U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 07/19/2019

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This week, in Cuba news…


How Cuban American communities are reacting to Trump’s racist comments; Can Trump crack down on immigration and still be a champion for Cubans and Venezuelans?

In the 2016 election, Cuban Americans in Florida helped President Trump win the state, NPR’s All Things Considers reports. However, amidst President Trump’s latest tweet in which he tells four congresswomen—all U.S. citizens—to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”, some of his supporters in Florida are beginning to question the legitimacy of Trump as president. Beatriz Suarez, a Cuban American who voted for Trump in 2016, stated that the president’s recent comments changed her way of thinking about him. Guillermo Grenier, a Cuban American professor at Florida International University, pointed out that the comments Trump made used to be aimed at Cubans when they arrived to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite knowing this, many older generation Cuban Americans are still supportive of Trump. As Jose Antonio Vega said, “I am a hundred percent with [Trump]…because he’s a real American.” There is a growing division amongst the Cuban American vote in Florida. According to a study carried out by Florida International University in 2018, the first such poll to have been conducted since President Trump assumed office, while the Cuban American population residing in the Miami-Dade County remains Republican in its voter registration (54 percent of respondents), the Republican vote in the county has declined since the poll began almost thirty years ago, and the new arrivals and younger voters are fueling the growth of the Independent (26 percent of respondents) and Democratic registrants (19 percent of respondents).

According to the Miami Herald, despite Trump’s efforts to be a champion for Cuban and Venezuelan exiles living in Florida, his new immigration policies may also lead to backlash against him. The most recent update to immigration laws block most asylum requests at the southern border—which could potentially prevent thousands of Cubans and Venezuelans from entering the United States. For this reason, Trump’s voters in South Florida are questioning his promises of support juxtaposed against his actions to deport Cuban and Venezuelan asylum seekers back to difficult situations in their native countries.

Ebb in U.S. travelers affects demand for Cuban carriages

According to OnCubaNews, horse-drawn carriage tours are the most recent activity in Cuba’s private sector whose workers are struggling to make ends meet as tourism dwindles. Beginning in 2014, the horse-drawn carriage business in Old Havana formed a cooperative called “El Carruaje” run by the workers (cuentapropistas), and it now includes 124 drivers. OnCubaNews reports that a tour can cost between 25 and 30 dollars an hour, providing drivers with a decent salary and allowing them to support their families and the maintenance of their carriages and animals. According to the article, until recently during the high-season in Old Havana, an average of twenty carriages offered guided tours, many of which were full of U.S. citizens who arrived in Havana via cruises. Now, they are waiting empty as the effects of the Trump administration’s cruise ban—on which we recently reported—takes hold. Last week we reported that tourism to the island will likely drop 8.5 percent this coming year due to the U.S. administration’s policies. CDA updated an explainer of the Cuba policy changes under the Trump administration—available here—and has periodically documented how these changes have impacted Cuba’s private sector.


Cuba passes law to improve governance that keeps one-party system

On Saturday, Cuba passed a new electoral law that restructures governance by creating the role of prime minister and provincial governors while retaining the one-party system, Reuters reports. The law, which enacts changes already announced in the new constitution, was passed unanimously by Cuba’s National Assembly and aims to distribute power so it is not concentrated in a single figure, like the president. In February 2019, Cuba approved a new constitution that introduced modest economic and social reforms in a national referendum in which 90.15 percent of eligible Cuban voters participated. State-run media reports the constitution was ratified with the support of 86.85 percent of voters.

The new law will purportedly streamline Cuba’s governance by decreasing the number of assembly lawmakers from 605 to 474. It will also replace provincial assemblies with councils made up of municipal leaders and led by governors, and stipulate that the president presides over the republic rather than the Council of State and Council of Ministers. The president will be elected under this new system in October 2019. Current president Miguel Díaz-Canel is expected to remain in this role, and he will select a prime minister with the assembly’s approval. Despite this important step, Reuters reports some Cubans do not feel as though the political reforms have gone far enough to catch up with Cuba’s social progress and economic opening in the past decade. For example, Reuters argues that the Communist Party will still control the selection of political candidates for the National Assembly elections.

