U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/18/2019

Dear Friends, 

In the wake of this week’s death of Cuban prima ballerina assoluta and founder of the National Ballet of Cuba, Alicia Alonso, CDA recognizes the dancer’s role in catapulting Cuban arts and culture to global acclaim and in fostering the warming of U.S.-Cuba relations. Alonso played a role in the founding of two major ballet companies in the Americas. Alonso’s influence in ballet spanned both the U.S. and Cuba, from her role as a founding member of the U.S.’s renowned American Ballet Theater (ABT) to her later founding of Cuba’s renowned National Ballet. Throughout her career, when relations between the U.S. and Cuba permitted, Alonso continued to return to the U.S. to perform and to accompany her company on tours. The National Ballet made its U.S. debut 41 years ago at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., and has performed in cities from Florida to New York. In 2018, 40 years after its U.S. debut, the company returned to the Kennedy Center to perform on the tail end of the Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival

This week, in Cuba news…


U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. restricts additional exports and reexports to Cuba

According to an unpublished rule in the Federal Register, set for Monday publication, the U.S. Department of Commerce will amend the Export Administration Regulations so that goods with as little as 10% U.S. content will be subject to U.S. jurisdiction and, thus, require a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce for export or reexport to Cuba. Previously, the policy only applied to goods with 25% or greater U.S. content. In addition, the policy establishes a general policy of denial for leases of aircraft to Cuban state-owned airlines, prohibits certain donations to the Cuban government and communist party, and “clarifies” the scope of telecommunications items that the Cuban government may receive without a license.

Trump administration ramps up deportations to Cuba; A Cuban immigrant asked for asylum. after months of detention, he killed himself, ICE says

The number of Cubans migrants deported by the U.S. has increased tenfold since the end of the Obama administration, the Associated Press reports. This has created concern among human rights advocates and lawyers who say that Cubans returned to the island could face retaliation for claiming asylum in the U.S. AP reports that, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data, roughly five-thousand Cubans have received deportation orders since the Wet-Foot Dry-Foot policy was terminated in January 2017 and over one-thousand have already been deported.

On Tuesday, Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, a Cuban immigrant seeking asylum in the U.S., was found dead in his jail cell, the Washington Post reports. Though the case remains under investigation, ICE reported Hernandez-Diaz committed suicide. Less than a week before, in an immigration court hearing, the 43-year-old asylum seeker was told that he did not provide enough evidence of political attacks in Cuba to be granted asylum in the U.S.. This verdict came after Hernandez-Diaz had been detained at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana for over four months. Hernandez-Diaz is the second detainee to die in ICE custody this month.

IN CUBA

Alicia Alonso, star of Cuba’s National Ballet, dies at 98

This Wednesday, Alicia Alonso, world-renowned Cuban ballet dancer and founder and director of the National Ballet of Cuba passed away at age 98 in Havana after being hospitalized for severely low blood pressure, the New York Times reports. She would have been 99 in December. Alonso held the title of Prima ballerina assoluta, a rare title given only to the most accomplished and notable female ballerinas. 

Before her ballet career took off, in the late 1930s Alonso performed on Broadway in musicals such as The Great Lady and Stars In Your Eyes. She then went on to dance with Ballet Caravan, the precursor to New York City Ballet, and in 1940 she joined American Ballet Theater (ABT) as a founding member. At ABT she performed with famous Russian Ballet dancer Igor Youskevitch, her partner onstage for many years. Despite difficulties with her vision, Alonso continued to dance, using the stage lights as guides. Alonso was best known for her interpretation of the lead role in the ballet “Giselle,” which was “widely considered the definitive version of one of ballet’s most difficult and demanding parts” according to the Washington Post. She learned the role using her hands and fingers while bound to her bed and prohibited from moving during her recovery from an eye surgery. Upon her return to Cuba in 1948, Alonso founded Alicia Alonso Ballet Co., which lasted only until 1956 due to financial struggles. After the revolution in 1959, Cuba’s new president Fidel Castro granted Alonso the funds, $200,000 (twice the amount of her request), needed to found a new ballet school and company, which became the National Ballet of Cuba. Alonso performed with the company and as a guest with other companies up until 1995, and she continued to dance through her 70’s, and to choreograph alongside trusted students whom she used as her eyes. Prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés of the company was appointed deputy artistic director (Alonso remained general director) in January, a role in which she was charged with casting, programming, and other major duties. She is now expected to take over the company, according to Reuters

