U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 05/03/2019

Dear friends,

CDA is THRILLED to host Latin Grammy-award winning artist Aymée Nuviola Monday, May 20, in Washington, DC. Email Info@democracyinamericas.org for sponsorship opportunities.

This week, in Cuba news…


Carnival Corp. is the first U.S. company sued for using ‘stolen’ property in Cuba

Thursday morning, Carnival Cruise Lines became the first U.S. company to be sued under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which first entered into effect that same day, Miami Herald reports. Secretary of State Pompeo announced the enactment of the provision of U.S. law, which had been suspended by each U.S. presidential administration since 1996, and which allows U.S. nationals to bring lawsuits against entities “trafficking in confiscated property” in Cuba. Exxon Mobil filed suit against Cuban Corporación CIMEX and Unión Cuba-Petróleo on Friday for trafficking in confiscated property; the suit is based on a certified claim that includes oil refineries and service stations.

Carnival is being sued in federal court by two plaintiffs, Mickael Behn and Javier Garcia-Bengochea, who hold claims certified by the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission for assets confiscated shortly after the 1959 Revolution. In a press conference outside the federal courthouse in Miami, Behn, whose grandfather once owned buildings and three piers at the entrance to the Port of Havana, said: “Thanks to the Cuban exile community and the LIBERTAD Act, we can finally get justice after 60 years.” Miami Herald reports Behn inherited the Havana Docks claim valued at $9.2 million, which has been accruing interest at 6 percent annually for nearly half a century, driving up Behn’s claim to $45 million. Likewise, Garcia-Bengochea holds a claim issued to his cousin for the company La Maritima Parreño, which owned a port terminal and warehouse facilities in Santiago de Cuba, and was valued at $636,000 in 1970. Nearly 6,000 claims have been certified by the federal government and these claimants, as well as others who were not citizens at the time of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, could elect to sue under Title III.

George Fowler, one of Carnival’s attorneys and vice-chairman of the Cuban-American National Foundation, told El Nuevo Herald that the lawsuits would go nowhere because the Helms-Burton law excludes liabilities for commercial activities related to authorized travel to Cuba. Fowler, who worked to get the Helms-Burton Act passed in 1996 insists that “it was not the intention of the Helms-Burton law to go after American companies with legal business in Cuba.”

Breitbart also reports on other possible lawsuits that could follow Behn and Garcia-Bengochea’s, including the heirs of Rafael Lucas Sánchez Hill, whose sugar cane estate north of eastern Holguín was expropriated shortly after the revolution. Nick Gutiérrez, an attorney working with families who lost property in Cuba during the revolution told Radio-TV Martí that lawsuits against the companies affiliated with the Havana airport and the Spanish hotel chain Meliá, with properties in Cayo Coco, Holguín and Varadero, are expected to be filed soon.

With Maduro still in power, questions about the U.S. role in Venezuela

The New York Times (NYT) reports on Tuesday’s failed attempt by Venezuela’s Juan Guaidó to oust Nicolás Maduro. “Operación Libertad” was intended to mark a turning point in the three-month campaign to remove Maduro from power. However, with nobody emerging stronger from Tuesday’s events, the NYT notes that Trump administration officials blame Cuba, Russia and three Venezuelan officials, who failed to switch sides, for Maduro’s staying power. On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump demanded via Twitter that “Cuban troops and militia… CEASE military and other operations” in Venezuela or else a “full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.” The NYT reports that the Trump administration is at odds with the C.I.A.’s conclusion in that Cuba’s role in Venezuela is far less important and involved than it is believed to be by senior administration officials.

In an interview with CNN, Secretary Pompeo claimed that Maduro had plans to flee to Cuba Tuesday morning but was urged by the Russian government to stay. According to the NYT, President Trump is being prodded to take an aggressive position on Venezuela by Senator Marco Rubio (FL) to appeal to the Cuban exile community in South Florida, which views the socialist government in Venezuela as a proxy for Cuba. In February, Senator Marco Rubio responded to a tweet by Cuba’s president expressing solidarity with Venezuela by saying,”Te vemos pronto,” (We will see you soon).

