U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/07/2020

Dear Friends,

For those of you in 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 between February 13 and 15. Contact info@democracyinamericas.org for ticket promotions!

This week in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Miami sees a return to Cold War cultural hard line on Cuba; Trump bashes Obama’s Cuba policy; Trump Panders to Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans While He Deports and Detains Them

As the Trump administration continues to place more sanctions on Cuba, there are signs that some in the Cuban-American community in Miami once again favor a more isolationist and hardline stance toward the island as well, the Associated Press (AP) reports. Polling in recent years suggested that many Cuban Americans did not support the embargo on the island, particularly the younger generation. According to a 2018 Florida International University poll, 65 percent of Cuban Americans ages 18 to 39 in Miami Dade county opposed the continuation of the embargo. However, according to AP, the Trump administration’s efforts to reverse policies of engagement and impose sanctions resonate with some activists who still seek to punish the island’s government and bring about regime change. Recently, several Cuban artists–many of whom still live and perform on the island–such as reggaeton group Gente de Zona and singer Haila Mompié, have been barred from performing in concerts in Miami. AP reports that YouTube personality Alex Otaola “organized boycotts” to ban the groups based on their alleged ties to Cuba’s government. 

During the State of the Union address on February 4, President Trump criticized former President Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba, stating that, as a way of “standing up for freedom in our hemisphere,” he reversed the “failing policies” of the previous Administration, The Hill reports. While Trump claims his policies toward the region support the Cuban and Venezuelan people, Venezuelans and Cubans across the U.S. are facing deportation, Mother Jones reports. Additionally, the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, have forced 60,000 asylum seekers to spend months waiting in insecure border cities, including 7,700 Cubans and 2,000 Venezuelans as of December 2019. The U.S.-Mexico border has seen a recent spike in Cuban arrivals. In FY2019, 21,499 Cubans arrived without a visa, up 200 percent from FY2018. CBP recorded 2,262 Cubans without visas arriving at the southwest border in the first two months of FY2020. 

Spanish CEO barred from US over his company’s Cuba interests 

Gabriel Escarrer, the CEO of Meliá Hotels International S.A, a Spanish hotel chain with hotel properties in Cuba, confirmed that he is barred from entering the United States, the Associated Press reports. According to a statement from Meliá, Escarrer received a letter from the U.S. State Department in October 2019 informing the company that if it did not comply with certain conditions relating to their business interests in Cuba, Escarrer would be barred from entering the U.S. under Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act. Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act, also known as the Libertad Act, allows the Secretary of State to deny entry to the U.S. to any non-citizen who the Secretary of State determines is trafficking in confiscated property in Cuba to which a U.S. national has a claim. Meliá’s statement also suggests that more than 50 other companies have received similar letters from the U.S. State Department regarding their activity in Cuba. 

In May 2019, the Trump administration enacted Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows for lawsuits to be filed against entities doing business in Cuba that are profiting off of land expropriated after the 1959 Cuban revolution. A lawsuit filed against Meliá on June 18, 2019 by Mata et al. is one of 21 suits filed under Title III of Helms-Burton. In the statement released on February 5, Meliá accused the Helms-Burton Act of violating basic principles of international law and stated that the company will seek the support of the European Union and the Spanish government in disputing the State Department’s decision in the courts. 

IN CUBA

Cuba to sell cars in tradeable currency as dollarization gains pace 

On Thursday, Cuba’s government announced the next step in a gradual dollarization of its retail sector; this month, the government will begin selling cars in tradable currencies rather than convertible Cuban pesos, Reuters reports. Cuba’s economy is in the midst of a liquidity crisis which can partly be attributed to increasing U.S. sanctions and the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. In October 2019, the island’s government began an effort to dollarize much of its retail sector to combat this crisis, and has recently opened 80 “dollar stores.” Dollar stores sell products manufactured abroad in tradable currencies, such as home appliances and car parts. The island will open more dollar stores with an expanded range of products in 2020, according to Iset Maritza Vázquez Brizuela, the First Vice President of Cuba’s largest commercial corporation CIMEX. Food and basic household items, however, will continue to be sold in convertible pesos (CUC) and the local Cuban peso (CUP). 

As a result of the country’s economic struggles, Cuba’s government has made an effort to unify its two currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated last week that monetary and exchange rate unification will help to stabilize the island’s economy. Although retail activity has largely been conducted in CUCs since 2004, Cuba’s government banned the import of CUCs in November 2019 and many retailers on the island began offering change only in CUP. 

Cuba’s telecom company makes new resolutions in 2020

Cuba’s state telecommunications company, ETECSA, has plans to activate 200,000 new mobile lines along with 634,000 new mobile internet connections, Prensa Latina reports. According to ETECSA’s President Mayra Arevich, ETECSA currently supports more than six million active phone lines and connects over 143,000 homes to the internet in Cuba. In addition to the promised mobile plan expansion, the telecommunications monopoly has set a goal of installing internet in 20,000 new homes this year. At the same meeting, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel emphasized the importance of focusing on Cuban-made technology as the country’s telecommunications industry progresses. 

