The University of Florida and the University of Havana took the lead in opening academic relations between Cuba and the United States with a historic two-day interdisciplinary conference that brought together academics from both countries. With an eye to fostering long-term research collaboration, UF and UH co-sponsored the Conference on Law and Policy in the Americas at the University of Havana on May 9 and 10 for faculty, students, judges and lawyers.
“The University of Florida Levin College of Law is truly honored to collaborate with the University of Havana to host this historic conference,” said UF Law Dean Laura A. Rosenbury, Levin Mabie and Levin Professor. “This event, and hopefully future opportunities, will situate UF at the forefront of reestablishing U.S. ties with Cuba, furthering the mission of UF to be nationally and internationally recognized for cutting-edge legal discourse.”
The conference at the University of Havana came two months after President Barack Obama’s Cuba visit, the first by a sitting U.S. president in 88 years.
The conference featured panels on comparative legal systems and legal education; women in society; international commerce and investment; and agriculture and environmental issues.
Attendees included Rosenbury, Dean Leonardo A. Villalón from the UF International Center, Philip J. Williams, director of the Center for Latin American Studies, and 10 professors from UF Law and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Also representing UF were alumni Rosemary Barkett (JD 70), former 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge and an arbitrator on the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal; and Stephen N. Zack (JD 71), a partner with Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP, Miami and a former president of the American Bar Association. Zack’s family fled Cuba after the 1959 Communist revolution.
“I cannot emphasize enough that this was not possible a year ago, though we would have loved to do it,” said UF Law Professor Lyrissa Lidsky, Stephen C. O’Connell Professor and associate dean for international programs. “We seized the earliest opportunity we could to put together this rich, interdisciplinary conference and partnership with the University of Havana.”
The opportunity to hold a conference in Cuba arose when President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic and some economic relations between the two countries, breaking with more than 50 years of U.S. policy stretching deep into the Cold War.
“This is part of our initiative to become one of the preeminent law schools in the United States for the study of Latin American legal systems and particularly the Cuban legal system because of our historical relationship with Cuba,” Lidsky said.
Planning for the conference at the University of Havana has coincided with this diplomatic opening to the island nation. Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro announced the thaw on Dec. 17, 2014, now known as D17.
UF Law Professor Berta Hernández-Truyol, Levin Mabie and Levin Professor of Law, agreed that the newly established relationship provides an incredible opportunity for Florida to open more doors to the island nation.
“As a Cuban-American law professor who has written and examined Cuba, this newly established relationship uniquely places Florida at the forefront of scholarship on Cuban-Americans and the law,” said Hernández-Truyol.
Lidsky expects UF Law students will soon travel to the University of Havana to participate in moot court or arbitration competitions.
Jon Mills, director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, helped plan the conference. He noted that the meetings are designed to forge an ongoing connection between UF and the University of Havana.
“It’s important that as part of this conference there is continuing follow up and activity,” Mills said. “We can be hopeful that this will begin an ongoing relationship.”
The conference was funded in large part by UF Law’s Stephen N. Zack Endowment. UF Law’s relationship with Cuban-Americans is longstanding. In the fall, the law school celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Cuban-American Lawyers Program. The celebration, funded by the Zack Endowment, commemorated the law school’s program geared toward foreign lawyers – especially former Cuban lawyers. It instructed them in common law, giving them a chance to enter The Florida Bar.
The Cuba conference is also sponsored by UF Law, the UF Center for Latin American Studies, UF IFAS, the UF International Center, the UF George A. Smathers Libraries, UF University Relations and the Florida Journal of International Law.