CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 09/14/2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. officials suspect Russia in mystery ‘attacks’ on diplomats in Cuba, China

On Tuesday, NBC reported that U.S. intelligence agencies consider Russia to be the leading suspect in the health incidents suffered by U.S. government personnel in Havana and China. Three U.S. officials and two others briefed on the situation, tell NBC that suspicions about Russia’s role are backed by signals intelligence, or intercepted Russian communications. The evidence is not yet conclusive enough to formally blame Russia.

When asked about the NBC report, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, cautioned to be “very skeptical” and reminded journalist during the State Department Press Briefing that “the investigation continues into what has caused […] the health attacks.” She also said that “there is no known cause, no known individual or group believed to be responsible at this time.” Nevertheless, she confirmed that the U.S. Department of State still considers the incidents to be “health attacks.” On Wednesday, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director for United States affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, wrote on Twitter that NBC’s report is an “ill-intentioned and totally baseless scheme,” and that “Cuba does not act and does not allow anyone to act against the diplomats of any country in its territory.”

Cuban scientific team researching health incidents visits Washington, DC

Members of Cuba’s scientific team researching the health incidents suffered by U.S. officials in Havana are in Washington, DC, meeting with U.S. officials and Members of Congress. In several tweets, Johana Tablada, Deputy Director for U.S. Affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is accompanying the delegation, shared pictures of the scientists meeting Rep. Crawford (AR-01) and the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Corker (TN). The delegation also visited the National Academy of Sciences. In an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Dr. Mitchell Joseph Valdés-Sosa, CEO of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, asserts that the U.S. government has not yet demonstrated evidence of brain damage suffered by the U.S. officials in Havana. Dr. Valdés-Sosa is skeptical about the use of microwave technology to harm the diplomats. According to the prominent Cuban neurologist, “you’d have to practically vaporize the person before microwave can damage the brain,” NBC reports. On Thursday, the delegation also offered a press conference at the Cuban Embassy, The New York Times reports.

Former Governor Ryan (IL) returns from Cuba, insists embargo must go

Former Governor George Ryan visited Cuba this week at the invitation of the Cuban Government. In 1999, Gov. Ryan became the first sitting U.S. governor to travel to Cuba in a humanitarian trade mission to Cuba. This week, he traveled with Jerry Reinsdorf, the owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, and Roger Claar, the mayor of Bolingbrook, IL. The Miami Herald reports that Gov. Ryan was to meet with high-ranking Cuban officials. Upon his return, Governor Ryan spoke with the Chicago Sun-Times and said it was time to lift the embargo, adding that he would “like to do something about that.”

FBI contacts pro-engagement Cuban-Americans in Florida, raises alarms

The New York Times reports that, in the last few weeks, the FBI has contacted and questioned Cuban-Americans in Miami who advocate for better relations with Cuba’s government. Although a common practice during the Cold War and the George W. Bush administration, during the last decade, such incidents were rare. The report cites instances of agents knocking on doors, providing only first names, and refraining from providing business cards. The outreach is apparently intended to gather counter-intelligence information, and, per a tweet from the New York Times’ Frances Robles, FBI officials have also visited individuals in New York with ties to Cuba. ACLU of Florida has encouraged individuals to file FOIA requests for their FBI files.

IN CUBA

Cuba releases agricultural data reversing previous growth claim

According to recently-released data, Cuba’s food production declined slightly in 2017 from the year prior. Reuters reports this data refutes a prior claim from Ricardo Cabrisas, a Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers. Cabrisas had previously asserted that the country had increased food production, a claim that was unexpected in the view of analysts, given several climate-related disasters such as drought and hurricanes, as well as a lack of capital. In 2017, the country produced 7.1 million tonnes of food, 0.1 less than in 2016.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Venezuela resumes domestic crude exports to Cuba

Reuters reports Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA shipped 4.19 million barrels of domestic crude to Cuba in June, July, and August of 2018. The shipments were not announced publicly; Reuters obtained internal PDVSA documents which detail the Cuba bound shipments at a time when Venezuela’s refining outputs continue to decrease and the country suffers untold economic and humanitarian woes.

The South American country sent Cuba 72,350 barrels per day (bpd) of crude and refined products in the first six months of 2017, 13 percent less than 2016 amounts, and 30 percent less than 2015 levels, Reuters reports. In May, Reuters reported that PDVSA purchased $440 million worth of crude oil from Russia and China in order to supply Cuba. As we reported previously, Cuba’s Cienfuegos oil refinery, which was founded as a joint venture between Cuba and Venezuela, began operating as a 100% Cuban-owned enterprise in August 2017.

Cuba’s First Vice President in North Korea

Salvador Valdés Mesa, Cuba’s First Vice President, participated in festivities for the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding, Granma reports. On this trip, Mr. Valdés Mesa also visited China and was greeted by China’s Vice President. Mr. Valdés Mesa has met several times with North Korean officials, including last August when North Korea’s Vice President visited Havana. The Cuban First Vice President visited Pyongyang in June 2016, as a special envoy of then-President Castro.

RECOMMENDED READING

Stalled U.S.-Cuba relations hurting Florida business, Editorial Board, Tampa Bay Times

The Trump Administration’s regulations toward Cuba have not only taken a toll on Cuba’s entrepreneurs and state-owned enterprises, but also on U.S. businesses. The editorial argues that the loss of momentum in U.S.-Cuba engagement denies the country, especially the state of Florida, the potential to access a natural market only 90 miles away.

EVENTS

Harold López-Nussa in Washington, DC, October 3, Blues Alley, Washington, DC

Harold Lopez-Nussa, a renowned Cuban pianist and composer will be in Washington, DC on October 3 to present his latest album Un día cualquiera. The album represents a defiance to borders and obstacles, yet clearly reflects Lopez-Nussa’s strong connection with Havana.

Hatuey: Memory of Fire, September 14-16, 20-23, Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University

Based on the real story of Asher Penn, a Yiddish poet, journalist, and editor who published an epic poem about Cuba’s first hero Hatuey in 1931. The opera is a vibrant fusion between Afro-Cuban and Yiddish culture set in the 1930s Cuba when the country was fighting the corrupt Machado regime.

Manuel Mendive’s exhibition Nature, Spirit, and Body, August 1-November 4, Bronx Museum of the Arts

First premiering at the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival, Cuban artist Manuel Mendive’s artwork is now on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. His work is inspired by African oral traditions and their influence on Cuba.

MEDICC A Healthy Cuba Healthy World Conference: Celebrating 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. Early Bird deadline extended to September 24!

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