U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 05/31/2019

Dear Friends,

D.C.-area friends, SAVE THE DATE for a week of events and *shopping* with the owners and designers of Havana-based clothing store Clandestina. CDA will host the dynamic team in Washington, D.C. Monday, June 17 to Wednesday, June 19, for a series of events to feature a pop-up shop, customization workshops, and, of course, a party or two. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks to come. For our New York, based friends, see the events section below for Clandestina events in your neighborhood.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

EU Threatens U.S. Firms With Asset Seizures Over Any Cuba Claims

In response to the Trump administration’s recent action to not waive Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a move that allows U.S. citizens to sue in U.S. courts for property confiscated in Cuba, the EU threatened to retaliate against claims targeting EU companies, Bloomberg reports. Under EU law, companies sued in the U.S. can recover damages through legal proceedings against U.S. claimants before EU courts, including possibly seizing assets held by U.S. claimants in the EU. The EU is Cuba’s biggest foreign investor, and, with the threats of suits and countersuits in U.S. and EU courts, the tensions between the EU and the United States are growing stronger.

U.S. Coast Guard intercepts boat with 10 Cubans and two smugglers on board

On Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted a boat off the coast of Villa Clara, Cuba; the boat’s passengers included 10 Cubans and two suspected human smugglers, according to Miami Herald. The Cuban passengers were repatriated and the smugglers taken into U.S. custody. The interception coincides with a recent increase in Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. The uptick stands in contrast to depressed migration trends since the end of the U.S.’s “wet foot, dry foot” policy in early 2017. The policy, which returned Cuban migrants interdicted at sea but permitted entry to Cuban migrants who reached land, concluded at the end of the Obama administration and its conclusion resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of rafters apprehended in the Florida Straits.

Law enforcement cooperation, which includes countering human smuggling, has been an area of continued cooperation between the Cuban and U.S. governments despite strained relations. The U.S. and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January 2017 that established an intent to deepen law enforcement cooperation related to human smuggling, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, and money laundering, and the two countries have held semi-regular law enforcement dialogues since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 2015.

Young orchestra musicians bridge US-Cuba divide

Last week, Cuban and U.S. musicians shared the stage at Havana’s National Theatre, performing together as the Cuban American Youth Orchestra (CAYO), the Digital Journal reports. CAYO is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 2016 that serves as a musical link between the United States and Cuba. Since their foundation, they have led various trips to Cuba, providing musical and educational experiences to Cuban and U.S. musicians through arts diplomacy. For some of the U.S. musicians, most of who are from Minnesota, it was their first visit to the island, and although not all everyone shared a language, they all communicated through their music.

El Gran Festival de la Música Cubana: CANCELLED

El Gran Festival de la Música Cubana, an event to celebrate the best of Cuban music that was originally scheduled for June 29th at the D.C.-area Strathmore Music Center, was abruptly cancelled yesterday, mere weeks before the event was to occur. According to Strathmore’s website, the cancellation was due to “the complexity of international artist contracts and travel-related issues beyond [Strathmore’s] control.” Consular services were suspended at the U.S. Embassy in Havana in the wake of the still-unresolved health issues among the U.S. Embassy community, forcing Cubans seeking visas to travel to a third country at great expense. Via the event’s Facebook page, the artists, which included Eliades Ochoa, Pedrito Calvo and Barbarito Torres, among others, expressed their sincere apologies to the sudden cancellation of events. In their words, “The show will go on! Just not at this moment!”

The U.S. botched its investigation into the mysterious “Sonic Attack” in Cuba, emails reveal

BuzzFeed reports on new email correspondence related to the still-unresolved symptoms experienced by the U.S. Embassy community. For the last three years, many scientists and health experts have been trying to find an explanation for the workers’ symptoms. However, despite the political pressure to find an answer, little is known about the alleged attacks. According to public health experts who spoke to BuzzFeed News, one reason for this is due to the State Department’s refusal to open the investigation earlier to more medical experts outside its immediate sphere. Furthermore, much of the early research into the mystery attacks may have been botched or biased, BuzzFeed news reports. Email records show the research teams quarreled, refused to share data, sought financial benefit, disagreed over study authorship, and rushed to be the first to be published in prestigious publications. As one medical ethicist quoted by BuzzFeed said, “The fundamental problem is you can’t trust anybody here. Not the U.S. State Department and not the Cuban government.”

IN CUBA

Cuba legalizes private Wi-Fi networks in bid to boost connectivity

Reuters reports on Wednesday’s announcement by Cuba’s Ministry of Communications that, beginning July 29, new measures will go into effect designed to boost connectivity on the island. The measures will legalize private Wi-Fi networks and permit Cubans to import communications equipment such as routers. Some of the new measures will require Cubans seek permits from the state-run telecommunications firm ETECSA. ETECSA will maintain its monopoly over commercial internet access on the island.

Havana’s Malecón will close to traffic on weekends

After last week’s deadly crash along Havana’s heavily traveled seafront esplanade, Cuba’s Provincial Road Safety Commission announced that a portion of the Malecón will be closed to traffic on weekends until further notice, OnCuba reports. The crash occurred when a privately owned car, travelling along the middle lane of Malecon Avenue, swerved to avoid hitting a pedestrian crossing the street. This caused the driver—a 33-year old man—to steer onto the sidewalk and crash into the seawall, hitting people who were gathered there. Breath, urine and blood tests indicate that the driver had consumer alcoholic beverages and, while not incapacitated, his ability to drive was affected, Granma reports. Upon inspection, the vehicle’s front wheel brake system was also defective. The crash left 5 dead and 20 or more injured.

