CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 06/22/2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

One more U.S. employee confirmed hurt by health incidents at U.S. Embassy in Havana; U.S. health incident victims hire lawyers

One of the two employees at the U.S. Embassy in Havana who were evacuated recently to undergo testing at the University of Pennsylvania has been confirmed to have suffered from the mysterious health incidents that have been reported in Cuba and China, reports the Associated Press. The employee becomes the 25th confirmed case in Cuba, and the most recent confirmed case since August 2017. There has been one confirmed case of a government employee suffering similar symptoms at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China.

At least eight victims of the health incidents at the U.S. embassy in Havana have hired a lawyer to help them navigate long-term medical treatment, reports the Miami Herald, including concerns about access to their medical records and out-of-pocket expenses. “Are they being treated or are they being studied? It’s not entirely clear what is happening,” said lawyer Mark Zaid who specializes in national security cases and is handling the cases of the eight diplomats who have sought counsel.

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake may block votes on Trump nominees

U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, who visited Cuba earlier this month, may block Senate consideration of President Trump’s appellate court nominees in order to move forward with discussions about Cuba travel restrictions, reports CNN. If he does, it would lead to a 10-10 partisan split on the Senate Judiciary Committee, something that Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley hopes to avoid. “If one Republican wouldn’t vote…then we’re not going to take it up,” he told CNN. He claimed that he wouldn’t schedule the vote until Sen. Flake was onboard, but that the Judiciary Committee would have “plenty to do” even if the votes were delayed until September. Sen. Flake holds particular power at the moment due to fellow Arizona Senator John McCain’s leave from the committee.

FedEx asks for more time to set up delivery services to Cuba

Citing “operational challenges,” FedEx has requested a third extension that would see its flights between the U.S. and Cuba begin December 2018, the Memphis Business Journal reports. FedEx first received approval for the all-cargo flights from the U.S. Department of Transportation in July 2016, and was set to begin trips the following April. The date was pushed to October 2017, and then to June 2018. The company has had trouble securing the necessary services on the ground in Cuba, such as access to storage space, customs clearance facilities, and delivery services, according to its request for an extension. It also struggled with the uncertainty of Trump’s new Cuba policy, announced a year ago last week, as it waited for the new regulatory amendments from the Departments of Commerce and Treasury.

Florida and Cuba collaborate on coral reef restoration

The Florida Aquarium’s Center for Conservation continues to partner with Cuba’s National Aquarium to research coral reefs off the island’s coast with the goal of better understanding and implementing plans for coral restoration, reports the Tampa Bay Times. The two began collaborating in August 2015, and a visit by the Florida Aquarium at the end of May marked the aquarium’s fifth delegation to Cuba. With the material assistance of the Florida Aquarium, Cuba built a coral nursery in March 2017. Because Cuba has one of the healthier coral reefs in the Caribbean waters, reef access offers scientists a rare opportunity to compare and contrast unhealthy reefs with healthy ones.

Cuba presents resolution on Puerto Rican independence at UN meeting

In a UN meeting of the Special Committee on Decolonization on Monday, June 18, Cuba reiterated its support of Puerto Rican independence, asserting the right of Puerto Ricans to determine their own future, reports Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cuba’s resolution was supported by leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), and the Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America (ALBA-TCP). This is the 37th resolution that the committee has seen relating to Puerto Rican independence, the majority of them having been presented by Cuba.

Inspire America Foundation urges Trump to continue reversing Obama’s Cuba policy

The Inspire America Foundation, a Miami-based group that opposes the Castro government, sent a letter to President Trump on the one-year anniversary of the announcement of his Cuba policy last week, reports the Washington Free Beacon. The foundation praised President Trump’s appointment of Tomás Regalado, who sits on the group’s board, to head Radio and TV Martí, and urged him to complete the reversal of Obama’s Cuba policies through ten initiatives. These initiatives include “for Trump to issue a presidential directive forcing all federal agencies to comply with the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, also known as the LIBERTAD Act,” for “the State Department not to issue any more visas, including those for cultural exchanges, to Cuban government and military officials or their officially approved group of artists,” for “the State Department to reinstate Cuba to its list of state sponsors of terrorism,” and for “Trump to downgrade the U.S. embassy in Havana back to an interest section,” according to the Washington Free Beacon.

House Oversight Committee holds hearing on Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down and U.S. policy toward Cuba

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security held a hearing entitled “Holding Cuban Leaders Accountable” on June 20, at which the families of the victims of the Brothers to the Rescue shoot-down testified and urged the indictment of Raúl Castro and other Cuban officials for shooting down two civilian aircrafts in 1996. Subcommittee Chairman Ron DeSantis (FL-6) opened the hearing with concerns that the “bureaucracy at the State Department is purposefully disregarding and undermining President Trump’s Cuba policy.” Additional testimony was given by Attorney Jason Poblete, Ambassador Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and Professor William M. Leogrande of American University.

