Cuba Central News Brief: 3/9/2018


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.


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