Cuba Central News Brief 12/15/2017

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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.

U.S., Cuba hold Law Enforcement Dialogue

Officials from Cuba’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) and the Interior and the U.S. Departments of State and Homeland Security met Tuesday in Washington, DC for the fourth Law Enforcement Dialogue. The delegation focused on cooperation in combating human trafficking and irregular migration, according to a press release from MINREX.

The dialogue was implemented following the January 2017 signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on law enforcement cooperation, and was most recently held September 15 in Washington, the first such meeting under the Trump administration. In June, officials from Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior told Reuters that human trafficking between the two countries has dropped steeply since the January agreement.

Cuba to offer SMS messaging to U.S.

ETECSA, Cuba’s state telecommunications network, announced December 8 it would allow mobile users in Cuba to send SMS messages to the U.S., effective immediately, Granma reports. International text messages from Cuba cost 0.60 CUC per message (equal to U.S. dollars). (Nationally-sent messages cost 0.09 CUC.)

Since the U.S. and Cuba began the process of normalizing relations three years ago, U.S. telecommunications companies T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T have begun to offer mobile service in Cuba, while communications entities including Google and IDT also now operate on the island.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

President Castro visits Antigua and Barbuda for CARICOM summit

Cuba’s President Raúl Castro traveled to Antigua and Barbuda last weekend to attend a summit between Cuba and the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM. The event could be President Castro’s final multilateral meeting abroad as president, as President Castro has announced he will be stepping down as president in February, 2018.

The summit came on the 45th anniversary of the Caribbean bloc reestablishing relations with Havana, Granma reports. In his remarks, President Castro acknowledged the series of natural disasters, particularly hurricanes, that have affected the community in recent months, the threat of climate change, and Cuba’s history of sending doctors and construction workers to countries in the region.

What We’re Reading

U.S. policy is hurting Cuba’s entrepreneurs, Niuris Higueras, Yamina Vicente, Julia de la Rosa, and Marla Recio, Miami Herald

Four female Cuban entrepreneurs write in the Miami Herald, “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.”

Cuba exports medicine to dozens of countries. It would like the U.S. to be one of them, Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald

The Miami Herald’s Mimi Whitefield notes that the U.S. and Cuba could stand to mutually benefit from exchanging medical research and treatment strategies, but such interactions have been few and far between.

US Embassy in Cuba should not be a foreign relations pawn, Ralph Patino, Sun-Sentinel

Miami lawyer Ralph Patino, a founding member of the U.S. Cuba Business Council, urges, “Please President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, think about all the benefits of having a fully operational U.S. Embassy in Havana, rather than what has now been relegated to an outdated Cold War outpost.”

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