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Legal History of Cuba

The Republic of Cuba is a Caribbean country. Havana, located in the northwestern section of the island, is the capital, and Cuba’s largest city. It is located in the northern Caribbean where the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean meet. The territory that is now Cuba was inhabited by the Ciboney Taíno people from the 4th millennium BC until Spanish colonization in the 15th century. Cuba is one of a few extant Marxist–Leninist socialist states, where the role of the vanguard Communist Party is enshrined in the Constitution.


  • Pre-1959:

Before the arrival of the Spanish, Cuba was inhabited by three distinct tribes of indigenous peoples of the Americas. The Taíno, the Guanahatabey and the Ciboney people.After the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1942, Spanish settlement and colonization began in Cuba. In 1555, France seized control of Cuba from the Spanish. The struggle of independence from Spain is briefly classified into three phases: the Ten Year’s War (1868-1878), a smaller conflict (1879-1880), and the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). The United States joined the conflict in 1898 which resulted in a three-month-long Spanish American War that ended with the Treaty of Paris. Later, the United States occupied Cuba in 1906-09, 1917, and 1921. In the next two decades, Cuba experienced in the rise of dictatorships under Presidents Gerardo Machado and Carlos Manual Cespedes, and a brief revolution which brought Fulgencio Batista to power. Years later, in 1959 Fidel Castro Ruz, after the 26th of July Movement, ushered a one-party communist system of Government.

  • Revolutionary period 1959-1970s:

After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, the constitution of 1940 was reinstated. Nonetheless, it did not fulfill the promises of the Manifesto of Montecristi because the Government did not enforce the whole of the constitution and did not conduct the election within 18 months period as required by the manifesto.

In the years that followed hundreds of reforms were made which included the First Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959, Urban Reform Law of October 1960, Nationalization Law of October 1960, Nationalization of Education Law of June 1961, and the Second Agrarian Reform Law of October 1963.


In 1976, Cuba formally institutionalized the revolution with the adoption of a new Constitution, which provided the legal system to be based on the principle of socialist legality. In constructing their legal system, they looked up to the contemporary socialist nations to put forth that the role of the law in a socialist society is to create social stability. In the late 1980s, with the downfall of the Soviet Union, starting with the pulling down of the Berlin wall in 1989 and its full collapse in 1991, the laws of Cuba changed again to respond to the new conditions of the Special Period.


The main legal system of Cuba was a reflection of it being a Spanish colony as even after independence in 1902, it continued many laws made by the Spanish, for example, the Civil Code remained in effect, with modifications, until 1987. The period of United States occupation and influence resulted in developments such as the Supreme Court of Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution, the legal system underwent a series of changes both in its structure and in the laws that it promulgated.

During this time, many lawyers left Cuba as the legal profession faced its prestigious decline. In the mid-1960s, Blas Roca Calderío began a process whereby the legal system in Cuba was resurrected to provide for the institutionalization of the Revolution.


The first Cuban Constitution was drafted in 1940 but in the year 1952, some parts of it were suspended by Cuban President Fulgensio Batista. Later, many changes took place, and ultimately in the year 1976, the new Cuban Constitution was adopted by a referendum of the people which later became obsolete. Finally, in the year 2019, the current Cuban Constitution was adopted by referendum. The new constitution, which also omits the aim of building a communist society and instead works towards the construction of socialism, was presented to the National Assembly of People’s Power by the secretary of the Council of State Homero Acosta for approval on 21 July 2018 before being slated to a national referendum. After being proclaimed, the Constitution was published in the Official Gazette of the Republic, ensuring its entry into force. It was also announced that new laws enforcing the Constitutional reform of the judicial system must be enacted within 18 months.


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