U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 09/20/2019

Dear Friends,

Last week Cuba and the European Union (EU) held their second Joint Council meeting in Havana. The EU and the U.S. improved relations with Cuba around the same time, but the EU continues to engage in bilateral cooperation while the U.S. has pulled back and placed increased sanctions on U.S. travel to and trade with the island. CDA’s Emily Mendrala had this to say in Thursday’s Latin American Advisor in response to the Inter-American Dialogue’s questions about EU-Cuba cooperation: “U.S. policymakers should take note that the European Union is meeting with Cuba on the subject of human rights and engaging with Cuban officials about its role in Venezuela, knowing from experience that, through engagement and dialogue, the European Union can play a constructive role.”


U.S. expels two of Cuba’s U.N. diplomats, citing ‘influence operations’

On Thursday the U.S. Department of State expelled two members of Cuba’s U.N. delegation, citing national security concerns, Reuters reports. The U.S. restricted the rest of the delegation’s travel to Manhattan, where the U.N. missions reside and where the General Assembly is currently being held. The members were reportedly attempting to “conduct influence operations.” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the members were “abusing their privileges of residence.”  Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez claimed that the U.S.’s expulsion was aimed at “provoking a diplomatic spiral that would lead to the closure of bilateral embassies, further tightening of the [U.S.] blockade and creation of tensions between both countries.”

ICE Deports Man With Lung Tumor to Cuba Despite Doctor’s Demands

On September 12, Yoel Alonso Leal, a Cuban man living in New Orleans, was deported to Cuba by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despite doctors’ fears that the stress of the flight could kill him, the Miami New Times reports. Leal was detained by ICE in October despite health problems, and while in detention was reportedly denied medication, exacerbating his existing issues. When Leal was ordered to be deported, activists took to the streets in protest, blocking off a busy intersection, and popularizing the hashtag #FreeYoel. Minnesota Rep. Rashida Tlaib and New Orleans Rep. Cedric Richmond both sought answers from ICE at various points without success. On the morning of his deportation, hundreds of New Orleans doctors and medical students signed a petition urging ICE not to deport Leal. Leal was deported to Havana despite protests, and no updates have been given on his condition. Leal is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against ICE that alleges that the agency “is issuing virtually blanket denials to asylum-seekers asking for parole in the agency’s New Orleans area of responsibility.” The New Orleans area of responsibility includes Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

U.S. seeking to make Cubans seek asylum in Honduras: minister; Honduras is poor, violent and unstable. The Trump administration wants it to accept more asylum seekers

According to Honduran Foreign Minister Lisandro Rosales, negotiations with the United States could make Cuban migrants passing through the Central American country seek refuge there instead of continuing on to the U.S., Reuters reports. These negotiations have alarmed activists, analysts and opposition politicians in this Central American nation, as the homicide rate in Honduras is eight times higher than in the U.S. and two thirds of the population live in poverty. Further, Honduras itself was the leading source of migrants apprehended at the U.S. border last month, the Washington Post reports; many of those Hondurans sought or are seeking asylum in the United States.

This is part of a larger effort by President Donald Trump to reduce the flow of migrants into the United States with ‘Safe Third Country’ agreements. Such arrangements have already been accepted by Panama and Guatemala, but were rejected by Mexico again just this month.

We can expect to hear more about these agreements in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, entitled U.S. policy in Mexico and Central America. Senators are expected to discuss the Trump Administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy, as well.

All airlines flying to Cuba could be sued in the U.S.

Five U.S. and 46 foreign airlines may soon face lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), OnCuba reports. According to the news outlet, a law firm in Miami is preparing the suits, which will allege “trafficking in confiscated property,” and seek compensation for the use of airports in Cuba. José Ramón López is one of the plaintiffs. His father owned what is now Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. López is also a plaintiff in the class-action Title III suit against the Spanish hotel chain Meliá.

Havana syndrome: Exposure to neurotoxin may have been cause, study suggests

A newly released study posits a new theory on the cause of the symptoms experienced by U.S. and Candian embassy personnel in Havana, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports. The study was commissioned by Global Affairs Canada and conducted by a multidisciplinary team at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority. The team examined 26 individuals, including Canadian officials experiencing symptoms and a control group, and its findings suggest that neurotoxins used in pesticide fumigation could be the cause of the symptoms. Cuba frequently sprayed offices and diplomatic residences in 2016 in its fight against the Zika virus. The study, which focused only on Canadian individuals, found links between the severity of the symptoms suffered by personnel and the number of times their residences were fumigated. The Canadian researchers now aim to collaborate with officials in Cuba to determine if similar brain injuries were experienced by Cubans.


Cuba’s acute fuel shortage begins to bite; Cuban universities readjust teaching schedules due to energy crisis; Amid crippling sanctions, Cuba deploys oxen, wood-fired ovens to overcome fuel crisis

Cuba’s fuel shortage is causing long queues for buses in Havana, Reuters reports. Some wait for hours to board the city’s public transport. Meanwhile, state inspectors flag down state vehicles to provide lifts. The shortages were expected, having been announced by the country’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel last Wednesday. Cubans were told to expect shortages in diesel and limited public transportation this month, as well as blackouts, but were assured that the situation would not become as dire as it became during the “Special Period,” Cuba’s economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union. Shortages are partially blamed on U.S. sanctions and the crisis in Venezuela.

