Barring a late entry by a third-party candidate-dissenter, voters in the U.S. presidential election this fall will choose between Republican and Democratic Party nominees who agree on at least one issue: Both will favor ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba unconditionally.
As the Voice of America reported (along with several other news agencies), Mr. Donald J. Trump is now running unopposed as the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president. If you visit the Council on Foreign Relations’ Campaign 2016 website, you will see that he endorsed President Obama’s opening to Cuba last September, adding (of course), “we should have made a better deal.”
Both Democrats running for president, Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, also support repeal of the embargo. Whatever else the two major party candidates bicker about this fall, they won’t be arguing over Cuba.
We’ve not had a presidential election like this since the Cuban revolution. But, this development is not just historic; it augurs well for the ability of the next president to untie the knots that have bound the embargo to U.S. foreign policy far too long.
The most recent polling data out of Florida – conducted in April by Dario Moreno, associate professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University – offers powerful evidence of how much public opinion in South Florida’s Cuban American community has shifted.
It may also explain why Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior representative in Florida’s Congressional delegation, and a leading hardline supporter of tough sanctions on Cuba, announced today that she won’t be voting for either party’s nominee.
Here’s a summary of what Dr. Moreno found:
- Cuban Americans are in the process of a secular realignment, moving away from the GOP and towards the Democrats.
- This realignment will likely be accelerated by the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate for president.
- Among the Cuban American base, Trump has only 37%, and “this is the lowest in history that any potential Republican candidate has polled in this traditionally loyal demographic.”
- By comparison, Hillary Clinton is within striking range at 31%
- Support for the hardline policy toward Cuba no longer unifies the community as it did for a generation (1980-2008), and adds “The hardline Cuban consensus is beginning to break down.”
Obviously, this is a sharp and significant departure from what came before. The hardliners in the South Florida electorate exerted a grip on the policymaking process that derived from their influence first on presidential elections – and the Electoral College significance of Florida – which they then leveraged over Members of Congress in the 49 other states.
Dr. Moreno’s data – very much in line with what we have read and reported on previously – shows fundamentally they have lost control over the voting preferences of “Young Cubans and those who arrived in the United States recently (after 1992),” who are likely to abandon the GOP in even greater numbers with the nomination of Mr. Trump.
We report on this disorder not for partisan reasons, but because of what it means for the prospects of legislation to end the embargo completely when the new Congress convenes in 2017.
It must have been a stunning week for Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. She tweeted all week about the Kardashians’ visit to Cuba (to be honest, we were sympathetic to her comment, “haven’t the #Cuban ppl suffered enough?”) but went radio silent when several news agencies reported that a four-member security delegation from Cuba’s government had been led on a “familiarization tour” of Joint Interagency Task Force South, a facility playing a key role against narco-trafficking. Not a tweet or a peep about the visitors posing a security risk.
There is, in fact, very little she can say, when 94,000 Americans, as well as 115,000 Cuban Americans, broke records by visiting Cuba in the first quarter of 2016 at the highest levels ever recorded, so much so that Cuban diplomat Josefina Vidal tweeted about it. Or when the Chief Economist of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, “no fan of Cuban human rights violations, limited freedoms and other flaws,” publishes an op-ed in the Deseret News, Utah’s major daily newspaper, saying that the future of U.S. Cuba relations “will spring from engagement, not separation.”
The country has changed, just like South Florida has changed, and these shifts can only reinforce each other going forward.
With Rep. Ros-Lehtinen neutral in the November election, it becomes pretty difficult for her and other supporters of the embargo in both political parties to make an effective stand against lifting it, especially if that’s what the next president makes a priority of his or her administration.
Let other Members of Congress take note. No excuses.