Rep. Charlie Crist (FL-13) visits Cuba; organized by CDA

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted last Friday about a visit to Cuba by Rep. Charlie Crist (FL-13), his first to the island. The Minister included a photo of himself and the U.S. Congressman, who represents St. Petersburg, FL, and noted the two met and discussed the current state of the U.S.-Cuba bilateral relationship as well as other international issues. Cuba’s Foreign Minister’s tweet said, “I reiterated Cuba’s willingness to have respectful relations with the U.S.” In a media note, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry noted Rep. Crist’s visit was organized by the Center for Democracy in the Americas.


Cubans protest U.S. sanctions as Trump raises pressure on Venezuela

Reuters reports millions of Cubans took to the streets for the International Workers Day march on May 1st, and this year, marchers protested a new round of sanctions imposed on the island by the Trump administration as well as the U.S. offensive against socialism in the region. According to Reuters, a statement read at the start of the march said, “we denounce the maneuvers aimed at destabilizing the left and progressive governments, particularly in Venezuela and Nicaragua.” Reuters notes that even though the marches throughout Cuba were organized by the government, it is clear that the Cuban people are in shock and angry over the rapid deterioration of relations with the U.S. in recent months, and equally concerned with the situation in Venezuela, who they see as an ally and source of sustenance. In an early morning tweet on Wednesday, Cuba’s President, Miguel Díaz-Canel said, “we will give a strong, firm and revolutionary response to the statements loaded with threats, provocations, lies, and slander of the Yankee empire.”

Turismo a Cuba creció un 7,2 % hasta abril; Tourism to Cuba grew by 7.2% through April

Cuba’s ministry of tourism reported Thursday that foreign tourism to the island grew 7.2 percent January – April of 2019, over the same time period the year prior, OnCuba News reports. The government says Cuba welcomed 1.8 million visitors during this four-month period, a number slightly higher than what was originally forecasted. The minister Manuel Marrero said that this positive result was obtained despite the “complex situation” Cuba is currently facing. Marrero clarified that the recent growth in tourism did not come from European visitors but rather robust travel from Canadians, the island’s largest group of foreign visitors, as well as an increase in Russian visitors. According to Marrero, the ministry is confident that they are still on track to surpass 2018’s 4.7 million visitors and reach the 2019 goal of 5 million visitors.


No Cuban troops in Venezuela, Cuban diplomat tells AP

According to AP News, top Cuban diplomat, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, on Wednesday, gave the most detailed Cuban government response to date on the U.S. government allegations of a large Cuban security presence in Venezuela. Fernández de Cossío stated that Cuba has no troops in Venezuela and engages in no security operations in that country. However, he argued that, although there are no Cuban boots on the ground, broader intelligence or military cooperation would be “totally legitimate,” and noted that the “United States has over 800,000 Americans stationed around the world with over 600-700 military bases anywhere in the world.” Fernández de Cossío added, “but what I am saying is that in spite of having that right, there are no military personnel of Cuba or troops, nor do we participate in any military or security operation as is constantly alleged.”

AP notes that Cuba has a large and highly professional security and intelligence apparatus, which includes thousands of operatives who would not be considered military troops. Some Venezuelan defectors have reported the presence of Cubans in key positions among the Venezuelan armed forces and intelligence services. On Tuesday, National Security Adviser John Bolton said that “if this afternoon 20-25,000 Cubans left Venezuela, I think Maduro would fall by midnight.” In response to this allegation, de Cossío’s deputy, Johana Tablada, called Bolton a “pathological liar,” and told reporters that all the Cubans in Venezuela are civilians and 94 percent are involved in medical missions. NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell shared via twitter Fernández de Cossío’s estimation on the current number of Cubans living in Venezuela.