Cuba overhauls its fishing regulations. Florida Keys and East Coast to benefit

Cuba enacted sweeping reforms to fishing regulations last weekend which are expected to have a positive impact on fisheries in the East Coast, the Miami Herald reports. According to the article, these are the first changes to fishing regulations that Cuba has made in twenty years. The laws are aimed at curtailing illegal fishing and recovering declining fish populations. The Miami Herald reports that enforcement will come in the form of fines and education. Although Cuba’s government has done a good job protecting the island’s environment, according to Dan Whittle, the Caribbean Director of the Environmental Defense Fund—a U.S.-based environmental group that has been working with the Cuban government on fishing policies for almost twenty years— “it’s estimated that over 70 percent of fishing stocks are overfished,” which has a negative effect not only on the environment, but also on Cuba’s economy. According to the Miami Herald, one area where Cuba is already doing well is in its strict fishing regulations and seasons for the spiny lobster, which is the most popular crustacean in both the Caribbean and South Florida.

Cooperation on environmental and maritime issues laid the groundwork for cooperation in other areas during rapprochement under the Obama administration. On November 24, 2015, both countries signed a Joint Statement on Cooperation on Environmental Protection recognizing the importance of preserving the region’s land, coasts, and seas, agreeing to strengthen cooperation on disaster risk reduction, climate change, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and scientific research generally. Also in 2015, the United States and Cuba signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Conservation and Management of Marine Protected Areas, recognizing the shared responsibility for and need to protect the valuable diversity of the countries’ shared oceans.

Cuba says nationwide blackouts to end by Saturday

Cubans have taken to social media to report a string of power blackouts in cities and towns throughout the island nation. After days without response, Raúl García Barreiro, Cuba’s Minister of Energy and Mining, told state media on Tuesday that the country’s power plants will be fixed and the recent wave of blackouts will be resolved by Saturday, AP News reports. He attributed the blackouts to mechanical problems and scheduled maintenance and power plants throughout the country. Cubans took to Twitter to share the locations and durations of the blackouts, which occurred throughout the country this past week. As we reported last week, as WiFi has become more accessible for those Cubans who can afford it—including the recent availability of 3G and 4G services—Cubans have increasingly been using social media platforms like Twitter to air grievances and communicate with their government officials, with varied results.


Cuba takes first step in railways upgrade with Chinese, Russian help

Reuters reports that Cuba’s new passenger train began service from Havana to the Eastern provinces last Saturday. Renovation efforts to reinvigorate Cuba’s antiquated railways are underway with help from allies in Beijing and Moscow, as we reported last week. According to Reuters, Cuba’s statistics office states that “trains carried 6.1 million passengers in 2018, [which is] down from 10 million passengers in 2013.”  The railway system is in need of new equipment, as well as better management and accessibility, which Cuba’s government aims to achieve by 2030. According to Reuters, “in May [Cuba] received 80 Chinese-made … railcars … and expects to receive 80 more by next year.” On June 7, 2019, Cuba signed a $1 billion deal with Russia to help modernize the railway system, as CDA reported. Russia’s state-owned monopoly, Russian Railways, is also  involved with creating a high-speed train between Havana and Varadero.


The End of Cuba’s Entrepreneurship Boom, Caroline Kuritzkes, Foreign Policy

Between 2014 and 2017, Cuba’s private sector experienced a boom. Recent figures provided by Cuban officials, as CDA reported, indicate 605,908 people are self-employed on the island. The author argues that in reaction to President Trump’s announcement of his National Security Presidential Memorandum in June 2017—which aimed to curtail Cuba-bound travel and to ban U.S. commerce with enterprises owned by the Cuban military—Cuban authorities cracked down on small business licensing. While Cuba’s civil society has succeeded in efforts to press the government to expand rights, recognition and freedoms within the new constitution, the private sector remains vulnerable to crackdowns from both Cuba’s government and the United States.

My Tio’s Unlikely Journey from Communist Cuba to Key Figure in Apollo 11 Moon Landing, Rick Jervis, USA Today

To commemorate the July 15th 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Rick Jervis from USA Today writes about his uncle—Miguel Hernandez—a Cuban immigrant who contributed to making the Apollo 11 mission a success as a NASA engineer. Hernandez eventually left NASA to open his own successful business, Hernandez Engineering, that included clients from the space agency.

This Country Is Worse Than Cuba”: The Trump Era’s Cruel Reality for Cuban Asylum Seekers, Noah Lanard, Mother Jones

Former President Barack Obama ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017—as CDA reported then—which had previously allowed Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil to remain in the country and pursue a path to citizenship, a unique preferential position in U.S. immigration law. Now, after more than fifty years of special status under U.S. immigration law, Cubans are “starting to be treated like everybody else: jailed, pushed through harsh courts, and then deported,” according to Mother Jones. Under the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans are still able to apply for a green card one year after their release from immigration detention as opposed to having to qualify for asylum. However, in the meantime, they face the same conditions as other migrants, who have frequently complained of inadequate medical care and mistreatment in detention facilities. The treatment of Cuban migrants should make Cuban Americans advocate for those in detention, according to Michael Bustamante, professor of history at Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute. That “would likely require Cuban Americans who have been in the country for decades to stand in solidarity with migrants from other nations, something they’ve traditionally been reticent to do.” It would also challenge a “a deep strain of Cuban exceptionalism that transcends politics, ideology, [and] generation,” says Bustamante.

