U.S-Cuba News Brief: 03/15/2019

Dear friends,

Two things at the top:

This weekend, CBS News’ 60 Minutes will report on the mysterious health incidents affecting U.S. personnel in Cuba and China. For more information, including the multiple reported theories, a timeline of events, and discrepancies in the U.S. response to incidents in Cuba v. China, access CDA’s explainer HERE.

And, for DC-based subscribers…

Check it out! The coming weeks will bring two must-catch events: Cuban funk musician Cimafunk in concert at Tropicalia Lounge Thursday, March 28, and film screenings with Cuban visionaries at Landmark E Street Cinema Wednesday, April 3. Details for both in the events section below, including *** opportunities for VIP access and sponsorship *** for the Cimafunk concert!

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Decreasing B2 Visa Validity for Cuban Nationals

Today, the U.S. Embassy in Havana announced that the U.S. will reduce B2 visa validity for Cuban nationals from five year, multiple-entry, to three months with a single entry. In a video shared by the U.S. Embassy in Havana’s Facebook page, U.S. chargé d’affaires Mara Tekach said this decision is consequence of an alignment of visa reciprocity in all U.S. embassies worldwide.

In 2013, the Obama Administration changed the visa rules for Cuban nationals and started issuing multiple-entry visas valid for five years. This decision was welcomed by the Cuban-American community, especially in Miami.

According to a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, the measure is designed to match, with parity, Cuba’s visa issuance policy for U.S. travelers to the island.

Pompeo blames Russia, Cuba for Venezuelan crisis

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Cuba and Russia of causing Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. Sec. Pompeo made the remarks after the Trump Administration sanctioned Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for transactions that helped Venezuela’s state-run oil industry, PDVSA, evade U.S. financial restrictions. “Moscow, like Havana, continues to provide political cover to the Maduro regime, while pressuring countries to disregard the democratic legitimacy of the interim president Guaido,” the Secretary said. Secretary Pompeo asserted this week, using qualifiers such as “I even hear,” and “perhaps,” that Maduro’s inner circle of advisors is comprised entirely of Cuban security forces who act at the behest of Cuba’s government. According to CNN, Secretary Pompeo denied that the U.S. had anything to do with the power outage that affected Venezuelans for several days this past week. On the other side, Cuba has accused the U.S. of supporting an alleged terrorist attack on Venezuela’s power system. Referring to a 2002 oil strike, including a PDVSA management walk-out, led by those opposing Hugo Chávez, a Cuban government statement said, “The sequence and modality of these actions remind us of the sabotage perpetrated against the oil industry back in 2002 by a U.S. company that owned and operated the automated system that controlled the production, refining, transportation and distribution of hydrocarbons.”

US expands list of Cuban entities under sanctions

On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced in a statement that the Cuba Restricted List was being updated. The list was created in November 2017 and includes entities and subentities the Department determines to be under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel. Financial transactions with the listed entities are prohibited for persons of U.S. jurisdiction. In this new edition, the Department added a new hotel in Varadero and five new subentities owned by the Cuban armed forces. The changes were effective Tuesday, March 12.

AP reported in January that Cuba’s private sector has suffered since the creation of this list and other U.S. policies designed to make travel to the island more difficult. The report shows that, for example, private bed and breakfast bookings were down 44% in 2018 from 2017 figures.

State Department releases 30-page report on Cuba’s human rights record

The U.S. Department of State released its 2018 Human Rights Report this week. In the seccion for Cuba, the Trump Administration criticizes the Cuban government as an “authoritarian state” where “neither the [recent] legislative nor the national elections were considered to be free or fair.” Moreover, the report criticizes unlawful detentions, censorship, and lack of other freedoms. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said in a tweet that the U.S. has no moral authority to speak about human rights.

Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), said the report “once again highlights that there are no shortage of human rights abuses in places like Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Iran, and Syria, as well as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Vietnam.”

Trump seeks to slash democracy funds for Venezuela, Cuba

McClatchy reports that, in its annual budget request sent to Congress, the Trump administration proposes dramatic cuts to controversial democracy promotion programs in Cuba and Venezuela. These programs are reviled by host governments, who assert the programs’ purpose are to topple sitting governments, and program implementation has caused painful and embarrassing incidents for U.S. implementers. For example, ZunZuneo, a USAID-funded Cuban twitter-like program that was to be used to organize “smart mobs” was widely criticized, and Alan Gross, a USAID contractor, was arrested in Cuba and spent five years in prison for his role distributing communication technology on the island as part of a USAID-funded grant.

For Cuba, the White House proposed 70 percent cuts to democracy assistance programs on the island. The Trump administration’s budget request proposes 40 percent cuts for democracy programs in Venezuela. However, the budget request also seeks authority from Congress to transfer up to $500 million to help a new transitional government takeover if Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro falls. The Trump Administration is proposing $9 million for these kind of programs in Venezuela and $6 million in Cuba, respectively.

The administration’s annual budget request conveys the administration’s priorities to Congress, who ultimately debates, drafts, and votes on a final budget package. In the current fiscal year, Congress approved $15 million for democracy promotion funding for Cuba and $20 million for Venezuela.

