12/23/2017: D17 and “The Right Thing”

December 23, 2017

December 17, 2014. Three years ago this week, Presidents Obama and Castro gave simultaneous addresses signaling to the world a historic shift in relations between the two countries. The announcement represented a move away from a policy that had failed for decades, yet oftentimes appeared interminable, and a step toward common-sense cooperation between two neighbors. It felt, as we wrote at the time, like “a day of miracles.”

Three years later, the euphoria has subsided. Though bilateral cooperation continues, recent U.S. policy changes and harsh rhetoric have cast a shadow over hopes of a swift end to this dangling Cold War remnant.

Speaking to reporters at the White House Sunday, President Trump acknowledged the anniversary. He said, “Hopefully everything will normalize with Cuba, but right now, they are not doing the right thing. And when they don’t do the right thing, we’re not going to do the right thing. That’s all there is to it.”

The President’s words amount to an admission of guilt – he acknowledges that his revamped U.S. policy toward Cuba isn’t “the right thing.”

He also continues, as we wrote two weeks ago, to recycle words from his predecessor. Three years ago, in his speech announcing the U.S. would pursue normalized relations with Cuba, President Obama said, “We are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future – for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.”

In any context, “the right thing” can be a subject of debate and contention. We won’t argue that here. What’s more concerning is that in recent months, U.S. policy has done a number of the wrong things, including curbing the rights of Americans to travel freely, imposing restrictions that will hurt U.S. and Cuban businesses, and separating families by slashing consular services.

President Trump went on to say, “We have to be strong with Cuba. The Cuban people are incredible people. They support me very strongly. But we’ll get Cuba straightened out.”

Of course, Cuba has yet to hold a straw poll on the Trump presidency. But we do know that engagement is overwhelmingly popular on the island – in a 2015 Washington Post/Univision poll, 97 percent of Cubans said that normalization is “good for Cuba,” and 96 percent of Cubans said the U.S. embargo on Cuba should be eliminated.

Attempts to dictate what the Cuban people may or may not support should not come from Washington or South Florida. Instead, we believe that by lifting its onerous restrictions, the U.S. can allow Cubans to be the determinants of their own future.

This sentiment is reflected in the words of Julia de la Rosa, Niuris Higueras, Marla Recio, and Yamina Vicente, four female Cuban entrepreneurs who took to the Miami Herald last week to stress the negative impact of the President’s Cuba policy.

They wrote, “Rhetoric, finger pointing, and restrictions are not the type of ‘support’ the Cuban people want and need. What we want are fully functioning embassies and the freedom of travel for Americans and Cubans alike. We can take care of the rest.”

The President’s words this week mirrored a common refrain of detractors of normalization: that the U.S. should wait for Cuba’s government to make reforms before engaging. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S. deportation of Cubans increases in FY2017

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 160 Cubans from the country in fiscal year 2017, up from 60 in 2016 and 40 in 2015, according to an ICE report. Despite the increase, the number represents just a fraction of the over 37,000 Cubans with deportation orders, as El Nuevo Herald reports. (That number was 28,400 last December.)

As we reported last week, U.S. apprehensions of Cuban migrants at sea and ports of entry declined by 64 and 71 percent, respectively, in fiscal year 2017. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft has attributed the precipitous drop in migrant interceptions to the Obama administration’s January decision to rescind the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, which previously allowed Cuban migrants a path to become legal permanent residents upon reaching U.S. soil.

In Cuba

Cuban government announces April leadership transition

Raul Castro confirmed Thursday that he will remain Cuba’s president until April, two months longer than previously expected, AP reports. The announcement comes as parliament extended the political cycle citing delays made necessary by Hurricane Irma’s devastation in September. Many Cubans and outside observers expect First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel will serve as Cuba’s next president. Castro is expected to retain his position as head of the Communist Party.

Cuban parliament announces new rules for Cuban entrepreneurs

Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo, who is also the head of the Cuban government’s reform commission, announced new controls and regulations for the non-State sector that come on the heels of earlier restrictions around the middle of this year. Reuters reports the restrictions stem from concerns of excess accumulation of wealth, inequality, and tax evasion. Murillo said there will be no new approvals for the time being for non-agricultural cooperatives, and maximum and minimum earnings will be limited to avoid the existence of de-facto private businesses. Cooperative leaders’ income levels will be capped at no more than three times the average wage of members. Business licenses will be limited to a single activity per entrepreneur, and private cooperatives will be limited to one province.

