U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 06/14/2019

Dear Friends,

For our D.C.-area friends, celebrate U.S.-Cuba ties with us next week at several events, featuring Cuba’s first independent fashion label, Clandestina, around town:

Tuesday June 18:

1:30-3:00 PM – Cuban Women’s Voices in a changing Economy and Society Panel at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) RSVP here

2:00-10:00 PM – Pop-up shop at Dacha Beer Garden

4:00-10:00 PM – Bring your clothes for customization and meet and greet with the artists at Dacha Beer Garden

Wednesday June 19:

2:00-7:00 PM – Pop-up shop at Dacha Beer Garden

5:00-7:00 PM – Bring your clothes for customization and meet and greet with the artists at Dacha Beer Garden

Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to stay updated!

Questions about last week’s news, including regressive changes to travel regulations and the elimination of cruise travel? Read more in CDA’s press statement and policy memo on U.S. policy changes under the Trump Administration.

Despite these changes, there are still legal avenues of travel to Cuba. Now more than ever, U.S. travel is important in order to foster collaboration and support for the Cuban people! See our updated Cuba Travel 101 guide.

It’s a tough policy environment, but we’re not going anywhere. CDA remains on the front lines of advocating for U.S. policies toward Cuba based on engagement, and we will continue to foster engagement and mutual understanding between the U.S. and Cuba. Thank you to those who SUPPORT OUR IMPORTANT WORK.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Settlement agreements between the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and Expedia Group, Inc.; Hotelbeds USA, Inc.; and Cubasphere, Inc. and an individual

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released information on multiple settlement agreements related to violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The three separate settlements occurred between OFAC and Expedia Group, Inc, OFAC and Hotelbeds USA, Inc., and OFAC and an individual and Cubasphere, Inc., respectively. The violations of CACR were all related to unauthorized travel and/or travel-related transactions undertaken by the company or individual. All violations occurred in 2014 or prior.

Cuba will never negotiate under pressure, President says

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel reiterated his statement on Tuesday that Cuba will never negotiate under pressure or threats from imperialist governments. His statement was in reference to the United States’ new travel restrictions that were announced last week with the intention of intimidating the Cuban government into ending their support for Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. According to Prensa Latina, the new travel measures will cause discontent and anger towards the United States among the Cuban people because it will ultimately harm privately owned business and enterprises. The report concludes with the assertion that the Trump administration’s decision to impose these new travel restrictions goes against majority opinions in both the U.S. and Cuba.

Cuban Ambassador to U.S. will meet with Rick Kriseman. but Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and City Council Chairman Luis Viera pass

Tampa Bay Times reports that Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, has been vocal in the past about forging better relations with Cuba. He will be meeting with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Cabañas Rodríguez, on June 24, 2019. His position, however, conflicts with other politicians in the region who have typically held Cuban relations at an arm’s length. Kriseman has reportedly visited Cuba many times and urged Cuba to open a consulate in St. Petersburg, Florida. In fact, he was on a family cruise when President Trump’s new travel restrictions took hold, which prompted the cruise’s destination to be diverted to the Bahamas. The ambassador’s mission when he visits the Tampa-area later in June will be to foster grassroots engagement in support of closer U.S.-Cuba ties. Most of Ambassador Cabañas’ meetings will be private, but the media will be invited when he addresses a lunchtime group at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City on June 25th.

Trump will play ball with MLB on Cuban players if League helps with Venezuela

NPR reports that President Trump resumed talks with Major League Baseball (MLB) owners after his administration blocked a historic agreement between the League and Cuba in April of this year. The agreement, finalized in December 2018 after several years of negotiation, allowed Cuban ball players to sign direct contracts with the League, rather than defect and subject themselves to risks associated with human trafficking and smuggling that have endangered Cuban ball players in the past. In his meeting with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, President Trump made clear that putting this issue back on the table was contingent upon the MLB’s cooperation and assistance in ending Cuba’s support for Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. However, according to Benjamin Gedan, a former Obama administration official managing Venezuela policy, “By attacking the MLB for its Cuba engagement, the Trump administration further alienates Havana, which could be a far more helpful player on Venezuela than baseball executives.”

