December 2019 Cover Story - OCBA’s Journey to Cuba

by Daniel Perez

Larisa Dinsmoor and Nikki Miliband—Co-Chairs of the 2020 OCBA Travel Seminar—thought Cuba would be a unique travel opportunity for the OCBA, so they travelled there last year to make sure that the experience would live up to OCBA standards. They chose Cuba Cultural Travel because it specializes in organizing bar association trips to Cuba and facilitates MCLE with Cuban lawyers and judges. They spent five glorious days in Havana and immediately wanted to return. The history of the island, its culture, cuisine, and music rivaled its stunning sunsets over the Caribbean ocean. Equally, if not more special, were the conversations they had, people to people, lawyer to lawyer, making friends in the process. They look forward to returning in April and taking advantage of the three-day extension to see the Bay of Pigs, and hope you will join them.

This April 2020, the Orange County Bar Association will host its MCLE seminar in the most exciting city in the Caribbean. For generations, Havana has captured the imaginations of Americans intrigued by its fascinating history and lively culture. Now—more than ever—Cuba offers an alluring combination of qualities that both mystify and inspire visitors who want to experience a country that must be seen firsthand to truly understand and appreciate.

The OCBA group will be traveling alongside Cuba Cultural Travel (CCT), a California-based tour operator with more than twenty-one years’ experience organizing legal tours to Cuba. Besides the eye-opening educational seminars planned for our delegation, we will have the chance to savor the best of Cuban culture and entertainment, enjoying private performances from leading musicians and visits with contemporary Cuban artists. The Cuban art scene and Havana nightlife are incomparable!

Recently, the U.S. Department of Treasury issued regulations limiting American tourism to Cuba by defining categories of authorized travel that satisfy the goals of the current administration. Namely, encouraging contact between Americans and private Cuban citizens, self-employed workers, and small business owners. Our OCBA delegation will be traveling under the category of “Support for the Cuban People” on a specially designed program tailored to meet the latest U.S. government regulations.

Exploring Havana

Our journey to Cuba begins in the heart of Havana, in the historic district known as Habana Vieja, where commerce and culture have created a stunning collection of architectural jewels. Here, our walking tour will highlight the countless attractions responsible for Habana Vieja being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We will visit the oldest section of the city, dating back more than 500 years and learn how it grew rich over the decades as the harbor filled with treasure laden Spanish galleons crossing between the Old World and the New World. The ancient fortresses are still intact and thoughtfully maintained, and the elegant plazas still retain their romantic charm from centuries past. The American capitalist system and the Cuban communist system are vastly different, and many curious aspects of our dual worlds will come to light in this orientation walk through the streets of Old Havana.

We will also enjoy visiting Havana’s other well-known neighborhoods, learning about the city’s former glory exemplified by its eclectic architectural evolution stretching from Old Havana to its more modern and upscale Western side of Vedado and Miramar. For a different taste of Cuba, we will also find time to breathe the fresh air along Havana’s Eastern seafronts including a visit to the fishing village of Cojimar made famous by Ernest Hemingway. Further East from Havana in Playas del Este, we will host our very own OCBA Beach Party alongside new Cuban friends, counterparts, and entrepreneurs.

Music and the Arts

Our program will allow us to experience firsthand the musical and artistic talents of the Cuban people: sounds, colors, and rhythms that have influenced music and art across the globe. As a lively introduction to Cuban music, we will host a private concert with musical director and renowned vocalist Alberto Faya, who will be accompanied by several young musicians to guide us on a fascinating journey through 500 years of Cuban music. We also will enjoy an unforgettable performance by Havana’s Youth Orchestra, a supremely gifted chamber of musicians performing a medley of international favorites as well as several Cuban compositions.

Of course, no experience of modern Havana is complete without visiting the Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC), recently named by Time magazine one of the World’s 100 Greatest Places. Part performance venue, part gallery, part watering hole—this repurposed cooking oil factory was founded by young Cuban visionaries who created a collaborative space and central hub for music and dance, visual art exhibitions, and all things new and creative. On this special evening at FAC, we will enjoy dinner inside the VIP Salon and take time to explore the FAC complex. Musical concerts, cultural calendars, and live acts will vary. Lively as FAC is, some in the group may decide to stay all night!

Other festivities planned for our group include a farewell party in the beautiful home of art collector Oscar Fernandez, who has graciously offered to receive the OCBA delegation for an evening of lively entertainment and dining in his home and garden terrace. An open bar and live band playing Cuban favorites will take us into the evening.

