U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 8/23/2019

Dear Friends, 


Tourism to Cuba plunges after Trump’s tightening of travel ban: data

Official data indicates that Cuba’s tourism arrival numbers dropped 23.6 percent as of July, Reuters reports. The drop is evidence of the impact of the Trump administration’s restrictions on U.S. travel to the island, which were announced on June 4 of this year and led to a 20 percent drop in arrivals that month. The new restrictions include a prohibition on U.S. cruise travel to the island as well as the elimination of the people to people educational category of travel. In response to the decline in tourists, Cuba revised its estimate of foreign visitors for the year from 5 million down to 4.3 million. The drop in visitors has already been felt by Cuban entrepreneurs, and comes at a time when Cuba is struggling economically in part due to the crisis in Venezuela, a strategic ally to the island.

A strong blow to Cuban Adjustment Act

Last week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) updated the eligibility rules for adjustment of status under the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA), OnCuba reports. According to a Policy Alert from USCIS, in order to apply for permanent residence, Cubans born to Cuban parents living abroad must now produce “a valid Cuban passport or a citizenship letter, documents that must be obtained on the island, since the birth certificates issued by the Cuban consulates are no longer valid, even if they certify that the applicant to qualify for the Adjustment Act is a Cuban citizen.”Previously, Cuban citizens could apply using “unexpired or expired passports, birth certificates, Cuban citizenship letters, or nationality certificates issued by the Cuban authorities.” Additionally, denied CAA cases will not be able to be appealed. Academic and expert on U.S.-Cuba relations and Latin America Arturo López-Levy sees this as the “first step to putting an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act itself,” though he and other experts agree that this change reflects not a particular hostility towards Cuban migrants by the Administration, but a general hostility towards non-white migrants.

Thousands of Cubans try to enter the U.S. at a border now practically closed off to them

Cuban, Haitian, Venezuelan, and other migrants are living in tents in the Mexican border city of Matamoros, where they await to apply for asylum in the U.S., the Miami Herald reports. The Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also sometimes referred to as the “remain in Mexico policy,” forces them to endure this wait in Mexico as opposed to the U.S. Mexico, however, is not equipped to provide care for these migrants, according to Gladys Edil Cañas, a Mexican activist who delivers food, water, blankets and other humanitarian aid that has been donated to the migrants by those living in Matamoros. “The weight of this crisis is falling on civil society,” she says. According to a Cuban migrant, who only provided a pseudonym, Yailín, Cubans are not used to the violence that occurs along the border in Mexico. After a trek through the jungle in Central America, being returned to Cuba, and repeating the journey all over again, Yailín and other migrants were kidnapped and held for ransom. To avoid being attacked again, she and others prefer to remain as close to the border bridge as possible.

The Miami Herald reports that, since September last year, “more than 16,000 [Cubans] have been detained as they tried to cross the Rio Grande illegally or applied for asylum at border crossings … The number of Cubans deported by the U.S. government to the island also rose, from 160 in the first year of the Trump administration to 560 this year.” According to Yailín, it is “practically impossible” to apply for asylum from Cuba or leave for the U.S. legally from the island due to the cutdown in U.S. Embassy staff and services that occurred in 2018 in response to the still unexplained health incidents experienced by the U.S. embassy personnel in Havana.

How American evangelicals helped stop same-sex marriage in Cuba

An initial draft of Cuba’s new constitution, which was ratified in a national referendum on February 24, 2019, included an article that would have opened the door to same sex marriage in the country. However, the article was later removed due to pushback from the island’s evangelical community. According to Vice, these evangelist groups receive financial support from religious groups in the U.S. that may also be promoting ideological goals, as well as support from religious groups in Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile. Many Cuban churches have “sister churches” in the U.S. that provide this support. A recent document published by journalist Tracey Eaton as part of The Cuba Money Project—a journalism initiative that keeps track of U.S. government programs related to Cuba—reveals that the group Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach for Cuba (ECHO Cuba), received $2.3 billion dollars from the U.S. government from 2009-2017. The group’s founder, Teo Babún, is from a Cuban exile family and supports “transition” in Cuba, according to Vice. Cuban evangelical groups mobilized in unprecedented ways in opposition to same sex marriage, but ways that were similar to the methods of U.S. fundamentalist groups, leading to suspicion that U.S. funds and assistance were at least partially behind the pushback against the article.

