U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 08/16/2019

Dear friends,

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba feels the pinch of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions

U.S. travel to Cuba has declined since the Trump administration announced policies to further restrict travel to the island, and Cuba’s private sector is suffering as a result, the Los Angeles Times reports. After the administration banned U.S. cruise travel to the island in early June, 30,000 fewer cruise passengers arrived that month. Cruise travel was previously the most popular method of visiting the island. “Fusterlandia” an art community located outside Havana city center, that has garnered the attention of tourists and artists from around the world is seeing fewer visitors. Vendor Adrian Alberto, who sells goods to Fusterlandia’s visitors, estimates a 60 percent drop in business after U.S. cruise travel ended. Andrea Gallina, one of the owners of Paseo 206, a five star, private, boutique hotel in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, confirms that his business has also seen a drop in U.S. visitors, who previously comprised about 55 percent of his patrons.

Some Cubans have coped with the dip in U.S. travel by aiming to attract European and Latin American travelers instead. Others aren’t sure they’ll make it. Laila Chaaban, who recently opened the fashion design store Capicua, doubts she’ll be able to last a year if numbers do not increase. Everyone from taxi drivers to tour guides have felt the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions.

Seattle City Council to consider resolution in support of ending Cuba Embargo

The City Council in Seattle, Washington is considering a resolution that would make them the 12th U.S. city to call for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, according to a news update in the city’s Council Connection. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Chair of the Council’s Housing, Health, Energy and Workers’ Rights Committee, and Cindy Domingo, a local labor and civil rights leader and organizer for the U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration, introduced the resolution on August 12.

Yasiel Puig becomes American citizen years after reputed escape from Cuba

Yasiel Puig, a Cuban-born baseball player who plays for the Cleveland Indians, recently became a U.S. citizen, CBS news reports. The baseball player was smuggled from Cuba, through Mexico, to the U.S. by a Miami man, and signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013. Journalist Jesse Katz calls Puig’s journey, in which Puig’s smugglers allegedly held him against his will for a month while negotiationg payment for his safe passage, a human trafficking story. According to Los Angeles Magazine, a Miami man had “allegedly agreed to pay the smugglers $250,000 to get Puig out of Cuba,” but when Puig and the smugglers reached Mexico and the smugglers attempted to collect, the Miami man “was unable or unwilling to meet their demands.” Recently, the Trump administration cancelled a deal between Major League Baseball and the Cuban Baseball Federation that would have allowed Cuban baseball players to play in the U.S. and Canada without having to defect. The agreement would have protected Cubans from exploitation by human smugglers.

IN CUBA

SNet, the Cuban street network, resists disappearing

Last Saturday, Cuba’s SNet users, participants of the country’s largest private data network, convened outside of Cuba’s Ministry of Communications (MINCOM) to demonstrate in a bid to preserve the right for SNet to operate, OnCuba reports. The demonstration followed a decision by Cuba’s government to cancel negotiations with SNET users and amid uncertainty about the network’s future. The group was peaceful, and participant Ernesto de Armas claimed the demonstration was not political.

SNet defines itself as “an independent non-profit project, which uses the latest technologies available to create wireless and land-line networks that interconnect people, families and communities throughout Havana and nearby areas.” It is a decentralized private data network that connects Cubans without needing internet, allowing gamers to compete together, and users to access databases of movies, books, and images. The network has generated friendships and a sense of community among some of its users, according to de Armas. Other provinces in Cuba have developed similar networks.

New regulations announced by Cuba’s government on July 29, that permitted Cubans to create private wifi networks for their homes and businesses as well as import routers and other equipment, would also render SNet networks illegal, because under these regulations, links between networks would only be permitted for government, not private entities. Additionally, regulatory requirements to connect to networks through ETECSA would be cost prohibitive for some SNet participants in remote areas.

Users have taken to social media with the hashtag #YoSoySNet to protest the measures. The convening outside MINCOM was arranged via the network the night before at 11PM. It drew around 100 people.

The SNet demonstration comes on the heels of several other independent actions by Cubans over the past year, including animal rights and LGBTQ+ independent marches and increased mobilization carried out via social media. The introduction of 3G and 4G wifi have increased internet access over the past two years.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

British beverage giant Diageo to market Cuban rum

On Monday, Cuba’s state rum company, Cuba Ron S.A.,  entered into a joint venture with a subsidiary of the British beverage company Diageo, forming “Ron Santiago S.A.” and giving the British company the exclusive right to market Santiago de Cuba rum internationally, Reuters reports.

The move comes as several lawsuits are pending under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act) against companies who have allegedly trafficked in property that was expropriated in Cuba. According to Luca Cesarano, general director of the new joint venture, Diageo is not concerned that it will be targeted. The U.S. is one of the few countries where Cuban rum cannot be sold, though it is popular in Europe and other countries.

