U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 05/22/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. This week, we’re keeping calm during quarantine by listening to Cuban hip hop and afro-rock musician X-Alfonso’s new release, “Inside.”

Cuba experienced a continuing downward trend of new COVID-19 cases this week, reporting only eight new positive cases. Following last week’s increase in fatalities, the island also saw a record low of only one COVID-19-related death. Active cases totaled 223 as of the time of publication.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba arranges flights for return of Cuban residents stranded in the U.S. amid COVID-19 pandemic [SPANISH]

Cuba will provide two charter flights to the island for hundreds of Cuban residents who have been stranded in the U.S. due to COVID-19 related lockdowns, according to a note published by the Cuban Embassy in the U.S. on Wednesday, May 20. The flights, facilitated by World Atlantic Airlines, will take place today, and transport passengers from Miami to Havana.

The Cuban Embassy stated that they will remain in contact with Cubans who are unable to return to the island on today’s flight to coordinate possible future return flights. According to the note, the repatriated Cuban nationals will be subject to a 14 day isolation period in accordance with guidelines from Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health.

Parallel efforts have been made by the U.S. to repatriate U.S. nationals stranded in Cuba following the island’s COVID-19 lockdown. According to the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, the most recent flight to repatriate U.S. citizens and permanent residents occurred on May 14. The Embassy has advised U.S. citizens remaining on the island to plan to stay for the duration of the quarantine period and asked for compliance with local quarantine requirements.

Presidential message on Cuban Independence Day, 2020

On May 20, The White House released a presidential message in honor of what some observe as a “day of independence” for the Cuban Republic. President Trump also released a video addressing the people of Cuba and celebrating those among his supporters who are Cuban American.

May 20 commemorates the formal end of the U.S. occupation of Cuba in 1902 and is considered the founding of the Republic of Cuba. However, experts have pointed out the complexity of this day, given that the United States still exerted control over the newly founded republic. As we reported previously, the Platt Amendment, imposed on the Cuban Constitution, granted the U.S. the right to intervene, control Cuba’s treaty relationships, and possess naval stations on Cuban territory.

Cuba’s government and many on the island do not observe the day. In response to a similar presidential message from the Trump administration in 2017, the island’s government issued a statement on state television saying “what was born that day [on May 20, 1902] was a Yankee neo-colony, which lived on until [the revolution on] January 1, 1959.”  The U.S. also issued a presidential message commemorating the day in 2018, 2019 and during the George W. Bush Administration.

Biden tweets about Cuba’s potential membership in the UN Human Rights Council

Last week, U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden published a tweet blaming President Trump for “clearing the path for Cuba to join the UN Human Rights Council.” According to former Vice President Biden, selecting Cuba as a member of the council would “betray Cuba’s political prisoners and further undermine U.S. diplomacy.”

Cuba served three-year terms on the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009, 2013, and 2016, coinciding with Mr. Biden’s terms as Vice President in the Obama Administration.

While President Trump did not comment on the Tweet, Mercedes Schlapp, a Trump Senior Advisor, told Fox News “Joe Biden can barely remember what office he’s running for, so it’s not surprising he forgot that Cuba was elected three times to the corrupt U.N. Human Rights Council while he was VP.” The Trump administration announced the U.S. withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2018.

Lawsuit against Amazon under Helms-Burton Act dismissed

Last week, Federal Judge Robert N. Scola dismissed a Helms-Burton Title III Act (LIBERTAD Act) lawsuit against Amazon, OnCuba reports. The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by Daniel A. González against the company for selling charcoal produced on land previously owned by González’s grandfather in Cuba’s Oriente province. The Helms-Burton Act allows people in the U.S. to sue companies doing business in Cuba that are profiting off of land expropriated after the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Judge Scola discontinued the lawsuit explaining that González was unable to demonstrate that he owned the property rights since before March 12, 1996. González obtained property rights to the land in 2016 from his mother. However, González argued that the law should be interpreted differently in cases of inheritance.

The artisanal charcoal is made from an invasive weed called marabu, and was the first Cuban export to the U.S. in several decades. Regulatory changes made in 2016, which seek to support private enterprise in Cuba, permit its export to the U.S. because the charcoal is produced by worker-owned cooperatives. The first shipment arrived in January 2017. The suit also alleges trafficking by Susshi International, a Miami company who sold and produced charcoal under the FOGO brand.

