Cuba Central News Brief: 4/6/2018

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

President Trump and President Castro will attend Summit of the Americas

Peruvian Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Pareja confirmed the attendance of Presidents Donald Trump and Raúl Castro at the eighth Summit of the Americas next week in Peru, the AP reports; the Cuban government has not yet announced President Raúl Castro’s plans to attend. The Summit will focus on governance and anti-corruption, and will be held in Lima weeks after the resignation of former Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski amid allegations of corruption. With regional attention focused on the deepening political, economic, and humanitarian woes in Venezuela, and Venezuelan President Maduro’s vow to attend the Summit despite Peru’s decision to revoke his invitation, Cuba is not expected to be a focal point. President Trump will not meet with President Castro, according to White House officials, but we can expect U.S. officials to meet with Cuban participants in the Summit’s Civil Society Forum.

Cuba participated in its first Summit of the Americas in 2015, as we reported at the time, at which Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro held an historic meeting—a symbolic end to the more than half-century hostility between both governments. President Obama said the meeting put them on “a path toward the future,” reported the Washington Post. Cuba will undergo a historic leadership transition the week following the Summit, when Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel is expected to assume the presidency on April 19.

Visa difficulties force Esperanza Spalding, National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba to cancel Chicago concert

The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, has canceled a February 2019 concert in Chicago, according to a report from a Chicago-based public media organization WFMT. The move was reportedly attributed to visa difficulties resulting from the halt to most visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. As we previously reported, the U.S. Embassy in Havana stopped processing visa applications (with very few exceptions) following the October diplomatic drawdown, and recommends all Cuban nationals seeking non-immigrant visas to the U.S. to apply for those visas in a third country.

DOT awards new Cuba flights to U.S.-based airlines

The U.S. Department of Transportation tentatively awarded new U.S.-Havana routes to five major airlines from four cities in the country, reported USA Today. The decision was made after several carriers reduced service to Cuba last year, freeing up empty slots. The new flights proposed last week will include routes to Havana from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Houston. The Miami Herald reported that the schedule will likely be finalized later this month.

In June 2016, the department of transportation awarded the first commercial service to Cuba to six U.S. airline carriers: American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines. However, as we reported last November, Sun Country abandoned its Cuba flight allocation because, “The market demand remains uncertain and there is still a lack of clarity surrounding travel restrictions.”

New cruise lines, hotels; travel to Cuba remains popular

This week, Victory Cruise Lines announced plans for a series of 13- and 14-night cruises to circumnavigate Cuba between January and April 2019. Carnival Cruise Line also added departures—20 departures aboard Carnival Paradise from Tampa in 2019, reported SeaTrade Cruise News. This is in addition to 17 recently announced Cuba cruises aboard the Carnival Sensation departing from Miami in 2019 and the 11 cruises to the island aboard the vessel through next year. The Spanish Meliá Hotels International chain plans to open a total of seven new hotels in Cuba in 2018 in cities outside of Havana.

IN CUBA

Cuba boosts oil drilling

Cuba continues the extension of an horizontal oil well in Varadero, which should reach 8,240 meter depth this year, becoming the deepest in Latin America and the Caribbean, reports Prensa Latina. Last year Cuba Trade Magazine reported that due to the elevated costs of offshore drilling, foreign investors are interested in expanding production by using horizontal wells that grab the oil near the coastline. According to the article, Cuba’s domestic production comes from onshore drilling, and because the existing wells are maturing, onshore output has fallen 11 percent in the last decade or so. New operations are backed entirely with Cuban capital, according to Marcos Antonio Pestana Roque, head of a regional state oil enterprise.

Cuba desperately needs to reform currency system, but timing couldn’t be worse

Cuba’s Central Bank denied rumors last week that it had imminent plans to withdraw one of the island’s two currencies from circulation. However, economists agree that it will be very difficult for the Cuban economy to advance without unifying the two currencies, reports The Miami Herald. The article quotes Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist, who posits, “It is impossible for Cuba to achieve a significant and sustainable improvement in the productivity of its economy so long as it operates with two national currencies, with multiple exchange rates between them and an official exchange rate that is excessively overvalued.”

As we reported last week, according to the Central Bank, Cuban government officials have repeatedly stated that establishing a single monetary system is a top priority for this year, but they have not announced a more specific time table. Despite rumors that the CUC will be withdrawn from circulation this year, experts such as Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believe that, due to its many complexities, the next president won’t rush the currency unification.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has made the monetary consolidation a top priority in Cuba’s economic updating process, saying in December 2017 that the currency unification could no longer be delayed. More than 200 Cuban specialists are working the issue, according to the chairman of Cuba’s Economic Policy Commission.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

President Raúl Castro receives Saudi Foreign Minister

On Monday, President Raúl Castro received Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Minister, Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. During the visit, both parties stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation between both nations. This was the first visit to Cuba by a Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister. Minister Al-Jubeir also met with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Padilla, and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and Minister of the Economy, reports Prensa Latina.

RECOMMENDED READING

A Summit on the Brink: Trump in Latin America, Daniel P. Erikson, BlueStar Strategies

Dan Erikson previews the April 13-14 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, noting that unique circumstances may lead to it being an historic event.

Cuban Revolutions, Lauren Du Graf, The Topic

Audiences worldwide enjoy the talent of Cuban musicians, but what they do not know is how musicians record their albums in a vibrant underground music-recording industry in the streets of Havana. Check out the story of Isnay Rodríguez and Guampara Music, an independent music collective he runs out of his Centro Habana home.

EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

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. Emily Mendrala, CDA’s Executive Director, will speak on a panel discussion following the film screening.

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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