U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 06/11/2021

June 11, 2021

Dear Friends,

Happy Friday! We hope you and yours are well.

This week, Cuba’s government made multiple efforts aimed at improving Cuba’s economy. On Thursday, it was announced that the island will no longer be accepting USD cash bank deposits given difficulties faced by the island when trying to deposit USD abroad. It was also clarified this week that recently announced prepaid USD cards are to be used by Cuban tourists and emigrants, not by the general Cuban population. The prepaid cards were introduced as a response to the current lack of liquidity faced by the Cuban peso in the island’s financial market. While the island adopted policies to ease economic turmoil domestically, Cuba’s Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas traveled to France on Thursday to renegotiate a 2015 debt forgiveness and payment plan agreement with the Paris Club. Cuba failed to meet payment obligations in 2019 and 2020 due to economic hardships allegedly frustrated by U.S. sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, Cuban rapper Maykel Castillo Osorbo, a member of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) and one of the two Cuba-based singers featured in the viral song Patria y Vida (“Fatherland and Life”), remains under state custody while facing charges of public disorder and evasion of authority. While state authorities claim that Mr. Osorbo has been offered legal representation and maintains contact with his family, independent organizations in Cuba have questioned the validity of his arrest and demanded his immediate release. Cuba was again mentioned in international headlines over suspicions that an Iranian warship thought to be carrying weapons potentially destined for Venezuela may also dock in Cuba. The concern sparked warnings from the Biden-Harris administration that such a shipment would be seen as a provocation and could be met with deterrence measures.

In news pertaining to COVID-19 in Cuba, the island’s vaccination campaign in Havana continues to expand, along with plans to eventually bring the island’s domestically produced vaccines to the international market. The island has also had a significant increase in intensive care unit (ICU) patients. As of last Thursday, Cuba reached the highest number of patients in ICUs since March of 2020 with a total of 161. Yesterday, Cuba reported 154,866 cases of COVID-19. There are currently 6,192 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana reported the largest number of new cases by far compared to other provinces at 460. The total number of deaths since March 2020 is 1,065. For a graph of case numbers since March 2020, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 06/04/2021

June 4, 2021

Dear Friends,

Happy Friday! We hope you and yours are well.

For your weekend reading list, be sure to check out Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Policy written by Ted A. Henken and Sara García Santamaria. This collection of essays explores the evolution of internet access in Cuba and the impact that increased levels of access have had on Cuba’s cultural, economic, social, and political spheres.

Public health authorities have released Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), from Havana’s General Calixto Garcia University Hospital after nearly four weeks at the facility with limited communication. Mr. Otero intends to share his experience with the public and emphasized that the struggles against state censorship on the island are not over. Last week, Amnesty International declared Mr. Otero a “prisoner of conscience” while local artists in Havana asked the Museum of Fine Arts to remove their work until authorities released the activist and government surveillance ended.

After struggling to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. to participate in the Americas Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Cuba’s international baseball team made it to the U.S., but will not be competing in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Unfortunately, the team was eliminated from the tournament after losing games against Venezuela and Canada this week. While playing against Venezuela, protesters surrounded the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches stadium in West Palm Beach, Florida. The protesters stood outside of the stadium during the game and held Cuban and Venezuelan flags while demanding reforms in both countries.

Health authorities have opened a total of 473 vaccination sites in Havana to administer the Abdala vaccine. As Cuba extends its vaccination campaign throughout the island, Argentina has expressed interest in collaborating with the production of the Abdala and Soberana II vaccines. In response to economic shortages on the island, Cubans and others abroad have begun campaigns to collect needles and syringes. The Saving Lives Campaign and Global Health Partners have founded an online initiative to provide the island with much needed medical supplies. Without donations, the shortages have the potential to halt vaccination efforts.

