U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 08/02/2019

Dear Friends,

This week, Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) reintroduced the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 in the Senate, following the bill’s reintroduction last week in the House by Representatives Jim McGovern (MA-02) and Tom Emmer (MN-06). In our press statement last week, Emily Mendrala praised the legislation, stating that “The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 would allow Americans to directly engage with the Cuban people, especially with Cuba’s growing private sector. It is time we move past the antiquated laws and policies that have for too long divided the U.S. and Cuban people, to the detriment of both.” Read the full PRESS STATEMENT.

LAST CHANCE to apply for CDA’s FALL INTERNSHIP! Visit our website to apply, meet our current interns, and read reflections from past interns. The application deadline is August 5th.

This week, in Cuba news…


U.S. restricts visas for Cuban officials involved in sending doctors abroad

In yet another step in the deterioration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba under the Trump administration, last Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. government is imposing visa restrictions on Cuban officials involved in the program that sends Cuban doctors abroad, AP reports. According to the Secretary Pompeo, the program, which has been around for decades, “forces Cuban medical professionals to work long hours and live in unsafe areas” in order to advance the Cuban government’s political agenda. In January 2019, Senators Rubio (FL) and Menendez (NJ) introduced a Senate resolution calling on the State Department to downgrade Cuba to Tier 3, the lowest rank possible, in the Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The Department issued its report last month; Cuba was downgraded to Tier 3.  The resolution also stated “that the government of Cuba’s foreign medical missions constitute human trafficking.” Representative Albio Sires (NJ-08) introduced a companion resolution in the House of Representatives.

Other countries, like Brazil, have also denounced Cuba’s foreign medical missions. Statements from then-president elect Bolsanaro criticizing the program led Cuba to pull out of the Mais Médicos program in Brazil for underserved communities, as we reported then.

Trump deports more Cubans even as he rails against the island’s government; A taste of Cuba pops up in Juarez, Mexico

At the same time that the Trump administration has tightened the embargo on Cuba, it is turning away an increasing number of Cuban migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, the LA Times reports. The end of the Wet-Foot Dry-Foot policy and President Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols (the “remain in Mexico” policy) have left Cubans without their previous preferential immigration treatment. Now, not only is it more difficult for Cubans to win asylum claims in the U.S. or migrate to the U.S., they are also being forced to wait out the time before and between their immigration proceedings in Mexico, increasing the presence of Cuban migrants in border cities like Juarez.

In response to their increasing population in this area, Juarez-native Cristina Ibarra opened her restaurant “Little Habana” in order to cater to the Cubans waiting there, NPR reports. She serves Cuban cuisine, hires Cuban employees, and find that Cubans seem to enjoy the home away from home that the restaurant offers them. For one Cuban waitress who is in the midst of immigration proceedings, the restaurant has been a way for her to make money so that she and her husband can afford to rent a hotel room as they wait for their next appointment in immigration court.

According to the LA Times, in response to this situation, Senator Marco Rubio (FL), son of Cuban exiles and strong supporter of President Trump’s U.S.-Cuba policies, states that the current situation is unavoidable due to the increased volume of migration at the border. Despite this, Cubans still continue to migrate towards the U.S., with an estimated 20,000 expected to seek entry this year, the LA Times reports.

GitHub restricts developer accounts based in Iran, Crimea, and other countries under US sanctions

U.S.-based Microsoft owned software developer website GitHub recently restricted accounts based in countries with U.S. sanctions, including Cuba, The Verge reports. Through GitHub’s website and cloud-based service, users can develop, store, manage, and track and control changes to their software code. Restricted accounts will only have limited access to these services and may only be used for personal, not commercial, use. The company’s CEO, Nat Friedman, tweeted that the company is restricting accounts due to U.S. trade law.


Cuba, battling economic crisis, imposes sweeping price controls

On Tuesday, Cuba took measures to impose price controls of all goods across the island, banning the increase of retail and wholesale prices in the state and non-state sectors, Reuters reports. In response the price controls, Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali stated that “the more [the government] controls prices in formal markets, the more inflation and instability that will be in informal markets and the less incentive the productive sector has.” Another Cuban economist, who decided to remain anonymous, also weighed in on the issue and concluded that this action “in effect suspend[s] what there is of a market” in Cuba.

These new economic measures come as a direct response to increases in salaries and pensions that were announced by President Miguel Díaz-Canel earlier this month, as CDA reported. These policies are part of a series of emergency measures adopted by the Cuban government in order to fight economic stagnation that has been worsened by decreased support from Venezuela and new U.S. sanctions, Reuters reports.

Cuba expands Internet access to private homes and businesses

On Monday, a new set of regulations allowing Cubans to create private wired and Wi-Fi networks for their homes and private businesses took effect. The regulations, initially announced in May, also allow Cubans to share (but not sell) these connections with others, as well as import routers and other equipment, the New York Times reports. The new set of measures also “appear[s] to open the door to the legalization of some existing private networks that have been secretly operated using smuggled or homemade equipment,” the outlet reports. Cubans will have two months from Monday to make sure their networks are compliant with the law. ETECSA, Cuba’s state-owned telecommunications firm, will remain the only internet provider on the island. The new regulations come on the heels of Cuba’s recent introduction of 3G services on mobile phones late last year and 4G services early this year, providing increased, though still expensive, mobile internet access. Cubans have used this internet access to communicate with government officials and organize disaster relief efforts, among other things, as we reported earlier this year. The new regulations have the potential to increase Wi-Fi access and the spread of information around the island.


