President's Message — April 2024

Attorney Mark A. Easter

Mark A. Easter


So last month, I had the opportunity to join a team of people assisting some churches in the Santiago region of Cuba. Santiago is on the opposite side of the island from Havana, where most of the tourist activity occurs. We spent most of our time in the town of Cobre, which is the location of a copper mine that dates back to the 1500s…the first copper mine in the "New" World. Slaves from Africa worked in this mine for several hundred years; many of the current residents of Cobre are descendants.

What an adventure! This was an out of my comfort and control zone experience unlike any I had ever been before. Virtually no internet access, or cellphone/text capability, the entire time there. I was told that sometimes the government just "turns off the internet," especially if there is unrest anywhere in the country. Several times a day there were electrical blackouts that would often last 3 or 4 hours. And almost NO commerce. Virtually no place to buy even a can of soda, pack of gum, or bar of soap.

This is, needless to say, a very challenging place to live. Very hard for people to get food, shoes, basic medicine, or gas. A new pair of shoes costs the equivalent of a working person’s monthly wages. Construction workers have no work because there is no fuel for the cement trucks. In fact, the government apparently "sends" doctors to Venezuela in exchange for fuel shipments. There are very few cars on the road. But lots of horse-drawn carts and wagons. I spoke with several women who had a husband or son in Nicaragua or Mexico, trying to make their way to the U.S. because conditions are so bad.

AND YET! The people I met were friendly, kind, and happy. People lived in close quarters with each other and called their neighborhood "familia". The pastor of the church I mainly worked with was a former soldier in the Cuban Army and member of the Communist Party—but now he leads a congregation of joyful, enthusiastic people—people who clearly care about their community. And I heard the most amazing, vibrant, and soulful music! Religious activity is more or less only restricted in Cuba in public areas….not in homes or "registered" churches.

And…while it was great to see the Cuban architecture, colors, classic old cars, mountains and jungle, the highlight for me was the numerous visits I had to homes and the stories I heard. Aided by my interpreter, a 30-year-old man named, Mariano, who teaches English at a Cuban university, I was able to hear from teachers, farmers, the seamstress, the guard, the hairdresser, construction workers, store owners, the refrigerator/freezer repair guy, and the nurse coming home after a long night shift (just like my own daughter back home). People who were struggling, but kept their spirit and sense of humor, and were very welcoming to this English-speaking, fedora wearing hombre from Los Estados Unidos. I also got to meet Diosmel, a very humble and courageous man, who works as a chaplain to men and women in a Cuban jail. Diosmel told me that the Cuban Government lets him work with these inmates because it recognizes that they come out of jail "with more discipline" as a result. He was very inspiring.

So it was a week without the ability to call, text, search the internet, buy things in a store, order food on a menu, or even count on electricity. But it was a week WITH some amazing people…people who I could empathize with…but also appreciate and learn from…that all of the distractions, conveniences, comforts, luxuries, and escapes we have here are to be appreciated and grateful for…but they don’t necessarily result in happiness. CUBA…a fascinating place with struggling, resilient, and beautiful people…I shall return!

Mark A. Easter is the president of the RCBA, a partner at Best Best & Krieger LLC, and has been residing and practicing law in Riverside since 1989.

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