Cuba Central News Brief: 3/30/2018

March 30, 2018


Update to Immigrant Visa Processing for Cuban Nationals

In the coming months, Cuban nationals seeking immigrant visas to the United States will no longer be processed at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, but will now conduct visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guayana, the State Department announced Thursday. Due to the halt in consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which we previously reported, Cuban nationals must process visa applications in a third country. While Cubans applying for non-immigrant visas can apply at any U.S. Embassy or consulate outside of Cuba, immigrant visa applications are limited to one pre-determined location. A State Department spokesman stated, “In determining an alternative location, now Georgetown, Guyana, we considered a number of factors including availability of flights, visa requirements, space to accommodate additional applicant files, and availability of staff.”

In contrast to Colombia, Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Guyana. However, a round-trip flight from Havana to Guyana in early June costs approximately twice as much as one from Havana to Bogotá, and, while multiple airlines offer regular non-stop service between Havana and Bogotá, the majority of flights to Georgetown, Guyana require a layover.

Kennedy Center Hosts Cuban Art and Culture Festival in May; Cultural Diplomacy

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., will host Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, a Cuban art and cultural festival, in May. The festival will feature performances by Cuban musicians and dancers, as well as works of theater and visual art. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported the official Cuban delegation will number almost 200 and will amount to a significant cultural diplomacy push in a time of political tension and diminished cultural exchange. At a press conference in Havana this week, Fernando Rojas, Cuba’s Deputy Culture Minister, called the festival “a gift for those who yearn for peace.”

The full schedule can be found here, and will include Pablo Milanés, the band Los Van Van, the painter Roberto Fabelo, jazz performer Yissy García y su Bandancha, as well as pianists Aldo López-Gavilán and Jorge Luis Pacheco.


Cuba’s Communist Party Admits Errors, Slowdown in Reforms

This week, Communist Party officials gathered at a two-day central committee plenary session where they expressed a commitment to continuing efforts to update Cuba’s economic model, a process initiated in 2011 by President Raúl Castro, Reuters reports. The reforms, which are designed to shrink the state sector and the subsidized services it offers citizens; expand the private sector through cooperatives, self-employment, and small-scale private enterprise; and seek foreign investment, moved quickly at first, but have stalled in recent years. Marino Murillo,  Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, attributes the slow pace to a number of factors, including a disengaged Cuban bureaucracy. Additionally, as we previously reported, Cuba suspended the issuance of new business licenses for certain private-sector activities as it reportedly implemented reforms and corruption safeguards. Reuters reports frustration among Cubans, who expected reforms to move more quickly.

Cuba quashes rumors currency unification around corner

Cuba’s Central Bank denied rumors Thursday that it would withdraw one of the island’s two currencies from circulation over the weekend, reports Reuters. The official note was released after Cubans were rushing to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) for Cuban pesos. Cuban government officials have repeatedly stated that establishing a single monetary system is a top priority for this year, as we reported. According to the Central Bank, the date of the currency unification has not yet been set, and recalled the decision made by the Communist Party in its last congress to guarantee bank deposits in accounts in foreign currencies, CUCs, and Cuban pesos.


Vietnam State Visit to Cuba

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, arrived in Havana Wednesday for a three-day state visit, reports Granma. He met with President Castro, Esteban Lazo, President of the Parliament, and other top Cuban officials. The two countries signed several governmental and business cooperation agreements, including one on cooperation on rice production for the 2018-2022 period, reports Prensa Latina. They also signed several Memoranda of Understanding on technical and scientific cooperation, environmental protection, response to climate change, and cooperation on construction.

Cuba also granted the first concession to administer and market part of the Mariel Special Development Zone to Viglacera S.A., a Vietnamese company, reports Reuters. Havana and Hanoi established diplomatic relations in December, 1960, and maintain close ties.


Cuba After the Castros, Marguerite Jiménez, Foreign Affairs

In Foreign Affairs, Marguerite Jimenez, Director of the Cuba Program at the Washington Office on Latin America and professor at American University and Georgetown University, profiles Cuba’s likely next president, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and makes the case for Washington to engage with Cuba’s next president.

First Female U.S. Envoy to Cuba Couldn’t Even Get a Seat at a Baseball Game

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston runs an excerpt from her recently released book, Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle With Castro’s Cuba in the Daily Beast.


