CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 12/21/2018

Dear friends,

This is the last Cuba Central News Blast in 2018. Throughout the year, we brought to you news and analysis on events in Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, such as the unveiling of a José Martí statue in Havana, a gift from the Bronx Museum of the Arts and identical to the one in New York’s Central Park, the election of the first non-Castro to take the leadership of the island in almost 60 years, President Díaz-Canel’s first visit to the U.S., and the first ever biotech joint venture between Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM).

We look forward to keeping you informed in the next year. During this season of reflection, we wish you nothing but joy and happiness, and the very best in 2019Happy Holidays from the CDA family!

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

MLB, Cuban Baseball Federation reach agreement; Trump administration signals it has issues with deal

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) signed an agreement that will allow Cuban baseball players to play in the U.S. and Canada without having to defect. The deal was negotiated over three years, and is similar to the ones the MLB has brokered with baseball programs in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. The news also means that Cuban players will no longer be subjected to exploitation by smugglers and traffickers who have preyed upon Cuban defectors in the past.

Under the agreement, the FCB will release players over 25 years old and with more than six years of experience to play in the MLB and, in turn, will receive a release fee independent from the player’s salary. The fees would amount to between 15 and 20 percent of total guaranteed value for players signing major league contacts, or 25 percent of the signing bonus for minor league deals, according to ESPN. Release fees for the signing period between June 2015 and July 2017 would have totaled approximately $2 million had the agreement been in effect at that time, reports the Miami Herald.

The agreement is intended to go into effect immediately, according to Yahoo Sports. However, the White House appears to oppose the deal and, with likely support from Sen. Rubio (FL) who spoke out against the deal, could take steps to delay implementation. A senior official said that the current administration “is actively assessing the Obama-era policies that Major League Baseball appears to have leveraged to enter into this arrangement with the Cuban Baseball Federation.”

Efforts to scuttle the agreement would be unpopular; Wednesday’s news was met with enthusiasm from Cuban baseball players, Cuban American thought leaders, and several Members of Congress including Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT), Jeff Flake (AZ) and Reps. Eliot Engel (NY-16) and Kathy Castor (FL-14).  CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala said in a statement quoted by NPR and Prensa Latina: “Today’s announcement celebrates our shared passions and will intensify the already vibrant ties of baseball diplomacy.”

U.S.-Cuba lobby celebrates a Farm Bill win despite worsening ties

President Trump signed the Farm Bill into law Thursday. The bill includes a provision to chip away at the embargo, the first pro-engagement legislative provision to pass Congress in nearly two decades, Reuters reports. Specifically, the provision will allow U.S. farmers to use U.S. Department of Agriculture Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development funds to market their products in Cuba, effectively offsetting the costs of overseas marketing. Farmers are still required to receive “cash-in-advance” of sale for agricultural goods sold to Cuba. A White Paper prepared by Cuba Trade Magazine estimates that Cuba imports 2 billion dollars in food every year, and that, under a normal financial relationship, the U.S could capture approximately 60 percent of the market. As we reported previously, the Farm Bill’s Cuba trade provision was championed by Sens. Boozman (AR) and Heitkamp (ND), and Rep. Crawford (AR-1).

Cuba’s top chess grandmaster switches allegiance to U.S.

Chess Grandmaster Lenier Domínguez, a celebrated Cuban chess player, and one of the top chess players in the world, will now be playing in international tournaments under the U.S. flag. GM Domínguez (35), who resides in Miami, was required by the World Chess Federation to wait two years before switching national federations. Even with a two year break from competition, his current Elo rating (a rating system to assess chess players’ skills) makes him the fourth highest-rated player in the Americas and the 20th in the world. Two other Cuban chess grandmasters have ceased their affiliation with the Cuban Chess Federation, are currently enrolled in the Webster University Chess Team, and are expected to join the U.S. Chess Federation after the mandatory two year waiting period.

