CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 11/09/2018

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Makeup of new Congress could create a different dynamic on Cuba policy

The Miami Herald analyzes how the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections could impact the congressional dynamic on Cuba policy. In Miami-Dade County, for example, Cuban American candidates lost two seats in the county’s three congressional districts. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) won the FL-26 district by over two points (51-49 percent), defeating incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R). Additionally, Donna Shalala (D), who served as Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration, then as President of the University of Miami, and more recently as President of the Clinton Foundation, defeated local journalist Maria Elvira Salazar (R) in Florida’s 27th district, a district previously represented by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Cuba-American elected to Congress. Only Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (R) survived the challenge of former Judge Mary Barzee-Flores (D), winning FL-25 (60.3-39.7 percent).

The race for the U.S. Senate between former Gov. Rick Scott (R) and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson is not over yet as the results, which favor slightly Gov. Scott, are headed to a recount, Orlando Sentinel reports. In the gubernatorial race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum conceded on Tuesday to Rep. DeSantis (FL-6), however, the race is also facing a likely recount, NPR reports.

Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ) who has been a champion for U.S.-Cuba engagement and Sen. Bob Corker (TN), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee who traveled recently to Havana for the second time, are retiring. However, outspoken opponents of engagement with Cuba remain in the U.S. Senate; Sens. Bob Menendez (NJ) and Ted Cruz (TX) won their reelection bids. Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) does not face reelection until 2022.

Cuba extradites a 55-year-old American lawyer to face murder charges in N.J.

Cuban authorities have extradited from Cuba to the U.S. a 55-year-old U.S. citizen and New Jersey resident wanted by the FBI for murder. In a statement released on Wednesday, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the U.S. citizen was under an Interpol Red Notice. Mexican authorities alerted the FBI that the suspect had boarded a plane to Cuba. It is not clear if the FBI alerted Cuban authorities. In recent months, U.S. and Cuban authorities have cooperated on several law enforcement matters. As we previously reported, Cuba’s authorities extradited an eco-terrorism suspect on the run for 12 years. Moreover, a Cuban national was tried in Havana for the murder of a South Florida resident with evidence supplied by Palm Beach County prosecutors.

US agribusiness looks to boost sales to Cuba

Representatives of the U.S. agricultural sector met in Havana’s Hotel Nacional to discuss agricultural trade with Cuba. Under the U.S. embargo, agricultural trade is one of the few trade areas where U.S. law permits exports to Cuba. However, the law requires payments of cash in advance. According to a White Paper published by Cuba Trade Magazine, experts predict that, were the embargo to be lifted, U.S. farmers could account for up to 75 percent of the $2 billion Cuba imports annually in food. Rep. Rick Crawford, attending the aforementioned conference in Havana this week, said that he had a brief conversation with President Trump in which the president showed “interest and openness” in the Cuban Market, ABC 10 News’ Hatzel Vela reports.

IN CUBA

Cuba lowers economic growth forecast as trade continues to drop

Cuban authorities have lowered the 2018 economic growth forecast from 2 percent to 1 percent. In a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Minister of Economy Alejandro Gil presented a report that attributed the lowered GDP growth forecast to low sugar and nickel exports, and fewer revenues in the tourism sector. As we reported previously, Cuba’s expected 2018 yield of 1.1 million tons of raw sugar is a 40 percent drop from the previous season.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

President Díaz-Canel arrives in China, Vietnam

China’s President Xi Jinping received Cuba’s President Díaz-Canel on Thursday, Xinhua reports. Cuban and Chinese authorities signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in several areas, including one to “expand the cooperation for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),” Cubadebate reports. BRI is a development program by China’s Government that funds investment projects in infrastructure, education, transportation, minerals, and energy across the globe.  China is Cuba’s second largest trade partner after Venezuela, according to the island’s National Statistics Office. In 2017, bilateral trade surpassed $2 billion. As we reported previously, China’s Ambassador in Havana said that the two governments have discussed introducing BRI in Cuba.

Today, President Díaz-Canel was received by Vietnam’s President Phu Tong in Hanoi. Both witnessed the signing of several economic agreements. In a joint press conference, President Tong confirmed that both leaders held talks on issues such as defense and security, diplomacy, agriculture, biotechnology and pharmaceutical, education, sciences, and people-to-people exchanges.

RECOMMENDED READING

American farmers need the Cuban market, Reps. Rick Crawford (AK-1), Tom Emmer (MN-6) and Roger Marshall (KS-1), The Hill

In a joint op-ed, the Members of Congress advocate for lifting financing restrictions on U.S. food exports to Cuba. For Arkansas, the top U.S. rice exporter, Cuba represents a desirable market; the island has the highest per capita rice consumption in the hemisphere. However, Cuba has not bought rice from the U.S. since 2009 due to U.S. restrictions on financing.

The Mystery of the Havana Syndrome, Adam Entous and Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker

The article discusses the health incidents suffered by U.S. officials in Havana, and includes newly public information about the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic thaw, including a 2015 visit to Havana by John Brennan, CIA Director under President Obama, to discuss intelligence cooperation with Cuban government officials.

The Strange Case of American Diplomats in Cuba: As the Mystery Deepens, So Do Divisions in Washington, Tim Golden and Sebastian Rotella, ProPublica

A year after the reduction of diplomatic personnel in the U.S. Embassy in Havana the intelligence and scientific communities have not been able to reach a conclusion about the health incidents in Havana and the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou. ProPublica recounts the actions of several senior-level U.S. officials, including Mike Pompeo, CIA Director at the time of the health incidents, who is now the Secretary of State.

EVENTS

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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