Feliz Día del Padre

As we begin Father’s Day weekend, it seemed right to open with a brief note about family, connection, and inclusion.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, the financial and emotional support provided by members of the Cuban diaspora to their families on the island got caught in the twist of the tourniquet of U.S. sanctions.

Family visits to the island were limited to one trip every three years under a specific license, as the Congressional Research Service explained, to visit only immediate family members.   The ability to send remittances – transfers of money to kin in Cuba – was severely restricted, as was the amount of cash (from $3,000 to $300) that the limited numbers of authorized travelers could bring.  Ironically, these policy changes were driven, in part, by hardliners in the diaspora, but the sting could be felt in homes on both sides of the straits.

During the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama used his executive authority to permit unlimited family travel and remittances.  This action not only alleviated the suffering imposed on families divided by the Bush-era travel policy, but it also coincided with the process led in Cuba by President Raúl Castro to liberalize economic and social restrictions on the Cuban people.

According to a new report, Remittances Drive the Cuban Economy, issued by the Havana Consulting Group, cash remittances, from the U.S. and other nations, estimated at $2.6 billion in 2012, now compromise Cuba’s largest individual source of hard currency.  They exceed revenues derived from tourism and exports of nickel, pharmaceuticals, and sugar.

Beyond the simple and important role of helping families make ends meet, this report is not alone (see here and here) in finding that cash to Cuba from the diaspora is helping to drive the creation and expansion of entrepreneurial activity in Cuba that is enabling Cuban citizens to leave state jobs and seek their futures in Cuba’s changing economy.

For critics who carp that nothing changes in Cuba – their odd defense for keeping U.S. sanctions in place exactly as they have been for fifty plus years – the remittance report is a reminder that President Castro has engineered significant changes, that Cubans are responding, and families in the U.S. are contributing importantly to a transition that is making their family members and other Cubans more independent and ideally more prosperous.

While we believe strongly that President Obama should move further and faster on loosening the U.S. embargo of Cuba, his policy decisions in 2009 to provide unlimited family travel and remittances and create larger openings for travel and remittances in 2011 have become important drivers of economic reform and individual empowerment in Cuba, and capitalized on the family and financial strengths of the community of Cuban descent that resides in Florida and across the United States.

One last thing:  the Cuban American community, for political reasons, of course, has historically faced a different and less restrictive set of immigration rules than migrants seeking to come to the U.S. of any other nationality.

The Miami Herald noted this week that Miami-Dade county is, in their words, “a Spanish-speaking bastion where many immigrants legal and illegal can get by for years without having to speak English.”

In that bastion, they treasure family – not more and certainly not less – just like every other community that has come here from overseas.  Many of them are watching with concern as the debate on immigration takes place in Washington especially now as a new proposal is offered in the U.S. Senate to “require that undocumented immigrants be able to read, write and speak English before earning a green card.”  This amendment, paradoxically, is being written by their Senator, Marco Rubio.

We’re not experts in the field of immigration.  But, the fear being expressed by reform advocates is that adoption of this provision could scuttle chances for passing a bill or make the policy much less welcoming and generous than the authors of reform wanted and intended.

We can only hope that the wisdom behind the travel and remittance policies grounded in the values of family, connection and inclusion is brought to bear on the larger, historic immigration debate as well.

To the families reading the Cuba Central News Blast this holiday weekend, we close by saying Feliz Día del Padre, or Happy Father’s Day.


Cuba passes anti-money laundering legislation

The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) has placed into effect measures designed to detect money laundering, financing of terrorism, and the movement of illicit capital, reports AFP. This brings Cuba into compliance with Financial Action Task Force Recommendations, a move praised by the U.S. State Department in its 2012 Country Reports on Terrorism released last month.

The measures, published last Saturday in the Official Gazette, will apply to “the financial institutions incorporated under Cuban or foreign laws, whose authorized activities in the national territory are to provide any financial intermediation service, including trust operations, remittances and foreign exchange.” The law mandates that members of the National Banking System establish “a level of vigilance, caution and control of the financial transactions they conduct, with the goal of preventing their use or involvement in operations that use illegal funds, or to finance terrorism and arms proliferation.” AFP reports that eleven foreign banks are accredited on the island.

Trials are currently underway for several foreign business executives charged with money laundering, paying bribes, and committing other financial crimes. Since officially taking office in 2008, President Raúl Castro has led a crackdown on corruption, along with Comptroller General Gladys Bejerano, who was named as vice-president on Cuba’s Council of State.

Crops and homes damaged by Tropical Storm Andrea

Tropical Storm Andrea, the first of the 2013 hurricane season, damaged 1,900 homes and caused significant crop losses in the province of Pinar del Río, according to reports by the AFP.  About 2,600 people were evacuated due to floods and 437 homes were left underwater.

