Cuba News – Like Drinking Water from a Fire Hose

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba reinstates travel restrictions on medical professionals

Cuba’s government has reinstated limitations on travel for medical specialists, reports Reuters. Cuba says it has been “seriously affected” by the flight of medical specialists particularly in the fields of anesthesiology, neurosurgery, obstetrics/gynecology and neonatal care. Cuba’s government blames U.S. policy, specifically the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, for draining medical specialists from the island.

Approximately 500,000 of Cuba’s 5 million labor force are health professionals, and Cuba receives significant export earnings from sending doctors abroad on medical missions.

Under the new policy it announced on Tuesday, Cuban medical personnel will have to apply for a travel permit before leaving Cuba. This is a step back  from reforms implemented in 2013, which allowed Cubans seeking to leave the country, including medical specialists, to do so without first obtaining a travel permit and a letter of invitation from the traveler’s destination.

The new policy affects one-tenth of the country’s workforce and angers many. The AP reports that “By midday, many Cuban doctors were trying to figure out whether quitting their jobs would free them of the travel limit.” Dr. Eduardo Herrera, a surgeon in Havana, contended that, “Instead of resolving the real problems of Cuban doctors, which is that salaries are low and we are working with limited resources, this measure shows that there’s no respect for the rights of citizens in Cuba.” While Cuba has raised salaries for health professionals in recent years, few doctors make more than $80 per month.

Cuba’s policy announcement followed meetings on Monday between the U.S. and Cuba over record high Cuban migration this year. The purpose of the talks was to discuss proposals on how the U.S. and Cuba could contribute to fighting smuggling organizations that take advantage of Cuban migrants, noted a State Department spokesperson, according to Voice of America News. Cuba also demanded the elimination of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program during the talks.

Once in the U.S., Cubans receive preferential treatment under the so-called “wet foot, dry foot policy.” This policy is a provision of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), which fast-tracks Cuban arrivals in the U.S. for a green card by granting them asylum upon arrival, making them eligible for a green card after one year in the country. Although bi-lateral negotiations are ongoing, the administration has stressed it has no intention of ending the wet foot, dry foot policy, a move Cuba’s government rejects claiming it incentivizes dangerous migration to the U.S.

An estimated 45,000 Cubans are expected to arrive at the U.S. border this year over land, air, and sea. For more on the migration surge check out our previous reporting here.

Governor Greg Abbott leads Texas trade delegation to Cuba

Gov. Greg Abbott arrived in Cuba on Monday for a trade mission with a delegation of 26 Texans. On Tuesday, Abbott’s delegation visited Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone, met with representatives from the Cuban Export-Import Corporation (CIMEX), and the ministry of tourism, The Dallas Morning News reports.

“We wanted to open the door to establishing relationships at the highest levels in the state of Texas that will build a foundation,” said Gov. Abbott. He’s not the only Governor looking to establish relationships at the highest levels in his state. Gov. Asa Hutchison of Arkansas and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York both visited the island earlier this year.

Gov. Abbott said, “One of my goals was to work with Cuban leaders and Cuban businesses and Cuban business owners to find ways that Texas can capitalize on the growing economic opportunity.” AP reported that Gov. Abbott made little progress on Cuba business trip and the visit was not without its critics. Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University critiqued the visit saying that that increased business ties between the two countries will serve only the regime and strengthen it, reports Fox News Latino.

While Governor Abbott  saw “opportunity in abundance here in Cuba,” the governor did not call for the lifting of the trade embargo. Gov. Abbott left the island Wednesday evening.

In Cuba

Just dance: Cuban salsa dancers try for world record

Last Wednesday, while we in the U.S. were preparing for turkey, Cubans were preparing to enter the record books. Approximately 980 couples gathered on the Malecón in Havana to break the Guinness world record for salsa dancing in a circle. Dancers sashayed to four Cuban songs for a total of 14 minutes and 58 seconds according to the Latin American Herald Tribune. Organizers estimate that 400 foreigners from 17 different countries joined Cuban dancers. The event marked the tenth anniversary of Baila en Cuba, an annual world congress for salsa dancers held in Havana. The congress took place from November 22-27 and featured 22 different salsa workshops, five open-air concerts and over 700 salsa dancers.