Cuba has a long tradition of cultivating top chess players. José Raúl Capablanca was world champion from 1921 to 1927 and is considered to be one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

IN CUBA

Cuba forecasts slow growth in 2019 as economic woes continue;tourism inched up in 2018 on cruise ship arrivals

Cuban authorities project sluggish growth in 2019, on par with the one percent growth rate from the current year. Cuba’s Minister of the Economy, Alejandro Gil Fernández, speaking at a closed-door session of the National Assembly’s economic commission, said export earnings declined further this year, though the media did not provide specifics. The Cuban economy is dependant on foreign revenues such as Venezuela’s subsidized oil and human services exports including medical services to third world countries. However, as we previously reported, Cuba will receive less than projected revenues from South America after it withdrew its physicians from Brazil following President-Elect Jair Bolsonaro’s threats to rescind Cuba’s participation in the Mais Médicos program. Reuters reportsCuba’s economy also suffered from the agricultural and tourism-related effects of hurricanes and floods, the economic collapse of Venezuela, and a tightening of U.S. sanctions. Minister Gil Fernández noted that austerity measures, including reducing energy and fuel usage, and limiting imports, will continue.

Government officials also announced a slow growth of tourism to the island in 2018, Reuters reports. After a drop in arrivals in 2017 and a slow start to the year, the numbers of visitors started recovering in the last quarter of this year, as we reported then. At a press conference in Havana, Miguel Bernal, the Ministry of Tourism’s commercial director, explained that the increase was, to a great extent, due to increased arrivals on cruise ships, but that the number of total visitors by plane will likely have dropped by 6 percent. Between the two varieties, cruise travelers usually spend less money in the Cuban economy.  The article also reports that the government forecasts a new record for the number of visitors in 2018, 4.75 million, and a one percent increase in U.S. arrivals over 2017 levels. For 2019, the Cuban official noted that tourism arrivals are expected to increase to 5.1 million.

Cuba scraps language that could have paved the way for same-sex marriage in new constitutionreinserts ‘communism’

Cuba’s National Assembly is reviewing an updated draft of Cuba’s new constitution. According to tweets from Cuba’s National Assembly, the new draft includes several modifications to contents related to social issues, including a rewording of the concept of marriage.

Under the 1976 constitution, still in effect, marriage is defined as between “one man and one woman.” The first draft of the proposed new constitution defined marriage as “between two persons,” a definition that would have opened the path to marriage equality. Though the most recent draft has not yet been released to the public, Mariela Castro, Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, member of Cuba’s National Assembly, and the highest profile advocate for LGTBQ+ rights in Cuba, signaled the constitution will remain neutral on the issue of marriage equality. Evangelical churches in Cuba openly and heavily campaigned against the first draft, a political move that is extremely rare in Cuba.

Nevertheless, Mariela Castro said that the new constitution could indeed pave the way for marriage equality. The new draft will reportedly not preclude same-sex marriage, as it uses the gender neutral term “spouses,” recognizes common-law marriages, and will defer to a forthcoming referendum on the Family Code to determine the country’s position on same-sex marriage.  Reactions from proponents of same-sex marriage in Cuba are mixed, with some expressing disappointment and others optimism for forthcoming legal changes.

Additionally, the new draft reinserts the term “communism” into the draft, which had been removed by the original drafting commission headed by Raúl Castro. The new draft includes the goal of “advancing toward a communist society,” a move which reportedly responds to concerns from thousands of Cuban citizens that were expressed during the recent public comment period for the new constitution.

RECOMMENDED READING

Farm bill’s expansion of trade opportunities between the US and Cuba historic and mutually beneficialSen. John Boozman (AR) and Rep. Rick Crawford (AR-01), The Hill

In an op-ed, the Members of Congress celebrate the Farm Bill and the provision that gives U.S. farmers a “much-needed win” in their desire to trade with Cuba.

The U.S. and Cuba have so much to gain from mutual engagementTom Campbell, The Seattle Times

The author asserts that, through engagement, we can increase U.S. food exports to Cuba; make clean energy investments; and deepen medical cooperation between our two countries; Cuba’s highly educated population could make the island an innovation hub in the Caribbean.

EVENTS

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

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

One of Those Havana Nights,May 23rd to 27th, Teatro Bellas Artes and Teatro Mella

Tim McGraw will be in Havana for the first time ever! The Grammy Award-winning superstar will perform two unique acoustic shows during the trip at Teatro Bellas Artes and at renowned Teatro Mella. Tim will be joined by some amazing Cuban artists, including Carlos Varela, Tradicionales de los 50, and the GRAMMY® Award-winning Cuban music legends Los Van Van.

So many thanks to all of you who donated during CDA’s #GivingTuesday campaign and to all of CDA’s valued supporters. We are thrilled to announce we have extended our Facebook fundraiser until December 31. This giving season, we invite you to consider the value of CDA’s work and contribute to our mission. We thank you!

Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the Cuba Central News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

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