CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 07/13/2018

Tribute to Tony Zamora; 1941-2018

Tony Zamora, a tremendous advocate for U.S.-Cuba engagement, passed away in June after a battle with cancer. Tony was a friend to CDA and to many in the Cuba policy space, and he will be missed. Check out Cuba Standard for tributes to Tony from his friends and colleagues.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

CDC joins health incident investigation

Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Kenneth Merten stated at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday that the CDC was an active member of the interagency community that meets weekly with the Health Incidents Response Task Force, chaired by Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, that is looking into the health incidents in Cuba and China, reports the Miami Herald. “I don’t know if they have plans to travel yet…I think their involvement in this is relatively recent, but I think there is a possibility that they could become more involved,” stated Merten.

The statement comes after calls by Representative Eliot L. Engel (NY-16) and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (CA-32) to “treat similar events similarly,” and for the CDC to travel to Cuba to investigate health incidents as they have in China.

U.S. and Cuba meet for fourth law enforcement dialogue in D.C.

On July 10, the U.S. and Cuba held a law enforcement dialogue in Washington. This was the fourth high-level law enforcement dialogue since 2015, according to a Spokesperson for the Department of State. The two countries discussed bilateral cooperation on security, terrorism, fugitives, cybercrime, drug and human trafficking, and the health incidents. Cuba’s officials reiterated their commitment to collaboration on the health incident investigations and “urged the U.S. government to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health incidents,” according to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The U.S. State Department reports that both countries reviewed recent successful cooperation that led to the conviction of a Cuban national who killed a U.S. citizen and subsequently fled the U.S. The countries agreed to meet for further dialogue in the future.

U.S. not likely to meet visa commitments in 2018; Cuba underscores compliance with U.S. migration accords,

Under the 1994/1995 U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the U.S. committed to issuing 20,000 U.S. immigrant visas per year to Cuban citizens, but this number is not likely to be met this year, reports Telesur. The State Department withdrew most U.S. personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana in response to the mysterious health incidents, resulting in a halt to most visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Thus, Cubans must travel to Guyana to apply for an immigrant visa. Immigrant visa processing for Cuban nationals was conducted in Bogota, Colombia, from October 2017 through March 2018, but was changed to Georgetown, Guyana on April 1, 2018, mainly because Guyana does not require a visa for Cuban national travel. Nevertheless, travel costs are prohibitive for many Cubans, and many are unable to make the journey. The U.S. has until September 30, 2018 (the end of the U.S. fiscal year) to meet the 20,000 mark, per its commitment in the Migration Accords, but low immigrant visa issuance numbers to date suggest it is unlikely to do so.

Meanwhile, Yuri Gala López, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of Bilateral Affairs for the United States, states that “Cuba has complied rigorously with the migratory agreements signed with the United States,” including the Joint Declaration signed January 12, 2017. The island has honored the agreements despite difficult relations with the U.S.; he went on to say. In particular, Mr. Gala López cited Cuba’s commitment to discourage irregular migration. When the U.S. terminated its “wet foot, dry foot” policy and medical parole program for Cuban health professionals, for example, Cuba took back “inadmissible” who tried to cross into or remain in the U.S. after termination of these policies. In fact, this practice has likely led to the increased number of Cuban deportees, as reported by the Miami New Times. The outlet also communicates on a multi-year, up to $347,636 ICE contract with Zephyr Aviation, LLC, a private charter airline that runs deportation flights from Miami to Havana.

Cuban man living in Tampa builds court case against Cuba’s government and its treatment of overseas workers

Raul Risco, a former lieutenant colonel in Cuba’s military and employee of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior, who successfully sought asylum in Tampa almost a year ago, is now building a court case against Cuba’s government and its treatment of the workers it sends overseas, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Risco filed a lawsuit in Havana and plans to eventually bring the case to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council or the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the Netherlands. He compares Cuba’s act of sending workers abroad to human trafficking.