Cuba scrambles to keep pace with U.S.-fueled tourism boom, Marc Frank, Reuters
Since the beginning of 2016, Cuba has received 94,000 U.S. visitors, 93 percent more than in the same period of 2015. Of those visiting Cuba, 115,000 were Cuban-Americans, whom Cuba’s government categorizes separately from other U.S. visitors. Overall, as Cuba’s Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero announced Wednesday, the total number of visitors to Cuba so far this year has increased by 13.5 percent compared to the same period last year, with 1.5 million visitors to the island, as Granma reports. A total 3.5 million people visited Cuba in 2015. Confronting such a rapid increase in visitors, Cuba’s tourism industry is working to expand and update infrastructure, especially in Havana, where 37 percent more people have visited this year than in the same period last year. To accommodate the planned arrival of U.S. commercial airline service later in 2016, Cuba’s government plans to expand Havana’s José Martí International Airport. In the meantime, the construction of new hotels and the renovation of others is already in the works.
Cheering Cubans greet first cruise ship from U.S. in decades, Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press
Met by cheering crowds, the first U.S. cruise ship to Cuba since 1978 arrived in Havana Monday. Operated by Carnival Corporation, the Adonia and its 704 passengers are spending eight days traveling around Cuba. Some Cuban Americans boarded the cruise to make their first trips back to the island in decades, as Reuters reports. In accordance with U.S. regulations, the cruise is a people-to-people trip (as Granma noted, “not a single tourist” was aboard the ship). Reuters has photos of the Adonia approaching the harbor, and Progreso Weekly provides video footage of the cruise’s arrival and the crowds in Havana who looked on. In the weeks leading up to the cruise, Cuba Central covered the controversy and the now-resolved binational legal challenges that preceded the ship’s departure.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-1) traveled to Cuba this week with CDA and a delegation focused on organic food and sustainable farming. During the visit, they discussed the future of U.S.-Cuba economic relations with Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s Foreign Minister for North American Affairs, officials from Cuba’s Ministry of External Trade and Investment (MINCEX), as well as U.S. Ambassador to Cuba Jeffrey DeLaurentis. In a press release, Rep. Pingree’s office stated that the Congresswoman and Ms. Vidal discussed the mutual benefits of fully opening trade between the U.S. and Cuba. Of her meeting with MINCEX officials, who encouraged Maine businesses to visit Cuba and forge commercial relationships on the island, Rep. Pingree said, “The two countries are still far from being on the same page when it comes to trade and business agreements, but we also have a lot in common and some common goals.”
A waiting game for companies hoping to do business in Cuba, Joyce M. Rosenberg, Associated Press
As the U.S. and Cuba reestablish ties, U.S. businesses large and small interested in doing business in Cuba face legal and bureaucratic delays in both countries. Although the U.S. has implemented a number of regulatory reforms to make it easier for certain U.S. industries to work in Cuba, such as travel and telecommunications, and for the U.S. to import limited goods produced by independent entrepreneurs in Cuba, the embargo prohibits nearly all trade and financial transactions between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Law360 offers a list of “5 Ways Cuba Can Open Its Doors To US Business,” and notes that the delays U.S. companies are experiencing do not come only from U.S. regulations, and that Cuba’s government could make changes to correspond to recent progress on the U.S. side.
As we reported last week, the State Department added coffee to its authorized list of goods and services produced by private entrepreneurs in Cuba that may be imported to the U.S., though most of Cuba’s coffee is produced by the government. In response, the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), affiliated with Cuba’s government, released a statement condemning the regulatory change as divisive and imperialist, reports Progreso Weekly. Addressing economic reforms the U.S. has encouraged in Cuba, the statement says, “We Cuban small farmers are not afraid of these changes, as long as they come from us.”
Archbishop Thomas Wenski: “This is a crucial moment in Cuba’s history” (in Spanish), Miguel Hernández, OnCuba Magazine
Thomas Wenski, Archbishop of Miami, spoke with OnCuba about the state of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the legacy and career of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, who last week stepped down as archbishop of Havana after 35 years in the post, and his successor, Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez. Archbishop Wenski visited Cuba during Easter this year, shortly after President Obama’s historic visit to the island. “Obama’s visit – and the attention that the media gave the island – was viewed positively both in Miami and in Cuba,” said Archbishop Wenski. “Obviously, this is a very delicate dance, and the dancers still do not seem sure of the rhythm … The important thing is to keep dancing.”