IN CUBA

Cubans living abroad can invest in Cuba, says Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment

The Cuban Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX) confirmed that Cubans permanently residing abroad can invest in the island, OnCuba reports. Law 118, Cuba’s Foreign Investment Act, does not limit foreign investment based on country of origin, according to MINCEX’s general director of Foreign Investment Déborah Rivas. Cuba recently recognized the importance of foreign investment in its new constitution, ratified this February, yet the Trump administration’s implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows Americans to sue entities in U.S. court for “trafficking” in properties nationalized during the Cuban Revolution, creates an ambiguous investment environment.

Cuban sugar harvest one of lowest in 120 years, exports met

Reuters reports Cuba’s sugar output for the season came in 13 percent below the government’s projections even though the island met its export commitment. This year’s yield was a 31 percent improvement over last year’s, when environmental factors, including Hurricane Irma, unseasonal rains and a drought, devastated the crop. Liobel Perez, the spokesperson for Azcuba, the organization responsible for the production of sugar and its derivative, attributed this year’s underperformance vis-a-vis projections to a lack of infrastructure and “the late arrival of spare parts for mills, harvesters and trucks…the poor condition of roads, lack of workers and quality of cane.” Cuba is facing a period of severe economic hardship and is feeling the impact of the crisis in Venezuela, one of its closest allies, as well as the impact of U.S. sanctions.

In Havana, 48 new garbage trucks

A second batch of garbage trucks donated by Japan arrived in Havana last Friday, OnCuba reports. The trucks are part of a 100-truck donation that began arriving in the city in March and whose shipment will be completed in July. They will play a part in solving Havana’s solid waste problem and are expected to be able to collect 90 percent of the city’s daily garbage output.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

“Dear Government of Canada”: separated Canadian-Cuban families send plea to Ottawa

Nine Canadians and Cubans have joined together to send a video to Ottawa as a plea for help, reports CBC News. These people—spouses, children, a professor and a student—who are currently separated from their Cuban family members, explain the confusion and stress that the sudden cutbacks in the Canadian embassy in Havana have created in their lives. In addition to the downsizing of the consulate staff announced in January, Canada announced the consulate will also no longer be processing visa or permanent residency applications. According to CBC News, these changes are due to unexplained health incidents, as we recently reported. Due to this, Cubans are now being told to travel to other countries with Canadian consulates. For many, this means travelling to Mexico where a visa is required for Cuban citizens. This leaves many families in limbo. The video portrays a professor who can’t attend a conference, a recently married couple who can’t stay together, a newborn child who can’t meet his grandmother. As CBC News reports, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said there are no current plans to reopen application processing in Havana.

Brazil fails to replace Cuban doctors, hurting health care of 28 million

In November 2018, Cuba announced it was recalling the 8,517 doctors that were on overseas missions in Brazil as a response to the stance against Cuba taken by Brazil’s then president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, the New York Times reports. During his presidential campaign, Bolsonaro committed to making major changes to the Mais Médicos Program, which sends doctors into Brazil’s small towns, indigenous villages and violent, low-income urban neighborhoods. About half of the Mais Médicos doctors were from Cuba. Their willingness to work in difficult conditions—something that most Brazilian physicians were not willing to do—became a cornerstone of Brazil’s public healthcare system, the New York Times reports. Brazil paid millions of dollars a month to Cuba for the doctors, but most of the money went directly to Cuba’s government, leaving only a small stipend to the Cuban doctors. As a result, Bolsonaro proclaimed that “our Cuban brothers will be freed.” In his campaign proposal, he stated that he would be making changes to the program, which include allowing Cuban doctors to keep their entire salaries and bring their families to Brazil during their mission. However, Cuba’s government disagreed with this proposal, and when Bolsonaro won the presidency in October, Cuba took steps to begin recalling its doctors. The withdrawal of Cuban doctors has already impacted the lives of many in Brazil, especially children. Due to the Mais Médicos program, the child mortality rate dropped from 17% to 7% in five years. This trend has already been changing and could potentially lead to the deaths of up to 37,000 young children by 2030, the New York Times reports.