At the moment, there are 25 Title III lawsuits against 51 companies, almost half of them from the U.S. and the rest from ten other countries, including Cuba, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

IN CUBA

Cuba is preparing to reopen airports shut down due to coronavirus. Tickets selling online

If COVID-19 cases remain under control, Cuba may reopen for international travel as early as July, the Miami Herald reports. Some airlines, including Air Canada and Aeroméxico, had hoped to resume flights to Cuba by June and will now need to push flights back a month. American Airlines plans to resume ticket sales in July and resume flights to Havana on July 7th. The airline began selling tickets to Havana on June 8th, but said this was because of a system error. The information aligns with a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Havana which said that Cuba’s international airports would remain closed until at least June 30th. Other airlines which also began selling tickets to Cuba have not commented on the issue.

Anonymous sources tied to Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism told the Miami Herald that the country plans to promote a “health tourism service” that shares with visitors “the advantages of our human capital and our health system.” A Ministry official also said that the country’s economy does not allow for tourism to remain closed. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean projects Cuba’s GDP growth to decrease by 3.7 percent this year as result of the detrimental impact of the pandemic.

Cuba highlights campaign against hoarders during pandemic

In recent weeks, Cuba’s state-run media began a campaign highlighting measures taken against citizens who are hoarding goods during a time when food and other resources are scarce, AP news reports. According to the report, a recent police raid, in which officers confiscated hundreds of sacks of onions in Havana, was part of the televised warnings against hoarding.

AP News calls the state media campaign unusual given that Cuba’s state television does not typically report police raids or other operations. The campaign has been criticized by some who assert that Cuba’s judicial system does not provide citizens due process in legal proceedings, and others, who emphasize Cuba’s insufficient production of basic goods and the government’s mixed messaging around the legality of private enterprises.

Cuban economist Pedro Monreal told AP News that two lessons that can be learned from the onion confiscation, “speculation over the price of food during a health emergency is unacceptable, and state policy on agriculture is dysfunctional and must be changed.”

More than 20 earthquakes and a tornado in eastern Cuba

On Sunday, the National Center for Seismological Research registered more than 20 earthquakes and a tornado in Eastern Cuba. There were no reported deaths, but there was substantial damage to properties and crops caused by the tornado, OnCuba reports.

Tremors were felt in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma, and Guantánamo. So far this year Cuba has experienced eight perceptible earthquakes. Seismologists and government authorities continue to monitor and evaluate the situation.

Also this week, a tornado was reported in Maisí, Guantánamo, the Easternmost municipality of Cuba. According to Prensa Latina, the damage was limited to houses and crops. This month the National Institute for Meteorology has reported similar phenomenons in the other two provinces, Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey.

Hush descends on Havana as street performers vanish in wake of tourists

Havana’s street vendors and performers have been left without work amid the coronavirus pandemic, Reuters reports. Performers shared that staying at home has caused financial difficulties and stress because of their reduced social interactions. Carlos Sanchez, a trumpet player and entertainer, tried to continue playing music for locals but was quickly shut down by the police for not complying with the partial lockdown, which only allows Cubans to go out for essential business. Some entertainers have reportedly turned to selling their belongings, and others are surviving on scarce savings. Although those interviewed say they look forward to tourism resuming once the island reopens its borders, “the main thing now is to end the pandemic, because if not, we will continue [to risk] our lives,” says Anaibais Montero, a dancer and tour guide.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Brazil lets Cuban doctors resume work amid coronavirus struggle; Large contingent of Cuban doctors help Mexico with coronavirus: sources

On Monday, Brazil granted new medical licenses to 157 Cuban doctors to help the country fight the rising number of Coronavirus cases, Al Jazeera reports. In November 2018, 9,000 Cuban doctors returned to the island after the agreement between Brazil and Cuba was terminated following then President-elect Bolsonaro’s remarks criticizing the program. Some Cuban physicians who stayed in Brazil after the program’s end recently solicited and were granted new medical licenses by the Brazilian Health Ministry; other Cuban doctors residing in Brazil are expected to follow suit.

Brazil currently ranks third among countries with the highest number of confirmed positive cases and its healthcare system is overwhelmed. Cuban doctors will reportedly offer much-needed reinforcement, particularly in remote areas and underserved public clinics and hospitals. 

