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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuban official: Island open to Cuban Americans investing, ‘strengthening ties’ with Cuba

In response to a series of questions from the Miami Herald, Katia Alonso, director of foreign capital investments for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX), stated that Cuba is open to foreign investment from Cuban Americans. Ms. Alonso told the Miami Herald that Cuba would evaluate potential investments from Cuban Americans as it would investments from “any other potential investor from any other place of origin,” regardless of whether the Cuban American had been born in the U.S. or had migrated there. Ms. Alonso also reiterated that Cuban laws have never prohibited foreign investment from Cuban Americans. However, there has long been a stigma among Cuban authorities against allowing Cuban businessmen who live abroad to bring their capital to the island. 

Ms. Alonso’s statement comes after she spoke at a press conference in March, during which she also invited Cubans residing outside the island to invest in projects listed in Cuba’s Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment. Many of the portfolio’s 503 projects, totaling an estimated $12 billion in investment opportunity, are small and medium enterprises, which Cuba hopes will be attractive to small-scale investors. Ms. Alonso also told the Miami Herald that foreign investors could create their own business proposals that would then be considered by Cuba’s government as long as they meet existing foreign investment requirements.

This week, Cuba began testing its Foreign Trade Single Window (VUCE) an electronic platform that would consolidate and expedite processes regarding international business with the island. As part of a series of economic reforms, in March Cuba began allowing foreign investors to have majority ownership in projects on the island. The reforms came after Cuba’s flagship project to attract foreign investment, the Mariel Special Development Zone, failed to generate its expected revenue.

Joe Biden is not Barack Obama with regards to Cuba Policy, according to a senior White House official (Spanish)

Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and senior director for the Western Hemisphere on the U.S. National Security Council, stated in an interview with CNN that President Joe Biden “is not Barack Obama” with regards to U.S.-Cuba policy. Mr. Gonzalez reiterated President Biden’s campaign promises to raise limits on remittances to Cuba and decrease restrictions on flights to the island; however, he said the “political moment has changed significantly” and that the “political space” for Cuba policy has contracted, citing that Cuba’s government’s “oppression against the Cuban people may be even worse than it was during the Bush administration” and a perceived lack of response on the part of the Cuban government. He also stated that currently the U.S. is not complying with an immigration accord with Cuba to process 20,000 Cuban immigrant visas annually due to safety concerns about personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Mr. Gonzalez said the Administration needs to be assured of the safety of U.S. staff at the embassy and assured that the personnel would not run the risk of “microwave attacks,” referencing the still unexplained health incidents that afflicted U.S. personnel in Cuba, Russia, and China.

During the campaign, Mr. Gonzalez had stated that there was a sense of “disappointment” among members of the Obama administration that Cuba’s government had missed an opportunity following the Obama administration’s opening to the island, especially with regards to improvements in human rights conditions. However, he also stated that the Obama-era policy of engagement was “not something we were doing for Cuba but it was something we were doing to Cuba,” and that diplomatic engagement is a “tool for the United States to advance its interests.” For his part, President Biden, while still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, stated that he would “in large part” go back to the Obama-era policy of engagement with Cuba. Later in the campaign, then-candidate Biden said that he would reverse President Donald Trump’s Cuba policies that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” Since President Biden assumed office, messaging from the Administration has largely revolved around its “core principles” for U.S.-Cuba policy: support for democracy and human rights, and the idea that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.

In response to Mr. Gonzalez’s remarks about the alleged attacks on U.S. personnel, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez issued a tweet rebuking the “legend” of the microwave attacks, referring to the theory as “nonsense that has already been dismissed by science.” U.S. government investigations into the health incidents are currently ongoing, including by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo

Cuban Foreign Ministry summons U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Havana

On Monday, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, general director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), summoned U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Zúñiga-Brown to convey Cuba’s rejection of the U.S. State Department’s recent human rights report regarding Cuba, OnCuba News reports. According to a statement released by MINREX, during the meeting Mr. Fernández de Cossío accused the U.S. of opportunistically taking advantage of human rights concerns in its “policy of aggression” against countries like Cuba. Mr. Fernández de Cossío also dismissed the report as being characterized by “allegations and accusations that are untrue.” He also discussed what he viewed to be domestic and international human rights violations on the part of the U.S., and he highlighted Cuba’s membership in various international human rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Council. The MINREX statement did not include any details about how Mr. Zúñiga-Brown responded to Mr. Fernández de Cossío’s remarks.

On March 30, the U.S. State Department released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual report required by law that details the human rights situations in most all countries around the world, including in Cuba.

Cuban rafters barricade themselves on boat, demanding they be allowed to continue journeyCoast Guard stops 11 Cuban migrants off Key Largo

A group of about a dozen Cuban migrants are refusing to leave a Panamanian-flagged ship that brought them on board after finding the migrants in a precarious boat 50 nautical miles west of Grand Cayman, the Miami Herald reports. The migrants on board the ship, a freighter called the MV Bulk Freedom, are insisting that they be taken to Panama so they can continue their journey to the U.S. However, the captain of the ship is adamant that they disembark in the Cayman Islands. Cayman authorities had previously been monitoring 10 of the migrants via electronic ankle bracelets, but lost contact with them when they disarmed the tracking devices and left the Caymans in the small craft from which they were brought on board the MV Bulk Freedom. The migrants have been on board the ship since Tuesday. Cayman Islands Custom and Border Control (CBC) are currently trying to get the migrants to disembark the ship, while providing them with food and drinking water. CBC was recently alerted that an infant ill with a fever is on board the ship; however, the mother and father have refused offers from CBC to take the child to a hospital on Grand Cayman.

According to the Miami Herald, last Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 11 Cuban migrants 20 miles southeast of Key Largo. The day before, the Coast Guard had interdicted four Cuban migrants close to Aventura. All 15 were repatriated this Monday, according to a tweet from U.S. Coast Guard Southeast. The interdictions come as the Coast Guard is experiencing an increase in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S.

Interview with Professor Guillermo Grenier on Cuban American political opinion and U.S.-Cuba policy

CDA: What is your connection to Cuba?

Professor Grenier: I was born in Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s with my parents. I returned to the island in 1979 as a member of the second group of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a diverse amalgamation of young Cubans who left the island as children. Since then, I’ve developed friendships and professional relationships on the island and continue to visit frequently.

On a more adventurous note, since 2011 I have conducted a series of long distance walks in Cuba. The first walk was from Baracoa to Bayamo (400 km approximately). A couple of years later, I traced the steps, more or less, of the Three Juanes who carried the statue of the Virgen de la Caridad from the Bay of Nipes to El Cobre (150 km). The third trek followed the life of Esteban Montejo, as captured by Miguel Barnet in his book Biografía de un Cimarrón, from Sagua la Grande to Cienfuegos (400 km). I created a trail called El Camino del Cimarron that we hope to establish as a cultural itinerary as soon as this pandemic madness releases its hold on us. Cuba is more than Havana. Who would have guessed!

CDA: The Cuban American community is not a monolith. As you said in one of your books and in a recent blog post, “There are Cubans and there are Cubans.” How can the Biden-Harris administration engage a broad sector of the Cuban American community to ensure it is getting a complete and nuanced picture of the community’s opinions and priorities?

Professor Grenier: The minimum that any administration truly interested in the Cuban American community should do is engage the community in discussions about other issues besides US/Cuba policy. I’m exploring a series of data sets that provide compelling evidence that Cubans are outliers in the Republican party when their views on core Republican issues are taken into consideration. Cuban Americans, for example, are significantly more likely to support reproductive choice policies, gun control, the opposition to deportation of undocumented immigrants and the establishment of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, particularly the children. The community is extremely supportive of student debt forgiveness and national health care for all citizens. These are core Democratic issues that resonate within the Cuban American community. President Biden would do well to encourage the Democratic Party to see the Cuban American community in its entirety as residents and citizens of the U.S., rather than simply an audience receptive to foreign policy speeches on the evils of socialism.

CDA: In October, you and your team at Florida International University (FIU) published the 2020 Cuba Poll. What were your main takeaways from that poll with regards to how the Biden-Harris administration should move forward on Cuba policy? 

Professor Grenier: The main takeaway from the poll is that Cuban American opinions regarding US/Cuba policy are shaped by the policies established in Washington. Leadership matters. The year before Obama assumed the presidency, 68% of Cuban Americans supported the embargo. By the time Obama left office, 63% opposed the embargo. Similarly, in 2016 64% of Cuban Americans supported Obama’s engagement policy. 

This is not to say that Cuban Americans supported everything about the policies or that they approved of the Cuban government’s responses to the policies. It simply shows that if policies of engagement are established, Cuban Americans will adjust. Some will see the policies as an opportunity to do business on the island. Others will respond to the family reunification dimensions of engagement policies. Others will see it as a way to ferment conflict on the island by increasing the expectations of the Cuban people and watching/criticizing as the Cuban government maneuvers a response.

This pattern, by the way, of Washington influencing opinion (rather than simply the other way around), holds all the way back to the first Bush administration. During the first Bush’s administration, 85% of Cuban Americans supported the embargo. During the Clinton administration, embargo endorsement rate declined by 3.6% per year. George W.’s years saw a stabilization of the embargo support at the level reached during the Clinton years. During the Obama administration, support for the embargo resumed its decline by 2.6% per year. This resulted in a drop of 21% between 2008 and 2016.

My advice is “follow the science.” Build the policy, and Cuban Americans will come.

CDA: Recently, Bendixen & Amandi International released a poll of 400 Cuban American Florida voters which some are using as justification for the Biden-Harris administration’s lack of action on Cuba policies. What were your main takeaways from this poll? How would you say these results compare to the FIU 2020 Cuba Poll?

Professor Grenier: So, Cuban American voters in Florida are still crazy in love with Trump and his isolationist policies towards Cuba. I do not think that this surprised anyone. The social contagion of the Trump virus will not dissipate overnight. Ignoring for a second the peculiar decision by the pollsters to include the name of Obama in a question designed to measure policy opinions (Obama’s name carries a certain amount of baggage, shall we say), it is clear that the community has not changed its opinions since the FIU Cuba Poll captured many of the same sentiments leading up to the elections. 

The one bit of data which did surprise, that 45% of Cuban Americans have a favorable view of the Biden presidency, did not receive much attention. That’s ten percentage points over the number of respondents who reported voting for Biden. He’s clearly winning over some skeptics. 

But the poll is providing political cover for Biden to do nothing about Cuba, even on issues that are supported by most Cuban Americans, such as reopening the consular services of the embassy, resuming flights to all regions of the island and reestablishing the flow of remittances. 

CDA: Leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, President Biden stated he would reverse “failed Trump policies” on Cuba. This made many Cuban Americans and Cubans on the island hopeful that President Biden would implement Cuba policies which support the Cuban people–policies which are especially needed now as Cubans face a dire economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. What policies do you believe the Biden-Harris administration should prioritize to support the Cuban people and allow Cuban Americans to support their loved ones on the island? 

Professor Grenier: The “mangos bajos” of US/Cuba policy are evident: reopen the consular services of the embassy, resume flights to all regions of the island and reestablish the flow of remittances. If the Biden/Harris administration is unable to take these humanitarian, simple steps unapologetically, then we are in big trouble.

In fact, over sixty percent of Cuban Americans supported the suspension of the embargo during this time of Covid! This offers a huge opening for the implementation of humanitarian assistance policies, even if temporary, to the Cuban people. Similarly, with some creative strategizing, many economic engagement policies could be packaged under the broad umbrella of “strengthening the Cuban and Cuban-American family.”

But ultimately the lack of will to engage Cuba, and the all too facile willingness to let the south Florida Cuban American community, most of which did not vote for President Biden, call the shots stems from the fact that Cuba is not of significant geopolitical importance. Obama saw US/Cuba relations as a hinge pin of a broader Latin America strategy. I don’t think that Biden/Harris have looked beyond the shoreline yet. China, Iran, Korea, all are out there begging for attention.

Cuba doesn’t play in that league but acting quickly and decisively on Cuba sends a message that the US is paying attention to details and is able to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Until Biden and Harris act on Cuba and forge their own way on other foreign policy issues, the United States will remain mired in the world defined by Trump. And to many in the Cuban American community, that is just fine by them.

IN CUBA

First stage of phase III trials with Soberana 02 concludesPopulation intervention with COVID-19 vaccines in Havana by end of April

Last Wednesday, the first stage of Phase III trials in Havana for Cuba’s Soberana 02 vaccine for COVID-19 concluded after a total of 44,010 volunteers received their first dose, OnCuba News reports. The principal researcher for the clinical trial, Dr. María Eugenia Toledo Romani, stated in a television appearance last Thursday that so far the study’s results are encouraging with regards to both the vaccine’s safety and the immune response it induces. Dr. Toledo further stated that 82 percent of the reported adverse effects in response to the vaccine have been mild and that although cases of COVID-19 have been reported among the participants, most contracted cases were also mild. Administration of the second dose of the vaccine for the clinical study began this Monday. The first stage of the Phase III trial was completed in 18 days and involved 31 clinical sites and 48 vaccination centers in Havana. Venezuela and Iran are also participating in the Phase III trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine.

According to OnCuba News, a previously announced “intervention study,” in which a majority of residents in Havana will receive the Soberana 02 or Abdala vaccine, both of which are in Phase III trials, will begin by the end of April. The intervention study, which will not use any placebos, will include more than 1.6 million volunteers over 18 years of age in Havana: 812,6000 volunteers in the seven municipalities in Havana that are not included in the Phase III trial for Soberana 02 and 842,300 volunteers in the eight municipalities where the Phase III trial is being carried out. Dr. Rolando Pérez, director of science and innovation for the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries of Cuba Business Group (BioCubaFarma), also stated that Cuba could begin pediatric trials with the Soberana 01 and 02 vaccines in the near future, beginning with those between 12 and 18 years of age, and then progressing to those between 5 and 11 years of age.

According to a study released on Wednesday, scientists in Cuba have detected five genetic variants and six mutation patterns for COVID-19 on the island. Among the genetic variants are those that originated in South Africa, California, and the United Kingdom, all considered highly contagious. Cuban scientists pointed out that the fact these variants spread more easily could help to explain the recent uptick in cases on the island.