Cuba’s overseas medical brigade a repressive sham, ex-staffers say

Cuban Prisoners Defenders and the Cuban Patriotic Union, dissident groups in Cuba, are filing a joint complaint against Cuba’s medical corps—which has been sending Cuban doctors across the globe for decades to provide medical care where needed—before the International Criminal Court (ICC), France 24 reports. The suit accuses Raúl Castro and current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, of crimes against humanity for running a program they assert simulates modern slavery. The corps is one of Cuba’s government’s most lucrative activities, bringing in $11 billion in revenue between 2011 and 2015. However, according to the testimonies of ex-staff, medical staff who refuse to join overseas missions or who leave the program are seen as traitors and suffer consequences in their careers. Some doctors attested to being encouraged to manipulate statistics and documents so the corps met its target of patients treated. Some Cuban doctors who have spent a large part of their professional lives in the medical corps are now disillusioned with what the program has become, reports France24.

Raul, Díaz-Canel and Machado receive President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly

On June 7, Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel and José Ramón Machado met with Diosdado Cabello—President of Venezuela’s National Constituent Assembly—to reaffirm the two countries’ relations and discuss plans for the upcoming Sao Paulo Forum, Granma reports. During the meeting, Castro reiterated Cuba’s support for the Venezuelan people and for Nicolás Maduro. Cabello reciprocated Castro’s sentiment and expressed Venezuela’s support of Cuba in the face of recent moves by the United States to tighten restrictions, as was reported by CDA. According to Business Insider, Cabello’s visit to Cuba seems to be part of shuttle diplomacy efforts in the region. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez travelled to Canada to meet with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hours after he met with Cabello—whose trip to Cuba was unannounced.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Emily Mendrala Interviewed by Aljazeera, Aljazeera

Aljazeera interviews CDA’s executive director Emily Mendrala about the Trump administration’s new travel regulations and how they will affect the Cuban private sector.

Harvesting Honey Becomes Big Business in Cuba, CGTN

Today Cuba’s honey exports have surpassed those of coffee and even sugar, Cuba’s historical cash crop. The island is known for its organic honey, which it learned to produce when it couldn’t import pesticides due to the U.S. embargo. Europe is currently the top importer of Cuban honey.

Women Boxers Striking a Blow for Equality in Cuba, France 24

Despite the fact that Cuba does not allow women to compete professionally in boxing, Cuban women have been training alongside men and pushing to be included in the sport that has brought the country many Olympic medals and that has such a rich tradition on the island.

Mexico, Cuba, and Trump’s Increasing Preference for Punishment Over Diplomacy, Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker

Jon Lee Anderson analyzes President Trump’s recent decisions to use tariffs instead of diplomacy as a foreign relations policy. Anderson questions what the Trump administration’s final goal is in Latin America: to be a good neighbour or to “upend” Obama’s policies? Anderson insinuates a looming “Cold War 2.0” as the administration hardens its rhetoric towards Latin America and reinvigorates the Monroe Doctrine, both of which have strained bilateral relations in region.

Is U.S.-Cuba Engagement Dead? Normalization Promoters Say They Can Wait Out Trump, Tim Padgett, WLRN

Ric Herrero of Cuba Study Group explains why engagement over isolation is best path forward on U.S.-Cuba policy. The real motivation behind current policy is garnering votes for the 2020 election, according to Herrero. “There’s no reason to think that this strategy, which is the same policy that we’ve had in place for most of the past 60 years, is suddenly going to become a magic wand and result in a democracy.” The real way to make change is to “expand the private sector.”

Senator Leahy: Americans and Cubans Deserve Better, Senator Patrick Leahy, Miami Herald

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont explains why the Trump administration’s new U.S.-Cuba travel regulations go against U.S. values by restricting the freedom of U.S. travelers and continuing a failed policy that has achieved the opposite of its stated goal, hurting the Cuban people and reinforcing those opposed to a transition to democracy.

ON TARGET: U.S. Treasury Secretary’s Statement on Cuba Hypocritical, Scott Taylor, Chronicle Herald

U.S. Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin’s explanation for the Administration’s recent travel restrictions are hypocritical, claims Scott Taylor in his article in the Chronicle Herald. There are not enough communist countries threatening the U.S. with their ideology for Cuba to be much of a threat, Cuba lacks the resources to “prop up” Venezuela in the midst of its crisis, and the U.S., for its part, has maintained its military base at Guantanamo Bay that amounts to an illegal occupation, Taylor argues.

Was the Old Cuba Playbook Worth Dusting Off?, Tovin Lapan, Fortune

Reverting to the decades old U.S.-Cuba policy of isolation and sanctions is a return to a failed policy, according to experts such as Washington Office on Latin America’s Marguerite Jimenez, American University’s William LeoGrande, and Brookings Institution’s Richard Feinberg. The policy has in fact backtracked on important progress made under the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba, including negotiations related to compensating those with claims to property nationalized after the Revolution.