U.S. Episcopal Church votes unanimously to re-engage with Cuba

On July 10 at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Austin Texas, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted to re-admit Cuba as a diocese, reports the Episcopal News Service. The vote comes after five decades of separation and will facilitate financial support, as we reported last week. Cuba’s Bishop Griselda Delgado del Carpio was in attendance.

Rough Riders artifact discovered, monument restored

While covering Hurricane Matthew in Santiago de Cuba two years ago, Kerry Sanders of NBC was approached by a Cuban man on the beach who showed him a plaque that he had in his garage that commemorated the spot where the Rough Riders made landfall in Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish American War that liberated Cuba from the Spanish, reports NBC News Channel 8. “This was a little piece of important history that was in a guy’s garage and lost to everybody,” Sanders said. After the discovery, Rough Riders in Tampa, a club founded in 1978 to commemorate Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders through civic actions, patriotic activities, public service and fellowship events, worked alongside Cuban officials to restore the monument at Playa de Siboney. One of the Tampa Rough Riders commented that the officials “were warm, they were friendly, and they wanted to see a continuing relationship with the Tampa Bay Rough Riders.” Last week the Rough Riders traveled to Cuba to place a wreath on the monument to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the war.

Cuba-U.S. bilateral baseball match

A U.S. collegiate baseball team and a Cuban team bound for the Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla faced-off in a baseball game at Cuba’s Latin American stadium in Havana on Tuesday reports Cubadebate. Since 2012 when the countries resumed matches against each other, seven have taken place. With the U.S. currently in the lead, the series has been extended to Saturday, July 14 according to ¡ahora!

IN CUBA

Cuba Issues New Private Sector Regulations

Cuba’s Government has released the first significant economic policy reform since President Díaz-Canel assumed the presidency. The new measures governing private sector activities were published this week in the government’s Gazette and will be enacted in December, at which time Cuba’s government will resume the issuance of business licenses.

Some measures are likely to be well-received. For example, workers will appreciate a measure requiring private sector employers to enter into labor contracts with employees. The government will levy sanctions against those who discriminate in the workplace on the basis of race, sex, or sexual orientation. Business owners will realize greater profits with a measure to allow a more significant amount of tax exemptions for business expenses. Private owners of bed and breakfasts will be able to offer services to legal entities (in addition to individuals), and a new experiment in the city of Havana will start to provide special fuel rates to taxis with predetermined routes. The Associated Press reports that the measures will streamline inspections from state agencies and allow business owners to designate a manager to run the business in the owner’s absence. The new rules reorganize the allowable private sector activities, consolidating the previous 201 categories into 123. Cuban officials interviewed by Granma say that some categories have been unified, allowing a broader spectrum of activities under the same category.

Others regulations are more complicated. Entrepreneurs will be required to conduct all transactions through accounts in state-run banks. The measures limit the number of licenses per individual, and in some sectors, such as bars and restaurants, licenses will be limited to one per household. Entrepreneurs with several permits will have to choose which one to keep and surrender the rest. Those entrepreneurs who use front men for several businesses will face permanent cancellation of their business permits. The Miami Herald reports that private venues that offer live performances could be sanctioned if they feature performers without authorization from the Ministry of Culture.

Cuban officials interviewed by Granma said that they consulted members of the private sector before finalizing the measures. In fact, in August 2017, at the request of several Cuban entrepreneurs, Cuban officials of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security held a dialogue with private sector representatives.

However, entrepreneurs have mixed feelings about the measures. The private sector still lacks full legal authorization in Cuba’s constitution, access to wholesale markets, and permits to export and import.

