U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 12/20/2019

Dear Friends,

It was this week, five years ago, that we celebrated a historic announcement from two presidents who were willing to break from the narrative of the past and engage with one another in order to imagine a new future. Respectful dialogue brought about great change in the bilateral relationship, and that change led to benefits for Americans and Cubans alike. Having experienced the fruits of engagement, the reversal — under the current U.S. administration — back to policies of isolation, is all the more painful.

Read CDA’s full statement on the anniversary of the announcement of the U.S.’s intent to normalize relations with Cuba.

Despite the reversal and its associated challenges, there are still many reasons for hope. This year, CDA celebrated the many things that bring the people of Cuba and the U.S. together! We danced with Cuba’s hit funk bank, Cimafunk in the halls of Congress; sang along with Latin Grammy-Award winning Aymée Nuviola at our Spring celebration; and showcased the work and spirit of Cuba’s entrepreneurs and designers from the Havana-based clothing and design shop, Clandestina. We are thrilled to see how these and other Cuban artists, musicians, and designers continue to share their art with the world and continue to gain international recognition. From Aymée Nuviola’s 2020 GRAMMY nomination, to Cimafunk’s appearance on NPR’s “25 Best Songs of 2019” list, to Clandestina’s first U.S. pop-up shop, cultural exchange continues on!

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

‘We Cubans have lost ground in Miami’: Protesters demand reinstatement of parole program

On Sunday, a group of around 100 protestors gathered in Miami in support of reinstating the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, the Miami Herald reports.

The Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP) was established under President George W. Bush in 2007, and allows U.S. citizens to apply for parole for family members in Cuba. The program came to a halt last year with the drawdown of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and the resulting halt to consular services, due to the still unexplained health incidents affecting U.S. diplomatic personnel there. Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26) recently introduced H.R. 4884, The Cuban Family Reunification Act, which would restore the program, require the State Department to resume some consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and direct the Department to consider security measures for U.S. officials serving in Havana, such as temporary duty tours and the use of videoconferencing capabilities. The bill drew attention recently when Miami-Dade county commissioners refused to endorse it.

As of May 2019, the Miami Herald reported that there were about 20,000 CFRP cases pending, which, according to some experts, is having a disruptive effect in migration trends from the island. Jorge Duany, who is the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, told the Miami Herald in May that, “the current situation of Cuban migration to the United States can be described as critical.” The number of Cuban migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border is increasing. In FY2019, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported 21,499 “inadmissibles” at the southwest border, compared with 7,079 in FY2018. In the first two months of FY2020, 2,262 Cuban “inadmissibles” arrived at southwest border crossings according to CBP data. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) numbers show the significant increase in the number of Cubans deported from the United States which has risen 600 percent since 2017, going from 160 in FY2017 to 1,179 in FY2019. There have been many cases of Cuban migrants denouncing solitary confinement in ICE custody, and many have gone on hunger strikes and attempted suicide.

Sunday’s protestors in Miami spoke about their desire to reunite with their families. Some felt that they had lost ground in Miami on the issue, and others encouraged protestors to pressure their representatives in Congress or vote them out. Erney Díaz, a Cuban American and a Trump supporter, reported feeling “disenchanted” by the Miami-Dade commissioner vote, saying “what can be said about these characters who claim to represent us and despise us like that?” and “instead of getting on the right side, they put their political interests first.”

Cuba says it is prepared if U.S. chooses to sever diplomatic ties; Cuba says some in the U.S. government are seeking to ‘sever’ diplomatic relationship

On Monday, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs, expressed that Cuba is prepared if the U.S. severs relations with the island, but hopes that that doesn’t happen, NBC News reports.

Reuters reports that at the 14th Annual Cuba in U.S. Foreign Policy Conference, hosted by the Research Center for International Politics (CIPI) in Havana, Fernández de Cossío told reporters that “There are powerful people today in the U.S. government that want to increasingly apply hostile measures and sever our bilateral relationship.” He said, “One only needs to hear statements by the officials of the U.S. government to understand that their aim is to continue to apply economic coercive measures to punish the lives of Cubans, of ordinary Cubans…so it is easy to come to the conclusion that the aim is to sever the relationship.”

A U.S. State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity claimed that there were no plans at present to sever relations, but claimed that Cuba has “reached a low point” in its “abuses of its own people.”

In November, as we reported at the time, issues related to reciprocity in the issuing of diplomatic visas threatened to close embassies in both capitals.

Cuban artist Aymée Nuviola nominated for 62nd GRAMMY Awards [SPANISH]

Cuban artist Aymée Nuviola has been nominated for a 2020 GRAMMY for best tropical album, and a Latin GRAMMY for best traditional tropical album. This spring, CDA had the privilege of hosting Nuviola for our spring celebration. This year, Nuviola released an album “Aymée Nuviola: A Journey Through Cuban Music,” which she performed on stages throughout the U.S. and internationally, she also gave a master class at the University of Central Florida, and participated in an Afro-LatinX women’s panel held by Women in Music. This is Nuviola’s second GRAMMY nomination.

