U.S.-CUBA NEWS BRIEF: 2/15/2019

Dear friends,

This week, in Cuba news…


President Trump to speak in Miami on President’s Day

NBC News reports that President Trump will travel to Miami next week to deliver a speech on Venezuela policy at Florida International University on President’s Day. Ric Herrero, Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group suspects the speech will be delivered with an eye toward 2020 elections, and that President Trump could even announce new sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela in an effort to appeal to the Venezuelan and Cuban communities in South Florida.

Prince Charles plans to visit Cuba. Sen. Rick Scott says he should visit Florida instead.

Sen. Rick Scott (FL) urged Charles, Prince of Wales, to avoid visiting Cuba and to visit Sen. Scott’s home state of Florida instead to learn about Cuba’s political history. In a letter sent last Friday, the Senator says that a visit to Cuba would show the future monarch’s “support for a ruthless dictatorship.” Today, Clarence House officially confirmed the visit, though U.K. Supreme Court President had previously discussed the visit publicly, NBC News reported. The royal visit will take place between March 24and 27. According to Reuters, the Prince will pay respects to Cuba’s national hero José Martí, as is customary by foreign leaders visiting the island. The royal couple will also learn about renewable energy and organic farming in Havana, and likely will have a tour around Old Havana, declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. We reported previously that President Díaz-Canel met with Prince Charles in Clarence House during a short visit to London by the Cuban president in November 2018.

U.S. bookings to Cuba expected to rise, but Americans still confused about travel rules

In a survey released Wednesday, tour operators and other travel providers expect U.S. travel to the island to increase this year, despite U.S. restrictions on travels to Cuba. Miami Herald reports Center for Responsible Travel polled business operators who expect to see an increase in bookings for cruises, academic programs, and people-to-people travel to Cuba. Traveling to Cuba, although restricted, remains legal under 12 authorized categories of travel. Last year, more than 638,000 U.S. travelers visited Cuba.

Cuba says US secretly moving special forces closer to Venezuela

On Thursday, Cuba accused the U.S. of preparing to intervene in Venezuela by secretly moving special forces closer to the South American country, reported Reuters. According to a statement by Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, the U.S. is using the pretext of a “humanitarian crisis” and the international protection of civilians’ human rights to validate alleged aggressive actions. Juan Guaidó, who has been recognized as the interim president of Venezuela by most Western and Latin American countries, including the U.S, has welcomed the humanitarian aid promised by these countries in support of the Venezuelan people who are experiencing a severe economic crisis. The Globe and Mail reports an estimated three million Venezuelans have fled the country due the humanitarian crisis. The aid, which is supposed to arrive on February 23 despite objections from Maduro’s government, is linked to U.S. strategically located military transport aircraft in bases in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.


Cubans bombarded with message to vote ‘yes’ for new constitution

Miami’s ABC affiliate, Local 10 news, reports the Cuban government has mounted a campaign to convince Cuban voters to support a proposed new constitution in a February 24 referendum. Political campaigns have been banned in Cuba since 1959, but nevertheless the government and the Communist Party have placed signs and bumper stickers across the country. As the government does not publish opinion polls or approval ratings, participation in electoral processes could be viewed as public polls.

Cuban government cracks down on dissidents who oppose new Constitution

Cuba security forces on Monday detained about 20 members of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) opposition group, including its leader, José Daniel Ferrer, Miami Herald reports. The alleged crackdown on activists included multiple arrests and raiding the homes of those who have called for a NO vote on the upcoming constitutional reform referendum. Mr. Ferrer says that he was beaten in response to his campaign against the constitution. On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) affirmed on Twitter that the Cuban government “directs intelligence and repression activities” in Venezuela. He added that “their repression expertise was on display yesterday when [Cuban state forces] violently raided homes of leaders of UNPACU and Cuba Decide,” and hinted that more sanctions would be announced.

