CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 1/25/2019

Dear friends,

CDA hosted a high-impact delegation of U.S.-based women leaders on a trip to Havana, Cuba from January 17-21, 2019, to discuss the national security implications of the U.S.-Cuba bilateral relationship. The diverse group was composed of women leaders in defense, diplomacy, and development – many of them with former U.S. government experience – who met with a wide range of women on the island, including Cuban officials charged with national security and bilateral relations with the United States, and Cuban entrepreneurs, artists, and community leaders. The group explored the current state of U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations, the impact of recent U.S. policies on the island, and the challenges and opportunities for U.S.-Cuba collaboration on matters of U.S. national security.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuban minister Malmierca warns the White House on allowing courts to fight over the country’s property

CNBC reports that on Tuesday, Cuba’s Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said in Davos during the World Economic Forum that if the State Department does not waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (also known as the Libertad Act), “it would be a big mess not only for Cuba but for the U.S. and all the countries in the world who have business in Cuba.”

As we reported last week, the State Department announced on January 16 Secretary Pompeo’s determination “to suspend for forty-five days beyond February 1, 2019, the right to bring an action under Title III of the [Libertad] Act.” The forty-five-day suspension breaks from the precedent set by each U.S. administration since the enactment of the Helms-Burton in 1996, to suspend in six-month increments the right to sue over confiscated properties in Cuba. CNBC estimates that around $9 billion worth of property could be fought over in the courts. The Act provides that real property used for residential purposes is not included in the claims unless it was certified under the 1949 Foreign Claims Settlement Act, or it is occupied by an official of the Communist Party or the Cuban government. Also, the provision excludes claims regarding transactions related to the delivery of international telecommunication signals to Cuba; and transactions and uses of property incident to lawful travel to Cuba, to the extent that such transactions and uses of property are necessary to the conduct of such travel.

Florida-Cuba travel is in flux. Some airlines want in and others opt out.

The Miami Herald reports that air travel to Cuba continues to fluctuate while the trajectory of U.S-Cuban relations remains uncertain. For U.S carriers, recent months have brought actions ranging from abandoning opportunities altogether to competitively seeking to obtain new routes. FedEx, for example, backpedaled when it dropped the five weekly cargo and mail flights it had been awarded by the Department of Transportation (DOT) between Miami and Matanzas. Likewise, Southwest Airlines recently told the DOT that instead of concentrating its efforts on a second daily flight from Tampa to Havana, it will pursue winning approval for service to Hawaii. On the other hand, American Airlines (AA) aims to shift its Charlotte, NC-Havana service to a noontime flight from Miami. If approved by the DOT, AA will operate six daily Miami-Havana flights; additionally, AA is scheduled to begin a new Miami-Santiago de Cuba flight on May 3. Jetblue expressed opposition to AA’s plan, arguing it would result in a “near monopoly level of service” as Jetblue is also seeking permission to be awarded a second daily flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Havana.

Cuban baseball welcomes first U.S. player in six decades

Reuters reports Northern Virginia-native Matthew McLaughlin is the first U.S. national to play in a Cuban baseball league in six decades. McLaughlin moved to Cuba to study Spanish after finishing his bachelor degree. He was recently included in the roster of Havana’s Plaza team to play in the provincial series. McLaughlin said that at first, his dream was to play for the Boston Red Sox, but now it is to play with Industriales, Havana’s main team and the most successful in the national league.

St. Paul City Council to federal government: Lift embargo on Cuba

The St. Paul City Council (MN) unanimously approved a resolution asking the federal government to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The resolution was approved after Cuban diplomats visited St. Paul in 2014 and 2018. In 2008, the Minnesota Legislature passed a resolution asking President Bush to lift the embargo.

IN CUBA

Díaz-Canel checks progress of foreign investment in Cuban tourism

Cuba’s state-run news agency, Granma, reports that President Díaz-Canel expressed satisfaction in the influx of foreign investment and the recent robust growth in Cuba’s tourism sector. Díaz-Canel reportedly made the comments in a meeting with Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, and noted that progress has been achieved without “compromising the country’s sovereignty.” On the contrary, he lauded the acquisition of knowledge, markets, and capital, helping to promote Cuba’s image around the world. So far, Cuba has forged 27 joint enterprises with foreign partners, and the country’s 2019 Portfolio of Foreign Investment Opportunities includes 176 projects including hotels, recreation centers, marinas, and family vacation facilities. At the same time, Díaz-Canel emphasized the need to continue strengthening national industry in part by reducing the high volume of products the country imports for tourist facilities.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba, Colombia face standoff over extradition request for ELN rebels

After a fatal bomb attack last week in Bogotá, for which the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) has claimed responsibility, Colombia’s President revoked a decree suspending international capture orders against 10 ELN members that are in Havana for peace talks with Colombia’s government. In contravention of protocols signed by the ELN and Colombia’s government at the outset of talks, (which state that in the event of a breakdown in talks, the ELN negotiators would return to safe havens in Colombia) the Colombian Foreign Ministry last week requested the extradition of ELN members from Cuba. The ELN negotiators denied any knowledge of the bomb attack, AP reports.