Authorities in Cuba aim to vaccinate six million people on the island by August and all of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants by the end of the year.

30 Cubans began hunger strike on March 20 to protest human rights violations, activists sayOAS says Cuba responsible for health of hunger strikers

On March 20, the Cuban political opposition activist José Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), began a hunger strike with about 60 others on and off the island to protest what they deem are human rights violations in Cuba, Local 10 News reports. Most of the hunger strikers are in the UNPACU headquarters building in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, which Mr. Ferrer had previously turned into a food bank and medical clinic for over 200residents in the city. Mr. Ferrer said that those striking at the UNPACU headquarters are defending their right to deliver food and aid to people in Santiago de Cuba, who reportedly suffered harassment from state security forces for receiving aid from UNPACU. Rosa Maria Payá, leader of the Cuba Decide organization and the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, said that the headquarters building has been surrounded by Cuban police. According to Cuba Decide’s Twitter, 26 people in Cuba and one person abroad were still maintaining the hunger strike as of this Wednesday, April 7, 18 days after the strike began. According to a statement released by Cuba Decide, several of the hunger strikers are now unconscious. 

According to Bloomberg, the Organization of American States (OAS) released a statement saying that it holds Cuba’s government responsible for the health of the hunger strikers. Further support for UNPACU’s efforts and concern for the health of the strikers has come from EU and U.S. politicians, including Vice-President of the European Parliament Dita Charanzová, U.S. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar, and Member of the European Parliament José Ramón Bauzá. Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department, also released a tweet expressing concern for the strikers and urging Cuba’s government to “deescalate the situation.” Cuba’s government has accused UNPACU and Mr. Ferrer of being provocateurs financed by the U.S. government. 

Unusual demonstration in the streets of Cuba: hundreds, singing, protest in Havana (Spanish)

On Sunday, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in the Havana neighborhood of San Isidro to protest Cuba’s government and support the activists of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), el Nuevo Herald reports. Cuban police attempted to arrest the artist Maykel Castillo, a member of MSI and one of the two Cuba-based singers featured in the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which expressed strong critiques of Cuba’s government. Reportedly, those involved in the protest swarmed the streets and prevented the arrest from occurring. 

The day before the protest, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of MSI and organizer of the protest, was allegedly briefly detained by Cuba’s security service. According to el Nuevo Herald, he was detained as he was preparing to deliver candy to children in the San Isidro neighborhood. The previous day, Humberto López, a Cuban state television journalist, had referred to Mr. Otero’s plan to distribute candy as a “subversive activity.” The Cuba Money Project reports that Mr. Otero had also been planning an exhibition of paintings featuring candy wrappers, alluding to the fact that many children in Cuba, not having access to candy, enjoy the scent of discarded wrappers. Mr. López also accused Mr. Otero of working for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that receives much of its funding from the U.S. government.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Exit of Cuba’s last Castro brings curtain down on revolutionary era, Marc Frank, Financial Times

In this article, Marc Frank discusses the impact that the impending resignation of Raúl Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba will have on the island. He details the present crises Cuba currently faces and the challenges that President Miguel Díaz-Canel will encounter once he assumes the role of first secretary. Mr. Frank also discusses Cuba’s recent economic reforms and the expectation that further reforms are imminent.

Cuban Americans Make Plea To Biden Administration For Help On Immigration Limbo, Daniel Rivero, WLRN

In this article, Daniel Rivero discusses recent advocacy efforts by Cuban Americans in support of resuming the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, a program which has been effectively paused by the reduction in staff and operations at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Mr. Rivero details the circumstances of several Cuban Americans who have been waiting years for family members in Cuba to come to the U.S. through the program. He also discusses the large-scale immigrant visa backlog for Cubans not in the reunification program and writes about the recent uptick in Cuban migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S.

A hunger strike in Cuba reveals a deepening crisis, Editorial Board, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, the Editorial Board for The Washington Post discusses recent protest movements in Cuba, including a hunger strike organized by José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. The Editorial Board discusses other individuals and groups that have spoken out against Cuba’s government and how the government has responded to these incidents. 

Activists and trans people demand gender identity law on social media (Spanish), SEMlac Cuba

This article discusses how trans people and activists in Cuba took to social media on March 31, International Trans Visibility Day, to demand a Gender Identity Law in Cuba. The article details several of the individual tweets in support of the law and trans rights in Cuba. It also details some of the specific demands made for the law, including the ability to change one’s name and gender on identity documents without having to go through gender reassignment surgery.

Cuban cooks overcome shortages with ingenuity on Facebook, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press

In this article, Andrea Rodríguez writes about the current food scarcities in Cuba and how people on the island are helping each other find supplies and create adapted recipes through Facebook pages. She talks with Yuliet Colón, one of the creators of the Facebook page “Recipes from the Heart,” where Cubans post recipes and dishes that others can make with what is currently available in the supermarkets. Ms. Rodríguez also discusses the economic factors that have led to the current food shortages and some of the other ways Cubans are utilizing social media.

Young Cubans invest in cryptocurrencies, Dan Hirschfeld, Deutsche Welle

In this video segment, Dan Hirschfeld discusses the use of cryptocurrencies in Cuba. He puts the growing popularity of digital currencies on the island in the context of restrictions on remittance sending, the economic downturn in Cuba, and domestic economic reforms that have devalued Cuba’s currency. Mr. Hirschfeld also discusses the rationale behind the use of cryptocurrencies with a technology entrepreneur and a software programmer in Cuba.

Climate change shrinks marine life richness near equator: study, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

In this article, Sarah Marsh discusses research published Monday that found a strong correlation in open-water species decline in tropical marine zones and rising sea surface temperatures. She writes about the study’s findings in the context of Cuba’s marine life and, especially, its coral reefs, which may be damaged as fish and other mobile marine life migrate to more temperate waters. Ms. Marsh also details the scope of the new study and offers perspectives from various scientists on its significance.

Cuba revisited –– Mozart y Mambo, one year onDeutsche Welle

This video segment and accompanying article feature the French horn player Sarah Willis, whose album “Mozart y Mambo” topped the classical charts in 2020 in Germany, the U.S., and the UK. In the video segment, Ms. Willis returns to Havana and reunites with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, which accompanied her on her hit album. Ms. Willis then travels through the island, learning more about Cuban music, and performs songs with various musicians.

EVENTS

Virtual, Perspectives from Havana in a Year of Covid and Embargo – A Series of Weekly Conversations, April 13

Massachusetts Peace Action, the Center for Cuban Studies, the Latin American Solidarity Coalition of Western Massachusetts, and other organizations are hosting a series of five weekly discussions with leading voices from Cuba. The discussions will focus on the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 and the U.S. embargo on Cuba have presented to those on the island and on how Havana has changed in the past year. All five events will begin at 8 p.m. EDT. The first event, on April 13, will be with Estéban Morales, who will offer his thoughts from the perspective of an economist. Each event will start with a short presentation, followed by an opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue. To register for the event, please click here.

Virtual, Art, Activism, Censorship: A Conversation with Tania Bruguera, April 16

The Cuba Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University, is hosting a seminar at 12:00 p.m. EDT on April 16 with the Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera. The event will be moderated by Professors Doris Sommer and Alejandro de la Fuente of Harvard University as well as by Karina Ascunce González, co-president of the Cuban-American Undergraduate Students Association (CAUSA) at Harvard. To register for the event, please click here.

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief 04/02/2021

April 2, 2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,077 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,517 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, Granma, and Matanzas reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 516, 116, and 98 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 429. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cubans stage caravan to protest U.S. trade embargo, sanctions

On Sunday, hundreds of people in Cuba participated in a caravan on the Malecón roadway in Havana to protest the U.S. embargo on the island, Reuters reports. The caravan in Havana was joined by similar protests and caravans in over 50 cities around the world, including Tampa, Miami, New York, and Las Vegas in the U.S. The organizers of the caravans hope their actions will help convince the Biden-Harris administration to pursue a policy of greater engagement with Cuba. On the Malecón, protestors waved Cuban flags, honked their car horns, and yelled “down with the embargo” as they passed the U.S. embassy building. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, who was the highest-ranking Cuban government official present at the protest, told reporters that the embargo is “harmful, illegal, immoral, [and] criminal” and that it should be lifted.

The Biden-Harris administration has emphasized on multiple occasions that its Cuba policy will be guided by two core principles: support for democracy and human rights, and the idea that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom in Cuba. In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that although the past administration’s Cuba policy is under review, no conclusions about a new policy have yet been reached. However, the Administration is coming under increasing pressure to formulate its policy toward Cuba. In February, Senator Ron Wyden (OR) introduced the U.S.-Cuba Trade Act of 2021, which would effectively end the U.S.’s embargo on Cuba and establish normal trade relations with the island. In early March, 77 House Democrats sent a letter to President Biden urging him to reverse former president Trump’s Cuba policies. On Monday, Ben Rhodes, who served as Deputy National Security Adviser in the Obama administration and played a key role in normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations, tweeted, “There’s no reason for the Biden Administration to stick with Trump’s failed reversal of the Cuba opening and plenty of good reasons for the Cuban people and US interests to reopen relations ASAP.”

From Liechtenstein to Hong Kong: How Cuba uses shell companies to thumb its nose at embargo

A new Miami Herald/el Nuevo Herald and McClatchy investigation has revealed a network of hidden shell companies that have allowed Cuba to borrow money and access ships to bring goods to the island while avoiding U.S. sanctions, the Miami Herald reports. According to the investigation, at the top of the network of Cuban shell companies sits Acemex Management Company Limited, incorporated in Liechtenstein in 1984 and in Hong Kong in 2007. Acemex, which has never been sanctioned by the U.S., has provided cover for dozens of other companies whose links to Cuba had to be disguised in order to operate effectively abroad, including with money lenders in Europe and Asia. The investigation indicates that Cuba’s reliance on the network of shell companies has varied depending on the degree of pressure the U.S. was putting on the island at the time. 

U.S. financial sanctions jeopardize the U.S. assets of any company that does business with another company sanctioned by the U.S. To counter this extraterritorial reach, Acemex “convinced banks to lend it money to buy ships” by telling the banks “that they were not Cuban,” according to one of the sources interviewed. However, the source further stated that it was an “open secret” that companies like Acemex really belonged to Cuba’s Ministry of Transport. Previously, documents leaked in 2016, dubbed the Panama Papers, showed how in the early 1990s Cuba created a string of hidden companies in Panama, the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Island to buy and sell goods, while avoiding U.S. sanctions. Additionally, recent reporting from the Miami Herald, in collaboration with the global OpenLux investigation, showed how Cuba has used the European nation of Luxembourg to register offshore companies and evade sanctions.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba, codified in such laws as the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), includes a variety of sanctions measures that make it very difficult for Cuba to do business not only with U.S. but also foreign companies, due to the extraterritorial reach of the sanctions.

IN CUBA

Cuba’s tourism workers reinvent themselves as lockdown lingers

Many Cubans who previously worked in Cuba’s tourism sector have transitioned to other jobs as the island continues experiencing a significant decrease in tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports. According to Cuba’s Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, some 8,200 former employees of the state tourism sector have transitioned to working for hospitals, isolation centers, and other health institutions to support Cuba’s efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Still others, such as those interviewed by Reuters, have become repairmen or night guards.

Cuba closed its borders a year ago in response to the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, effectively keeping case numbers on the island low, especially in comparison with other countries in the region. However, in November of 2020, a reopening of the country’s borders led to a surge in the number of cases. Now, visitors must comply with numerous public health measures both before and during their visit to the island, and flights to and from the island are limited. In 2020, Cuba received 1 million visitors to the island, compared with 4 million in 2019.

Cuba vaunts ‘technical sovereignty’ in COVID battle

On Wednesday, government officials in Cuba toured manufacturing facilities in Havana that produce medical gear, such as ventilators and CT scanners, used in treating COVID-19 patients, Reuters reports. During the tour, the officials touted the degree of “technological sovereignty” Cuba has achieved with regard to medical equipment, enabling them to both save money on importing such equipment and to decrease the island’s COVID-19 mortality rate. Eduardo Martínez, president of the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries of Cuba Business Group (BioCubaFarma), stated that Cuba “could save many millions of dollars” thanks to its degree of technological sovereignty.

Cuba’s government has developed domestic medical equipment manufacturing capacity partly in response to the U.S. trade embargo, which makes importing medical equipment to the island more difficult. 

More price hikes in Cuban market

Cuba’s government has announced that 124 of the 550 construction materials sold in stores on the island will experience an increase in price, OnCuba News reports. The price increase will affect 49 of the most highly demanded construction materials, building materials with imported components––such as electrical cables, nails, iron fittings, and electrical boxes––and other goods. However, Cuba’s Interior Trade Minister Betsy Díaz stated on the Mesa Redonda television program that the state will continue to subsidize many materials––including dry goods like sand, gravel, stone, and dust––keeping them at their current price levels. For construction blocks, 50 percent of the increase in the cost of production will be reflected in an increase in price, while the other 50 percent is subsidized by the state. The Minister also stated that sales of construction materials have experienced a contraction since the beginning of this year.

These price changes come as Cuba’s government implements a series of monetary reforms, including the unification of the dual currency system, on the island. As part of the currency unification process started in January, Cuba’s government began implementing a gradual reduction in government subsidies to state companies and on basic goods and utilities, while implementing price controls.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and EU continue dialogue focused on U.S. embargo

Last Thursday, officials from Cuba and the European Union (EU) met virtually for the third time to discuss “unilateral coercive measures,” including the U.S. embargo on Cuba, OnCuba News reports. According to a tweet released by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), during the meeting, Cuba and the EU ratified their willingness to continue holding such dialogues. Cuba also thanked the EU for its support of Cuba’s United Nations resolution demanding the end of the U.S. embargo and for its condemnation of the implementation of Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act). According to a statement released by MINREX, Cuba and the EU discussed the damages done by the U.S. embargo, which affect “both the Cuban people and the economic and commercial interests of the EU.” 

Additionally, the EU delegation shared details on existing EU and Member State regulatory provisions designed to address the “extraterritorial dimension” of U.S. sanctions on Cuba. The EU delegation further said that the bloc is constructing a “comprehensive strategy” to counter extraterritorial sanctions by the U.S. and other countries “for the years to come.” The EU officials also provided an overview of Helms-Burton cases against EU companies filed in U.S. courts, and Cuba’s delegation discussed Cuba’s legal strategies in defending Cuban companies in U.S. courts. 