Oil Drilling in Cuba: How Soon? How Safe?, Dan Whittle, Columbia Energy Exchange

Dan Whittle, Senior Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba Program, speaks with Columbia Energy Exchange host Bill Loveless about U.S.-Cuba engagement on energy and environmental issues, Cuba’s energy needs, and lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

D.C.’s Atlas Performing Arts Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/2018

March 23, 2018


With Bolton, Trump creates a hard-line foreign policy team

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced the departure of national security adviser General HR McMaster and the accession of John Bolton to the position, reports the New York Times. Bolton served as Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Bolton will take charge of the National Security Council on April 9 and, along with the president’s nominee for Secretary of State, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, will form the administration’s core foreign policy duo. Pompeo, who criticized former President Obama’s decision to travel to Cuba, will undergo a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing in April.

Mr. Bolton has a history of confrontation and inflammatory statements toward Cuba, reports Cuba expert Phil Peters, who was a State Department appointee under the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. As Under Secretary of State for Arms Control, Bolton in 2002 accused Cuba of developing biological weapons in collaboration with U.S. adversaries and said Cuba remained a “terrorist” threat to the U.S. Bolton’s disputed claims were shown to be baseless in the 2004 National Intelligence Estimate, which found that while Cuba had the technical capability to produce biological agents, there was no evidence of any biological weapons development. Bolton criticized the rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S. in December 2014, calling the decision to pursue normalized relations “an unmitigated defeat for the United States.”

U.S. and Cuban companies reach agreement on diabetes treatment

This week Cuban and U.S. biotech firms announced an agreement to conduct U.S. clinical trials for FDA approval of a Cuban-developed diabetic foot ulcer treatment, reports Granma. Previous clinical trials showed that Heberprot-P safely accelerates the healing of deep and complex diabetic foot ulcers, thus reducing diabetes-related amputations.

1.5 million U.S. citizens are diagnosed with diabetes every year, according to the American Diabetes Association. According to Mercurio Biotec, the U.S. firm that will conduct trials of Heberprot-P, 25% of diabetic patients will be affected by diabetic foot ulcers (DFU) in their lifetime, and of those who develop DFU, 50% develop infection and 35% do not heal properly.

Mercurio Biotec’s agreement with Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIBG) was made possible under the framework provided by the June 2016 Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Cuba’s Ministry of Health.


Cuba cracks open wholesale food sales for state-linked cooperatives

Cuba opened the country’s first wholesale outlet in Havana to supply formerly state-run restaurants converted to cooperatives, reports Reuters. The market, known as Mercabal, sells staples such as rice, beans, meat, and beer at a 20 to 30 percent discount, and serves only the few dozen Havana state restaurants that were ordered to become co-ops in 2015 as part of President Raúl Castro’s economic reform process. Private restaurants owned by entrepreneurs are excluded from the new wholesale market.

The move was reportedly made to help the struggling co-ops fill their quotas of supplies without having to turn to expensive state retail markets, where private restaurants must buy their supplies. Cuba has routinely imposed price controls to ensure access to food for citizens in the face of rising prices and shortages that sometimes result from rising tourism demand, as we previously reported.

The wholesale model will eventually expand nationwide, said Interior Trade Minister Mary Blanca Ortega Barredo, extending the lower prices to the approximately 100 cooperative restaurants across the island, but not the 2,000 privately owned ones.


As Castro prepares to leave office, Trump’s Cuba policy is a road to nowhere, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker

New Yorker staff writer Jon Lee Anderson discusses Cuba’s forthcoming presidential succession and leadership changes throughout Latin America, arguing that the Trump administration’s confrontational and opportunistic approach will ultimately be self-defeating.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

DC’s Atlas Performing Art Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 3/16/2018

March 16, 2018

ICYMI: In Cuba, let’s get back in the game, by CDA’s Emily Mendrala in The Hill

This week, in Cuba News…


At State, Tillerson out; Pompeo to step in

On Tuesday, President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and announced his plan to nominate current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him, reports the New York Times. Tillerson oversaw the State Department’s role in the administration’s Cuba policy review, which directed the revision of regulations intended to restrict travel to and transactions with Cuba, enacted in November 2017. Earlier this month, Tillerson extended staffing cuts to the U.S Embassy, as we previously reported.

