U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 05/15/2020

Dear Friends,

Thank you to all who were able to contribute to our #GivingTuesdayNow campaign over the past two weeks! We appreciate and are incredibly encouraged by your commitment to CDA’s work during these tough times, and with your generous support, we are dedicated, as always, to preserving and building upon engagement with the region.

This week, Cuba’s trend of fewer new COVID-19 cases continued but the island saw an increase in fatalities. As of press time, Cuba has reported 334 active cases, 79 deaths, 1,425 recuperated patients, and 1,840 overall positive diagnoses.

This week, in Cuba news…


Cuba added to list of countries certified as not cooperating fully with U.S. counterterrorism efforts; U.S. considers returning Cuba to List of State Sponsors of Terrorism

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department announced Cuba’s addition to the list of countries certified under Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act as “not cooperating fully” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts in 2019. Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela also received the certification, according to a media note released by the Office of the Spokesperson. Though the certification carries sanctions implications for most countries, it will not alter the existing sanctions landscape for the already heavily-sanctioned Cuba.

Part of the rationale given for Cuba’s certification was the country’s refusal to extradite ten Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) leaders who claimed responsibility for a 2019 police academy bombing in Bogotá which resulted in 22 deaths and more than 60 injured. The ELN members have lived in Havana since 2017 when they first traveled to the island for peace talks with the Colombian government. The protocols governing the peace talks stipulate that, upon a breakdown of negotiations, Cuba would facilitate the return of ELN members to safe havens in Colombia. However, because Colombia’s government expressed the intent to arrest ELN members upon their return to the country, rather than allow their returns to safe havens, Cuba refuses extradition. The U.S. media note also mentions that Cuba is home to several U.S. fugitives from justice, including Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur, who was convicted of murdering New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973.

According to The Washington Office on Latin America, the addition of Cuba to the non-cooperative list risks setting a negative precedent for any country willing to host peace talks or group seeking to participate in peace talks, and undermines security cooperation between Cuba and the U.S.

The Miami Herald reports that the announcement came on the same day that Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez held a press conference in which he called the shooting at the Cuban Embassy in Washington a form of terrorism promoted by the Trump administration.

Cuba was removed from the list in 2015, the same year it was removed from the U.S.’s List of State Sponsors of Terrorism, a list to which, to date, it has not been returned. However, Tuesday’s announcement may be a precursor to adding Cuba to the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism. According to a senior Trump administration official, the U.S. is considering adding the island back to the List of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Reuters reports that, according to the official, the rationale for such a move would include Cuba’s continued support for Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and its aforementioned failure to extradite Colombian ELN leaders. The official “did not rule out” such a decision being made before the end of this year. 

Cuba slams US over shooting attack on embassy in Washington

At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez blamed the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Cuba for motivating the April 30 shooting at the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. The Foreign Minister also denounced the U.S. government’s “complacent silence” after the incident and criticized U.S. government efforts to intervene in Cuba’s international medical missions to combat the COVID-19 crisis, reports CNN. The Foreign Minister also alluded to the possibility that the U.S. government knew about the planning of the attack, or should have based on the shooter’s weapon purchases and other data points. Mr. Rodríguez also sought to link the shooter to actors in South Florida associated with public demonstrations of hatred toward Cuba’s government.

Reuters reports that last week Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel referred to the shooting at Cuba’s embassy as a “terrorist attack.” U.S. court papers describe the shooter as a mentally disturbed Cuban emigre who heard voices telling him that Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S. was his “enemy.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Havana issued a statement on Tuesday that outlined the U.S. agencies involved in the joint investigation, stated that the “Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service works closely with law enforcement agencies to protect and maintain the security and safety of foreign missions in the United States,” and described the U.S legal process as open and transparent. 

Miami announces campaign to send humanitarian help to Cuba amidst the Covid-19 crisis [SPANISH]

The Foundation for Pan American Democracy (FDP), a Cuban-American organization founded by Rosa Maria Payá, is working in coordination with the City of Miami and representatives from various organizations on an initiative called Solidaridad entre hermanos (solidarity among brothers) to collect donations to help the people of Cuba as they combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Diario Las Americas reports. Rosa Maria Payá, highlighted a series of desired items that might be hard to find on the island and which adhere to Cuban customs regulations. Payá said that, “it is our duty to take action, but also our right as Cubans to help Cubans.” Payá emphasized that the campaign is not associated with the political views of anyone involved. The mayor of Miami appealed to the city residents’ “enormous heart[s]” to contribute to the cause. According to FDP President Omar Vento, the help will be received and distributed by church groups in Cuba and by the island’s independent civil society. A video released before the press conference shows, among other things, José Daniel Ferrer, leader of Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU) and Cuban opposition activist who was recently released from prison, highlighting Cuba’s humanitarian situation.


Private entrepreneurship in Cuba. A positive patient of COVID-19.