Cuba’s delegation at the meeting was led by María del Carmen Herrera Caseiro, general director of multilateral affairs and international law at MINREX, while the EU delegation was led by Javier Niño Pérez, deputy director general for the Americas at the European External Action Service. The meeting was held in accordance with the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement signed between Cuba and the EU in 2016 and in force since November 2017. The last meeting on this topic between Cuba and the EU was held in November 2019.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Biden under pressure to spell out Cuba policy, Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill

In this article, Rebecca Beitsch discusses the members of Congress who are calling on the Biden-Harris administration to engage with Cuba as well as those who are trying to ensure that a hardline policy is maintained against the island nation. She notes that the Administration has not yet made any large policy decisions with regards to Cuba and discusses the various political and strategic considerations involved in Cuba policy. She quotes, among other experts, Professor Fulton Armstrong, who says that the Administration’s stalling on Cuba provides a leadership vacuum, which will be filled by members of Congress unless the Administration acts.

Against the odds, Cuba could become a coronavirus vaccine powerhouse, Anthony Faiola & Anna Vanessa Herrero, The Washington Post

In this article, Anthony Faiola & Anna Vanessa Herrero discuss Cuba’s five COVID-19 vaccine candidates and the various challenges, including U.S. sanctions, that Cuba has faced in its attempt to develop its own vaccines. They detail the political, health, public relations, and economic effects that would likely follow the approval of one or more of Cuba’s vaccines, which are currently all in various stages of clinical trials. They also write about the history of Cuba’s biotechnology industry and what countries are currently expressing interest in importing doses of Cuba’s vaccines, once they are approved.

A Soviet-era legacy, Lada cars awaken passions for Cubans, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press

In this article, Andrea Rodríguez describes the love that many in Cuba hold for Lada cars, Russian-built automobiles that are legacies of the island’s relation with the former Soviet Union. Ms. Rodríguez discusses the recently founded Lada Cuba Club and talks with several Lada owners about their respective cars. She also briefly details the history of imported automobiles, including Ladas, in Cuba.

All Cuban athletes should have the right to represent their country (Spanish), Abraham Jiménez Enoa, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, Abraham Jiménez Enoa discusses Cuba’s recent decision to allow a select number of Cuban athletes living and playing abroad to play for the country’s national teams, including its soccer team which recently debuted in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers against Guatemala. He writes about how Cuba only allows athletes who left the island in a “politically correct” manner to join the country’s teams, excluding those athletes who, for example, defected from the island during tournaments abroad. He then argues that Cuba should allow all its foreign-based athletes, regardless of how they left the island or what views they have expressed since leaving, to play for the national teams.

It’s Nearly Impossible To Be An Influencer In Cuba. This YouTuber Is Doing It Anyway. Sunny García Barales, Refinery29

In this article, Sunny García Barales discusses the current state of social media use in Cuba, and how some on the island are now using it to become vloggers and influencers. Specifically, she discusses the young Cuban influencer Anabelle Vigo, and how she turned her social media and YouTube presence into a profit-earning enterprise. She details the various methods by which Anabelle earns money from social media and YouTube and how more people in Cuba are joining social media as the platforms proliferate on the island.

From Cuba to Miami, These Women Contend With Abusive Men and Countries, Danielle Evans, The New York Times

In this article, Danielle Evans discusses the recently published novel, Of Women and Salt, by Gabriela Garcia. Ms. Evans writes about the book’s principle characters, all women, and how they navigate an often brutal world. She also discusses the structure of the book, which traces multiple generations of women from Latin America to the U.S., and how Ms. Garcia both isolates and connects the stories of the different generations.

Viento y tiempo. Live in Blue Note Tokyo / Gonzalo Rubalcaba y Aymeé Nuviola (Spanish), Rosa Marquetti Torres, AM:PM

In this article, Rosa Marquetti Torres discusses the recently released album Viento y Tiempo from the Cuban artists Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymeé Nuviola. She discusses the high points of various songs and the different musical styles used throughout the album. She also writes about the effect the live recording of the songs has on the album and about the long-time friendship between Mr. Rubalcaba and Ms. Nuviola. 

EVENTS

Virtual, Perspectives from Havana in a Year of Covid and Embargo – A Series of Weekly Conversations, April 13

Massachusetts Peace Action, the Center for Cuban Studies, the Latin American Solidarity Coalition of Western Massachusetts, and other organizations are hosting a series of five weekly discussions with leading voices from Cuba. The discussions will focus on the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 and the U.S. embargo on Cuba have presented to those on the island and on how Havana has changed in the past year. All five events will begin at 8 p.m. EDT. The first event, on April 13, will be with Estéban Morales, who will offer his thoughts from the perspective of an economist. Each event will start with a short presentation, followed by an opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue. To register for the event, please click here.


Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the U.S.-Cuba News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

Like our work? Keep up with CDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


U.S.-Cuba News Brief 03/26/2021

March 26, 2021

Dear Friends,

CDA is hiring a Fellow! CDA seeks a uniquely qualified applicant for the 12-month Fellowship with a special interest in all things Cuba, a thirst for activism, and an interest in pursuing a professional career in the foreign policy NGO community. More information on the Fellowship is available here. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 832 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 3,318 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Camagüey reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 514, 74, and 51 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 413. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Feds say they busted Cuban migrant smuggling ring operating out of the KeysCoast Guard repatriates 17 migrants to Cuba

On Sunday, federal agents arrested four men in Florida in relation to a scheme to smuggle immigrants from Cuba to the U.S., the Miami Herald reports. The four men face charges of knowingly and willingly conspiring to encourage and induce foreign nationals to enter the U.S. and appeared in Key West federal court for the first time on Monday. Three of the men––Alberto García, Manuel Fonseca, and Yudier Panaque––were arrested by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations agents as they were lowering a boat into the water at a marina in Tavernier, allegedly in preparation for a trip to Cuba to smuggle some 20 migrants from the province of Pinar del Río. The other man, Yosniel Fuentes, was arrested later that day at a house in Homestead, where authorities found a ledger with the names and phone numbers of people in Cuba. 

The arrests come as the U.S. Coast Guard is experiencing an increase in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S. On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 17 Cuban migrants, according to a news release on the Coast Guard 7th District Southeast’s website. The 17 migrants had been interdicted the preceding Thursday about 54 miles south of Key West. So far in fiscal year 2021, which began on October 1, 2020, the Coast Guard has interdicted 107 Cuban migrants, compared to 49 interdictions in fiscal year 2020, and 313 interdictions in fiscal year 2019. Cuba’s government recently released a statement accusing current U.S. policies of stoking the increase in irregular migration from Cuba. The statement specifically cited the current suspension of visa processing at U.S. Embassy Havana, which has effectively halted the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, a program that allows qualifying Cubans to come to the U.S. without waiting for immigrant visas.

Family of Cuban American jailed in Cuba says her health is deteriorating

The family of a Cuban American teacher, Alina López Miyares, currently serving a 13-year prison sentence in Cuba, is calling on the Biden-Harris administration to intervene and try to return Ms. López Miyares to the U.S., NBC News reports. The family says that she is suffering from kidney problems and is not receiving treatment while in prison. Cuba has also denied Ms. López Miyares, who was born in Cuba and later became a U.S. citizen, U.S. consular visits, as Cuba’s government considers anyone born on the island to be a Cuban national and does not recognize dual citizenship for those in the country. Her family and her attorney, Jason Poblete, have been advocating that Ms. López Miyares be allowed consular visits so she can receive needed medicine and so U.S. diplomats can speak with her about her case. 

In 2017, Ms. López Miyares faced espionage charges in a military court in Cuba for allegedly passing information from her husband, Felix Martín Milanés Fajardo, a former Cuban official, to the FBI and CIA. Her husband, who had previously been a member of the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. Ms. López Miyares and her family maintain that she is innocent of the charges. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a call with the families of U.S. citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained abroad, saying that their family members “are a top priority in our diplomatic engagements with both allies and adversaries.”

IN CUBA

Nearly all Havana to receive experimental Cuban COVID-19 vaccinesCuba to vaccinate 150,000 frontline workers as part of final phase of clinical trial

On Tuesday, Cuban officials stated that almost the entire population of Havana would be vaccinated with experimental COVID-19 shots by May, Reuters reports. At a roundtable broadcast on state television, Ileana Morales, director of science and technology for Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health, said that authorities plan to vaccinate 1.7 million of the 2.1 million inhabitants of Havana by May. Ms. Morales further stated that authorities could seek emergency use authorization in June for the island’s Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines, both of which are currently in the final stage of clinical trials. This emergency use approval would allow mass vaccination of the island’s population to begin as early as June, with authorities aiming at six million people vaccinated by August and all of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants vaccinated by the end of the year, according to Ms. Morales. 

Officials in Cuba also announced on Sunday that 150,000 frontline workers in Havana would be vaccinated as part of the Phase III trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine, Reuters reports. The administration of the vaccine to medical and other high-risk personnel began on Monday. Ms. Morales said that hopefully similar vaccination efforts for frontline workers would occur soon in Guantánamo, Santiago de Cuba, and Granma with the Abdala vaccine. The ongoing clinical trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine in Cuba, which are occurring in Havana, include around 44,000 volunteers. At the broadcast on Tuesday, Deputy Health Minister Carilda Peña said that Havana is registering 292 cases per 100,000 inhabitants compared to an average of 103.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants for the nation as a whole. This week, Cuba surpassed 400 recorded deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines, Cuba has three other vaccines that have already progressed through various stages of clinical trials: the Soberana 01Soberana 01A, and Mambisa vaccines. In April, researchers in Cuba hope to begin clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine designed for children ages 5 to 18.

Cuba makes headway in Code that will address same-sex marriage

Cuba’s Council of State has approved the appointment of members to a commission that will present a draft to Cuba’s legislature of the island’s new Family Code OnCuba News reports. While the draft language of the new Family Code is unknown to the public, the legislation is expected to address the question of same-sex marriage on the island. Cuba’s National Assembly announced that those appointed to the commission include representatives of governmental and societal organizations, specialists and professors in the field, and others without providing further details on the individuals appointed. Cuba’s legislative schedule stipulates that the new draft of the Family Code be presented in March of this year, after which it will eventually be subject to a popular referendum.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Cuba was widely debated in 2018 during the drafting of Cuba’s new constitution, which was approved in early 2019 in a national referendum. In the initial draft of the new constitution, the language defining marriage was broadened so as to include the possibility of same-sex marriages. The previous constitution had defined marriage exclusively as between “a man and a woman.” However, many religious groups on the island, including evangelical churches and some sectors of Cuba’s Catholic Church, campaigned against the proposed constitution’s broadened definition of marriage and threatened to vote against the constitution if that definition was included. Subsequently, the Constitutional Reform Commission decided to not include a precise definition of marriage in the new constitution, postponing the debate until the new Family Code would be presented for a national referendum.

Cuban journalist requests asylum in Costa Rica due to ban on entry to Cuba (Spanish); Cuba’s government denounces use of social networks against it (Spanish)

Last Thursday, the journalist Karla María Pérez requested asylum in Costa Rica after being prohibited from boarding a flight to her native Cuba, where she is a citizen, El Nuevo Herald reports. Ms. Pérez, who writes with the independent news outlet ADNCuba, was stopped at the Panama City airport, where she was transferring flights from Costa Rica to Cuba. She was told by an airport agent that she was prohibited from entering Cuba, and was presented with an audio recording from a Cuban official to that effect. Ms. Pérez was returning to Cuba, where her family lives, after completing her degree in journalism at a university in Costa Rica. She had been enrolled at a university in Cuba until 2017, when she was expelled due to her participation in an opposition movement, according to El Nuevo Herald. In response to the decision to deny Ms. Pérez entry to Cuba, several independent media outlets, human rights officials, and activists have expressed their solidarity with Ms. Pérez and condemned Cuba’s government’s decision. Additionally, six people went on Thursday to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) to protest the decision.

According to the Associated Press, in response to the protest and the series of condemnations, officials in Cuba asserted on Friday that the government had suffered a “soft coup” by opposition groups using social media to pressure the government to allow Ms. Pérez into the country. At a press conference, Yaira Jiménez, director of communication and image for MINREX, called the independent journalists who had condemned the decision “political operatives in the service of a foreign government.” Ms. Jiménez also detailed a timeline of when the various individuals, activists, human rights workers, and others had released statements in support of Ms. Pérez. 

Green Climate Fund benefits project on climate change in Cuba with financing worth millions of dollars

Last Friday, the UN Green Climate Fund (GFC) approved a $23.9 million grant for a project in Cuba to increase the climate resilience of people living in many of the island’s coastal communities, OnCuba News reports. The project, entitled “Coastal Resilience to Climate Change in Cuba through Ecosystem Based Adaptation” or “MI COSTA,” will also receive $20.3 million from Cuba’s government. It will benefit 1.3 million people in coastal towns in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Las Tunas, and Granma. The GFC Board approved the grant during its twenty-eighth meeting, during which it also approved funding for several other climate-related projects around the world. The U.S. representative to the GCF objected to approving the grant for the project.

According to the GCF’s website, the MI COSTA project aims to increase the climate resiliency of coastal communities in Cuba through an “ecosystem-based adaptation approach.” As part of that approach, the project intends to restore more than 11,000 hectares of mangroves, 3,000 hectares of swamp forest, and 900 hectares of swamp grass on the island. It will also improve the health of 9,000 hectares of seagrass and 134 kilometers of coral reefs. 60 percent of the population in the targeted coastal communities on the island will be trained on how to protect ecosystems in order to enhance climate adaptation.

The project, which will be carried out over the span of 30 years, will be implemented through the Institute of Marine Sciences by the Environment Agency of Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA). According to CITMA, without climate intervention, by the end of this century, 21 coastal communities in Cuba will disappear while another 98 will be severely affected by climate change. The GCF further states that 57 percent of Cuba’s populations live in areas that are “highly vulnerable” to flooding from intense storms and rising sea levels. 

