Cuba Central News Brief: 3/30/2018

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

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.

IN CUBA

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.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

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.

RECOMMENDED READING

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.

WHAT WE’RE LISTENING TO

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.

EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

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.

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