The controversies surrounding Cuba since the 1959 revolution have led to a plethora of studies of that nations political, economic, and social trajectory. Little has been written, however, about the role of law in this revolutionary socialist system. This book has now appreciably narrowed the gap. Debra Evenson, a professor of law at DePaul University, is a sympathetic observer of the Cuban Revolution. Nevertheless, she writes in an objective, albeit dry, style that manages to convey a good deal of information and insight into the role of law, judges, and courts and the dilemmas of jurisprudence in contemporary Cuba.
Law has a special role to play in Cuba. According to Evenson, “Pursuant to the concept of socialist legality, law and government perform a positive, dynamic function in the creation of socialism. The objective of law is not only to regulate but to transform society” (p. 14). That transformation must always strive for collective well-being based on egalitarian values.
Evenson notes Cuba’s achievements in health care and education while acknowledging the constraints on individual civil liberties, especially freedom of expression. Her discussion of the legal profession is fascinating, considering that the revolution’s early years saw the elimination of the law school as a separate faculty, under the erroneous assumption that law would be less important (if not irrelevant) under socialism. The status of the profession has improved, along with training in jurisprudence, as Cuba and its leaders have come to appreciate the need to set rules, adjudicate disputes, and regulate criminal behavior under socialism. Moreover, law has a special role to play in the struggle for equality. Evenson’s chapter on “Law and Equality” contains a valuable discussion of the condition of women and blacks in Cuba. The record for women has been better on reproductive and educational issues than on access to positions of political power. Race is more problematic than sex as a human rights issue in Cuba in the 1990s; while the book points this out, it has little more to offer on the subject.
There are nuggets of information in this volume that can help reduce stereotypes about Cuba. For example, the chapter on private property gives the reader a greater appreciation of the extent of such property in Cuba, even as it recalls that legislation in this area is guided by the principle that “private property should always be used in ways which serve social goals and not private enrichment” (p. 178).
Many of the current changes in Cuba—such as legalization of dollar transactions, relegalization of the farmers’ markets, and expanded opportunities from self-employment—have taken place since this volume was researched. Gaps in these subjects therefore are not the fault of the author. A serious drawback, however, is the lack of a concluding chapter to synthesize the tension between law, the courts, and individual rights in a country that continues to be a fascinating case for all who care about the frequently contradictory goals of equity and democracy.