CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 1/18/2019

Presented by
Cuba Educational Travel

Dear friends,

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

White House inches toward allowing Cuban Americans to sue for island properties left behind

The Trump Administration is a little closer to allowing U.S. citizens to sue Cuba’s government for expropriated properties during the first years of the Cuban Revolution. On Wednesday, the State Department’s statement announced that Secretary Pompeo determined “to suspend for forty-five days beyond February 1, 2019, the right to bring an action under Title III of the [Libertad] Act.” According to the statement, the State Department “encourage[s] any person doing business in Cuba to reconsider whether they are trafficking in confiscated property and abetting this dictatorship.” Cuba’s MINREX denounced in a statement that the 45-day suspension is a  “threat to take a new step that would dangerously tighten even further the blockade against Cuba, would be a flagrant violation of International Law and a direct attack on the sovereignty and interests of third countries.” It also adds that “the Cuban government reserves the right to respond in due time to this new aggression.” However, it is not clear how the Cuban government would respond, given the limited trade existing between both nations.

Since the enactment in 1996 of Libertad Act, every administration had waived the statute every six months. The statement released by the State Department is interpreted as a first step before suspending waivers for Title III, Tampa Bay Times report.

The effects of such policy will further alienate U.S. trade partners including European countries and affect U.S. businesses as well, Reuters reports. According to an analysis in Cuba Standard, some states could join Mexico, Canada and the U.K. in enacting laws to block their companies from complying with any action resulting from the Libertad Act, also known as Helms-Burton Act. Several businesses in the tourism industry could be sued in U.S., creating potentially chaos in federal courts. FIU Professor, Dr. Michael Bustamante, told Reuters that although legitimate property claims need to be resolved, it should be through bilateral negotiations. “Those backing the enforcement of Title III seem most intent on sowing havoc rather than achieving a positive good,” Dr. Bustamante added.

According to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the U.S., almost 6,000 claims have been awarded, for a total of approximately $1.9 billion. In 2016, officials from both countries met in Havana to discuss claims settlement.

US travel restrictions hit Cuba’s private sector

President Trump’s travel restrictions on Cuba aimed at depriving the country’s government of revenues have majorly caused damage to the nascent private sector. When restricting the ability of U.S. citizens to travel freely to the island, most visitors end up taking cruise ships with tours coordinated by the government that leads the travelers to state-run destinations, the Associated Press reports. As previously reported, Emilio Morales, President and CEO of Miami-based The Havana Consulting Group and Tech, says that each visitor arriving on a cruise ship represents approximately $50 of revenue for the tourism industry, while those who arrive by air represent $765 in revenue. Since President Trump enacted the travel restrictions, multiple delegations of Cuban entrepreneurs have visited Congress and other U.S. government agencies to explain the impact of such restrictions on the Cuban private sector.

Bernardo Benes dies: Banker and exile leader played key role in 1978 dialogue with Cuba

Cuban American banker Bernardo Benes died on Monday in Miami. Mr. Benes, who was 84 years old, was instrumental in establishing a series of dialogues between the Cuban government and the Cuban exile community in Miami. Mr. Benes traveled 14 times to Havana for talks that led to the release of 3,600 political prisoners from Cuban jails, and families who had departed the island were allowed to visit loved ones for the first time, Miami New Times reports. Despite opening channels that benefited the Cuban community in Miami, many radical members of the exile, who saw him as friendly to Fidel Castro, rejected Mr. Benes.

IN CUBA

Communist Cuba seeks improved governance

Cuba’s new Constitution, pending a referendum on February 24, will restructure the Cuban state to make the island’s bureaucracy more executive. The Constitution comes in a period of increased popular frustration due to a weakened economy and bureaucratic inefficiency. The time also comes as the country is facing its first generational transition in six decades. As we reported previously, the new Constitution creates the office of Prime Minister as head of government, and presidentially-appointed provincial governors, a move that could signal increased centralization.

Cuban artist brings message of hope as he lights up Havana neon sign by neon sign

Havana sees popular neon signs again on, as an artist and entrepreneur is bringing some decades-old signs back to life. Kadir López Nieves’ and his Habana Light Neon + Signs project is helping to restore the signs of several theaters, cabarets, bars, hotels and restaurants across the city. Some of them are iconic, such as world-famous Hotel Inglaterra, and Bar Floridita. Mr. López and his partner, Cuban American Adolfo Nodal, often have to get the neon bars via luggage from Mexico or other places with the help of collaborators around the world. In the year that Havana is celebrating its 500th founding anniversary, Mr. López says that this restoration project is his contribution to the city that fed his appetite for art.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba, Iran agree to expand cooperation

On Wednesday, Cuba and Iran signed agreements to boost cooperation in the medical, biotechnology, trade, sports, and agricultural fields. The 17th Session of the Cuba-Iran Intergovernmental Commission concluded with several Memorandums of Understanding (MOU). Cuba’s Foreign Trade Minister said that a challenge between both countries is to increase economic ties at the same level as political ties.

