This week, in Cuba news…
Effective April 16, 2018, the U.S. and Cuba have re-established direct postal service by air between the two countries, CubaDebate reports. Reuters reports that direct mail was suspended in 1963 and only re-established in December 2015 via a short-term pilot program, as we reported then. The U.S. Postal Service and its Cuban counterpart took steps to implement technical fixes and correct shortcomings from the pilot program before launching the permanent re-establishment of direct mail.
The president of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, Dr. Luis Velázquez Pérez, called for a joint scientific inquiry into the health incident at the U.S. embassy in Havana, the Guardian reported this week. He called for an inquiry that would include both the U.S. and Canadian national science academies, would re-examine evidence, and could supplement the existing official report by U.S. doctors that concluded that the diplomats suffered from a new syndrome characterized by concussion-like symptoms. Two neuroscientists at the University of Edinburgh published an entry in the Journal of Neurology that alleges serious flaws in the U.S. report.
Last week, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel commented on the Artes de Cuba Festival held at the Kennedy Center in his remarks to a group of artists in Cuba, Telesur reports. Commenting on U.S.-Cuba relations, he stated, “I don’t believe that the current position will be eternal, and things like what you have accomplished in Washington…can open the way,” he told the group, which was comprised of artists who performed at the Artes de Cuba Festival. “You showed that we can live together in peace despite our differences.” Díaz-Canel apparently referenced the openings that began under the Obama administration but that were reversed in part under President Trump; “If there is the will, respect, and equality, we can continue back on that construction.”
The City Council of Minneapolis voted on May 25 for “a new cooperative relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and to immediately end all aspects of the U.S. economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba including all restrictions on travel to Cuba,” Workers World reports. The state of Minnesota has long been home to a Cuba Committee that sponsors collaboration and engagement by screening films and offering exchange programs through their connection with Cuban universities. The city joins 8 others in the U.S. who have passed resolutions condemning the embargo.
Earlier this month, a group of members from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences visited Cuba, where they toured Cuba’s Institute of Forensic Medicine and a psychiatric hospital in Havana. Although the trip was unrelated to the plane crash, the group offered assistance as needed. Granma reports, “the visitors left Cuba highly impressed by the level of development achieved in forensic sciences, but regretful that it had not been possible to hold this kind of encounter sooner.”
Council of Ministers meeting on Cuba’s economy; Cuba prepares for constitutional reform
Cuba’s Council of Ministers held a meeting on Tuesday, May 29, headed by President Díaz-Canel; it was his second meeting with the council since he became president in April, reports Granma. The meeting covered Cuba’s 2018 economic performance through April, as well as other topics, including the 2019 state budget and the effects of administrative corruption on the economy. Year-to-date, the country has suffered a slight drop in tourism, reportedly due to hurricanes and restrictions on U.S. travelers to the island. As we reported in April, Cuba’s Tourism Ministry reports that U.S. arrivals declined by 40 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the same period the year prior. Cuba’s 2019 budget will focus on recovering from the damages caused by hurricanes Irma and Matthew, replacing foreign imports with domestic production, and making investments in sustainable energy, such as solar. Díaz-Canel concluded the meeting with a discussion on corruption, calling it “the main enemy of the the Revolution,” and “an expression of the deterioration of our values, of tolerance and impunity.”
Cuba’s parliament will meet Saturday, June 2, during which time it will agree on the makeup of the commission which will, along with input from the Cuban people, draft an updated version of Cuba’s constitution in July, ABC News reports. According to the report, expected revisions include bringing the constitution up to date with today’s more open economy and increased private business ownership, and advances for LGBTQ rights as spearheaded by Mariela Castro. It may also address presidential term and age limits, worker cooperatives, and the role of Cuba’s parliament.
Heavy rains from Alberto fell in Cuba this past week leading to power outages and the evacuation of thousands of Cubans, as well as damage to homes and roads in the western and central part of the country, Telesur reports. The Zaza River in Sancti Spíritus, swollen with stormwater, caused a portion of the bridge that connects the towns of Sancti Spíritus and Zaza del Medio to collapse. Some agricultural fields in the area have flooded as well. In total, 4 people died from the storm’s flooding. Additionally, flooding damaged an oil refinery in Cienfuegos, which then leaked oil into Cienfuegos bay.
On Tuesday, May 29, a ship transporting 28 hundred tons of rice to Cuba from Vietnam was caught by a strong current and ran aground in Cienfuegos Bay, blocking entry and exit, Cubadebate reports. The ship was freed late Tuesday night.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
In his first trip abroad as Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel flew to Venezuela this Wednesday, May 30 to meet with Venezuela’s president Nicolas Maduro, Telesur reports. Cuba has historically received much of its oil from Venezuela in exchange for providing the country with medical personnel. Díaz-Canel pledged to support Venezuela in the meeting, claiming Cuba has “a debt of gratitude.” Cuba’s support of Maduro is at odds with the U.S. and the European Union, as well as some other countries within Latin America, who Reuters reports claimed that the election did not meet democratic standards.
Cuba and Russia continue to strengthen ties through trade, RT reports. Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, several Russian companies delivered shipments of vehicles to Cuba, including 300 of Russia’s well-known Lada cars. Now, after several inspection rounds, with more to come, ten Russian companies have been approved to export poultry, beef, and dairy products to Cuba, according to RT. Additionally, two Russian companies have been approved to export condensed milk. The two countries are also working together to improve oil and transportation infrastructure in Cuba. Russia’s renewed trade comes at a time when the U.S. has restricted its trade with the island, as we previously reported.
The Washington Blade reported this week on CDA’s recent trip around the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Christine Quinn, former Speaker of the New York City Council and member of CDA’s Board of Directors, traveled with the group and highlighted the value of experiencing the country first-hand, especially since many Americans have an unclear or inaccurate picture of the island in their head after being cut-off from it for so long as a result of the U.S. embargo.
AS/COA’s CWG Memo: Supporting Cuba’s Entrepreneurs, Alana Tummino and Leani Garcia Torres, Americas Society/Council of the Americas
The Americas Society/Council of the Americas’ report on entrepreneurship in Cuba presents policy recommendations from Cuban entrepreneurs in Havana, which include recommendations to clarify and expand allowable banking transactions, and to clarify U.S. travel restrictions.
A TASTE OF CUBA: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine, Cynthia Carris Alonso with Valerie Feigen and José Luis Alonso
In this compilation of recipes from across Cuba, Cynthia Carris Alonso, in collaboration with her husband Jose Luis Alonso and chef Valerie Feigen, reveals the recipes of some of Cuba’s top chefs “translated for an American kitchen.” This volume of 75 recipes features Cuban classics and honors the Cuban traditions of creativity and innovation that have come about in the face of a lack of fresh produce, spices, and other ingredients.
EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C
DC Jazz Festival and The Kennedy Center present: Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, June 15, The Kennedy Center
Pianists Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba come together to present Trance, a “two-piano project” that joins together the well-known musicians, each representing his own generation of Cuban music. The performance will include pieces composed by both artists, and re-imagined versions of songs from a variety of different genres.
“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 hyper-realist 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.