Cuba y el Gobierno de Trump: Retorno al Conflicto e Implicaciones para la Relación Triangular con Europa, Arturo López-Levy, Análisis Carolina

Arturo Lopez-Levy writes about the triangular relationship and power balance disparity between the U.S., Cuba, and Europe.

CLANDESTINA COVERAGE:

Clandestina Is Cuba’s First Independent Fashion Label. Its Founders Want ‘Global Domination,’ Alaina Demopoulos, The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast follows Clandestina’s successful launch of their first ever U.S. pop-up shop in NYC as they expand their sales and impact internationally. The article explains Clandestina’s evolution from a small Havana storefront in 2015 to an internationally recognized fashion label that works hard to create, in the words of Clandestina’s founders, Idania del Río and Leire Fernández, “a uniquely Cuban fashion identity.

Clandestina, Cuban Energy in New York, OnCuba

Clandestina, Cuba’s first independent fashion label, is succeeding in bringing Cuban energy to Williamsburg in NYC during the month of June as its designers launched their first official pop-up shop in the U.S. Clandestina’s presence in NYC is a huge milestone for Clandestina and indicates that “there is an opportunity for Cuban design, for the Cuban in general, to say: OK, this piece exists, these people have made it, it’s possible. A little window of fresh air, hope,” says Clandestina founder, Idania del Rio.

Check Out This Statement-Making Cuban Fashion Brand Popping Up in DC Next Week, Mimi Montgomery, Washingtonian

The Washingtonian reports on Clandestina’s D.C. pop up, sharing that Cuba’s first independent fashion brand creates sustainable clothing and accessories not because it is trendy, but out of necessity.

EVENTS

Actually, I’m in Washington, DC, Clandestina pop-up shop, June 17-19, Dacha Loft, Washington, DC

Join CDA and Clandestina, Cuba’s first independent clothing brand, for a pop-up shop in Washington, DC! Shop Clandestina’s clothing and accessories collection. Bring your own shirt and silkscreen it, or have Clandestina rebuild and customize it! Don’t forget to also check out our Cuban Civil Society panel at the Washington Office on Latin America. See the full schedule of events here and follow CDA on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for event updates!

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.

Rafael Soriano: Cabezas (Heads) opening reception, June 20, Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The Art Museum of the Americas will host the traveling exhibition “Cabezas (Heads)” by Cuban-born artist Rafael Soriano, whose biomorphic, abstract, surrealist-like style is attributed to his exile from Cuba in the 1960’s.

Dayramir González: Afro-Cuban Jazz, June 22, Joe’s Pub, New York

Dayramir González & Habana enTRANCé embraces the pulse and mystique of New York, as well as the allure of early 20th Century Cuban sonic leanings and the cultural roots and myths of sensually fused Yoruba religious elements (Cuban-centric Yoruba beliefs identity both natural and spiritual characteristics as part of its foundation) elevated by Dayramir’s 21st Century precision.

Los Van Van’s 50th Anniversary, June 27, Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Los Van Van have returned the United States on a tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Founded in 1969 by the late Juan Formell, Los Van Van continue to dominate as one of Cuba’s most well known ensembles. The tour will present compositions from Los Van Van’s latest album, titled, La Fantasia, as well as some of their older famous hits.

Iconic Cuban Illustrator Gets First Exhibition in Miami, Over 50 Years After Death, June 7, 2019-Feb 2, 2020, Miami, Florida

The Wolfsonian Museum on Miami Beach has opened its doors to an exhibition titled Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer. The show will go on until February 2, 2020. This will be the first time Conrado Wilson Massaguer’s artwork will be shown in the U.S. since 1931. His illustrations helped to cement the image of Cuba as a tropical paradise in the minds of American tourists in the first half of the 20th century.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Announces ‘A Tuba to Cuba’ Tour, Nov 29-Dec 1, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be embarking on a Tuba to Cuba tour this coming fall. It will feature a soundtrack they created for their documentary of the same name, A Tuba to Cuba. Both their soundtrack and documentary are based on a trip they took to Cuba in 2015 to learn more about the origins of New Orleans Jazz.

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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