RECOMMENDED READING

The Washington View: An ‘immoral deal’? Not for Cuban athletes!, Phil Peters, Cuba Standard

Cuban athletes support the agreement between the MLB and Cuba’s Baseball Federation (FCB), while Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) calls it “immoral.” The earnings from playing with the MLB would represent an amount that Cubans athletes wouldn’t be able to gain otherwise, even if playing in other foreign leagues besides the U.S. On the other hand, fees paid to FCB would be used mostly for equipment and training.

Cuban baseball players showcase different need for immigration fix, John Caulfield, The Hill

Mr. Caulfield, former head of the U.S. Interest Section in Havana, argues that allowing the deal between the MLB and FCB would be a game-changer for baseball in both countries. On one side, Cuban baseball players would not have to risk their lives to play in the U.S. and will be able to travel with their families. On the other side, the U.S. government could require transparency and accountability to ensure that the income that the FCB receives from the agreement is used exclusively to support Cuban sports operations.

EVENTS

Cuba Festival 2019January 9-20, Joyce Theater, New York

New York’s Joyce Theater Cuba Festival includes three vibrant dance companies from Havana, a city that has nurtured some of the best dancers in the world, and is now proving to be a hotbed of fresh choreographic talent. The Festival will feature Malpaso Dance Company, Los Hijos del Director, and Compañía Irene Rodríguez.

34th International Jazz Plaza Festival, Havana, January 13-21

World-renowned International Jazz Plaza Festival counts with the participation of Grammy Award-winning trumpeter, composer and bandleader, Brian Lynch. During the festival, Cuban and U.S. musicians will explore the African connections between Cuban and New Orleans jazz. The Festival has historically displayed the best of Cuban jazz with performances from Chucho Valdés, Telmary, Joe Lovano, Snarky Puppy, Daymé Arocena, among others.

Cuban Visions film seriesProgram 1, Song of the Street, January 24, Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

In 2010, famed Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez started an ongoing tour through the poorest neighborhoods of Havana. Song of the Street explores a largely invisible and silenced Cuba, the complexity of which is revealed through the voices of the film’s participants.

Post-screening discussion: Americas Media Initiative (AMI) Director Alexandra Halkin will moderate a post-screening discussion with Cuban journalist, Monica Rivero, who wrote the companion photo book with Alejandro Ramírez Anderson, “Por todo espacio, por este tiempo (For all space, for this time with Silvio Rodríguez in neighborhoods of Havana)” released with Song of the Street. Also joining will be Afro-Cuban scholar, Professor Odette Casamayor, Associate Professor of Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Studies at the University of Connecticut. Professor Casamayor is currently working on a new book, “On Being Blacks: Challenging the Hegemonic Knowledge Through Racial Self-Identification Processes in Contemporary Cuban Cultural Production.”

This is the first of a year-long series of screenings, which will feature a range of Cuban films including animation, short fiction, and documentaries, and a unique opportunity for the audience to interact and engage with Cuban filmmakers, journalists, in timely cultural exchange through post-screening panel discussions.

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

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

José Martí and the Immigrant Communities of Florida: An NEH Summer InstituteJune 17-July 13 (deadline March 1), The University of Tampa, Florida.

José Martí and the Immigrant Communities of Florida in Cuban Independence and the Dawn of the American Century will present a novel approach to the study and teaching on the rise of the U.S. as a global power in the early 20th century as a consequence of its intervention in Cuba’s War of Independence.

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

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. Some amazing Cuban artists, including Carlos Varela, Tradicionales de los 50, and the GRAMMY® Award-winning Cuban music legends Los Van Van, will join Tim.

A message from this week’s sponsor: With over a decade of expertise and wide-ranging relationships, Cuba Educational Travel (CET) is the leader in organizing US travel to Cuba. From business and policy delegations to cultural and educational itineraries to corporate retreats, conferences, and events, CET creates and curates unique and life-changing experiences for its clients.” Learn more.

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