We wish you and your loved ones a safe and healthy transition as some areas move into the early phases of reopening. This week, we are featuring New World en La Habana’s new single, No Se Que Pasará, and an inspiring cover of Jorge Drexel’s Creo que he visto una luz, by Cimafunk and Kamankola y Nam San Fong.
Cuba experienced a continuing downward trend of new COVID-19 cases this week with only 161 active cases and one new death as of the time of publication.
This week, in Cuba news…
On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the implementation of a 3,600 per year cap on public charter flights to Cuba as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to isolate Cuba’s economy, Reuters reports. CDA’s Emily Mendrala responded saying, “Restricting flights to Cuba to one sole destination, as the Trump administration did months ago, and – on top of that – capping the number of flights – will only serve to separate families and hurt the Cuban people. It is a sad reality that, between now and November, this Administration will continue to implement isolationist policies toward Cuba, and Cuban families and the Cuban people will suffer the most.”
The Department notified it would issue the cap in January, when U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the suspension of all public charter flights from the U.S. to all Cuban destinations other than the José Martí International Airport in Havana. The measure will cap flights at similar levels to those seen in 2019. Commercial flights to cities other than Havana were banned in October of last year.
The Trump administration has tightened sanctions against Cuba, reversing President Obama’s efforts to reestablish engagement between the two countries. According to Secretary Pompeo, such measures aim to “further restrict the Cuban regime’s ability to obtain revenue, which it uses to finance its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its unconscionable support for dictator Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.” Cuba said a record of almost 90 percent of Cubans living abroad who visited the island last year reside in the U.S.
A new resolution (73/2020) by the Central Bank of Cuba allows non-residents in Cuba to open bank accounts using U.S. dollars, allowing them to make purchases in some 70 stores that were authorized to sell in U.S. dollars last fall, OnCuba reports. This resolution amends a prior resolution, announced in October, by lifting a requirement that individuals must be permanent residents to make the purchases and to import products through select entities. The new resolution does not clarify whether debit card usage will be exclusive to the group of stores already authorized to sell in U.S. dollars or if it is open to all stores on the island. According to Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, an attempt to increase the supply of U.S. dollars in Cuba’s economy could have an anti-inflationary effect on the island’s economy, as such measures have had on other countries with a national currency whose value is declining. The increased access to banking and U.S. dollars also helps the bank system gain “financial deepening,” an economic term referring to the provision of financial services, including wider access to such services.
As Cuba reports a dramatic slowdown in new COVID-19 cases and deaths, some policy analysts are sounding alarm bells about its public health system. A recent report by the independent Cuban organization Centro de Estudios Convivencia offers recommendations to address challenges posed by COVID-19 in Cuba in the areas of health, the economy, and public policy. In broad terms, the report details some areas of the public health system in decline and offers some recommendations for the way forward.
The study warns that budget cuts made to the public health system on the island in recent years could affect the quality and accessibility of domestic medical services, the Miami Herald reports. Additionally, the report discusses how Cuba’s medical missions send community doctors abroad, generating revenue, which the authors see as an opportunity for the country’s economic recovery. However, it also recommends a reconsideration of the number of doctors participating in said missions in order to reinforce medical attention for Cuban citizens.
The 80-page report analyzes several economic and health factors that, together with an increasingly aging population that is more vulnerable to COVID-19, may hinder Cuba’s response to COVID-19, though the island’s government reports that the pandemic has been successfully contained. In April, the Miami Herald reported data on acute respiratory diseases suggesting thousands of early unreported COVID-19 deaths in Cuba since March.
Healthcare is free and universal in Cuba, but the report describes a deterioration of hospital facilities, and the lack of medical supplies. Cuba’s Minister of Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños, said the state would reinforce the public health budget but did not provide exact figures, Miami Herald reports.
At the same time, Cuban health authorities attribute the high recovery rate of COVID-19 patients to two drugs: Itolizumab and a Cuban discovered peptide which is in Phase II clinical trials for treating rheumatoid arthritis, Reuters reports. Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated in a nationally televised meeting that while, presumably on a global level, “some 80 percent of patients who end up in critical condition are dying. In Cuba, with the use of these drugs, 80 percent of those who end up in critical or serious condition are being saved.” Scientists warn that there is a need for a placebo-controlled study with a large sample size to determine the safety and effectiveness of these drugs. Nevertheless, Cuba is reporting a lower death rate (4.1 percent deaths) than the regional and the global averages (5.4 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively).
