Cuba Central News Brief: 1/12/18

January 12, 2018

This week in Cuba news…


Tillerson tells AP Cuba still risky; FBI doubts sonic attack

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week that he would not send personnel back to the Embassy in Havana until Cuba’s government provides assurances that they can protect U.S. diplomats on the island, reports the Associated Press. Tillerson characterized the cause of the health ailments that afflicted 24 U.S. diplomats in Havana as “deliberate attacks,” however a new report by the FBI indicates that the Bureau’s ongoing investigation has found no evidence of sonic attacks. That report has not been released publicly

Returning from a trip to Cuba last week, Senator Jeff Flake said the Cuban Interior Ministry had received the same information from the FBI. Flake stated “There’s no evidence that somebody purposefully tried to harm somebody. Nobody is saying that these people didn’t experience some event, but there’s no evidence that that was a deliberate attack by somebody, either the Cubans or anybody else.”

On Tuesday, officials from the State Department’s Western Hemisphere, security, and medical bureaus testified before a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the subject, saying that the Department still does not understand the nature of the incidents. Francisco Palmieri, acting Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, said that it remained Cuba’s obligation to stop the attacks. The top Cuban official for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, forcefully rejected claims that the incidents were attacks and that the Cuban government was responsible for or aware of any actions against U.S. diplomats in Havana.

By law, the Secretary of State must convene an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to examine serious injury to diplomats serving overseas. CNN reports that retired Ambassador Peter Bodde, who led U.S. missions in Libya, Nepal, and Malawi, will head the ARB.

State Department softens travel warning to Cuba, recommends ‘reconsidering’ trip

This week, the State Department made changes to its travel alert system and downgraded the Cuba travel warning to “Reconsider travel,” reports the Miami Herald. The travel warning to Cuba was triggered in September by the Ordered Departure of diplomats in Havana in response to the mysterious ailments afflicting U.S. personnel, as we previously reported.

The new travel advisory for Cuba removes language in the original travel warning that held Cuba’s government responsible for preventing attacks on U.S. diplomats.  The advisory will be reviewed every six months. Travel to Cuba reached record levels in 2017, with over 1 million Americans visiting. Cuban entrepreneurs have already felt the impact of fewer U.S. visitors following the announcement of increased travel restrictions in June, but travel is still legal and straightforward, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Also this week, Norwegian Cruise Line announced it would double its Cuba-bound fleet by May 2018, sailing from Port Canaveral in addition to Miami.

A Poor Neighborhood In Chicago Looks To Cuba To Fight Infant Mortality

Health workers in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood are receiving mentorship and advice from Cuban doctors in their efforts to lower the local infant mortality rate, reports Kaiser Health News. The program, which brought three doctors and a nurse from Cuba to Chicago for five months, is a partnership between Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health and the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

Cuba has achieved a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., as we reported last week. Experts, such as Dr. Mary Anne Mercer of the University of Washington, point out that Cuba surveys and guarantees resources for at-risk pregnant women as a matter of course.


Algeria sends more oil to Cuba as Venezuelan supplies fall

Algeria exported 2.1 million barrels of light sweet crude oil to Cuba in 2017 and expects to make the same delivery in 2018, reports Reuters. This, along with 250,000 barrels of refined oil from Russia and a new 1.8 million barrel deal with Russian state oil company Rosneft, are intended to help offset the steep drop in Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba, which have fallen 40% since 2014. Cuba had relied on Venezuela for 70% of its fuel, including oil to refine and re-export.

In December, Venezuela formally abandoned its 49% stake in Cuba’s Cienfuegos oil refinery, which operated at just 37% of its 65,000 barrels per day capacity in 2017, due to the fuel shortage.


Cuba’s Five Issues to Watch in 2018, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Americas Society / Council of the Americas

Elizabeth Gonzalez previews key issues facing Cuba in 2018, including the forthcoming leadership transition, a new immigration policy, the economy, relations with other countries, and internet access.

Despite policy changes, many opportunities remain for US businesses in Cuba, Anya Landau French, The Hill

Anya Landau French, Senior Policy Advisor at the law firm Akin Gump, discusses opportunities for U.S. businesses to continue and deepen their engagement in Cuba.

Cuba has a lung cancer vaccine. Many US patients can’t get it without breaking the law, Sally Jacobs, PRI

Sally Jacobs, award-winning reporter, tells the stories of U.S. lung cancer patients forced to travel illegally to Cuba to obtain the medication that allows them to survive, due to new stringent U.S. travel rules.


Cuba Central News Brief: 1/5/2018

January 5, 2018

Happy New Year!

Thank you for your incredible support for CDA and our good work.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba allows Cuban descendants to apply for citizenship, with requirements

Cuba’s 2017 Gaceta Oficial, the publication of the country’s laws, included policy changes expanding possibilities for the children of Cubans living abroad to obtain Cuban citizenship. Beginning this week, it is no longer necessary for applicants to reside in Cuba for any length of time or for their parents to have been born in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald. Applications are still subject to political considerations, including whether the applicant or parents have committed acts considered counterrevolutionary by Cuba’s government.

Children of Cuban descents whose parents were born outside the island but later obtained Cuban citizenship may now apply and must pass a new citizenship exam proving knowledge of Cuba’s political system, current events, and the Spanish language, and must provide evidence of strong and sustained links to the island for at least two years. Cuban-Americans born in the U.S. would be subject to these requirements. The new changes do not alter Cuba’s eight-year travel ban on Cuban doctors, athletes, academics, and government officials who do not return from government missions abroad.

The changes taking effect this week were announced in October 2017, along with the removal of travel restrictions on Cubans who left the island by irregular means, including many Cuban-Americans. The decree is the latest in a series of measures easing restrictions on travel and citizenship requirements that began in 2013, when Cuba eliminated the exit visa requirement and began allowing Cubans to live abroad for two years without losing their citizenship.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

European Union’s top diplomat visits Cuba to strengthen ties

This week the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, visited Havana. Reuters reports the visit was intended to bolster EU economic and political relations with Cuba. In December 2016, the EU signed a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations, dissolving the previous EU Common Position toward Cuba, under which the EU had previously imposed sanctions on the island.

Mogherini met with Foreign Investment and Cooperation Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez. In public remarks, she highlighted the EU’s position as Cuba’s number one trading partner and forthcoming agreements on renewable energy and agriculture. She also criticized the U.S. trade embargo, stating her regret “that the current U.S. administration has apparently changed course with Cuba.” The European Investment Bank is scheduled to visit Cuba later in January. Mogherini concluded the two-day visit with a meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In Cuba

Cuba reaches lowest infant mortality rate in its history

In 2017, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was four per 1,000 births, according to preliminary data from Cuba’s Medical Records and Health Statistics Directorate. State newspaper Granma reports that this is the tenth consecutive year Cuba maintained an infant mortality rate below five per 1,000 live births. In 1970, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 38.7 per 1,000 births.

Japan leads major industrialized countries with an estimated infant mortality rate of 2 per 1,000 births in 2017. The estimated infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births in 2017.

What We’re Reading

Cuba Looks More to Russia as the Prospects for Better U.S. Ties Fade Under Trump, Interview with William M. LeoGrande, World Politics Review

American University Professor and Cuba expert William LeoGrande discusses Russia’s reinvigorated economic and political ties with Cuba in the context of soured U.S.-Cuba relations.

A Cuban Island That Has Played Both Paradise and Prison, Tony Perrottet, The New York Times

Travel author Tony Perrottet travels to Cuba’s Isle of Pines and describes its historical development from the prison island where Fidel Castro planned the Revolution, to a growing eco-tourism destination of today.


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