U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 05/10/2019

Dear friends,

Greetings from Havana, where CDA is leading a high-level delegation to participate in events around the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Join us for an intimate concert Monday, May 20, in Washington, DC! CDA is THRILLED to host Latin Grammy-award winning artist Aymée Nuviola at our Spring Celebration, where we will celebrate U.S.-Cuba cultural ties. RSVP for payment instructions at info@democracyinamericas.org or call us at (202) 234-5506. Tickets are $100 per person. For sponsorship opportunities please email info@democracyinamericas.org.

This week, in Cuba news…


Canada, EU, Mexico, Spain vow to defend their business interests in Cuba as U.S. opens way for lawsuits

Reuters reports on Canada’s response to recent U.S. sanctions on Cuba, in which Canada vows to defend Canadian businesses operating on the island. In a statement released last Friday, the Canadian Foreign Ministry said, “The Government of Canada will always defend Canadians and Canadian businesses conducting legitimate trade and investment with Cuba, and is reviewing all options in response to the U.S. decision.” In the statement, the ministry also explained that Canada will “continue to work with our international partners, including the EU, to stand up for our businesses.” Reuters also reports that the EU threatened to reignite a World Trade Organization dispute or use retaliatory sanctions to protect its companies.

Likewise, the Mexican government said in a statement released Wednesday that it is “analyzing the relevant instances to file actions for breaches of international law that the Helm-Burton Act represents, as well as to protect Mexican interests abroad.” According to CNA, Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said “this is further proof of a lack of cooperation on the part of the US administration and the adoption of extra-territorial measures which, according to us, are an abuse of power which we oppose.” Borrell assured that “this is going to be a legal battle, we will go to the WTO.” On Thursday, Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released its first statement regarding the matter, stating that “Japan has been concerned that the Title III of the Helms-Burton Act may constitute an extraterritorial application of domestic law and may affect stable economic relations of private companies,” as such it will continue to pay close attention to the impacts on Japan and any other developments in the situation.

During an industry fair this week in Cuba, foreign companies operating on the island expressed their opposition to newly imposed U.S. sanctions, Reuters reports. Juan Antonio Montes, general director of the Spanish hotel group Barceló, said, “it’s obviously a very awkward situation but we will keep on advancing,” and assured that Barceló would seek a legal way to protect itself, adding that they “do not have any kind of intention to leave [Cuba] or to modify any current plans.” Moreover, Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, said at the fair’s opening statement that their “aim is to keep investing in Cuba and for our companies to have the willingness to contribute to the development of the island.”

Cuba blocks Blade reporter from entering country

The Washington Blade reports that its international news editor, Michael Lavers, was refused entry into Cuba on Wednesday. According to Lavers, Cuban officials asked him questions regarding his frequent trips to Cuba as well as his profession and reason for traveling to the island. The officials then informed Lavers that he was not going to be allowed in because his name appeared on a list for which no further explanation was given. The Blade notes that Lavers has traveled to Cuba seven times since 2015 on both tourist and press visas, in most cases to cover LGBTQ issues on the island. Lavers landed in Havana just two days after the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) announced the cancellation of marches that would have commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Can Cuba be part of the solution to the political crisis in Venezuela?

El Nuevo Herald reports on a declaration by Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, on Sunday, which surprised some Cuba-watchers. Secretary Pompeo asserted the U.S. is “working” with Cuba to secure Maduro’s departure from Venezuela. On CBS’ Face the Nation Pompeo stated that “We are working very diligently to ensure that Maduro leaves and we get free and fair elections in Venezuela…That will require the 2,300 Cuban security personnel, frankly the people closest to Maduro who are protecting … We’re working with the Cubans to try and get an outcome that will let the Venezuelans have this opportunity.” In response to questions about the remarks, the State Department sent el Nuevo Herald a statement saying that the U.S. government “regularly engage[s] with the Cuban government,” but that the spokesperson declined to provide details on the substance of the engagements. According to el Nuevo Herald, Pompeo’s comments were also the first time the U.S. government put an official number on the Cuban security presence in Venezuela; the 2,300 number asserted by Secretary Pompeo is a figure significantly lower than one often quoted by National Security Advisor John Bolton: 20,000 military personnel.


Cuba cancels annual Conga Against Homophobia parade

The 12th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia conga (parade), scheduled to take place in two cities in Cuba on May 11 and May 17, was abruptly canceled on Wednesday, AP News reports. Cuba’s Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), run by Mariela Castro, daughter of Raul Castro, shared the statement on Facebook saying that the march had been canceled on orders of the Ministry of Health. The statement attributed the cancellation to “new tensions in the international and regional context that directly and indirectly affect our country and have tangible and intangible impacts in the normal development of our daily life and the implementation of the policies of the Cuban state.” Other events will continue; a schedule of activities can be found on CENESEX’ Facebook page.

On the one hand, Reuters sources note that the decision to cancel the parade could be attributed in part to an increased vocal presence of Cuba’s evangelical church, who recently led a successful campaign advocating for the removal of language in Cuba’s newly adopted constitution that would have solidified the right to gay marriage. On the other hand, some speculate the cancelation could be either a money-saving measure or that the government canceled the conga because it did not want to allow a public forum that could be diverted to criticize it at a moment when it is facing rising political hostility from the Trump administration.

Cubans dismayed Canada halting visa processing in Havana

Reuters reports on the Canadian embassy announcement informing that it will no longer process applications for visitor and residence visas as well as work and study permits. According to the statement, this measure is a direct result of the staff reductions that took place back in January following a series of still-unexplained health incidents. The statement redirects Cubans to a third country or an online portal in order to submit their visa applications. Among the services that will remain active are applications for Canadian passports, proof of citizenship, and permanent resident travel documents. Reuters notes that despite the health incidents and disagreements over Venezuelan politics, the Cuba-Canada relationship does not seem to be deteriorating, given that Canada continues to be Cuba’s top tourism market and the government recently reiterated its opposition to the enactment of Title III.