The National Ballet of Cuba became a revered cultural symbol and a source of pride for the revolution and the country. The company is known for its preservation of classical ballet technique and for its execution of story ballets, though some criticize the company’s adherence to an older form of technique as “old fashioned.” Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, who trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba, later joined the company, and also enjoyed a career abroad, shared on Thursday, “as the daughter of a small Caribbean island, Alonso confronted all the barriers, those who said ballet was an art of developed countries, that the Latino physique and temperament could not adjust to the needs of classical dance.” Alonso took what was considered an elite art form and popularized it, bringing the company to perform at military bases, factories, and farms.

U.S. dollar makes a comeback in Cuba to fight capital flight; Dragged down by the Venezuela crisis, Cuba seeks dollars to stay afloat 

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Vice President, Salvador Valdés Mesa, and several other ministers, announced on the nationally televised roundtable (Mesa Redonda) that the country will introduce new economic measures in an effort to capture hard currencies and to boost its national industry. As Cuba’s state-run economy struggles under the tightening of the U.S. trade embargo and the financial crisis in Venezuela, the government is instituting measures to spark economic activity. Among them are plans to allow more than 70 stores to sell household appliances and other goods at “competitive prices” in U.S. dollars–which have not been accepted as legal tender on the island for more than a decade–Reuters reports. The government also seeks to clamp down on the illegal markets where most of these goods are traded. 

In addition, certain state enterprises will be permitted to “provide import services” for private Cuban citizens, shifting Cuba’s government’s monopoly on imports and potentially benefiting private businesses by allowing them to import supplies. In order to obtain the merchandise, Cubans will need to open up U.S. dollar-denominated bank accounts in Cuba and to obtain newly available debit cards. Bank accounts can also be opened in 9 additional currencies. Cuban Americans sending U.S. dollar remittances to Cuba will be able to “redirect,” but not directly deposit funds into these accounts.

According to American University professor, William LeoGrande, “this is a reasonable short-term strategy…but to solve the hard currency shortage in the longer term, the Cuban economy needs to increase its own export of goods and services rather than relying so much on remittances,” the Miami Herald reports. For Cuban economist Oscar Fernández, the new measures constitute an “electronic dolarization” model that aims to move Cuba towards a reanimation of national industry, but that fails to incorporate the productive sector, as well as other variables such as the informal USD-CUC (Cuban convertible peso) exchange rate. Cuban economist Pedro Monreal says he is doubtful that the new economic channels created by the measures will be sufficient to energize Cuba’s struggling economy. In Dr. Monreal’s view, increased investment is a more sustainable way of boosting the economy and industry production, which increasing imports alone would not necessarily guarantee. 

Cuba receives its new cardinal in Havana’s Cathedral

Juan de la Caridad de García Rodríguez, Cuba’s new Cardinal, officiated his first mass in Havana on Saturday at the Havana Cathedral, OnCuba reports. Rodríguez was ordained by Pope Francis this month,  replacing Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino who passed away earlier this year. 

New asthma vaccine’s clinical trial to begin soon 

Prolinem-DS, a Cuban allergy vaccine to treat asthma, will undergo a second phase of clinical trials at Cuba’s Calixto García Hospital and the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, OnCuba reports. The vaccine reduces the number of injections needed for those with allergic asthma.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Diaz-Canel’s visit to Mexico shows advances in bilateral relations

On Thursday, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel met with Mexico’s president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico to discuss furthering bilateral relations, including consolidating economic-commercial and migration ties, according to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Putin congratulates Díaz-Canel for his appointment as president of Cuba

Last week, members of Cuba’s parliament voted in an election to determine leadership positions in accordance with Cuba’s new constitution, which reorganizes the government’s structure. Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel, whose title and duties will shift slightly, will nevertheless remain as president, and was congratulated by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, OnCuba reports. Putin wished Díaz-Canel good health and described the vote as evidence of his “political authority.” The two countries have increased bilateral cooperation in recent months. 

