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This week, in Cuba news…
Farm bill passes Senate with provision to promote trade with Cuba after Senator Marco Rubio stalls
H.R.2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, commonly known simply as “the farm bill,” passed the Senate Thursday afternoon, setting up a conference fight with the House over food stamps. However, this week’s Senate consideration included a showdown over Cuba that stalled Senate consideration.
After an amendment introduced by Senators Heitkamp (ND) and Boozman (AR) to allow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct foreign market development programs in Cuba passed the Senate Agriculture Committee by unanimous consent on June 13, Senator Rubio (FL) expressed his opposition to the provision and a willingness to delay consideration of the full bill. He first introduced an amendment Tuesday to deny export promotion until Cuba holds “free and fair elections for a new government,” but by Wednesday, he had changed his approach. Speaking on the Senate floor, he said, “I am not going to object to the ability of American farmers to market our products to a market… But while you are there… you can promote it, but you just can’t spend any of these taxpayer dollars at any of the facilities or businesses controlled or owned by the Cuban military.” Ultimately, after negotiation between Sens. Rubio, Menendez (NJ) and Cruz (TX), on one side, and Sens. Flake (AZ), Heitkamp, and Boozman on the other, the bill passed with the USDA export promotion provision intact, and a modifying provision that states financial transactions must adhere to restrictions set out in current regulations, including a prohibition on “transactions with entities owned, controlled, or operated by or on behalf of military intelligence or security services of Cuba.” Most U.S. entities are already barred from engaging in transactions with the businesses on this list.
The number of U.S. officials affected by mysterious health incidents in Cuba has risen to 26, reports a spokesperson for the Department of State. Today’s statement notes an official was “medically-confirmed to have experienced health effects similar to those reported by other members of the U.S. Havana diplomatic community.” Last week, as we reported, the symptoms experienced by another U.S. employee from the U.S. Embassy in Havana, who was evacuated in May, were medically-confirmed as well. The two officials were reportedly in a diplomatic residence when a “single occurrence” resulted in both cases. The State Department “strongly remind[ed] the Cuban Government of its responsibilities under the Vienna Convention to protect [U.S.] diplomats.” Carlos Fernández de Cossío, the Director General for the United States at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted, “#Cuba guarantees the safety of all foreign diplomatic officials including US officials, and has provided all possible assistance to determine the cause of the symptoms reported.” In a departure from previous statements regarding health incidents in Cuba, today’s State Department statement noticeably omitted the word “attack,” and referred rather to “health effects.”
On Tuesday the U.S. State Department called on Cuba to release all political prisoners, specifically U.S. human rights activist Eduardo Cardet and environmental activist Dr. Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, Reuters reports. The two men are serving sentences (three years for Cardet and one for Urquiola), in prison in Cuba for criticizing or disrespecting the island’s government. Urquiola is reportedly on a hunger strike and “in a critical medical condition.”
The U.S. airline JetBlue will add a weekly route directly from Boston to Havana, the Miami Herald reports. It will be the first direct flight between Cuba and New England, and combined with JetBlue’s flights from Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida and New York, will put the airline at the forefront of U.S.-Cuba travel, with flights from the greatest number of U.S. cities to Havana.
A State Department spokesperson reported Thursday that the Secretary of State had made the determination to suspend for six months beyond August 1, 2018, the right to bring an action under Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. The Miami Herald reports this suspension is consistent with the action of each U.S. president or secretary of state over the last two decades – a decision made primarily to protect trading partners such as Mexico, Canada, and European countries. Were the provision not suspended, those entities with investments in Cuba would be vulnerable to lawsuits in U.S. courts related to seized property.
U.S. musician Charles Fox will perform in Havana on July 1 at the Gran Teatro de La Habana “Alicia Alonso” in a concert entitled “Havana Dreams,” where he will be accompanied by local musicians. The concert will celebrate the 55 years of music-making for Fox, a lover of Cuban music, reports ¡Ahora!. Earlier this week Fox met with artists at Fábrica de Arte Cubano and The Cultural Center on 31 and 2 streets. The concert is part of a worldwide tour including visits to a number of major cities around the globe.
Cuba’s Minister of Labor tells Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel that Cuba’s private sector currently employs approximately 1.3 million workers, while the government and state-owned enterprises employ over 3 million workers, reports Juventud Rebelde. This week’s report represents an increase in private sector employment; Cuba’s National Statistics Office reports 2016 private sector employment at approximately 1.14 million workers. The meeting also touched on issues of agricultural mechanization, tax evasion in the informal economy, and workers’ rights in Cuba’s private sector.