American Stars Jam With Cuba’s Best Musicians in Havana, Mandalit Del Barco, National Public Radio
During the historic cultural mission of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), U.S. musicians including Smokey Robinson, Dave Matthews, and Usher had the opportunity to collaborate with Cuban counterparts, like Carlos Varela, X Alfonso, and hip-hop duo Obsesión, during an evening at the Fábrica de Arte Cubano in Havana. NPR spoke to the U.S. and Cuban musicians who participated in the cultural mission’s events, and related their experiences as artists during a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations. The report features clips of the concert and other musical collaborations throughout the trip. CDA helped organize and advise PCAH on the mission.
Hollywood Rediscovers Cuba. Is It Too Soon to Call it Havanawood? Mandalit del Barco, National Public Radio
As Fast and Furious 8 films in Havana, NPR looks at the history of U.S. filmmaking in Cuba, differences between the U.S. and Cuban film industries, and the buzz surrounding the big-budget production. As more U.S. productions come to Cuba, Cuban film director Jorge Luis Sánchez told NPR, “Maybe we can both learn how to make movies from each other but with mutual respect.”
A Cuban-American finds his roots, Victor Ramírez, CNN
CNN correspondent Victor Ramírez, who traveled to Cuba in March to cover President Obama’s visit, describes his experience visiting the island for the first time, having heard about it from his parents and grandparents while growing up Cuban-American in Miami. Ramírez found Havana at once deeply familiar and entirely new. “In Cuba, I was experiencing the root of everything I grew up with – the raw ingredients that made up my life,” Ramírez writes. “I had grown up hearing the stories… Now it would suddenly become a real place, something I could see with my own eyes, something I could touch, hear, smell and taste.”
Between Memory and History: The Rapprochement Between the United States and Cuba in Times of Remembrance (in Spanish), Louis A. Pérez, Jr., PensadoAméricas
Louis A. Pérez, Jr., J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas, examines historical memory and the long history of U.S.-Cuba relations as context for the policy changes and the rhetoric that has accompanied the normalization of relations.
Following last month’s meeting of Cuba’s Communist Party, Cuba’s government announced several measures to exercise more control over the pricing and sale of agricultural products to deal with food shortages and inflation.
As Reuters reports, the Seventh Party Congress voted to cease issuing licenses for privately run wholesale food distribution. Reuters also reported that Cuba’s government intends to “contract, distribute and regulate prices for 80 to 90 percent of farm output this year, compared to 51 percent in 2014.” Accordingly, the government announced this week that it has capped the prices of certain top-quality farm products and applied discounts to additional food products. Effective May 3, the price caps and discounts are intended to enhance Cuban consumers’ purchasing power, and to protect buyers from the “unscrupulous management of prices on the part of intermediaries who think only of earning more and more money,” according to an official statement of the Ministry of Finances and Prices, published in Granma.
Cuba’s population expected to drop dramatically over the next decade, Abel Fernández and Mario J. Pentón, InCuba Today
Over the next 9 years, demographers estimate that Cuba’s population will drop by one million people, due to emigration, low fertility and birth rates, and the aging of the population. Expected to drop from 11 million to 10 million, Cuba’s population is currently the oldest in Latin America, with 19 percent older than 60, a figure expected to rise to 30 percent in less than a decade. “Developed countries have low infant mortality, birth and fertility rates, but their populations don’t drop because they receive immigrants,” said Dr. Antonio Aja Díaz of the University of Havana’s Center for Demographic Studies. “But that’s not the case of Cuba.”
Interview: Ten urgent questions about Cuba’s dual currency (in Spanish), Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba Magazine
Economist Juan Triana Cordoví, a professor at the University of Havana, discusses the future of Cuba’s currency system. Focusing on ten key issues, Cordoví evaluates the effects of Cuba’s dual currency at present, the costs of currency devaluation, how long it might take to unify the currencies, and how Cuba may work to limit financial shocks.
