You are reading the first Cuba Central News Blast of 2019! Our goal this year is to provide you with news and analysis of events in Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. This year, we will continue to promote U.S. policies toward Cuba based on engagement. We wish you a happy new year.
This week, in Cuba news…
On January 1, former President Raúl Castro gave an speech in Santiago de Cuba to mark the 60-year anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. In his speech, he touted the staying power of the revolution, saying that the revolution “has not aged.” The head of the Cuban Communist Party reiterated the Cuban government’s desire to keep respectful U.S.-Cuba relations. He also said that the leadership of the Communist Party supports the actions of current President Díaz-Canel, yet also forecasted continued economic difficulties.
The government faces increasing regional difficulties after the election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, the economic crisis of its close ally Venezuela, and an increasingly complex relationship with the current U.S. administration. It also faces several challenges at home; economic difficulties are the main concern, without any indication of near-term improvement, reports AFP.
McLatchy reports the Trump Administration is considering blocking the historic agreement signed between the MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB). As we reported previously, both organizations signed an agreement that will allow Cuban baseball players to play in the U.S. and Canada without having to defect. “Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player. To this date, I am still harassed,” said Chicago White Sox player José (Pito) Abreu. Sen. Rubio (FL) has asked U.S. government officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to reconsider a prior U.S. government determination, which concluded the FCB is an autonomous entity. To change the determination could render the agreement with the MLB difficult to implement. Former and current Cuban baseball players in the Major League have praised the agreement.
This week, FedEx announced it was dropping plans to offer overnight service to Cuba, ending its more than two-year effort to initiate cargo air service between Miami and Varadero, Cuba. Bloomberg reports the company won approval from the U.S. government in 2016 for cargo flights, filed for several extensions for the startup date, and this week, ultimately abandoned its right to fly five-weekly flights to Varadero, noting instead, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, plans to consider “alternative all-cargo service options to Cuba.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Brazil’s newly inaugurated President Jair Bolsonaro this week in Brasilia. In their meeting, they discussed joint efforts to “work alongside each other against authoritarian regimes” and commitment to “reinforcing democratic governance and human rights” in left-wing government such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. Mr. Bolsonaro has been criticized for statements and policy prescriptions that would undermine human rights.
On December 22, Cuban lawmakers voted to approve the final draft of Cuba’s new Constitution. The text is now set to be voted on in a nation-wide popular referendum on February 24. The current draft, not yet released to the public in full, reportedly contains 229 articles and is expected to maintain a proposed change to the government structure laid down on the previous draft, including the naming of a Prime Minister, which was the subject of many popular debates during a public comment period. The document keeps the door to same-sex marriage, the most discussed issue in the popular debates, as it deletes the 1976 constitutional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. The National Assembly reports that Cubans will vote on the issue of same-sex marriage in the context of Cuba’s Family Code in a referendum to be held two years after enacting the new constitution.
A previous draft was the subject of a four-month-long public comment period, during which Cubans attended countless community meetings and submitted 9,595 commentaries, Cubadebate reports. The drafting Commission, comprised of high-level government leaders, reviewed the public comments, revised the text, reportedly according to public comments, and submitted the new draft to the National Assembly, where it was approved in December.
Critics of the current draft argue that the public comment period was inauthentic and that the new draft only included those suggestions with which top governmental figures agreed. Some of the critics are campaigning against the constitution online, Reuters reports. However, the campaign for NO is expected to draw minimal support.
Cuba increased the number of visitors by 1.3 percent in 2018, compared to the year prior, the Miami Herald reports. Cuban officials announced that the island received a record of 4.75 million visitors, with Canada and the U.S. as the main markets. Cuban authorities had expected to reach 5 million visitors in 2018, but the tourism industry faced a number of challenges, including several hurricanes and U.S. travel restrictions.
Reuters reports that Cuba’s economic outlook for 2019 is on par with previous years, and maybe worse. Cuba’s reported annual GDP growth of about 1 percent lags far behind the 5-7 percent economist say the island needs to launch economic development. However, the island is cash-strapped and lacking investments. Some foreign investors approach the island with caution and Cuba’s government is slow to approve investments, in part due to excessive regulations.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Australia’s Melbana energy signed an agreement with China’s Anhui Modestinner Energy (AMEC) to farm out Cuba’s Block 9 at the east of Matanzas. Under the agreement, three wells will be drilled by Melbana and fully funded by AMEC. The block has an estimate of 15.7 billion oil barrels.
Brazil’s government froze an export credit line for new exports after Cuba, Mozambique, and Venezuela defaulted on loans. Cuba reportedly accessed the credit line previously to contract Brazilian companies to perform the modernization of the Mariel Port outside of Havana, and to buy busses, industrial goods, and food. In July, the Cuban government paid $4 million from the total of $10 million due in a loan insured by the Brazilian Treasury, leaving the Brazilian Treasury to pay $6 million to Brazil’s National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES) to compensate for the default.
RECOMMENDED READING AND VIEWING
Cuba Hangouts: Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, Amb. Vicky Huddleston and Emily Mendrala, Google Hangouts
Today, CDA’s Emily Mendrala moderated a Cuba Hangout with Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, U.S. Chargé d’Affairs to Cuba under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Ambassador Huddleston served as a diplomat in Cuba during Elian, the Varela Project, and the Cuban Five conflicts and wrote a fascinating memoir titled “Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle with Castro’s Cuba.” Cuba Hangouts runs monthly on the first Friday of every month at 3:05 p.m., Miami’s cafecito time. Cuba Hangouts are sponsored in partnership by CubaOne Foundation and Cuba Educational Travel, and can be accessed on YouTube or Facebook.
Can Cuba baseball still be great when many of its stars have left?, Ed Augustin, The New York Times
The piece explores the current state of Cuban baseball after massive defections of rising stars to play in the U.S. major leagues or other leagues around the world. The author also discussed the likely impact of the newly announced agreement between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation.
A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine, Cynthia Carris Alonso, Apollo Publishers
“A Taste of Cuba: A Journey Through Cuba and Its Savory Cuisine,” is a book compiled by photographer Cynthia Carris Alonso, which shares a recount of 75 recipes from Cuba. The book describes the impact that scarcity has had on Cuba’s home kitchens and private restaurateurs and the inventiveness and determination of Cuba’s culinary entrepreneurs.
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 Year-End Fundraising campaign and to all of CDA’s valued supporters. This year is sure to be filled with many challenges and opportunities. With your enduring support, the CDA team is prepared to overcome obstacles, seize opportunities, and build on the progress you have been a part of making. This is a critical time for U.S.-Cuba policy, and you are helping to shape it!
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