Conclusion of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Gibara

Ahora reports that Saturday, during the closing ceremony of the 14th edition of the International Film Festival of Gibara, actress Mirtha Ibarra announced the creation of the Research Center Tomás Gutiérrez Alea. Diario de Cuba reports the project, which will have the sponsorship of the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, seeks to preserve the works of Gutiérrez Alea and other great Cuban film directors. The late Gutiérrez Alea is considered one of the most prominent Cuban filmmakers of all times. His movies, including, Fresa y Chocolate (first and only Oscar-nominated Cuban film to date), Memorias del Subdesarrollo y Muerte de un Burócrata, received awards in Cuba and around the world.

The Festival website also announced the Humberto Solás Award for Cinema in Construction. Humberto Solás was the founder of the Festival and an outstanding filmmaker. Lucía was one of his most prominent movies, in which he describes the story of three women, each named Lucía, in different moments of the Cuban history.

Obesity rates high in Cuba

Cuba is facing increasing rates of obesity, reports Xinhua. More than 42 percent of the population is overweight, and among those, 47 percent are women (an 18% increase over last year), and 13 percent are children.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba to increase non-conventional agricultural exports

Cuba wants to increase non-conventional exports on products such as honey, charcoal, coffee, and pine resin, generating $34 million in sales, reports Xinhua.

A Cuban official commented that bee-derived products such as honey, wax, and royal jelly are the most sought-after by international buyers, with approximately 28 million in sales every year. Cuba wants to incentivize production from the beekeeping industry and, to this end, is investing in infrastructure. The island’s primary market is Europe, especially Germany, although it is looking for new markets in Asia and the Americas. The country currently produces around 8,000 tons of honey and wants to double production, bringing in a revenue of over $60 million in honey-related sales. In the case of charcoal, the country is exporting over 28,000 tons and expects to increase the amount to 130,000 tons every year.

RECOMMENDED READING

Believe It or Not, Now Is The Best Time To Visit Cuba, Nikki Ekstein, Bloomberg

Despite President Trump’s tightening of regulations, now may be the best time to visit Cuba, reports Nikki Ekstein. Chad Olin of the travel company Cuba Candela shares that the island’s recent investments in tourism by the government as well as the private sector, including improvements to infrastructure, wifi access, and other services in the wake of Obama’s opening, have made the country an even more desirable destination. The confusion around Trump’s policies, which, despite popular belief, still leave room for independent travel, have cut down on crowds, making it easier, for example, to book at a luxury hotel and restaurants on short notice. Stefanie Schmudde, vice president for product development and operations at Abercrombie and Kent also believes that travelers will be offered a more authentic experience with locals.

Cuba moves backward: New regulations likely to impede private sector growth, Richard E Feinberg and Claudia Padrón Cueto, Brookings

Feinberg and Cueto analyze Cuba’s new private sector regulations, which they claim “appear more focused on controlling and restricting the emerging private sector than on stimulating investment and job creation, more concerned with capping wealth accumulation than in poverty alleviation.” While the issuing of new regulations brings an end to the suspension of license issuance that has been in place since last year, the regulations are also extremely specific and likely to complicate matters for Cuban business owners, artists, and performers. In the end, measures such as allowing only one license per person to prevent capital accumulation and new taxation and wage regulations could force business owners to close or downsize, decreasing competition between these businesses and state-run enterprises.

He now hunts Cuban human-rights abusers in the U.S. Was he once an offender himself?, Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

Juan Antonio Blanco, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, “announced an initiative to unmask and deport Cuban human-rights abusers now living in the United States,” yet he may have committed human rights abuses during his participation in Fidel Castro’s Rapid Response Brigades in the 1990’s. The Brigades were known for their repression of dissidents, including crackdowns that led to the Balsero Crisis. Blanco has since stated that he was never an official member of the Brigades.

EVENTS

“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 have 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.

MEDICC A Healthy Cuba Healthy World Conference: Linking History, Community & Culture, December 5-10, Meliã Santiago Hotel in Santiago de Cuba

MEDICC (Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba), a non-profit that strives to foster collaboration between the medical community in the U.S. and Cuba will host a 20th-anniversary conference in Cuba in December. See their program at a glance, or check out their full schedule.

 

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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