Cuba Central News Brief: 3/23/2018


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.

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