U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 01/03/2020

Dear Friends,

Happy new year to each of you. The CDA family wishes you and yours the best for 2020.

For our D.C. readers, don’t miss Cuba’s funk sensation Cimafunk in concert at Washington, D.C.’s Union Stage on Saturday, January 11. Get your tickets now! During his first U.S. tour, he sold out venues in Washington, D.C., Miami, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Brooklyn and Manhattan.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Public designation of Leopoldo Cintra Frias due to involvement in gross violations of human rights

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced the designation of Cuba’s Minister of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), Leopoldo Cintra Frias, 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.” According to a State Department statement accompanying the designation, Cintra Frias “bears responsibility for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela” and that “MINFAR has been involved in gross human rights violations and abuses in Venezuela.”

Cintra Frias is the third 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, and Cuba’s Minister of the Interior, Julio Cesar Gandarilla Bermejo, was designated in November.

Trump readies new sanctions on Cuba; immigration policies likely to remain same in 2020

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Michael Kozak, the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, offers insight into the U.S. administration’s 2020 Cuba policy. According to Kozak, the U.S. will take “more actions aimed at restricting [Cuba’s government’s] sources of income,” and “we’re looking for ways to restrict, restrict, restrict their freedom of action until they change their ways.” He acknowledged, however, that any impact of U.S. efforts to force Cuba to “change their ways… is a hard thing to foresee given their history…” Kozak also stated that the U.S. government intends to further “squeeze” Cuba’s medical missions abroad, a program which the Trump State Department views as a form of human trafficking, and hints that more sanctions could be in store, saying “we have significantly restricted the schedule of the flights there and, again, we continue to look at other ways to tighten up the sources of revenue.”

The Trump administration’s most recent sanctions include halting all commercial air travel outside of Havana, limits to remittances, visa bans for Cuban officials, and sanctions on oil shipments to the island. Read more in CDA’s updated policy memo.

IN CUBA

Cuba names Manuel Marrero Cruz prime minister. He’s the first person to hold that position in 43 years

On December 21, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced the appointment of Cuba’s Minister of Tourism, previously a colonel in the island’s armed forces, Manuel Marrero Cruz, to the position of prime minister, CNN reports. Marrero’s appointment was ratified through a unanimous vote by Cuba’s National Assembly.

The position of prime minister is a newly restored position established in the country’s updated constitution which was ratified in April 2019. Cuba has had 17 prime ministers in its history, the most recent being Fidel Castro prior to 1976 when government positions were restructured. Marrero will serve one five-year term, during which he will be tasked with many of the day-to-day operations of Cuba’s government, such as policy implementation and overseeing Cuba’s Council of Ministers, according to Reuters.

Cuba will approve 107 new laws and decrees by 2028 (Spanish)

In December 2019, Cuba’s government released its legislative calendar detailing legislative action for the next several years, El Toque reports. In total, Cuba’s National Assembly expects to approve 107 new laws and decrees by 2028.

The first package of legislative business items includes discussion of laws to address defense and national security, the law of transparency, a new penal code, and migration-related laws, as well as decrees related to postal service and the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, among others.

According to a text obtained by El Toque Jurídico, the new laws and regulations to be approved during the current legislative session (through 2023) will be derived from the Constitution (40 percent), the Economic and Social Policy Guidelines that were approved during the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 2011 (55.7 percent), and from proposals by Cuban ministries (4.3 percent).

President Miguel Díaz-Canel, in his closing speech addressing the National Assembly in December 2019 acknowledged: “in the coming months and years we must pass new laws and prepare ourselves to legislate on transcendent issues due to their high sensitivity, which includes some that have been a concern for various people, related to gender violence, racism, animal abuse and sexual diversity. ” However, according to the calendar, only those laws and decrees related to animal welfare and sexual diversity will find support in the work of this and the following legislative sessions. The Family Code, which is expected to consider the issue of same-sex marriage, will be presented by the Ministry of Justice in March 2021 and discussed in the National Assembly in December of that year in order to give shape to the project that will be brought to a popular referendum in 2022.

In a recent tweet thread regarding the legislative calendar, Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University, questions why, “if the island is in the midst of an economic crisis, arguably the most important ECONOMIC measure listed here—the much anticipated Ley de Empresas [Business Law], which *might* give personalidad jurídica [legal standing] to PYMES [small and medium-sized enterprises]—is not slated until 2022.”