Cuban universities are also feeling the effects of shortages, OnCuba reports. According to Martha Del Carmen Mesa, Cuba’s First Deputy Minister of Education, the universities will seek to limit face-to-face time, utilize computerterization, and adjust class schedules to take advantage of daylight hours. She also shared that schools would seek to undergo a kind of decentralization, with some students going home and being educated in municipal settings according to the capacity of those municipalities.

Cuba also announced that it would replace tractors with oxen, gas with wood as fuel for ovens at some bakeries, and prioritize the recipients of limited fuel this month to critical services and the tourism industry, which contributes significantly to Cuba’s economy. Workers in the construction industry and other state sector positions were asked to stay home due to lack of public transport and fuel for construction machinery. A steel factory in Havana recently closed and select cement factories are limiting production, according to Reuters. Queues for gas in Havana are long, extending for multiple blocks, with some even sleeping in their cars to maintain their spot.

Plane crash in Havana was due to “chain of errors”

The cause of the Cubana Airlines crash in Havana in May 2018 has finally been determined to have been human error, OnCuba reports. The crash that resulted in the death of 112 of its 113 passengers stressed the “predominance” of the “human factor,” according to the Cuban Institute of Civil Aviation. The investigation into the aircraft’s maintenance records recorded no defects, signaling that Mexico’s Damojh Airline, which leased the Boeing 737 to Cuba, does not likely harbor responsibility for the incident. The charter company had been subject to past complaints. The lone survivor of the crash, Mailen Díaz Almaguer, a Cuban woman who was 19 at the time, continues to recuperate.

Cuba begins process to choose candidates for new government (IN SPANISH)

Deputies in Cuba’s parliament on Wednesday designated their choices for the candidates that will be have a chance to be elected to the position of president, vice president, and heads of Cuba’s National Assembly and Council of State, OnCuba reports. According to the president of the Commission of National Candidates, María Consuelo Baeza, the process is carried out as established in Article 215 of Cuba’s new electoral law, approved in July, to implement Cuba’s new constitution, which was approved in April 2019. The article establishes that the deputies will cast their personal choices anonymously in written form.

Cuban president opens Meliá Varadero International Hotel

On Monday, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel was present at the official opening of the new Meliá Varadero Hotel in Varadero, Cuba, OnCuba reports. The hotel is reportedly eco-friendly, capable of sustainable water and energy use, and its location will protect the beach dunes.

The opening of the new beach resort hotel by the Spanish hotel chain Melíá comes as Melíá faces a class-action Helms-Burton Title III lawsuit in U.S. courts for allegedly trafficking in property that was expropriated at the time of the Cuban revolution.

In Havana, a hotel for the LGBTI community will soon open (IN SPANISH)

Axel Hotels, a Spanish company, is slated to open an LGBTI-focused hotel in Havana’s Hotel Telégrafo building along Cuba’s promenade separating Havana and Old Havana, Paseo del Prado, OnCuba reports. Axel Hotel’s founder, Juan Juliá, expressed his excitement about “being able to ‘give’ his support to the LGBTI community in Cuba.”


Cuba and Russia create first joint venture for construction materials

On Thursday, Cuba’s Siment Aut S.A. and Russia’s United Composite Technologies entered into a joint venture for construction materials, Teccomp Caribe S.A, the first joint venture of the kind between the two countries, OnCuba reports. The venture will begin in a year and will be based in Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone. It will manufacture “fiberglass bars and meshes” which will be used in construction as a “complement” to steel. Cuba and Russia agreed on a number of collaborative projects in 2018 in the industry and transportation sectors. Russia, in conjunction with China, is also assisting Cuba with the revitalization of its railroads.

On Wednesday Russia and Cuba celebrated the tenth session of a joint Business Committee meeting in Moscow, designed to boost collaboration between the two countries, according to OnCuba.


Cuban Deportations And What They Mean For Florida, Lulu Garcia Navarro, NPR

In an interview with NPR, Rebeca Sánchez-Roig , a Cuban American immigration lawyer in Florida and former deputy chief counsel with the Department of Homeland Security shares that it was expected that the majority of Cubans deported after former President Obama rescinded the Wet-Foot Dry-Foot policy would be those with criminal records, however, it seems that not all who are deported are criminals. Additionally, she addresses the Cuban American community’s and Marco Rubio’s reluctance to speak out against an issue like “sending Cubans back to communism,” that they seemingly should be against.

I Grew Up Not Feeling Latina Enough — Then, I Went To Cuba/Viajé a Cuba para sentirme más conectada al abuelo que nunca conocí (In English y Español), Kaitlin Cubria, Elite Daily

Growing up in the U.S. as part Chinese, part Puerto Rican, and part Cuban, Kaitlin Cubria never felt completely Latina. She traveled to Cuba to connect with the home of her paternal grandfather, who died soon after her dad was born and about whom little is known. She shares her experiences in this article.

