This week, in Cuba news…
More health incidents in Cuba and China; U.S. establishes health incident response task force
There are reports this week of more possible health incidents in Cuba and China. Today, the AP reports two “potentially new cases” of U.S. embassy personnel pulled from Havana after exhibiting mysterious symptoms; the two are undergoing testing for brain injury along with the potential cases from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China. Before today’s reports, the most recent reported incident from Havana was August 2017.
On June 6, The New York Times reported that the U.S. evacuated “at least two” U.S. government employees from its consulate in Guangzhou, China where, as we reported two weeks ago, an employee reported experiencing symptoms similar to the health incidents in Cuba. The two additional employees have also claimed to have experienced symptoms, and will undergo further testing in the U.S. One of those affected in China compared the sounds he heard to “marbles rolling around a metal funnel,” and complained of “headaches, sleeplessness, and nausea,” which he and his wife had experienced over the past year, according to The New York Times.
Prior to the announcement of additional reports in Guangzhou, at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on May 23, the U.S. State Department established a task force on the health incidents in Cuba and China, the Miami Herald reports. The interagency task force will include The Department of Health and Human Services, Commerce, Justice, Defense and Energy, “and other members of the foreign affairs community.” The group’s formation comes just as the Accountability Review Board, convened earlier this year by previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, is due to report its findings to Mr. Pompeo, who will then have 90 days to recommend a course of action to Congress. An initial internal report is expected by the end of this week.
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake & former Google CEO meet with President Díaz-Canel; Members of Congress make a U.S.-Cuba trade relations push in D.C.
At a meeting in Havana on June 4, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke with Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel about communications and internet connectivity, Reuters reports. Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg, the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Havana, was also present at the meeting. Sen. Flake is the first U.S. Member of Congress to meet with President Díaz-Canel since Cuba’s new president took office this April. Sen. Flake spoke positively of the meeting, saying that “We had a good meeting. We are hopeful for the future if we can have more connectivity, more travel, more meetings with Cubans and vice versa.”
Separately, a group of U.S. Members of Congress met in Washington this week to discuss U.S. trade relations with Cuba, reports ArkansasOnline. The roundtable titled “Fostering Bilateral Agricultural and Economic Capabilities” was organized by Engage Cuba and McDermott Will & Emery, and brought together Senator John Boozman (AR-3), Representative Rick Crawford (AR-1), Representative Thomas Emmer (MN-6), and Representative Roger Marshall (KS-1), and the Cuban Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, as a special guest. The Members of Congress discussed easing trade restrictions with Cuba, particularly in agriculture, and the importance of lifting the U.S embargo against the island. Rep. Emmer asserted his commitment to “to break through for a new chapter in our two nations’ history,” according the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release. He also noted that, “There’s a majority of the people that actually favor changing this policy. Unfortunately, a very small group within Congress still has the loudest voice. We’re trying to change that.”
As we reported previously, Representatives Roger Marshall (KS-1), Rick Crawford (AR-1), and Tom Emmer (MN-6), wrote on Feedstuffs.com to make the case for passage of the Cuba Agriculture Exports Act, HR 525, and the Cuba Trade Act, HR 442.
At Senator Marco Rubio’s recommendation, President Trump appointed Tomás Regalado, former mayor of Miami, to run Radio & TV Martí, Politico reports. Radio & TV Martí is a U.S.-run broadcast network that began in 1985, is funded by the federal government, and operates out of Miami. The Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees Radio & TV Martí, purports to provide an unbiased, objective source of information and news to Cuba and to promote freedom and democracy, according to its mission . However, it has been criticized as an instrument of U.S. propaganda, and according to a 2010 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report, has “failed to make any discernible inroads into Cuban society or to influence the Cuban Government.” Transmission is blocked on the island, although Regalado asserts there are workarounds. He told Politico in an interview, “This is a message to the Cuban government, it’s appointing a hardliner because I am hardliner regarding Cuba.”
The U.S. nonprofits Ocean Doctor and the Center for International Policy met in Washington D.C. on June 4 to discuss environmental sustainability and historic preservation in Cuba, Prensa Latina reports. Discussion topics included maintaining sustainable practices amidst an increase in tourism, including a discussion with the New York Botanical Garden about creating similar spaces in Cuba, and dialogue on how to involve communities in environmental protection. The groups also discussed the restoration and preservation of Old Havana and the Santa Clara Convent. José Ramón Cabañas, Cuban ambassador to the U.S., who was among the speakers, pointed out that while the two countries have their differences, “there is also a list of common interests for bilateral collaboration.” The event included the public release of a new report by both nonprofits, A Century of Unsustainable Tourism in the Caribbean: Lessons Learned and Opportunities for Cuba.
