U.S.-CUBA NEWS BRIEF: 3/1/2019

Dear friends,

This week, in Cuba news…


Title III Update; Trump nears key Cuba sanctions decision over support for Maduro

Bloomberg reports the Trump administration could make a decision to waive, at least partially, or to enact Title III of the Helms-Burton Act as early as today, but more likely early next week, and that the decision will undoubtedly have an impact on global businesses. Title III enactment would allow suits in U.S. courts for the “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba. Bloomberg reports the Trump administration is considering activating Title III as a tool to neutralize the Cuban government’s strategic partnership with the government of Nicolás Maduro. However, such a decision could implicate foreign companies and alienate U.S. allies like Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, which are home to companies with several billion dollars invested in the Caribbean island. U.S. agricultural businesses wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue “urging him to continue supporting the export of U.S. food products to Cuba.”

As we reported previously, in January the State Department notified Congress that it intended to waive Title III for 45 days, in lieu of the customary full six-month period allowed by law and authorized by every U.S. president since 1996. The Trump Administration must notify Congress again in the coming days if it intends to extend a waiver.

Bloomberg reports the administration is considering other measures to put pressure on Cuba, including conducting a review of all business licenses, targeted sanctions for Cuban officials believed to be active in Venezuela, adding Cuba back to the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, and restoration of a program encouraging defection among Cuban doctors serving medical missions abroad.


Cubans overwhelmingly ratify new socialist constitution

On Sunday, 90.15 percent of eligible Cuban voters participated in a national referendum to decide on a new Constitution. Cubadebate reports the Constitution was ratified with the support of 86.85 percent of voters; roughly nine percent voted against the proposal.

Among the main controversies in the lead-up to the vote was the dissent led by some religious groups who opposed a provision included in the first draft that opened the door to recognizing same-sex marriage, NPR reports. During the period of public debate, evangelical churches and some sectors of Cuba’s Catholic Church campaigned and demonstrated against this provision and threatened to vote against the constitution. The drafting commission then revised the proposed text and approved a final version that does not contain language on marriage. The government announced that same-sex marriage will be reconsidered within two years in a national referendum of Cuba’s Family Code.

Cuban consulates around the world allowed Cuban government workers to register absentee votes. However, Cuban citizens residing on the island but traveling abroad were not able to vote, which some critics claim is a violation of Cuba’s electoral law. In addition, the government and the Communist Party organized an unprecedented campaign for the Constitution’s approval; at times characterizing “no” votes as unpatriotic, AFP reports. The New York Times reports that some critics of the Constitution were harassed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement saying that “no one should be fooled by this [referendum], which achieves little beyond perpetuating the pretext for the regime’s one-party dictatorship.” Other U.S. officials, such as Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) criticized the referendum as well. Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to U.S. government remarks, saying that “the statement is an expression of imperialist thinking deeply rooted in the foreign policy of the current U.S. administration.” International observation missions were not invited. However, citizens participated as observers in the vote tally.

When Latin rhythms met funk, Cuban breakout music star Cimafunk emerged

Miami Herald reports Cuban musician Cimafunk has conquered the Cuban musical panorama in the last months and now is on his first international tour. Billboard considers the artist among the 10 Latin Artist to Watch in 2019. His repertoire includes songs that are a mix of funk, soul, blues, and Cuban rhythms such as timba, salsa, changüí, son and trova, among others.

Cimafunk’s U.S. tour stops include Tampa; Washington, D.C.; Boston; Hartford; Chicago; New York; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; San Diego; Oakland; and San Francisco.

Cuba’s tobacco growers confront climate change

In a CNN article about the effects of climate change on tobacco growers in Cuba, CNN’s Cuba correspondent Patrick Oppmann discusses the concerns of local growers in Western Cuba where premium cigar brands source the majority of their tobacco. Oppmann reports that cigar experts are concerned that climate change not only affects production levels but quality as well. Fifth-generation tobacco grower, Hirochi Robaina, explains that unprecedented changes in weather patterns are increasingly threatening the typical growing seasons. According to Robaina, the dry season winter months have always been perfect for growing and harvesting tobacco, however, recent strong rains and winds negatively impacted the harvest. A rare tornado struck the western part of Cuba causing large patches of tobacco plants to be ripped out of the ground. Some tobacco growers are opting to switch to easier-to-grow crops like corn and black beans.