[Canadian] Government reinstating some visa services at embassy in Cuba

This week, Canada announced that on August 1, 2019 they would reinstate “some visa and biometric services,” CBC News reports. The announcement comes after the Canadian government decided to halt visa services in Havana on May 2019 after a diplomatic drawdown in response to the health incidents experienced by Canadian and U.S. embassy personnel on the island. Not all services will be restored and applicants will need to travel to a third country for medical exams and interviews, reports the article, but the embassy will be reinstating fingerprint and photo services needed for visa applications, as well as passport drop off and visa pickup.

Between 2016 and 2018, several U.S. and Canadian embassy personnel in Cuba were victims of what the U.S. calls “targeted attacks.” While stationed in Cuba, officials reported hearing mysterious noises and experiencing subsequent symptoms including headaches, auditory deficiencies, and impaired cognitive function. In February 2019, according to CNN, fourteen of the affected Canadian diplomats sued the Canadian government, claiming that it “did not take their cases seriously and that the U.S. government acted more swiftly to protect its diplomats’ well-being.” In May, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland visited Cuba where she met with her Cuban counterparts and visited the Canadian embassy.

U.S. ‘pessimistic’ about Canadian push for Cuban help in Venezuela crisis

Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela, stated that he is not confident that Cuba will relinquish its support for Venezuela’s Maduro regime, The Globe and Mail reports. Canadian officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have recently shared that they believe Cuba could help stabilize Venezuela through working with the Lima Group. “We wish you luck, but we’re pessimistic,” Abrams said. Abrams comment follows U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s comments in May urging Canada to put pressure on Cuba to end their support of Maduro.

Panama temporarily suspends issuance of tourism cards to Cubans

Last Wednesday, the Panamanian Government’s National Migration Services temporarily halted the issuance of tourist visas to Cubans, who often travel to the country to go shopping and to obtain goods not available on the island, OnCuba reports. The visa, which costs $20 USD and allows a thirty day stay, was created in October 2018 for the purpose of allowing Cubans to shop in Panama. According to the Panamanian National Migration Services, visa issuance was suspended because “the immigration authorities are reviewing the procedures to enter Panama as tourists.”

Cuba and China collaborate in creation of artificial intelligence institute

At least seven Cuban universities are participating in a project with the Hebei University of International Studies in China on a project directed by Cuban Doctor of Science Yailé Caballero that aims to create an International Artificial Intelligence Institute, OnCuba reports. The institute aims to open within a year, and according to Yailé Caballero, “is also expected to involve specialists from Spain and Belgium.”


Congress Finally Challenges the Cuba Travel Ban, Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

Peter Kornbluh explains how The Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 would restore the fundamental right of U.S. citizens to travel in his article this week in The Nation. The Trump administration’s restrictions on travel to Cuba restrict Americans’ freedom of movement as put forth by the Fifth Amendment, he argues.

Recent travel restrictions to Cuba impact local business, Matthew Torres, Nashville News Channel

Sheyla Paz, originally from Cuba, runs Your Tour Guide to Cuba out of Nashville, Tennessee. According to her, the Trump administration’s new travel restrictions have confused Americans which has led to less bookings for her business, according to Nashville’s News Channel 5. She is hopeful about the Freedom for Americans to Travel to Cuba Act of 2019 which was introduced in the House last week and the Senate this week, but she also understands that “it’s all a process.”

In Cuba, the stories of 3 tourism entrepreneurs, Gay Nagle Myers, Travel Weekly

Gay Nagle Myers of Travel Weekly recently visited Cuba to talk to entrepreneurs about the impact of the Trump administration’s travel regulations. She reports on their struggles but also their resilience, with a focus on women entrepreneurs.

Cuba trying to attract tourists and investors even as U.S. clamps down, Tracy Eaton, Tampa Bay Times

In this Tampa Bay Times article, Tracy Eaton tells the history of Cuban exile attempts to undermine Cuba’s government, and how the current U.S. policy towards Cuba reflects a new version of this. “The latest sanctions and the bombings of the 1990’s [carried out by exiles] ‘are different instruments of the same policy, which has not changed,’” according to the former president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship for the People in Havana, Serrano Puig.

These Photographs Capture Cuba’s Fading Cinema Culture, Jennifer Nalewiki, Smithsonian

In her new book Cines de Cuba, Photographer Carolina Sandretto presents photographs of Cuban cinemas from around the island that she took based on a list of all cinemas on the island from the 1963 book Anuario Cinematográfico y Radial Cubano. According to the article, there were, at one point, 600 cinemas in Cuba, but today that number is down to 19.

At 13, She Emigrated From Cuba. Today, at 31, She Leads a Cultural Center Celebrating Cuban Culture., Emily Haynes, Chronicle of Philanthropy

María Carla Chicuén, the Executive Director of CasaCuba at Florida International University, is eager to preserve the Cuban culture, heritage, and community that made her feel so at-home in Miami after a rough start immigrating to Palm Beach County, Florida from Havana when she was 13. At CasaCuba, Chicuén works to promote community, remain non-partisan, and to demonstrate “that philanthropy isn’t just ‘an elitist activity,’” according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. She says that the divide between Cubans living on the island and the diaspora has grown, and that the older generation of “the diaspora has prevented young Cubans from knowing the homeland of their parents or grandparents.” She wants to preserve knowledge and heritage and keep ties between Cuban culture on the island and abroad strong.


FREE Cimafunk Concert, August 22, Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT

Don’t miss Cuba’s hottest music phenomenon, Afro-Cuban funk band Cimafunk, perform for free at Real Art Ways in Connecticut this August. Cimafunk has made waves internationally and was named as one of Billboard’s “10 Latin Artists to watch in 2019.”

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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