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This week, in Cuba news…
David Richardson, who is campaigning to be the Democratic nominee in the race to replace retiring Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen (FL-27) visited Havana this week for a two-day “listening tour,” the Miami Herald reports. Mr. Richardson currently represents Florida’s 113th district in the state’s House of Representatives and expressed a desire to better understand and connect with his constituency, which includes members of the Cuban exile community. According to the Miami Herald, “Richardson may be the first congressional candidate in Miami, if not the country, to make a campaign visit to the island in half a century.” During an interview recorded on the trip, Mr. Richardson expressed that he was particularly interested in connecting with small business owners in Cuba. “Despite President Trump’s attempts at reversing his predecessor’s progress on foreign policy, I am going to see firsthand how rolling back travel and trade restrictions have changed the lives of the Cuban people, helped private Cuban entrepreneurs, and strengthened the connection between the residents of Little Havana and Havana,” he said. The candidate’s trip included staying at a casa particular (Cuba’s equivalent to a B&B), a meeting with the owner and manager of Café Madrigal, a conversation with the owner of the private restaurant Paladar Atelier and with “an executive of a private Cuban business services company,” as well as a visit to a “women-led dance company that enrolls local youth.” Donna Shalala, the current Democratic frontrunner in the race, told the Miami Herald that she would “never go to Cuba until it is a free country.”
Meanwhile, at a campaign rally in Hialeah, Florida on Friday, July 13, Governor Rick Scott, who is running against incumbent Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate, announced his support for returning Cuba to the U.S.’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and for indicting Raúl Castro, reports WLRN. He also called for the U.S. to bar Cubans who “have been accused of repressive actions, from entering the U.S.” and accused Cuba of creating the current instability in Nicaragua and Venezuela.
After several months of decline following President Trump’s new regulations on trade and travel and widespread hurricane damage, the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba saw an increase in June (a 5% increase from June 2017), Reuters reports. Increasingly, travelers are arriving on cruise ships, likely a result of at least four major cruise ship companies including additional stops on the island. The article notes the difference in the economic impact of cruise travel versus other types; cruise travelers do not spend as much during their visits, meaning less revenue for restaurants and other establishments on the island that cater to visitors.
The Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a coalition of human rights and Cuban exile groups in Florida have erected billboards over busy Miami intersections stating “Don’t aid theft: Cuban docks are stolen property,” the Miami Herald reports. Their goal is to bring attention to unresolved property claims made by Cuban Americans whose property was nationalized following the 1959 revolution in Cuba. These Cuban Americans state that they never received compensation for their land, and argue that by allowing U.S. cruise ships to dock in ports on the island, the U.S. government is unfairly benefitting from confiscated property. “We find it outrageous that the State Department has allowed the cruise lines to tread on our property before compensation has been negotiated,” states Mickael Behn, whose grandfather passed down a certified claim to property at the Port of Havana. In 2015 and 2016, government representatives from the U.S. and Cuba held talks with the aim of resolving outstanding property claims, as CDA reported at the time. The negotiations have not continued under the Trump administration.
Panasonic Corp, which produces batteries for Tesla, suspended trade with its Canadian supplier Sherritt International Corp over embargo-related concerns surrounding the amount of Cuban-mined cobalt that may be in the cells, which may end up in the U.S. market, Reuters reports. A spokeswoman for Panasonic told Reuters that the company “has sought guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regarding its interpretation of the scope of the U.S. ban on Cuban-origin imports.”
Cuba’s National Assembly will meet about its constitutional reform process in the coming days; details of the discussion topics were released Saturday in Granma. Cuba’s Constitutional Reform Commission, led by Raúl Castro, presented a draft constitution to the National Assembly; Deputies will review the draft this weekend and then invite comments from stakeholders such as universities and other government officials. The Constitutional Reform Commission will consider comments and present a revised product to the National Assembly for their consideration and a subsequent popular referendum. This weekend’s debate in the National Assembly is the beginning of the process.
Reuters reports the draft constitution proposes the recognition of private property and would establish the position of prime minister in Cuba’s government. National Assembly Deputies will discuss a draft constitution that includes the idea of state-owned enterprises as the central pillar of the economy and ratifies foreign investment’s importance for the country’s development.