Cuba says U.S., not Canada, manipulating diplomat health incidents

Reuters reports that, on Thursday, Cuban officials accused the Trump Administration of sabotaging diplomatic relations by, among other actions, manipulating the health incidents suffered by U.S. diplomats in Havana. Cuba’s director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, said, “This manipulation is also serving those who want to reinforce the idea Cuba is a threat and those who opportunistically look to catalog Cuba as a country that sponsors terrorism.” He noted that U.S. officials repeatedly refer to the health incidents as “attacks” with no supporting evidence.

As we have reported previously, embassy personnel from Canada and the U.S. suffered unexplained symptoms while serving in Cuba, and, as both countries investigate the cause of the symptoms, they have both reduced staffing presence in Havana. While the Trump Administration has labeled the incidents as “attacks,” Justin Trudeau’s government has not. Mr. Fernández de Cossío asserts Canada’s government has been more cooperative than Cuba’s counterparts in the U.S.

Adding to the mystery, 15 U.S. personnel have reported similar health incidents in China, including at least one official from the Commerce Department’s Commercial Service serving in Guangzhou, China. On Sunday, CBS’ 60 Minutes will report on such incidents.

Find CDA’s explainer here, cataloguing recent reporting, statements, theories, and questions about the health incidents in Cuba and China.

Bolton threatens companies shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba

On Monday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said in a tweet that shipping companies and insurers taking part in operations to send crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba have been “put on notice.” The tweet comes after a declaration by Venezuela’s National Assembly that all oil exports to Cuba must be suspended.

El Nuevo Herald reports that Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó called to halt shipments of oil to Cuba. Having declared a State of Emergency, Guaidó grounds his justification in the country’s massive humanitarian crisis, and the more recent electricity crisis, which left millions without access to water and electricity for several days. Guaidó announced the cessation of subsidized shipments before the National Assembly, declaring that Venezuela was to stop the embarrassing support of allies abroad at a time when it is failing to meet the needs of the Venezuelan people. In addition to fuel-saving measures, which reach beyond the termination of shipments to Cuba, Guaidó asked the armed forces to reinforce the security of Venezuela’s national electrical infrastructure.

IN CUBA

Cuba’s new constitution could reshape government, economy, rights

AP reports that after last month’s constitutional referendum, Cuba’s government is expected to send the National Assembly between 60 and 80 new laws over a two year period to implement the new constitutional framework and to replace laws rendered obsolete by the new constitution. Within months, the government is required to pass a new electoral law that splits the roles of head of state and government between the current president and the new post of prime minister. In the economic field, a new enterprise law could allow the creation of legal entities for the private sector. A new family code is expected to address the issue of gay marriage, and a new criminal will include the right of habeas corpus, requiring the government to justify citizen detention.

RECOMMENDED READING

Interview: Amy Klobuchar on carbon tax, Cuba, Biden’s busing quote and her chat with GillumSteve Contorno, Tampa Bay Times

In an interview during a Florida tour, the presidential candidate spoke with the Tampa Bay Times about her bill to repeal the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the trips that she has made to Havana, including one with President Obama, and her position about what the failed U.S. foreign policy of confrontation with Cuba has produced. Sen. Klobuchar (MN) says that she “would keep in place all of the human rights provisions that are already law in regards to Cuba.”

In Cuba, Obama’s detente becomes history as Trump threatens, Marc Frank, Reuters

The author writes about the change in tone in U.S.-Cuba bilateral relations. According to the author, the Cuban government was eager to salvage the improved bilateral relations, but following threats and sanctions from the current Administration, Cuban officials have jettisoned restraint and become increasingly harsh when talking about the Trump Administration.

EVENTS

Women, Leadership and Health Equity in Cuba, June 2 to 8 (sign up deadline March 15), Cuba

MEDICC is leading a trip to Havana and Artemisa for participants to connect with pioneering women in health, medicine & biotech; the arts; law and parliament; social and environmental sciences; the cooperative movement; NGOs; and the expanding private sector.

Cimafunk ConcertMarch 28, Tropicalia Lounge, Washington, DC

Join Center for Democracy in the Americas, Engage Cuba, and Cuba Educational Travel for an exclusive VIP reception with Cuba’s top emerging artist Cimafunk before his Washington, D.C. debut performance. Contact Info@democracyinamericas.org for sponsorship information. General Admission tickets can be purchased here.

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. Be on the lookout for shows across the U.S.

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.

Redefining U.S. national security: interlinkages with American society and foreign policyApril 5, Brookings Institution, Washington, DC

On April 5, Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) and the Foreign Policy program at The Brookings Institution will host a discussion on how domestic and foreign policy decisions influence each other in the current political environment. CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala will participate as panelist.

Zilia Sánchez: Soy Isla (I Am an Island), until May 19, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

The exhibition traces Sánchez’s artistic journey from her early days in Cuba to her extended visits to Europe and residence in New York, and finally her move to Puerto Rico, where she now lives and works. The exhibition title, I Am an Island, serves as a personal metaphor for Sanchez’s experience as an islander—connected to and disconnected from both the mainland and mainstream art currents.

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

CAYO embarks on its first full orchestra tour. 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 23 to 27, 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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