Pompeo, who will face opposition to his nomination as Secretary of State, represented Kansas’s 4th district as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011-2017. Observers consider Pompeo hawkish and most focused on potential threats to U.S. security. In a May 2017 hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pompeo agreed with Sen. Rubio’s proposition that Cuba exploits warmer bilateral ties to exert pressure to end the embargo. In 2016, he criticized former President Obama’s decision to travel to Cuba, accusing him of granting “unilateral concessions.”

Cuban emigres return home

Thousands of Cubans who emigrated to the U.S. are considering returning to the island, reports the Miami Herald.  Cuba’s government eased the country’s migration laws in 2013 to allow people who left the island to “repatriate” and claim the benefits of Cuban citizenship, including home ownership. Almost 12,000 Cubans applied for repatriation in 2017. The Herald reports that, under the migration reforms, Cubans can live abroad for up to two years at a time without losing their residency status.

People interviewed by El Nuevo Herald cited varied reasons for returning to Cuba, including family ties, access to affordable medical care, plans to invest in Cuban businesses, and the intent to engage in political activism. Many did not plan to live in Cuba full-time.

Cubans in the United States who want to repatriate to the island may lose some of their U.S. benefits, reports the Miami Herald in the second installment of a two-part article. For example, U.S. citizens cannot receive social security benefits while in Cuba.

Furthermore, attorney Claudia Cañizare says Cubans who became U.S. residents under refugee or political asylum status, were they to return to Cuba, would be “admitting they are not afraid of returning to Cuba,” and would risk having their U.S. resident status and related benefits revoked.

The Cuban constitution does not recognize dual citizenship. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality.


Cuba holds vote for national and provincial legislators

On Sunday, Cubans voted to fill seats in the national and provincial assemblies, reports Reuters. The national assembly is scheduled to select Cuba’s next president on April 19. First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who cast his vote along with this wife in his home province of Villa Clara, is widely assumed to be the incumbent, as we previously reported. The 57-year-old Díaz-Canel represents a generational change in the leadership of Cuba’s government, having been born after the 1959 Revolution and having no military ties.

Díaz-Canel on Sunday told reporters that under the next government, “The people will participate in the decisions that the government takes… There has to be a focus on ties to, links with, the people,” reports the Associated Press.

Despite the forthcoming presidential leadership change Cubans do not expect dramatic changes to occur in the single-party system. President Raúl Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, which drives official policy in Cuba.

Preliminary returns from the one-party vote indicated lower than normal turnout for the election, at just below 86 percent of eligible voters, but the official figures place turnout at 89 percent, a slight increase over the 2015 elections, reports the Miami Herald.

Cuba’s electoral process began in November 2017. In participatory forums, Cubans chose delegates at the local level to serve in 168 municipal assemblies. A party-controlled commission composed of mass and social organizations, and designed to represent the people, consults with the municipal assemblies in order to compile candidature slates for provincial delegates and the Members of the National Assembly (currently comprised of 612 members or deputies). Cuban voters ratify the selections at the ballot box. Cuba’s president is then elected by the National Assembly.


OPEC to invest $25 million in Havana water and sanitation system

Cuba will receive $25 million from the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) to fund upgrades to the water supply and sanitation system in Havana, reports Prensa Latina. The investment will make infrastructure improvements in more than 60 percent of the city, impacting 30,000 residents, and will extend to the city’s periphery through 2021.

The project comes on the heels of a $10 million donation by Japan to purchase sanitation equipment for Havana announced in February and a $45 million loan agreement by OFID to support Cuba’s solar power program announced last week.


In Cuba, let’s get back in the game, Emily Mendrala, The Hill

CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala makes the case for increased diplomatic engagement with Cuba at a critical moment in Cuba’s history.

Havana’s symphony of sound, Reif Larsen, New York Times

Novelist and filmmaker Reif Larsen recounts his trip to Havana in January, describing his first experience of the island’s rich culture.

Exploring the mysteries of Cuba’s coral reefs, Bryn Nelson, Science News for Students

Science writer Bryn Nelson explores Cuba’s robust coral reefs and discusses lessons for marine ecosystem revitalization and protection worldwide.