Yesterday, Cuba reported 146,696 cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,798 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana reported the largest number of new cases by far compared to other provinces at 455. The total number of deaths since last March is 992. For a graph of case numbers since March 2020, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website. In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Cuba’s government has begun a mass vaccination campaign. Cuba’s struggling economy is also suffering in the face of the pandemic.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 05/28/2021

May 28, 2021

Dear Friends,

We wish you and yours a safe and healthy holiday weekend.

For your weekend reading list, be sure to check out Oxfam America’s new report Right to Live Without a Blockade: The Impact of U.S. Sanctions on the Cuban Population and Women’s Lives. The report advocates for a policy of engagement between the U.S. and Cuba, including lifting U.S. sanctions against the island as Cuba faces one of its most dire economic crises since the fall of the Soviet Union. 

After just over three months in office, the Biden-Harris administration’s Cuba policy continues to look much like that of the Trump administration’s path on Cuba. This week the U.S. State Department announced that Cuba would remain on the list of countries not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The decision comes despite the fact that President-Elect Joseph Biden pledged during his campaign to reverse a portion of the former Administration’s policies concerning Cuba. It’s not clear if the Biden-Harris administration maintained the status quo because it has not finished its policy review on Cuba, or if it was a clear signal that it will continue to follow the Trump administration’s path on Cuba. 

Amnesty International has declared Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, artist and leader of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), a “prisoner of conscience.” The organization demands the immediate release of the young activist, who has remained at Havana’s General Calixto Garcia University Hospital since May 2. While organizations like Amnesty International protest Mr. Otero’s detention, local artists in Havana have requested to withdraw their art from the Museum of Fine Arts until government officials release Mr. Otero. 

Since the beginning of 2021, tourism in Cuba has decreased by 94 percent compared to the first four months of 2020. This massive decrease implies a tremendous financial loss for the island as tourism remains one of its greatest sources of income. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 138,899 cases of COVID-19. There are currently 6,449 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana reported the largest number new cases by far compared to other provinces at 536. The total number of deaths since last March is 933. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website. In response to rising COVID-19 numbers, Cuba’s government has begun a mass vaccination campaign. Cuba’s struggling economy is also suffering in the face of the pandemic. 

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 05/21/2021

May 21, 2021

Dear Friends, 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), Senator Jerry Moran (Kansas), and Senator Leahy (VT) introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act. The bill aims to lift travel and trade restrictions for Americans looking to do business with Cuba. Specifically, the bill advocates to increase American exports to the island. According to Senator Klobuchar, “Coming off the pandemic, we have to look for new markets for our (agricultural) products, and this is one big market of 11 million people, with potential for tourism.” Allowing U.S. businesses and companies to engage with Cuba is a smart move on both the economic and humanitarian front. Lifting restrictions on trade with Cuba’s burgeoning non-state sector and with state enterprises producing goods and services benefitting the Cuban people will help bolster Cuba’s civil society, provide humanitarian relief to Cubans bearing the effects of the pandemic and the island’s struggling economy, and allow U.S. businesses to compete in a market that they have a competitive advantage in due to proximity and cultural ties. 

After struggling to obtain visas to travel to the U.S. Olympic qualifying tournament scheduled for May 31 to June 5, on Wednesday the U.S. Embassy in Havana started processing visa applications for Cuba’s national baseball team. The move comes despite the fact that consular services in Havana have been suspended for four years following still unexplained health incidents suffered by U.S. personnel that now appear to be more widespread – occurring in countries in Europe, Asia, and even in the U.S. Although the fact that the decision to process the team’s visas is a positive step, it highlights a disparity in treatment between the team and everyday Cubans. For the past three years, many Cubans have struggled to attain U.S. visas due to the requirement that they make the sometimes cost-prohibitive trip to the U.S. Embassy in Guyana. Even Cuban animator Víctor Alfonso Cedeño, whose form of cancer required a treatment only available outside of Cuba, struggled to receive a humanitarian visa to travel to the U.S. to participate in a clinical trial at a Florida hospital. The difficulties have unnecessarily separated families across the Florida Straits, and likely have contributed to the rise in sea interdictions this fiscal year.