Last month, ETECSA lowered the price of internet surfing in Wi-fi areas, but these price decreases did not apply to mobile data. In-home wifi as well as 3G and 4G packages remain expensive for the Cuban public, who have spoken out against high internet prices. Last June, the hashtag #BajenLosPreciosDeInternet [Reduce Internet Prices] flooded Twitter, urging Cuban officials to lower prices of 3G/4G packages. The cheapest of these packages costs 15 percent of the median monthly salary on the island, according to the Washington Post.

Earthquake damaged buildings in Cuba were in “poor condition”

According to Cuba’s state-run media Granma, a number of buildings in Cuba were damaged in last week’s earthquake that struck in the Caribbean Sea south of the island, OnCuba reports. Though Cuba’s government initially reported no resulting damage, subsequent reports confirmed the total collapse of a house, as well as damage to other houses, schools, and agricultural facilities, mainly in the southeast province of Granma. Dr. Darío Candebat, head of Cuba’s Seismic Engineering Group of the National Center for Seismological Research, told the media that after inspection, it became clear that those buildings which sustained damage had been constructed poorly or had already been in bad condition. According to Dr. Candebat, the buildings in Granma province that were structurally sound before the earthquake “suffered no damage.”

Cuban governors to take office on February 8

On January 18, Cuba’s Municipal Assemblies of People’s Power elected new governors and lieutenant governors, state-run media Granma reported. On Saturday, February 8, those new governors will take office. On the same day, People’s Power Provincial Assemblies will cease to exist and be replaced by Provincial Councils which will include the lieutenant governors as members and be overseen by the Provincial Governors.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Families divided between Cuba and Canada due to immigration procedures

Like U.S. families, Canadian families have also been affected by the lack of consular services at Canada’s embassy in Havana, OnCuba reports. In January 2019, Canada decided to reduce its diplomatic staff at their embassy in the Cuban capital as a result of unexplained injuries reported by the Canadian officials working there. As a result of reduced personnel, the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada announced last May that they were reducing services and programs at their Havana embassy, including cutting visa services and canceling permanent residence interviews. Since then, while some visa services have been restored, a backlog of immigration and visa applications has left many Cubans and their loved ones in Canada in limbo. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

María Teresa Vera’s 125th Birthday

Google’s homepage came alive with a celebratory doodle depicting Cuban musician María Teresa Vera on Thursday, February 6. The “Grande Dame of Cuban music” was born 125 years ago in Guanajay, Cuba, and spent her life composing and performing popular trova (Cuban folk music) with the other Cuban “troubadour” musicians of the early to mid-1900s. Vera inspired generations of Cuban musicians, including Omara Portuondo, who picked Vera’s song, “Veinte Años,” for her showcase on Buena Vista Social Club

Cuba’s Havana Club rum faced with gauntlet of US sanctions, AFP 

U.S. sanctions pose a challenge for producers of Cuba’s Havana Club rum, but despite these obstacles, the company still continues to export its products around the world, AFP reports. Sergio Valdes, the development director of Havana Club International, revealed that U.S. sanctions often limit the company’s ability to import necessary items for production, such as cases, bottles, labels, and cork. These challenges, Valdes stated, have been exacerbated by the Trump administration’s tightening of the U.S. embargo. Rum continues to be an important export for Cuba; in 2018, the country exported $136 million USD worth of rum exports to 126 countries. 

X Alfonso Is A Cuban Hip-Hop Pioneer Still Making Vibrant Music, Felix Contreras, NPR 

X Alfonso, the popular Cuban-born hip-hop artist, will release his second album this September. Alfonso rose to fame with his first album, Moré, released in 2001. On February 2, NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday podcast shared this sneak peek of three of the artist’s new singles.  

EVENTS

(insert pin) Washington, D.C.: La Clemenza de Tito (The Clemency of Titus) with Havana Lyceum Orchestra

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 between February 13 and 15. 

Contact info@democracyinamericas.org for ticket promotions!

(insert pin) New York, NY: Cuba and Beyond Series

Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies is holding a series of conferences on Cuba between February 6 and April 21. CDA’s Director of Programs María José Espinosa Carrillo will speak at the “Cuban Civil Society: What is its role?” conference on March 10. 

(insert pin) New York, NY: Arte Cubano

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.” The exhibit will be open between October 2019 and February 20, 2020 at Queens College in New York.

(insert pin) Havana, Cuba: The 4th Nation and Emigration Conference

The Nation and Emigration Conference will be held in Havana, from April 8 to the 10th, 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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