Spanish King Felipe VI to visit Cuba in November

In November, Spanish King Felipe IV will visit Cuba for the celebration of Havana’s 500th anniversary, the International Business Times reports. This will be the first time a Spanish King has visited the island in twenty years. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the royal couple would be received with warm hospitality. Rodriguez’s Spanish counterpart, Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell, said the visit would mark a new milestone in the relations between the two countries. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS, AND VIEWINGS

Cuban women await their #MeToo moment, Wendy Guerra, New York Times

Despite the Cuban revolution’s successes in the realm of gender equality and women’s rights, as in many countries around the world, endemic sexism remains. Wendy Guerra shares her views on the patriarchy and the #MeToo movement in the context of Cuba.

The art of Penjing is gaining popularity in Cuba, Luis Chirino, CGTN America

The Ancient Chinese art form of cultivating miniature trees and landscapes is gaining popularity in Cuba. Comparable to Bonsai in Japan, Penjing attracted an enthusiastic following in Havana. According to a local expert, Penjing began developing in Cuba near the 1960s. Today, nearly two-thousand Cuban locals have taken up the practice.

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

INTERSECTIONS: LOS CARPINTEROS, October 10 2019-January 12 2020, The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The Cuban artist collective Los Carpinteros is known around the world for its merging of various art forms, including sculpture, architecture, drawing, and design into pieces that reflect social transformations and offer “critical commentary of dominant ideologies and power structures.” The Phillips Collection will present two films and several LED sculptural portraits.

Cuban Visions Film Series: Cuban Animation from the 1960’s to Today: Revolutionary Aspirations, Where Are We Now?, October 19, Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago, Illinois

America’s Media Initiative (AMI) will host a screening of Cuban animations and a post-screening discussion as a part of their Cuban Visions film series. The screening will include animated films from the state-run Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC), as well as independent animated films. The post-screening discussion will feature a Cuban animator and the former Deputy Director of the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (Havana Film Festival), who curated the project. Read more and purchase tickets here.

“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.

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. 

Cuba And Beyond Series, September 24th-December 5th, International Affairs Building, New York, New York

Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies is holding a series of conferences and seminars aimed at increasing scholarly exchange between scholars from the U.S. and Cuba, as well as other experts. Upcoming events cover a variety of topics, from Cuban foreign policy to Cuban-American music.  

Afrosyncretic, November 8-February 28, KJCC Auditorium, New York, New York

The Latinx Project NYU will present its second exhibit “Afrosyncretic,” curated by Yelaine Rodriguez and featuring work by nine artists “foregrounding the African roots of the Latinx diaspora” and “center[ing on] the vibrancy of diasporic blackness within Latinx culture urging viewers to confront dominant narratives of what it means to be Latinx.” Cuban artist Carlos Martiel is among the featured artists. Read a review of his work here.

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.   

IN CUBA

18th Havana Theater Festival, October 19-27, Havana, Cuba

This October, Havana will host its 18th annual theater festival, featuring works from across the globe, including Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Portugal, and Mexico. See the program (in Spanish) 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.” 

IN THE UK

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 the schedule here

An unprecedented exhibition of original Cuban propaganda and iconic graphic design, September 27, 2019-January 19, 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. Read more on the exhibition here.

IN CANADA

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.

IN MEXICO

Cuba: La singularidad del Diseño (Cuba: The singularity of Design), October 3-27, Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico will be showcasing Cuban industrial and design artists for its 11th Design Week Mexico event in October. Titled “Cuba: La singularidad del Diseño” (Cuba: The singularity of Design), the exhibition will be in the capital of Mexico until October 27.

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