CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 11/16/2018

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Trump administration issues sanctions against more tourist places in Cuba

On Wednesday, the Department of State updated the List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated With Cuba. The list was created under the order of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum (NPSM-5), “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” signed in June 2017; the list was first published in November 2017. The Department of State has repeatedly stated its intent to periodically review the list, which they describe as a “living document.” The new list includes the addition of 26 newly listed subentities and five amendments to the entities and subentities previously listed, including three name changes, one new alias, and one typographical correction. The 26 additions include the new five-star Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel, managed by Spain’s Iberostar, and SO/ Havana Paseo del Paseo, managed by France’s Accor Hotels. Both hotels are owned by Cuba’s military business conglomerate, GAESA, NBC reports. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart (FL-25), a fierce opponent of policies of engagement, supported the additions, and, in a press statement issued Wednesday, stated, “These restrictions prohibit financial transactions that would channel funds to the regime’s repressive military.” However, as NBC notes, the Cuban government can fund its security apparatus with revenues derived from other sources, including via hotels that are not owned by GAESA, and not on the list.

US hotel in Japan refuses Cuba ambassador

Cuba’s Ambassador to Japan, H.E. Carlos Pereira and other embassy officials were denied rooms at a Hilton hotel in southwestern Japan due to the U.S. embargo. A Hilton spokesperson said that due to U.S. economic sanctions against the island, the company declined stays to Cuban government officials. The action prompted complaints by the Cuban government and Japanese officials. Such incidents have occurred in the past with other U.S. hotel companies. In 2006, Mexican authorities fined a Sheraton hotel for expelling a 16-person Cuban delegation from a hotel in Mexico City. In 2007, a Hilton subsidiary refused rooms to a Cuban delegation in Norway, the BBC reports.

Round trip from Boston to Havana

Last Saturday, JetBlue inaugurated a non-stop flight between Havana and Boston, a service that will operate weekly on Saturdays. JetBlue’s successful campaign to take a non-stop flight from New England to Havana was supported by the Massachusetts Port Authority. Local officials assert that the weekly flight will benefit exchanges between New England’s robust healthcare and biotech industries and higher education centers, as well as the region’s community residents of Cuban origin.

Cruise giant Carnival to offer first voyages from New York to Cuba

Carnival Cruise Line announced it will start sailing to Cuba from New York and Virginia. The company will offer nine-day trips from New York including a full-day in Havana with an overnight stay. From Norfolk, Virginia, the week-long Cuba trip will feature an extended stop in Havana, Travel Pulse reports.

IN CUBA

Cuba receives 4 million visitors in the year to date, 6.8 percent drop in U.S. visitors

Cuba’s tourism authorities expect 4.75 million visitors in the 2018 calendar year, a drop of 5 percent in the initial expectation of 5 million visitors, Cubadebate reports. The main visitor countries, Canada, the U.S. and others in Western Europe, will likely send fewer travelers in comparison to 2017; there will be an almost seven percent drop in U.S. travelers year on year. Despite the setback, Cuba’s Tourism Minister announced this week at an official meeting that Cuba expects to receive 5.1 million visitors in 2019. The Minister also noted the ministry’s partnership with approximately 2,000 private restaurants and over 24,000 private lodgings, which serve to alleviate the country’s hotel shortage.

Havana celebrates 499th anniversary of its founding

Happy Birthday, Havana! Today, the city turns 499 years old. In recent weeks, Cuba’s local media has reported a master plan by the government to revitalize services such as hospitals, schools, and buildings in Old Havana and elsewhere in the city as part of the celebration and in expectation of the city’s upcoming 500-year anniversary. Last night at Midnight, Eusebio Leal, the Historian of Havana and architect of the revitalization of Old Havana, kicked off the celebrations with an annual tradition of walking three times around a “Ceiba” tree at the location where the city was founded at its first mass 499 years ago.

‘País en Construcción’ collection opens fashion week in Cuba

Yesterday, the Havana Fashion Week opened with the collection País en Construcción (Country Under Construction), presented by the popular Cuban fashion design house Clandestina. The collection is inspired by the outfits that construction workers wear throughout Havana. Other designers will participate in the Fashion Week, such as Jacqueline Fumero, with a collection inspired by First Lady Jackie Kennedy, and British designer Natalie Wildgoose. The open-air show outside Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts was sponsored by Google, the New York Times reports.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba ends medical exchange program with Brazil

Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health said Wednesday in a statement that the island was “discontinuing” its participation in the Program Mais Médicos, or More Doctors, in Brazil. The Program was launched by former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to send physicians to underserved regions in the South American country and was arranged by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The decision to withdraw Cuban doctors came after the successful campaign of far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro for the presidency of Brazil. During the campaign, then-candidate Bolsonaro raised questions about the quality of the doctors’ training and said the doctors would have to prove their medical credentials by getting their diplomas validated in Brazil, a process that has previously been waived for Cuban doctors. He also criticized the employment contract between Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health and the Cuban doctors, in which the doctors are banned by Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health from having family accompanying them during their mission, and which specifies that the Cuban government keeps around 75 percent of their salaries, the New York Times reports. In addition, Bolsonaro said his government would offer asylum to Cuban doctors who wished to stay in Brazil. Around 20,000 Cuban doctors have worked in Brazil in the span of five years, the statement said. Cuba received more than $249.5 million a year for its doctors in Brazil, according to a researcher who studies Cuba’s economy interviewed by the Miami Herald.

President Díaz-Canel fulfills packed agenda in London

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel arrived in London en route to Havana. During the stop in U.K., the Cuban President visited the tomb of Karl Marx and met with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, who visited Cuba in 2016 as head of the Foreign Office. According to The Evening Standard, The Prince of Wales met with President Díaz-Canel. Upon his arrival to Havana, the head of state was received by former President Raúl Castro, Granma reports. As we reported previously, during the trip, President Díaz-Canel visited Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, and China, where Cuba joined the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

RECOMMENDED READING

Cuba-Massachusetts relations — the journey continues, Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) and Amb. José Ramón Cabañas, The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe brings us a rare op-ed, written jointly by representatives of Cuba and the U.S. – Cuba’s Ambassador to the U.S., José Ramón Cabañas, and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02). Among the celebrations for the first non-stop flight between Boston and Havana, the authors recount the several examples of cooperation among institutions from Massachusetts and Cuba that date back over a century ago.

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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