U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/14/2020

Dear Friends,

To our DC-based friends, don’t miss your chance to see La Clemenza de Tito (The Clemency of Titus) with Havana Lyceum Orchestra at the Kennedy Center Friday and Saturday night. 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 from February 13 to 15. 

This week, in Cuba News…


Caravan today in Miami to protest suspension of flights to Cuba; It’s a struggle to keep anti-Castro fires 

Amid reports that some Cuban Americans in Florida once again favor a more hardline approach to U.S.-Cuba policy, other Cuban Americans are making their voices heard in opposition to recent sanctions and in support of engagement with Cuba. On February 8, a caravan of cars passed through the streets of Calle Ocho in Miami in protest of restrictions on travel to Cuba, calling for the Trump administration to restore flights to the island, OnCuba reports. The caravan was organized by Alianza Martiana, a group based in Miami that promotes U.S. engagement with Cuba. Max Lesnik, president of Alianza Martiana, was a friend of Fidel Castro’s who, according to Reuters, “helped…Castro seize power” in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, but later disavowed communism and fled to exile in Miami where he founded the Magazine Replica. In Miami, he and his magazine came under aggressive attack from other Cuban exiles. Lesnik supported the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with Cuba. This week, Lesnik told reporters that traveling to Cuba and visiting family are “human rights.” The caravan protest occurred in light of the Trump administration’s increased sanctions on U.S. travel to Cuba. In October 2019, the U.S. State Department announced a ban on all commercial flights to Cuba except those to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport. In January 2019, the Trump administration further restricted U.S. travel to Cuba by ending public charter flights to all Cuban cities except Havana. 

On February 10, two days after the caravan protest in Miami, the Tampa Bay Times reported that membership in the La Casa de Cuba de Tampa, an organization that stridently opposes engagement with Cuba’s government, has dwindled in recent years. La Casa Cuba de Tampa, which has been registered as a non-profit corporation since 1993, has a stated mission of “promoting democracy and freedom in a Cuba free from communism.” While membership reached 500 members two decades ago, current numbers have dropped to around 100 members. 

On February 13, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted that U.S. President Donald Trump’s sanctions on Cuba will not better his chances in winning the Cuban American vote in the 2020 elections, and that President Trump is poorly advised. Florida International University Professor Michael Bustamante reacted to Rodríguez’s tweet, saying that Cuba’s Foreign Minister should not be so confident that Cuban Americans won’t vote for Trump. According to a 2018 FIU Cuba poll, support for the Cuban embargo ticked up among pre-1980 migrants, and the Cuban-American community overwhelmingly supported Republican candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. 

U.S. wrestlers compete in Cuba despite frayed relations; Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, visits Cuba

Despite tense relations between the U.S. and Cuba, sports and religion continue to serve as a point of connection. Two dozen U.S. athletes competed in a wrestling competition in Cuba this week, the Associated Press reports. Robby Smith, s U.S.-based wrestler who competed in the competition, said to reporters that, “sports gets rid of all [the political issues]. It’s a peaceful thing. It’s not political.” Manuel Rodríguez, a Cuban wrestler, similarly commented, “Trump can have those policies, but we are always going to receive all those athletes who want to come and compete with us.” 

Also this week, the Catholic Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan is also visiting the island, OnCuba reports. Archbishop Dolan, who arrived on the island last Friday and has since participated in masses in Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey, was invited to visit the island by Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel.  The archbishop said in a statement that he is “moved by the grandeur of the country, the warmth of the folks, and the earnestness of the government to be respected neighbors to us here.”

A Cuban asylum seeker followed all the rules. Five months on, he remains detained by ICE.

As a result of the Trump Administration’s current immigration policies, migrants seeking asylum on the U.S.-Mexico border are facing detention without parole, according to the Kansas City Star. As a result, fewer migrants are being released into the United States while they pursue asylum claims, and more are being held in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border for extended periods of time. The El Paso Times spoke to Ariel Guzman, a Cuban immigrant to the United States who has been held in a detention center near El Paso for over four months now. 


Cuba fails to make payment in key debt accord, sources say

Last year, Cuba failed to complete the payment of the fourth installment of its restructured debt to the Paris Club nations, potentially jeopardizing Cuba’s 2015 deal with the 14 wealthy creditor nations, Reuters reports. The restructuring deal was signed in 2015 and was considered to be a measure that would help Cuba reintegrate into the international financial community. Cuba initially owed the Paris Club nations $11.1 billion, but negotiated the amount down $8.5 billion. As of 2019, the country owed $2.6 billion to the 14 nations by 2033. Since 2015, Cuba has faithfully paid its annual installments until last year. According to the diplomats who spoke to Reuters, when he met with creditors in Paris last month, Cuban debt negotiator Ricardo Cabrisas blamed the country’s inability to complete payments on U.S. sanctions. Cuba’s economy has also suffered as a result of the crisis in Venezuela, a key ally and oil producer. 