Freight train derails on Havana-Mariel tracks

Sunday, on the heels of Cuba’s announcement of plans to revamp its railway system, which we reported last week, a freight train transporting goods from the Mariel Special Development zone to Cárdenas derailed. OnCuba reports that cause of the crash is still under investigation and there was no loss of life.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

CIM to Launch CIMAvax on the International Market

Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) has announced that it is ready to market and sell its CIMAvax lung cancer vaccine on the international market, according to the Cuba Business Report. The vaccine was developed in Cuba and underwent clinical trials in the U.S. in collaboration with the NY-based Roswell Park Cancer Institute. During a CDA-led trade delegation for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015, Roswell Park and CIM signed an initial agreement to develop a lung cancer vaccine. In 2018, Roswell Park and CIM initiated the first ever U.S.-Cuba joint biotech venture.

Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro meet with Kim Jong-un’s envoy

Last week, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke with the Vice President of the Central Committee of the Workers Party of North Korea to discuss bilateral relations and the friendship between the two countries, according to OnCuba. Raúl Castro, who handed down the presidency to Díaz-Canel in April 2018 but remains head of the Communist Party, also met with Kim Jong-un’s envoy and reaffirmed Cuba’s commitment to positive relations and dedication to issues of mutual concern.

Montrealers protest closure of Canadian immigration office in Havana, Cuba

On Saturday, Canadians protested in Montreal against the termination of immigration services at the Canadian Embassy in Havana, which occurred on May 8, according to Global News. Despite Cuba and Canada’s historically positive relationship, Canada made the cut to their embassy services in response to the unexplained symptoms experienced by at least 14 of their diplomats in Havana. The U.S. has also cut staffing and suspended visa services in Havana in response to symptoms among its embassy community. Lack of services in Havana has meant that Cubans must fly to a third country to obtain a visa, which is cost prohibitive for many.

RECOMMENDED READINGS

Opinion: Cuba’s Struggle Between Racism and Inclusion, Alejandro de la Fuente, The New York Times

Despite Cuba’s commitment to an egalitarian society, the country still grapples with the very real effects of racism. Alejandro de la Fuente examines what race means today in Cuba.

WOLA: Faith Leaders Urge President Trump to Reconsider Punitive Cuba Policies

The Washington Office on Latin America released a letter addressed to President Trump signed by U.S. religious leaders advocating against cutting remittances and restricting travel, as the President’s administration threatened recently. “Measures that would limit the ability of U.S. people of faith to visit with and support their colleagues and partners in Cuba will be detrimental to the well-being and growth of the religious sphere in Cuba,” the letter states.

Eye-Opening Cuba Exchange Allows Student to Re-Evaluate US Embargo on Cuba, A letter from Indiana University student Evan Schaefer, to his State Senators, Cuba Educational Travel

Evan Schaefer was one of the 20 Indiana University business students who traveled to Cuba last month through Cuba Educational Travel to exchange with Cuban entrepreneurs, artists and creatives. The class worked one-on-one with Cuban businesses to produce reports analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. The exchanges in Cuba allowed Evan to analyze US policy in Cuba, and he came away feeling strongly enough to write a letter to his State Senators. In it, he notes, “The key to accomplishing our foreign policy goals in Cuba, namely creating a more open and democratic society, is to allow US investment. More US investment means more opportunities for average Cubans to rise out of poverty and change their island for the better. As an American and a conservative, I believe that everyone has a God given right to take a risk, pursue their dreams, and create better opportunities for themselves. No government, neither ours nor the Cuban’s, should stand in the way of that.”

EVENTS

Del Sol Band, June 2, Sandra Jordan’s Barn, Healdsburg, CA

For this performance the Del Sol Band has added a Cuban Percussionist, Carlitos Medrano; and Chuck Sher of Sher Music and KRCB host of Jazz Connections, to their beloved regulars: Charity Goodin, Brad McKeague and Doug Morton. Their afternoon will feature music from Buena Vista Social Club Song List reviving the music of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Actually, I’m in New York, Clandestina pop-up shop, June 4 – June 24, The Canvas by Querencia Studio, Brooklyn, NY

Cuba’s first independent clothing brand Clandestina will hold its first U.S. pop-up shop in New York.

Actually, I’m in Washington, DC, Clandestina pop-up shop, June 17-19, Dacha Loft, Washington, D.C. Cuba’s first independent clothing brand Clandestina will hold a pop-up shop (in addition to other events, details coming soon!) in Washington, D.C.

Eric Grossman, Violin Richard Steinbach, Piano American/Cuban Episodes, June 7, Weill Recital Hall, New York, NY

Violinist Eric Grossman and pianist Richard Steinbach present a concert of contemporary American and Cuban music. This performance features works by American composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) and Cuban composer Jorge López Marín (b. 1949), and the program has recently been premiered in Havana, Cuba. Tickets range from $40 to $150.

Bobby Ramirez CUBANJAM, June 12, Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center, Miami, FL

CUBAOCHO Museum & Performing Art Center presents traditional music of Cuba hosted by Bobby Ramirez CUBANJAM band performing Mambo, Cha Cha Cha, Boloro, Rumba, Danzon, Charanga, Son Montuno, Guajira, Guaracha, Afro-Cuban celebrating the music of: Celia Cruz, Beny More, Arsenio Rodriguez, Jose Fajardo, Desi Arnaz, Perez Prado, Ernesto Lecuona, Ignacio Cervantes, Manuell Saumell, Miguel Matamoro, and other legends of traditional Cuban music. Musicians can join and jam with the band. Free admission!

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