Inside a Cuban cigar factory, CNN

CNN gives a virtual tour of the Partagás cigar factory in Havana, which has produced hand-rolled cigars since 1845.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

DC’s Atlas Performing Art Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 3/9/2018

March 9, 2018


Marine science and search and rescue collaborations endure despite political chill between U.S., Cuba

This week U.S. and Cuban government officials and experts met in Fort Lauderdale to advance coordination plans for oil spill prevention and mitigation in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Cuba was represented by several Cuban Ministries and its National Civil Defense Staff, and the Department of State and the Coast Guard represented the U.S. in two days of working sessions.

Oil spill response and the prevention of overfishing are top priorities for the Coast Guard, which established a permanent presence in Cuba in 2000. Even with the September 2017 ordered departure of U.S. personnel, the Coast Guard maintains an officer stationed in Havana.

“For the most part, our work stays professional, constructive and apolitical,” said Peter Brown, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Seventh District in Miami. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry characterized the sessions similarly: “The working sessions were held… in a professional and mutually respectful ambiance. This exchange reflects the importance of bilateral cooperation for the protection of the marine environment in a region of great economic importance for both countries as is the Gulf [sic] of Mexico and the Florida Straits.”

Also this week, the Coast Guard and Cuban counterparts participated in tabletop exercises in Key West to strengthen cooperation on search and rescue in the Florida Straits, and they propose a second exercise to take place in Havana before the end of the year.


Cuba to hold National Assembly elections this weekend

On Sunday Cubans will vote to fill the 605 seats comprising their country’s National Assembly, the next step in Cuba’s presidential succession, reports Agence France Presse. With exactly 605 candidates emerging from the electoral process that began in November 2017, the outcomes are certain.

Cuba’s 31-member Council of State will designate Cuba’s next president, who will succeed Raúl Castro on April 19. The Council of State is selected by the National Assembly. Cuba’s First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, is expected to take the helm, as we previously reported. The incoming president will face challenges, which include continuing the ongoing economic reform process in Cuba and establishing legitimacy as the first president in 60 years who did not participate in Cuba’s 1959 Revolution. Cuban professor and lawyer Julio Cesar Guanche says that the new president’s legitimacy will come from “institutional performance” rather than personal history.

Cuba imposes new restrictions on imports

This month Cuba instituted restrictions on imports by state-run companies in order to meet foreign obligations and stem increasing commercial debt amid a shortage of cash, reports Reuters. Affected firms now must obtain a letter of credit from Cuba’s central bank for purchases exceeding $100,000.

The latest measure to regulate import demand may lead to a short-term drop in imports and a longer-term reduction in supplies, and possibly the shuttering of insolvent state companies, according to a banker with experience working with Cuba.

Since 2016, Cuba’s economy has suffered under reduced deliveries of subsidized oil from Venezuela and lower commodity prices for its exports. Cuba restructured a significant portion of its official debt and currently faces mounting pressure from commercial creditors to come to a settlement, as we previously reported.

Cuba resumes sugar exports as milling stabilizes

Cuba began exporting raw sugar in late February, but remains far behind the planned harvest schedule, reports Reuters. Following Hurricane Irma and a rainy start to the year, Cuba cancelled sugar exports in January, as we previously reported.

The November – April harvest season was expected to yield 1.6 million tons of raw sugar, despite damage to the industry from Irma, but Reuters estimates that the heavy winter rainfall has set back production by more than 300,000 tons. A Cuban agricultural expert said he expects this season’s production to fall short of 1.3 million tons.


OPEC fund grants $45 million to Cuba’s solar program

The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) signed a $45 million loan agreement for Cuba’s Solar Energy Development Project, reports Renewables Now. The loan will be used to expand installed capacity of solar electricity generation and deploy photovoltaic (PV) systems and solar water heaters in residential and industrial settings.

Cuba recently announced a $4 billion agreement with the European Union to promote renewable energy on the island, as we reported. Cuba aims to generate 24 percent of the island’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Currently, renewables account for less than 5 percent of Cuba’s electricity generation.

Ex-Bolivian, Colombian presidents say Cuba denied them entry

Former Presidents Andres Pastrana of Colombia and Jorge Quiroga of Bolivia said they were turned away by Cuban authorities this week upon landing in Havana, reports Reuters. The conservative ex-leaders traveled to the island on behalf of the Democratic Initiative of Spain and the Americas (IDEA) to receive an award from Cuban political dissidents.

Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma accused IDEA of provoking instability and seeking to tarnish Cuba’s international reputation.


