U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 01/21/2020

Dear friends,

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Western Union could suspend transfers to Cuba from outside the U.S.

Western Union, the leading company that facilitates remittances to Cuba, is considering ending transfers to the island from countries outside of the U.S., OnCuba reports. According to a Western Union spokeswoman, the possible suspension of services is “due to the unique challenges of operating remittance services from countries outside the United States to Cuba.” Customers in the United States will be able to continue sending money to Cuba through their mobile app, on the company’s website, and in retail stores. 

While remittances to Cuba remain a fundamental source of income for the country, Cuban economist Emilio Morales stated that this change would not have a significant effect on the island’s economy because 90 percent of remittances to Cuba originate from the United States; additionally, Western Union is only one of several companies that offer remittance services to Cuba. In September 2019, the Trump administration imposed a new sanction limiting remittances to $1,000 per person per quarter to “prevent U.S. remittances to Cuba from enriching Cuban regime insiders and their families.”

US sanctions against Cuba keep Europe puzzled; Majorcan hotel chains defy Trump

According to Alberto Navarro, the European Union’s ambassador to Cuba, U.S. sanctions on Cuba, particularly the enactment of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, are increasingly threatening European businesses, Deutsche Welle reports. 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. Since it was enacted, 21 lawsuits have been filed under Title III of Helms-Burton. 

Earlier this month, Spanish hotel chain Meliá announced that the U.S. State Department barred its CEO Gabriel Escarrer from entering the country as a result of the company’s business activities in Cuba under Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act. Title IV of the Helms-Burton 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 had been facing a Title III lawsuit but in January was dismissed as a plaintiff and no longer faces charges. 

Despite demands from the Trump administration to cease commercial relations with Cuba’s state-owned tourism companies, seven Majorcan hotel chains have continued expanding their businesses in Cuba, The Majorcan Daily Bulletin reports. Spanish companies such Meliá, Iberostar, Be Live, Barceló, Roc, Valentín and Blau have all been active in Cuba in recent months, managing over 100 hotels on the island altogether through joint ventures with Cuba’s government. 

A parasite in her eyes was slowly making her blind, but the US turned this immigrant away multiple times; After living in the U.S. for more than half a century, this Cuban activist may be deported

Yodalys, a Cuban native who suffered from a retina-eating parasite that caused her to go blind in one eye and threatened to take her eyesight altogether, waited for months in Mexico after applying for asylum in the U.S, Buzzfeed reports. The treatment she needed for her condition was not available in the Mexican city of Matamoros, where Yodalys was sent to wait for her U.S. court date under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), and Yodalys feared she would go blind before she could reunite with her children and grandchildren in Florida. She was one of more than 59,000 migrants forced to wait in Mexico as a result of MPP, also known as Remain in Mexico. Though U.S. officials have stated that individuals with physical and mental disabilities should not be subject to the Remain in Mexico program, Buzzfeed reports, many of the migrants being forced to wait in Mexico are from these vulnerable populations. 

The number of Cubans migrants seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border is increasing. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) reported 21,499 Cubans arrived at the southwest border without a visa in FY2019, up from 7,079 in FY2018. 2,262 Cubans arrived at the border without visas in the first two months of FY2020. From June to December 2019, as many as 7,700 Cubans were forced to wait in Mexico, often in dangerous conditions, as a result of MPP. 

Deportations of Cubans from the United States are also on the rise. Ramón Saúl Sánchez, a Cuban anti-Castro activist who has lived in the United States since 1967, is one of the Cubans facing the threat of deportation, the Los Angeles Times reports. In 2016, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Sánchez’s request for a green card, which he appealed. Last summer, immigration officials denied his appeal; since then, another appeal request was denied. In FY2019, the Trump administration began deportation proceedings against 25,044 Cubans and ICE reported 1,179 removals of Cubans, an increase over the 463 Cuban removals reported in FY2018.

SUNY Delegation Signs Initial Agreement with Cuban Ministry of Education 

According to a statement, the State University of New York (SUNY) system of public colleges signed an initial agreement with the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education (MES) allowing for new collaborations between SUNY and 22 universities and higher education institutions in Cuba. This is the first agreement of its kind between a U.S. university or university system and the Cuban Ministry of Higher Education. The agreement was reached during a weeklong SUNY delegation to Cuba, during which participants met with Cuban university officials and explored potential opportunities and exchanges between the two university systems. 

Cuban government criticizes U.S. sanctions against Russian company Rosneft

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez rejected U.S. sanctions against Russian oil company Rosneft for on Twitter. He called the restriction a “violation of international law and the universally established trading rules,” and stated that the U.S. had no right to impose sanctions on other entities for trading with Venezuela. This week, the Trump administration announced a new sanction on the Russian oil giant Rosneft for propping up Maduro and “enabling his repression of the Venezuelan people.” In September, Cuba’s government blamed the country’s oil shortages on U.S. sanctions imposed onVenezuelan oil shipments, which the island largely depends on for their supply. Cuba continues to face shortages of fuel and other goods. 

