This week, in U.S.-Cuba news…
On Thursday, Google signed a “peering” agreement with Cuba’s telecom monopoly ETECSA to create a direct connection between the two internet networks, with a plan that could include an underwater cable linking Havana to Miami, the Financial Times reports. A direct connection reportedly depends on updated infrastructure, and once realized would eliminate costly third parties, improve the streaming capacity of Cuba’s network, and allow for the Cuban people to more readily access Google’s services. Cost savings could also be realized by Cuba’s consumers. While laying the cable should be relatively straightforward, experts assess the politics surrounding the partnership could complicate matters.
Pedro Freyre, a Cuban expert at the U.S. law firm Akerman believes that the obstruction of this partnership is at odds U.S. national interests. Freyre stated, “Free information and greater connectivity with Cuba has been a long-held U.S. objective. But how does that square with Washington’s new policy to get tough on Cuba? It’s a contradiction.” Financial times reports that, in the absence of investments from U.S companies such as Google, the door is left open to competitors such as China and Russia, who just this week, updated a 2013 internet agreement with Cuba.
On Tuesday, Engage Cuba launched the New Jersey State Council, the 19th state organization to join the national effort to end the decades-long Cuban embargo, NJ.com reports. State Senator Declan O’Scanlon, one of 29 founding members of the state council, commented that “as long as we maintain restrictions on trade with Cuba, we burden American business owners,” insisting that New Jersey products like biotechnology, agriculture, and manufactured goods have the potential to change lives in Cuba and create jobs across the state. The New Jersey Globe reports that Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), a Cuban American politician who opposed President Obama’s decision to increase engagement with Cuba due to Cuba’s human rights practices, was quick to express disapproval saying “just weeks after the Cuban regime approved a new constitution designed to keep the Communist Party in power for the foreseeable future, it seems like a fool’s errand for Engage Cuba to set up a New Jersey chapter.”
On Thursday, Cuba’s Government convened to assess recovery efforts following the devastating tornado that struck Havana the evening of January 27, 2019. As we reported previously, a powerful F-4 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. In the wake of the tornado, the government is debating its disaster reduction plans, damage assessment protocols, and emergency preparedness exercises. One such exercise, to plan the government’s response to natural disasters, is scheduled to take place May 18 and 19.
The IAEA Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications reports on Cuba’s accomplishment for having the first laboratory in Latin America and the Caribbean to be able to detect ciguatoxins, the toxins responsible for the most significant non-bacterial seafood poisoning. IAEA researchers have been training scientists in almost 40 countries, including Cuba, on the use of a key nuclear tool—the radioligand receptor binding assay (RBA)—and much more. Carlos Alonso-Hernandez, Vice Director at the Centre of Environmental Studies of Cienfuegos, explains that “ciguatera toxins have been a major problem in Latin America and the Caribbean for years, and now we have become the first laboratory in the region capable of monitoring ciguatera toxins on-site through the use of nuclear techniques.”
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Reuters reports on Prince Charles and Camilla’s historic trip to Cuba as the first members of the British royal family to visit the island since the Cuban revolution. The royal’s four-day visit is in keeping with the desire of Britain and other Western nations to strengthen relations with Cuba, but is at odds with the Trump administration’s isolationist policies toward the island.
The Royals’ trip consisted of several activities, including a wreath-laying ceremony for Cuba’s national hero, Jose Martí, driving a black 1953 MG TD to a rally of British cars, a meeting with Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and a visit to the special economic zone in the port of Mariel. However, the itinerary did not include any visits with political dissidents or other critics of Cuba’s single-party system. The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were joined by Lord Ahmad, British Commonwealth Minister as “an indication of how important Downing Street views the four-day Cuban visit,” Peter Kornbluh writes.
According to CNN, despite the fact that royal trips always attract a great deal of attention, this particular visit to Cuba takes place during a politically sensitive time when the Cuban government is under criticism for its role in support of Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro amidst of an unfolding humanitarian crisis. While the Royal Highnesses were in Cuba, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez had a phone conversation with British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. In a statement, the British Foreign Office said that both officials “discussed the situation in Venezuela where so many people are suffering at the hands of the Maduro regime. [The Foreign Secretary] expressed the UK’s deep concern on Cuba’s support for Maduro and called on Cuba to play a more constructive role in resolving the Venezuelan crisis.”
As we previously reported, when the visit was first announced in February, Senator Rick Scott (FL), sent Prince Charles a letter in which he urged him to reconsider the trip to Cuba and invited him to visit Florida in order “to learn firsthand about the six decades of atrocities, oppression, and misery inflicted on the Cuban people by the regime.” In response to Scott’s letter, Sir Alan Duncan, the British minister of state for Europe and the Americas, wrote that “like a number of other countries, we believe that the best way to promote human rights and encourage a Cuba that fully respects fundamental freedoms is through practical diplomacy, such as with this visit,” an AP News article reports.
Scholars James Clifford Kent and Christopher Hull discuss the world’s view of Cuba as Prince Charles and Camilla become the first British royals to visit the island since the 1959 revolution, indicating a clear departure from its closest ally’s policy towards Cuba. With Fidel and Raul Castro no longer in charge, they argue that Britain has begun to “disentangle its relations with Cuba from its much ‘weightier’ special relationship with the United States.” Despite the Cuban people’s struggle to survive the U.S. economic embargo and the tremendous efforts being made to modernize and integrate the island into the global economy, Cuba is still viewed as a “time capsule.” Even though foreign investment and travel to Cuba are continuously increasing, the absence of the Castro’s has not affected the island’s revolutionary project and romanticized aesthetic.
Ambassador William Burns discusses in a Foreign Affairs article the “neglect and distortion of American diplomacy” in the aftermath of the Cold War, an issue that has been exacerbated under the Trump administration. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the U.S. in an almost perfect position to lead the world towards its envisioned liberal order using both its economic and diplomatic power. However, rapid globalization and a fragmenting political system across the world prevented ideological conformity, which American diplomacy alone was unable to sustain. Budget cuts within the State Department and wars that ensued following the 9/11 attacks led the U.S. to prioritize the practice of “coercive diplomacy.” President Obama tried to revive the importance of diplomacy in American statecraft by restoring relations with Cuba, negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, promoting a Trans-Pacific Partnership, and signing the Paris climate accords. Increasing partisanship at home along with highly politicized foreign events complicated the U.S.’ ability to exert power in a world already filled with divisions and competing powers. While Trump’s “America First” ideology has resulted in a pattern of retreat, Burns argues that the U.S. has not yet ceased to be pivotal power in the world, and as such the lost art of diplomacy may still be recovered.
Short Films Screening: Cuban Visionaries, April 3, Landmark´s E Street Cinema, Washington, DC
The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba is hosting (and CDA is proud to support) 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 policy, April 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 Tour, May 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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