It Was Only a Year Ago…

It was only a year ago, on October 14, 2016, that U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice announced at the Woodrow Wilson Center a Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) on U.S.-Cuba normalization, directing agencies to “expand and promote authorized engagements with Cuba to advance cooperation on areas of mutual interest.” The PPD acknowledged areas of difference between the U.S. and Cuba, but stated an intent to “address such differences through engagement and dialogue, and by encouraging increased understanding between our governments and our peoples.” In one of his first acts on Cuba, President Trump repealed the PPD.

Coinciding with Rice’s announcement of the PPD, the Treasury Department released a series of regulatory reforms to allow for increased health, humanitarian, travel, and commercial transactions that would benefit the people of both the U.S. and Cuba.

Fast forward to October 2017. The next round of regulations related to Cuba, which will likely roll back some of last October’s reforms, will limit travel to and trade with the country, although the extent of the coming restrictions remains unknown. Meanwhile, the State Department’s latest actions to curb both countries’ diplomatic presence in each other’s capitals has thrown ice on joint discussions, including recent meetings of the U.S.-Cuba Law Enforcement Dialogue and Bilateral Commission in Washington. Both dialogues were due to meet next in Havana, but as the State Department has suspended all official delegations to Cuba, their status remains uncertain.

The Hill calls the combination of the State Department’s recent actions and the forthcoming regulations “a one-two punch” on Cuba’s economy, one that will primarily serve to hurt the Cuban people. The impacts are already beginning to show – bed and breakfast owner Julia de la Rosa told the Hill she has received 29 cancellations from U.S. travelers in the last month. (Julia was among a delegation of eight Cuban entrepreneurs who visited Washington in July, on a trip partly organized by CDA, to urge policymakers against increasing restrictions on ties with Cuba.)

As President Obama’s PPD stated, “Normalization necessarily extends beyond government-to-government rapprochement – it includes rebuilding bridges between individuals and families.” Even the staunchest detractors of engagement could not deny that increased connections between people in our two countries is a net positive – perhaps that’s why Marco Rubio has expressed support for a policy allowing travel by U.S. citizens to continue.

Meanwhile, in his latest statements addressing the mysterious health incidents involving our embassy community, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reemphasized that the U.S. maintains diplomatic relations with Cuba, and said that the U.S. will continue to cooperate with Cuba on outstanding issues. That he made these declarations shows that individuals at the highest level of the U.S. government understand that engagement with Cuba has important implications.

The latest twists in the ever-mercurial U.S.-Cuba relationship are undoubtedly a step backward, and one that will surely hurt people on both sides of the Florida Straits. But they do not spell doom and gloom – we continue to believe that the positive results from engagement will inevitably win out over ideas that are entrenched in the failed policies of administrations past.

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Díaz-Canel speaks out against U.S. conditions for normalization

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s first vice president, stated this week, “Cuba will not … negotiate its principles or accept constraints” as a precursor to the U.S. lifting restrictions on travel to and trade with the island, the Miami Herald reports. Mr. Díaz-Canel, who was speaking at a ceremony in Santa Clara commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of Che Guevara, also criticized U.S. sanctions against Venezuela.

Mr. Díaz-Canel’s remarks came three days after President Donald Trump stated at a Hispanic Heritage Month event at the White House, “We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until it delivers full political freedom for the Cuban people.” Mr. Díaz-Canel is considered a possible successor to Cuba’s President Raúl Castro, who has stated that he will step down from the presidency when his current five-year term ends in February.

U.S.-Cuba direct mail suspended since March

Direct mail service between the U.S. and Cuba has been suspended since March, when a year-long pilot program for direct mail expired, and negotiations for a longer-term agreement have not yet concluded, AFP reports.

According to the Associated Press, since that time, mail has been routed through third party countries, and mail between the U.S. and Cuba is down 46 percent in 2017 compared with 2016. The Cuban News Agency reports that despite the halt, U.S. and Cuban officials “are ready to sign the agreement” to reinstate service.

The U.S. and Cuba agreed in December 2015 to reinstall direct mail service for the first time in over 50 years; service officially began in March 2016, coinciding with President Obama’s trip to the country.

Cuba, Port of Cleveland sign trade Memorandum of Understanding

The Port of Cleveland and Cuba’s Maritime Administration signed in Havana last Friday a Memorandum of Understanding to increase commercial ties, ABC reports. According to Darrell McNair, chairman of the Port, the agreement had been under negotiation for over a year, WOSU, Columbus’ NPR affiliate, reports.

Cities in Virginia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas have signed maritime agreements with Cuba. Cleveland is the first city without an Atlantic Ocean border to do so.

Editor’s note: Per President Trump’s National Security Memorandum on Cuba policy, relevant agencies began the process of drafting new regulations July 16. You can find the Cuba Central Team’s comprehensive overview of what we do and don’t know about the President’s Cuba policy at this link.

In Cuba

September rains abate Cuba’s draught

Cuba received rainfall levels in September 185 percent greater than the month’s historical average, filling the country’s reservoirs to 71 percent of capacity, according to Cuba’s National Institute for Hydraulic Resources (INRH), Granma reports.

The increase is largely due to the effects of Hurricane Irma, which raised reservoir levels from 40 to 64 percent of capacity, according to the INRH. The majority of rainfall in Cuba last month occurred in the country’s eastern and central provinces, the areas which had previously been the most severely affected by low reservoir levels.

Since 2015, Cuba has suffered from an intense drought, the country’s longest-lasting in over 100 years. In March, EFE reported that reservoirs were at just 38 percent of capacity, and in April, INRH representatives declared that it would take Cuba two years to recover from the drought with normal rainfall.

What We’re Reading

America should strengthen, not abandon, relationship with Cuba, Mark Feierstein, The Hill

Mark Feierstein, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes that while recent drawbacks in staff at the U.S. and Cuban Embassies will undoubtedly affect diplomatic efforts, “other forms of engagement do not have to end.”

The Trouble With Cuba’s New Economy, William LeoGrande, Americas Quarterly

William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University, discusses Cuba’s fiscal reforms and the myriad challenges currently facing the country’s economy.

Cuban oil work moves toward exploration phase, United Press International

Austrian company Melbana Energy Limited is moving forward with exploratory plans to drill for oil off the coast of Cuba. Cuba has recently sought foreign investment to increase its ability to drill for oil, after claiming to discover reserves in its waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

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