U.S.-Cuba News Brief 11/08/2019

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This week, in Cuba news…


U.S. bans government funding of cultural exchanges with Cuba, other nations

A notice published on Monday in the Federal Register, reflecting a policy directive signed by President Trump and sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, stated that the U.S. will not allow federal funding for cultural exchange programs between the U.S. and Cuba, the Miami Herald reports. The policy also applies to programs between the U.S. and other countries determined by the U.S. government to have not met the minimum standards to combat trafficking in persons, as reported in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report issued by the Department of State. The decision will affect organizations that rely on federal funding to maintain exchanges with the Cuban government, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, which has spent more than a hundred thousand dollars to promote exchanges between Cuban and U.S. artists. According to a memorandum sent to the State Department, the new sanctions against Cuba are due to allegations of human trafficking and exploitation of labor rights, particularly as related to Cuba’s medical missions abroad, the U.S. alleges. Other countries banned from government funded exchange programs include North Korea, Russia, and Syria.

Cultural exchange between the U.S. and Cuba was one of the priorities of the rapprochement started in 2015. In April 2016, right after President Obama’s visit to Cuba, members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, including top administration officials, and artists including Smokey Robinson, Joshua Bell, Usher, Dave Matthews, and Alfre Woodard traveled to the island. The artists on the trip enjoyed an unfettered exchange with a cross-section of Cuban musicians and artists.

Avianca suspends sale of tickets to and from Cuba

Avianca Airlines announced this week that it would suspend ticket sales for flights to and from Cuba as it resolves an outstanding issue with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), OnCuba reports. The company operates daily flights from Bogota and San Salvador to Havana, and will continue those flights for the time being. The Panama-based airline, a merger of a Colombian and a Salvadoran airline, is subject to U.S. jurisdiction due to a U.S.-based shareholder and loan. Avianca reported a potential compliance issue to OFAC and is currently undergoing a review by external consultants to identify any U.S. sanction violations.

Trump activated a long dormant clause in its trade war with Cuba and it’s starting to hurt Canadian companies

The Canadian mining company Sherritt International is suffering from the effects of the U.S.’s April 2019 implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act and U.S. oil sanctions on shipments of Venezuelan oil to Cuba, the Financial Post reports. With Cuba facing diesel shortages due to U.S. sanctions on oil shipments from Venezuela (implemented in April, July, and September 2019), the company was forced to run fewer trucks to their mines in Cuba, which hurt production. Increasing U.S. sanctions on Cuba, including the implementation in May of Title III and the ensuing lawsuits related to “trafficking in confiscated property,” leave the island nation increasingly cash-strapped, and have added to Sherritt’s hardship. According to Sherritt’s chief executive David Pathe, sanctions “put further difficulty on our ability to forecast the timing of Cuban receivables, [and the] receipt of cash on Cuban receivables from our Cuban partners in the oil and power business.” The company currently has an $88.3 million certified Helms-Burton claim against it, though it has restructured so as not to fall under U.S. jurisdiction; additionally, Canada does not recognize extraterritorial U.S. judgments related to the embargo.

Cuba lashes Trump, issues rallying cry to fight imperialism

At a solidarity conference on Sunday in Havana, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel, head of Cuba’s Communist Party Raúl Castro, and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro affirmed their mutual support for each other and their stance against imperialism and neoliberalism, Reuters reports. On Cuban state television, President Díaz-Canel and Maduro countered claims made by the Organization of American States that the countries were responsible for recent protests and unrest throughout Latin America, such as in Chile and Argentina. Cuba’s President called on other countries to speak out against U.S. sanctions preventing third parties from doing business with Cuba.

New report claims ‘Emotional trauma and fear’ most likely cause of illness among US diplomats in Cuba, not mysterious sonic weapons

Another theory on the cause of the symptoms experienced by U.S. and Canadian embassy personnel in Havana was posited by American medical sociologist, Dr. Robert Bartholomew, and published this month in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, The Independent reports. Dr. Bartholomew, who resides in New Zealand, writes that the symptoms reported by the affected diplomats can be attributed to emotional trauma and not sonic weapon attacks. Listen to an interview with Dr. Bartholomew on the topic here.

The still unexplained incidents, which manifested in symptoms such as headaches, difficulty concentrating, and hearing loss, led to a drawdown of U.S. embassy personnel in Havana and a halt to most consular services there in the fall of 2017.  Previous theories have included effects of pesticides used in fumigation, mass hysteria, listening devices gone awry, microwave weapons, and sonic attacks. Find CDA’s explainer on the reports, theories, and events related to the incidents here.

