U.S.-CUBA NEWS BRIEF: 2/8/2019

Dear friends,

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Klobuchar, Enzi, Leahy Introduce Major Legislation to Lift Cuba Trade Embargo

Today, U.S. Senators Klobuchar (MN), Enzi (WY), and Leahy (VT) reintroduced major bipartisan legislation to lift the Cuba trade embargo. The bill, named Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would allow more U.S. nationals to do business in Cuba, boost exports, and allow access to U.S. products by Cuba. According to a statement by Sen. Leahy’s office, The Freedom to Export to Cuba Act would repeal legal restrictions against doing business with Cuba, including the original 1961 authorization for establishing the trade embargo; and other restrictive statutes that prohibit transactions between U.S.-owned or controlled firms and Cuba, and limitations on direct shipping between U.S. and Cuban ports. Sen. Enzi said, “This bipartisan legislation would benefit the people in America and in Cuba… It’s time to work toward positive change.”

State Department asks scientists to study mysterious illness scare in CubaU.S. personnel file suit

After two years, several theories, but no answers, the State Department commissioned a new scientific panel to investigate the cause of mysterious symptoms suffered by Embassy personnel in Havana, Yahoo reported. A standing committee at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine will, according to a document sent to prospective members, be aimed at “understanding the current cases of potential acoustic trauma, and develop a better understanding of possible causes of these cases and approaches for future incidents, whether of an apparent acoustic nature or a different environmental or clinical presentation.”

As we reported previously, members of the medical and/or scientific community have presented several theories to explain mysterious symptoms experienced by Embassy personnel in Cuba, ranging from microwave attacks to neuro weapons. Each presented theory has come under scrutinywithin the medical and/or scientific community. Interestingly, despite one confirmed case in China, where symptoms were believed to be “entirely consistent” with those experienced by U.S. personnel in Havana, the reporting does not mention any connection between the National Academies of Sciences panel’s work and China.

According to a tweet from Mark Zaid, an attorney representing several of the injured U.S. personnel, the personnel filed a first lawsuit yesterday — a Freedom of Information Request to obtain documents related to the Accountability Review Board investigation into the State Department’s handling of the health incidents.

Arkansan sees path for Cuba trade bill

Rep. Rick Crawford (AK-1) believes a Cuba trade bill has better odds of passage in the 116th Congress than at times prior, and he vowed to make trade with Cuba a “priority issue.” During the 115th Congress, Rep. Crawford sponsored the Cuba Agricultural Exports Act, which aimed to allow farmers and others to extend credit to Cuba for the sale of agricultural goods. The legislation also would have enabled Americans to invest in non governmental agricultural enterprises there. Rep. Crawford’s measure had over 65 co-sponsors across party lines, but the proposal faced opposition, especially from Cuban-American members of the Florida congressional delegation. With the retirement of former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and the defeat of former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), two of the strongest opponents to engagement with Cuba, Rep. Crawford assesses the bill could be approved this Congress in the House of Representatives. However, it would be expected to face opposition, or, at a minimum, scrutiny, from actors in the Senate and the White House.

Trump officials say Cuba meddles in Venezuela, but Havana almost ignored in threat report

The Miami Herald reports that, despite White House officials, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) assessing that Cuba’s alleged influence in Venezuela is a threat for U.S. national security, Cuba is largely ignored in a recent U.S. government threat assessment. In the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report prepared by the intelligence community, there was no mention of the Cuba-Venezuela relationship and the island was barely mentioned. The Miami Herald also reports that White House officials are considering including Cuba in the List of States Sponsors of Terrorism for remaining steadfast in its support of President Nicolás Maduro.

Secretary Pompeo said a week ago during a U.N. Security Council meeting that “no regime has done more to sustain the nightmarish condition of the Venezuelan people than the regime in Havana, (…) Cuba has directly made matters worse.” However, Cuba’s scant mention in the threat assessment report contrasts with such remarks by administration officials.

IN CUBA

Cuba To Welcome 5 Million Visitors In 2019

Forbes reports Cuban authorities announced that they expect to receive 5 million travelers in 2019, contributing over $3 billion in revenue, as U.S. travelers realize there are still many avenues to travel to Cuba legally. The Cuban Ministry of Tourism has also launched a campaign to increase travelers from Europe and Asia. Moreover, the number could increase notably if the Congress approves ending restriction on travel by U.S. nationals. Although initially expecting 5 million visitors in 2018, Cuban authorities announced in September that the goal would not be reached.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Diplomats sue Canada government over mystery illness in Cuba

14 Canadian diplomatic personnel previously stationed in Havana, who experienced mysterious symptoms similar to those experienced by U.S. personnel, are suing their government for $21.1 million after they were allegedly not warned, evacuated or treated in due time. The diplomats allege that during the “crisis, the [government] downplayed the seriousness of the situation, hoarded and concealed critical health and safety information, and gave false, misleading and incomplete information to diplomatic staff.” Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in Washington, DC, that she was aware of the lawsuit.

According to one diplomat “My wife, she isn’t the same anymore (…). She has gaps in her memory, headaches, problems hearing. She picks up the telephone to make a call but forgets why, [and] enters rooms without reason.” Cuban officials have said health incidents claims are a “political manipulation.

Russia approves 38 million euro loan to Cuba’s military

A Russian official was quoted saying that Russia approved a loan of $43 million for Cuba’s defense sector. Details have not transcended about the loan, but Moscow planned to grant Cuba a loan to buy Russian hardware such as tanks, armored vehicles and possibly helicopters, Reuters reports. It is possible that Cuba has decided to import military items in light of allegations that the Trump Administration is considering a military invasion in Venezuela, as The Telegraph reports.

RECOMMENDED READING

For Trump’s regime changers, Venezuela is just the first step,Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

Kornbluh argues that, as the Trump Administration takes an aggressive standpoint toward regime change in Venezuela, some have their sights set on Cuba. Kornbluh writes that the team behind the Trump Administration’s Venezuela policy has a long-standing history of hawkish approach against Cuba, and the conflict in the South American country could be a first step by the White House before turning its attention to Cuba.

Trump, Trudeau on collision course over Cuba sanctions,Peter McKenna,The Chronicle Herald

With a possible activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the U.S. and Canada could be headed to another diplomatic confrontation. With the enactment of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, Canada, along with other states, and the Clinton Administration were able to resolve the confrontation. Since then, every administration has waived the application of Title III. However, the unpredictable character of President Trump and his willingness for trade wars might not help this time.

Major League Baseball leads the way on preventing human traffickingSec. Carlos Gutierrez, Washington Examiner

Sec. Gutierrez writes that, within several weeks, President Trump has signed various bills into law that will help eradicate human trafficking, and his administration is likely to leverage resources to confront the threat, support victims, and hold traffickers accountable for their crimes. However, somewhat counterintuitively, several U.S. officials, including within the Administration, have vowed to fight an agreement signed between the MLB and the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB), despite the fact that the agreement would eradicate human trafficking and smuggling threats for Cuban baseball players wishing to play in the U.S. major leagues.

We need a better policy towards CubaRep. Jim McGovern (MA-2), U.S. House of Representatives

In a House floor speech, Rep. McGovern makes the case for allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, opening up U.S. business opportunities, passage of Rep. Crawford’s bill to allow for credit in agricultural sales, and encouraging Cuba to play a constructive role in Venezuela. He also makes clear that the best interest of the U.S. is to not enact Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, an action that could alienate key U.S. allies and open the door for increased investment from China and Russia.

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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