CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 11/02/2018

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

“This week, in Cuba news…”

UN votes overwhelmingly to condemn US embargo of Cuba

On Thursday, for the 26th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), voted in support of a resolution to denounce the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The resolution passed with a 188-2-0 vote. As has become the custom in recent years, only Israel joined the U.S. to vote against the resolution. Ukraine and Moldova did not vote. This year, the U.S. delegation introduced eight amendments calling on the Cuban government to respect human rights, especially freedom of expression, press, and assembly. All the amendments were rejected by vote and dismissed.

Cuba presented the first UNGA resolution against the U.S. embargo in 1992. On that occasion, the resolution was approved by a vote of 59 in favor, 3 opposed, and 71 abstentions. The U.S. and Israel have voted against the resolution each year but one; in 2016, following President Obama’s trip to Cuba in March of that year, both delegations abstained. That year, the resolution received a historic 191 votes in favor and zero opposed. However, in 2017, following President Trump’s policy directive requiring the U.S. to oppose the measure, the U.S. and Israel once again voted against it. The measure passed with 191 votes in favor.

Every year in the weeks before the vote, the Cuban government increases its statements against the embargo and launches efforts to solicit support from stakeholders in the international community.

Ahead of elections, Bolton talks tough against Cuba, Venezuela in Miami

In a speech on Thursday at Miami’s Freedom Tower, National Security Advisor John Bolton spoke about President Trump’s policy toward Latin America, specifically Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, which he described as the “Troika of Tyranny.” The Washington Post reports the likelihood that the speech served a political purpose, directed at the several contested midterm races in Florida. According to Bolton’s speech, the Trump Administration will not conduct any backchannel diplomatic relations with Cuba’s government. The National Security Advisor also noted the forthcoming addition of over two dozen entities to the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba. In his speech, Bolton praised President-Elect of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, a highly controversial figure, as a “like-minded” ally. Emily Mendrala, CDA Executive Director, issued a statement in response, stating, “Amb. Bolton, in asserting his focus on ‘sanctions not selfies,’ dismisses outright the value of diplomacy. He claims to stand with the Cuban people, but it’s an empty claim (…). [T]hose most harmed by U.S. sanctions are the Cuban people.”

Evacuated after ‘health attacks’ in Cuba and China, diplomats face new ordeals in U.S.

NBC describes, in depth, the experience of one U.S. official from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou who was affected by health incidents in China. The article details the experiences of this member of the U.S. Commercial Service, her resulting decline in health, and the Department of State’s statements to reject assertions that they purposefully downplayed reports of health incidents in China. The report also describes that at least six U.S. diplomats have reported suspected harassment or surveillance upon their return to the U.S.

This week, Dr. Luis Velázquez, President of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, proposed a meeting with scientists from the U.S., Cuba, and Canada, among others, to address the diplomats’ health concerns. The conference would be sponsored by the academies of sciences in the various countries represented, and Dr. Velázquez suggests it could help to clarify the “problem.”

TV Martí under investigation for attack on George Soros.

The U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM, formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors), the entity that oversees taxpayer-funded Radio and TV Martí has called for an investigation after the broadcasting platform aired a 15-minute segment in May in which it called the philanthropist a “multimillionaire Jew” and “the architect of the financial collapse of 2008.” The segment also cited a report published by Judicial Watch, a conservative group whose director Chris Farrell recently said without evidence that the migrant caravan is being funded by the “Soros-occupied State Department.” Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ) said on Twitter that the segment “is taxpayer-funded anti-semitism.” In response to an outcry over the segment, John F. Lansing, CEO and director of USAGM, said in a statement that the segment is “inconsistent with our professional standards and ethics,” the Washington Post reports.

U.S. presence at Cuba trade fair dwindles given Trump hostility

Reuters reports that only eight U.S. companies registered for FIHAV, Cuba’s main trade fair and Latin America’s largest multisectoral trade fair. According to some U.S. participants interviewed by Reuters, the Trump Administration rhetoric has driven away companies who previously demonstrated an interest in doing business with the island. The country’s cash-strapped financial situation hurts as well. Nevertheless, large companies remain interested and are demonstrating their ability to maintain a long-term approach.

IN CUBA

Virgin Announces Cuba Calls for Inaugural Season

Virgin Voyages announced that Havana would serve as the port of call for the 2020 season for its first ship, the Scarlet Lady. The vessel will sail from Miami and will spend one night in Havana. Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero Cruz participated in the presentation during Havana’s International Fair (FIHAV). Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group said during a video showed in the activity: “Havana is the perfect place for our sailors to go and experience a city that exudes an irresistible energy and passion.”

