U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 11/22/2019

 Dear Friends,

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. State Department updates Cuba Restricted List; Public designation of Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations List

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department added five additional entities to its Cuba restricted list, a list of entities and subentities with which U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in financial transactions. The list was first published in November 2017 as directed by President Trump’s National Security Memorandum on “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” and is designed to restrict funds to Cuba’s military and intelligence apparatus. Cuba’s Ministry of Revolutionary Armed Forces maintains a prominent role in the country’s tourism industry through the business conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. The State Department’s list, which includes several hotels, has previously been amended five times. Prior to Tuesday, the list was most recently updated in July 2019. The additional entities included in the list as of November 19, 2019 are the Gran Hotel Bristol Kempinski, Grand Aston Varadero Resort, Grand Aston Cayo Las Brujas Beach Resort and Spa, Gran Muthu Imperial Hotel, and the Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel.

On Saturday, the U.S. State Department announced  the designation of Cuba’s Minister of the Interior, Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, under Section 7031(c) of the FY2019 Department of State, Foreign Operations List, making him and his immediate family members “ineligible for entry into the United States.” The department cited “his involvement, by command responsibility, in gross violations of human rights in Venezuela”. Bermejo is the second Cuban official to be publicly designated. Cuba’s former president and current head of the Communist Party, Raúl Castro and his children were designated in September.

Miami-Dade commission rejects Democratic bill to help reunite Cuban families

On Tuesday, Miami-Dade county commissioners in Florida refused to endorse H.R. 4884, The Cuban Family Reunification Act, introduced by Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), the Miami Herald reports. The bill seeks to restart the successful 2007 Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, first implemented under President Bush, that would allow U.S. citizens to apply for parole for family members in Cuba. Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava put forward a resolution of support for the bill. During debate over the measure, Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo Jr. rejected the bill, claiming it“smac[ked] of D.C. politics.” He later explained his opposition to the bill centered on safety concerns due to the still unexplained health incidents that affected U.S. Embassy personnel in Cuba and led to a staff drawdown and the cessation of most consular services. The bill would require the State Department resume some consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and directs the Department to consider security measures such as shortened tours and videoconferencing.

Cuba accuses U.S. embassy of abetting country’s leading dissident

In an editorial in Cuba’s state-owned media Granma, Cuba alleged that the U.S. Embassy in Cuba and the U.S.’s Chargé d’Affaires, Mara Tekach, are involved in supporting “counterrevolutionary activities,” including those of Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of Cuba’s largest opposition group the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), who was arrested and jailed two months ago, Reuters reports. Last week, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba released a video of Tekach, along with Ferrer’s partner, requesting his release and stating he did not have adequate access to food, medicine, and medical treatment in jail. Cuba’s government has also been accused of mistreating Ferrer. Cuba rejects these claims, and maintains that Ferrer was arrested due to a Cuban citizen’s claim that Ferrer and others beat him to the point of requiring hospitalization, and claims that he also has a history of past violence. Cuba also claims that instead of attempting to build ties, the U.S. is instead attempting to destabilize the island.

Pompeo congratulates Bolivia for expelling doctors

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commended the interim government of Bolivia for expelling hundreds of Cubans from the country, including doctors and medical staff, OnCuba reports. On Friday, Bolivia’s Foreign Minister, Karen Longaric, announced that 725 Cuban officials would be expelled from Bolivia amidst political turmoil following the resignation of former Bolivian president Evo Morales. According to Reuters, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry responded, claiming that Cuba recalled its medical brigades for their own safety, and not on Bolivia’s orders. Recently, the U.S. characterized Cuba’s medical missions as “human trafficking,” and called on other governments to stop contracting them. Bolivia is the third country this year to end the medical exchange contracts with Cuba, following in the footsteps of Ecuador and Brazil. Cuba has denied the accusations of human trafficking, calling them an effort by the Trump administration to slander the island.

RSW adds new flights to Cuba despite travel restrictions

Southwest Florida International Airport recently added a new flight to Cuba, Wink News reports. According to Cubans in South Florida, U.S. travel restrictions are making it more expensive and harder for them to see their families in Cuba, and although the additional flight comes just ahead of the holiday season, they worry that one additional flight is not enough.

