CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 09/28/2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba’s President Diaz-Canel in New York for the UN General Assembly

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel spent the week in New York for his first trip to the United States and his first appearance before the United Nations General Assembly as Cuba’s head of state.

On Wednesday, President Díaz-Canel addressed the United Nations General Assembly, where he described Cuba’s April leadership transition as a generational handover. “We are continuity, not rupture,” he said in his speech. Reuters reports that while President Diaz-Canel specifically denounced “the actions carried out by the United States to impose a regime change,” he expressed that Cuba remains open to dialogue between equals.

At a meeting organized by Google’s Eric Schmidt, Cuba’s president met with leaders from Google, VaynerMedia, Connectify, Mapbox, McKinsey & Co., Virgin Group, Airbnb, Revolution, Twitter, Microsoft, Bloomberg, and Cresta. The Miami Herald reports meeting participants discussed increasing data access through Cuba’s mobile network and developing a start-up culture on the island.

He met with a bipartisan and bicameral group of Members of the U.S. Congress, including Sen. Ron Wyden (OR), Rep. Karen Bass (CA-37), Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14), Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02) Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-05) and Rep. Roger Marshall (KA-01). Rep. Marshall told AG NET that the U.S. “can and should be Cuba’s number one supplier of commodities like sorghum, soy, wheat, and corn.” According to Granma, President Díaz-Canel reiterated the will of the Government of Cuba to engage with the U.S. on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

President Diaz-Canel’s busy agenda to-date included a speech at the Peace Summit honoring Nelson Mandela, at which he honored ties between Cuba and South Africa; remarks at a United Nations High-Level Meeting to promote the elimination of nuclear weapons; and bilateral meetings with leaders of several countries, including Argentina, Iran, Panama, South Africa, Spain, and Vietnam. EFE reports that Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will visit Cuba “as soon as possible,” after accepting an invitation by the Cuban President.

Additionally, he discussed Cuba-EU cooperation with Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission; held meetings with leaders of U.S. agriculture, tech, and travel; a meeting with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; and a sit down with the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan. Wednesday evening, President Diaz-Canel attended the historical Riverside Church to deliver remarks to U.S. civil society leaders. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro made an unannounced appearance, and several journalists from U.S. and Spain were removed from the Church at the request of Cuba’s personal security detail, the Miami Herald reports.

This evening, he is expected to receive Cubans living in the U.S. in a reception at the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations.

First-Ever Biotech Venture Between U.S. and Cuba to Research and Develop New Cancer Treatments

On Wednesday, Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) announced the first-ever joint venture between the U.S. and Cuba. The venture, called Innovative Immunotherapy Alliance, S.A., will advance the research and development of new cancer medicines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the deal at Roswell Park’s Buffalo, New York headquarters. In 2015, CDA organized a trade delegation to Cuba for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during which Roswell Park and CIM signed an initial agreement to develop a lung cancer vaccine. At Wednesday’s announcement, Governor Cuomo said, “This historic venture with Cuba will provide Roswell Park access to innovative cancer-fighting drugs that could revolutionize treatments and put us one step closer to eliminating the threat of cancer once and for all.” Roswell Park will now have access to CIMAvax-EGF, a Cuba-developed lung cancer vaccine, which has now completed Phase I FDA trials, and three additional cancer drugs.

This first-ever U.S.-Cuba joint venture demonstrates the prospects for continued engagement on areas of mutual interest despite current bilateral tensions, and it could serve as a blueprint for other successful business ventures between the countries, especially for those U.S. companies who are bold and comfortable with the general challenges of early entry into an emerging market.

In a press release following the announcement, CDA executive director Emily Mendrala said, “Our two countries stand to gain immeasurably from closer ties, be in the field of biotech, education, sports, commerce, or the arts. Today’s announcement is an unmistakable example of the good that can come from U.S.-Cuba engagement.”

Roswell Park’s newsroom notes, “Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, a law firm with expertise in international business and U.S.-Cuba trade matters, provided legal guidance that helped support establishment of the joint venture.”

IN CUBA

Hotel demand jumps in Cuba, Expedia

According to global travel megacompany Expedia, demand for hotels in the western region of Cuba with strong markets such as Havana, Varadero and Viñales saw an increase in U.S.-based demand of 360 percent from June 2017 to June 2018, reports the Caribbean Journal. According to Rafael del Castillo, Senior Director for Mexico and the Caribbean from Expedia Group, “Cuba offers a unique combination of history, culture and some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the Caribbean. We are convinced of the potential of the island and are proud of our contribution to the country.”

Cuba to invest $100 million in state-owned steelmaker Antillana de Acero

Cuba will make significant upgrades in its state-owned steel industry, S&P Global reports. Russia is expected to invest approximately $165 million as part of an agreement signed in November 2017, and for its part, Cuba will invest $100 million. Cuba’s state-owned companies Antillana de Acero and Acinox will undergo equipment modernization that is expected to be staggered in order to avoid gaps in production. We previously reported a July 2014 visit to Cuba from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during which he signed an agreement with then-President Raúl Castro to cancel 90 percent of the $32.5 billion debt Cuba had with the Soviet Union. The agreement included plans for Russia to reinvest the remaining 10 percent in projects on the island.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Belt and Road exhibition in Cuba highlights China’s initiative

On Wednesday, China’s Ambassador to Cuba inaugurated a photo exposition in Havana displaying Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects around the world, Xinhua reports. The BRI, a development program funded by China’s Government, funds investments in infrastructure, education, transportation, minerals, and energy across the globe. Several countries in Latin American have signed cooperation agreements, including Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua and Barbuda, and Bolivia.

Despite its contributions to global development, BRI has been criticized by some as exploitative. The controversial program reports limited data and often demands the hiring of Chinese companies and Chinese labor to carry out the projects, the Financial Times reports.

According to China’s Ambassador, cooperation with Cuba is very important for Beijing. Chinese and Cubans officials have had conversations to introduce the initiative in Cuba, conversations that the Ambassador hopes could be translated into “concrete projects in the near future.”

RECOMMENDED READING

NY Cancer Center Turns to Akin Gump for Groundbreaking Cuba Deal, Dan Packel, New York Law Journal

The author describes the legal approach of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the law firm that counseled Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center on its deal with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology.

The Mystery Deepens on Those ‘Immaculate Concussion’ Illnesses in Cuba, Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

One year after the staff draw-down at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the author discusses the implications of a skeletal embassy staff, and the various theories surrounding the cause of the mysterious symptoms experienced by embassy personnel.

EVENTS

U.S.-Cuba Agriculture Business Conference, November 8-10, Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

The U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba will host a business conference in Havana in November at which business representatives, farmers, and officials are expected to be present.

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

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, and clearly reflects Lopez-Nussa’s strong connection with Havana.

Manuel Mendive’s exhibition Nature, Spirit, and Body, Now-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.

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