This week, in Cuba news…
International arrivals to Cuba declined 7 percent and U.S. arrivals by 40 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared with the first three months of 2017, Cuba’s Tourism Ministry told reporters this week.
Reuters reports that Cuban officials attribute the low numbers to the perception of damage from Hurricane Irma in September of last year, renewed travel restrictions for U.S. travelers, and a U.S. State Department Travel Warning (now a Travel Advisory).
While visits from foreign travelers were down, Cubans living abroad traveled back to the island more often than last year (21 percent more often through March). According to Reuters, Canadians remain the largest foreign traveler demographic, Russian travel increased 32 percent, and Mexican travel to Cuba increased 23 percent in the first three months of 2018.
Congressional Republicans argue for engagement
Representatives Roger Marshall (KS-1), Rick Crawford (AR-1), and Tom Emmer (MN-6), wrote on Feedstuffs.com this week to make the case for passage of the Cuba Agriculture Exports Act, HR 525, and the Cuba Trade Act, HR 442. The Congressmen argue that opening Cuba’s market to U.S. farmers would expand U.S. exports and increase net farm income. As the Members write, the U.S. share of Cuba’s agribusiness market is less than 15 percent, with Cuba’s other food imports coming from countries that offer preferential trade credit terms such as Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, and the EU. The article estimates the market potential of agricultural sales from their respective states as $52 million in sales from Arkansas farmers, $55 million from Kansas, and $50 million from Minnesota.
Separately, the Miami Herald reports that Cuba policy was at issue in a delayed Senate confirmation vote for NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) reportedly took advantage of a close floor vote count to obtain a conversation with the nominee for Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to discuss travel to Cuba among other Cuba-related issues.
Eder Manuel Olivero Garcel, director of Cuba’s state mining entity Cubaniquel, said this week Cuba will produce over 50,000 tons of nickel and cobalt this year, Reuters reports.
Cubaniquel anticipates producing roughly 31,000 tons of nickel and cobalt from its joint venture with Canadian mining company Sherritt International. The joint venture mine produced just over 18,000 tons of nickel and cobalt last year.
Cuba’s government and international sources like Moody’s Investors Service have cited low nickel prices as contributing to stagnation in Cuba’s economy over the last two years. Last year, Cuba predicted nickel and cobalt production would reach 54,500 tons, but Reuters reports the final output was under 50,000 tons for the first time in decades.
Cuba’s Council of Ministers met Wednesday to discuss the state of the country’s economic and social affairs, this first such meeting under newly-elected President Miguel Díaz-Canel, reports Granma.
The meeting, which was originally scheduled to be held last week, covered topics ranging from Cuba’s budget to the country’s higher education system. Alejandro Gil Fernandez, Cuba’s first deputy minister of economy and planning, presented a report on Cuba’s economic performance in the first quarter of 2018. In his report, Mr. Gil Fernandez attributed current economic stagnation to low export levels and fuel availability, and estimated that the island reached 90 percent of its foreign investment goal for the first three months of the year. Reuters reports Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba have fallen 40 percent in total since 2014.
Cuba’s Foreign Relations
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro arrived in Cuba for a state visit last Friday, the day after Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel took office, Reuters reports. President Maduro was the first foreign head of state to travel to Cuba and recognize Cuba’s new president, according to Prensa Latina.
What We’re Reading
Engage with Cuba: With a new president, try to rekindle ties, Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, “A new relationship with Cuba — one that emphasizes a conditional engagement that requires some reforms on Cuba’s part — could reduce diplomatic tension and improve both nations’ economies.”
What We’re Watching
How an alleged sonic attack shaped U.S. policy on Cuba, New York Times
This New York Times mini-documentary covers the diplomatic impact stemming from alleged health attacks on diplomats in Havana.
EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
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.
This Washington Life Magazine article offers a look at the planned activities.