Authorities in Pinar del Río urged immediate “recovery” action to mitigate long-term effects of damage to the province’s corn, sweet potato, cassava, melon, and cucumber crops. AFP cites official news reports that tobacco crops exhibit “the ill effects of excess dampness” and humidity, leading to fears that over 13,000 tons of the leaf could be lost in the aftermath of the storm; however, no losses of tobacco crops have been reported yet. Rains caused by the storm in western Cuba surpassed the region’s historical average rainfall for June by 188%.

Paladares to participate in culinary festival

The beachside resort town of Varadero will host a gourmet festival from June 19-21, which will feature the cuisine of paladares, privately-owned Cuban restaurants operated out of private homes, reports AFP.Paladares have proliferated in recent years following economic reforms that have relaxed restrictions on hiring employees, and on how many seats each restaurant is allowed to have. The Varadero Gourmet Festival will host three competitions: for Cuban gourmet, fusion cuisine, and cocktails. Festival organizer Hugo Capote said that the event “seeks to position Cuba as a destination for quality food service.” In addition to featuring Cuban chefs, exhibitors from more than a dozen countries will participate.

Cuba faces threat of climate change, steps up efforts to preserve coast

A study conducted by Cuban scientists has found that rising sea levels may cause severe damage to 122 Cuban towns, or wipe them out completely, reports the Associated Press. According to Jorge Álvarez, who directs Cuba’s Center for Environmental Control and Inspection, “The government … realized that for an island like Cuba, long and thin, protecting the coasts is a matter of national security.” The article notes that the country must perform a complicated balancing act, addressing the needs of those living in coastal homes and continuing to support its tourism industry, while taking swift action to preserve and expand sand dunes and mangrove swamps.

Dan Whittle of the Environmental Defense Fund says that Cuba can learn much about striking the right balance from Costa Rica: “Will Cuba become a sustainable destination like Costa Rica? Or will it go the way of Cancún and much of the rest of the Caribbean that has essentially sacrificed natural areas, marine and coastal ecosystems for economic development in the short run?”


Colombia-FARC negotiations begin new phase in Havana

Peace talks between Colombia’s government and the FARC resumed in Havana Tuesday, entering a new phase of discussions, reports the BBC. At the end of May, negotiators arrived at an unprecedented agreement over agrarian reform; this phase of negotiations will address the manner in which the FARC will join Colombia’s political scene if the negotiations ultimately result in a peace agreement. The Pan-American Post reports on FARC negotiators’ proposal that Colombia’s 2014 presidential elections be postponed to facilitate continuity in the peace process.

Spanish company to manufacture LED light bulbs in Cuba

Benito Muros, head of Spanish company OEP Electronics, announced his plans to manufacture a long-lasting LED light bulb in Cuba, reports Cuba Standard. The bulb is designed to last 25 years, and, in accordance with Cuba’s efforts to implement energy-saving programs, would allow customers a less costly and more energy-efficient option than imported light bulbs from China.


$2.605 billion in remittances sent to Cuba in 2012

According to a report issued this week by the Havana Consulting Group, $2.605 billion in remittances were sent in 2012 to Cuba from abroad, reports Miami Herald. The figure marks a 13.5% increase from the amount of almost $2.3 billion in remittances sent to Cuba in 2011. When calculated to include the value of packages and suitcases sent from abroad with food, medicine, domestic electronics, and other consumer goods, the total climbs to $5.105 billion. The report states that remittances surpass combined revenues of the leading four sectors of Cuba’s economy.

According to the report, 62% of households in Cuba receive remittances, which support 90% of the retail market and provide thousands of jobs. The report also calculates that of the 1.6 million cellphones in use in the country, 70% are paid for by Cubans abroad. According to the authors, “Barack Obama’s arrival in the White House has directly influenced the increase in money being sent to Cuba.”

Cuban Americans send an open letter to President Obama and Secretary Kerry

According to a press release by the Latin American Working Group, “Sixty Cuban Americans from across the United States released an open letter to the Obama Administration strongly disagreeing with the position of Cuban American legislators from Florida on keeping Cuba on the State Department’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism.” The signers state that the Cuban American legislators from South Florida do not represent them or their views on Cuba, or the views of the majority of Cuban Americans.”

The letter attracted the attention of Radio Martí: Listen here to Antonio Zamora’s explanation of why he and others signed the letter. El País of Spain also spoke with several of the signers, including Vivian Mannerud, the CEO of Airline Brokers, a Cuba travel office in South Florida that was fire-bombed last year after helping to arrange travel to the island for Cuban-Americans who wished to participate in the visit of the former Pope, Benedict XVI.

Family of Oswaldo Payá to settle in U.S.

The mother and two children of Oswaldo Payá, the Cuban dissident killed in a car accident last year, have decided to relocate to Miami, reports El Nuevo Herald. According to sources close to the family, they are already in the U.S. and are completing necessary paperwork. Payá’s daughter, Rosa María, had recently returned to Cuba after an international tour where she visited Europe and the U.S.