Cuba revises economic projections

The Cuban government said Thursday that after a recession in 2016, the economy grew 1.6 percent this year, a better performance than expected due largely to a 4.4 rise in income from tourism, along with smaller increases in transport, communications, agriculture and construction. Reuters reports that, while damage from Hurricane Irma totaled nearly 13.2 billion pesos, the number of foreign visitors to the island grew by nearly 20 percent in the first 11 months of the year.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

President Castro meets with Rosneft head as Venezuela scales back Cuba oil ties

Cuba’s President Raúl Castro and Igor Sechin, executive chairman of Russia’s state oil entity Rosneft, met December 16 to discuss shipping crude oil to Cuba, Reuters reports.

The meeting came two days after Granma wrote that Cuba’s Cienfuegos oil refinery, which was founded as a joint venture between Cuba and Venezuela, has been operating as a solely Cuban state entity since August. According to Granma, the factory has produced just eight million barrels of oil this year, despite averaging over double that number over the last decade. In March, Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA resumed exports of light crude oil to the Cienfuegos refinery after an eight-month freeze on shipments, but at a rate well below historic averages. Cuba imported just 72,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Caracas in the first half of 2017, compared with 83,000 barrels per day in the first half of 2016 and over 100,000 barrels per day in the first half of 2015.

Venezuela’s slipping involvement in Cuba’s oil sector has created a void which Russia has sought to fill. In May, Cuba signed an agreement with Rosneft to purchase nearly 1.9 million barrels of oil and diesel fuel, the largest agreement between Cuba and Russia since the early 1990s. In October, Rosneft stated that it intended to increase ties with the island, including possible work at the Cienfuegos refinery. This week, Reuters reported that Russia exported $225 million in goods to Cuba in the first 9 months of 2017, an 81 percent increase over the same period in 2016. Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow supplied the majority of Cuba’s energy through subsidized oil sales.

Cuba, regional allies meet in Havana for ALBA summit

Representatives from the trade bloc ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, met in Cuba this week for the 16th ALBA Political Council. Attendees included Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro.

In a joint statement on the summit, representatives from the group’s 11 member states called for closer ties among Latin American and Caribbean states, criticized the recent hardening of U.S. policy toward Cuba, encouraged continued dialogue within Venezuela regarding the country’s ongoing political issues, and expressed concern over turmoil in Honduras following presidential elections held last month.

What We’re Reading

CDA STATEMENT: CDA launches Cuba Leadership Circle

This week, the Center for Democracy in the Americas launched its Cuba Leadership Circle, comprised of corporate and individual supporters of U.S. engagement with Cuba. CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala stated, “We are proud to help promote commercial and citizen engagement opportunities with the knowledge that they will serve to benefit the Cuban people and increase ties between people in our two countries.”

U.S. and Cuban researchers join forces to bring lung cancer patients new hope, Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald

The Miami Herald’s Mimi Whitefield reports on ongoing collaboration between U.S. and Cuban scientists on the CIMAvax lung cancer vaccine. The New York-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute started clinical trials with the vaccine earlier this year, after signing an agreement with Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology during New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2015 trip to Cuba.

A renewed Harvard-Cuba connection, Harvard Gazette

Mark C. Elliott, vice provost of international affairs at Harvard University, and Aurora Fernández, Cuba’s vice minister of higher education, signed a Memorandum of Understanding at Havana’s Hotel Nacional this week to “support faculty and student research and study in Cuba,” as well as to “encourage Cuban students to apply for admission to Harvard and programs through normal channels.”

Cuba Central News Brief 12/15/2017

December 15, 2017

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S., Cuba hold migration talks; interdiction of Cubans drastically down

Officials from the U.S. State Department and Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) met in Washington Monday for the 31st meeting of the biannual Migration Talks series.

According to a MINREX press release, the two delegations discussed the benefits of cooperation between Cuba’s Border Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the effects of the State Department’s decision to freeze consular services at its Havana embassy. A State Department press release noted that the U.S. has met its annual commitment for the fiscal year ending September 30 to grant immigrant visas to 20,000 Cubans under the 1994 and 1995 Migration Accords.

Meanwhile, the State Department statement announced, “Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 64 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased by 71 percent.” Earlier this year, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft attributed the precipitous drop in migrant interceptions to the Obama administration’s January decision to rescind the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. (In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Coast Guarded interdicted 5,213 Cuban migrants at sea and the U.S. border patrol apprehended 1,930 Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry.)

Delta to alter Cuba routes; American and JetBlue look to consolidate Cuba frequencies

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines will cancel six of its seven weekly flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana, effective February 1, but is looking to add a second daily Miami-Havana flight, according to a letter published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle by Alexander Krulic, Delta’s associate general counsel for regulatory & international affairs.