Meteor streaks over Cuba, causes explosion

At around 10:06 p.m. local time last Friday, what many believed to be a meteorite blazed through the sky above eastern Cuba before exploding in the air, the Associated Press reports. Enrique Arango Arias, the head of the National Seismological Service in Cuba, said that the event was visible in the towns of Mosa, Sagua de Tanamo, and Maisí and that the service’s instruments had registered the wave of the explosion. He further stated that he was willing to “tentatively” say that the phenomenon was caused by a falling meteorite. However, Cuba’s Ministry of Science and the Environment later released a note saying that the explosion could have had another other cause, such as a falling meteor, meteoroid, cosmic debris, or even garbage from ships in orbiting the Earth.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and China to develop a vaccine against new strains of the coronavirusVenezuela announces its participation in clinical trials of Soberana 02 and Abdala

Scientists from Cuba and China are working together to develop a vaccine, called Pan-Corona, to combat new and future strains of the COVID-19 virus, OnCuba News reports. Official news sources in both countries have reported that scientists from Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) are working on the vaccine with their Chinese counterparts at a Joint Research and Development Center in the city of Yongzhou, China. Dr. Gerardo Guillén, director of biomedical research at CIGB said that the Pan-Corona vaccine could protect against “new strains of coronavirus that may exist in the future.” He also said that given the added challenge of protecting against unknown future strains, the Pan-Corona vaccine will be more complex than those vaccines currently in existence. Mr. Guillén further stated that in the joint collaboration between Cuba and China, China will provide scientific equipment, logistical support, and resources while Cuba will provide personnel and biomedical experience. When travel conditions permit, Cuba will send more personnel to work on the vaccine at the center in Yongzhou.

According to OnCuba News, Venezuela will participate in the Phase III trials of Cuba’s Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines. Cuba will send 30,000 doses of each vaccine to Venezuela in the first week of April. Just last week, Cuba’s drug regulatory authority approved the Abdala vaccine for Phase III trials on the island. In Cuba, these trials will be conducted in the provinces of Santiago, Guantánamo, and Granma. Phase III trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine have been ongoing since the beginning of the month, and, recently, Cuba sent 100,000 doses of Soberana 02 to the Pasteur Institute in Iran, where Phase III trials will also be conducted. Mexico and Jamaica have previously expressed interest in also hosting trials for Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccines. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Capturing Cuba’s water crisis, Christiane Amanpour, CNN

In this video segmentCNN anchor Christiane Amanpour interviews Dutch photographer and anthropologist Sanne Derks about her documentation of water shortages in Cuba. During the interview, Ms. Derks discusses her motivation for documenting the water shortages on the island and the shortcomings of Cuba’s current water system, in which 50 percent of transmitted water leaks through faulty pipelines. They also talk about the steps Cuba takes to make sure the water is safe to drink and the various workers involved in Cuba’s unique water sanitation process.

Cuba Could Be the First Latin American Country To Make A Vaccine, Jason Beaubien, NPR

In this article, Jason Beaubien discusses Cuba’s ongoing effort to develop COVID-19 vaccines, two of which are in the final stage of clinical trials. He details the island’s plans for vaccine distribution and exportation and the prospect that travelers who visit the island may be able get vaccinated at the airport when vaccines become available. Mr. Beaubien also discusses Cuba’s decision to not try to acquire COVID-19 vaccines either from multinational pharmaceutical companies or the COVAX initiative, instead betting all on its domestically developed shots.

Cuban brand Clandestina returns to New YorkOnCuba News

This article from OnCuba News discusses the return of Clandestina, Cuba’s first independent fashion brand, to New York City. Clandestina currently has their collection, entitled “No winter island,” on display in The Canvas, a photography, artist, and design studio in Manhattan. The article also discusses what’s behind the name of the collection and the years-long collaboration between The Canvas and Clandestina.

El Toque Publishes Multimedia Special on Cuba’s Weekly Package (Spanish), elTOQUE

This article discusses elTOQUE’s new multimedia special on “the weekly package” (“el paquete semanal”), a compendium of audiovisual content like movies, TV series, magazines, and music that is traded and exchanged on USB drives throughout Cuba. The article discusses how the weekly package emerged over a decade ago in response to scarce Internet resources in Cuba and how it allows Cuban residents to engage with content that might otherwise be inaccessible to them. The article also details the year-long process through which elTOQUE investigated the use of the weekly package in Cuba and lists the five reports included in their multimedia special on the topic.

Cuba Is Stocking Up on Overseas Players. What’s the Goal? Jon Arnold, The New York Times

In this article, Jon Arnold discusses Cuba’s decision to allow foreign-based Cuban soccer players to suit up for the national team as Cuba plays in the World Cup qualifiers, which began for Cuba on Wednesday. He details the various players who have joined Cuba’s team from abroad and notes that, as opposed to other Cuban athletes who defected from the country, all of these athletes either left the island as children or were given permission to go abroad. Mr. Arnold also writes that Cuba’s government has given no official explanation as to why this decision was made at this time, or whether it is a stepping stone toward allowing other Cuban athletes abroad to play for the country’s national teams. 

Cuba: can tourism be done in a pandemic? (Spanish), Rosa Muñoz Lima, Deutsche Welle

In this article, Rosa Muñoz Lima details the current COVID-19 situation in Cuba and the steps that Cuba is taking to make tourism to the island safer given the pandemic. She lists the various public health requirements that tourists to the island must meet both before their flight to Cuba and during their stay on the island. She also discusses the potential for “vaccine tourism” to the island once Cuba’s vaccines are approved and the state of the island’s tourist sector over the past few years.

‘Plantados:’ Cuba’s prison hell comes to Miami movie theaters this week, Sarah Moreno & Arturo Arias-Polo, Miami Herald

In this article, Sarah Moreno and Arturo Arias-Polo discuss the new film, Plantados, from director Lilo Vilaplana, which depicts the experiences of political prisoners in Cuba who served more than 20 years in jail, refusing to accept re-education plans in exchange for shortened sentences. The reporters write about the filming of the movie, which occurred in Puerto Rico and Miami, and about those former prisoners who served as advisors for the film. They also detail some of the abuses that the prisoners suffered while in jail and discuss some of the movie’s plot.

A debut novel about migration, family and survival is everything ‘American Dirt’ wasn’t, Doranny Pineda, Los Angeles Times

In this article, Doranny Pineda discusses writer Gabriela Garcia’s debut novel, Of Women and Salt, which tells the story of five generations of mothers and daughters and their various immigrant stories. Ms. Pineda writes about how Ms. Garcia, who is the daughter of Cuban and Mexican immigrants to the U.S., drew inspiration for the novel from her own life, the lives of members of her family, and the stories of women she met in immigrant detention centers. She also describes some of the main themes and narrative lines of the novel and Ms. Garcia’s education as a writer.


Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the U.S.-Cuba News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

Like our work? Keep up with CDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 03/19/2021

March 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development is circulating an online petition in support of the restoration of President Obama’s Cuba Policy by the Biden-Harris administration. The petition is available for signing here.

CDA is hiring a Fellow! CDA seeks a uniquely qualified applicant for the 12-month Fellowship with a special interest in all things Cuba, a thirst for activism, and an interest in pursuing a professional career in the foreign policy NGO community. More information on the Fellowship is available here. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 735 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 3,575 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Granma, reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 396, 93, and 62 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 387. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba accuses Washington of stoking irregular migration after boat tragedyWhat is happening is inhumane’: 100,000 Cubans in limbo as visa backlog grows

In the wake of an increase in the number of Cubans attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S., Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) released a statement this week saying that current U.S. policies stoke irregular migration from Cuba, Reuters reports. The statement comes after a boat carrying over a dozen Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. capsized last week near the Bahamas. Later, a Royal Bahamas Defense Force ship rescued 12 of the migrants and recovered one body. However, several of the migrants from the capsized vessel were not found, including two children and their mother. A note published by Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior on Sunday stated that after an unsuccessful two-day effort to search for the missing migrants, the Ministry was ending the search operation. MINREX’s statement cited two U.S. policies as incentivizing irregular migration: the current suspension of visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and the continued enforcement of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which allows certain Cubans living in the U.S. to apply for permanent residency. The statement further said that the U.S. has not honored its commitment to process 20,000 Cuban immigrants annually, as required by a migration agreement signed in 1994 under President Bill Clinton. In response to the statement from MINREX, a U.S. State Department official said that residents of Cuba may have their visas processed at the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, and that the U.S. is committed to supporting “safe, orderly, and humane migration from Cuba.”

The Miami Herald reports that Cubans and Cuban Americans living in the U.S. have filed over 100,000 unprocessed immigration cases, which are on hold due to the suspension of visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. According to a U.S. State Department report, 78,228 Cubans were on a waiting list for immigrant visas with the National Visa Center as of last November. An additional 22,000 Cubans are in a state of limbo after filing applications with the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP), which was established in 2007 and allows certain U.S. citizens or permanent residents to apply for parole for family members in Cuba so that they may come to the U.S. without waiting for immigrant visas. The program was created to help ensure that the U.S. met the agreed to annual quota of 20,000 Cuban immigrant visas. All CRFP processing in Havana has been suspended since 2017 due to a reduction in staff at the embassy in Havana. On Sunday, more than 200 people gathered at the Ermita de la Caridad in Miami for a “prayer for the Cuban family,” organized by groups that advocate for the reestablishment of the CFRP. Also in attendance were staffers representing various congressional offices, including those of Representatives Carlos Giménez (FL-26) and María Elvira Salazar (FL-27).

Since 2017, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has been operating with essential personnel only, resulting in the complete halt of consular services, leading to delays in the processing of visas for Cubans and Cuban Americans. Cubans seeking to access consular services must travel to Guyana, a journey which is expensive and inaccessible to many. Traveling to Guyana has been especially difficult since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; all flights between Cuba and Guyana have been cancelled. A spokesperson for the U.S. Coast Guard told Reuters that during this fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2020, the Coast Guard has intercepted 87 Cuban migrants, compared to 49 migrants in the entirety of fiscal year 2020. In fiscal year 2019, the Coast Guard intercepted 314 migrants from Cuba. For a graph of the number of Cuban migrants intercepted by the Coast Guard over the past 18 years, see this article from El Nuevo Herald.

Bill would block Biden from delisting Cuba as state sponsor of terrorismU.S. terrorism sponsor listing further complicates Cuba banking

Last Wednesday, Senators Marco Rubio (FL), Ted Cruz (TX), and Rick Scott (FL) introduced the Fighting Oppression until the Reign of Castro Ends (FORCE) Act, which, would prevent the Administration from removing Cuba from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorisms (SSOT) until Cuba meets requirements set out in the LIBERTAD ActThe Hill reports. Those requirements include the release of all political prisoners, the guarantee of the human rights of the Cuban people, and the institution of democratic elections. The introduction of the bill comes two months after Representative María Elvira Salazar (FL-27) introduced companion legislation, also titled the FORCE Act, in the House of Representatives. Last Wednesday, Senators Rubio, Cruz, and Scott also sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) voicing their collective objection to legislation that would amend U.S. Cuba policy. Their letter was sent the day after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki stated that the current Administration is reviewing the decision made by the Trump administration to reinstate Cuba on the SSOT list.

Cuba’s return to the SSOT list has introduced further obstacles for foreign banks that want to engage in transactions with the island, Reuters reports. Five Havana-based foreign businessmen and diplomats told Reuters that the few Western banks previously willing to navigate U.S. financial sanctions on Cuba have all either stopped transactions with the island or implemented more onerous layers of compliance. One of the businessmen said the increased caution among banks is “undermining Cuba’s ability to insert itself into global production chains.” Embassies in Cuba have also been affected by the country’s reinstatement on the SSOT list, with one diplomat from Asia stating that his country’s embassy has had difficulty accessing its accounts and that both the embassy and its diplomats have had trouble engaging in financial transfers since the relisting. John Kavulich, President of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said that even though most corporate executives think the Biden-Harris administration will eventually remove Cuba from the list, financial institutions continuing their transactions with the island “have been required to expand their internal compliance.”

In a widely criticized move, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned Cuba to the SSOT list a little over a week before former President Donald Trump left office. Previously, Cuba had been removed from the list by the Obama administration in 2015. The three other countries on the SSOT list are Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

New poll shows Cuban American voters align with GOP

A new poll by Bendixen & Amandi International of 400 Cuban American Florida voters found that a majority of those polled belong to the Republican Party and oppose a return to Obama-era Cuba policy, Politico reports. Those polled were all registered voters who participated in the November 2020 election. 60 percent of those polled belong to the Republican Party and 66 percent oppose returning to President Barack Obama’s policies toward Cuba. In April 2015, a poll conducted by the same organization with Cuban American Florida voters found that 51 percent supported President Obama’s announcement that his administration would begin normalizing relations with Cuba. 

The new poll shows a similar shift in opinion since 2015 when it comes to specific policy issues, such as maintaining the U.S. embargo on Cuba and easing travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba. 66 percent of those polled thought the U.S. embargo should continue, compared to only 36 percent who did in April 2015. 35 percent of those polled were in favor of easing travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba, compared to 56 percent in favor in the April 2015 poll. However, only 43 percent of those polled approved of the Trump administration’s decision to suspend the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, as opposed to 50 percent who disapproved of the decision. Similarly, 50 percent of those polled would support reinstating the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which allowed Cuban migrants who made it to U.S. soil to remain in the country while those interdicted at sea were repatriated to Cuba. The policy was ended by President Barack Obama in January 2017. 

Fernand Amandi, president of Bendixen & Amandi, said that much of the gains Democrats had made with Cuban American voters during the Obama administration “seemed to have been wiped out as a result of Trump’s four years in office.” Amandi further stated that, as a Cuban American, he found it “very troubling” that 40 percent of those polled did not believe the results of the 2020 election. Ricardo Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, said that since the Biden-Harris administration has yet to fully address U.S.-Cuba policy, the “dominant messaging that still maintains a grip over public opinion is what you had under the previous administration,” and predicted this will continue until the current Administration turns to Cuba policy. Offering a similar perspective, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University Michael Bustamente said that “leadership matters in terms of driving a message” and that the Biden-Harris administration has an opportunity to again shift public opinion in South Florida. He also discussed in a Twitter thread what he viewed to be problems with how the poll was conducted in accurately gaging Cuban American opinion. Mr. Bustamente pointed out that the poll only surveyed Cuban American voters, not the Cuban American community at large, and that it did not distinguish between Cuban American travel to the island and general travel to the island in its question about travel restriction to/from Cuba. The new poll has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.