A recent report by AUGE, a consulting group for private businesses in Cuba, sheds light on the national and international impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the private sector in Cuba. Sectors that are typically profitable on the island, including tourism, remittances, and small businesses are being hit especially hard by the recession and the rise in unemployment. The report recommends that Cuba’s government’s economic response line up to the actual needs of the economy, paying special attention to the digital economy, food supply chains, and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The authors stress that COVID-19 is likely the largest threat to private business in Cuba since 2010. The most wide-reaching, negative effects of the virus will be on business’ income, supplies, and the amount of new business ventures due to lack of investments. The report further notes that, while businesses were able to maintain payroll for a couple of months, emergency funds are running out and layoffs are expected beginning in June. In the immediate term, businesses are expected to shift away from specialized or high value added activities toward services that produce basic necessities. As the economy re-opens, businesses are likely to experience pressure to fulfill past-due invoices, and would benefit from the government’s efforts to inject liquidity into the economy. Finally, the report concludes that the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for a regulatory framework for Cuba’s private sector. 

Cuba doubles down on testing as coronavirus cases decline; Cuban scientists adapt diagnostic test to detect COVID-19

Reuters reports that earlier this week, Cuba began mass testing for COVID-19. After peaking at 50 cases per day in April, new daily cases have decreased to less than 20. According to Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health, in the last two months Cuba has confirmed 1,840 cases of coronavirus, of which 77.4 percent have recovered and 79 people have died. Cuba’s government is taking strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus, though shortages of food and toiletries have forced some citizens to forego social distancing and stand together in long lines for essential goods.

Francisco Durán, Cuba’s top epidemiologist, hopes to strengthen the efforts to combat the disease by using mass testing to identify and isolate positive cases that have not shown symptoms. CubaDebate reports that almost 50 percent of those infected in Cuba are asymptomatic.

Last week, BioCubafarma group, a Cuban state-run producer of medicaments, reported having successfully adapted the SUMA (Ultra Micro Analytical System) technique – an already existing technology that originated in Cuba in the 1980s – to test for COVID-19, OnCuba reports. The breakthrough could assist in the island’s efforts to implement mass testing, and was accomplished by researchers from Havana’s Immunoassay Center (CIE).

The original SUMA diagnostic technique has been successful and is used in many countries, however, its adaptation to test for COVID-19 must complete the developmental, field testing, and production stage before it can be widely distributed and applied. Already, there is a network of SUMA laboratories in each province of the island. It would be cheaper and faster for Cuba to create its own test due to the supply limitations caused by the U.S. embargo. Cuba has been using COVID-19 diagnostic tests from China and the Pan American Health Organization.

Working around restrictions from the U.S. embargo, Cuba has conducted trials using their version of the antiviral Kaletra, and reports “satisfactory preliminary results.” Health authorities on the island announced that they will begin mass testing of at-risk groups not showing symptoms and places with local transmission events. Health authorities also assure that there is availability of the 22 medicines considered to help with treatment, including the Cuban Interferon Alfa-2B antiviral, which was first used to treat COVID-19 in China and has drawn interest from countries around the world.

Cuba adjusts its annual economic plan in light of coronavirus situation; Ministry of Tourism: Cuba won’t reopen its borders

In a recent meeting of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel announced a new strategy to combat the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba, OnCuba reports. The first stage prioritizes the immediate recovery of economic activities after the crisis while the second focuses on strengthening the national economy. Through several phases, Cuba will gradually reopen the country while maintaining the necessary public health measures. The reopening strategy will also include efforts to strengthen foreign investment. According to OnCuba, Cuba will focus on strengthening professional technical services, especially those pertaining to the biopharmaceutical and biotechnological industries, as well as construction, telecommunications, transportation, and warehousing, while still maintaining focus on its sugar industry. Additionally, President Díaz-Canel announced new efforts regarding medicines and care protocols, seeking to immunize the entire population and be better prepared to face disease.

CubaDebate reports that, on May 15, Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism announced that the country won’t reopen the borders yet in order to continue protecting the health of the population, to prepare tourism facilities, and to develop the necessary hygiene and sanitary protocols to restart tourism activities.

On May 11, however, Univision reported that several airlines, including Air Canada and Aeroméxico aimed to resume flights to Cuba by June.


Cuban nurse treating COVID-19 patients in the Caribbean dies; Angola´s Cabinda supported by more Cuban doctors to fight Covid-19

The Miami Herald reports that last week, a Cuban nurse identified by media outlets in the Caribbean country of Dominica as Yoet Michel Ramos Cordero, suddenly collapsed and died while working in Dominica as part of the “Henry Reeve” Cuban medical brigade that is helping treat patients of the COVID-19 pandemic. At a press conference held last Wednesday, Dominican health authorities confirmed the death of the member of the “Henry Reeve” brigade, although they did not mention his name or cause of death. The death has not yet been reported by the Cuban media.

According to the statement, Ramos Cordero followed normal protocol and was placed in quarantine for two weeks after his arrival from Cuba. He then worked for four days at Princess Margaret Hospital in Dominica’s capital in a COVID-19 patient isolation unit, before being placed in quarantine for two more weeks, and, as he was about to be sent to work in the emergency department, Ramos Cordero collapsed. According to the Miami Herald, Ramos Cordero was a nurse at the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital in Havana and specialized in arrhythmia and pacemakers.