Earlier this month, the Trump administration announced it would suspend all commercial airline flights to Cuba with the exception of flights bound for Havana. America Airlines, Delta, and JetBlue, who operate flights to nine other locations including Santiago de Cuba and Varadero, have until December 16 to wrap up flights to other locales.

Cubans in New Mexico say ICE put them in solitary for hunger strikes

At least twelve Cubans who arrived in the U.S. to seek asylum have been periodically placed in solitary confinement for peaceful protests like hunger strikes while in Immigration and Customs Officials (ICE) detention, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports. Solitary confinement occurred at both the Otero and Cibola County Processing centers. According to Peña Pavon, a Cuban asylum seeker at Otero County Processing Center, he and the other Cubans also faced racism from the guards.

Pavon was also part of a sit-in staged by asylum seekers at the Otero County Processing Center last month. The Otero Processing Center has seen hunger strikes and two suicide attempts. Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, requested an investigation into accusations of mistreatment by ICE officials at the Otero County Processing Center earlier this month.

IN CUBA

OPEC finances 25-million-dollar hydraulic project in Havana

Last week, Cuba’s government and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) signed an agreement in Havana to finance a 25 million dollar hydraulic project in Cuba, OnCuba reports. This loan agreement is expected to benefit municipalities West of Cuba’s capital by eliminating more than 600 infiltration wells to improve the sewer system. OPEC’s Fund for International Development (OFID) has invested over 158 million dollars in Cuba, supporting efforts to strengthen the island’s hydraulic infrastructure, OnCuba reports.

Cuban government assures it is working on animal protection law

According to a press release on Friday, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture has taken on the task of creating legal provisions that would guarantee the welfare of animals on the island, OnCuba reports. Recently, animal advocates in Cuba brought attention to the Cuban government’s effort to euthanize stray dogs in Havana, presumably in preparation for the King of Spain’s official visit earlier this month. In April, animal rights activists held what is believed to be the first independent march authorized by Cuba’s goverment, calling for an end to animal cruelty.

Cuba partially restores bus routes after fuel crisis

As Cuba faced a severe fuel shortage in September and October this year. With diesel fuel particularly hard to come by, the island reduced its bus routes, OnCuba reports. The crisis was sparked in part by U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil shipments, one of Cuba’s main sources of fuel. Cuba’s state-owned National Bus Enterprise reported Monday, however, that it would restore 43 routes by November 22.

New 500-peso bill allegorical to Havana circulates in Cuba

On Saturday, the Central Bank of Cuba announced a new 500-pesos denomination bill in celebration of Havana’s 500th anniversary, OnCuba reports. The new design will include an image of the Giraldilla, one of the oldest sculptures in Havana, the Central Bank of Cuba announced on twitter. The tweet also stated that the new bills will circulate along with previous issues, which will remain valid.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Raúl Castro receives chairwoman of Russian Senate and former president of France

On Saturday, Raúl Castro, Cuba’s former president and current head of the Cuban Communist Party met with Valentina Matviyenko, chairwoman of the Russian Senate, and Francois Hollande, former French President amid celebrations of Havana’s 500th anniversary, OnCuba reports. The meetings celebrated the strong ties and the positive state of relations between Cuba and Russia and Cuba and France.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Acosta Danza review – Cuba moves in a new direction, Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian

Three years ago, Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta launched his Havana-based dance company, Acosta Danza. Winship reviews the progress the company has made in those short years. Winship particularly focuses on Acosta’s efforts to build a troupe that can dance anything from ballet to hip-hop, while boasting fantastic dancers from a diverse set of backgrounds.

Say What? Cuban-American Republican commissioners reject Cuban family reunification : Opinion, Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald

Describing events at a Miami-Dade county commision meeting this week regarding a measure to endorse HR 4884, the “Cuban Family Reunification Act,” Santiago denounces actions by Cuban-American politicians to deny other Cubans the opportunity to be reunited with family in the United States, calling them “repugnant.”

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

DIAGO: The pasts of this Afro-cuban present, October 24, 2019-January 19, 2020, 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).

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.

IN CUBA

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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