U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 12/06/2019

Dear Friends,

A huge and heartfelt “thank you!” to all of you who donated during CDA’s #GivingTuesday campaign. We are thrilled to report, thanks to YOU, we exceeded our day-of #GivingTuesday goal! We are also thrilled to announce we have extended our Facebook fundraiser until December 31. This giving season, we invite you to consider the value of CDA’s work and contribute to our mission. We cannot do the important work we do without you. We thank you, and we wish you the happiest of holidays!

Also, for those of you in the D.C. area who would like to celebrate a year of hard work, honor champions whose work we admire, and recharge for the opportunities ahead, join us at CDA’s annual gala! We will gather at Dacha Navy Yard next Wednesday, December 11. Find additional information and purchase tickets here.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Mike Pompeo slams Cuba, Venezuela for ‘hijacking’ protests

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Cuba and Venezuela’s Maduro of interfering with democratic institutions across South America as protesters in several countries engage in demonstrations, the Washington Times reports. Over the last several months, protests have erupted in Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, and most recently, Colombia, over issues such as transportation fare increases, oil subsidies, and allegations of election fraud. In a speech this week at the University of Louisville, in which he outlined his case for “diplomatic realism, restraint, and respect,” in Latin America, Pompeo stated “We in the Trump administration will continue to support countries trying to prevent Cuba and Venezuela from hijacking those protests.”

Cuban Foreign Minister denounces “illegal actions” of U.S. Embassy

On Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, denounced actions taken by the U.S. Embassy in Cuba as being illegal, OnCuba reports. On Twitter, Rodríguez claimed that the U.S. seeks to undermine the constitutional order by interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, violating the Vienna convention, as well as Cuban and U.S. law. In a previous tweet, Rodríguez criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for urging the U.S. Embassy in Havana to intervene in Cuban affairs. For its part, the U.S. government condemns Cuba’s accusations. In a November 22 statement, Secretary of State Pompeo said, “the U.S. government strongly condemns the Castro regime’s accusations against our Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mara Tekach. The regime has launched these baseless allegations against her in an attempt to distract the international community from its abysmal treatment of the Cuban people, especially the ongoing arbitrary detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer. Nevertheless, our Chargé d’Affaires and her team at the U.S. Embassy in Havana remain steadfast as they carry out the President’s mission to defend human rights and advance the cause of democracy in Cuba.”

Venezuela and Cuba ‘circumvent sanctions’ as Washington tightens grip on oil trade

On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Treasury named six oil tankers that deliver fuel from Venezuela to Cuba as blocked property, the Miami Herald reports. According to Justin Muzinich, Deputy U.S. Secretary of Treasury,  Maduro officials have changed the name of several oil tankers, flying under the flags of other nations, in an attempt to circumvent U.S. sanctions and facilitate oil delivery to the island. Measures from the U.S. Treasury Department prohibit all U.S. citizens, residents, and even those in transit through the U.S., from engaging in transactions that involve blocked property. U.S. sanctions on oil come at a time when Cuba faces severe fuel shortages, and on the heels of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel announcing austerity measures in late September.

IN CUBA

40 Cuban women submitted a request to the National Assembly for a Comprehensive Law against Gender Violence

On November 21, forty Cuban women submitted a request to Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power for a comprehensive law against gender violence, OnCuba reports. The request seeks to create a system and a set of protocols that will prevent gender violence and provide retribution in cases of such violence.

Cuba was the first signatory and the second country to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and Article 43 of the country’s new constitution, ratified in February, obligates the state to protect women against gender violence. In June, for the first time, Cuba released data on the number of femicides occurring on the island. If the request is considered and the Law is drafted and approved, Cuba would join 13 Latin American countries that have norms of integral protection against violence against women.

Cubans will be able to generate their own electricity and sell to the government

On November 28, La Gaceta Oficial published Decree-Law 345, which will allow Cubans to purchase equipment that uses renewable energy sources, produce electricity for self-consumption, and sell their surplus to the island’s National Electric System, OnCuba reports. Regulations also include instructions from the Central Bank of Cuba on getting credit to buy solar energy equipment for commercial entities. In addition, the decree does not establish a maximum limit for photovoltaic systems installed in the residential sector, and the price at which the government buys surplus energy will be set in relation to the cost of fossil fuel generation to incentivize renewable energy on the island.