Likewise, the Cuban government has begun recognizing the effects of climate change on the island, especially because Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes and coastal flooding. In addition to banning new construction in some coastal areas and moving at-risk communities farther inland, the Cuban government is also promoting the use of metal roofs instead of wood for tobacco drying houses that are more resistant to extreme weather.

Cuba’s cigar festival ends with humidor auction for 1.7 million dollars

The annual Habanos Festival in Cuba, an exclusive international event on premium cigars, concluded its 21st edition on February 22 and raised 1.7 million dollars to be donated to the island’s health care system. Around 2,200 people from 70 countries attended the gala dinner and auction that closed the five-day event. Among the items auctioned were limited-edition humidors and premium cigars from top brands such as Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Hoyo de Monterrey, Cohiba, and Trinidad. The festival agenda also included visits to old cigar factories as well as some of the best tobacco plantations in the western regions of Vuelta Abajo and Pinar del Rio.


Cuba expands rights but rejects radical change in updated constitution, Maria Isabel Alfonso, The Conversation

Dr. Alfonso discusses what Cuba’s new Constitution represents for its civil society and the economic reforms that former president Raúl Castro started. The author notes that social change in Cuba “comes slowly, and cloaked in moderation.” She notes that, while anti-discrimination provisions have been expanded to include gender identity and sexual orientation, other rights have been “deferred.”

Cuba’s New Constitution, Explained, Geoff Thale and Teresa García Castro, WOLA

The two Cuba experts at the DC-based Washington Office on Latin America consider that changes included in the new Cuban constitution are “undeniable significant.” For them, the consultation process organized via community debates constitutes an important exercise in public participation. However, the authors note that challenges loom ahead, especially for Cuba’s economy.

Colombia-Cuba ties could be another casualty of the ELN’s Bogota bombingan interview with Michael Camilleri, World Politics Review

In an interview with WPR, Michael Camilleri argues that since the time that the Cuban government agreed to host peace talks between the Colombian guerrilla group ELN and Colombia’s Santos administration, much has changed in the region and within Colombia. After the January 2019 bomb attack perpetrated by the ELN at a police academy in Bogota, Colombian President Duque and the Cuban government have been in a standoff of sorts. Colombia’s government requested that Cuba arrest ELN peace negotiators in Havana; the government of Havana refused and responded that such a request violates the Peace Talk Protocol signed by all parties at the outset of the peace talks.


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.

The Cuban Revolution at 60: New Directions in History and HistoriographyMarch 7-8, King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU

An international conference at New York University will bring together scholars of the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean to revisit existing narratives of Cuba’s revolution, highlight avenues opened up by recent work, and open up a broader discussion about the methodological and theoretical possibilities that have opened by the fading of Cold War polarizations.

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

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

Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Pinar del RioMarch 16/17-24, Pinar del Rio

Fund for Reconciliation and Development will lead a trip to Pinar del Rio to explore Cuba’s strong Celtic tradition.

Short Films Screening: Cuban VisionariesApril 3, Landmark´s E Street Cinema, Washington, DC

The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba is hosting a screening of four short films featuring innovators working to solve agricultural, social justice, healthcare, and urban transportation challenges. Come for a wine reception, followed by film screenings and a conversation with the film subjects Magia Lopez, Nayvis Diaz, Fernando Funes Monzote, and Jorge Llibre.

Cuban American Youth Orchestra, Juntos en Armonía TourMay 20-27, 2019, Havana

CAYO embarks on its first full orchestra tour next spring, marking the first large-scale artistic collaboration between the United States and Cuba. Under the leadership of conductor James Ross, CAYO’s program will showcase the world premiere of a new composition by Guido López-Gavilán. Building on the success of pilot programs conducted over the past year, CAYO’s inaugural tour harnesses the power of cultural diplomacy to support Cuban musicians and promote harmony and understanding between the U.S. and its long-estranged neighbor.

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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