Cuban president speaks about the tornado recuperation in Cuban TV show

In the aftermath of the tornado that hit the city of Havana leaving seven dead and more than 200 injured, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that the government is focusing on rebuilding and restoring the country’s capital. According to Cubadebate, the city saw the destruction of more than 7,700 households. However, President Díaz-Canel asserted that Cuba could overcome even the worst situations. Only 17 days after the tornado hit, most of the civilians’ reports and cases have been reviewed and resolved. At this rate, the Cuban President believes that soon Havana will be back on its feet. The motto “Por La Habana lo mas grande”—“For Havana, the best”—under which the city is celebrating its 500th anniversary serves as an incentive to encourage the Cuban people about the future of Havana. President Díaz-Canel commented that despite the aggressive politics directed towards Cuba—with respect to Venezuela and the United States—Cuba will always focus on protecting its people first.


Cuba, China, PAHO to send 933 tons of medicines to Venezuela

Venezuela’s Health Minister announced the arrival of 64 containers of medicines from Cuba, China, and PAHO. The Minister said that the cargo contains more than 18 million units of medicines, and 22,575 units of spare parts for medical equipment, 192,000 kits for diagnostic tests and ‘more than 100,000 for cytology. The official acknowledged the investment is approximately €25 million.

Maduro’s demise in Venezuela would drag Cuba into an economic crisis, experts say

Miami Herald reports that several experts on Cuba’s economy said that, in the event of a Venezuelan government collapse, Cuba would enter into a deeper economic crisis. According to Dr. Carmelo Mesa Lago, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, the Cuban government is already embellishing its economic figures to hide an ongoing crisis, and the loss of Venezuelan subsidies could only make things worse. Although the experts claim the crisis would not have the same impact as when the Soviet Union collapsed, the hit on the economy would be considerable.


Statement of Senator Leahy on the Freedom To Export To Cuba ActSen. Patrick Leahy (VT), U.S. Senate

In a speech on the Senate floor today, Sen. Leahy states that the Freedom To Export To Cuba Act bill “is about ending the anachronistic prohibitions in U.S. law that for decades have limited U.S. engagement with Cuba, including preventing American companies from exporting their products to Cuba.” Leahy states that while U.S. businesses are restricted when investing in Cuba, other countries are taking advantage of the opportunities that the island presents for foreign investors. He also notes the harm that travel restrictions cause to Cuban entrepreneurs. As we reported last week, the Freedom To Export To Cuba Act was introduced last week by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (MN), Mike Enzi (WY), and Patrick Leahy (VT).

Cubazuela and the failed-state strategyPhilip Peters, Cuba Standard

In an analysis on U.S. policy toward Cuba and Venezuela, Philip Peters argues that President Trump’s Latin America advisors wrongly view Cuba and Venezuela as a single issue by simply seeking to “dislodge both governments from power” through the failed-state strategy. According to Peters, in Venezuela the current strategy seems to be to increasingly deprive Maduro of resources, continue to pile tons of humanitarian aid at the Colombian border, and wait for Venezuelans and the military to oust him. While Trump’s advisors may view Venezuela’s “near-the-brink predicament” as an opportunity to also bring about change in Cuba, Peters argues the reality is that unlike Venezuela, in Cuba the government continues to operate and deliver services, and the economy is able to generate sufficient jobs and income through the expanding private sector and inflow of foreign investment. Peters also argues that losing Venezuela’s economic support will be a tough blow to Cuba, however, Cuba has already been looking for new trade and investment partners, especially those that can diminish Cuba’s dependence on Venezuelan energy supplies.

Exploring the world of Cuban rumJoseph V. Micallef, Forbes Magazine

This Forbes article describes how increasing tourism to Cuba has been accompanied by a renewed interest in Cuban rums. The production of rum is directly depended on the production of sugar, which Cuba has been growing since the 16th century. Although rum today is produced by approximately 80 countries, rum enthusiasts argue that the best rum is produced by countries like Cuba who are ideally suited for growing sugarcane.


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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