Regarding the structure of Cuba’s governing bodies, the draft proposes creating a new position — the President of the Republic, which would be Cuba’s head of state. It suggests maintaining the National Assembly as the supreme body of the State and with exclusive authority to approve laws and Constitutional reforms. The Council of State would continue as the permanent body of the National Assembly, representing it whenever the Assembly is not in session. Cuba’s head of state would no longer serve as the President of the Council of State; the draft proposes that the leadership of the National Assembly will also govern the Council of State and a new office of Prime Minister would be created to preside over the Council of Ministers.
The document also proposes the principle of “effective citizenship,” which means, for Cuban citizens, their Cuban citizenship alone will be recognized within Cuba’s national territory, regardless of any other citizenship the national could hold. The implications for “effective citizenship” are unclear, but Assistant Professor of Latin American History at FIU Michael Bustamante speculates the move will likely clarify the legal standing of Cuban nationals in Cuba concerning issues such as investment rights.
At the local level, Provincial assemblies would be eliminated and replaced by a more effective provincial government, including a governor, provincial council, and other layers of decision-making.
Global Air, the Mexican company that owned the plane that crashed in May in Havana, released a public statement claiming the accident was caused by a human error, specifically an overly steep takeoff angle. The May crash killed 112 people; the lone survivor is still hospitalized in Havana. The Cuban commission investigating the incident released a statement declaring that any purported conclusions at this stage of the investigation are still premature.
ETECSA, Cuba’s communications company, has started to provide internet on selected mobile phones, Reuters reports. Early recipients of mobile internet are journalists in state-owned news outlets, and Reuters reports ETECSA plans to offer mobile internet across the island in the next six months. As we previously reported, Cuba’s Communications Minister Mesa “said that the country is working to improve and expand internet access and expects internet access via mobile phones with 3G and 4G technology ‘soon.’
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cuba’s Foreign Ministry informed on Twitter that Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, led the Cuban delegation to the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.
On Wednesday, he was received by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Secretary-General Guterres thanked Cuba for its contributions to the UN reform process and expressed his disposition to cooperate with Cuba on areas of mutual interest.
Havana hosted the Sao Paulo Forum July 15- 17. The Sao Paulo Forum is a space of dialogue for Latin America and the Caribbean’s left (political parties and movements) and is sponsored by Brazil’s Workers Party.
Former President Dilma Rousseff from Brazil, President Nicolas Maduro from Venezuela, President Evo Morales from Bolivia, President Díaz-Canel, and former President Raúl Castro participated in the events in Havana.
The new socialist government in Spain is changing its disposition toward Venezuela and Cuba, El País reports, in favor of dialogue. The previous government of Mariano Rajoy had pursued policies of isolation toward both nations, especially the Venezuelan government of Nicolas Maduro. Spanish officials met with Cuban and Venezuelan government representatives on the sidelines of a conference in Brussels this week to communicate the Spanish government’s new approach.
European hotel chain Muthu Hotels and Resorts has reached a deal with Cuba’s Gaviota Hotels to open two hotels on the island, one in Playa Playuelas that will cater specifically to LGBT travelers, reports Excelencias News Cuba. The hotel will be called “Rainbow Muthu Hotel” and is scheduled to open midway through 2019.
Cuba binds its entrepreneurial spirits with red tape, Marc Frank, Financial Times
Although Cuba is set to begin reissuing business licenses in December, new regulations on privately owned businesses may complicate the situation for Cuban entrepreneurs. Rules will include restrictions on the number of business licenses one can hold and the number of customers one can serve, as well as new regulations relating to taxes.
Cuba reigns as the fastest-growing spot for solo female travelers, Andrea Smith, Lonely Planet
Cuba is an increasingly appealing destination for women traveling on their own. The island has seen an increase in the number of solo travelers overall and a 45% increase in women solo travelers between 2015-2017.
Cuba activists push for same-sex marriage, Michael K. Lavers, the Washington Blade
Michael K. Lavers reports on LGBTQ+ activists and support for same-sex marriage in Cuba, where Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), has announced that she will push for such unions during the constitutional reform process this month. Although several Christian groups announced their opposition to the inclusion of a provision allowing same-sex marriage in the constitution, support is widespread, from CENESEX to groups like Acepto, an independent organization that advocates for marriage equality, to individual advocates and everyday citizens. President Díaz-Canel is viewed as accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, and last fall, Cuba granted lesbian couple custody of one of the woman’s grandchildren after her daughter died.
“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 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.
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.