Cuba Central News Brief: 05/04/2018

Dear Friends,

Don’t miss the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival, May 8-20, in Washington, DC. A full list of events can be found here.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Sen. Rubio recommends engagement critic to head Cuba broadcast program

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has recommended former Miami mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado to head the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), the program that oversees initiatives including Radio and TV Martí, Politico reports. Regalado, who was born in Cuba, has in the past criticized U.S. engagement with the island. Senator Rubio is widely seen as the architect behind the Trump administration’s Cuba policy shift, and his recommendation will likely carry weight in the executive branch.

The OCB and its Martí outlets have a mission of promoting “freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective news and information programming” and have been criticized in the U.S., including by a 2010 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Print, for their high cost and lack of objectivity. Cuba’s government considers their activities, as well as USAID’s Cuba democracy promotion program, subversive initiatives designed to undermine Cuba’s sovereignty.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposes to significantly cut funds for Radio and TV Martí and Martí Noticias, as well as the broader Office of Cuba Broadcasting, as we previously reported. The 2019 budget cuts are in line with proposed reductions in global democracy promotion programs, and likely do not represent a shift in the Administration’s approach to democracy promotion in Cuba.

Florida politicians protest Kennedy Center’s Cuban arts festival

Representatives Albio Sires (NJ-8), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), as well as Florida Governor Rick Scott, wrote letters to the Kennedy Center and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing the Center’s upcoming Artes de Cuba festival.

In his letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Scott wrote that “many” of the participating artists are “known representatives of the dictatorship,” while the representatives’ letter to David Rubenstein and Deborah Rutter, respectively the chairman and president of the Kennedy Center, referred to the delegation as containing “many propagandists.” Meanwhile, in their letter to Secretary Pompeo, the representatives expressed concern that Cuban nationals must travel to a third country to apply for visas to the U.S., as the U.S. Embassy in Havana is not processing non-emergency visas due to its reduced staff size.

As the festival’s curator Alicia Adams told the Miami Herald this week, the event represents “cultural diplomacy . . . Arts are the best tool we have to bring people together.”

In Cuba

President Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro oversee May Day celebration

Cuba held its annual International Worker’s Day celebration May 1, with over 900,000 participating in a parade in Havana and over 6.6 million Cubans taking part in celebrations nationwide, according to CubaDebate.

Newly-elected President Miguel Díaz-Canel and former-President Raúl Castro jointly led festivities in the capital. As Reuters reports, a keynote speech by Ulises Guilarte, head of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation, called on attendees to “to show our support” for President Díaz-Canel and Communist Party leader Raúl Castro, and said the celebration represented “the majority support of workers and the people for the updating of our socio-economic model.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

UN Secretary-General to visit Cuba for CEPAL meeting

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres will travel to Cuba for the 37th biennial meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), EFE reports. The meeting will be held May 7-11 in Havana. At the meeting, which is ECLAC’s most important recurring event, the organization presents development proposals for each member country.

The trip marks Secretary-General Guterres’ first official visit to Cuba. Then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Havana in June 2016 for the signing of a ceasefire agreement between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

French, German companies negotiating on Cuba power plant

A group of international corporations, including France’s Total SA and German-based Siemens AG, is in negotiations to construct a natural gas power plant in Cuba’s Matanzas Bay, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, the new plant could produce up to 600 megawatts of power, representing a significant increase for a country with a current national capacity of 6,000 megawatts. As Reuters writes, “Total [SA] would obtain the liquid gas from abroad, and then store, process and supply it to the plant, which would be built by Siemens.” The project would expand on a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding signed by Siemens and Cuba’s state energy entity Unión Eléctrica to develop the country’s energy and power sector.

In February, Cuba announced a $4 billion agreement with the European Union to promote renewable energy on the island, as we reported at the time. Cuba aims to generate 24 percent of the island’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030; at present, renewables account for less than 5 percent of Cuba’s electricity generation. Cuba’s dependence on Venezuelan oil shipments has contributed to its economic stagnation in recent months, as oil imports from Caracas have fallen 40 percent in total since 2014.

What We’re Watching

Cuba’s Public Health Approach to Dementia, Cuba Platform

The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba releases the first in their series of “micros,” short videos that feature Cuba’s successful experiences working toward social, economic, and health equity, and stories about Cuban-global exchange.

What We’re Reading

A Cuba without a Castro, Vicki Huddleston, The Globe and Mail

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, writes, “My personal experiences in Cuba led me to the realization that repeating a failed policy time and time again will not lead to a different outcome.”

Marine Ecology and Conservation in Cuba, Bulletin of Marine Science

The Bulletin of Marine Science announces, “A new special issue on the ecology and conservation of Cuba’s coastal and marine ecosystems . . . that celebrates science and conservation efforts, but also warns of potential future risks.

The can’t-miss shows of the Kennedy Center’s unprecedented Cuba festival, Peggy McGlone, The Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Peggy McGlone outlines some of the highlights from the Kennedy Center’s upcoming Artes de Cuba festival, from a car-themed art exhibit to a female rap duo.

This is the incredible story of Cuba’s first independent fashion label, Niloufar Haidari, Vice UK

Vice UK speaks with the team behind trendy Cuban shop Clandestina.


Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

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.

Jornada contra la Homofobia y la Transfobia, May 4-18

Friday marked the beginning of Cuba’s annual two-week celebration in advance of the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The country’s activities, which have a different theme each year, center this year on preventing homophobia and transphobia in schools.

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