U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 01/10/2020

 Dear Friends,

For our D.C. readers, don’t miss Cuba’s funk sensation Cimafunk in concert at Washington, D.C.’s Union Stage this Saturday, January 11! Tickets are still available. 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

United States Further Restricts Air Travel to Cuba

On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is suspending public charter flights from the U.S. to all Cuban destinations other than the José Martí International Airport in Havana. This change will affect nine Cuban airports that are currently receiving U.S. public charter flights; the companies operating public charter flights will have a 60-day period to end all affected flights. The DOT will also issue an order to cap the number of U.S. public charter flights permitted to fly into Havana. The new regulations are intended to further restrict U.S. dollars from going to Cuba’s government to “finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.”

CDA, along with Engage Cuba, the Cuba Study Group, Oxfam, WOLA, and the Latin American Working Group, issued a statement condemning the action. CDA’s Emily Mendrala said, “Today’s State Department actions force Cuban families to travel further, pay more, and take convoluted routes to see their loved ones, while also bringing us one step closer to closing the door to Cuba altogether. These senseless and mean-spirited policies are unlikely to change the Cuban government’s behavior or force a new approach to Venezuela, and, if anything, create resentment among the Cuban people. But the policies will have a practical impact — an unfortunate one. The charter companies losing money are U.S. businesses. The passengers are largely Cuban families, U.S. church groups, and academics. The Cuban communities connected to U.S. travelers by these flights are remote and poorer than those in Havana. They are the losers of today’s announcement. The strategy of sanctions and isolation didn’t work 60 years ago and it’s unlikely to work today.” The full statement can be found here.

U.S. judge dismisses a Cuba lawsuit against MSC cruises; Norwegian Cruise Line Dodges Suit Over Use Of Cuban Dock

On January 6, a Miami federal judge dismissed a Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act) Title III lawsuit filed by Havana Docks Corp. against MSC Cruises, Seatrade Cruise News reports. On January 7, the same judge dismissed an additional Title III lawsuit filed by Havana Docks Corp. against Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, passed in 1996, but first implemented in May 2019, allows for suits against entities doing business in Cuba that are profiting off of land expropriated after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Havana Docks Corp. sued MSC Cruises SA and MSC Cruises USA, as well as Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act in September 2019 regarding a waterfront property that had been nationalized after the Cuban revolution. The plaintiff’s lease on the property hypothetically would have expired in 2004 if the property had not been confiscated in 1960. Since Norwegian and MSC Cruises USA both began using the cruise terminal after the 2004 expiration date, the judge dismissed both cases. However, some analysts assess the dismissal could be appealed. Havana Docks Corp. is the defendant in two additional pending Title III lawsuits. Presiding over the case was federal judge Judge Beth Bloom of Miami, who allowed a separate Title III lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Line to advance in the courts in a September ruling.

Since the implementation of Title III in May 2019, the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council catalogues that 20 lawsuits have been filed, including suits against several cruise lines and airlines, travel booking sites, the Spanish Meliáa hotel chain, and Amazon.

Cuba rejects U.S. sanctions against Cuban Armed Forces Minister

On January 2 on Twitter, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez condemned the U.S. State Department’s designation of Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Cuba’s Minister of the Armed Forces, and confirmed Cuba’s “unwavering solidarity” with Venezuela. “I strongly reject the decision of the State Department to prohibit the entry into the U.S. of the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, a measure without any practical effect, threatening and slanderous,” Rodríguez tweeted.

Earlier on January 2, the U.S. State Department announced the designation of  Leopoldo Cintra Frias, Cuba’s Minister of the Armed Forces (MINFAR), barring him and his immediate family members from entering the United States, citing his “responsibility for Cuba’s actions to prop up the former Maduro regime in Venezuela.”

