U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 12/13/2019

Dear Friends,

Thank you to those of you who came out to celebrate CDA’s work at our 13th Anniversary Celebration: Opening Up To The Americas, this week, and for helping us honor CubaOne Foundation and Linda Rivas for their work to connect the people of the Americas, and to command U.S. policies of engagement and respect. A special thank you to Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14) for honoring us with her presence and remarks in celebration of CubaOne Foundation.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuban deportations have more than doubled in the past year, new data shows

The number of Cubans deported from the U.S. this year has doubled in comparison to last year, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data, the Miami Herald reports. This year the U.S. deported 1,179 Cubans; the numbers have increased since 2017, when the Obama administration put an end to the “Wet-foot Dry-foot” immigration policy that allowed Cubans who reached the U.S. to become permanent residents (those apprehended at sea were returned to Cuba). According to the acting director of ICE, Matthew T. Albence, Cuba also now “cooperates with us in issuing travel documents, which they didn’t previously do.” This September, ICE deported 120 Cubans on a single flight.

U.S. tourism in Cuba dwindles as Trump mandate cuts flights; Charter companies fill gap after federal ban on flights to Cuba takes effect; Cuba tourists barely pass 4 million, in disappointing result

Following the Trump administration’s October announcement that it would cut all flights to Cuba except those to Havana, effective this week, U.S. travel to the island has dwindled, and charter companies have picked up the slack, according to CNN and WPLG Local 10 News. Tourism numbers overall have experienced a decline as well, the Washington Post, reports. Cuba’s 2019 goal of 5 million tourists came up short by 1 million, and private businesses and entrepreneurs are struggling as a result of the decline. The drop in U.S. visitors, in particular, affects private businesses and entrepreneurs because U.S. travelers engaged with these businesses more due the requirement that they stay in privately owned lodging, and engage in cultural exchange activities. Travelers from other countries tend to access to Cuba’s hotels and resorts and travel without immersing themselves in the local economy in the same way. For those U.S. travelers who are still interested in visiting the island, charter flights have become an attractive option. According to Florida charter company Cubazul Charter, their 13 weekly flights will soon increase to 17, including flights to destinations outside of Havana. Miami-based Aerocuba offers 25 flights weekly, including flights to five cities other than Havana.

Center for Democracy in the Americas, Cuba Study Group, Engage Cuba, LAWG, Oxfam, and WOLA released a joint statement denouncing the cut in flights in October.

IN CUBA

Dissidents say Cuba put them under house arrest on Human Rights Day; Cuba “will remain committed” to human rights, says foreign minister

On Tuesday, December 10th, Human Rights Day, independent journalists and opposition activists in Cuba allege that state police prevented them from leaving their homes to document the occasion, Reuters reports. Several activists planned to spend the day calling for the release 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. The Trump administration, Amnesty International, former Vice President Biden, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, and the European Parliament have called for his release. Cuba 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. On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on the Cuban government to cease barring Cuban Journalist Luz Escobar from leaving her home. Meanwhile, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez announced in a tweet Tuesday that Cuba “will remain committed to the exercise, by all people and peoples, of all human rights.”

Cuba to sanction soldiers who injure themselves to avoid military service

Cuba, which requires compulsory military service for men, is experiencing an increase in imprisoned soldiers harming themselves to avoid military service. These soldiers will be sanctioned for the crime of evasion under article 20 of the Military Crimes Law, OnCuba reports. Soldiers serving disciplinary sanctions have swallowed screws, washers, blades in order to be assessed as unfit for service.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Evo Morales heads to Cuba amid talk of an eventual comeback

Evo Morales, former President of Bolivia, flew from Mexico, where he was in exile, to Cuba last Friday for a medical appointment, according to Morales’ former Health Minister Gabriela Montaño, The Guardian reports. Morales is now residing in Argentina as a refugee.

France to invest more than 7 million euros in agro-tourism and water in Cuba

On Friday, France and Cuba signed two agreements, OnCuba reports. The first agreement guarantees an investment of 5 million euros from Paris for an agro-tourism project. The second agreement is a 2.7 million euro project to reconstruct water pipes damaged as a result of hurricane Irma. The agreements also intend to bolster the two countries’ commercial cooperation.

Díaz-Canel receives UNESCO director

Last Friday, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz–Canel received UNESCO director, General Audrey Azoulay, in Havana, OnCuba reports. The two discussed continuing to strengthen relations and shared priorities of education, culture, science, and new technology. On Thursday, Azoulay met with Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez to discuss climate change, as well as with Eusebio Leal, the city historian of Havana.