Cuban doctors are also providing COVID-19 relief in Mexico City, the New York Times reports. According to an anonymous source from Mexico’s Ministry of Health, 600 Cuban healthcare workers are currently working in Mexico City to support the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mexico’s authorities note the country faces a shortage of about 6,600 physicians throughout the country. Countries around the world, including Honduras and Cape Verde, have accepted Cuba’s aid to combat the pandemic despite the U.S.’ opposition to the program. The Trump administration has previously referred to these doctors as “slaves” and has been discouraging countries from participating in the program for the past two years. In early April, the President and the State Department condemned countries’ use of Cuban medical brigades, claiming their pay and labor conditions are unacceptable.

Cuba seeks delay in debt repayment to 2022: diplomats

Cuba asked the Paris Club of creditors for a pause on debt payments until 2022, France 24 reports. They also requested a moratorium on 2019-2021 debt. In February, Cuba’s government committed to paying the Paris Club 2019 debt of about $36 million. However, due to the economic crisis worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be unable to do so. Cuba has been successful in negotiating with the Paris Club in the past. In 2015, it reduced an €11 billion debt to €2.5 billion.

Cubans residing in United Kingdom raise more than 30,000 dollars to combat COVID-19 in Cuba

The Association of Cubans in the UK recently began a campaign to purchase medical supplies that Cuba is unable to acquire due to U.S. embargo-related restrictions, OnCuba reports. As of last Saturday, the campaign had raised close to $31,500.

The president of the Association of Cubans in the UK, Daniesky Acosta, calls the campaign not a gesture of charity but a demonstration of solidarity toward the island, stating that the money raised is a recognition of the Cuban health system and the international work of Cuban doctors. The organization will look for ways to use the funds to respond to the needs of the island without running afoul of the U.S. embargo.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

“We come from a small island, but our influence is profound,” Isabel Albee, Cuba Educational Travel

In February, a group of Cuban Americans traveled to Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa to explore their Afro-Cuban heritage and reflect on race and identity with CubaOne Foundation. This was the first Afro-Cuban themed trip to the island for CubaOne, a nonprofit organization based in Miami which aims to foster connections between Cuban Americans and their families on the island through travel. Beyond Roots, a business focused on promoting Afro-Cuban culture, partnered with CubaOne to create the trip’s itinerary. In this blog post, Isabel Albee of Cuba Educational Travel interviews Leilani Bruce, a proud Cuban-Jamaican American, who participated in this transformative experience. Available in English and Spanish.

A tube of toothpaste every three months, ‘meaty mass’ to eat: Cuba’s economy is this bad, Nora Gámez Torres, Miami Herald

Cubans continue to experience difficulties purchasing food and other basic goods, Nora Gámez Torres reports. Cuba’s government set up online stores to facilitate the purchasing of goods, but citizens are disappointed by the limited selection that is being sold. Standing in long lines for hours is the only way to acquire basic necessities. COVID-19 exacerbated an already ongoing economic crisis on the island caused by a combination of reduced aid from Venezuela, increased sanctions from the U.S., a reduction in tourism, and the greater need for importing agricultural products.

Amazon Prime Takes U.S. Rights to Documentary ‘Cuba: The Revolution and the World,’ Tim Dams, The Variety

Amazon has acquired the documentary “Cuba: The Revolution and the World,” produced by the U.K.’s Brook Lapping and France’s Temps Noir, according to Tim Dams. Many other companies around the world have also picked up the films, which will be broadcasted by the BBC later this year in two episodes titled “The Armed Struggle” and “The Charm Offensive.” The documentary portrays the Cuban revolution from several perspectives, including those of Americans, Russians and Cubans.

Corona, Crisis and Creativity in Cuba: An Incomplete Panorama From the Island in Times of Pandemic, Rainer G. Schultz, Harvard University’s ReVista Magazine

In this article, Schultz describes cultural creativity amid the pandemic and explores how COVID-19 may bring about opportunity for economic reforms on the island.

EVENTS

Instagram Live, Tunturuntu pa’ tu casa’s Africa Day Edition, May 23

On May 23 at 3:00 pm Tunturuntu and other Cuban organizations and artists will come together on Instagram Live in tribute of Cuba’s African heritage. The event will be hosted to celebrate Africa Day, originated on May 25, 1963. The day has remained as a celebration of multiculturalism and heterogeneity. It has also served as a moment to call attention to challenges of the African continent. Cubans will join the celebration in recognition of the African influence on the island.


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