Crisis and lines for fuel and toiletries throughout Cuba; Cuban government denies there won’t be toiletries until April

Cuba is facing more fuel shortages, leading to long lines at gas stations around the island, in addition to shortages of basic toiletries, OnCuba reports. Cuba’s supply of gas and fuel has been unstable since the U.S. announced further sanctions on shipping companies preventing the arrival of fuel exports to Cuba in September, but, according to OnCuba, the conditions have worsened since last week. Cuban gas stations limit the supply of fuel for private individuals who pay in cash and reserve the rest for state vehicles and others with prepaid cards. OnCuba reports that these shortages are especially affecting the eastern part of the island, in particular, Santiago de Cuba. 

In addition to fuel shortages, the worsening economic conditions in Cuba have also caused shortages in other supplies such as toiletries and cleaning supplies. Cuba’s government announced it would give priority to fuel and food purchases over other items like toiletries. In a February 8 press release, Cuba’s government clarified an earlier comment made by its Minister of Domestic Trade, Betsy Díaz, about the supply of basic toiletries on the island, OnCuba reports. While certain Twitter users initially claimed that Díaz had announced that Cuba would not have toiletries until April due to economic constraints, the press release clarified Díaz’s statement, saying that demand for certain hygienic products will not be met by a stable supply for the time being; however, according to the press release, the issue should be resolved by April.

Cuban fishermen will need authorization as of May

In May, Cuba’s new law governing fishing practices will go into effect, OnCuba reports. The law requires fishermen in Cuba’s rivers, reservoirs, and maritime waters to obtain an official license to fish for one of four approved reasons: commercial, sport, recreation, or research. New fees will apply to those with fishing boats–100 CUP per year for owners of motorboats and 50 CUP for the owners of rowboats and sailboats. Those fishing from the shoreline or without “floating means” will be exempt. The law will also restrict species and areas which can be fished by those with each type of license. 

Cuba passed the new law imposing regulations on the fishing industry last July as a result of a dramatic drop in fish stocks due to overfishing and environmental factors, Reuters reported in August. Illegal fishing and overfishing has impacted the industry and shrunk the already miniscule fish market on the island. Much of what is caught in Cuba is exported, and government restrictions that permit private fishermen to sell only to the state pose difficulties. For these reasons, seafood consumption on the island is very low when compared to global figures. 

Video: Cuban police officers confront angry mob in Santiago de Cuba 

A recent viral video taken in Santiago de Cuba shows a confrontation between police and residents in a city square, the Miami Herald reports. The incident reportedly occurred when community members in the Agüero and José Martí District neighborhoods attacked a man who allegedly raped a young girl. Police intervened to prevent community residents from carrying out extrajudicial justice and to escort the alleged rapist away from the crowd.   


Venezuela’s PDVSA steps up fuel shipments to Cuba as shortages bite

As U.S. sanctions lead to more fuel shortages in Cuba, Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA has ramped up oil shipments to the island, Reuters reports. PDVSA’s exports to Cuba decreased to just 56,600 barrels per day (bpd) in January, but so far this month, average shipments amount to 173,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to Refinitiv Eikon data and PDVSA’s documents. Sanctions imposed by the Trump administration last year on PDVSA and other shipping companies have prevented the arrival of fuel exports to Cuba. In January, Venezuela committed to restoring its oil supply to Cuba as part of the country’s plan to relaunch its PetroCaribe regional oil supply initiative. PetroCaribe was founded in 2005 by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to supply subsidized oil to 16 Caribbean and Central American countries; however, Venezuelan oil exports to Cuba and other member countries have fallen since 2015. 

Bolivia’s Evo Morales heads to Cuba for medical treatment

Bolivia’s ex-president Evo Morales left Argentina on February 9 to travel to Cuba for medical treatment, Reuters reports. Morales originally fled to Argentina as a political exile after resigning from office in November after a series of protests. According to Morales’ spokesman, he will return to Argentina this weekend after receiving treatment. Previously in December 2019, one month after fleeing Bolivia, Morales traveled to Cuba for a medical appointment before settling in Argentina. 


Trump puts Cuban doctors in firing line as heat turned up on island economy, Peter Beaumont and Ed Augustin, The Guardian

Peter Beaumont and Ed Augustin explore the ramifications of the expulsion of Cuban doctors from countries around the hemisphere as the program comes under fire from the Trump administration. 

Thought you couldn’t legally tour Cuba as an American? You can, and I did, Kristan Schiller, CNN

Despite increasing travel restrictions from the Trump administration, U.S.-Cuba trips are still possible. Journalist Kristan Schiller explains how U.S. citizens can still travel to the island. 


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

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 from February 13 to 15. 

Contact info@democracyinamericas.org for ticket promotions!

New York, NY: Cuba and Beyond Series, February 6-April 21 

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. 

New York, NY: Arte Cubano, now through February 20, 2020

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.

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

The Nation and Emigration Conference will be held in Havana from April 8 to 10. 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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