Alt.Latino Playlist: Cuban Funk, Mexican Blues, Brazilian Reggaeton, Felix Contrera, Stefanie Fernandez, NPR Alt.Latino

NPR’s Alt.Latino playlist features different and diverse music from a variety of countries in the Spanish-speaking world. Included in this week’s playlist is a single from Cimafunk, an Afro-Cuban funk band that is currently on a Europe and U.S. tour. This latest single, “Ponte Pa’ Lo Tuyo (Remix),” from his 2017 album Terapia is a collaboration with some of Cuba’s prominent musicians: Afro Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Carcassés; flute player “El Tosco” José Luis Cortés; and a cameo by Juana Bacallao. According to NPR correspondent Felix Contrera, “the history of contemporary music will be marked by the emergence of the visionary Cuban musician Erik Iglesias Rodriguez who calls himself Cimafunk.”

Calm Before the Storm? What We Can Learn From the Slow Start to Helms-Burton Cases, John B. Bellinger III, John P. Barker, Tal R. Machnes, Tom McSorley, Elizabeth T.M. Fitzpatrick, Arnold & Porter Law Firm

A U.S. law firm interprets the slow arrival of lawsuits filed under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), suggesting that the relationships with European companies and legal ambiguity may complicate the litigation process.


Cuban Visions: Emerging Women Filmmakers In Cuba, July 19, Full Spectrum Features 2936 N Southport Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Presented by Americas Media Initiative and Full Spectrum Features, Cuban Visions will present its fourth film in a series of bi-monthly film screenings in Chicago this Friday night. The theme of this screening will be emerging women filmmakers in Cuba and will include a documentary, fictional piece, and a moderated discussion afterwards.

YPA DC: A Night of Béisbol, July 24, Mission Navy Yard

The Americas Society/Council of the America’s Young Professionals of America is partnering with the Caribbean Educational and Baseball Foundation (CEBF) to host an event on baseball diplomacy with a focus on the social and economic impact of baseball in the Caribbean featuring CEBF’s Executive Director, Thomas Goodman. Afterwards attendees will head to a Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies game at Nationals Park. RSVP and tickets required.

Carmen: To Havana & Back, July 5-August 10, Public Arts 215 Chystie St. New York, NY

New York’s hottest new immersive show, Carmen: To Havana & Back, reimagines the Bizet opera as set inside a 1950s evening at Havana’s famous Tropicana Club, according to the Forbes article, “Party like it’s 1950s Cuba in New York’s New Immersive Show: Carmen, To Havana & Back.” The show is the brainchild of Kaitana Magno, who conceived the idea while on a trip to Cuba.

Queer Miami: A History of LGBTQ Communities, March 16, 2019-Sep 1, 2019, HistoryMiami Museum, Miami, FL

Queer Miami: A History of LGBTQ Communities, a new exhibition at the History Miami Museum tied to the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, traces Miami’s LGBTQ history from 1890 to present, according to the New York Times article “Gay, Cuban and in love.” Within this exhibition, Casimiro González and Manuel Rodríguez’s story is brought to life. As Cuban immigrants who left the island during the Mariel boatlift fleeing the Castro regime’s persecution of queers, their story illustrates one of the many forms that Cuban immigrants shaped the city of Miami.

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

The Wolfsonian Museum in 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 that Conrado Wilson Massaguer’s artwork will be shown in the United States 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.

Incubator of mid-century modernism, Cranbrook unites, diverse art of Detroit, Cuba, Italy, South Korea, Greece exploring decades of shared strife, June 22-Oct 6, 2019, Landlord Colors: On Art, Economy and Materiality, Cranbrook Art Museum, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

A dozen Cubans spent three months working with Reynier Leyva Novo, one of Cuba’s leading conceptual artists, to assemble garment fragments from about 80 immigrants, many remnants of the clothes worn while crossing the border, to create a brilliantly colorful rag carpet. Novo’s creation entitled Untitled (Immigrants) 2019 is an engaging artistic rendition of a Cuban cultural tradition that becomes political when put into the context of the immigration crisis.

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