Cuba’s foreign debt is on the rise despite big profits from medical services abroad

According to statistics recently published by Cuba’s National Office of Statistics (ONEI), Cuba’s foreign debt increased by nearly 53 percent between 2013 and 2016, the Miami Herald reports. It is unclear if the figures include the debt renegotiated with the Paris Club, a group of major creditor countries. The island has suffered from declining sugar industry production, a decrease in fuel shipments from Venezuela, and a decrease in tourism due to recent Trump administration restrictions. Cuba recently declared a 2.2 percent GDP growth, but Cuban economist Pavel Vidal questions the number in light of recent food and fuel shortages. Cuba’s medical services export program has continued to bring in significant revenue, however, Brazil recently terminated its hiring of Cuban doctors and, earlier this month, the Trump administration sanctioned Cuban officials involved in the program.

RECOMMENDED READINGS, AND VIEWINGS

Taking the pulse of demand for Cuba travel, Gay Nagle Myers, Travel Weekly

Gay Nagle Myers, a contributing editor at Travel Weekly, writes that tour operators InsightCuba, Friendly Planet, Access Culinary Trips and Cuba Educational Travel all agree that there is confusion surrounding whether or not those from the U.S. can travel to Cuba after the Trump administration’s recent policy changes. Even when there is an understanding that it is legal, it can be time consuming for an individual to plan a fully compliant itinerary for a trip under the “support for the Cuban people” category, the category most appropriate for the average traveler. These tour operators continue to plan trips for small and large groups, and although some say they expect a drop in business, they also share that Cuba still remains a popular destination for U.S. travel.

Inside Cuba’s Only Five-Star Boutique Hotel, Mia Taylor, Travel Pulse

Travel Pulse profiles Paseo 206, a hotel located in a painstakingly restored building from the 1930’s in the Vedado neighborhood in Havana. The Cuban Italian couple who restored the building over the course of 11 months and who now run the private business are former World Bank employees and self-described globetrotters who enjoy boutique hotels. The pair have worked to combine Italian and Cuban elements in a luxurious, five star setting, with art from local artists, imported Italian olive oil, connections to local dance classes and galleries, and a restaurant called “Eclectico.”

Vladimir Putin sets sights on Cuba as Trump’s war of words with Havana backfires, Kumail Jaffer, Express

Four years ago this week marked the anniversary of the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, but U.S.-Cuba relations have reversed again under the Trump administration and continue to push Cuba away from the U.S. and towards Russia, Express reports.

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

Cimafunk East Coast Tour, August 22-November 10

Cimafunk, referred to as often as the “Cuban James Brown,” is headed back to the U.S. for an east coast summer tour beginning next week. Cimafunk and his band will perform in Hartford, CT on Thursday (this concert is free!), August 22, Matunuck, RI on Friday, August 23, and Easthampton, MA on August 24 before heading to the Big Apple. Cuba’s top musician will take over Summer Stage at Central Park on Sunday, August 25 and play two nights at the famous Blue Note Jazz Club on August 26 and 27. All the show information is available at www.cimafunk.com and you can see his newest music video here.

Cuban Cinema through the lens of Titón, August 23, Museum of the Moving Image, Queens, NY

Cuban film scholar Alvaro Pérez Abrahantes will present clips from films by famed Cuban filmmaker Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, also known as Titón, and discuss their significance, as well as audiovisual production and dissemination in Cuba today.

The Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Relationship: New Pathways and Policy Choices, August 29, American Security Project, Washington, D.C.

The American Security Project will host a discussion on the book  “The Cuba-U.S. Bilateral Relationship: New Pathways and Policy Choices” by Michael J. Kelly, Erika Moreno, and Richard C. Witmer, during which they will discuss the key areas where U.S.-Cuba policy will need to be examined as relations evolve.

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.

IN CUBA

Hip hop festival in Cuba reaches its 8th edition, August 13-18, Colón, Matanzas, Cuba

The Urban Potaje Festival, a celebration of hip hop music and culture, will feature Cuban artists from across the island as well as artists from Mexico. It will showcase not only music, but dance, poetry, and graffiti. The winner of the freestyle battles over the weekend will represent Cuba in an international tournament in Peru.

IN LONDON

An unprecedented exhibition of original Cuban propaganda and iconic graphic design, September 27, 2019-19 January 2020, House of Illustration, London, England

London’s House of Illustration will host an exhibition of art produced by the Cuban political movement the Organization of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), which has been active since 1966. The group was founded to promote socialism, communism, and unity among “third world” countries, social movements, and leaders across the globe, including the Black Panthers. The work displayed in the exhibition was produced between 1965-1992 and showcases posters in a range of bold, colorful, styles.

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