Cuba’s production of exportable tobacco has not stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, Prensa Latina reports. In 2019, tobacco exports contributed nearly $270 million to the Cuban economy. Dr. Nelson Rodríguez, director of the Tobacco Experimental Station of San Juan y Martínez, noted that Cuba sells Habanos in over 150 countries and the demand for Cuban cigars is growing. Also, despite reports of widespread food shortages on the island, Félix Gómez Pérez, head of Cuba’s Poultry Technology Division of the Higher Organization of Livestock Business Management, assures that egg production will meet residents’ demands for the next few months, state-owned media Granma reports. However, there are still shortages of chicken and pork. Regla Ferrer Domínguez, National Director of the Pork division, attributed the decrease in pork production to the inaccessibility of animal feed. Ferrer Domínguez added that each of Cuba’s provinces have started to aid in the production of chicken meat. She also commented that business investments on the island made by four foreign firms are likely to significantly increase poultry production.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cuban nurses and physicians seeking asylum in the U.S. are helping prevent the spread of COVID-19 cases and offering care to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border as they await for their hearings in U.S. courts, the Los Angeles Times reports. The clinic is run by U.S. volunteers with the Florida-based nonprofit Global Response Management in the migrant tent camps and opened last fall. It is mainly staffed by asylum seekers and offers care to thousands of migrants whose immigration hearings continue to be delayed because of the pandemic. Staff receive $15 to $30 per day paid in a weekly stipend. Cuban medical staff perform temperature checks, screenings for COVID-19 symptoms, isolation procedures, ultrasounds, and prenatal care. Some of the doctors, like Dr. Dairon Elisondo Rojas, traveled to the U.S. border directly from Cuba. Others fled to the border from a third country, such as Dr. Alberto Lopez who traveled from Venezuela, where he settled and formed a family while on a medical mission. To date, no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the border camp.
The Andorran government hosted a farewell ceremony for thirteen health professionals who will return to Cuba after supporting the European country’s fight against COVID-19, On Cuba reports. The members belong to a larger brigade that arrived in Andorra two months ago. The rest of the brigade will remain in Andorra for the time being.
Italy also hosted a farewell for Cuban doctors who served in the northern part of the country, On Cuba reports. The doctors were celebrated in a ceremony in the central plaza of the Crema Cathedral, surrounded by applause and cheers from neighbors and authorities. The doctors also received commemorative plaques and medals with the flags of the two countries dedicated “to our Cuban brothers.” This was the first time that Cuba provided medical assistance to a European country. In a recently published statement, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) joined the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity and other organizations in supporting the nomination of the Cuban Henry Reeve Brigade for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination would honor the Brigade’s global contribution to the fight against COVID-19.
On Monday, the embassies of the fourteen CARICOM countries and Cuba began preparations to distribute protective masks and personal hygiene products to 700 students from CARICOM countries residing in Havana, according to a press release by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The shipment was delivered on May 22 and is the result of a joint initiative to ensure the safety of CARICOM students and embassy personnel. Her Excellency Claris Charles, Ambassador of Grenada and the current Dean of the CARICOM Caucus of Ambassadors, expressed her satisfaction with the project and praised the government of Cuba in their efforts to fight the pandemic. As of May 22, there were no positive COVID-19 cases among CARICOM nationals in Cuba.
RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS
How Cubans Lost Faith in Revolution, Anthony DePalma, New York Times
The story of Caridad Limonta, once a ranking member of Cuba’s Communist Party, captures the disillusionment and frustration that many Cubans feel today toward the Cuban Revolution, Anthony DePalma writes. Even those who once wholeheartedly supported Cuba’s communist system are now aware that it has not fulfilled its early promises. According to DePalma, Ms. Limonta’s experience reveals the harsh reality of the shortages and inequalities that affect Cubans today. Such conditions are intensified by political disputes and U.S. sanctions on Cuba that hurt ordinary citizens but leave those in power unaffected.
Online shopping highlights Cuba’s inequality in time of coronavirus, Marc Frank, Reuters
While many Cubans are accustomed to waiting in long lines for staple goods, the pandemic has motivated Cuba’s government to encourage online shopping. However, online shopping is increasingly inaccessible to many Cubans as economic pressure from U.S. sanctions, halted tourism, and slowed remittances have raised costs. Marc Frank notes that “many Cubans simply cannot afford the service” as it would cost almost a quarter of their monthly income ($10/month out of $45/month). Furthermore, about 40 percent of the population does not have internet or cell phone services, making online shopping inaccessible. Those who receive cash remittances, an estimated 40 percent of the population, are more likely to be financially well-off and have the purchasing power to shop online.
Cuba, a new historic moment? [Spanish], Alex Fleites, On Cuba
Dr. Alina Hernández, researcher, professor, and member of Cuba’s Academy of History, shares her thoughts on various topics in an interview with Alex Fleites. The writer discusses the limitations faced by social sciences in Cuba and their lack of representation in public policy decisions, discusses Marxism as an ideology, talks about the future of independent media, and comments on Cuban government’s management of the crisis. Hernández also reveals that while she considers the current crisis to be a unique historical moment, she assesses that those in power have been unable to respond with the adequate measures to turn it into an opportunity.
‘Corona town’: Cuban graffiti depicts anguish, urges courage, Sarah Marsh, Reuters
Cuban artist Yulier Rodriguez turns a friend’s backyard in southern Havana into “Ciudad Corona,” or Corona Town, with a collection of murals inspired by the pandemic, Sarah Marsh reports. The artist is joined by several others who have expressed anguish about the COVID-19 crisis and strive to bring hope through art on the city’s walls.
America Is Obsessed With Cuba. But What Do We Know About Its Citizens?, Marie Arana, New York Times
Marie Arana’s book review of Anthony DePalma’s latest book, “The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times” highlights DePalma’s use of individuals’ unique experiences on the island. Focusing on residents of the Guanabacoa neighborhood in Havana, DePalma interviews an artist, a hospital worker, and a former Communist Party member, among others. DePalma’s book brings attention to the stories of ordinary residents of an island which has captured U.S. imagination for decades.
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