President Díaz-Canel convened a planning meeting in advance of the upcoming 500thanniversary of the city of Havana celebrations which will occur next year. He met this week with a team of officials first convened in 2012 for the purpose of revitalizing the city of Havana. The group is chaired by Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of Economy, and they discussed a plan of action, including activities that require the population’s participation.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
India’s President Ram Nath Konvind was received by Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel in Havana after arriving in Cuba on Thursday, as we previously reported. The Indian President arrived first in Santiago de Cuba where he was greeted by Cuba’s Council of State Vice President Beatriz Johnson. While in Santiago, President Konvind paid homage to Fidel Castro. Later, he was received in Havana by President Díaz-Canel, and signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate in biotechnology, renewable energy, and traditional medicine. The island’s authorities signaled a support for India’s candidacy for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, reports the Business Standard.
Several Chinese companies were present in the 3rd Edition of the International Convention and Exhibition of the Cuban Industry (Cubaindustria 2018), reports Xinhua. There were exhibitors from 31 countries. Of the 84 foreign companies, seven of them were Chinese. Among the Chinese companies interested in expanding businesses in Cuba are Yutong, which produces buses, and Tianjin Dongxing Industrial and Commercial Group, a manufacturer of three-wheelers and electric bikes. A Yutong representative informed Xinhua that the company is considering establishing an assembly plant in the Mariel Special Development Zone for exporting buses to other markets in Latin America. U.S. entities are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions with the Mariel Special Development Zone, per the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities.
Cuban authorities received Iran’s Special Envoy and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Morteza Sarmadi on Wednesday. Cubadebate reports that Mr. Sarmadi discussed the possibilities for investment and cooperation with Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Vice President of the Council of Ministers Mr. Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, and he discussed the current situation of bilateral affairs with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla. Cuba and Iran have had ties since the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and have been active participants in the Non-Aligned Movement. Cuba’s National Statistics Office does not offer data to quantify bilateral trade with Iran, which likely suggests that trade between the two countries is not significant and less than bilateral trade with other countries such as Israel, with whom Cuba has not had diplomatic relations since 1973.
Victoria Burgess, a standup paddleboarder from Florida completed a 28-hour paddleboarding trip from Cuba to Key West, reports NBC. She is the first woman to make the more than 100-mile trip and hopes to “inspire others to accomplish their goals.”
John A. Gronbeck-Tedesco, the Washington Post
Gronbeck-Tedesco compares today’s migrant family separations and attempts at reunification under President Trump’s policy to the early 1960’s Operation Pedro Pan that saw Cuban parents send their children, unaccompanied, on flights to the United States. Operation Pedro Pan was a project begun in the U.S. by Father Bryan O’ Walsh and was a way for Cuban parents to help their children escape Castro’s communism. The children were housed in camps and eventually placed with families in the United States. While many were reunited with their parents, as was the original intention of the project, some of the reunions happened many years later, after the psychological damage of the separation had occurred, and it was difficult for parents and children to relate. The children were often regarded as lucky, their parents as heroes for their efforts, at times undermining the trauma undergone by the children. Gronbeck-Tedesco warns that similar psychological damage and rifts are occurring because of the U.S.’s recently rescinded policy of child separation at the border.
Christine Quinn, The Advocate
Former New York City Council Speaker and member of CDA’s Board of Directors Christine Quinn writes about her experience visiting Cuba in May as a member of CDA’s LGBT exchange delegation. She laments the state of LGBTQ affairs in the U.S., specifically the Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling, and notes Cuba’s progress in LGBTQ rights, including Mariela Castro’s recent statements in support of same-sex marriage and the island’s progress in HIV/AIDS prevention and support.
EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C
“Harlem to Havana” Nicolas Guillen and Langston Hughes, Two Poets, Two Worlds, One Friendship, June 30, Terrace Theater The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey and Cuban American playwright Jorge Cortiñas will re-enact the friendship between Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén and American poet Langston Hughes and discuss the ways these poets inspired their own writings.
“La Voz Latina” Six Literary Stars of the Americas, June 30, Terrace Theater The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Six Latin American writers come together to discuss their work. Writers include Cuban sci-fi novelist Yoss, Mexican-American writer Sandra Cisneros, Chilean-American writer Ariel Dorfman, Bolivarian writer Rodrigo Hasbún, Peruvian writer Santiago Roncagliolo and Puerto Rican writer Esmeralda Santiago. Moderated by writers Marie Arana and Ruth Behar.
“Cuban Slugger,” an exhibition of Cuban artist Reynerio Tamayo, July 11-29, main lobby at Arena Stage at the Mead Center of American Theater
Just in time for the All-Star game at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., the Rodriguez Collection and the Caribbean Educational and Baseball Foundation (CEBF) along with Arena Stage will come together to present a collection of over 35 pieces of art by Cuban artist Reynerio Tamayo. Tamayo is a hyperrealist painter and contemporary caricaturist whose work features politics, athletes, comic book heroes, notorious gangsters, and art historical icons. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
Editor’s note: CDA is seeking candidates for our Fall 2018 internship! Please visit our website for information about how to apply. The deadline is July 15.