Black press joins Congressional Black Caucus in denouncing new Cuba travel ban

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Black Press of America oppose the Trump administration’s restrictions on flights to Cuba announced two weeks ago, the Jacksonville Free Press reports. The CBC claims the measures will hurt the U.S. economy. Representative Karen Bass (CA-37), who chairs the CBC, criticized the new restrictions as “another cruel and counterproductive policy put forth by the Trump administration.” The NNPA expressed their support for the CBC’s opposition to the policy, with NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis adding that “African Americans, in particular, have an anthropological, cultural, and African ancestry direct connection with the people of Cuba.” Because of these connections, he implies, African Americans in the U.S. should support engagement with Caribbean neighbors.

Cubans were once privileged migrants to the United States. Now they’re stuck at the border, like everyone else, Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post

When President Obama ended the “Wet-Foot Dry-Foot” immigration policy for Cubans, Cuban migrants abruptly lost some of their privileged immigration statuses, and the result – almost three years on – is that Cuban migrants are now treated like Central American migrants as they attempted to cross into the U.S., the Washington Post reports. A rapidly increasing number of Cuban migrants, now numbering around 4,500, have made their way to the Mexican border town of Juárez. Juárez is an alternative to Tijuana, where many migrants from Central America arrived in caravans. There they wait for their turn to cross, or wait for their immigration hearings under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP). Greater numbers of Cubans are being deported, kidnapped, and/or extorted while waiting in Mexico. Some have staged mass escapes from detention facilities to protest conditions. Cubans are targeted for extortion in Mexico under the assumption that they have access to dollars, and coming from a country of little crime, have been surprised by Juárez’s violence. Cubans still possess the right, under the Cuban Adjustment Act, to adjust status after a year of residence in the U.S. if they entered legally.


Self employment: Cuba approves six activities and modifies transport operation licensing [SPANISH]

On Wednesday, Cuba announced new measures related to self-employment, Cubadebate reports. The measures include the creation of six new categories of activities for which Cuban citizens can obtain a license to be self employed and the consolidation of several others. The government also announced an update of their taxation regulations vis-a-vis the private sector, which will adjust to the creation of new and/or consolidation of self-employment categories. Modifications to the private transportation services’s regulations were also announced. The price for transportation services will be decided by the license holders themselves, always within the limits established by the local government.

Cuban entrepreneur Oniel Díaz views the measures, other than those related to contractual work, as not bringing the needed changes to self employed sector. According to Díaz, “with these rules, the error of limiting people’s creativity persists.” For Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, the state view of trabajo por cuenta propia (self employment), as a needed alternative to the state-sector is not sustainable, and a better development strategy would be to establish small and medium enterprises (SMEs)–not allowed under current laws. By creating specific, restrictive, license categories, Monreal argues, the state hinders productivity. SMEs could aid in development, help alleviate poverty and income inequality, and increase competition and innovation, he says.


Cuba paying restructured Western debt despite crisis: official

Cuba is in the process of paying off a fourth installment of the debt that it renegotiated with the Paris Club in 2015, according to Ricardo Cabrisas, vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, who oversees debts negotiations, Reuters reports. Cuba initially owed the Paris Club nations $11.1 billion, but negotiated the amount down $8.5 billion. It now owes $2.6 billion to the 14 nations by 2033. Cuba has paid its installments every year since 2015 and this year will be no different, according to Mr. Cabrisas. An unidentified diplomat from a creditor nation acknowledged that “both sides” recognize that Cuba is facing tough economic times, but expect the debt to be paid by the end of the year. A few countries, including Italy and the Netherlands have already confirmed that they have received payment, Reuters reports

Cuba attracts $1.7 billion in foreign investment despite U.S. sanctions

On Wednesday, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, said that the island attracted 1.7 billion dollars in foreign investment this fiscal year, Reuters reports. While this fell short of Cuba’s 2.5 billion dollar goal, it is still an improvement from last year’s 1.5 billion dollar foreign investment report. Despite new U.S. sanctions and President Trump’s rollback of Obama’s detente, Cuba has attracted 25 new investment projects in the last year, Malmierca told a news conference at Cuba’s annual trade fair in Havana. However, with only a handful of U.S. companies present, the area of the fair dedicated to U.S. investment in Cuba offered a dismal outlook and stands in contrast with 2014, when 33 U.S. companies held stands at the fair.

Cuba returns to the international maritime repair market; China’s floating dock brings hope to Cuba

Last week, Cuban officials cut the ribbon for a dry-dock delivered from China, Cuba’s state-owned media Granma  reports.  Built in China’s Huarun Dadong shipyard, the floating dock will be put into operation at the end of next year, enhancing Cuba’s capacity to build and repair ships. According to Asia Times, the floating dock travelled 13,000 nautical miles in two months, crossing the Pacific, Indian, and Antlantic oceans before making it to the Carribean sea. The general manager of the engineering department of the China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation, Yuan Yiping, called the dock a token of a 20-year-long friendship between Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation and his company.