What the U.S. government is not telling you about those ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, Peter Kornluh, The Nation

Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive discusses the role of the intelligence community in the U.S. response to mysterious illnesses that affected U.S. officials in Havana.

How to stop the U.S.-Cuba backslide, William M. LeoGrande, Americas Quarterly

William LeoGrande of American University discusses the pernicious effects of downgrading the Embassy in Havana and suggests solutions to break the current impasse in bilateral relations.

El Salvador Update: A debacle foretold, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, El Salvador expert and CDA Advisory Board Member, examines El Salvador’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections and what the results mean for the country.

How Cuba Became a Biopharma Juggernaut, Andrés Cárdenas O’Farrill, Institute for New Economic Thinking

Cuban Economist Andrés Cárdenas O’Farrill gives a detailed look at the sophisticated Cuban biotechnology industry rooted in the country’s universal public health system.


Cuba Central News Brief: 3/2/2018

March 2, 2018


State Department extends cuts to U.S. Embassy in Cuba despite calls for increased diplomacy

The Trump administration will extend the deep staffing cuts at the U.S. Embassy indefinitely, reports ABC News. The new permanent staffing plan by the Department of State caps Havana at the emergency staffing level of 18 diplomats, beginning March 5. The Embassy will operate as an unaccompanied post, in which diplomats serve abroad without their family members. In a media note, the State Department acknowledged that it still does not have answers on the source or cause of the health ailments experienced by U.S. personnel, which precipitated the Ordered Departure of personnel in September 2017.

Many of the personnel ordered to leave Havana appealed to senior State Department officials to remain at the Post at the time. The group of 35 diplomats and spouses wrote, “We are aware of the risks of remaining at Post. And we understand that there may be unknown risks. We ask that the Department give us the opportunity to decide for ourselves whether to stay or leave,” reports ProPublica.

The move to maintain only a skeletal diplomatic presence in Havana implies significant impacts on U.S. intelligence, Cuban migration, and support for people in Cuba. Since the September 2017 Ordered Departure, some dozen U.S. diplomats, including only one consular officer, have staffed the Embassy in Havana. Virtually all normal Embassy functions have been stopped, as we reported last week. Consular services in Havana have been suspended for Cubans seeking to visit or immigrate to the U.S., forcing them to travel to third countries for interviews and processing. Immigrant visas fell from an average of 800 issued per month before the September 2017 staff drawdown to just 22 issued in December. The State Department informed Cuba’s government that it is likely to fall short of the 1994 bilateral migration agreement to accept 20,000 Cuban immigrants per year, as we reported. State Department officials said that Department and U.S. immigration authorities still have no plan to mitigate the visa crisis.

U.S. Representative Kathy Castor of Florida traveled to Cuba on a congressional delegation last week and subsequently sent a letter to Secretary Tillerson urging him to restore full staffing at the Embassy in Havana. Castor cited the detrimental impacts of the lack of consular services on families, who are prevented from reuniting for important family events and now face the onerous prospect of having to travel to Colombia for immigration visas.

Castor also called on the State Department to reverse the Cuba travel advisory, which has significantly hurt Cuban entrepreneurs who have grown their businesses on serving U.S. visitors. A group of 28 tour operators and educational travel organizations petitioned the Department of State this week to downgrade the advisory as well, citing the lack of any confirmed reports of health ailments similar to those reported by U.S. personnel among the 700,000 civilian U.S. visitors to Cuba in 2017.

A survey of 462 recent U.S. travelers to Cuba found that 83% of travelers believe Cuba is “very safe” and less than 1% believe that the country is “unsafe.” The majority of respondents also indicated that they believe Cuba is “very well prepared” to respond to environmental, health and crime related situations. Despite the sharp downturn in U.S. travel to Cuba following the Trump administration’s policy pronouncements and issuance of the travel advisory, U.S. tour companies continue to expand their activities in Cuba. This week Cuba Travel Services and ABC Charters, which have operated in Cuba for almost two decades, each announced that they received authorization to open offices in Cuba.

Researchers find possible explanation for the “sonic weapon” mystery

Scientists may have found an explanation for the mysterious sounds that have been associated with the health ailments afflicting U.S. diplomats in Cuba, reports IEEE Spectrum. U.S. and Chinese computer science and engineering researchers successfully reverse engineered ultrasonic signals that could have led to outcomes like the sounds reportedly heard by U.S. personnel in Havana in 2016 and 2017. Their experiments combined ultrasonic signals of differing frequencies emitted from electronic to produce audible sounds. According to the researchers, ultrasonic signals can come from room occupancy sensors, jammers, or other types of transmitters.