Top prospect Oscar Colas defects from Cuba and will seek MLB contract

Cuban baseball player Oscar Colas, considered one of the most talented players in the world not signed to Major League Baseball (MLB), has defected from Cuba and will look to sign with a big league team, and eventually MLB, CBS Sports reports. Before being signed to MLB, Colas must establish residency in a third country and be approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), a process that could take months. Last April, the Trump administration canceled a deal that would have allowed the MLB to directly sign Cuban baseball players residing in Cuba, rather than signing only those who had defected and established residency elsewhere. When the agreement was announced in December 2018, it was celebrated by the players themselves, who cheered that Cuban players would have no longer been subjected to exploitation by smugglers and traffickers who have preyed upon Cuban defectors in the past. The Trump administration canceled the deal in April 2019, claiming that the Cuban Baseball Federation is part of Cuba’s government, making the payments illegal due to U.S. sanctions that prohibit such transactions.

Elliot Abrams: U.S. ‘underestimated’ the importance of Russia and Cuba to Maduro

U.S. Special envoy to Venezuela Elliot Abrams told reporters on Monday that the U.S. underestimated Russia and Cuba’s roles in propping up the Maduro regime in Venezuela, Bloomberg reports. According to Abrams, Cuba and Russia have remained “the two most important pillars of support” for the Venezuelan regime. The Trump administration, which criticizes Cuba for its support of Maduro, has often used Cuba’s close relationship with Venezuela as justification for new sanctions. However, as Reuters reported several months ago,  the efficacy of the Administration’s policies remains questionable, as Cuba has not signalled that they will end their support for Maduro.

Coast Guard captures 9 Cuban migrants at sea near the Florida Keys

On Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard captured nine Cuban migrants near the Florida Keys, Miami Herald reports. While eight of them were repatriated to Cuba, one was given to Customs and Border Control for advanced medical care. Since October 1, 2019, approximately 52 Cubans have attempted to reach the U.S. by sea.

On January 12, 2017, the Obama administration ended the U.S.’s Wet-foot Dry-foot immigration policy for Cubans. The policy allowed Cubans who reached the U.S. (dry-foot) to be paroled in and access a path toward citizenship under the Cuban Adjustment Act. Those apprehended at sea (wet-foot) were returned to Cuba. Following the policy’s termination, maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased almost immediately.

However, the number of Cuban migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border has increased considerably in recent years. In the fall of 2017, following still-unexplained health incidents, the U.S. Embassy withdrew most staff and halted all consular services. With the halt to consular services, the U.S. government failed to meet its agreement under the 1994/1995 U.S.-Cuba migration accords to issue 20,000 immigrant visas. In FY2019, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported 21,499 Cuban “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.

IN CUBA

ETECSA lowers internet price in Wi-Fi areas in Cuba

As of January 4th, ETECSA, Cuba’s state monopoly telecommunications agency, has lowered the price of internet surfing in Wi-Fi areas on the island from 1 CUC (Cuban convertible peso) per hour (roughly equivalent to $1 per hour) to 0.70 CUC per hour, OnCuba reports. This new measure, however, does not apply to mobile data. 3G and 4G packages continue to be offered at rates that can be high for average Cubans.

Since the arrival of private in-home wifi and 3G/4G services, the Cuban public has pushed back against high internet prices, most notably with the viral hashtag “#BajenLosPreciosdeInternet” which flooded Twitter last June. The hashtag urged Cuban officials to lower the prices of 3G/4G packages, the cheapest of which, as the Washington Post reports, cost 15 percent of the median monthly salary on the island.

Cuba: more than 620,000 visits by Cubans living abroad in 2019

During 2019, Cuba registered more than 620,000 visits of Cubans living outside the island, according to a tweet by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez. Rodríguez stated that these numbers confirm the “strengthening of Cuba’s ties with its nationals abroad.” New restrictions by the Trump administration, including ending regular flights to provinces other than Havana, will likely have an impact on the 2020 statistics of visitors to the island, as Cuban visitors from the U.S. make up a large number of these visits.

In 2018, more than 585,600 Cubans living abroad visited the island, according to Miami Herald, which was a 17 percent increase from 2017.

