U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 03/20/2020

Dear Friends,

First thing’s first: From all of us at CDA, we hope you are safe, healthy, and hopeful in these trying times. Be kind to one another, practice social distancing (Quédate en casa), stay safe, and stay positive.

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This week, in Cuba news…


Last week, Cuba announced its first four cases of the novel coronavirus, three Italian tourists and one Cuban in Santa Clara. This week, as in many other countries around the world, cases continued to increase. At the time of publication, Cuba had 16 confirmed cases on the island—one American, three Italians, and seven Cubans. Cuba is also isolating 523 foreigners and Cubans, including some Americans, for observation in Cuban hospitals, the Miami Herald reports.

On Wednesday, Cuba announced its first novel coronavirus-related death, a 61-year-old Italian national with a history of asthma. The man tested positive for the virus last week and passed away at Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine where he was receiving treatment. On Friday, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, tweeted that an American who tested positive for the virus had been evacuated with his wife. In an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus, Cuba has cancelled national sports events until April 30, as well as large national and international artistic events and performances that involve high volumes of people congregating, including concerts, dances, and films in theaters. Although the island has not closed its borders and continues to promote tourism, it is reportedly screening travelers upon arrival. Some state and private stores and businesses have closed in order to prevent the spread of the virus, including Fábrica de arte Cubano, Clandestina, Paladar La Guarida, and others. On Tuesday, Cuba’s state-television program, Mesa Redonda, hosted experts from Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health who discussed the measures Cuba is taking to prevent the spread of the virus. On Friday, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, and other officials will be featured on the program to discuss the virus. Cuban artist “Ariel de Cuba” recently released a song “Quédate en casa” (stay at home) to encourage Cubans to protect themselves against the virus’s spread.


Cuba allows British ship with confirmed novel coronavirus cases to dock

On Wednesday, a British cruise ship with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus onboard was allowed to dock at Cuba’s Port of Mariel after being refused by several other Caribbean countries, Reuters reports. The ship had also requested help from the U.S. according to The Independent. After docking, passengers were flown on four charter airline flights from Cuba’s José Martí International Airport to Britain. The ship had five positive cases and at least some 20 additional passengers and crew members who were symptomatic, isolated onboard, according to the cruise operator, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. Previously, the ship was turned away at a port in the Dominican Republic due to symptomatic passengers, though Curaçao allowed it to dock the next day, according to ABC News. In Curaçao one passenger and five crew members tested positive for the virus. No one left the ship. The ship was turned away as it headed to a port in Barbados, and was allowed to dock in the Bahamas only to receive food, medicine, and fuel.

Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, Dominic Raab, thanked Cuba’s government for its assistance in a parliamentary session on Tuesday, saying “We are very grateful to the Cuban government for swiftly enabling this operation and for their close cooperation to make sure it could be successful.”

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez, said “These are times of solidarity, of understanding health as a human right, of reinforcing international cooperation to face our common challenges, values that are inherent in the humanistic practice of the Revolution and of our people.” Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke of Cuba’s responsibility to humanity in relation to his government’s decision to allow the ship to dock, stating in a tweet that “To say Cuba is to say humanity. We are caring and responsible.”

A passenger on the cruise ship, Steve Dale, tweeted “Thanks once more to the people of Cuba for their generosity and humanity. Hoping to come back here one day when we’ve all forgotten about #Covid19.”

Cuban Embassy in U.S. suspends in-person consular services due to novel coronavirus

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) announced its suspension of in-person consular services at the country’s Embassy in the U.S. due to increased spread of the novel coronavirus and the Trump administration’s March 13 National Emergency declaration. Cuba’s Consular Office will continue to offer services through mail and via agencies with which the Consular Office has contracted.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, also announced that they will eliminate biometrics for passport processing. Currently, Cubans are allowed to stay abroad for a period of 24 months without losing their status of permanent resident, after which they need to request a passport extension. As part of the measures, MINREX also announced that Cuban will be allowed to overstay the 24-month without having to ask for an extension.