Díaz-Canel in Argentina for Alberto Fernández inauguration

Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz–Canel visited Argentina for the first time on Sunday for Alberto Fernández’s inauguration as head of state, OnCuba reports. During current Argentinian Vice President Cristina Fernández’s term as president from 2007-2015, Fidel and Raúl Castro maintained close relations with her, and her youngest daughter is currently receiving medical treatment in Havana.

Grenada to hire Cuban nurses to cover lack of professionals; Zimbabwe Seeking Cuban Doctors to End Health Crisis As Strike Cripples State Hospitals

Grenada will hire 40 Cuban nurses to replace those who have immigrated abroad, OnCuba reports. Zimbabwe’s medical institutions are compiling lists of personnel needs that Cuba could fill as a months-long strike of medical professionals drags on in that country. Although a Cuban medical brigade recently arrived Jamaica, three countries – Ecuador, Brazil, and Bolivia – recently expelled Cuban doctors. The U.S. alleges that Cuba’s medical missions abroad constitute human trafficking and has called on other governments to stop contracting them; Cuba denies these allegations as slander. Cuba’s medical missions are one of the country’s most significant sources of revenue, bringing in nearly 6.4 billion dollars in 2018.

Russian railroad company could open office in Cuba

On Monday, Russia’s Ministry of Transportation announced that it was in talks with Cuba that could lead to the establishment of a Russian Railroad Company station on the island, OnCuba reports. Russia, along with China, has been assisting Cuba with renovation of its railroads.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba manages to keep ploughing on in the face of US sanctions: Oxen and horses are the only option for farming and transportation in many parts of the country due to fuel shortages, AFP/Daily Mail UK

In the face of a severe fuel crisis that hit particularly hard in September and October, Cubans are increasingly returning to oxen and horses for transportation, farming, and even to facilitate garbage disposal. The island also faces a shortage of working animals, however. AFP documents some of Cuba’s work animals and their owners in photographs in this piece, published by the Daily Mail UK.

AP Interview: New Cuban ballet head pledges renovation, Andrea Rodriguez, Associated Press/The San Diego Union Tribune

Viengsay Valdés, the new head of Cuba’s National Ballet following the passing of its legendary founder Alicia Alonso, hopes to reinvigorate the company with new choreography and appearances by former company members who have emigrated abroad. Although she believes in a basis of classical technique, Valdés says that she hopes to modernize the company.

Cuban-style Uber: young entrepreneurs determined to break blockade, Atahualpa Amerise, OnCuba

With increased internet access, Cuban entrepreneurs are determined to innovate. OnCuba highlights some of the businesses young Cubans have founded, including the Uber-like apps Sube and Bajanda, Negolucion, Cuba’s only business magazine, and Mandao, a food delivery service similar to Uber Eats and Glovo.

CDA Board Member Dan Erikson testifies before the House foreign Affairs Committee at “Haiti on the Brink: Assessing U.S. Policy Toward a Country in Crisis” Hearing

CDA Board Member Dan Erikson testified this week before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the situation in Haiti and U.S. policy towards the country. As Haiti wrestles with domestic crises, Erikson argues that the most powerful course of action would be for the U.S. to lead an international effort to identify problems and work towards solutions that “alleviate [and] reduce human suffering.” Check out additional hearing coverage here from the Miami Herald and Le Nouvelliste.

The 25 best songs of 2019

NPR Music recently released its top 25 best songs of 2019, and the Cuban Afro-Funk group Cimafunk’s “El Potaje” made the list at #6!

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

Arte Cubano, October 2019-February 20, 2020, Queen’s College, Flushing, Queens, New York, New York

In this exhibition of 43 works by 25 artists, the creative ingenuity of Cuban artists stands out and reflects “daily social and political realities” and Cuba’s mixed “African, European, and Latin and Caribbean influences.”

Peaceful demonstration in Miami in support of H.R. 4884 The Cuban Family Reunification Act, December 15, SW 13th Ave & SW 8th St, Miami, Florida

Families for the #CFRP (Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program) is holding a peaceful demonstration in support of H.R. 4884, The Cuban Family Reunification Act, in Miami.

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.

The 4th Nation and Emigration Conference, April 8-April 10, 2020, Havana, Cuba

The Nation and Emigration Conference will be held in Havana, in April 2020. The meeting is convened by the Cuban government, draws Cuban emigrants from the island residing in the five continents, and is designed to strengthen ties with residents abroad.

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