Cuba acknowledges ‘vestiges’ of racism, launches program to fight it; Racism in Cuba persists despite government efforts, prominent Afro-Cuban artist says

In late November, Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas announced in a cabinet meeting that the Cuban government will launch a “National Program against Racism and Racial Discrimination” to broaden education on Cuba’s African legacy and start a public debate on racial issues, Reuters reports. Historically, the Cuban government has hailed the elimination of racial discrimination as one of the 1959 revolution’s greatest acheivments. A report from Granma, Cuba’s state-run media, quoted Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledging some vestiges of racism. Díaz-Canel added that racial discrimination is the result of cultural issues, rather than policy. Activists have welcomed efforts from the Cuban government, but remain skeptical about the program’s implementation. One of Cuba’s most successful contemporary artists, Juan Roberto Diago, expressed his skepticism to the Miami Herald, stating that government efforts do little to address racial inequalities on the island.

Cuba takes another swipe at dual currency system; New experiment in Cuban stores: is the CUC disappearing?; Your dollar is going further in Cuba, as the value of the convertible peso drops

On Monday, two department stores in Cuba, a country with a dual currency system, began giving change in pesos (CUP), rather than Cuba’s convertible peso (CUC) as it has done for the past several decades, Reuters reports. In a note published by Cuban state-run media, Granma, the Central Bank of Cuba announced that this was a test that could soon be extended to other businesses. Cuba’s convertible currency is valued at 24 Cuban pesos. However, the Cuban population has become increasingly frustrated with the dual-currency system, as imported goods often come with large mark-ups as they are purchased with tradable currencies – which the CUC is not. In October, Cuba announced a new set of economic measures that included plans to open stores selling certain goods in U.S. dollars, and allowing Cubans to open U.S.-dollar-backed bank accounts and obtain debit cards to use at such stores. When the stores opened for the first time in early November, lines were long and some goods sold out. The Cuban government also banned the import of CUC in early November. According to OnCuba News, some economists point to this as the early stages of currency reunification in Cuba.

Cuba advances in therapeutic HIV/AIDS vaccine project

Preclinical studies, including testing on lab animals and human volunteers, for a therapeutic HIV/AIDS vaccine has come to a conclusion this week, OnCuba reports. The vaccine, named Teravac-HIV, aims at inducing an anti-HIV cellular response to reduce the burden of the virus on patients. According to a Cuban Doctor in Biological Sciences, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) has been developing the vaccine for several years, and testing on the vaccine candidate showed its safety and tolerance without significant adverse events being reported. Although the vaccine is recognized as only being partially effective, even slightly positive results could have major impacts on the rate of transmission of the virus.

Cuba fashion show is one step for private enterprise

On November 23, the four-year old Cuban fashion label Clandestina held its second ever fashion show on the island, the Associated Press reports. At the show, Clandestina debuted its 2020 “Glories of Sports” collection, with the participation of several Cuban athletes.

Cuba’s first LGBTI+ hotel will open in Cayo Guillermo

On Thursday, ground broke in Playa Playuelas, Cayo Guillermo, for Cuba’s first LGBTI+ hotel, On Cuba reports. The Gran Muthu Rainbow Hotel has 248 rooms, three bars and five restaurants specializing in Asian, Cuban, international, gourmet and buffet cuisine, respectively. Muthu Hotels’ CEO, Rafael López, said that the hotel staff went through a training program with the objective of creating “a much more inclusive environment” for visitors staying at the new complex. Less than a month before its inauguration, the new hotel was included on a new list of entities sanctioned by the Trump administration.

Cuba lays out rules governing surveillance, informants

A decree approved in October and made public in late November allows Cuban prosecutors to engage in the surveillance of communications, including listening in on phone calls, recording voices, and recording  videos of suspects, without prior approval by a judge, NBC News reports. The decree also creates a legal roles for informants. According to the decree, agents from Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior are authorized to carry out undercover investigations, and witnesses who cooperate with agents will receive lenient treatment. The decree is part of a series of decrees designed to bring Cuba’s laws up-to-date with its new constitution, approved in February of this year.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

EU parliament condemns Cuba’s detention of top dissident; Cuban Parliament “strongly” rejects European Parliament’s position on Ferrer

On November 28, the European Union legislative body joined the U.S., passing a resolution condemning the “arbitrary” detention and calling for the immediate release of José Daniel Ferrer, leader of Cuba’s largest opposition group the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Reuters reports. Ferrer and three of his colleagues were arrested and accused of assaulting a man and sending him to the hospital. Ferrer’s supporters object to his arrest, saying they have proof that shows that the man hurt himself in a motorcycle accident and was not kicked in the head, as Cuba’s government alleges.