Cambridge passes Policy Order calling for an end to the US embargo of Cuba

On Monday, the City Council of Cambridge, Massachusetts unanimously adopted a policy order calling for the end of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Massachusetts Peace Action reports. The policy order, introduced by Councilor Patricia Nolan, calls for “the immediate restoration of engagement with the Republic of Cuba” and urges the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that will end the embargo and the travel restrictions in place between the two countries. In early October of last year, the Cambridge City Council unanimously adopted another policy order that called for medical and scientific collaboration with Cuba, especially on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution ordered the City of Cambridge to “actively explore” such collaboration. Cambridge is home to such research institutions as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which both have a history of collaborating with Cuba on medical and scientific research, as well as the biotechnology company Moderna, the developer of one of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the U.S. 

Cambridge is the second city in a month’s time to call for the end of the embargo, following the Chicago City Council, which unanimously passed a resolution on February 24 calling for the “immediate restoration of engagement with the Republic of Cuba.” Many other local governments and local government bodies, such as Milwaukee Board of School Directors, have adopted similar resolutions calling on the Administration to pursue engagement with Cuba.

IN CUBA

Cuba approves second homegrown COVID vaccine for late phase trialsCuba plans to have required vaccines in August to immunize its populationMinimal adverse effects from Soberana 02 reported after first week of Phase III trial

On Thursday, Cuba’s drug regulatory authority approved the island’s Abdala vaccine for Phase III trials, making it the second COVID-19 vaccine from Cuba to enter the final phase of clinical trials, Reuters reports. The Phase III trials will take place in Cuba’s eastern provinces and will include 48,000 volunteers between the ages of 19 and 80, who will be given three doses of the shot. Authorities in Cuba plan to begin recruiting volunteers for the clinical trial next week. The study should be completed in July, with initial results ready to be published by August. The other Cuban COVID-19 vaccine currently in Phase III trials is the Soberana 02 vaccine.

On Wednesday, Eduardo Martínez, president of the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries of Cuba Business Group (BioCubaFarma), confirmed that by August Cuba will have manufactured enough doses of its vaccines to immunize its entire population, according to OnCuba News. Mr. Martínez further stated that after Cuba had produced enough vaccines for its population, it would continue to produce them to supply them to other “friendly countries.” According to OnCuba News, BioCubaFarma announced last Saturday that after the first week of Phase III trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine, participants in the trial experienced only mild adverse effects and discomfort. In a Twitter thread, BioCubaFarma stated that in the first week of the trial 4,778 volunteers had been vaccinated. The group further stated that, at the close of the day last Friday, there were 40 functioning vaccination centers on the island, a number which should increase in the coming days. Last Friday, BioCubaFarma also announced on Twitter that 100,000 doses of Soberana 02 had been sent to the Pasteur Institute in Iran, where Phase III trials will also be conducted, per an earlier agreement. Although Iran is currently the only other country that has agreed to host trials for the Cuban vaccine, Mexico has indicated that it could be interested as well. 

The Phase III trials in Cuba for Soberana 02, the most clinically advanced of Cuba’s vaccines, are currently being held in Havana with volunteers between 19 and 80 years of age. 44,010 volunteers will participate in the trials for the vaccine on the island, in which some participants will be given two doses of Soberana 02, others will be given two doses of Soberana 02 and a booster shot of Soberana Plus, and others will receive a placebo. Soberana Plus (also referred to as Soberana 01A) is specifically designed to prevent reinfection for people who have already had COVID-19. Besides the Soberana 02, Soberana Plus, and Abdala vaccines, Cuba has two other vaccines that have already progressed through various stages of clinical trials: the Soberana 01 and Mambisa vaccines. Cuba’s government hopes to be able to use Soberana 02 to vaccinate the island’s entire population by the end of the year.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

What is happening is inhumane’: 100,000 Cubans in limbo as visa backlog grows, Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

In this article, Nora Gámez Torres discusses the plight of thousands of Cuban families unable to reunite due to the suspension of visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. She describes the personal experiences of many Cuban Americans who have waited for years in the U.S. for relatives in Cuba to be given the opportunity to come to the country. She details the circumstances that prompted the reduction in staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana and subsequent suspension of visa processing. Ms. Gámez also discusses the activist efforts in the U.S. pushing for the resumption of consular services in Havana.

Cubans are embarking on treacherous sea journeys as the economic crisis worsens, Patrick Oppmann, CNN

In this video, Patrick Oppmann discusses the recent surge in irregular migration from Cuba to the U.S. Mr. Oppmann interviews two women in Cuba who have each had family go missing after a boat capsized this month carrying migrants attempting the dangerous journey across the Florida Straits. He also discusses the various factors that are likely spurring the surge in migration from Cuba, including the backlog of visa applicants from the island.

Cuban voters – and Congress members – want it both ways on Cuba and immigration, Tim Padgett, WLRN

In this opinion piece, Tim Padgett argues that the findings of a recent poll of Cuban American voters in South Florida show a contradiction in their political views. Specifically, Mr. Padgett notes that 50 percent of those polled would like the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program to be reinstated, while at the same time a majority of those polled say the Biden-Harris administration should not move away from the previous Administration’s hardline Cuba policies, which included the suspension of the same CFRP program. Thus, Mr. Padgett claims that many Cuban Americans “want it both ways” with regards to U.S.-Cuba policy, desiring certain policies of engagement while also favoring a hard-line.

New poll shows how much Trump, GOP radicalized Cuban American voters in Florida, Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Fabiola Santiago discusses the findings of a recent poll of Cuban American voters in South Florida, which found that 40 percent of those polled did not accept the November election results. She argues that this disbelief in the election is the result of continued messaging coming from the former president and the Florida GOP. She also discusses the importance of Cuban American voters in Florida for state and national elections.

The expansion of the private sector in Cuba (Spanish), David Pajón Espina, Cuba Capacity Building Project: Columbia Law School

In this paper, David Pajón Espina discusses the development of the private sector in Cuba and the recent private sector reforms implemented by Cuba’s government. He discusses specific economic policy changes on the island, analyzing their effect on Cuba’s economy and private sector. He also details how changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba and the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the island’s private sector and offers some critiques of the recent reform efforts.

The scene from Cuba: How it’s getting so much right on COVID-19, Jennifer Ruth Hosek, The Conversation

In this article, Professor Jennifer Hosek discusses Cuba’s approach to confronting the COVID-19 pandemic both domestically and abroad. Professor Hosek details the public health measures Cuba has taken to control the virus as well as the current efforts on the island to produce COVID-19 vaccines, two of which are in Phase III trials. She also writes on the way in which local communities in Cuba are acting to fight the spread of the virus and on the economic costs that the pandemic has ladened on the island.

Cryptocurrencies in Cuba: What about their legal status? María Lucía Expósito, Cuba Study Group

In this article, María Lucía Expósito discusses the burgeoning use of cryptocurrencies in Cuba and the current lack of legal framework regulating their use. She discusses the appeal of cryptocurrencies to those in Cuba and the current efforts to develop regulations for the usage of digital currencies on the island. She also details the various methods by which Cubans trade and discuss cryptocurrencies.

The handbook for artists in danger, Rachel Spence, Financial Times

In this article, Rachel Spence discusses the recently published digital book, A Safety Guide for Artists, which offers a roadmap for artists to protect themselves from persecution. Ms. Spense writes on how the book draws on the experiences of artists like the Cuban performance artist and activist Tania Bruguera, a member of the island’s 27N collective. She also discusses the state of artistic freedom in various countries around the world, including Cuba, and details the experiences of other dissident artists.

New era beckons for Cuba, without a Castro in powerFrance 24

This article from Agence France-Presse (AFP) discusses the impending retirement of Raúl Castro from his position as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. The article discusses how Cuba’s policies and politics might shift once the current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, also assumes the role of First Secretary. Through discussion with experts like Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, the article details the tasks and opportunities waiting for the new executive. 

Cuba’s cigar-makers optimistic despite pandemic, Chelsey Dulaney, Deutsche Welle

In this video, Chelsey Dulaney interviews a tobacco farmer and a cigar factory manager in Cuba about the experiences of the island’s tobacco industry during the pandemic and their hopes for the industry in the near future. Ms. Dulaney discusses the current state of Cuba’s cigar exports and how factors beyond the pandemic, such as U.S. sanctions, have impacted the industry. 

The ecosystem of Cuban music in 20 female names (Spanish), AM:PM

This article from the Havana-based music magazine AM:PM provides a list of 20 leading women involved in the Cuban music industry. The article discusses women performers, songwriters, record producers, academics, musicologists, and others that are influencing the music scene on and off the island. 

Jazz Legend Arturo Sandoval on Escaping Cuba to Pursue His Passion, Giselle Fernandez, Spectrum News 1

In this episode of LA Stories with Giselle Fernandez, Ms. Fernandez interviews the 10-time Grammy and Latin Grammy award winning jazz musician Arturo Sandoval. Mr. Sandoval discusses his upbringing in Cuba, where he first learned to play the trumpet, and his ventures into the musical world on the island. He also discusses his friendship with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, who helped Sandoval and his family leave Cuba for the U.S.

The story of Cuban actress Estelita Rodriguez in the new book ‘Find Me in Havana’, Catie Switalski Muñoz, WLRN: Sundial

In this episode of WLRN’s podcast Sundial, Catie Muñoz discusses Estelita Rodríguez, a Cuban actress and singer from Havana who was prominent in 1950s Hollywood before she was murdered at the age of 37. Ms. Muñoz plays clips from an interview in which WLRN’s Luis Hernández talks with the author Serena Burdick, whose recent historical fiction book Find Me in Havana focuses on the life of Estelita Rodríguez.

EVENTS

Adrienne Arsht Center, Miami FL, ‘Viento y Tiempo’: Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola, March 20

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County is hosting a socially distanced musical performance by Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Aymée Nuviola. Mr. Rubalcaba and Ms. Nuviola will perform selections from their highly acclaimed 2021 Grammy-nominated album Viento y Tiempo. The album, recorded live in 2020 at The Blue Note in Tokyo, reunites virtuoso pianist Rubalcaba and powerhouse vocalist Nuviola—childhood friends—in a heartfelt tribute to their early lives in Cuba, their mothers, and the music that surrounded them growing up. To read more about the event and Viento y Tiempo see this article from El Nuevo Herald.


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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 03/12/2021

March 12, 2021

Dear Friends,

CDA is hiring a Fellow and two remote summer interns! CDA seeks a uniquely qualified applicant for the 12-month Fellowship with a special interest in all things Cuba, a thirst for activism, and an interest in pursuing a professional career in the foreign policy NGO community. CDA also seeks two summer interns. Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. More information on the Fellowship is available here and on the internship here. 

The Latin America Working Group (LAWG) is collecting signatures for a petition to President Joe Biden, asking him and his Administration to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba. The petition urges the President “to take swift and comprehensive action to lift travel restrictions to and sanctions on the island, encourage Congress to end the travel ban and trade embargo, and fully normalize diplomatic ties with Cuba.” You may sign onto the petition here.

CDA is partnering with Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) to host a virtual panel, “Moving Forward: How the Biden-Harris administration should engage the Latinx Community” on March 16. For more information, please visit the Events section of our news brief and/or this website

Yesterday, Cuba reported 762 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,696 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Granma, and Pinar del Río, reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 368, 105, and 65 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 365. 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…

Read the rest of this entry »

U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 03/05/2021

March 5, 2021

Dear Friends,

CDA is hiring two remote summer interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is March 15. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 777 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,551 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Mayabeque, and Granma, reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 333, 65, and 60 new cases reported respectively in each province. The number of deaths has increased by 195 since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 341 deaths since last March. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

79 Democrats urge President Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s cruel policy towards Cuba; Chicago City Council passes resolution calling for Cuba engagement

On Tuesday, 79 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Joe Biden “urging him to take swift executive action to reverse the Trump Administration’s draconian policies toward Cuba, return to the diplomatic path charted by the Obama–Biden Administration, and pursue an ultimate end to the nearly six-decade-long economic embargo.” In the letter, the representatives urge President Biden to quickly end restrictions on travel and remittances, writing, “With the stroke of a pen, you can assist struggling Cuban families and promote a more constructive approach.” They also urge President Biden to restaff the U.S. Embassy in Havana, to reverse the Trump administration’s last minute decision to place Cuba back on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and to reengage diplomatically with the island on areas such as health and security. 

The effort was led by Representatives Bobby Rush (IL-01), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Steven Cohen (TN-09). The letter’s signatories included, among other members, the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks (NY-05), the Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, Maxine Waters (CA-43), and the Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro (CT-03). Peter Kornbluh, Director of the National Security Archive’s Cuba Documentation Project, stated that the effort “will help empower U.S. foreign policy officials in the Biden administration who seek to rebuild what Trump destroyed–a constructive, productive and civil approach toward Cuba and its people.” However, a White House official told Reuters last weekend that Cuba policy is not currently one of the Biden-Harris administration’s top priorities, which include the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic economic recovery, and rebuilding international alliances.

The 79 representatives who signed onto the letter join many non-governmental organizations and local governments in advocating for the Biden-Harris administration to pursue a policy of engagement with Cuba. On February 24, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the end of the embargo and the “immediate restoration of engagement with the Republic of Cuba.” The following day, the Milwaukee Board of School Directors unanimously adopted a resolution, sent to President Biden and members of Congress from Wisconsin, calling on the Administration and other authorities to “to promptly invite negotiations with their Cuban counterparts to explore mutually beneficial cooperation” as a step toward normalization of relations between both countries.

On February 10, 56 organizations, including CDA, sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration urging immediate action to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. To read CDA’s report, co-authored with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), on how the Biden-Harris administration may implement a policy of engagement toward Cuba, visit our website.

