U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 04/05/2019

Dear friends,

This week CDA staff was busy with an agenda full of engaging events and pleasant surprises. From leading meetings between Cuban visionaries and influential Members of Congress and staff – Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Kathy Castor, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee; to a sold-out film screening and panel discussions with these same inspirational Cuban leaders organized by the Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba; a discussion on U.S. foreign policy with our very own Emily Mendrala hosted by Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security and the Brookings Institution; and, last but not least, an unexpected encounter with the cast of Netflix’s Queer Eye on Senator Leahy’s U.S. Capitol balcony! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with CDA’s work.

This week, in Cuba news…


U.S. swats Cuba for role in Venezuela by moving closer to fully implementing Helms-Burton; U.S. allies express their concerns

The Trump administration announced Wednesday a decision to postpone any changes to the implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act for two weeks; full implementation of Title III of Helms Burton would allow for lawsuits in U.S. courts against those found to be “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba. Miami Herald reports the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Congress that the U.S. “continues to examine human rights conditions in Cuba,” and is also “monitoring Cuba’s continued military, security, and intelligence support” to Maduro in Venezuela.

January marked the first departure from decades of precedent; every prior president since President Clinton waived the implementation of Title III in six month increments. In January, the Department of State issued a 45-day waiver. As we previously reported, a partial implementation went into effect in early March, allowing lawsuits against Cuban entities included in the List of Restricted Entities and Subentitites Associated With Cuba as of November 15, 2018, some 200 Cuban companies with ties to the military.

A full implementation of Title III would likely affect companies headquartered in Spain, Canada, and France. In meetings with U.S. national security advisor John Bolton and Secretary Pompeo this week, Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell expressed his concern about the negative consequences of Title III implementation on Spanish interests. Spain is Cuba’s third largest commercial partner and Spanish hospitality chains manage over 50 hotels on the island. In a meeting with Sec. Pompeo, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland expressed that “the Government of Canada will defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, if the United States enforces Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.” The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is also reportedly worried about the full implementation of Title III. Mark Agnew, the chamber’s director of international policy, noted that the chamber is especially concerned about the potential impact  on Canadian mining, financial services and tourism companies that currently operate in Cuba.

Cuba releases first group of players eligible for MLB

On Tuesday, the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) released the first group of Cuban players allowed to sign direct contracts with the Major League Baseball (MLB) under a deal finalized in December. The players are expected to start playing in the U.S. later this year, reports ESPN. The group consists of 34 players between the ages of 17 and 25, who are classified as international amateurs under MLB rules and eligible to sign minor league contracts. According to ESPN, among the most notable players released are 22-year-old Raidel Martínez Pérez and 23-year-old Liván Moinelo Pita who have both played professionally in Japan, and 17-year-old infielder Loidel Chapellí Zulueta and 18-year-old pitcher Norge Carlos Vera Aldana. In the statement, the FCB also noted that it is “doing this in the spirit of moving forward the implementation of the deal, with the goal of developing the potential of Cuban and international baseball, and, above all, fighting human trafficking.”

In December, the MLB and FCB signed an agreement allowing Cuban baseball players to play in the U.S. and Canada without having to defect, as we reported then. The deal was negotiated over three years, and is similar to the ones the MLB has brokered with baseball programs in Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. Read CDA’s statement on the December 2018 MLB deal here.

U.S. Congressman James McGovern visits Cuba; Hemingway center opens in Cuba to preserve writer’s work

U.S. Congressman James McGovern (D-MA) visited Cuba last weekend, Prensa Latina reports. Upon arrival last Friday, Representative McGovern was received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on Saturday, Rep. McGovern met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to discuss bilateral relations and other issues of common interest. Cuba’s president highlighted the meeting via Twitter. In an interview with WGBH while still in Cuba, Rep. McGovern discusses both his long-standing interest and concern for Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations, commenting that “Our policy toward Cuba makes the United States look petty. It makes us look small. It makes us look insecure. And the whole world is dealing with Cuba except us.”