Cuba’s Episcopal Bishop Reverend Maria Griselda Delgado del Carpio visited Michigan last week where she attended a College of Episcopal Bishops, The Daily Mining Gazette reports. She is “the first female Episcopal bishop in the Caribbean and Latin America” and has maintained close relationships with bishops in Michigan, Florida, and Connecticut. In a speech at the Michigan Technological University’s Episcopal campus ministry, The Canterbury House, she talked about embracing differences between ministries in the U.S. and Cuba. “We are all different and we honor those differences. There is richness and beauty to that. Because of those differences we have so much more to share.” Michigan Bishop Reverend Rayford Ray, with whom Carpio shares a close relationship, will visit Cuba in October.
The two black boxes retrieved from last month’s deadly plane crash in Havana, along with several officials from Cuba, are now in Washington D.C., where the boxes will be analyzed at the National Transportation Safety Board’s recorder lab, the Miami Herald reports. The boxes are in good condition, and should provide a voice recording of the cockpit. Despite strained relations, technical cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba continues in many areas, including civil aviation. Moreover, the Miami Herald reports, the U.S. and Cuba are both members of the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization, which provides a framework for cooperation. 112 people died in the May 18 plane crash; the sole survivor is conscious, but remains in very serious condition in a hospital in Havana.
Former President Raúl Castro was appointed to head the commission which will, along with input from the Cuban people, draft an updated version of Cuba’s constitution in July, reports Reuters. As we reported last week, 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. According to Reuters, during the extraordinary session last Saturday, President Díaz-Canel told the national assembly, “As I said when I took this office last April 19, comrade and army general Raúl Castro Ruz will lead the major decisions on the present and future of the nation.”
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cuba and Vietnam signed trade agreements on June 4 that will increase commercial and economic collaboration in the areas of investment, tourism, and imports, reports Prensa Latina. The meeting was held in Havana, where the Vietnamese chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Nguyen Thanh Phong engaged with Cuba’s Center for the Promotion of Trade and Foreign Investment. Both countries agreed to support and promote each others’ products in their national markets. Nguyen Thanh “expressed the commitment of the government of the city of Ho Chi Minh to create favorable conditions to help the city’s businessmen to export, market and invest in Cuban territory,” according to Prensa Latina. The trade agreements come after a declaration issued last March stating that the countries intended to strengthen ties in trade and commerce. Cuba has also recently signed agreements with the EU, Russia, and has looked into agricultural cooperation with Belarus.
On June 1, representatives from Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), along with representatives from Puerto Rico, met in Havana to discuss climate change, reports Prensa Latina. The delegates discussed the imperative of scientific progress in the formation of sustainable development practices, as well as “the building of resilient societies through the links between research, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in the Caribbean.” Cuba’s implementation plan includes the restoration and conservation of its beaches, efficient water use, and reforestation.
Taking the Wind out of the Sails, Collin Laverty, Temas
Writing for the most prominent magazine in Cuba focusing on social sciences and the humanities, Laverty suggests that the confusion surrounding President Trump’s policies toward Cuba has served as a deterrent to U.S. citizens who hoped to travel to the island, and that the administration’s reaction to the health incidents at its embassy has changed the U.S. perception of Cuba for the worse. His solution is to pursue engagement even more vigorously than in the past through direct, personal interaction between U.S. citizens and Cubans in the form of individual travelers as well as traveling sports teams, scholars, artists, doctors, and scientists.
Witnessing the Obama Presidency from Start to Finish, George Packer, The New Yorker
Packer reviews the just-released novel by Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama and principal architect of his Cuba policy, entitled The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. He shares how Rhodes’ biographical account tells the story of the formation of his own identity with that of the former president’s. Rhodes not only acted as a sounding board and speechwriter for President Obama, but also worked on foreign policy issues such as restoring U.S.-Cuba relations.
Doctors from low income, marginalized communities receive free medical education in Cuba, Anakwa Dwamena, The New Yorker
Dwamena introduces readers to the Latin American School of Medicine (E.L.A.M.), founded by Cuba’s government in the 1990’s as a response to hurricane aftermath. ELAM offers international students from marginalized communities free medical education with the intent that they return their home community and continue to practice there. A number of the students, mostly black and latino students, are from the U.S., where their demographic represents six percent of medical school graduates each year, according to the article.
‘Still A Lot Of Love’: Arturo O’Farrill On Cuba-U.S. Artistic Relations, Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, NPR
Cuban pianist Arturo O’Farrill sits down to discuss U.S.-Cuba relations through art. He compares the policy changes under Trump to a divorce, but claims there is “still a lot of love” between the two countries, and discusses the need for U.S. travelers to continue to engage with the island despite greater travel restrictions. For the future, he hopes that their shared history in jazz music will bring the two countries closer, and that those in the U.S. will see Cuba for the modern, culturally and artistically rich country that it is, and not simply as a time capsule.
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.