Kate Stith during the spring of 2014. The seminar sought to invigorate interest in Cuban development within Yale Law School and broader Yale community. Students independently researched topics including: the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuban foreign investment policy, the liberation technology revolution in Cuba, the status of human rights in Cuba, Cuba’s black market, and the state of the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender rights movement in Cuba. The seminar welcomed a variety of guest lecturers ranging from Brigadier General Mark Martins, who spoke about his experiences in Guantanamo Bay as Chief Prosecutor of the Military Commissions, to Natalia Martinez, who spoke about her work coordinating Cuban youth leadership initiatives through Roots of Hope, to Professor Harold Koh, Former State Department Legal Adviser. The seminar had a strong interdisciplinary approach and included students from other Yale University graduate programs. Far more than Professor Stith and her students had expected, the seminar helped to foster a community at the Yale Law School with a genuine passion and commitment to issues affecting modern-day Cuba.

During the Fall Term of 2014, Professor Stith and the nine returning students who had taken the Cuba seminar traveled to Cuba for four days, as a culmination of their studies. They were joined by Judge José Cabranes (YLS ‘65 and husband of Professor Stith). The trip allowed seminar participants to engage directly with the individuals and activists at the forefront of economic and social change in Cuba. Students met with people from a variety of sectors including journalists, entrepreneurs, activists, and “green” farmers, as well as with U.S. and Cuban officials. Through these interactions, the trip provided students with a more holistic and nuanced understanding of Cuban society. The trip to Cuba was remarkably timed; two months later, the Obama Administration and the Cuban government announced a desire to renew formal diplomatic relations.

Upon returning from Cuba, Professor Stith and her students began planning the March 13 Roundtable. Their studies both in the classroom and in Cuba convinced them that everyday Cubans would benefit from increased opportunity to engage in non-state, civil society groups and spaces, as well as economic development in sectors ranging from transportation and agriculture to manufacturing and energy. The Roundtable explored these issues, as well as the broader issues of Latin American politics, development, and foreign policy.

The participants in the U.S.-Cuba Relations seminar (and its continuation in this academic year) course have expressed their appreciation to the Oscar M. Ruebhausen Fund at Yale Law School for giving them, and by extension other members of the Yale Law School community, a meaningful role in shaping and acting upon these important issues.