IN CUBA

Cuba loosens grip on media, allows for more independent reporting

Cuba’s Communist Party has begun implementation of a new communications policy, the Associated Press reports. AP reports learning of the new policy from Cuban journalists; the government has not announced the new policy publicly. Under the policy, Cuba’s official news outlets will cover breaking news in real-time without waiting for guidance from the Department of Ideology of the Communist Party. State-owned newspapers can now run advertisements from both state-owned enterprises and the private sector, and the policy includes the establishment of media regulator independent from the Communist Party. Cuba’s Constitution establishes that all major broadcasting platforms are owned by the State, however, increasing internet access and social media usage on the island has also increased the flow of unregulated information. AP reports that critics of the new communication policy acknowledge the benefits of real-time reporting of breaking news, but assert the policy will do little to increase press freedom.

Mariela Castro says Cuba’s constitutional reform will open a path for LGBT rights

Mariela Castro Espín told reporters that Cuba’s anticipated constitutional reform would start a process to advance LGBT rights in Cuba, including the possibility for marriage equality, reports the AFP. Mariela Castro, the daughter of former president Raúl Castro, serves as the head of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), where she promotes policies of gender equality, including for Cuba’s LGBTQ population. She explained that the constitutional reform will allow for the issue to be discussed, debated, and modified via the legislative process.

Council of Ministers of Cuba analyzes economic performance

In a meeting with the Council of Ministers and members of the Council of State, President Miguel Díaz-Canel analyzed the performance of Cuba’s economy and reportedly assessed it to be “acceptable.” In the meeting, officials also reviewed the final 2017 budget numbers, and Prensa Latina reports 57 percent of the 2017 national budget was devoted to social expenditures, including 29 percent to public health and social assistance, 22 percent to education, and 16 percent to social security. The council also analyzed the primary impediments to foreign direct investment, something that President Díaz-Canel called for during a meeting with Cuban policymakers last week, as we reported. In this regard, President Díaz-Canel insisted on the need to boost foreign investment, “you have to be creative and take risks, without affecting our sovereignty,” he said. The Council of Ministers has met monthly since Díaz-Canel became president in April.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba to invest in tourism, banking on Canadian visitors

Cuban authorities plan to increase tourism infrastructure with over 100,000 new rooms, 47 entertainment facilities and 24 new golf courses in the next 12 years, reports Travelweek. The plan comes amid a drop in U.S. travelers, as we previously reported, but, per Eloy Govea, Director of Canada for Cuba’s Tourist Board, “investment will continue as planned for our other valued international guests.” Canada sends over 1 million tourists to the island per year; according to the report, Cuba received 4.7 million tourists in 2017. Cuba is expected to build nautical stations and marinas, golf courses, and entertainment facilities, however, some of the projects are controversial given the potential for a negative environmental impact. According to the report, Cuba’s authorities have announced 87 management and development contracts with 19 international companies.

Cuba and Jamaica strengthen trade ties

Cuba’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rogelio Sierra Díaz recently returned from an official visit to Jamaica, where he attempted to encourage regional businesses to invest in Cuba. According to the Jamaica Observer, Mr. Sierra toured several Caribbean nations in addition to Jamaica, including Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, on a diplomatic and commercial delegation. In 2016, according to Cuba’s Statistics Office, bilateral trade between Cuba and the members of the Caribbean Community reached approximately USD 120.75 million, of which, Trinidad and Tobago accounted for 87 percent and Jamaica accounted for less than 2.5 percent.

RECOMMENDED READING

A year after Trump reversed Obama’s opening to Cuba, the U.S. is sitting out Havana’s political revamp, Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Time

Tracy Wilkinson considers how the U.S. has disengaged with Cuba-from continuing to uphold the embargo to cutting staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana-at a crucial time when the country’s government is undergoing constitutional reform. She also questions President Trump’s willingness to engage with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but not Cuba’s new President Miguel Díaz-Canel. “Washington seems to be sitting out on possible influence during a time of unprecedented political transition, according to academics and diplomats,” she says. Meanwhile, other countries such as China and Russia are building relations and increasing ties with the island.

RECOMMENDED VIEWING

Yissy García & Banda Ancha Tiny Desk Concert, National Public Radio

Yissy García & Banda Ancha’s performance at NPR’s Tiny Desk invokes Cuba’s African roots and reflects “the cosmopolitan attitude that is common in big city life in Cuba.” García, who was part of the group of Cuban artists that traveled to Washington, D.C. in May for the Artes de Cuba Festival at the Kennedy Center, talked with NPR in April about her relationship to American music and what it’s like being an artist in the current political context, as we reported then.

EVENTS IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

“A Cuban Love Affair” The Art of the Book, June 28, Library of Congress, Thomas Jefferson Building 1st Floor Room LJ119

A partnership between the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress, this event will feature an interview with Cuban bookmaker Rolando Estévez and a display of handmade books, as well as a discussion with Catalina Gómez from the Library of Congress, which houses a collection of books made by Estévez.

Cuba Skate Pop Up Takeover, June 28, Bureau Skate Shop

Cuba Skate Pop Up Takeover at Bureau Skate Shop. Cuba Skate Apparel, Skateboards and Photography for sale.

“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 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.

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.

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