C.I.A. to expand inquiry into mysterious health episodes overseas

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stated this week that an agency task force is expanding its efforts to determine the cause of health incidents suffered by U.S. government personnel, including CIA officers, in Cuba, Russia, and China, The New York Times reports. The task force, which was created at the end of 2020 by former CIA Director Gina Haspel, will work with the State Department and other government agencies to try to determine if the health incidents were caused by deliberate attacks and, if so, who was responsible. While the existence of the task force was first reported last week by CNN, the announcement on the task force’s new efforts comes after William Burns, President Joe Biden’s nominee for CIA Director, stated in his confirmation hearing that he would make investigating the health incidents an “extraordinarily high priority.” The group is made up of medical experts, intelligence officers, and officers specializing in human resources, privacy, and civil liberties. 

The CIA joins the State Department in reinvigorating efforts to investigate the health incidents; recently, State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the department was elevating the role of the coordinator investigating the health incidents to a senior-level position.

While U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the State Department, have investigated the health incidents, those investigations have largely been inconclusive regarding the cause of the incidents. A National Academy of Sciences study released late last year stated that “directed” microwave radiation was the likeliest explanation for the symptoms. However, many scientists have either viewed with skepticism or outright dismissed the microwave radiation theory. For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo.

Cubans residing in the US and Canada ride in caravans for the end of the embargo (Spanish)

On Sunday, Cuban and other residents of the U.S. and Canada rode in bicycle and car caravans in eight cities across the U.S. and Canada to show their support for ending the U.S. embargo, OnCuba News reports. The caravans–which occurred in the cities of Miami, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Minneapolis, Ottawa, and Montreal–were organized by the organization Puentes de Amor, led by Cuban American U.S. veteran Carlos Lazo. A post on the Puentes de Amor website regarding the caravans asks President Joe Biden to lift sanctions on Cuba that hurt the Cuban people, reopen the U.S. embassy in Havana, allow families to send remittances to the island, resume operation of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, ease restrictions on U.S. travel, and re-establish scientific, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries. According to OnCuba News, Puentes de Amor has hosted seven previous caravans in support of ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Last year, Mr. Lazo embarked on a 3,000 mile bike journey from Seattle, WA to Washington, D.C. to bring attention to the impact of the Trump administration’s sanctions on Cuba during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read our August 2020 interview with Mr. Lazo, click here.

Coast Guard stops 2 Cuban migrants off the Florida Keys. They say there were at sea 10 days

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted two Cuban men attempting to reach the U.S. through the Florida Straits, the Miami Herald reports. The two men, who were in good health, stated that they had been at sea for ten days before they were picked up by the Coast Guard eight miles off Plantation Key. The men were repatriated to Cuba that same day, according to a news release put out by the Coast Guard’s 7th District Southeast. The Coast Guard has recently seen an increase in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. on makeshift boats and rafts. So far this fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2020, the Coast Guard has interdicted 74 Cuban migrants in the Florida Straits, compared to only 49 interdictions in the last fiscal year.

IN CUBA

Cuba starts late stage trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Havana

This week, Cuba began the third and final phase of clinical trials for its Soberana 02 vaccine for COVID-19, Reuters reports. Participants in the placebo controlled trial, which will include 44,000 volunteers between the ages of 19 and 80 in Havana along with thousands of volunteers in Iran and Venezuela, will receive two shots of the vaccine administered two weeks apart; some participants will receive a third booster shot of another Cuban experimental vaccine. According to authorities in Mexico and Cuba, Mexico could also potentially take part in the clinical trial. While initial results are expected by May, the Phase III trial is expected to be completed in November with final results available in January 2022. Cuba also expects Phase III trials for its Abdala vaccine to begin later this month in Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo. 

If the vaccine trial is successful, Cuba has stated it will use it to inoculate its entire population of 11 million people this year, export the vaccine to other countries (unlike many other COVID-19 vaccines, Soberana 02 does not require special refrigeration), donate doses to the poorest nations, and offer it to tourists who visit the island. Dr. Vicente Vérez, the General Director of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, which developed the Soberana 02 vaccine, has said that Cuba has the capacity to produce around 100 million doses this year. Mexico, Venezuela, and Jamaica have expressed interest in buying Soberana 02 should the trials prove successful. Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Deputy Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) stated on Wednesday at a press conference that PAHO could not yet make an agreement for the distribution of Cuba’s vaccine at this stage in clinical trials. Dr. Barbosa stated that all vaccines must meet the same requirements, completing all clinical trials and presenting a dossier demonstrating their quality, safety, and efficacy. 

The Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines are two of four vaccines in Cuba undergoing clinical trials, along with the Soberana 01 and Mambisa vaccines, which are in earlier clinical stages. According to Cuba’s government, Cuba already produces 13 medicines, half of which were developed in Cuba, used to fight and treat COVID-19.

Cuba approves animal welfare law after civil society pressure

Cuba’s Council of State has approved a decree on animal welfare following decades-long advocacy from Cuban civil society, Reuters reports. While the exact legislation has not yet been published, the decree will regulate, among other things, scientific experiments involving animals, the handling of strays, and veterinary practices. The decree will also regulate animal sacrifices, which occur often by rivers and along the coast of Cuba as part of religious rituals, so that they are conducted in a “compassionate and rapid manner, avoiding pain and stress.” Fernando Gispert, President of the Havana branch of the Cuban Association of Veterinary Medicine, stated that “Cuba was one of the few countries in Latin America that didn’t have an animal welfare law so to have one now is an immense joy.” Beatriz Batista, one of the leaders of the animal welfare movement, stated that the activists’ effort “has set an example for all communities that want their voice to be heard” by Cuba’s government.

In another win for animal welfare advocates, as part of Cuba’s recent expansion of the non-state sector on the island, the government allowed the private sector to engage in veterinary medicine for the care of family pets. While Cuba’s civil society had long raised the issue of animal welfare, recently those involved in the movement have opted for more public forms of advocacy, organizing social media campaigns and public protestsIn 2019, advocates for animal welfare marched in what was thought to be the first officially approved independent protest in modern Cuba’s history. 

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

EU summons ambassador to Cuba over letter to BidenCuba artists testify about rights violations before European Parliament

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has summoned the EU’s ambassador to Cuba, Alberto Navarro, back to Brussels following controversy over Ambassador Navarro’s decision to sign onto an open letter addressed to President Joe Biden, Politico reports. The open letter, which was originally signed by a number of Cuban intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and artists, urged President Biden to return to former President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with the island. The letter further asked the U.S to “stop being a hostile neighbor” to Cuba and urged the U.S. government to “stop interfering in [Cuba’s] domestic affairs.” Last Wednesday, 16 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) sent a letter to Mr. Borrell criticizing numerous actions taken by Ambassador Navarro, including his decision to sign the open letter to President Biden. An EU spokesperson declined to comment on whether Mr. Borrell would remove the ambassador, stating that the ambassador was summoned to Brussels “to provide explanations.”

According to Jurist, last Friday, MEPs Dita Charanzová and Leopoldo López Gil, both of whom signed the letter calling for Ambassador Navarro’s resignation, hosted Cuban artists and dissidents to present testimony to the European Parliament about human rights violations by Cuba’s government. Among those Cubans who testified were the singers Yotuel Romero and Randy Malcom, two of the six singers whose recently released song “Patria y Vida” has provoked a strong backlash from Cuba’s government. The song, which repurposes the slogan “Patria o Muerte” (“Homeland or Death”) with the lyric “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), expresses frustration with Cuba’s government and support for the San Isidro Movement (MSI). Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of MSI, also presented testimony at the event.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Experts: Cuba and the US ‘Should act faster than they ever have before’ (Spanish), Amaury Valdivia, elTOQUE

In this article, Amaury Valdivia discusses two recent reports on U.S.-Cuba policy, “The United States and Cuba: A New Policy of Engagement,” authored by CDA and the Washington Office on Latin America, and “U.S. Cuba Relations in the Biden Era,” authored by the Cuba Study Group. Ms. Valdivia details the recommendations made by these two reports for how the Biden-Harris administration may pursue engagement with Cuba.

A Window of Opportunity Opens for Cuba and the United States to Build a Functional Relationship–Interview with Carlos SaladrigasInter-American Dialogue

In this interview, Carlos Saladrigas, Chairman of the Cuba Study Group and member of the Inter-American Dialogue, discusses the policy proposals put forward for the Biden-Harris administration in the Cuba Study Group’s recently published report, “Relations between the United States and Cuba in the Biden era.” Mr. Saladrigas comments on the current opportunity to pursue a policy of engagement with Cuba and details steps the Administration can take to improve relations with the island. He also discusses the role for Cuban Americans in the U.S.-Cuba relationship and details reforms he believes Cuba’s government should take to support the bilateral relationship.

Part 2: The unlawful basis for Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Robert L. Muse, Global Americans

In this article, the second in a two-part series, Robert L. Muse discusses the Trump administration’s decision to re-add Cuba to the State Sponsors of Terrorism list, arguing that there is no legitimate legal basis for Cuba’s placement on the list. Mr. Muse discusses the reasons given by the State Department for Cuba’s placement on the list, examining case history and treaty language to argue why the purported reasons are immaterial to the matter. He also offers a historical account of the political crime exception included in the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Cuba and in extradition treaties more generally.

Support Cuba’s emerging market economy by ending the blockade, Benjamin Powell, The Hill

In this opinion piece, Professor Benjamin Powell argues that the U.S. government should repeal its embargo on Cuba and allow U.S. businesses to trade with Cuban entrepreneurs so as to help grow Cuba’s private sector and encourage further economic liberalization on the island. Professor Powell discusses the recent decision by Cuba’s government to significantly expand the private sector and details the recent history of private sector liberalization in Cuba. He also discusses his personal experience as a traveler on the island with Cuba’s state and private sectors.

DeFacto Will Verify Information For You (Spanish), Jessica Domínguez Delgado, elTOQUE

In this article, Jessica Domínguez Delgado discusses the recently developed Cuban fact-checking service DeFacto, which aims to combat the spread of misinformation in Cuba. Ms. Domínguez writes about the DeFacto chatbot, which responds to messages over Telegram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger with fact-checked, reliable information. She also discusses how the service was developed and how it provides users with credible information.

The Cuba of the future is that of ‘Patria y Vida’ (Spanish), Abraham Jiménez Enoa, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, Abraham Jiménez Enoa discusses the significance of the recently released song, “Patria y Vida,” and the strong reaction by Cuba’s government to the song’s reformist political message. He discusses the context of the song and the ways in which it seeks to alter the relationship between Cubans and their country. 

Cuba’s quest for vaccines, Christiane Amanpour & Candace Johnson, CNN

In this video segmentCNN anchor Christiane Amanpour interviews Candace Johnson, President and CEO of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York, who has worked with scientists in Cuba to bring their unique lung cancer vaccine, CIMAvax-EGF, to the U.S. for clinical trials. In the interview, Ms. Johnson discusses the innovativeness of Cuban scientists and the relationship between their effort to develop a lung cancer vaccine with their current efforts to develop COVID-19 vaccines. Ms. Johnson also discusses Cuba’s past and present use of medical diplomacy, which has included sending doctors to other countries to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sixty Years Later, the Bay of Pigs Remains a Cautionary Tale, Max Hastings, Bloomberg

In this opinion piece, Max Hastings chronicles the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, using the incident to argue that intelligence agencies should be treated with some degree of skepticism. Mr. Hastings details the thinking behind the invasion, the steps undergone to prepare for it, the sequence of the actual attack, and the consequences of its utter failure.

Dreaming of Cuba? Here’s How to Feel Like You’re in Havana Anytime You’d Like, Tony Perrotter, The Wall Street Journal

In this article, Tony Perrotter details books, songs, meals, drinks, and movies that offer windows into life in Cuba for those not able to visit the island. The author John Lee Anderson recommends four books for those wishing to learn more about Havana; Rafa Escalona, the Editor of the Havana music magazine “AM:PM,” recommends Cuban artists and songs for listening; Enrique Nuñez, the owner of La Guarida restaurant, recommends his favorite Cuban meals; and Mr. Perrotter himself discusses classic Cuban drinks and movies featuring the city of Havana.

How the Contradictions of Socialism Make Cuban Art Great, Nato Green, Hyperallergic

In this article, Nato Green discusses the state of the arts in Cuba. Mr. Green details the educational pathways for students in Cuba who decide to pursue the arts and describes the large availability of art performances and classes on the island. He also discusses the tension that arises between government censors and artists and the recent protests over restrictions on freedom of expression on the island.

EVENTS

Virtual, What Will It Take to Salvage Cuba’s Economy?, March 9

The Inter-American Dialogue is hosting a virtual panel from 2 to 3 p.m. EST on March 9 to discuss Cuba’s economy and recent economic reforms on the island. The panelists will include Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Professor of Economics at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de Cali, Colombia, Ted Henken, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Baruch College of the City University of New York, and Vicki Huddleston, retired U.S. Ambassador and former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana. To register for the panel, please visit their website.

Virtual, It Ain’t Over. Who lives? Who dies?, March 10

On March 10, the Center for Global Studies at Purdue Northwest is hosting a virtual panel from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. with scholars from around the world to discuss the diverse national responses to the coronavirus pandemic and the consequences of these responses for the citizens in their country. The panelists will include Dr. Luis Alberto Montero Cabrera, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Havana in Cuba, Dr. Gilson Shwartz, Professor of Communication at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, Nguyen Thi Trang, Professor of History at the Thai Nguyen University of Education in Vietnam, and Subhasis Bandopadhyay, Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Engineering, Science, and Technology in India. To register for the panel, please visit their website.


Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the U.S.-Cuba News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

Like our work? Keep up with CDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/26/2021

February 26, 2021

Dear Friends,

Thank you to those who attended the Cuba Entrepreneurship Panel which we co-hosted with the 90 Miles Podcast, Cuba Educational Travel, the CubaOne Foundation, the Cuban American Student Association at NYU, and Engage Cuba on Wednesday. Four Cuban entrepreneurs and economists joined us to share their stories and insights about the current state of entrepreneurship in Cuba. We encourage you to continue the conversation by following our panelists and their businesses on social media. In case you missed it, a recording of the event is available here.  