Around the Region

The First Year: A Chronology of the Gang Truce and Peace Process in El Salvador, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, CDA’s senior policy analyst on El Salvador, offers reflections on the first year of the gang truce and peace process in El Salvador, and provides a comprehensive chronology of events. She writes: “Advocacy of the peace process does not signify impunity for crimes committed. Nor does it reflect ignorance of the horrific violence inflicted on the Salvadoran people and their communities in recent decades: the murders of thousands of youths; the savagery of sexual violence; dismembered bodies; clandestine cemeteries; the uprooting of fearful families, and the scourge of extortion. Advocacy does mean a belief in the possibility of redemption. It reflects aspirations for an inclusive, nonviolent, democratic future for the country.”

To subscribe to the monthly El Salvador Update, please email: ElSalvadorUpdate@democracyinamericas.org.

Honduras passes “Model Cities” law

Honduras’ National Congress approved a law on Tuesday that would open the door to foreign investment in “Model Cities,” local governments that operate autonomously and under their own set of laws, reports Tiempo. The concept for “Model Cities” would create a “special development zone” within the country, with its own system of governance and infrastructure, and has been subject to heated debate.

An earlier law providing for model cities was previously declared unconstitutional by Honduras’ Supreme Court. However, four of the judges supporting that decision have since been removed, and in January 2013, the country’s Congress approved a new legal framework to modify Honduras’ Constitution and pave the way for re-envisioned “Model Cities.”

In the new incarnation of “Model Cities” approved by the national legislature, each individual zone would require congressional approval, and its tribunals would be required to guarantee human rights protections “the same or better” than those required in the Honduran Constitution. Upon approving the law for the regulation of “Model Cities,” the Congress also issued decrees for citizen consultations in two areas where the zones might be created: Peña Blanca, Cortés and Suyapa, Francisco Morazán, reports Proceso DigitalHonduras Culture and Politics analyzes the new law, bringing into question the motivations behind those legislators that pushed it forward.

Nicaragua canal project is approved despite few details, Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times

Nicaragua’s legislature has approved a plan for a canal route from the Pacific to the Caribbean, in a deal through which the Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. would foot much of the estimated $40 billion construction costs and receive a 100-year concession to the canal. Wilkinson explores the political, economic and environmental implications of the project.

Recommended Reading

Special Feature, Along the Malecón: Targeting disenchanted Cuban youth

In Targeting disenchanted Cuban youth, Tracey Eaton presents severely redacted documents he obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request he filed as part of his investigation of the U.S. government’s “democracy promotion” programs.  He pieces together the facts behind a Freedom House Grant proposal, which requested $574,976 from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to pay for a program to reach out to Cuban youth and to assure them that it was safe to join the political opposition. His post comes just days before another $4 million-plus in Cuba grants went up for grabs from the same agency, he later reports.

Analysis: Cuba’s derechos de superficie: Are they ‘real’ property rights?, José Manuel Pallí, Cuba Standard

Pallí addresses questions about what property purchases could look like in Cuba in the future by examining the existing legal framework of “surface rights,” which grant rights “over land that does not belong to its holder (the superficiario), but that the owner of the land in question concedes while retaining the title (dominio, or ownership) to the land itself.”

Cuban blogger who reveres Castro pushes for reform, Natalie Kitroeff, New York Times

Elaine Díaz, a professor of journalism at the University of Havana, and author of the blog La Polémica Digital, leads a group of Cubans, according to the New York Times, “who are opening a new avenue for criticism in a country that, for the last 50 years, has offered its citizens only two options: with us or against us. Ms. Díaz insists that there is a third way.”  Natalie Kitroeff discusses the line that Díaz toes, expressing criticisms of policy while supporting the government.

Reggaetón vs The Buena Vista Social Club – The Musical Realities of Life in Cuba, Teresa Sánchez, Remezcla

Teresa Sánchez reflects on social perceptions of some of the old (son) and new (reggaeton) guards of music in Cuba. Upon attending a concert by Cuban regguetonero El Micha and meeting with him afterwards, she concludes: “After hearing so much about how reggaetoneros don’t have nivel and are crude, I was struck by how warm, considerate, and quick-witted these guys were. In the end, I don’t think young Cubans are losing their culture due to reggaeton. It’s not [Buena Vista Social Club], but despite all the societal changes that are happening today, the youth in Cuba still maintain a profoundly strong sense of their musical identity.”

Recommended Listening

Latin Roots: Timba, Cuba’s Funky Dance Music, David Dye, NPR

David Dye of NPR Music interviews Judy Cantor-Navas, managing editor of Billboard En Español, about the Cuban music genre “timba.” She explains that in the 1980s, “while training in jazz and classical conservatories, many Cuban musicians were looking for a new musical form that would challenge their skills. By combining rumba with funk and other dance music, timba became a new Cuban genre of synthesized styles.” Listen here to Cantor-Navas’ timba playlist.

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