Hours after mass escape in Mexico, Cuban migrants chant for food, freedom

AP News reports on the largest ever mass escape from a Mexican immigration center and the latest example of how the influx of Central American, Cuban, and Haitian migrants is testing Mexican government capacity. According to AP News, around 600 migrants, mostly Cubans, were part of the escape from the detention center in the southern city of Tapachula, which at the time was holding 1,745 people, nearly double its capacity. Those with family members inside the detention center said the escape arose from a dispute over food and sleeping space, both of which were in short supply in the overcrowded center. Some suspect that authorities may have opened the gates Thursday night to let migrants flee as a way of reducing pressure on the system, knowing that those who left would no longer be allowed to apply for any kind of humanitarian visa, asylum or residence permit in Mexico. On Thursday, Mexico’s National Institute of Migration tweeted on the deportation of 93 Cuban nationals from the state of Chiapas to Havana.


(WATCH) Cubans on the Power of Engagement, Cuba Educational Travel & Engage Cuba

Four Cuban entrepreneurs Emilio Garcia, Manuel Hernandez Cardona, Laila Chaaban and Marvin Segundo discuss the impact the diplomatic opening had on their businesses — and the need for it to continue.

5 Reasons to Pick Up Chanel Cleeton’s When We Left Cuba, Olivia Paez, Bookriot

Chanel Cleeton, author of Next Year in Havana, recently released the highly anticipated companion novel When We Left Cuba which is set to be a Reese Witherspoon book club pick for 2019. This book follows Next Year in Havana’s protagonist Elisa Perez’s sister, Beatriz Perez, during the 60s once their family immigrated to the United States after the Cuban Revolution. The novel is full of action, suspense, and important discussions about Cuban diaspora stories woven into the narrative.

Analyzing the Trump Administration’s New ‘Punitive Beyond Belief’ Cuba Policies, Marguerite Jimenez, WOLA

WOLA’s Marguerite Jimenez assesses the damage from rolling back U.S. engagement with Cuba.


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.

Creativas^2: Havana- Miami Creatives Exchange, May 5, Miami, FL

Creativas2, a new initiative spearheaded by Havana-based HAPE Collective, CubaOne and Cuba Educational Travel, will bring four of Havana’s brightest women entrepreneurs to the Miami Light Project on Sunday, May 5th, at 3pm for a unique meet-up. Lauren Fajardo, Cristina Figueroa, May Reguera and Marta Deus will each present a topic of their work and its impact on a new generation of Cubans in Havana. They will be joined in the panel by young Miami-based artists and entrepreneurs, eager to obtain insights on Havana’s emerging creative scene and find ground for collaboration.

Cuban Visions Program 3:  Economics 101, May 5, Chicago, IL

Film screening of La Singular Historia de Juan sin Nada (The Unique Story of Unlucky Juan), a comprehensive, accessible examination of the particularities of the Cuban economy. Using a fictional worker named Juan as an example, the film shows how the economy affects the daily lives of ordinary citizens – and how badly it squeezes those who don’t have access to hard currency. Post-screening presentation: Cuban journalist and blogger (La Joven Cuba), Harold Cárdenas will discuss the current state of the Cuban economy and how it relates to Cuba’s new constitutional reforms.

HI DC’s Afro-Latino Fest, May 18, Washington, DC

In celebration of Passport DC and DC International Cultural Awareness Month, Hostelling International DC invites the local community to its first Afro-Latino Fest. Come discover Afro-Latino cultures through music, food, dance, and fun activities. Hors d’oeuvres from High Street Cafe and My Cuba Cafe, 734 Coffee, and natural ginger juice will be served. The event highlights include: a live performance by Proyecto Piquete (Puerto Rico), La Marvela (Colombia), a fun DIY keychain activity, and a brief talk by 734 Coffee team.

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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