CDA is hiring two remote summer interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is March 15. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 875 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,336 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Camagüey, and Santiago de Cuba, reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 462, 84, and 70 new cases reported respectively in each province. The number of deaths has increased by 168 since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 314 deaths since last March. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

CIA launches task force to probe invisible attacks on US diplomats and spies

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has put together a task force that will focus on the series of debilitating health incidents suffered by 40 U.S. government personnel, including CIA officers, in Cuba, Russia, and China, CNN reports. The task force, created at the end of 2020, will provide affected personnel with medical care and resources. It will also ensure that processes are in place to address any future instances of the health incidents. Additionally, on Wednesday, during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, President Joe Biden’s nominee for CIA Director, William Burns, stated that he would prioritize care for those officers who were affected by the incidents, and that he would “make it extraordinarily high priority to get to the bottom of who’s responsible for the attacks.”

While various U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the State Department, all have ongoing investigations into the health incidents, so far those investigations have largely been siloed. However, sources familiar with discussions at the National Security Council (NSC) told CNN that the NSC is considering uniting the various agency efforts under one roof. Recently, State Department spokesperson Ned Price stated that the State Department was elevating the coordinator investigating the health incidents to a senior-level position at the department. Last week, CNN also reported that the Biden-Harris administration is reviewing the Trump administration’s decision to reduce staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana–a decision made in the wake of the reported health incidents. 

The increased focus on the series of health incidents comes shortly after a report from the U.S. State Department’s Accountability Review Board was published by the National Security Archive. The report, among other things, indicatedthat the Trump administration’s slow and disorganized response to the incidents increases the likelihood that researchers and investigators will never determine their cause. While the cause of the symptoms is still unknown, a study released late last year from the National Academy of Sciences stated that “directed” microwave radiation was the likeliest explanation for the symptoms experienced by U.S. personnel. However, scientists such as Dr. Mitchell Valdés Sosa, the lead doctor of the Cuban Academy of Sciences’ committee to study the health incidents, have continuously dismissed the microwave energy theory as being the cause of the health incidents. For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo.

As Cuba’s economy worsens, desperate rafters risk their lives at seaPresident Biden continues national emergency with respect to Cuba

The U.S. Coast Guard has recently seen an increase in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. on makeshift boats and rafts, the Miami Herald reports. Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, stated that “deteriorating life conditions” in Cuba and “the illusion of getting to the United States under a president who is more tolerant of undocumented immigrants” are likely major factors causing the increase in migrants. So far this fiscal year, which began in October 2020, the Coast Guard has interdicted more than 100 Cuban migrants attempting to come to the U.S. through the Florida Straits. According to the Miami Herald, the Coast Guard interdicted only 49 Cuban migrants in the whole of the last fiscal year. However, Ramón Saúl Sánchez, a Cuban exile who helps Cuban migrants who successfully make it to the U.S., said the Coast Guard figures do not capture the scale of the situation, as those who arrive in Florida without being interdicted are not included and that data and go stay in Florida as undocumented residents.

On Sunday, U.S. authorities rescued six Cuban men and two pregnant women after their makeshift boat capsized north of West Palm Beach. The eight Cubans had spent 16 days at sea in a boat reportedly powered by an uncovered car engine. All eight were taken to local hospitals and are now in the custody of federal authorities. Also on Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued five Cuban men near the Port of Palm Beach who had attempted to reach the U.S. by raft. This group had also been at sea for 16 days and was later repatriated to Cuba. 

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden continued the “national emergency with respect to Cuba and the emergency authority relating to the regulation of the anchorage and movement of vessels,” which has been extended annually since it was originally set out in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. President Clinton proclaimed the emergency in response to the destruction of two U.S.-registered civilian aircraft, belonging to the Miami-based exile group, Brothers to the Rescue, by Cuba’s government while the aircraft were flying in international airspace north of Cuba. A notice on the continued national emergency cited, among other reasons for the continuation, the fact that “the unauthorized entry of any United States-registered vessel into Cuban territorial waters…could facilitate a mass migration from Cuba.”

Song by Miami-based Cuban musicians featuring Gente de Zona goes viral, sparks state response

The song “Patria y Vida,” recently produced by a group of Cuban singers from Miami and Cuba, is challenging Cuba’s government and eliciting strong reactions from both those who agree and disagree with the song’s political message, the Miami Herald reports. Randy Malcom and Alexander Delgado of the duo Gente de Zona, Grammy winner Descemer Bueno, and rapper Yotuel, collaborated with the Cuba-based rappers Maykel Osorbo and El Funky to produce the song, which repurposes the slogan “Patria o Muerte” (“Homeland or Death”) with the lyric “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”). The song, which expresses frustration with Cuba’s government and support for the San Isidro Movement (MSI), currently has over two million views on YouTube. The music video for the song features video clips of government crackdowns on protestors, while the song’s lyrics refer to ideological rigidity, food shortages on the island, and the mass emigration of young Cubans to other countries.

The song’s popularity has provoked a strong backlash from Cuba’s government, with Cuban state media and government officials labelling it as unpatriotic and lacking in artistic value. The state newspaper Granma called the song “annexation vomit,” while Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel took to Twitter writing (in Spanish), “We shouted Homeland or Death a thousand times last night.” The Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (known by its Spanish acronym UNEAC) also released a statement critical of the song, entitled “To die for the Homeland is to live!” which describes their “indescribable disgust” with the song. U.S. policymakers have also chimed into the debate, with Samantha Power, President Joe Biden’s nominee for USAID Administrator, tweeting that the song gives an “interesting look at the new generation of young people in Cuba and how they are pushing back against government repression.” Professor Ana Dopico, Director of the Hemispheric Institute at New York University, wrote in a Twitter thread that the singers’ “demand for nation AND life, not the nation or death, is unprecedented in recent Cuban popular music.” Professor Dopico also wrote that “the demand for life clearly resonates with the global Black Lives Matter” movement, and that “the naming of political victims” and the use of “documentary footage” “has a long genealogy in Black radical art and music.”

The two Cuba-based singers, Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, are both part of MSI, a collection of artists and activists who have protested against restrictions on artistic freedom on the island. 

U.S. settles with BitPay for apparent sanctions breaches

BitPay, one of the largest cryptocurrency payment processors, has agreed to pay $507,375 as part of a settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) due to BitPay’s apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs, including sanctions on CubaReuters reports. OFAC had detected 2,102 instances between 2013 and 2018 in which BitPay allowed transactions to occur by people apparently located in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine. These transactions totaled around $129,000

Cryptocurrencies have gained popularity in countries under U.S. sanctions and sanctions from other countries, because they are seen as a way of getting around the international financial system. In Cuba, many citizens use digital currenciesto purchase goods online and to receive remittances. Alex Sobrino, the founder of the group CubaCripto, which provides a forum on various social media platforms for Cubans to debate and trade cryptocurrencies, stated that Cuba is “the country in the Caribbean with [the] most crypto activity.” Last week, the Fintech Times reported that 50.4 percent of all enquiries made in Cuba on the website TradingView, one of the largest online trading communities, had to do with cryptocurrency assets. Cuba is the only country in the world where over half of enquiries on the website concerned cryptocurrency, according to data analysis done by the company. 

IN CUBA

Cuba imposes new restrictions in Havana to slow COVID-19 spreadSoberana 02 vaccine candidate starts large-scale production

In an attempt to curtail the spread of COVID-19, Cuban authorities are closing streets and using barricades to control movement in certain parts of Havana where there are higher numbers of cases, Voice of America reports. In the municipality of Centro Habana, the police are only allowing residents to enter the area, prohibiting those who do not live in the municipality from entering. In other parts of the capital, such as Old Havana and Arroyo Naranjo, police have closed blocks and buildings and are restricting passage on some streets. These restrictions come after authorities in Havana earlier this month imposed a curfew in the city from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., during which only authorized vehicles and personnel are allowed outdoors.

Large-scale production of the island’s Soberana 02 vaccine has already begun, according to OnCuba News. The mass production is being done in preparation for the vaccine’s final phase of clinical trials in March, during which 150,000participants in Cuba and Iran will be vaccinated. The production of the vaccine, developed by the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, is taking place at the National Center for Biopreparation. On Thursday, Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, tweeted that mass production has also begun for the island’s Abdala vaccine in preparation for phase three trials that will begin in March in Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

The Soberana 02 vaccine is administered through three doses, set two weeks apart, and does not need the deep freeze required by some other COVID-19 vaccines. Previously, scientists in Cuba, including the General Director of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, have said that if trials for Soberana 02 prove successful, Cuba could be able to offer vaccination to tourists who visit the island. Cuba’s government has stated that it plans on producing 100 million doses of the vaccine this year. The Soberana 02 vaccine is one of four vaccines in Cuba undergoing clinical trials, along with the Soberana 01,Abdala, and Mambisa vaccines. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba: Challenges for U.S. Policymakers in 2021, Mark P. Sullivan & Dianne E. Rennack, Congressional Research Service

In this report from the Congressional Research Service, Mark Sullivan and Dianne Rennack discuss factors for Congress to consider when deliberating over the future of U.S.-Cuba policy. They detail the U.S. policy background with regards to Cuba as well as recent developments on the island, such as the government crackdown on the San Isidro Movement and the severe contraction of Cuba’s economy in 2020. They also list the changes in U.S.-Cuba policy made under the Obama and Trump administrations and discuss different approaches Congress may consider taking with U.S.-Cuba policy.

Virtual Interview: Cuba, Immigration, and Repression, Gloria Ordaz, Telemundo 51 Miami

In this segment from Telemundo 51 Miami, Gloria Ordaz interviews Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of the San Isidro Movement in Cuba, Ricardo Herrero, the Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, Cuban American Representative Carlos Giménez (FL-26), Cuba-focused academics, and others about their perspectives on past, present, and future U.S.-Cuba policy, on Cuban immigration to the U.S., and on recent developments in Cuba. The segment also includes a clip from a previous interview with Juan González, Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council, in which he discusses the basic framework for the Biden-Harris administration’s policy toward Cuba.

Part 1: A consequence of relisting Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Robert L. Muse, Global Americans

In this article, Robert L. Muse discusses the legal ramifications of the Trump administration re-adding Cuba to the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Mr. Muse details the history of lawsuits made in Florida courts against Cuba, stating that many of these lawsuits have not met the jurisdictional requirements of the statute under which they occurred. He ends by arguing that President Joe Biden should quickly remove Cuba from the list to avoid further damaging the prospects of one day engaging with the island nation.

Sixty Years of Failure: Time to End the Cuban Embargo, Duncan Mathewson, International Policy Digest

In this article, Duncan Mathewson argues that the U.S. should end its trade embargo on Cuba, stating that while the policy may have had some merit during the Cold War, it has long outlived its use. Mr. Mathewson details the potential benefits for the Cuban people that could come from lifting the embargo and the strategic sense it makes for the U.S. to do so. He ends by discussing the mass international opposition toward the embargo and the ways in which the sanctions policies stand in the way of mutually beneficial cooperation.

Cuban Artist Aymée Nuviola on Embracing Her Black Identity Through Music: ‘We Have So Much to Offer’, Jessica Roiz, Billboard

In this article, Jessica Roiz talks with the Cuban artist Aymée Nuviola about her new album, Viento Y Tiempo, currently nominated for best Latin Jazz Album for the 2021 Grammy Awards, and how her Black identity has informed her music. Ms. Nuviola discusses the racism that she had experienced while working in Cuba and her experiences surrounding her migration to Miami in June 2004. She also discusses the Afro elements of Cuban music and the musical community that she found after moving to Miami.

Fernando Hidalgo, Cuban-Born TV Host, Dies at 78, Christina Morales, The New York Times

In this article, Christina Morales discusses the life and career of the Cuban American television host Fernando Hidalgo, who died on February 15 in Coral Gables, Florida. Ms. Morales details how Mr. Hidalgo, who was born in Cuba in 1942 and later moved to Chicago as a teenager, began and hosted his popular show, “El Show de Fernando Hidalgo,” for 14 years. She also discusses his career prior to starting his hit show and his 2019 film “Ernesto’s Manifesto,” in which he starred. 

Prison has not discouraged Cuba’s leading dissident, José Zepeda, Open Democracy

In this article, José Zepeda interviews the Cuban dissident and human rights activist, José Daniel Ferrer. In the interview, Mr. Ferrer–who, after spending eight years in jail in Cuba, founded the Patriotic Union of Cuba in 2011, an umbrella organization for Cuban opposition groups–discusses his views on non-violent protest, his thoughts on the current state of Cuba’s government, and other topics.

The unintended environmental benefit of Cuba’s isolation, Katarina Zimmer, National Geographic

In this article, Katarina Zimmer discusses research, recently published by a collaboration of American and Cuban scientists, on the relative lack of invasive plant species in Cuba when compared to the ecologies of other Caribbean islands. Ms. Zimmer writes about how Cuba’s relative isolation from the outside world since 1959 likely contributed to the island acquiring fewer invasive plant species from abroad. She goes on to discuss the details of the recent study and the pathways by which invasive plants come to the Caribbean, most often by tourism and trade.

How Cuba’s artists took the kitchen to earn their crust in lockdown, Ruaridh Nicoll, The Guardian

In this article, Ruaridh Nicoll talks with various artists in Cuba who have decided to put their respective creative talents to use by opening up food businesses on the island. He writes about how different artists, or groups of artists, have recently opened up pie shops, jam shops, bakeries, and vegetarian eateries. Mr. Nicoll also discusses the economic crisis in Cuba that prompted some of these shifts into the food business and the state of food shortages that currently beset the island. 


Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the U.S.-Cuba News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

Like our work? Keep up with CDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!