As Cuba lawsuits heat up, not all are sold on Helms-Burton’s promise

Lawsuits filed under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), continue to move forward, with a recent suit filed by Javier Lopez against French company investment bank Société Générale S.A. His family’s bank was expropriated by the Cuban government in the early days of the Revolution, when it was owed by his uncle, who, according to Lopez, remained a political prisoner in Cuba for 30 years.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit filed in May against Carnival Cruise Line, the first filed under Title III of Helms-Burton, has continued to move forward. The judge ruled tentatively in-favor of the plaintiff but the final decision will be made in a few weeks time. The first few cases may determine a precedent and set the stage for other suits that U.S. firms are prepared to file.


Canada remains main issuer of tourists to Cuba

According to Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism, the island received 3 million visitors so far this year, with the majority of those visitors being Canadian, OnCuba reports. Russia, meanwhile, has the “highest growth rate” in the Cuban tourism market. Cuba had predicted 5.1 million visitors at the beginning of the year, but has adjusted that estimate to 4.3 million in the wake of the Trump administration’s travel restrictions. Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, reportedly estimated that the prohibition on U.S. cruise travel would impact the travel of “more than 560,000 Americans in what remains of the year.” Tourism is the second largest generator of income for the island.

Panama suspends tourism card for Cubans due to alleged irregularities

In late July, Panama temporarily suspended the issuance of tourist cards to Cubans—who frequently travel to Panama to shop—due to irregularities in the allocation of the cards. According to OnCuba, on Monday, Daniel Rojas, President of the Association of Users of the Colón Free Trade Zone (ZLC), shared details of the irregularities. “In Cuba there was a robot that grabbed all these quotas and monopolized them, pure technology. Those quotas, the people who owned that robot, sold them for 500 dollars. And the card is only worth 20 dollars at the Consulate. Then that business must be eliminated and that situation must be regularized.” There is also concern on the Panamanian side that some are using the card to get to Panama in order to begin a journey to the U.S. Panama is working with business leaders to solve the issue, stating that Cubans are welcome to come shop in Panama, where they represent a significant portion of shoppers. According to the administration of the ZLC, Cubans represented 40.1 percent of those who had entered the zone as of August this year.


Clandestina vs Zara: subtle inspiration or vulgar plagiarism?, Mónica Rivero, OnCuba

The Spanish clothing brand ZARA recently released a shirt featuring the words “Mentally I am in Havana,” mirroring a popular original design by Clandestina, Cuba’s first independent fashion brand, “Actually, I’m in Havana.” ZARA has other designs that appear similar to Clandestina’s work as well, including a shirt with the words “Delete the Drama,” similar to Clandestina’s “Se acabó el drama” design, and a piece that appears to be based on Clandestina’s “País en Construcción” (Country under construction) line. Clandestina released a video about the apparently copied designs, telling ZARA it “needs to stop” (“tienes que parar”), a common phrase in Cuba’s slang. ZARA has been accused of taking inspiration from others’ designs in the past.

Meet the Jews of Havana: The Small but Thriving Cuban Community You Didn’t Know Existed, Harry D. Wall, Haaretz

Havana is home to a small, yet vibrant Jewish community. Made up of three different immigration waves, the Jewish population found themselves still permitted by Fidel Castro to practice their religion. Today, Cuban Jews young and old enjoy cultural activities, including Israeli folk dancing, at Patronato, a Synagogue in Havana. The city also boasts two hotels oriented towards Jewish clientele. U.S. and Canadian non-profits provide some food, medicine, and other assistance to Jews on the island, and rabbis come from across Latin America to hold services from time to time due to lack of full-time clergy. Cuba’s Jewish population received some attention in June when Havana’s Office of the Historian announced that it would, among other projects, recover a long-neglected Jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa, as CDA reported.

Inequality and population at risk of poverty in Cuba, Omar Everleny, OnCuba

In Cuba, measuring poverty can be difficult. The challenge is in determining the best indicators to use to measure poverty, and how to measure it in a country where social programs limit, to an extent, poverty and inequality. Indicators such as income gaps and repressed and postponed consumption may serve as tools.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano included in TIME Magazine’s Greatest Places 2019, Cady Lang, TIME Magazine

Fábrica de Arte Cubano, a community project created in an old cooking oil factory, has become a cultural focal point on the island, boasting multiple art galleries, dance floors, and bars. “As Havana prepares to celebrate its 500th anniversary this year, look to Fábrica to see its cultural future,” says TIME Magazine.



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 25th and play two nights at the famous Blue Note Jazz Club on August 26th and 27th. 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.

US to play Cuba in new Nations League at Washington, DC, October 11, Audi Field, Washington, D.C.

This October the U.S. Men’s National Team will play against Cuba in the The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF ) Nations League at Audi Field in Washington, D.C.

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.


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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