Cuban international business conclave bucks Trump and slump

In a ceremony opening the Havana International Fair (FIHAV) this week, Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca thanked economic partners for doing business with Cuba and promised to continue honoring external debt as the country has done for the last three years. Malmierca also welcomed the U.S. companies participating the FIHAV and stated that these companies understand “the mutual advantage of working with Cuban businesses,” Reuters reports. NBC notes Malmierca’s report that Cuba has signed nearly 200 investment projects worth $5.5 billion since 2014, the year that then-President Raúl Castro signed a foreign investment act. Cuban experts agree that the country needs, at a minimum, 2.5 billion dollars in foreign investment every year for sustained economic development. The Ministry of Foreign Trade’s priority business portfolio was recently expanded to 500 projects, but while the volume of foreign investment is still under the desired levels, Cubadebate reports it is growing.

Foreign Trade Minister Malmierca also offered an interview this week to Cubavision Internacional about foreign investment. In the interview, the Minister said the embargo is one obstacle for the economic development of the island, but that poor governance from Cuban officials also bears some of the blame.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

President Díaz-Canel receives President of Panama

This week, President Díaz-Canel received Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela for a state visit. President Varela visited FIHAV, La Vanguardia reports, and also announced that Panama would start issuing a tourist card to Cuban entrepreneurs to visit and purchase goods in the Central American country. The move will ease restrictions on Cubans who want to buy supplies in the Free Trade Zona Colón. According to Proyecto Inventario, 35,923 Cubans have visited Panama to-date in 2018, a number almost on par with the 35,968 Cubans who visited the country in the entire 2017 calendar year.

President Díaz-Canel arrives in Moscow; visit Paris.

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel arrived in Paris Thursday on a short visit en route to Moscow. He was received by France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, Granma reports, where the dignitaries talked about bilateral trade areas of mutual interest. Cuba’s President also visited UNESCO headquarters and met with Director-General Audrey Azoulay. Mrs. Azoulay accepted an invitation to visit Havana in 2019 for the celebration of the city’s 500th anniversary, UNESCO reports.

Later that day, President Díaz-Canel arrived in Moscow on a three-day state visit, where President Vladimir Putin received him, and both presidents participated in a brief press conference. Tass suggests that a wide range of cooperation agreements could be signed in Moscow during President Diaz-Canel’s visit, and CNN reports rumors about a potential arms deal, including a possible $50 million Russian loan to Cuba to buy Russian military hardware. Russia’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that presidents Putin and Diaz-Canel would also raise the issue of military-technical cooperation, though he declined to share details about those talks.

The Russian president accepted an invitation to visit Havana in 2019 for its the 500th anniversary. According to Cuba’s National Statistics Office, bilateral trade between the two nations reached approximately $435 million in 2017, up from $223 million in 2016 and $188 million in 2015. As we reported last week, President Díaz-Canel will also visit China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Laos on this international trip.

RECOMMENDED READING

Will Trump Open A Pandora’s Box Of Litigation Over Cuban Property? William LeoGrande, HuffPost

This week, prior National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks in Miami, rumors on social media suggested that the Administration could waive the Title III of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. In this article from July 2017, William LeoGrande, Professor of Government and Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at American University, analyses the consequences of such a decision, not just for U.S.-Cuba relations but for U.S. relations with other countries.

Havana in Miami: A sign of changing times, Collin Laverty, Cuba Educational Travel

Collin Laverty, CEO of Cuba Educational Travel and a CDA board member, writes about a celebration in Miami featuring Cuban and Cuban American artists. According to Laverty, the party represents the majority of Cuban Americans who support engagement, culture, reconnecting families, and supporting entrepreneurs.

EVENTS

On Thursday, October 18, we gathered with friends to celebrate CDA’s 12th anniversary and to honor champions of U.S.-Cuba engagement, Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis and Alicia Adams & Gilda Almeida, who organized the beautiful Artes de Cuba Festival at the Kennedy Center in May.

We want to thank our sponsors, host committee and all of those who came to celebrate U.S.-Cuba engagement with us. Attendees enjoyed a concert by renowned Cuban pianist and composer Aldo López-Gavilán. Check out the pictures here, courtesy of Shaughn Cooper!

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

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.

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.

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 its 2018 conference in Cuba in December.

Blondie in Havana, March 10-14, 2019, Teatro Mella.

Blondie, one of America’s most renowned rock band is performing in Havana.

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