Havana rising: the millennials pushing Cuba forward, Will Coldwell, The Guardian
The Guardian’s Will Coldwell spoke to young entrepreneurs in Havana who are creating space for innovative work in the arts and technology. The Fábrica de Arte Cubano, an arts venue founded by musician X Alfonso that combines concert spaces with art galleries, cinema, and a restaurant, “brilliantly showcases the country’s productivity and energy” and Cuban identity, Coldwell writes. Discussing young Cubans’ drive to create opportunities for themselves in Havana, Cuban designer Idania del Río, who runs a clothing shop, said, “There’s no way you can keep young people here without giving them a chance for a good job, a good way of life. But if people can do that here, it’s better.”
Cuba’s budding businesswomen learn on the fly, Carola Sole, AFP
A group of six women cuentapropistas traveled to Mexico City last month for the Women’s Forum for the Economy & Society, an international meeting of businesspeople and members of civil society to take on social and economic issues. Yamina Vicente, a former economics professor at the University of Havana who now runs a party decorations business in Havana called “Decorazón,” said of her work in Havana’s growing private sector, “Since this sector is so new, we need a lot of information on issues that are very common for the rest of the world, such as business vision, marketing.” Nearly all of the women AFP spoke to who attended the forum had worked for Cuba’s government, but had turned to the private sector as an opportunity to earn more money and run their own businesses.
The Family Garden Going Out of Style in Cuban Countryside, Ivet González, Inter Press Service
Ivet González reports on the declining practice of maintaining “conucos,” or home gardens for growing produce in rural Cuba. However, farmers and agriculture experts on the island, including the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Cuba office, are urging families to plant conucos again, to increase their food security and self-sufficiency, as local food markets’ supplies can vary wildly from week to week. Abel Acosta, an agronomy technician and flower grower in Mayabeque province, told IPS, “The new generations have a different concept; they plant with the idea of harvesting and seeing their profits grow quickly. They feed their families with whatever they are growing at that time to sell, and they buy everything else outside.”
Celebrities jam Havana streets for Chanel’s Cuban takeover, Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press
French luxury fashion label Chanel held its Cruise 2017 “resort collection” fashion show in Old Havana, drawing international celebrities to the glamorous event on the Paseo del Prado Boulevard, while many ordinary Cubans were unable to pass through the barricades to watch. OnCuba Magazine and New York Magazine provide further coverage of the fashion show, as well as photographs.
The United Nations’ Cuba office is honoring Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) and its director, Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, for their commitment to defending LGBTI rights and for generating public discussion about gender-based violence. In awarding CENESEX and Mariela Castro the “Únete al Compromiso con la Igualdad y la No Violencia de Género” award (Commitment to Equality and to Ending Gender-Based Violence), Myrta Kaulard, resident coordinator for the UN in Cuba, emphasized their pioneering work as the first institution in Cuba to join officially the international campaign against gender-based discrimination and violence.
Later this month, Cuba will celebrate National Anti-Homophobia and Anti-Transphobia Day, which, as Castro noted, will take place in a “favorable” context, in the aftermath of last month’s Seventh Party Congress, where delegates expressed support for broadening civil rights related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Cuba celebrates May Day
Cuba’s May Day celebration last weekend marked the 55th anniversary of the country’s literacy campaign, and served as an early birthday party for Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro, who will turn 90 in August. In one of the Revolution’s earliest and most durable achievements, over 700,000 Cubans learned to read and write, reducing the country’s rate of illiteracy from over 20% to 3.9%, in about one year. To commemorate both milestones, President Raúl Castro presided over the march in the Plaza de la Revolución, and Ulises Guilarte, Secretary General of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, addressed the crowd. CNN Español provides a slideshow from the day’s parade.
Cuba’s Foreign Relations
In Madrid this week, Spain and Cuba inked an accord to restructure the island nation’s sovereign debts. Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, the Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers signed agreements with Spain’s Minister of Economy and Competitiveness Luis de Guíndos that apply to Cuba’s medium- and long-term debts, and, as Granma reports, establish a counter-value fund to allow Spanish businesses to invest in Cuba using Cuban National Pesos.