U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 04/19/2019

Dear friends,

This week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, speaking against an overtly political backdrop in the largest swing state in the U.S., announced new sanctions against Cuba. Frankly speaking, the measures are mean-spirited, and some can only be understood as a means of creating economic hardship for the Cuban people. While the specific rule changes are not yet clearly defined, if implemented as described, they will cause great pain to the Cuban people, create obstacles for companies around the world, and represent a significant step backwards in the policy goals we long for and work daily to achieve: engagement between our two nations and our two peoples.

In this toxic policy climate, we commit to redouble our efforts – to increase our educational and advocacy activities, to bring influential U.S. actors to Cuba to learn about the impact our policies on the island, and to *celebrate* the many ties between our two peoples.

We are grateful for you, the greater CDA family, and urge you to join us now on the front lines of educating, advocating, and organizing. Thank you for your support.

This week, in Cuba news…


Trump administration announces new restrictions on dealing with Cuba

On Wednesday, the Trump Administration announced new sanctions and restrictions on Cuba. The New York Times reports the measures seek to intensify pressure to end Cuba’s government support for Venezuela’s Maduro.


On Wednesday, in a speech delivered to Cuban exiles in Miami commemorating the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, national security adviser John Bolton announced forthcoming restrictions on non-family travel to Cuba, caps on remittances at $1,000 per person per quarter, increased financial restrictions (forbidding U-turn transactions – those that pass briefly through the U.S. financial system), and increased enforcement of visa restrictions for foreign company executives found to be benefiting from financial dealings with confiscated property in Cuba. Miami Herald reports Bolton also announced new sanctions on the Venezuelan and Nicaraguan governments, who alongside Cuba, make up what he refers to as the “Troika of Tyranny.” He said, “The United States looks forward to watching each corner of this solid triangle of terror fall: in Havana, in Caracas, and in Managua.” In his speech, Bolton also referenced the controversial U.S. policy of Monroe Doctrine, an antiquated justification of unilateral U.S. intervention in the Americas, which he claimed is “alive and well.”

Hours prior to Bolton’s speech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the full implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), which will allow U.S. citizens to bring lawsuits against entities “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba effective May 2. The provision had previously been waived by each administration since 1996.


AP News explains the measure will hit Cuba especially hard during a delicate economic moment caused, in large part, by decreased aid from Venezuela and underperformance in certain economic sectors. Last week, as we reported, the Cuban government announced that more shortages were to be expected.

Politico reported that the Trump administration’s crackdown on Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua is meant to serve as a “2020 thrust,” in Florida, the largest swing state in the U.S. According to Politico, one half-million Florida voters were born in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, or Nicaragua. The number grows when accounting for voters with ancestral roots in those countries. Politico asserts this constituency will prove pivotal in the 2020 presidential election. With a nod to this reality, in his speech, Bolton told his Cuban-American audience, “we will need your help in the days ahead.”


In response to Wednesday’s announcement, U.S. Representatives Eliot Engel, Kathy Castor, Jim McGovern, and Barbara Lee, in addition to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, released statements critical of the new measures. Miami’s Rep. Donna Shalala told Politico, “This change has the potential to hurt the Cuban people more than helping them; helping the Cuban people should be our priority.”

The EU and Canada were among the first of U.S. allies to push back against the new sanctions on Cuba. A joint statement by EU officials Federica Mogherini and Cecilia Malmstrom, and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said that “the EU and Canada consider the extraterritorial application of unilateral Cuba-related measures contrary to international law.” In a separate statement, Freeland said that she has met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to register Canada’s concerns and at the same time has “been in contact with Canadian businesses to reaffirm we will fully defend the interests of Canadians conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba.” Moreover, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office statement pointed out that “The UK, like the EU, believes that the best way of encouraging Cuba to respect democratic freedoms and human rights, to implement political reform or to play a less unhelpful role in Venezuela is through dialogue and cooperation, not isolation.” The Mexican government also released a statement lamenting the U.S. decision to implement Title III, saying that doing so will hurt Mexican companies currently doing or seeking to do business with Cuba. Just two weeks ago, we reported on increased concern from U.S. allies over the consequences in fully implementing Title III.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez was quick to reject the new U.S. sanctions via Twitter, calling the activation of Title III “an attack against International Law and the sovereignty of Cuba & third States.” In the statement, the Cuban government reiterated its solidarity with Venezuela, and called on the international community and U.S. citizens to help stop the U.S. government’s “irrational escalation and the policy of hostility and aggression ” against Cuba.

Meanwhile, Cuban citizens also opposed the new measures, including critics of the communist government in Cuba such as Manuel Cuesta who says that the “new Trump policy easily fits into the old Cuban government narrative which sets out to paint the Americans as the reason the country cannot progress.” Likewise, Cuban entrepreneur, Camilo Condis expressed his discontent with the new policy in a series of tweets asserting the sanctions will “trample” the Cuban people.

CDA’s executive director Emily Mendrala commented that “Ambassador Bolton’s speech conflated Cuba with Venezuela, and he announced a policy approach that does the same. The two countries are different, living through very different moments, and to exploit events in Venezuela to settle Cold War scores with Cuba is a distraction from real needs in Venezuela.” To read CDA’s full statement, click here.

Alan Gross, a former USAID contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison, said that the new travel and remittances policies go against U.S. interests. Former Obama Administration Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, asserted the policy shift tries to look “tough without accomplishing anything.”

According to El Nuevo Herald, Cuban-American Jesús Fernández, who currently own a small company that transports people between Miami and Tampa, is especially concerned about the well-being of his three children living in Cuba and in his ability to send more money to them if the economic situation worsens. Fernández says that in the end, it is Cuban-Americans who end up paying for the “weight” of the U.S. government’s policies against Cuba.