Dominica and seven other Caribbean nations have received about 500 health workers from Cuba to help combat COVID-19. Overall, Cuba has now sent doctors to at least 21 countries. Additionally, more Cuban doctors arrived in Cabinda in northern Angola on May 11, Prensa Latina reports.


Inaccurate Trump administration charges against Cuba damage prospects for peace talks in Colombia and elsewhere, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

On May 12, for the first time since 2015, the U.S. State Department listed Cuba as not cooperating fully with Section 40A(a) of the Arms Export Control Act. In a statement Thursday, WOLA describes how the Department of State leveled these claims partially due to Cuba’s denial of Colombia’s request for the extradition of several ELN leaders that were in Havana for peace talks. WOLA asserts these charges threaten the security of both U.S.-Cuba cooperation and the Colombian peace negotiations. By labeling the country non-cooperative, the U.S. amplifies sanctions on Cuba that inhibit the country’s response to COVID-19.

COVID-19 in Cuba and the Americas: Policy, Science & The Frontline Fight, MEDICC Review

In the most recent issue of the MEDICC Review, the journal analyzes COVID-19 in Cuba and the Americas.  This latest issue makes the case that Cuba and a few other countries in Latin America stand out for their success in keeping the number of casualties low, especially in comparison to countries like the United States. Cuba’s success is attributed to proactive and massive efforts to detect and treat positive cases of the novel coronavirus, according to MEDICC. Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) suggests why this might be, claiming that “solidarity-based policies with a rights-oriented approach” is the only way to overcome the crisis.

Former Miami congressman, a Cuban American Republican, takes millions from Maduro oil, Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald

Former Miami Congressman David Rivera, known for his strong anticommunist stance, entered a $50 million consulting contract with Venezuelan state-owned oil firm, PDVSA, and failed to report as a foreign agent. Venezuela is currently certified as “not fully cooperating” with U.S. counterterrorism efforts and its regime has accumulated several punitive sanctions from the U.S. government. When confronted by the New York Times and the Miami Herald, Rivera denied all accusations and said that the money went to President Maduro’s opposition leader Leopoldo López. According to López’s spokeswoman and other Venezulans, López was imprisoned, incommunicado, and being tortured in a Venezulan prison when the payments were made.

Responsible business owners, a check to COVID-19 [SPANISH]

Proyecto Cuba Emprende, in collaboration with AUGE, has compiled initiatives that Cuban private businesses have carried out to combat the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to being a public health threat, the virus has become the greatest challenge faced by businesses around the world, many of which have reduced their operations or closed. Despite the challenges, Cuban business owners have adopted measures to collaborate in the fight against the pandemic, either responding to the needs of health workers on the front lines, facilitating residents’ access to basic goods, or donating masks and other protective gear to at-risk populations. 


Livestream, Cuban Agriculture during COVID-19: Food Security, Sustainability & Trade, May 18

AS/COA’s Cuba Working Group will host a discussion on the current state of Cuban agriculture, sustainability, and food security efforts, as well as prospects for U.S. agricultural trade with Cuba amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They will be joined by Paul Johnson, co-chair of the U.S. Agricultural Coalition for Cuba (USACC) and Margarita Fernandez, coordinator of the Cuba-U.S. Agroecology Network (CUSAN). The event will start at 2PM EST; to register, email cwg@as-coa.org.

Livestream, La Paloma y la ley: An 8,000-Mile Migration from Cuba to the U.S., May 19

Join YPA as they welcome photojournalist and author Lisette Poole for a conversation and book presentation of La Paloma y la Ley. The photobook follows two Cuban women as they travel 8,000-miles through 13 countries from Cuba to the United States with nothing guiding them but the name of a coyote scribbled on a piece of paper. The event will start at 6PM EST; to register, email cballadares@as-coa.org.

Livestream, Letters to Eloisa, Adriana Bosch, Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, May 19

Featuring the intimate correspondence of a brother to his sister living in exile, the film “Letters to Eloisa” tells the story of obscured Cuban literary genius and poet José Lezama Lima, author of a monumental novel, “Paradiso” that catapulted Lezama Lima to the heights of the literary world but placed him on a direct collision course with the Cuban revolutionary government. Part biography, and part cultural history, the film traces Lezama Lima’s rise as a literary figure in Cuba and his tragic end, alone and silenced in his Havana home. The film will be streamed online at 7PM EST, register for free here.

Zoom Webinar, Elections 2020: Implications for USA-Cuba relations, Wednesday, May 20

The Columbia University Cuba Program of the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) and the Nuestra América Initiative will be hosting the webinar “Elections 2020: Implications for US-Cuba relations”. The panel will discuss expectations if President Trump is reelected or not and the degree to which a Democratic President could restart the US-Cuba normalization process, given other priorities in the light of the global pandemic. The webinar will run from 1:00 to 2:30 pm. More information and registration here.

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