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This week, in Cuba news…


U.S. State Department officials visit Havana to probe new health “attacks”

Top officials at the U.S. State Department made an unannounced visit to Cuba this week to look into recently confirmed health incidents affecting employees of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and to visit with remaining embassy employees, reports CBS News. State Department spokesperson Julia Mason told The Hill that Acting Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri, Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Management William Todd, and Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Michael Evanoff met with Cuban government officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and assessed the “challenges posed by these attacks and their impact on U.S. operations on the ground.” In June, as we reported, the State Department confirmed two additional cases in Cuba, the first since August 2017, bringing the number of medically confirmed cases at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba to 26. There is also one medically confirmed case and multiple additional reports of symptoms among U.S. officials at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China. The State Department has not yet concluded that there is a link between incidents in Cuba and China; the investigation into the cause of the incidents is ongoing. Granma reports that Cuban officials reiterated Cuba’s commitments and actions to investigate the matter and restated that “Cuba has never perpetrated and will never perpetrate an act against U.S. diplomats…” The U.S. officials reportedly spoke to Cuban officials about the country’s duty to protect diplomats under the Vienna Convention. However, after reports of incidents in China, Secretary Pompeo stated, “[China has] honored their commitment under the Vienna Convention to take care of the diplomats that are serving in their country, and we truly appreciate this.” Representative Eliot L. Engel (NY-16) recently urged the Trump Administration to “treat similar events similarly.”

Delta to add flight from Miami to Havana

Delta Air Lines will offer an additional flight from Miami to Havana beginning in October, the company reports. The non-stop flight will be offered five times a week and allow customers the option to depart Miami in the morning or the evening. Next month, the company will celebrate two years of renewed flights between the U.S. and Cuba.


Cuba’s Ongoing Constitutional Reform

Cuba is drafting a new Constitution that will replace the current document from 1976. The constitutional reform is intended to formalize a number of current laws and common practices and to modernize the governance structure. Analysts believe the reform is meant also to attract foreign investment. An initial draft of the new constitution suggests the new document will recognize private property, create the position of Prime Minister, and recognize same-sex marriage, among other changes.

The process, which began in June, is expected to conclude in the first half of 2019. Cuba’s National Assembly approved an initial draft on July 22, which will enter a period of public comment on August 13 that will last three months. The Constitutional Reform Commission, which includes senior officials, will consider public comments, amend the draft constitution, and present a final version to the National Assembly for approval. If approved, the Cuban people will consider the new constitution in a popular referendum.

The New York Times reports that the new Constitution would “catch up with changing social attitudes throughout Cuba and Latin America.” Two of the most commented on aspects of the draft are the recognition of private property and a possible opening for same-sex marriage. Reuters reports that Homero Acosta, the secretary of the Council of State and one of the architects of the new Constitution draft told lawmakers, “the possibility of marriage between two people strengthens our project’s principles of equality and justice.”

Cuba experiencing weak economic growth in 2018

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced that the economy grew only 1.1 percent during the first half of the year, compared to the government’s 2018 forecast of 2 percent, Reuters reports. Some analysts estimate that Cuba would need at least 3 percent of annual GDP growth to “break even,” and Cuban officials assert the economy needs approximately 7 percent annual growth to fully recover from the “Special Period” in the 1990s that ensued from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic difficulties caused by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela.

According to Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, Cuba has only achieved “mediocre” results since 2009. From 2009 to today, Cuba’s growth has only exceeded 3 percent once – in 2015 – with annual growth reports of 4.4 percent. In 2016 and 2017, the economy grew an average of 0.34 percent, far from the 7 percent desired by the government. Díaz-Canel called on Cuba’s government and population to curb black market activity and to work hard to improve the economy.

Although needed, currency unification won’t happen soon: economist

Renown Cuban economist Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva said, during the 28th annual meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy in Miami, that the Cuban government is unlikely to execute a long-awaited currency reform before the new Constitution is approved. The reason why, Dr. Pérez Villanueva assesses, is keeping inflation and layoffs at bay in advance of votes on Cuba’s constitutional reform, reports the Miami Herald.

A process of revision for unifying the dual currency system and multiple exchange rates has been in the works for several years. The Cuban government has been reluctant to publicly announce a timeline amid fears of currency speculation. CDA reported last April about a rumor that the government had imminent plans to withdraw one currency from circulation. Cuban economists and government officials alike agree that unifying the dual currency system is crucial to developing the national economy.


French Foreign Minister to Visit Cuba

Prensa Latina reports that Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, will visit Cuba July 28 and 29 to hold meetings with Cuban officials, including Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. The visit follows a working meeting between the two country’s foreign ministers in May of this year. Ties between the two countries have improved considerably in recent years; in 2015, France’s President François Hollande visited Cuba, and the following year, President Raúl Castro visited Paris. The meetings marked the first such visit by either country’s head of state.


John Stossel: Trump doesn’t need to meddle in Cuba because things are already turning around, John Stossel, Fox News

Fox News’s John Stossel sees progress and new freedoms in Cuba’s draft constitution, progress and freedoms that are hindered by recent U.S. policies to enact tighter trade and travel regulations. “I fully support a position of engagement with Cuban civil society” he says, “embargoes are not only bad for Cuba, they are bad for Americans who are less free to pick which people and companies to work with.”

Changing face of Cuba is worth watching for investors, David Stevenson, Financial Times

As Cuba slowly opens up to foreign investment, David Stevenson sees room for investors to join the market. Cuba is in the midst of listing on the London Stock Exchange, and already boasts Spanish and Canadian foreign investment, though of course, these are usually joint ventures shared with the Cuban state. Although changing U.S. policy toward the country presents a challenge, Mr. Stevenson claims that the island “offers the real holy grail of investing: a low correlation bet on global equities, by investing in a country that wants to keep its distance from the global capitalist system.”

Trying to protect-and expand-Cuba’s undiscovered musical legacy, Alejandro Serrano, Washington Post

Cuba’s national music label Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM) also acts as Cuba’s main recording studio and music archive. Its archive is a treasure trove of all genres and nearly all time periods of Cuban music, yet the harsh weather conditions of the Caribbean and a lack of resources due to the U.S. embargo mean that these precious recordings and other materials are subject to the whims of old, clogged, air conditioners and archivists who can only digitize them so quickly on aging equipment and with aging technology. Alejandro Serrano presents the situation with urgency, and suggesting that preservation is not just a Cuban concern, quoting archivist Vicente Prieto Borrego, who insists that “music can’t have borders. Art, culture can’t have borders.”

Cuban artist gives away his work in streets of Havana, Hatzel Vela, Local 10 ABC News

Cuban artist Yulier Rodriguez has begun a new project he calls “Regalos,” in which he paints on pieces of debris and leaves his artwork on the streets of Havana for passersby to discover and claim. He says the project “was born out of his experience with government censorship” and that “his hope is to create a dialogue.”


“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.

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