In a tweet, former Vice President Biden said, “I am deeply concerned about the unjust detainment of Jose Daniel Ferrer, a voice for change in Cuba, by the Cuban government. Ferrer must be released at once.” U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel also urged Ferrer’s “immediate & unconditional release.”

One day prior to the EU’s resolution, the Cuban government released a video of Ferrer in a police interrogation room, banging his head on a table, flipping furniture, and shouting aggressively, the Associated Press reports. Activists from UNPACU said the footage could have been staged or doctored. The video also included secretly filmed footage of the U.S. Chargé d’affaires as she visited Ferrer’s family home. According to the New York Times, a piece of paper smuggled out from the prison shows a desperate plea made from Ferrer, stating that his life is in grave danger. In an unusual statement from Granma, the Cuban state-run media described Ferrer as a “salaried agent at the service of the United States”.

Cuba and EU address in Havana escalation of U.S. embargo

On Friday, the government of Cuba and the European Union  held the second Political Dialogue on the Imposition of Unilateral Coercive Measures in Havana, OnCuba reports. Amid growing U.S. economic pressures, intensifying the embargo with new sanctions on the island, Cuba has become increasingly dependent on the EU, Russia, and China, to sustain its economy. These talks are part of five spheres of bilateral dialogue between the EU and Cuba, including dialogues on issues such as human rights and sustainable development.

Portuguese Parliament closes friendship with Cuba parliamentary group

On November 28, the Portuguese parliamentary Foreign Relations Commission removed Cuba from Portugal’s list of parliamentary groups of friendship, OnCuba reports. The decision was made behind closed doors without the presence of the communist members of parliament, one of which chairs the Portugal-Cuba Parliamentary Friendship Group and is likely to be appealed. According to the chairman of Portugal’s  Foreign Relations Commission, Sergio Sousa Pinto, Cuba’s exclusion is due to the island’s single party system. The decision came just ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Lisbon, today, on December 6, as part of a tour that includes the United Kingdom and Morocco.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Martica, A Family Doctor, The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba

Martica, A Family Doctor is a short film produced by The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba that profiles Dr. Marta Galvez, and provides a glimpse into the workings of the Cuban family healthcare system.This documentary is part of a series on the lives, motivations, and projects of Cuban visionaries who are working everyday to uphold the gains of the Cuban Revolution and continually improve the lives of their community members.

Cuban entrepreneurs and development, Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba

Triana issues a review of a Cuban state-run media article titled “Full attention on how to get Cuban entrepreneurs to project development,” which considers the state of the private sector in relation to development on the island.

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

CDA 13th Annual Anniversary Celebration: Opening Up To The Americas, December 11, 2019, Dacha Navy Yard, Washington D.C.

At our 13th anniversary celebration, CDA will celebrate “Opening up to the Americas,” taking on new challenges at a critical time for our hemisphere, while enjoying cuisine from around the Americas and dancing to music by the DC Cuban All Stars.

We will pay tribute to individuals who mean a great deal to the mission of our organization, and whose work has served to connect the people of Cuba and the U.S. and to command U.S. policies toward the Americas based on engagement and mutual respect.

This year, we will honor CubaOne Foundation for their work to encourage understanding between a long separated diaspora as well as Linda Rivas of the Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, for her work related to the rights of immigrants and refugees along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Tickets/RSVP required.

Lineage: A Classically Cuban Concert, December 8, 2019, FIU Performing Arts Center, Miami Florida

For the purpose of celebrating, preserving, and promoting the rich and diverse musical heritage of Cuba and its diaspora, Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute announced its 15th installment of a Cuban concert series – this year featuring Cuban-born pianist and composer David Virelles. Virelles will explore a repertoire of danzones by some of the legendary composers of this 19th-century Cuban genre, illustrating its evolution, informed by a modern approach.  He will be joined by Hilario Bell on timbal—a percussion instrument originally used in típicas—and José Armando Gola on acoustic bass.

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).

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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