IN CUBA

Cuban parliamentary committees meet to discuss fundamental issues; Cuba to name first prime minister in 40 years; Cuba’s Council of State summons elections for provincial governors and vice governors [SPANISH]

This week, Cuba’s National Assembly is holding committee meetings ahead of their regularly scheduled work period, Prensa Latina reports. Committee meetings included discussions of issues like the 2020 state budget, food production, the computerization of society, and the island’s energy situation, among other topics. This legislative period, which will occur today and tomorrow, will see the election of Cuba’s prime minister, a newly restored position established in the country’s updated constitution which was ratified in April. The National Assembly will also elect deputy prime ministers, a secretary, and the members of Cuba’s Council of Ministers.

Hard currency elusive in Havana as monetary reform looms; Explainer: Navigating Cuba’s money labyrinth

In the midst of an economic crisis and having recently approved the use of the U.S. dollar again on the island, Cuba is facing a shortage of hard currency, Reuters reports. Because Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) cannot be used off the island, the hard currency shortage is felt especially acutely by Cubans planning to travel abroad. It also affects those who want the security of having their savings in hard currency at a time when the government is sending signals that it may be moving towards unifying the island’s dual currency system. The value of the CUC has decreased, according to Cuban economist Omar Everleny, and “the economy is already being dollarized, even if no-one says it.” U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan oil, and Bolivia, Ecuador, and Brazil’s decisions to end their participation in Cuba’s medical missions abroad, a top source of revenue for Cuba, serve to exacerbate the crisis. Cuba has long planned to unify its dual currency system, and its move to open U.S. dollar stores and allow Cubans to open U.S.-dollar backed bank accounts is seen as an indicator that unification looms.

Read Reuter’s explainer on Cuban currency.

Cuban customs detected 30 cases of drug trafficking in 2019

Cuban customs reports an increase, in comparison to 2018, of drug trafficking cases and drugs for personal use seized from travelers. Cuba uncovered 30 cases of drug trafficking, and found drugs for personal use on 203 passengers this year, OnCuba reports. Drugs that were seized include “cocaine, marijuana, and synthetic cannabinoids.” Drug use and drug trafficking are illegal in Cuba, which applies a “no tolerance policy.”

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and Panama in favor of greater commercial exchange

Late last week, Cuba’s ProCuba and Panama’s ProPanamá, companies that deal in business, investments, and trade, signed a commercial agreement that will take advantage of Cuba’s priority of attracting foreign investment and Panama’s desire to continue to attract private Cuban buyers, many of whom purchase goods in Panama for their private businesses on the island, OnCuba reports.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Five Years After Obama’s Historic Détente With Cuba, What Trump’s Prohibitions Have Meant for Music, Judy Cantor-Navas, Billboard

Five years and many shifts in the U.S.-Cuba geo-political relationship later, music is still a way for Cubans and Americans to come together. Some U.S. artists may hesitate to perform on the island due to fear of violating U.S. sanctions or making a political statement. Moreover, the embargo prevents them from benefiting from the concerts monetarily. However, there is talk of a high profile artist performing there soon, and there are still artists and organizations finding creative ways to make visits to the island profitable, such as filming and releasing videos of their performances there. It may be quieter than the days when The Rolling Stones or Blondie performed in Havana, but the music scene on the island remains robust.

5 years after detente with US, Cubans say hope has dwindled, Michael Weissenstein, AP News

AP News speaks to Cubans about their hopes after Obama’s 2014 announcement of the U.S.’s intent to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, and how that hope is now fading.

Two Women, 11 Countries; A Long, Strange Trip From Havana to the U.S., Lisette Poole, New York Times

Lisette Poole traveled alongside two Cuban women as they migrated to the U.S. on a winding route through 11 different countries. Poole, who has Cuban heritage and lives on the island, writes about the experience, and also how, as U.S.-Cuba relations thawed, Cubans were quietly migrating.

How Cuba’s digital revolutionaries are fighting for change, Alvaro Alvarez, Reha Kansara, and Will Grant, BBC

In this short video, the BBC takes a look into Cuba’s digital revolution through the eyes of an animal rights activist, a gay woman invovled in Cuba’s independent LGBTQ+ march this past spring, and an independent journalist.

Instagram ads for Cuba tourism. Are Facebook and Google breaking the U.S. embargo?, Mario J. Pentón, Miami Herald

In the face of U.S. sanctions and travel restrictions, Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism has run advertisements on Instagram, according to the Miami Herald. After el Nuevo Herald contacted Facebook (which owns Instagram), for comment, the ads were taken down. The U.S.’s Office of Foreign Assets Control declined to comment. The report asserts Cuba was able to evade controls put in place to ensure compliance with  U.S. sanctions regulations because its Facebook and Twitter accounts were created in and are partially run from Argentina.

Fábrica de Arte Cubano nominated for World Travel Awards

Cuba’s Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a cooking oil factory converted into something of a club, bar, cultural center, and art and performance venue wrapped up into one, received its fourth nomination for the World Travel Awards. It has yet to win, although earlier this year the venue was recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Greatest Places in the World 2019.

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.”

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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