Thomas F. Liotti and his wife, Wendy, on a recent visit to Cuba.

[dropcap sid=”dropcap-1446585320″]I[/dropcap]n February my wife, Wendy, and I had the honor of traveling to Cuba with the American Board of Criminal Lawyers (ABCL) for cultural and legal events. (The ABCL is a distinguished group of attorneys and judges from throughout the U.S., and since 1993 I have been privileged to be a Fellow.) The group visited museums and galleries and attended talks by Cuba’s former U.N. ambassador and law professors from the University of Havana School of Law.

The trip was inspiring and thought provoking. When you travel to Cuba, you take a trip back in time to the Eisenhower years; many things have not changed since then.

Cuba, just 90 miles south of Florida, remains the jewel in the Caribbean. It is still a rich source of sugar and other resources. And the Cuban people pride themselves on everyone having free medical and dental care, a ninth-grade literacy level (the highest in Latin America), and an average life expectancy of 78 years.

On the other hand, Cuba’s 11 million people struggle. The country’s infrastructure is in a deplorable state. The average per capita income is $20 per month. Cubans claim to have no homelessness, no crime, and no unemployment—facts that are seemingly implausible even in a communist state. Free speech in Cuba is not tolerated. It is punished as treason—yet the number of dissidents continues to grow.

No doubt, when President Obama goes there in March he will push the Cuban government to improve its record of human rights and to enact a Constitutional form of government that provides for democracy and the freedoms similar to what U.S. citizens have in our Bill of Rights.

Profound questions of law remain in Cuba, which, among other things, does not have jury trials or rules of evidence. Cuba’s resurrection may depend on the advice it receives from the U.S. and the speed with which it implements changes for the good of U.S. businesses and the people of Cuba.

At the end of the Cuban Revolution, in 1959, 10,000 properties were nationalized and turned over to the people. Since that time, approximately 500,000 Cuban exiles have left the country. Cuba may have to make restitution for the damages that the Revolution caused to U.S. businesses there and to the exiles. The Mafia and Meyer Lansky’s descendants should not be among those expecting repayment, but legitimate businesses and exiles should be entitled to some recompense. All things considered, there is a lot to be said for free enterprise over communism.

Cutting through the propaganda, both from the U.S. and Cuba, one is left with the unmistakable impression that the embargo and communism have taken a toll on the Cuban people. The Cuban people are wonderful, but the embargo and communism have limited their advancement.

—Hon. Thomas F. Liotti (MPA ’72)

About the Alumnus

The Hon. Thomas F. Liotti is a practicing attorney and author. He was first elected to serve as the justice for the Village of Westbury, N.Y., in 1991.


Also read: Destination Cuba: Student Voices, Faculty Insights, and Alumni Views


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