Who will be Cuba’s prime minister? A general and former Castro son-in-law stands out, Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law, economic advisor, military figure, and head of GAESA, Cuba’s conglomerate of military companies, General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, may be positioned to become Cuba’s prime minister, the Miami Herald reports. The position of prime minister, whose job will be to oversee the day-to-day functions of the country, was newly created under Cuba’s updated constitution, ratified in April, and Cuba’s new electoral law, approved in July. In accordance with the new electoral law, last month, President Díaz-Canel’s title shifted from President of the Council of State and Ministers to President of the Republic. The president must now propose a prime minister within three months. López-Calleja’s presence at high profile meetings and his greater profile internationally has resulted in speculation that he may be nominated for the prime minister position. López-Calleja would have to be made a deputy before being nominated, however, according to guidelines in the new constitution. Two other possible candidates include foriegn minister Bruno Rodríguez and economist Jorge Luis Tapia, appointed to vice president of the Council of Ministers in September.

This photography book is an intimate tribute to Cuba’s trans community, Mahoro Seward, i-D Vice

Sofia Prantera, founder of the London based brand Aries, and photographer Joshua Gordon came together with Havana Club to produce Butterfly, a photography book around Cuba’s trans community. In this interview, Prantera answers questions about the book’s name, the projects origins, and the experience of documenting a side Cuba that is seldom seen.

Cuba now has a Bitcoin wallet tailor-made for e-commerce on the island, Decrypt

Cuban based tech-developer and crypto-entrepreneur, Mario Mazzola, just launched a new crypto-currency wallet and payments system called QBita. As enthusiasm for Bit-coin grows in the Cuba, Mazzola set out to design a lightweight system for e-commerce that meets the specific needs of the island. QBita was made with the purpose of being as simple as possible, a response to criticism that other crypto-currency wallets are either too complex, too data-intensive, or require a VPN to use.

How Cuban art fed Africa’s liberation struggles, Lucy Fleming, BBC

Works of art produced for Castro’s Organisation of Solidarity of the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Ospaaal) show the support Cuba had for the African Liberation movement during the height of the Cold War. Ospaaal oversaw a huge publishing operation with 33 designers, most of them women. An exhibition of Cuban propaganda posters and magazines celebrate leaders of the liberation movement with bright colors and pop art influences. Much of Ospaaal’s output was directed towards the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, which did not end until Nelson Mandela was elected president in 1994.



DIAGO: The pasts of this Afro-cuban present, Lowe Museum, Miami, Florida

A retrospective display of Juan Roberto Diago’s artwork will be at the Lowe Museum until January 19, 2020. Leading member of the Afro-Cuban movement, Diago’s visual art offers a revisionist history of Cuba’s racial tensions. Diago’s art will be curated by Director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at the Hutchins Center, Dr. Alejandro de la Fuente, in collaboration with the Miami Museum of Contemporary Art of the African Diaspora (Miami MoCAAD).

Cuban Visions Program 6: The Personal is Political, November 10, Full Spectrum Films, Chicago, Illinois

America’s Media Initiative will host its final film screening in its “Cuban Visions” series. La Música de las Esferas (Music of the Spheres) is a documentary that chronicles the director’s parents’ relationship as they struggled with their family’s views on race and the economic crisis of the 1990’s in Cuba. The film interweaves aspects of family and national politics. A discussion with the director will follow.

YPA Panel: Perspectives from Cuban entrepreneurs on the private sector in today’s Cuba, November 14, Americas Society, New York, New York

Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and Cuba Educational Travel will host a Young Professionals of America (YPA) panel featuring Cuban entrepreneurs from the tech, fashion, film, and cultural sectors. The group will discuss “building business from the ground up in Cuba today.” Networking reception to follow.

Cuba And Beyond Series, September 24th-December 5th 2019, 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. Check the calendar (link above) to see upcoming events this month.


Cimafunk’s ‘Getting Funky in Havana’ Concerts with New Orleans Groups Soul Rebels and Tank & the Bangas, January 14-18, 2020, Havana, Cuba

New Orleans groups Soul Rebels and Tank and the Bangas are set to join Cuba’s Cimafunk for the five day “Getting Funky in Havana,” concert series and cultural exchange tour set for , presented by the Trombone Shorty Foundation, Cuba Educational Travel and the Havana Jazz Festival.

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