After an unprecedented battle that went all the way up to Cuba’s highest court, a group of independent lawyers has overcome the first hurdle in registering an organization that provides legal advice to civil society, including dissidents.
“We are not declaring victory yet, but are now preparing the second step needed to become the sort of protectors of the people, of all the people, without exceptions,’’ Wilfredo Vallín said Monday by telephone from Havana.
The 63-year-old lawyer accused Justice Minister María Esther Reus González in a 2009 lawsuit of violating the country’s law by refusing to answer his bid to officially register the Cuban Juridical Association (CJA) as a non-government organization.
Ministry officials had never before answered such requests from government critics, making the groups technically illegal and therefore subject to punishment for the crime of “illegal association.” The courts, controlled by the Communist Party, in turn, dismissed the few legal challenges filed by dissidents against the government or its officials, according to legal experts.
So Vallín was shocked as his lawsuit made its way up Cuba’s legal ladder. In April, the highest court, the Supreme Tribunal, ruled that he had filed a document in the wrong court but allowed the case to continue.
Vallín wrote on the CJA’s Web page Monday that he learned of his victory during a visit to the ministry “in which the writer was received with the kindness that one wishes would be extended to any Cuban who goes to that ministry.
He posted a copy of the June 3 document issued by the Justice Ministry’s Department of Association Registries, certifying that no other group was registered with the same name or purpose as the CJA.
With that document in hand, he can now request the association be legally recognized and allowed to carry out its work, he told El Nuevo Herald.
The CJA describes itself as an independent group that provides free legal advice to anyone who needs it, but it has worked with many dissident groups. State security officials have blocked or broken up several CJA seminars designed to teach dissidents their rights when facing police.
“I know that for those used to making a mockery of the law, the possible existence of a (group) of independent lawyers who demand an equal application of the law for all is not good news,” he wrote on the Web post.
He added that CJA also would assist Cubans who do not have enough money to hire private lawyers. Almost all Cuban lawyers work for the government, with the exception of those that work for “collective bureaus.”
Vallín sued Reus González to force her ministry to answer his request for a certificate showing that no other non-government organization was registered with the same name or purpose as the CJA.. A court agreed to consider his complaint and later ordered the minister to appoint lawyers to defend her..
“Finally, after two years and two months, the Cuban Juridical Association received the certificate that took us on an unexpected (and undesired) march to the Supreme Tribunal of the nation,” Vallín wrote Monday.
He added that he’s already working on the next step — the application to have the CJA officially recognized as Cuba’s first truly independent non-governmental organization.