During his visit, the U.S. representative participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of a restoration center to preserve the work of Literature Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway, Reuters reports. The Cuban National Cultural Heritage Council and Finca Vigia Foundation of the United States opened a new restoration center in Cuba to preserve the writer’s work left behind in his Havana Finca Vigia home. Hemingway wrote some of his most famous pieces such as “The Old Man and the Sea” during the 21 years he lived in Cuba. “When we come together, when we work together, we can do positive and amazing things,” said Rep. McGovern about the project. The center includes laboratories and an air-conditioned vault located on the 15-acre property where Hemingway lived on the outskirts of Havana.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell takes business trip to Cuba

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell along with a delegation of 35 business and political leaders arrived to Cuba on Tuesday for a six-day trip aimed at strengthening the city’s once-close ties with the island. The mayor’s itinerary includes meetings with economic development officials, tours of the country’s ports and historic excursions in Havana. In addition to fostering business ties, Mayor Cantrell also hopes the trip will provide an insight into Cuba’s strong education and health care systems, whose strategies could be mimicked in New Orleans. Cantrell is just the latest in a string of New Orleans mayors and Louisiana politicians to visit Cuba, including Gov. John Bel Edwards who visited the island in 2016 to sign ceremonial agreements for increased trade if and when the U.S. embargo should be lifted entirely. Also in 2016, CDA led a U.S. Conference of Mayors delegation to Cuba that included former New Orleans Mayor Mitchell Landrieu. Louisiana’s interest in Cuba derives from the fact that the state leads the U.S. in exports to Cuba as well as being home to a large Cuban population that has immigrated to the state over the decades. Mayor Cantrell’s Cuba visit updates can be found on twitter.


Havana receives first trucks from Japan to mitigate garbage crisis

A shipment of 24 Japanese garbage collection trucks, the first batch of a donation of 100 vehicles, has made it to Cuba as an effort to solve what OnCuba News reports is Havana’s long-standing problem with hygiene and waste. The shipment, which also includes the supply of specific tools for equipment repair and spare parts, is part of a donation worth 10 million dollars that is being channeled through the Japan International Cooperation Agency. Since only half of the existing 92 containers and trucks needed to effectively collect waste in Havana are in working conditions, the incorporation of the newly-donated trucks “will have a great impact on Cuban society and the environment” the new ambassador of Japan to Cuba, Kazuhiro Fujimura, declared during the ceremony. The workers in charge of operating the waste collection vehicles were trained before the trucks arrived.

Cuba cuts newspaper size due to paper scarcity as shortages bite

Reuters reports on Cuba’s latest commodity shortage: paper. The Cuban government announced on Thursday that the edition size of some print media would be halved on certain days due to the lack of newsprint on the island. According to Reuters, the paper shortage is forcing several state-run newspapers including the Communist Party daily publication, Granma, to cut back on pages and circulation. Cubans have long faced sporadic shortages of particular items due to external shocks to the state-run economy and deficiencies in central planning, and recently, they are experiencing an increase in widespread scarcity of basic goods such as medicine, flour, vegetable oil, eggs, and meat. President Miguel Díaz-Canel told the National Assembly in December that the government would be increasing austerity measures this year to mitigate the shortages.


Algerian unrest a potential threat to Cuban coffers

The resignation of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika this week poses a new threat to Cuba’s exports of health services to the African country for which, in exchange, the island receives oil imports, Reuters reports. Declining support from Venezuela since 2014 along with increased sanctions from the U.S. and the recent withdrawal of 8,300 Cuban doctors from Brazil has forced Cuba to look beyond the Western Hemisphere for importing oil and increasing its foreign exchange revenue. According to Reuters, in 2017 and 2018, Cuba imported 2.1 million barrels of crude oil from Algeria where more than a thousand health and other professionals work. While analysts are unsure how the political crisis in Algeria will unfold, the 2019-2021 agreement between the two countries that seeks to increase the amount of oil Algeria sends to Cuba in exchange for increased health and technical assistance is currently under threat.