The experiments are described in detail in a technical report published this week by the University of Michigan. Report co-author Kevin Fu said that “if ultrasound is to blame, then a likely cause was two ultrasonic signals that accidentally interfered with each other, creating an audible side effect… Each device might have been placed there by a different party, completely unaware of the other.” The researchers said they believe that high amplitude ultrasonic signals could easily produce audible noises that could harm human hearing as an unintentional byproduct. Fadel Adib, MIT professor and specialist in wireless sensor and communications technology, who was not involved in the research, reviewed the results of the experiments and concluded, “Given all the possible explanations, this definitely seems the most plausible and the most technically feasible.”

Wildfires threatened Guantánamo Navy base. Cuba’s Frontier Brigade came to the rescue

The U.S. and Cuban militaries engaged in an unprecedented collaboration to extinguish wildfires that threatened the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, reports the Miami Herald. Cuba’s Eastern Frontier Brigade dispatched three fire trucks and a helicopter, which operated for hours dumping water on the blaze. Cuban military firefighters joined their U.S. counterparts inside the fence line to combat the fire on the northern side of the base.

A military spokesperson lauded the cooperation, as we reported last week. Base commander Navy Captain Dave Culpeper said that the successful and seamless collaboration had nothing to do with politics, but resulted from the longstanding U.S.-Cuba military-military contact and joint training exercises conducted regularly.


Cuban official indicates no increased taxes for private workers

Marino Murillo, Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, met with residents of Havana and twelve candidates for the Parliament and the Provincial Assembly of the People’s Power this week. According to meeting participants, Mr. Murillo stated that there is no immediate plan to raise the tax burden on self-employed workers, and indicated that the government will reopen the issuance of new licenses for some private sector occupations frozen in August 2017. During the meeting, he answered questions about the dual currency, the future of the private sector, and the creation of a wholesale market for the self-employed. Earlier this month Cuban Finance Minister Meisi Bolaños announced that tax system tweaks were coming in 2018, as we reported.

Cuba’s Capitol reopens after years of restoration

Cuba’s Capitol is open to the public following eight years of restoration, reports Reuters. The building, most recently occupied by Cuba’s Ministry of Science and Technology, will return to its use as the seat of the national assembly, which will convene on April 19 to select a new president. The restoration, undertaken by the Office of the City Historian of Havana, began in 2010. The structure stands 12 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol, on which its design is based.


Cuban cigar sales hit record as China demand surges

Profits for Cuban cigar manufacturer Habanos S.A. rose 12 percent to a record $500 million last year, driven by demand in China, reports Reuters. According to Habanos executives, China could overtake Spain and France to become the company’s largest export market. Sales in China increased 33 percent in 2017. Habanos S.A. is a 50-50 joint venture between the Cuban state and Britain’s Imperial Brands Plc.

Cuba hosts discussion on Caribbean environment management

Representatives and experts from around the Caribbean convened in Havana this week under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), reports Prensa Latina. The UN’s Global Environment Facility-funded Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (GEF IWEco) steering committee met to advance its five-year project to address water, land, and biodiversity resource management, as well as climate change. Ten countries participated as well as regional and international partners.


Cuba’s economy after Raúl Castro: A tale of three worlds, Richard E. Feinberg, Brookings Institution

Political economist Richard Feinberg analyzes Cuba’s economy, suggesting reforms that could fit the uniquely Cuban context to create growth, attract investment, and ameliorate inequality.

Filling the void: Chinese-Cuban relations continue apace, Teresa García Castro and Philip Brenner, China Policy Institute: Analysis

Philip Brenner of American University and Teresa García Castro of the Washington Office on Latin America summarize the Sino-Cuban relationship and deepening bilateral ties.

How Cuba’s medical model could transform South Africa’s, Lungile Pepeta, BusinessDay

Dean of Health Sciences at Nelson Mandela University Lungile Pepeta examines Cuba’s medical system and draws lessons for improving public health in South Africa.

Cuban artist switches Havana’s neon lights back on, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Chief Cuba Correspondent Sarah Marsh profiles Cuban artist Lopez Nieves, who is restoring Havana’s historical neon signage.