Cuba to study withdrawing subsidized food to residents abroad

This Friday, Cuba approved a proposal to study the use of the country’s ration booklets, OnCuba reports. Specifically, authorities will examine instances when a friend or relative is given a ration book of someone who has migrated and “consume[s] or sell[s] [the extra products] to increase their income.” Cuba introduced the ration book in 1962 and included in it subsidies for food and other basic necessities. Today, it includes subsidies for basic food items such as rice, eggs, and bread. The booklet and accompanying subsidies are costly for Cuba’s government and abuses of the system draw criticism from some for contributing to the underground market and inequality.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Canadian visits to Cuba climbing ever higher

According to Cuba’s Tourist Board, Canadian visitors to the island increased from 2018 to 2019, Travel Pulse Canada reports. In 2019 Cuba welcomed over one million Canadian visitors, exceeding 2018 numbers by 112,144. Meanwhile, the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba, and overall tourism numbers, declined in 2019.

Spain to open a consulate in Camagüey, its second in Cuba

Spain’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it will open a second Spanish consulate in Cuba, located in the city of Camagüey, OnCuba reports. Spain’s existing consulate is located in Havana. The country is adding the additional consulate due to large numbers of expatriate Spaniards, as well as to make the system more efficient for tourists and businesspeople.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Bipartisan consensus on Venezuela talks, Emily Mendrala, The Hill

Just before the new year, the U.S. Congress passed bipartisan legislation expressing congressional support for a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis, writes CDA’s Emily Mendrala in this op-ed in The Hill. The legislation directs the Trump administration to strive, with urgency, for the success of talks between Venezuelan actors as the first best option.

“It may seem mundane for Congress to assert that negotiations “represent the best opportunity to reach a solution to the Venezuelan crisis,” but the statement in the bill is meaningful because it is a dramatic departure from the warmongering tweets and saber-rattling provocations, which only months ago characterized the congressional debate on Venezuela.”

Russia fills the void in Cuba left by tougher U.S. embargo, Marc Frank, Financial Times

Cuba-Russia trade increased by 34 percent in 2018; Russian tourists increased by 20 percent from 2018 to 2019; Russia assisted Cuba in the restoration of the island’s capitol building dome; Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Russia twice last year; and Russia’s president expressed interest in a visit to the island. In the Financial Times, Marc Frank reports on how Russia is drawing closer to Cuba in the absence of U.S. presence. Russia likely views the island as “a useful place to show global power muscle at little cost” according to Bert Hoffman, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, and it is making an effort to strengthen ties that go beyond mere economic ones.

Quiet docks, empty streets … Cubans count the cost as tourists stay away, Carrie Gibson, The Guardian

Cuba saw a drop in U.S. travelers, as well as overall tourism numbers in 2019. The author reports on the effect of the decline on Cubans and their businesses, the Cuban economy, which faces the particularly difficult challenge of uniting its dual-currencies, and on Cuba’s new president two years into his term.

Cuban ride-hailing app creators tout benefits for U.S. travelers amid new travel ban, Orlando Matos and Carmen Sesin, NBC News

The Cuban entrepreneurs who created the Uber-like app “Sube” see their app as an easy way for U.S. travelers to get around the island. The young entrepreneurs allow U.S. travelers to book rides from the U.S. with a credit card, a form of payment that, for the most part, can’t be used in Cuba. Riders can also reserve a car to pick them up at Havana’s airport and drive them to provinces five or six hours away.

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

Cuban Sensation Cimafunk Returns to DC, January 11, Union Stage

Cimafunk returns to D.C. again after his 2019 debut for a performance at Union Stage. Cimafunk’s “El Potaje” was recently featured as number six on NPR’s “Top 25 Songs of 2019” and Billboard’s “10 Latin Artists to Watch in 2019.” The Afro-Cuban funk sensation has garnered fans across the world and performed at sold-out shows from Miami to New York.

La Clemenza de Tito (The Clemency of Titus) with Havana Lyceum Orchestra, February 13 – 15,, The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Cuba’s award winning Havana Lyceum Orchestra and renowned Latin American theater director Carlos Diaz will perform a Cuban adaptation of Mozart’s opera La Clemenza di Tito at the Kennedy Center in February.

Contact info@democracyinamericas.org for ticket promotions!

Arte Cubano, October 2019-February 20, 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, 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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