Cuba Central News Brief: 04/13/2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

President Trump to skip Summit of the Americas; State Department representatives meet with Cuban civil society

The White House announced this week that Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru in place of President Trump, who has elected to stay in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world.” The summit takes place less than a week before Cuba is due to select a new president; Cuba’s current president Raúl Castro is expected to travel to Lima this weekend. U.S. officials stated last week that President Trump would not meet with President Castro.

On Thursday, Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and USAID Administrator Mark Green met with those Cuban civil society members who traveled to Lima apart from the official Cuban government delegation, according to a State Department press release. Earlier this week, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement in response to reports of Cuba’s government acting to prevent members of Cuba’s civil society from traveling to the summit, calling on Cuba “to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” The remarks have led some, such as Cuba Educational Travel President Collin Laverty, to criticize Spokesperson Nauert’s characterization, noting the persistence of U.S. restrictions that limit its citizens’ ability to visit Cuba.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who earlier this week expressed his opposition to Cuba’s participation in the summit, will also travel to Lima.

U.S., Cuba hold agriculture exchange; Cuba’s U.S. Ambassador meets with Cuban Americans in Florida

Representatives from the U.S. and Cuban departments of agriculture and foreign affairs met in Washington, D.C. April 10 and 11 for a technical exchange on cooperation in agriculture.

According to a press release from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the exchange primarily served to review both countries’ actions to implement the bilateral Memoranda of Understanding on Agriculture and Understanding on Animal and Plant Health, agreements signed in March 2016 and January 2017, respectively, as part of the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba. The press release also noted, “Both delegations shared the view to underscore the importance of maintaining the bilateral cooperation in these topics.”

Separately, José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., met with Cuban Americans in Miami this week to discuss “the Cuban election process and the consular services that the Embassy of Cuba in Washington D.C. continues to provide,” according to a press release from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Cabañas also met with representatives from U.S. businesses operating in Cuba, namely those in the transportation sector, according to the press release.

Secretary of State Nominee Pompeo speaks on staffing at Havana Embassy

Speaking during his nomination hearing to be Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would work to improve ties with Cuba. Mr. Pompeo went on to say, “We will build out a team [in Cuba] that will deliver American diplomacy to Cuba in a way that represents the finest of America.”

Last week, the Miami Herald reported that just 10 U.S. diplomats remain at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and “most of the jobs . . . deal with maintenance, security or the internal functioning of the embassy.” There are no political, economic, public affairs or cultural officers listed on the embassy roster.

In Cuba

Cuba reaches five million mobile users

ETECSA, Cuba’s state telecommunications entity, announced this week that it has registered five million mobile phone lines, representing mobile access for nearly half of the country’s population.

Access to cellular phones has drastically increased in Cuba in recent years. According to an ETECSA press release, Cuba had just 223,000 active mobile lines 10 years ago, and nearly 800,000 mobile lines have been opened in 2018 thus far.

New dates announced for Havana art festival

Havana’s 13th Biennial art festival, the country’s largest international visual arts showcase, will be held from April 12-May 12, 2019. The festival was originally scheduled for late 2017, but was postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. Over 200 artists from 15-20 countries are expected to participate in the showcase, which will be themed, “La Construcción de lo Posible.

What We’re Reading

Why the U.S. Should Deepen Security Cooperation with Cuba, Geoff Thale and Marguerite Rose Jiménez, Washington Office on Latin America

Geoff Thale and Marguerite Rose Jiménez of the Washington Office on Latin America explain why, “With shared waters, shared challenges, and shared threats, the United States should maintain and deepen its cooperation with Cuba.”

Senate Dems Urge “Americas Together Policy”

Fourteen Democratic Senators sent a letter to Vice President Pence urging him to adopt an “Americas Together” vs. an “Americas First” policy at the Summit of the Americas. The letter, led by Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticizes President Trump’s “derogatory comments” about countries in the Western Hemisphere, and calls for “respectful engagement” as a means of recovering U.S. leadership in the region.

With Trump skipping the Summit, the stakes are even higher for the U.S., Daniel Erikson, BlueStar Strategies

Daniel Erikson, managing director at Blue Star Strategies, LLC, and Member of CDA’s Board of Directors, writes in the Miami Herald that the absence of the U.S. President from this weekend’s Summit of the Americas will hinder the U.S.’ ability to engage with the region moving forward, and comes at a particularly inopportune time one week before Cuba selects a new president.

New Startup Cuba Documentary Series Puts The Cuban Entrepreneurial Spirit On Display

A new weekly documentary series, “Startup Cuba,” highlights the work of Cuba’s cuentapropistas in an attempt to “show Americans that Cuban entrepreneurs do exist and that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as we have.”

El Salvador Update, April 2018: FMLN grapples with post-election turmoil and human rights censure, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, El Salvador expert and CDA Advisory Board Member, catalogues post-election turmoil in El Salvador, analyzes the events that led to the FMLN’s consequential political defeat in that country’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections, the FMLN leadership’s response, and the lead-up to next February’s presidential election in El Salvador.

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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