Cuba Central News Brief: 3/16/2018

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

This week, in Cuba News…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

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.

IN CUBA

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.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

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.

RECOMMENDED READING

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.

EVENTS

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.

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