President of UN General Assembly fulfills broad agenda in Cuba

The president of the UN General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, arrived in Cuba Wednesday for an official 4-day visit that will consist of high-level meetings with the country’s authorities, cultural and scientific personalities, directors of the Federation of Cuban Women, and officials affiliated with the UN System on the island, Prensa Latina reports. WPLG reports the trip’s purpose is to strengthen ties between Cuba and the United Nations. On Twitter, the vice-minister of foreign affairs in Cuba, Anayansi Rodríguez, said that Cuba will seek to “ratify adherence to multilateralism, strict respect to UN Charter and international law principles, and the commitment to strengthen UNGA as the most UN representative and democratic body.”


Cubans here, on the island say new visitor visa hurts their interests – and U.S. interests, Tim Padgett, WLRN

The decrease in B2 visa validity for Cuban nationals announced less than a month ago has begun to undermine the business plans and ongoing operations of many Cuban entrepreneurs, commonly referred to as cuentapropistas. WLRN shares the story of Rubén Valladares, a private entrepreneur seeking to expand his business to different areas in Miami. Rubén’s visa has allowed for ample visits to the U.S. to buy the supplies needed to keep his business in Cuba running, but, since the U.S. reduced visa validity from 5-year, multiple entry, to 3-month, single-entry, he now is forced to reconsider his plans; his five-year visa is set to expire in 2020. The author also discusses a theory that the change in visa validity will force Cuban officials to make wholesale goods available to cuentapropistas on the island and avoid the need to travel to other countries like Panama and Haiti to make bulk purchases.

A Ship Adrift: Cuba After the Pink Tide, Sujatha Fernandes, Nacla

In an opinion piece, Sujatha Fernandes discusses Cuba’s impending fate as a wave of far-right leaders have assumed power across the region while its chief ally, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, struggles to hold onto power in the midst of political, economic and humanitarian crises.

Three lessons from Cuba about improving coastal climate resilience, Katherine Angier, Environmental Defense Fund

The author explores how Cuba is addressing its vulnerability to climate change and explains the country’s “three-pronged strategy for effectively building resilience: the protection and rehabilitation of ecosystems to reduce climate impacts, robust data collection, and community involvement every step of the way.” Angier argues that these best practices can be translated to the U.S. as well. Cuba’s newly approved constitution highlights the importance of addressing climate change through its National Plan to Confront Climate Change known as Tarea Vida.


Howard University’s Afro-Cuba Lecture Series, April 5, 16 and 22, Washington, D.C.

The Department of World Languages and Cultures is presenting the Afro-Cuba Lecture Series featuring Obsesión, notable hip-hop duo; Robert Zurbano Torres, analyst, editor, and critical expert in literature, race and alternative music; and Cuban musician Cimafunk, named by Billboard as a “Top 10 Latin Artist to Watch in 2019.” All lectures will be held at the Ralph Bunch International Affairs Center, located at 2218 6th St., NW. For questions and further information contact: Dr. Aisha Z. Cort (aisha.cort@howard.edu).

Cuba Caribe Festival, April 10-14, San Francisco, CA

The 15th annual Cuba Caribe Festival will be celebrating the vibrant cultural and artistic traditions of the Caribbean and its Diaspora. Special focus this year the Cuban social dances Danzón, Mambo, Chachachá, Son, Rumba and Conga, and Cuban influences on Spanish Flamenco.

Havana Biennial 2019, April 12- May 12, 2019, Havana, Cuba

The 13th Havana Biennial, the largest visual arts event in Cuba, will be held from April 12 to May 12, 2019, with the commitment that the capital city of the island become a “cultural corridor.” More than 100 exhibitions from 852 artists, mostly Cuban, will be showcased in studios and public spaces across the city of Havana.

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, Cuba

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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