CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: 2/1/2019

Dear friends,

A message from Mauricio Vivero, from Friends of Caritas Cuba:

I am writing to you with an urgent request. On Sunday, a tornado ripped through Havana killing four people and injuring more than 195 residents. With wind speeds of up to 100km/hr (60 mph), the first tornado to hit the city in decades destroyed 123 buildings and cut power in poor neighborhoods.

Caritas Cuba staff have responded immediately and are coordinating support for the victims. The short-term need is to provide water, food, warm clothes and shelter for the victims. The longer-term focus will be to repair damaged or destroyed homes.

Please support this effort by making a donation to Friends of Caritas Cuba, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the official U.S. partner of Caritas Cuba.

From CDA, other ways to help: Several artists are collaborating on a benefit concert in Havana Saturday and OnCuba compiled a list of ways to donate funds and resources.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. push to oust Venezuela’s Maduro marks first shot in plan to reshape Latin America

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. officials are deeply engaged in political events in Venezuela, and plan to use events in the South American country to shape policies throughout Latin America, including Cuba and Nicaragua, the other two countries in the “Troika of Tyranny,” a term coined by National Security Advisor John Bolton. The article details forthcoming sanctions against Cuba, including re-designating Cuba as a State Sponsor of Terrorism and enacting Title III of Helms-Burton, a step that would unleash a flood of lawsuits in U.S. courts for the “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba. The moves are reportedly intended to erode Cuba’s ability to support Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

Cuba was added to the State Department’s SSOT list in 1982 for alleged ties to international terrorism and support for terrorist groups in Latin America. With no requirement for regular review of SSOT designees, Cuba remained on the list until May 2015 when it was removed following an extensive State Department review.

Cuban Christians view U.S. announcement about Helms-Burton Act as a “threat”

On Wednesday, the Council of Churches of Cuba (CIC) stated that the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act was a “worrying threat” against Cuba. As we reported previously, the Trump Administration is considering allowing U.S. nationals to sue for properties that were nationalized in Cuba in the 1960s. Since the enactment in 1996 of the Helms-Burton Act, also known as Libertad Act, each U.S. administration has waived the implementation of Title III for intervals, presumably because enactment would. harm U.S. businesses, alienate U.S. allies, reignite old trade disputes with top trading partners, and create obstacles to the final resolution of property claims via diplomatic channels.

statement released by the State Department, which announced that Sec. Pompeo would waive the statute only for 45 days, stated the “extension will permit [the Department of State] to conduct a careful review of the right to bring action under Title III in light of the national interests of the United States and efforts to expedite a transition to democracy in Cuba and include factors such as the Cuban regime’s brutal oppression of human rights and fundamental freedoms and its indefensible support for increasingly authoritarian and corrupt regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

Rev. Antonio Santana Hernández, President of CIC, said in the statement that “with the Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. Congress hoped to be a universal legislature, attributing to itself the function of dictating to the rest of the countries of the world what they ‘can’ or ‘cannot’ do.”

IN CUBA

Deadly tornado roars through Havana

On Sunday, a rare tornado hit Havana leaving four people dead and almost two hundred injured, CNN reports. The tornado affected several municipalities of Havana, including majority blue-collar districts. Tornadoes are rare in Cuba, and this is the first one recorded in Havana in nearly 80 years, Reuters reports. Cuban meteorologist José Rubiera notes that the devastation wrought suggests the tornado was an EF4, the second most powerful known category. Several artists, entrepreneurs and Cuban residents on the island and abroad have collected and donated food and clothes for those in need.

President Díaz-Canel visited the affected areas and chaired at least two Council of Ministers meetings to analyze actions to take. Many Cubans, including renowned actor Luis Alberto García, have taken to social media to criticize a decision by the government proceed with a rally in commemoration of José Martí’s 166 birth anniversary, held in Havana a day after the tornado.

Friends of Caritas Cuba is collecting donations for tornado recovery, several artists are collaborating on a benefit concert in Havana Saturday, and OnCuba compiled a list of ways to donate funds and resources. From around the world, people have shared messages of solidarity with the victims.

Cubans inaugurate first new Catholic church in decades

The western Cuban town of Sandino recently completed construction on the first new Roman Catholic church to be built in Cuba since 1959, and they did so with the financial aid of a Tampa, FL congregation. The church was inaugurated on Saturday. The Cuban government authorized the construction of three Catholic churches as part of a warming between the Vatican and Cuba. The St. Lawrence Catholic church in Tampa, FL donated nearly $100,000 for church construction, CNN reports.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Mystery illness sees Canada halve its Cuba embassy staff

On Wednesday, Global Affairs Canada announced that the Ministry reduced by up to half the number of Canadian diplomats posted to Havana. The statement comes after another diplomat fell ill under unclear circumstances, bringing the total to 14 Canadian employees and their relatives suffering mysterious symptoms. In the statement, Global Affairs Canada specify that there is no evidence of risk for Canadian travelers and that full consular services will be available to Canadians in Cuba, although other programs may be adjusted.

In response, Ambassador Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s representative to Ottawa considered the decision “incomprehensible.” In a statement reproduced by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Cuban Ambassador added that “this behavior favors those who in the United States use this issue to attack and denigrate Cuba. It is well known that some individuals with high-level positions within US foreign policy are trying very hard to create a climate of bilateral tension seeking to portray our country as a threat.”

In April, Canada pulled all nonessential staff and diplomats’ family members after concluding that their diplomats suffered symptoms similar to those experienced by U.S. diplomatic personnel, CNN reports. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is leading the investigation and Canadian authorities say they are cooperating with the Cuban government, which is also frustrated by the incidents, CBC reports.

Colombia’s ELN rebel leaders say they will not leave Cuba

Yesterday, the team of ELN negotiators in Cuba for peace talks with the Colombian government said that they would not leave Cuba following a break-down in the talks. Last week we reported that Colombian President Duque reactivated Interpol red alerts against the ELN leaders in Cuba after the guerrilla movement claimed responsibility for a terrorist attack in Bogotá. Cuba, the host country for the peace process, said that although they condemned the attack, the government would follow the protocols signed by ELN and Colombian government negotiators in 2016 at the outset of the talks. These protocols contain instructions in the event of a breakdown in negotiations; specifically, the protocols include guarantees for guerrilla commanders to return to safe havens in Colombia within 15 days of an end to talks and bar military offensives for 72 hours.

RECOMMENDED READING

Venezuela: A Test of U.S. Hegemony in Latin America

In this blog post, American University’s Eric Hershberg writes that the dynamics in Venezuela of increased violence by the government, lack of fair elections, and an economy in shambles make the country an “ideal target” for the Trump Administration to attempt to restore the Monroe Doctrine.

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.

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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