 With Venezuela Standoff Unresolved, Trudeau Reaches Out to Cuba

Late Friday last week, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, had a call with Cuba’s Diaz-Canel to discuss the crisis in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports. A statement by the Canadian government indicated that Trudeau “underscored the desire to see free and fair elections and the constitution upheld in Venezuela,” and also “discussed ways they could work together to support a peaceful resolution to the crisis.” According to Bloomberg, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal, said in a recent interview that “dialogue is what will help,” and that “if there is willingness, solutions can be found.” Trudeau reached out to Diaz-Canel following a Lima Group meeting last week in which they discussed the Venezuelan crisis and member countries were assigned to take a role and reach out to Russia, Cuba, and International Contact Group (eight European countries and four Latin American not belonging to the Lima Group who have not yet demanded Maduro’s departure from Venezuela) to join them in their quest for a solution, Washington Post reports. A day after Trudeau’s call with Diaz-Canel, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, on behalf of the Contact Group, spoke with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

Desperate Cuban migrants await Mexican exit visas to travel to U.S. border

Thousands of Cuban migrants lined up on Monday outside an immigration office in Tapachula, Mexico, which reopened after closing for two months when 500 Cuban migrants stormed the offices and damaged the facility, UPI reports. UPI reports that Cuban migrants seeking to continue their journey northward from the southern Mexico city to the U.S. border have to apply for exit visas in order to legally leave the city. Otherwise, they risk being deported or having their U.S. asylum applications denied. According to UPI, Javier Valdez, a Cuban migrant, took charge of an exit visa interview waitlist and said that those registered on his list to await visa appointments had reached 1,446 by the end of the day on Monday. Another Cuban migrant insisted that Mexican immigration agents are tricking them into signing documents for voluntary repatriation to then “take you to the airport where you board a plane saying it’s bound for Mexico City. You only realize when you land that you are in Cuba and you have been deported.” As we reported previously, waves of Cuban migrants have recently joined the Central American caravans seeking asylum in the U.S. via the U.S.-Mexico border.


U.S. Trade with Cuba is Worth Millions, Katharina Buchholz, Statista

In 2018, U.S. exports to Cuba totaled $270 million, whereas imports from the island were close to zero.

The Real Trump Foreign Policy: Stoking the GOP Base, Susan E. Rice, The New York Times

Former U.S. National Security Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice, argues that President Trump’s “impulsive, improvisational and inchoate” foreign policy initiatives, particularly when dealing with Latin America, are simply seeking to serve his domestic agenda and his ultimate goal of winning re-election in 2020. She writes, “Anyone familiar with the 60-plus years of failed United States policy toward Cuba before Mr. Obama’s opening in 2014 knows that the embargo only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on its long-suffering people.”

Trump’s Cuba Sanctions Are a Mistake, Rebecca Bill Chavez, Foreign Policy

CDA traveler and former U.S. Defense Department official, Rebecca Bill Chavez, discusses the Trump administration decision to increase sanctions on Cuba, describing it as “a strategic error with serious long-term repercussions for U.S. national security.”

Thousands of Cubans are risking their lives to flee to ‘paradise’ Mexico, Isabel Vincent, New York Post

Isabel Vincent shares the story of a Cuban taxi driver who’s in the midst of an arduous journey that started in Guatemala and is now in Mexico, seeking to ultimately reach the U.S border. His story not only reveals the severity of the migration crisis but also the vulnerabilities and dangers that thousands of Cuban and other Central American and Haitian migrants are currently facing in Mexico en route to the U.S.

Flashmob contra la Helms-Burton, con Telmary en la Bienal de La Habana (+ Video), Luis López González, Cubadebate

As part of the XIII Biennial in Havana, 150 dancers staged a flash mob along the city’s Malecón (sea wall) wearing t-shirts with phrases that said “entendemos de solidaridad, no de despojos” (we understand solidarity, not of spoils) and “entendemos de amor, no de odio” (we understand love, not hate).

Why the Bay of Pigs Invasion Went So Wrong, Christopher Klein, History

A brief explainer of the events on April 15, 1961, when the CIA sought to overthrow Fidel Castro on the infamous secret mission known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

Cuba’s Special Period: the Bogeyman, Ernesto Perez Castillo, Progreso Semanal

The author writes of food and medicine shortages facing Cuba today, and recalls the economic hardships of Cuba’s Special Period following the fall of the Soviet Union.


CDA Spring Celebration, May 20, Washington, DC

Join us for CDA’s Spring Celebration to celebrate U.S.-Cuba cultural ties! The event will feature a special performance by Latin-Grammy award winning artist, Aymée Nuviola! Honorary Co-Chairs: Senator Patrick Leahy and Rep. Tom Emmer. Tickets are $100 per person. Please RSVP for payment instructions: info@democracyinamericas.org or call (202) 234-5506 (space is limited). For sponsorship opportunities contact: maria@democracyinamericas.org.

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.

Celebrating We Have Iré, May 11-12, San Francisco, CA

A new multidisciplinary theater work by award-winning poet, performance artist, and playwright Paul S. Flores, We Have Iré, explores the true stories of Afro-Cuban immigrants living in the United States, as well as their influences on and experiences with American culture. Celebrate Paul S. Flores’ We Have Iré with special meet the cast opportunities, free dance classes, screenings on Afro-Cuban culture, and more.

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.

Support CDA: Click here to support CDA’s work bringing you the Cuba Central News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!

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