U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/19/2021

February 19, 2021

Dear Friends,

CDA is partnering with the 90 Miles PodcastCuba Educational TravelCubaOne Foundationthe Cuban American Student Association at NYU, and Engage Cuba to host a panel analyzing entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba through discussions with Cuban entrepreneurs and economists. Please join us on February 23 at 3 PM EST. Register for the panel here

CDA is hiring two remote summer interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is March 15. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 859 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,998 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Mayabeque reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 449, 129, and 60 new cases reported respectively in each province. The number of deaths has increased by 141 since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 287 deaths since last March. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Biden-Harris administration to review U.S. embassy staffing decision

The Biden-Harris administration is reviewing the previous Administration’s decision to reduce U.S. embassy staffing in Havana, CNN reports. Staffing at the U.S. embassy has been restricted to “essential personnel” since September 2017 following a series of health incidents which affected U.S. personnel in Havana. The staff cuts resulted in the complete halt of consular services, leading to major delays in the processing of visas for Cubans and Cuban Americans. Cubans must travel to third countries for visa processing, a lengthy and expensive process which is inaccessible to many, and particularly risky during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the lack of embassy personnel has impeded the U.S.’s ability to engage in diplomacy with Cuba as the island undergoes significant political and economic changes.

report from the U.S. State Department’s Accountability Review Board, which was recently published in redacted form, indicated that the Trump administration’s slow and disorganized response to the health incidents makes it more likely that researchers and investigators may never determine the cause of the incidents. The report also stated that the significant reduction in U.S. Embassy staff following the incidents did not follow “standard Department of State procedures” and did not involve “any formal analysis of the risks and benefits” of reducing the number of staff, although Foreign Service rules require such an analysis. Dr. Mitchell Valdés Sosa, Director of the Cuban Center for Neuroscience in Havana and the lead doctor of the Cuban Academy of Sciences’s committee to study the health incidents has continuously dismissed the U.S. National Academy of Sciences report’s microwave energy theory as being the cause of the health incidents. 

Cuban American group advises Biden to re-engage with Cuba, build support in Miami

The Cuba Study Group, a Cuban American advocacy organization, published a report on Tuesday making a series of recommendations for how they believe the Biden-Harris administration should pursue a new strategy of engagement with Cuba, the Miami Herald reports. The report, entitled “U.S.-Cuba Relations in the Biden Era,” focuses on how the U.S. and Cuba can construct resilient normalized relations. It examines President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with the island, advising President Joe Biden to avoid what the group considers the shortcomings of the Obama-Biden administration’s approach, including a lack of outreach to the Cuban American community, that left President Obama’s policies vulnerable to complete reversal by the Trump administration.

The report makes recommendations for actions the Biden-Harris administration can take in the short, medium, and long term to normalize relations with Cuba, including lifting the restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba imposed during the Trump administration, increasing support for Cuba’s private sector, and ordering a review of Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, a designation made in the waning days of President Trump’s term. It also recommends that the Biden-Harris administration abandon the policy of regime change in Cuba, in favor of an incremental approach to reform on the island. 

While the report urges the Biden-Harris administration to engage with Cuba, it also states that “the road to resilient relations” between the U.S. and Cuba “runs through, not around Miami,” advising the Administration to work proactively to build support with Cuban Americans in South Florida for policies of engagement. The report further advises the Administration to draw attention to Cuba’s democratic failings and support those in Cuba working for greater freedoms on the island. 

The Cuba Study Group joins several other organizations in advocating for the Biden-Harris administration to pursue a policy of engagement with Cuba. On February 10, 56 organizations, including CDA, sent a letter to the Biden-Harris administration urging immediate action to normalize U.S.-Cuba relations. Currently there is also a petition circulating by the Fund for Reconciliation and Development asking the Biden-Harris administration to confirm plans to restore Obama-era Cuba policies. However, policies of engagement are likely to be met with some opposition in Congress. On Wednesday, several political leaders including Representatives Carlos Giménez (FL- 26) and María Elvira Salazar (FL- 27), Senators Robert Menendez (NJ), Marco Rubio (FL), and Rick Scott (FL), and Miami Mayor Francis Suárez spoke, either in virtually pre-recorded remarks or in person, at the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami, asking President Biden to avoid lifting sanctions on Cuba.

To read CDA’s report, co-authored with the Washington Office on Latin America, on how the Biden-Harris administration may implement a policy of engagement toward Cuba, visit our website.

Cuban immigration concerns experts in South Florida

Experts in South Florida are concerned about increasing reports from the U.S. Coast Guard of Cuban migrants risking their lives attempting to reach the U.S., Local 10 News reports. The Coast Guard reported rescuing eight Cubans in a makeshift boat and six in a small wooden boat in the Florida Straits on February 8 and January 12 respectively. Last week, the Coast Guard rescued a group of three Cubans who had been stranded on an uninhabited Bahamian island for 33 days, after unsuccessfully attempting to reach the U.S. by boat. This last Saturday, two men from Cuba were picked up in the Florida Straits by the Coast Guard, and on Wednesday they were repatriated to Cuba. In response to these incidents, Andy Gómez, professor emeritus of Cuban studies at the University of Miami, stated that “As the economic situation in Cuba gets worse, we could see an illegal attempt of more Cubans trying to make it to the United States.” According to the Coast Guard, more than 90 migrants from Cuba have been repatriated this fiscal year after trying to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S. 

From 1995 to January 2017, Cuban migrants attempting to come to the U.S. were subject to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy. According to the policy, Cuban migrants who made it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) were paroled in and able to access a path toward citizenship while those apprehended in the ocean (“wet feet”) were returned to Cuba. With this policy gone, Cuban migrants who now make it to U.S. land may be repatriated to Cuba. Since the termination of the policy, the number of U.S.-bound Cuban migrants interdicted at sea has decreased considerably. 

Biden reviving effort to empty Guantánamo prison

The Biden-Harris administration stated last Friday that it would revive the interagency process begun under the Obama-Biden administration to study how best to close the detention center at the U.S. military base in Guantánamo (GTMO) Bay, Cuba, The New York Times reports. In response to a question about whether the Administration would shut down the prison by the end of President Joe Biden’s term, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki stated, “That is our goal and our intention.” Emily J. Horne, the National Security Council (NSC) spokeswoman, also said that the NSC would work with the relevant departments and with Congress “to make progress toward closing the GTMO facility.” However, the Administration has not yet decided who will spearhead the effort to close the base and many relevant agency positions remain unfilled.

There are currently 40 prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay facility, all of whom were brought there by the George W. Bush administration. According to The New York Times, in 2019 the total cost that year of keeping the 40 prisoners at the facility was $540 million, or $13 million per prisoner. Of the 40 prisoners, just one has been convicted of a crime, eleven more have been charged, and 28 remain uncharged, left in a status of indefinite wartime detainment.

Although President Obama advocated for closing the detention facility at Guantánamo, and issued an Executive Order mandating as much two days after his inauguration in 2009, Congress prohibited a full closure of the facility, primarily through language in the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) barring the use of government funds to transfer the prisoners to the United States. 

IN CUBA

Coronavirus vaccine nears final tests in Cuba. Tourists may be inoculated.

Cuba’s Soberana 02 COVID-19 vaccine will enter the final phase of testing next month and, if approved, will be used for mass vaccination in Cuba and may become available to tourists who visit the island, The New York Times reports. The third and final phase of testing will include 150,000 participants in Cuba and Iran. According to OnCuba News, Mexico’s Secretary of Health is in discussions with Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute about joining the Phase III trials. Dr. Vicente Vérez, the General Director of the Finlay Vaccine Institute, which developed the vaccine, said that Cuba could be able to offer vaccination to all foreigners who travel there. According to OnCuba News, Cuban scientists also say that the government will likely donate doses of the vaccine to poor countries, in line with Cuba’s past and present use of medical diplomacy.

The Soberana 02 vaccine is administered through three doses set two weeks apart and does not need the deep freeze required by the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. However, producing the vaccine was made more complicated by U.S. sanctions on Cuba, and there is no guarantee that Cuba will have the necessary equipment to manufacture the vaccine at a scale large enough to produce 100 million doses this year, a goal previously stated by the island’s government. Furthermore, it remains unclear how Cuba would go about vaccinating tourists on the island, as the vaccine requires six weeks to be fully administered. Dr. Guillén of Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the group producing two of Cuba’s four vaccines, said that rather than administer all three doses to tourists while they are in Cuba, tourists could be given the option to receive one shot on the island and take the other two back home.

Cuba currently has four vaccines in clinical trials, Soberana 01 and Soberana 02, developed by the Finlay Vaccine Institute in Havana, and the Abdala and Mambisa vaccines, developed by the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. While the Soberana 02 vaccine is the most advanced in clinical trials, the Soberana 01 vaccine will likely enter Phase II-III trials in March with 40,000-50,000 people involved in the clinical study. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

An Inside Look at Cuba’s Constant Struggle for Clean Water, Sanne Derks, The New York Times

In this article, Sanne Derks examines the process by which clean water is distributed throughout Cuba. Through conversations and encounters with the health workers who make sure the water is not infested with mosquito larvae, the residents who store water in rooftop tanks, the water truck drivers, and others, Ms. Derks details the trials of getting water to all who need it. She tells of the many innovative ways Cubans make sure they have clean water, from using small mosquito larvae-eating fish to purify the water instead of chemicals, to making makeshift nozzles for water hoses and pumps to get the water into their homes.

These are the 124 activities prohibited for self-employment in CubaEl Toque

This article discusses the various activities that Cuba’s government has reserved solely for the state sector of the economy under its new private sector regulations. It includes a detailed list of all 124 activities. The article also includes comments from Cuban economists and businessmen on the significance of the change in how Cuba’s government will regulate the private sector and on what further reforms might be needed to support the sector.

Cubans face an impossible choice: Go hungry or risk virus, Patrick Oppmann, CNN

In this video, Patrick Oppmann describes the long lines that people in Cuba face as they wait to buy food during the current shortage on the island. Mr. Oppmann interviews Cuban citizens, who describe the necessity of waiting in the often packed lines despite the health risks present in crowded areas due to COVID-19. He further details the measures Cuba’s government is taking to try to mitigate health risk in the lines as the island experiences increased case numbers of COVID-19.

Back to the soil as Covid robs Cuban town of its bread and butter: touristsFrance 24

This article discusses the impact that the decrease in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the town of Viñales, Cuba and the people who live there. It describes how the residents of Viñales began to make their money largely off of tourism as Cuba’s economy began to open up, but now find that they must return to other professions in order to work.

Research Finds Cuba, Libya and Syria Comprise 10 Crypto-Loving Countries, Polly Harrison, The Fintech Times

In this article, Polly Harrison writes about the interest in cryptocurrencies demonstrated by people in countries such as Cuba. Ms. Harrison discusses data from the website TradingView, which recently analyzed its millions of search enquiries, finding that 50.4 percent of all enquiries made in Cuba had to do with cryptocurrency assets. Ms. Harrison saysthat Cuba is the only country in the world where over half of enquiries were about cryptocurrency. 

U.S. Cuba Policy Can Cut Out The Miami Middleman And Still Consult Cuban Exiles, Tim Padgett, WLRN

In this article, Tim Padgett argues that while the Biden-Harris administration should listen to Cuban American voices regarding Cuba policy, it should not let those voices wholly determine the direction of its policy toward the island. Mr. Padgett contrasts the outsized influence that the Cuban American expatriate community has on U.S. Cuba policy with the influence that other expatriate communities in the U.S. have with regards to policy regarding their native countries. He also discusses a recently released policy paper from the Cuba Study Group on how the Biden-Harris administration can improve relations with Cuba.

Joe Biden Cuba policy: Politicians are fickle. But at least there’s always baseball. Tim Wendel, USA Today

In this article, Tim Wendel writes about the ties that bind the U.S. and Cuba together through the sport of baseball, recounting his multiple trips to the island to cover games between U.S. and Cuban teams. Mr. Wendel discusses the 2020 documentary film, “The Last Out,” which follows three young Cuban baseball players as they journey to Central America to try to win a spot in the Major Leagues. He also touches on the effects that the changes in Cuba policy under the Obama and Trump have had on the people in Cuba.

EVENTS

Virtual, Cuba-US Working Together Again: Lessons from Environmental Cooperation, February 22

Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies is hosting an event co-sponsored by the University’s Cuba Program, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the American College of Environmental Lawyers (ACOEL), and the Fundación Antonio Nuñez Jiménez (FANJ), to analyze past Cuba-US cooperation on environmental and sustainability issues. Speakers will include leading experts from Cuba and the US exploring current challenges to cooperation. The conference will consist of two Zoom sessions, from 10 a.m.-12:30 pm. EST and from 1:30 p.m.-4:00 p.m. EST. See the event page for more details and to register for the event.

Virtual, Cuban Entrepreneurship Panel, February 23

The 90 Miles Podcast, Cuba Educational Travel, the Center for Democracy in the Americas, the Cuba One Foundation, the Cuban American Student Association at NYU, and Engage Cuba are hosting a panel analyzing entrepreneurship and the private sector in Cuba through discussions with Cuban entrepreneurs and economists. Join us at 3:00 p.m. EST on February 23 for discussions with Oniel Díaz Castellanos, Co-founder of AUGE, Adriana Heredia Sánchez, Founder of Beyond Roots, Cristina Figueroa Vives, Art Curator at Estudio Figueroa-Vives, and Carlos Gómez, CEO and Founder of Wajirosfilms.


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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/12/2021

February 12, 2021

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are well. This week, CDA joined forces with 55 organizations, including human rights and advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, Cuban-American groups, environmental and academic organizations, and business groups, to send a letter to the Biden-Harris administration urging them to take immediate action to fulfill President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to reverse failed Trump administration Cuba policies and pursue a policy of engagement. Read our press release here and the full letter here

Yesterday, Cuba reported 823 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 4,748 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. The number of deaths has increased by 111 since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 257 deaths since last March. 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 Ricardo Torres Pérez, Cuban economist, and Oniel Díaz Castellanos, Co-Founder of AUGE, a private Cuban business development and communications team, about their preliminary impressions of the newly announced reforms aimed at Cuba’s private sector. 

To read this week’s interview with Oniel Díaz Castellanos and Ricardo Torres Pérez, visit the “In Cuba” section.

This week, in Cuba news…

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U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/05/2021

February 5, 2021

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. 

Congratulations to CDA’s former Executive Director Emily Mendrala who recently started a new role as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. We wish Emily the best of luck in her new role! 

Last chance! CDA’s 14th Anniversary silent auction is still open! We’ve added a number of new items including new art and photo books. Most items are from Cuban and Cuban American entrepreneurs and creatives, in addition to a Fender guitar of the same model that Cuban singer-songwriter Carlos Varela plays. Be sure to place your bid by February 10 at 5 PM EST! 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 845 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,544 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a slight decrease from the previous day. The number of deaths has increased by 83 since the beginning of the year, bringing the total to 229 deaths since last March. 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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