MCLE Credit

Highlighting what makes our exclusive visit to Cuba both timely and privileged, we will meet a fascinating mix of legal professionals, entrepreneurs, influential intellectuals, and respected scholars who will offer in-depth commentary on the evolving and politically charged Cuban legal system. Our speakers have been chosen for their candor and expertise, providing the opportunity for rich dialogue and Q&A where all questions—no matter how tough—will be encouraged.

Headlining our diverse MCLE topics will be “An Introduction to the Modern Cuban Legal System,” providing an outline of Cuba’s civil law system, and a deep dive into the most recent legal developments in Cuba including the country’s adoption of a brand-new Cuban Constitution (2019). This presentation will cover diverse legal areas of the Cuban legal system spanning civil, family, criminal, labor, commercial, electoral, and public law issues.

A second MCLE seminar will cover the evolving landscape of “Private Enterprise in Cuba.” The last ten years have seen a dramatic increase in private sector activity as working class Cubans seek alternatives to low paying state employment. A new world of entrepreneurship has slowly given the Cuban people new opportunities for financial independence. At the same time, Cubans are adjusting to new taxation regimes and strict rules governing services that are now licensed and legally performed by citizens. We will examine the challenges faced by Cuban cooperatives and Cuentapropistas—self-employed workers—in the face of much-needed economic reforms.

On the related topic of “Business and Trade Relations,” we will host a presentation by Canadian attorney Gregory Biniowsky who has lived in Cuba for more than twenty-five years. As the only foreign resident attorney in Cuba and one of the few professionals with such a longstanding perspective, Mr. Biniowsky is uniquely qualified to offer an intimate assessment of Cuban society, foreign investment, and the ever-evolving legal and political landscape.

To round out our educational activities, we will explore “Gender Equality in Cuba.” Despite conventional stereotypes of Cuba’s reputation within the gamut of other well-known macho societies, in this presentation we will learn about Cuba’s progressive approach to sexual rights, including the heavily debated amendments to the Cuban Constitution that opened the door to same-sex marriage in Cuba. We also come to understand how certain economic forces have resulted in Cuba’s legal profession becoming predominately female, with approximately 75% of women making up recent incoming classes at the University of Havana’s School of Law. This session is anticipated to earn OCBA attorneys the special elimination of bias MCLE in California.


Participants in our OCBA Cuba delegation will be offered a choice of two high-quality accommodation options available at tiered pricing.

The Hotel Parque Central is a luxury property managed by the Spanish hotel chain Iberostar, located at the historical epicenter of Havana city within easy walking access to many interesting sights in Old Havana. As one of the finest hotels in Havana, you can expect all the amenities you would find in any modern city.

In the spirit of connecting with new Cuban business owners and for those participants who prefer a more intimate and authentic Cuban experience, we have reserved a handful of luxurious private homes to be enjoyed at considerable cost savings. These upscale Casas Particulares—bed-and-breakfast properties—are similar to what you would find among AirBnB’s most fashionable offerings. Our vetted homes will offer OCBA members and guests safe, comfortable, and refined lodging reserved exclusively for our delegation. Each room at your bed and breakfast will be equipped with its own private bathroom and air-conditioning, located in the upscale residential neighborhood of Vedado.

Optional Extension

Participants who wish to explore more of the island can opt for extending their stay in Cuba with an additional three-night extension venturing outside of Havana.

The organized extension begins with a day trip to Western Cuba and its famed tobacco country of Pinar del Río and Viñales. A remarkably lush and breathtaking landscape, this is one of Cuba’s most picturesque regions yet it has managed to preserve its original rural character despite thousands of international visitors annually.

After one final night in Havana, we will continue by traveling east via the Bay of Pigs towards the colonial cities of Cienfuegos and Trinidad. As we depart Havana province, we will pass through the Zapata National Park—one of Cuba’s most important wetland areas—before finding the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea escorting us through this unique terrain made famous by the historic Bay of Pigs invasion. Rounding out our road trip with a stop at a local beach, as well visiting the center of Cienfuegos, we finally will arrive to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Trinidad. An especially charming city we will call home for two nights, Trinidad was the most important sugar producing region in Cuba during colonial times. Today, Trinidad and the province of Sancti Spíritus are known for its local artisans, craft wares, and linens, while also possessing some of the island’s best beaches and unique outdoor activities. On our final day of the extended program, we will enjoy as much free time as desired while group activities will be designed to accommodate a variety of interests.

For registration information on the OCBA Journey to Cuba April 17-21, 2020, and the optional three-night extension April 21-24, 2020, please contact Laura Adams at laura@cubaculturaltravel.com.

Daniel Perez is President at CLE Abroad, an affiliated entity of Cuba Cultural Travel. For questions concerning this article, program specific questions, or any special requests, please contact Dani at daniel@cle-abroad.com.