The number of reported cases of health incidents similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel abroad continues to rise. An additional case  has been reported near the White House in Washington D.C. A National Security official reported experiencing symptoms near the entrance to the grounds. Thus far, including the aforementioned case, there have been two known cases of these health incidents on White House grounds. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,197 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 6,874 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Matanzas reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 647, 111, and 31 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 849. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 05/14/2021

May 14, 2021

Dear Friends,

Reports of additional cases of health incidents similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel in Cuba and China continue to emerge, some even allegedly occurring in Washington, DC. 

Members of Congress and many of the diplomats and intelligence officers affected are pushing for more transparency in the investigation, but answers remain elusive. Cuba unfortunately continues to bear the brunt of the consequences, singled out as the only country to have the U.S. embassy drawn down and consular services suspended. Opponents of engagement utilized the incidents, which were originally called “sonic attacks,” to push the Trump Administration to roll back President Obama’s Cuba opening. The incidents are now reported to have happened across the globe, including close to the White House, but the Cuban people continue to suffer the consequences. 

U.S. sanctions continue to affect companies operating in good faith, as is the case with Biomin America, the latest company to be hit with fines by OFAC. COVID-19 continues to spread in Cuba with over 1,000 new cases daily as the government pushes forward with mass vaccination with Cuban vaccines. Meanwhile, some innovative Cubans have taken to using cryptocurrency, which given its decentralized nature and independence from government regulation, offer a way to carry out transactions complicated by the U.S. embargo. 

Independent activists held virtual events to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the first independently organized LGBTQI+ march in Cuba. Independent groups and government organizations are keeping a close eye on the development of Cuba’s new Family Code, which is expected to address the question of same-sex marriage in Cuba, and which will be presented to the legislature in July.

All this and more in this week’s Cuba News Blast…

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,277 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 6,453 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, reported the largest numbers of new cases by far compared to other provinces at 657. The total number of deaths since last March is 785. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website. In response to rising COVID numbers, Cuba’s government has begun a mass vaccination campaign despite the fact that the vaccines’ Phase III clinical trials have not concluded. Cuba’s struggling economy is also suffering in the face of the pandemic. 

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 05/07/2021

May 7, 2021

Dear Friends,

This week, several U.S. senators spoke out about increased domestic reports of health incidents like those that affected U.S. personnel in Cuba in 2016-2017, Cuban authorities ended a week-long hunger strike by dissident artist-activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, and Cuba announced the members of the commission in charge of drafting a new Family Code for the island that will likely offer greater clarification on the legality of same sex marriage.

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,162 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,631 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Artemisa reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 684, 91, and 47 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 713, but most fatalities have come over the last three months. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

According to Global Health Partners, Cuba currently faces a shortage of 20 million syringes that will be needed to vaccinate the island’s population against COVID-19. Global Health Partners and the Saving Lives Campaign are currently accepting donations to send medical syringes to Cuba for use in COVID-19 vaccination.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 04/30/2021

April 30, 2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,046 new cases of COVID-19, and on Wednesday Cuba recorded a record 18 deaths in one day. There are currently 5,404 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, and Havana continues to be the epicenter of new cases. The total number of deaths since last March is 644, but most fatalities have come over the last three months. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 04/23/2021

April 23, 2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,241 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,623 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, Matanzas, and Holguín reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 727, 140, and 100 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 569. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 04/16/2021

April 16, 2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,040 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,750 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight increase from the previous day. Havana, Matanzas, and Santiago de Cuba reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 567, 158, and 86 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 500. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 04/09/2021

April 9, 2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,017 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,112 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, Matanzas, and Granma reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 484, 153, and 86 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 448. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week we interviewed Guillermo Grenier, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University, about his thoughts on recent polling of Cuban American political opinion, how the Biden-Harris administration can engage the Cuban American community, and what the priorities should be for U.S.-Cuba policy. 

To read this week’s interview with Professor Grenier, visit the “U.S.-Cuba Relations” section.

This week, in Cuba news…

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