Celia Cruz: The Voice Of Experience, Deborah Paredez, NPR

Celia Cruz, “the Queen of Salsa” acted and acts as a voice to bring together the complex and varied experiences of Latinx migrants. Deborah Paredez shares her experiences of Celia and how the singer and her contemporaries act as powerful forces centering female, black and brown, and Latinx people in a normally exclusionary space. In the end, the singer acts to bring together Latinx diasporic communities of all kinds to sing, dance, and celebrate, even in the face of difficult times.



THE LURE OF CUBA: Reginald Marsh’s Tropical Watercolors, 1924-1930, William Benton Museum of Art, University of Connecticut, August 23-October 13

American painter Reginald Marsh is known for his paintings of bustling New York City scenes, but his Havana scenes are more serene, more devoid of human figures, more postcard-esque. This exhibition at the University of Connecticut features not only Marsh’s paintings of Havana, but also his paintings of Florida and Puerto Rico. Read more about the exhibit here.

Bakosó Screening, September 21, AMC Theater, Times Square, New York, New York

This documentary film features Afro-Cuban artist DJ Jigüe, who visits his hometown of Santiago de Cuba where he discovers the new musical genre bakosó, which has exploded on the urban music scene thanks to African medical students studying in Cuba who brought Afropop and Angolan kuduro to the already rich Cuban music scene in the 2000’s.

Amigo Skate Film Screening, September 22, Roxie Theater, San Francisco, California

Amigo Skate, the film, documents Amigo Skate, the organization, which is a collective that works to provide skateboards and skateboard repair to Cubans, particularly youth. They also opened Cuba’s first Skateboard School, and generally work to empower youth and seek government recognition for skateboarding as a sport, which remains illegal on the island.

Screening & Discussion: Viva El Vedado, September 24, Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies, City University of New York, New York, New York

The film “Viva El Vedado” traces the architectural history of the Vedado neighborhood in Havana from the 19th century to the Revolution.

Cuba and Beyond Series: Cuba and China: The Trouble with Trust, September 24, Columbia University, New York, New York

The Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University will present a talk by Professor Adrian H. Hearn of the University of Melbourne on Cuba-China relations and his book “Diaspora and Trust: Cuba, Mexico, and the Rise of China,” which can be downloaded for free here.

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.

“Cuba: A Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean” IMAX film screening

The film “Cuba: A Journey to the Heart of the Caribbean,” designed specifically for OMNIMAX screens and filmed in association with BBC Earth, will be shown in cities across the U.S. this spring. In addition to the screenings on the BBC’s website, the Robert D. Linder Family OMNIMAX Theater in Cincinnati Ohio is currently screening the film, and The Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival in Fort Lauderdale, Florida will feature a screening in November.

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

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.


Aplatanado en La Habana photo exhibition, September 19-October, Galería Carmen Montilla, Plaza San Francisco de Asís, La Habana Vieja

A photo exhibition by Patrick Oppmann, CNN international correspondent and Havana Bureau Chief, will be on display in Old Havana through October.

Irish-American Traditional Musicians at Bilateral Celebration in Havana, October 17, Havana, Cuba

Mick Moloney and the Green Fields of America will be featured at the Teatro Marti in Havana on October 17 as part of the celebration of twenty years of bilateral relations between Ireland and Cuba.   The event is sponsored by Barbara Jones, the Irish Ambassador to Mexico, also accredited to Cuba, who previously served as Ireland’s General Consul in New York.  Leaders from Dublin are expected to participate.

The Fund for Reconciliation and Development which sponsored three previous tours to Cuba by Green Fields is offering a program from October 16 to 18 that will include the concert, an escorted Irish walking tour of Old Havana, and a visit to Tarara and Bacuranao beaches where New York’s Captain Dynamite Johnny O’Brien landed supplies and soldiers in 1897 for the final war of independence. For more information, click here.

Cuba Sabe Culinary Workshop, January 9-11 2020, Iberostar Grand Packard Hotel, Havana, Cuba

The culinary workshop Cuba Sabe, organized by Paradiso Cultural Tourism Agency, Cuba’s National Council of Cultural Heritage, and the Culinary Federation of Cuba, will be held in Havana in January 2020. The workshop is a continuation of last year’s Gastrocult Academic Workshop. Next year’s theme will be cuisine that showcases the blend in Cuban food of “tradition and avant gardism.” The workshop will also showcase the art of painting and the aesthetic aspect of cuisine by “propos[ing] a contest between culinary artists and painters based on the visual quality of what is brought to the table.”


The Rolling Stones Havana Moon, October 14-27, England

An immersive film screening of the Rolling Stones’ historic 2016 concert in Havana, playing in theaters across the UK. See schedule here.

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.


The Cuban Revolution at 60 International Conference, October 31-November 2, Halifax, Canada

Canada will hold an international conference featuring forty Cuba scholars, policy-makers and policy analysts. The conference will be free and open to the public. Topics discussed will include the health incidents that affected Canadian and U.S. embassy personnel in Cuba, the Cuban economy, U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuba’s international relations, ecological change, and social change, including discussions on race, gender, sexual diversity and health.

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