 

Rare sight in Cuba, protests at the Ecuadorian Embassy

Last Friday, Cuban protesters headed to the Ecuadorian embassy and airline offices in Havana to express their displeasure over quickly shifting visa requirements for Cuban travelers. The day before, the Ecuadorean government ended its visa-free program for Cubans, and now requires visas for Cubans traveling to Ecuador. In response, Cubans, many of whom had already purchased airline tickets, sought refunds, visas, and a quick exit from Cuba.

Protesters returned on Monday to continue to voice their demands, primarily “Give us our money back!” For many Cubans, a flight to Ecuador is tantamount to putting their lifesavings on the line. On Monday, the Ecuadorian embassy relented saying it would allow Cubans who had already purchased their plane tickets to get visas and depart Cuba. Cuban state media, which can be read here, hosted two online forums for readers to discuss recent regulatory changes.

Government security officials, both in uniform and in plainclothes, quickly contained the protests outside the embassy by cordoning off protests from the public and not allowing protesters to return once they had left. The Washington Post reported a “heavy deployment of plainclothes Cuban police and uniformed officers kept the crowds behind yellow tape, blocking access to the building.”

Prior to the policy change, the most popular route for Cubans starting their journey to the U.S. began in Ecuador before covering 4,400 miles as well as eight illegal border crossings before they could reach the U.S. Increased migration presents particular problems for Nicaragua and Costa Rica, two nations where Cubans have been detained in recent weeks waiting for passage to continue their journey northward. We reported on this situation here.

An estimated 45,000 Cubans are expected to arrive at the U.S. border this year over land, air, and sea. For more on the migration surge check out our previous reporting here.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

SICA meetings does not produce agreement on migration
Last week, members of the Central American Integration System (Sistema de Integración Centroamericana or SICA) meet in El Salvador at an emergency summit to discuss Cuban migration through Central America. SICA leaders did not come to an agreement reports The Washington Post.

The summit sought to address the 3,000 migrants that remain in limbo on the Nicaragua/ Costa Rica border. In Panama, 1,200 migrants remain waiting for a decision from Central American governments. During the meeting, Nicaragua defended its decision to close its border with Costa Rica, citing its right to national sovereignty and threats to national security. Costa Rica favors creating a humanitarian corridor and allowing Cuban migrants to continue their journey. This proposal was rejected by Nicaragua.

Nicaragua closed its border with Costa Rica on November 15 after Costa Rica issued large numbers of exit visas to Cubans in their territory. In the weeks prior to this decision, Nicaragua had issued 3,853 temporary travel visas to Cubans seeking to cross its territory.

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama are all member states of SICA. Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, and Mexico are observer states. On November 30, Cuba’s government, in its statement limiting the travel of medical professionals, highlighted SICA’s recent disapproval of the United States “manipulation” of immigration policy.

Recommended Reading

U.S.-Cuba Normalization Allows Mexico and Cuba to Repair Old Ties

Professor William LeoGrande offers context about the reinvigorated Cuba/ Mexico relationship, explaining the fluctuations in policy under the PRI and PAN.

Water Shortages Have a Heavy Impact on Women in Cuba, Patricia Grogg, Inter Press Service

Intense drought combined with aging infrastructure causes Cuba to lack water. The people picking up the slack are by in large female, a factor explored by Patricia Grogg’s analysis of Cuba’s gendered water crisis.

Cows, Capitalism, and the Future of Cuba, Taylor Wofford, Newsweek

Wofford’s story describes an odd coupling, American bulls (specifically one) and the Cuban cattle industry.

Recommended Viewing

Latitudes: Our Favorite Global Music Right Now, Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR Music

Tsioulcas explores Cuban music from the Havana Contemporary Music Festival and beyond.

 

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