Cuba registered in 2019 its highest annual mean temperature in almost seven decades

According to Prensa Latina , Cuba’s recorded average temperatures in 2019 are the highest registered since 1951. In summer months, average temperatures reached 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit). Cuba also recorded 33 record new high temperatures, including 39.1 degrees Celsius (about 102 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the highest-ever recorded on the island since records have been kept.

New capped prices for private taxis in Havana

The maximum price that private taxis in Havana may charge per passenger will be capped at 10 Cuban national pesos (CUP), except for some longer distance trips, OnCuba reports. While these new provisions allow taxi drivers to set their own charges for their transportation services, the prices must be based on the limits approved by local authorities. Once the proposal comes into effect, which will occur once the approval process is concluded in the Provincial Administration Council, drivers who charge above these prices could lose their operating license.

In December 2018, Cuba announced a new set of regulations on taxi services to take effect in January 2019. The regulations, among other restrictions, placed a cap on the prices drivers could charge. In response to the announced regulations drivers staged strikes and some handed in their licenses.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and China to open biotechnological innovative center

In February, Cuba and China will open a biotechnological innovation center located in the providence of Hunan in the central region of China, OnCuba reports. The new center is a product of bilateral cooperation between the two countries and will focus on developing 100 percent Cuban projects, according to Cuba’s embassy in Beijing. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, referred to Chinese innovation as an “essential component” of development in Cuba. China remains one of Cuba’s greatest political allies and trading partners.

Peking Opera Gala to mark 60 years of China-Cuba ties

On January 10-11, Peking Opera will perform at the National Theater of Cuba in Havana to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties between China and Cuba, Xinhua News Agency, China’s state news agency, reports. The gala, which is co-hosted by Cuba’s Ministry of Culture and the Chinese embassy in Havana, will include 20 Chinese artists who will perform traditional music and dance from their country. Cuba first established diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1960, becoming the first Latin American country to do so, and have maintained strong relations since.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba’s Santeria priests offer some solace as country faces another tough year, Nelson Acosta, Reuters

Reuters reports that after facing another year of U.S. sanctions, government austerity measures, and material shortages, priests from the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria have offered guidance and comfort to their followers in their annual prophecies regarding the new year. According to these priests, 2020 will be under the divinity of Oshun, the Yoruba goddess associated with beauty, purity, fertility, love, and sensuality. As the Trump administration threatens more sanctions and Cuban officials warn austerity measures will remain in place, Santeria religious leaders recommended tolerance, patience, and good behavior in the new year.

The facade of LGBTQ progress in Cuba, Jonathan Bertucchi, Daily Xtra

According to Jonathan Bertucchi, Cuba has seen improvements in LGBTQ rights in recent years, from allowing gender affirming surgeries beginning in 2008, to the education efforts of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, headed by Raúl Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro. The island even considered including an article in its new constitution that would open the door to same sex marriage, however, this article did not appear in the final draft due to evangelical opposition. Bertucchi concludes that despite improvements for LGBTQ rights in government stance and law, social acceptance on the island has been a slower process.

EVENTS

IN THE U.S.

Cuban sensation Cimafunk returns to DC, January 11, Union Stage, Washington, D.C.

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.

D.C. Metro Coalition for Cuba evening of community engagement, January 11, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.

The D.C. Metro Coalition for Cuba will hold a community event in support of ending the U.S. embargo on Cuba, U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions, and other issues of interest.

La Clemenza ide 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). Read more here.

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.

Peking Opera Gala to mark 60 years of China-Cuba ties, January 10-11, National Theater of Cuba, Havana

Peking Opera will perform at the National Theater of Cuba in Havana to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties between China and Cuba, Xinhua News Agency, China’s state news agency, reports. The gala, which is co-hosted by Cuba’s Ministry of Culture and the Chinese embassy in Havana, will include 20 Chinese artists who will perform traditional music and dance from their country. Cuba first established diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China in 1960, becoming the first Latin American country to do so, and have maintained strong relations since.

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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