The peace talks started in April 2017, when ELN and Colombia agreed to begin the process in Quito. Ecuador’s government acted as host while Norway, Venezuela, Cuba, and Chile acted as guarantors. However, in April 2018, Ecuador abandoned the peace process after holding the ELN responsible for kidnappings and bombings during the talks. The remaining guarantors offered to host the negotiations, including Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera, and the parties agreed to move the talks to Havana.

Upon receiving the extradition request, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said on Twitter that his government would follow the Peace Talks Protocols signed by the parties. The government of Norway said it supports Cuba’s unwillingness to extradite ELN officials in abidance with the protocols; while Chile supports President Duque’s request. Brazil and Venezuela have not issued statements to date.

MINREX: Aggression against Venezuela must cease

In a statement released Wednesday, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that the island’s government “condemns and energetically rejects the attempt to impose a coup d’etat,” regarding the situation of political and constitutional crisis in Venezuela.

In a mass demonstration organized earlier that day, Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s President of the National Assembly declared himself to be president a.i. of the South American country. Multiple manifestations and acts of violence have spread around the country and Mr. Guaidó said that he would issue amnesties for those who agree to restore the “constitutional order.” Several countries in the hemisphere, including the U.S., and in Europe, have recognized Mr. Guaidó as head of state. However, the international community is split on whether to recognize his government. Wall Street, too, is divided; The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board called on “friends of democracy” to “target Havana’s control on Caracas,” while a Bloomberg Opinion calls U.S. actions in Venezuela acts of “regime change” using a legal justification that “doesn’t hold water.”

Reuters reports that Russian military contractors arrived in Caracas in recent days to increase security for Nicolás Maduro and that they transited Havana en route to Venezuela.

 RECOMMENDED READING

The embargo on Cuba failed. Let’s move on.

Nicholas Kristof, in a New York Times opinion piece, argues for the U.S. government to move on to a different approach vis-a-vis Cuba. According to Kristof, the hostile U.S. policy was initially adopted during the Cold War in the midst of fear for the spread of communism and the threat of nuclear war, which no longer fits today’s state of affairs. “Cuba is neither the demonic tyranny conjured by some conservatives nor the heroic worker paradise romanticized by some on the left,” Kristof explains. It can’t be denied that Cuban citizens are denied political and economic rights, however, Cuba must be applauded for its impressive educational and healthcare systems that surpass almost all of its Latin American neighbors as well as the U.S.

Why infants may be more likely to die in America than Cuba

In another New York Times opinion piece, Kristof explores Cuba’s healthcare system, asserting the U.S. could benefit from learning a few lessons. Based on official statistics from Cuba, which the author acknowledges are difficult to verify, the infant mortality rate in Cuba is 4.0 deaths per 1,000 live births, whereas, in the U.S. that figure stands at 5.9. Kristof posits that Cuba’s exceptional healthcare achievements are attributed largely to its provision of universal access to healthcare. According to Kristof, a pregnant woman in Cuba receives an average of 18 checkups, while in Texas “one-third of pregnant women don’t get a single prenatal checkup in the first trimester.” Despite outdated equipment and shortages of supplies and medicine, Cuba is able to sustain primary care for all its citizens through its readily available community-based “clinics” and abundance of doctors.

EVENTS

Cuban Visions film seriesProgram 2, LGBTQ Politics and Gay Marriage, March 1, Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago

The program features four short films of “Afro-Cuban Queer filmmaker” Damián Sainz:

Batería: The ruins of an ancient military fortress outside Havana have become a clandestine gay cruising spot. The old walls and rubble give shelter not only to Cuban homosexuals but also to a culture of resistance and socialization.

Homenaje: Two women and a dead man. One of them was his wife for 30 years and the other his lover and work colleague. The threesome lived in a tiny apartment in apparent harmony. Nevertheless, the man’s death unleashes a silent battle between the two women to take control of the memory of the man who separates and connects them.

De Agua Dulce: At sunset, Kinkin prepares to go fishing at the local river that passes through his town. Fishing is his night job but also his shelter. As night falls, the turbulence of the polluted river starts to reveal the deep connection between the water and the dark side of Kinkin’s past.

Close Up: Filmed on a normal Saturday night at the park on G Street in the Vedado neighborhood, downtown Havana. The park is an oasis for different kinds of youth identities, a place where they can be whatever they want to be. 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.

This is the second 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. 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.

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