*Read CDA’s explainer on Cuba policy changes under the Trump administration here.


Art frenzy takes over Havana as biennial kicks off

Reuters reports on Havana’s 13th Biennial featuring the work of more than 300 contemporary artists from 52 countries spread out throughout the city’s museums, galleries, and open-air spaces. The popular Malecón seafront boulevard has been transformed into an open-air, interactive gallery making it one of the main centers of attraction during the biennial. Cuba’s government has been interested in advancing the arts in the country since the 1959 Revolution, and they created the Biennial in 1984 to promote artists from the developing world. However, this year the event includes a large number of European and U.S. artists including Cuban-Americans.

According to Reuters, a parallel program with politically charged works of art is taking place at the same time on the sidelines in private studios and galleries. For example, Cuban artist Leandro Feal is leading an interactive performance meant to mirror the recently introduced Decree 349 that gives government inspectors the right to shut down exhibits and performances deemed to violate Cuba’s revolutionary values. In this exhibit, a participant meets with a performer, a blustering bureaucrat, who helps the participant fill out a form with personal details and issued a badge declaring the participant to be an inspector-qualified artist, cleared to partake in Cuba’s cultural sector. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, an activist who led a vocal campaign against Decree 349 was arrested last Friday and released three days later for staging a small yet politically charged performance. When asked by Reuters about the arrest, the head of Cuba’s National Council of Visual Arts, Norma Rodriguez, said, “As far as I know he is an activist, not an artist.”


Suspected Islamic extremists abduct 2 Cuban doctors in Kenya

The Washington Post reports on the abduction of two Cuban doctors by Islamist militants linked to al-Qaida in northern Kenya. This is the second abduction of foreigners that has taken place in the last five months by the Somalia-based extremist group of al-Shabab. The Cuban Health Ministry identified the doctors as Assel Herrera Correa and Landy Rodriguez Hernandez, a general physician from Las Tunas and a surgeon from Villa Clara, respectively. According to the Washington Post, Assel and Landy are among the more than 100 Cuban doctors that have been brought to Kenya in an exchange program that also brought 50 Kenyans to Cuba for specialized training last year. Cuban President Díaz-Canel has been in contact with the presidents of Kenya and Somalia as they continue to coordinate efforts to secure the release of the two abducted doctors.

Cuba and the European Union sign memorandum of intent

On Tuesday, the European Union and Cuba signed a memorandum of intent to approve the financing and cooperation projects worth 61.5 million euros, ACN reports. The MOU signed by Stefano Manservisi, Director General of Cooperation and Development of the European Commission, and Ileana Núñez Mordoche, Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment of Cuba, is intended to strengthen cooperation in the following areas: food security, adaptation to climate change, renewable energy, culture, and exchange experiences. Rogelio Sierra Díaz, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, said that this is the last of five political dialogues scheduled with the EU, which have covered issues such as human rights, unilateral coercive measures, disarmament and non-proliferation, illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons and non-conventional weapons, and sustainable development.


Trump declares economic war on Cuba, William LeoGrande, The Conversation

LeoGrande argues that Title III, a law that has been too controversial to implement for more than two decades, will only benefit “Cuba’s former one percenters,” who Trump believes will help him deliver Florida to him again in 2020 as they did in 2016.

Food Shortages in Cuba Are Raising Fears of a New Economic Crisis, Andrea Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein, TIME

Long lines at the local markets and monthly rations are becoming once again a prevalent occurrence across Cuba as severe food and medicine shortages are increasingly tormenting ordinary Cubans. After two decades of relative stability, the collapse in Venezuelan aid and continuous pressure from the U.S. are leading Cuba to an economic crisis that some fear will be a return to the “special period” of the 90s when economic devastation and deep suffering followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Those Cuban Ballplayers? They Won’t Be Coming Here, Editorial Board, The New York Times

A New York Times opinion article discusses the Trump administration’s decision to cancel the MLB deal with the Cuban Baseball Federation, describing it as a“bad move done for the wrong reasons.”

Donald Glover’s ‘Guava Island’ Is Rooted in Afro-Cuban Spirituality, Taylor Hosking, Vice

Donald Glover’s new film “Guava Island” co-starred by Rihanna and filmed in Cuba takes viewers on a journey that reveals music’s power to influence social change. Cuba’s backdrop and key scenes featuring Afro-Cuban drumming allow Cuban’s own history with artistic repression to ground Glover’s parallel story.


A Cuba Compendium, April 13-27, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

This anthology of new and old cinematic interpretations includes a compelling variety of ideas, approaches, styles, and understandings concerning the great Caribbean landmass just off the southern coast of the United States. Inspiring everything from an exuberant love letter to a fictional foray to an essayistic tract, the enigmatic island nation of Cuba continues to fascinate artistic sensibilities both within and beyond its borders.

Afro Roots Fest, April 18-20, Key West, Florida

Audiences can celebrate world music with an emphasis on Cuban rhythms during the annual Afro Roots Fest in multiple venues around the Florida Keys. The Afro Roots Fest will include a performance by Electric Piquete, the critically acclaimed Latin funk and fusion band known for its innovative originals and interpretations drawing on Afro-Caribbean, jazz and rock influences, as well as the screening of the musical-documentary “Eliades Ochoa: From Cuba to the World.” Ochoa has been called “The Cuban Johnny Cash” and is an original member of the renowned musical group Buena Vista Social Club.

Howard University’s Afro-Cuba Lecture Series, April 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).

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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