Every once and a while my paternal grandmother would talk about her Creole heritage noting that family on her mother’s side left Cuba for Louisiana. Louisiana Creoles descend from the a mixture of native people of that region of the Americas, free and enslaved Africans and those of African descent, and Spanish and French colonial settlers. Given the constantly developing migratory patterns within the Americas, in this case between Cuba and Louisiana, there are many Creoles born in Louisiana who have ancestry from and family on the island. This connection, though personal, has assisted me in establishing relationships and contributed to my professional accomplishments in Cuba. The personal and the professional are inextricably linked, as is the Cuban way.
My professional experience in Cuba began in February 2009 as a member of the United States Delegation of the National Lawyers Guild Labor & Employment Committee. We attended the American Jurists and Association of Latin American Labor Lawyers International Conference on Labor Rights held in Havana, Cuba (“International Conference”), and the Bilateral Research Exchange Program (“Cuba Exchange”). The International Conference is a forum for open, progressive discussion and healthy debate among labor lawyers and trade unionists, all of whom represent countries in different stages of development regarding issues of labor law and workers’ rights. It is an opportunity for cross-border discussion of and insight into the strategies of worker advocates from various countries, including the US, Cuba, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Great Britain, Mexico, and Spain. The ultimate goal of the conference is to prepare and motivate the attendees to continue addressing the state’s responsibility concerning the economic, social, human, and cultural rights of working people.
When I returned in 2010 as a member of the US Delegation, I was considered a “veteran.” Since each delegation is comprised of both returning and new members, those with knowledge of the island and the conference procedures are often relied upon for their experience. As a result, that year I was asked to moderate the US Delegation Panel along side Guillermo Ferriol, President of La Sociedad Cubana de Derecho Laboral y Seguridad Social de la Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba (The Cuban Society of Labor Rights and Social Security of the National Union of Cuban Lawyers). When I participated in the conference in 2015 I presented a paper entitled, Welcome to Temp Town: Discussing the Unprecedented Changes in the Provision of Legal Services and the Possibilities for New Forms of Labor Organization.
The Cuba Exchange is an opportunity for the US Delegation to meet and exchange with Cuban labor lawyers, union and other community organization leaders, and workers in various industries and levels of employment responsibility. We visit enterprises (businesses) and, when possible, engage in the work: I have met with and learned from many types of employees of State-Owned Enterprises - schoolteachers, health care workers, farm workers, tobacco workers, rum factory workers, trade union officers; and I have planted yucca and rolled tobacco. In 2015 as a result of the regulatory changes to the Cuban economic and employment models, we also met with workers/owners of recently formed Non-State Owned Enterprises.
I have chosen to travel during pivotal moments in Cuba’s recent existence, allowing me to participate in celebrations and intimately observe. In February 2009, I travelled during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. I witnessed first hand the importance of the Cuban Revolution to its citizens, as both an historical event and a lodestar. My third visit in 2015 was just months after Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced their respective country’s intentions to reestablish diplomatic relations.
During my 2015 visit, I built upon the relationships and knowledge established during previous delegations: I branded myself as a corporate/enterprise attorney; leveraged opportunities to invest in my corporate/enterprise relationships with Cuba; and was ultimately recognized by the Cuban Delegates as someone with knowledge of and experience with the legal and business systems of both the US and Cuba. A friend and colleague who is a faculty member at the University of Havana asked me to return to Cuba to participate in a research project focused on the Non-Agricultural Worker Cooperatives. This business structure is a major component of the regulatory changes that are designed to shift certain industries from state-controlled enterprises to those controlled by citizens. I am in the process of securing funding sources for this opportunity.
In an effort to leverage the emerging opportunities, and my experiences and relationships, I founded Diaspora Enterprise Solutions, LLC in 2015.
As the sole corporate attorney member of the US Delegation during these years, I offered a unique, contemporary, and valued perspective and assessment of US-Cuba relations. With the training and ability to engage in face-paced corporate environments, while maintaining a balanced practice as a highly productive business transaction attorney and a relevant Social Justice Engineer, I am proud and excited to stand at the forefront of this historic epoch in US-Cuba relations. This time brings great opportunities for both nations and their people. My experiences with and knowledge of Cuba in the 21st Century, 50 years Post-Revolution, combined with my professional background, position me as one of the few US corporate attorneys with an academic, theoretical, personal, and hands on approach to US-Cuba relations - past, present, and future. I am no longer an oddity, a corporate attorney interested in a socialist country; I am a commodity, a corporate attorney with access to and respect for this particular socialist country.