IN CUBA

Cuba promises to pay its overdue debts with the Paris Club; Cuba facing UK court battle over unpaid government debt 

Cuba’s government promised in a letter to the President of the Paris Club that it will pay its 2019 debt payment by May, OnCuba reports. Last week, Reuters reported that Cuba failed to complete the payment of the fourth installment of its restructured debt to the Paris Club nations. The restructuring deal was signed in 2015 to help Cuba reintegrate into the international financial community. As the Trump administration places new sanctions on Cuba and the situation in Venezuela continues, Cuba’s economy is suffering a liquidity crisis and the island faces shortages of fuel and toiletries. 

UK investment firm CRF I Ltd. is suing Cuba’s government and its state-owned Banco Nacional de Cuba in a London court to repay debt that the island had defaulted on three decades ago, Bloomberg reports. CRF holds debt resulting from credits two European banks extended to Cuba’s national bank in 1982 and 1984. After Cuba signed the agreement with Paris Club creditors in 2015, CRF formed the London Club of creditors that sought to create a similar arrangement with the island. However, according to a CRF statement, Cuba has rejected or ignored all London Club offers to date. 

Cuba burning tires to power factory as US oil sanctions bite

As a result of oil shortages on the island, Cuba’s government ordered Cementos Cienfuegos, a cement factory located in the middle of the island, to burn old tires to power its operations, AFP reports. According to Cuban officials, Cementos Cienfuegos will receive an increased supply of old tires to burn with the goal of reducing its oil consumption by five percent. Cuba’s supply of gas and fuel has been unstable since late last year, when the U.S. imposed sanctions on shipping vessels and companies transferring oil from Venezuela to Cuba, but the conditions have recently worsened

App will allow Cubans to access Justice Ministry documents from their phones (SPANISH)

A new mobile application through the island’s Ministry of Justice (MINJUS) will allow Cubans to request criminal records and other legal documents, Juventud Rebelde reports. Requested documents, according to the app, can be collected at the main government offices of provincial capitals and the municipalities of Mayabeque, Artemisa, Camagüey and Havana. The app is called iLexMinjus. 

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Putin accepts invitation to visit Cuba

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has accepted Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s invitation to visit Cuba, according to Andrei Guskov, Russia’s Ambassador to Havana. The acceptance was announced in a statement last Friday by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX). Dates for a visit have yet to be confirmed. Díaz-Canel issued the invitation in an October 2019 visit to Moscow during which he and Putin discussed strengthening economic ties between the two countries. Since 2013, trade between Russia and Cuba has increased by more than twofold. As of 2017, petroleum, vehicle parts, and soybean oil made up the top three imports from Russia. Over the past year, the two countries have also made commitments to strengthen commercial, military, and political ties. Russia is expanding its investments in Cuba as well. Last year Russia made commitments to upgrade Cuba’s railways, develop Cuba’s oil and natural gas in order to decrease reliance on imports, and entered into a construction material joint venture.

Spain and Cuba unite to conserve Colonial forts on the island (SPANISH)

EFE reports that Spanish and Cuban experts will expand their joint efforts to preserve, restore and educate about colonial forts in Cuba. There are a dozen military fortresses preserved around the island which are key to understanding the history of Spain and Cuba. Carmen Fusté, a representative from the International Council on Monuments and Sites, emphasized the importance of such efforts in order to conserve and share these structures with future generations. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Fear and loathing in Havana and Miami, Lillian Guerra, New York Times

University of Florida professor Lillian Guerra penned an opinion piece for The New York Times, analyzing how Cuba’s history continues to shape Cubans on the island and in Florida. 

As Airbnb grows in Cuba, locals suffer the emotional burden of entitled tourists, David Nemer, Salon

University of Virginia professor David Nemer’s article writes about Airbnb in Cuban tourism and its effects on local casa particular owners. 

GALA Hispanic Theatre and Arena Stage amplify Cuban voices with a twofer of plays by Nilo Cruz and Eduardo Machado, Thomas Floyd, Washington Post

The Washington Post’s Thomas Floyd reviews two plays by Cuban-born playwrights currently showing in Washington D.C: “Celia and Fidel” and “Exquisite Agony.”

All About Ana, Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

Ana de Armas sits down with Vanity Fair’s Sloane Crosley to talk about her Cuban roots, her burst into Hollywood fame, and how the two intertwine. 

Gay Cuban man begins new life in DC, Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade

Ray Rodríguez, a gay man from Cuba who was granted asylum in the U.S. last month after waiting on the U.S.-Mexico border, begins his new life in Washington, D.C, the Washington Blade reports

José Iglesias traded a baseball for an Orioles cap in Cuba 21 years ago. Now, he’s their shortstop., Peter Schmuck, Baltimore Sun

José Iglesias was only nine years old when the Baltimore Orioles visited Cuba to play baseball in 1999; in 2020, Iglesias will likely be the Orioles’ starting shortstop.

EVENTS

Washington, D.C.: Celia and Fidel, February 28 – April 12

Imbued with magical realism, Arena Stage’s seventh Power Play imagines a conversation between Cuba’s most influential female revolutionary, Celia Sánchez, and its most notorious political leader, Fidel Castro, in a contest between morality and power.

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. 

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 Cuba’s 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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