Krulic writes, “Recent regulatory changes have resulted in lower demand for travel to Cuba from areas outside of South Florida.” The action comes just one week after Rodrigo Bertola, Delta Air Lines’ director for South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, said the company “is very happy” with its Cuba routes and is looking to add two more weekly flights, as EFE reported at the time.

Meanwhile, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways, who filed applications with the Department of Transportation in August to add new Cuba frequencies, have amended their requests to propose absorbing Cuba flight frequencies left behind by Delta and Frontier. (Frontier ended its service to the island, a once-daily Miami-Havana route, in March.) American and JetBlue had previously each proposed adding seven weekly flights to Havana to their current itineraries; this week, American filed with the Department of Transportation to add another seven weekly flights between Miami and Havana, and JetBlue filed to add seven weekly flights between Tampa and Havana and claim two of Delta’s flights between New York and Havana. Airlines FedEx, Southwest, and United also filed with the department in September to increase frequencies to the island. Read the rest of this entry »

Very Fresh Thinking

December 8, 2017

This week, President Trump said, “When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches.”

Three years prior, President Obama said something similar: “When I came into office, I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy… I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”

The two presidents were speaking about different issues. But, as we approach the third anniversary of the historic diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and Cuba, we can reflect on the progress made and the benefits accrued to people in both countries, and the folly of returning to the failed strategies of the past.

President Trump has clearly expressed his desire for new approaches in foreign policy. We hope that he will step back and reflect on how the fresh thinking in our Cuba policy over the past three years has already begun to heal the wounds of the past and to advance U.S. interests in the entire Western Hemisphere.

CDA’s Year End Appeal Continues– Preserve engagement with Cuba! Click HERE to support CDA’s advocacy work!

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Cuba Central News Brief: 12/1/2017

December 1, 2017

CDA’s Year End Fundraising Drive continues – Consider a gift today to help shape U.S. policy toward Cuba!

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba reaches 4.2 million travelers in 2017

Cuba has reached its 2017 goal of 4.2 million travelers one month ahead of schedule, according to CubaDebate. CubaDebate reports that the 4.2 million travelers include 573,000 visitors from the U.S.

Cuba announced last December that it was aiming for 4.2 million visitors in 2018, and stated in July that it was on target to reach the mark in spite of the threat of new U.S. travel restrictions (which have since been published). In 2016, Cuba received 4 million international visitors, including 285,000 from the U.S.

In Cuba

Cuba holds municipal elections

Cuba held elections for municipal assembly delegates last week, the first step in an election cycle which will culminate in the selection of a new president, Reuters reports. Municipal elections are the sole step of the process where candidates are directly elected.

The elections were originally scheduled for late October, but were postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. According to CubaDebate, the country saw 86 percent voter turnout, which the Miami Herald reports is its lowest mark in 40 years. CubaDebate also reports that women made up 35 percent of elected representatives, a slight increase over the number elected in 2015.

The elections also served as an arena for some U.S. and Cuban officials to trade barbs. Cuba’s First President Miguel Díaz-Canel, considered a possible successor to President Raúl Castro, said at a polling station “Our people don’t bow down … to external pressure and some people’s desire to see our system change,” and “The future [of U.S.-Cuba relations] depends on them, not us.” Meanwhile, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert opened her November 28 press briefing by calling the elections “a flawed process” under “an authoritarian state.”

Nestlé, Cuba break ground on new factory in Mariel

Nestlé S.A. and Cuba’s food enterprise Corporación Alimentaria have begun construction on a joint enterprise factory to produce coffee and powdered beverage products, cereal, and cooking aids, Reuters reports.

According to a press release from Nestlé, the Swiss multinational will invest roughly $55 million in the factory, which is expected to employ over 250 people and produce 18,500 tons in products annually. The factory is expected to open in January 2020. Nestlé currently operates two factories on the island, which produce mineral water, carbonated soft drinks, and ice cream.

Cuba begins 2017-2018 sugarcane harvest

A sugar mill in Cuba’s western Mayabeque province has begun harvesting sugarcane, marking the beginning of the country’s November-May harvest season, Reuters reports.

The 2017-2018 harvest season is marked by concerns over issues stemming from Hurricane Irma, which damaged 300,000 hectares of sugarcane crops and 40 percent of sugar refineries in Cuba.

Cuba’s 2016-2017 harvest led to the production of 1.8 million tons of raw sugar, a 20 percent increase over the 2015-2016 season; however, yields reached just 85 percent of the goal set by AZCUBA, Cuba’s state sugar enterprise. Cuba attributed the lower-than-expected yields to drought and poor irrigation and drainage systems, as Reuters reported at the time.

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