Cuban medicine could help combat novel coronavirus

Although there are not yet vaccines for the novel coronavirus, Cuba has a drug that may help limit complications from the virus, according to Telesur English. The antiviral drug was developed in the 1980’s and has been used to treat HIV and dengue among other viral illnesses. Since 2003, it has been manufactured through the joint Cuban-Chinese venture “ChangHeber,” according to Telesur English. Luis Herrera, a Cuban doctor who was involved in the creation of the antiviral drug using the Interferon Alpha 2B molecule, says that with the drug, “old people or people susceptible to have a bad immune-response will have better chances of avoiding complications.” The drug was used in China near the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak along with a slew of other drugs. According to Prensa Latina, the use of the drug in China was successful. El Salvador has requested the drug from Cuba, Prensa Latina reports.

Cuba’s Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center is also working on a new drug to combat the virus, Prensa Latina reports. They hope to work on the vaccine with a Chinese research and development center with experience with the new novel coronavirus.

Cuba to assist Nicaragua and Italy with novel coronavirus response

Vice President and First Lady of Nicaragua Rosario Murillo announced on Monday that the country will receive medicine and doctors from Cuba to assist in combating the novel coronavirus, OnCuba reports. Nicaragua reported its first case on Wednesday, according to the New York Times.

Cuba announced on Thursday that it will also send 53 doctors and nurses who previously worked to battle the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, to Italy to assist with the country’s novel coronavirus outbreak. The medical personnel were requested by Italy, which is facing a shortage of healthcare workers as the virus spreads. They will work alongside Chinese medical providers who will also be sent to Italy to combat the virus.

Southwest Airlines announces suspension of flights to Havana due to novel coronavirus concerns (SPANISH)

Southwest Airlines announced on Friday that it will suspend all flights to Havana, Cuba and several other locations due to government restrictions on travel aimed at combating the novel coronavirus. The airline’s final flight to Havana is set to occur on March 22, El Nuevo Herald reports. The airline expects to resume flights to Havana on May 4.


Trujillo nomination expands Cuban Americans’ influence over U.S. policy on Latin America

On Tuesday, the White House announced President Donald Trump’s intent to nominate Carlos Trujillo, current U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. His nomination would need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Miami Herald reports that the White House also named John Barsa, current Assistant Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and previously an aide to former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Díaz-Balart, to the position of Acting Administrator of USAID. The naming of these men expands the influence of Florida Cuban American Republicans in U.S. policy making toward the Western Hemisphere.

Cuban artist and activist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara released from jail

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantera, a Cuban artist and activist, was released from jail on the evening of March 13 after spending thirteen days imprisoned for insulting national symbols, Reuters reports. He was being held in what his partner, Claudia Genlui, described as “preventive prison,” while awaiting trial. Otero’s imprisonment sparked outrage across the island, inspiring petitions and prompting charges that the actions taken against Otero were a form of censorship by Cuba’s government intended to silence criticism. 

Cuba faces squeeze on food production as U.S. oil sanctions bite

U.S. sanctions continue to affect Cubans across the island, according to those interviewed by The Guardian. Black beans, toothpaste, and soap are difficult to come by, and sanctions on Venezuelan oil shipments have forced farmers to transition from tractors to oxen, or for those without cattle, to farm alternative crops.

What coronavirus revealed about national mindsets across the world—and how Cuba came out on top

Cuba took in a British cruise ship with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus when other countries in the Caribbean and the U.S. refused to offer help. In this article in The Independent, Twaij argues that the Trump administration should reverse its policies of protectionism in favor of acting with “humanitarian goodness” as Cuba did by taking in the cruise ship.


Facebook Live: Aymée Nuviola and Gonzalo Rubacaba Concert, March 22

Cuban singer and 2020 GRAMMY winner for Best Tropical Latin Album Aymée Nuviola and Cuban jazz pianist and two time GRAMMY winner for Best Latin Jazz Album Gonzalo Rubacaba will offer a Facebook Live concert.

Gibarao, Cuba: Gibara Film Festival, July 5 – 11

The small town of Gibara is transformed into the buzzing cultural centre of Cuba when it hosts the Gibara Film Festival every year. The emphasis of the festival is to remain as an alternative to larger international film festivals in order to recognize and celebrate the creativity and technical excellence of filmmakers, actors and technicians around the world. The festival also involves live music, theatre performances, art exhibitions and debates on film-making and post-production.

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