U.S.-Cuba News Brief 06/05/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy, and are taking time to care for one another this week.

CDA condemns the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and of the many other Black persons whose lives have been tragically taken by racism, hatred and police brutality in the United States. CDA expresses its solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and #LasVidasNegrasImportan and with those who continue standing up against injustice in the United States, in the Americas, and throughout the world. You may read our full statement in English and Spanish here.

CDA friends El Club del Espendrú, a Cuban collective of artists, intellectuals, and Black activists, released a statement today in support of the activists in the U.S. and across the world fighting for racial justice calling the fight against racism “one of the great battles faced by humanity, as it cuts across every society and shares all forms of exploitation.” The statement also denounced sanctions that deny basic resources to the Cuban people, which compound challenges.

As El Club del Espendrú notes, the deep socioeconomic inequalities that have historically and disproportionately faced Black persons in the U.S. and around the world have only been exacerbated during COVID-19 times.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, and, as of the time of publication, the country currently has 200 active cases and saw one death.

This week, in Cuba news…


Marriott says ordered by Trump administration to cease Cuba hotel business

The U.S. Treasury Department will not renew Marriott’s license to operate the Four Points by Sheraton’s Havana hotel, Reuters reports. The hotel is owned by Marriott International and opened in 2016. The company received a renewal of its license in 2018, but, according to a company spokesperson, and as reported by the Miami Herald, the Treasury Department now mandates that Marriott cease its operations in Cuba by August 31st. Marriott was planning on managing a second hotel in Havana, the Hotel Inglaterra, but will now be unable to do so. The Four Points Sheraton hotel became a symbol of the U.S. and Cuba’s renewed engagement, when, in 2016, it became the first hotel to be managed by a U.S. company since 1959. The Four Points by Sheraton’s Havana hotel is owned by Gaviota, a Cuban company linked to the military, which is a frequent target of Trump administration sanctions.

Additions to the Cuba Restricted List

On June 3rd, the U.S. State Department announced the addition of seven new subentities to the Cuba Restricted List that includes “entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel,” that, according to the press statement, “disproportionately benefit the Castro dictatorship” and with whom financial transactions are prohibited. The subentities, scheduled to be added to the list effective June 12, include FINCIMEX, a financial institution, three hotels, two scuba diving centers, and a marine park for tourists.

The addition of FINCIMEX, the entity charged with processing remittances in Cuba, to the Cuba Restricted List could have devastating effects on remittance flows. We do not yet know the full impact to these flows, or to other financial transactions, as it is possible the operations of Western Union and other remittance forwarding services could be grandfathered in. The Department’s statement announcing the additions also urged visitors to the island to avoid government controlled establishments and instead support privately-owned businesses.

Cuba condemns terrorism and political manipulation

On Monday, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry (MINREX) released a statement rejecting Cuba’s inclusion in the U.S. list of countries not fully cooperating with counterterrorism efforts. In the announcement of Cuba’s addition to the list last week, the State Department’s justification included the country’s refusal to extradite members of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN) who claimed responsibility for a 2019 police academy bombing in Bogotá, which resulted in 22 deaths and more than 60 injured. Monday’s MINREX statement explains that ELN leaders were in Cuba to continue a peace process with the Government of Colombia, which started in Ecuador but was transferred to Havana in May 2018. 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, after the ELN claimed responsibility for the 2019 bombing, Colombia’s government expressed the intent to arrest ELN members upon their return to the country, rather than allow their returns to safe havens. For this reason, Cuba states, it refuses to extradite the ELN members.

Additionally, Cuba denounced actions from the government of Colombia, including public declarations, threats, and Colombia’s withdrawal of support, for the first time since 1992, to end the embargo against Cuba. Cuba also rejected recent declarations by the Colombian High Commissioner for Peace, Miguel Ceballos, in support of Cuba’s inclusion in the U.S.-held list. MINREX stated that the U.S. government has remained silent after the April 30th attack on the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C. and that it “refrains from acting against terrorist individuals and groups based in US territory who are fueling violence against Cuba and its institutions.”

US sanctions are hindering the distribution of Cuban drugs combating Covid-19; Cuba ratifies support to WHO in the fight against COVID-19

openDemocracy reports on the limits imposed by the U.S. embargo on Cuba’s ability to research, commercialize, and import components of COVID-19 drugs. Yet, the report states that using domestically produced drugs, including Interferon Alpha 2B and CIGB 258, Cuba has created an “anti-COVID-19 cocktail” that may be effective. According to the Mortality Analyses report by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, the country has a 3.9 percent mortality rate, compared to 5.8 percent in the U.S. and 11.3 percent in Spain. Cuba also has the largest recovery rate in COVID-19 patients in Latin America, at 87 percent.

U.S. sanctions limit Cuba’s ability to carry out the mass testing necessary to introduce the drugs in the international market, affecting the U.S. itself. The lack of cooperation between the two countries and the scarcity of medical partnerships, born of decades of sanctions and hostility, means that Cuba’s promising drugs are not available in the U.S. the way they are in other countries. For instance, India is preparing to start clinical trials for Itolizumab, one of the drugs credited for slashing Cuba’s COVID-19 death tolls, according to Indian online newspaper, The Print. Helen Yaffe, an economist at the University of Glasgow, stated “I’ve received desperate calls from doctors in New York hospitals asking how they can get hold of Interferon Alpha 2B.” Interferon Alpha 2B is currently in use or in trial in nine countries including China and Spain. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is among those calling for sanctions against Cuba to be waived during the COVID-19 crisis.

Amid the pandemic, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez emphasized Cuba’s “full support” of the World Health Organization (WHO), according to a tweet he published on Saturday. The message comes after President Trump’s announcement of the termination of the U.S.’s relationship with the organization because, according to President Trump, China has too much power in the WHO. Mr. Rodríguez said that the U.S. decision is proof of the U.S.’s. “increasing isolation,” and that the decision “undermines international efforts to guarantee health and save lives.”


My rabbit for your detergent? Cubans turn to barter as shortages worsen

As COVID-19 worsens Cuba’s economic crisis, Cubans are turning to bartering to meet their needs, Reuters reports. Either through social media, WhatsApp groups, or in person, residents are trading basic goods to get by, a survival strategy reminiscent of the economic crisis of the 1990s, known as the Special Period. Some Cubans opt to camp out overnight in long lines to enter stores once they open in the morning. Others purchase goods on the recently launched state retail website, although both access to the site and the availability of products are limited. According to Reuters, Cubans who raise rabbits or chickens for sale or for personal consumption are now exchanging them for detergent or oil, for example. Other goods being bartered include toilet paper, potatoes, milk, and flour. COVID-19 exacerbated an already ongoing economic crisis on the island caused by a combination of factors, including reduced aid from Venezuela, increased sanctions from the U.S., a reduction in tourism, and the increased demand for agricultural imports.


Cuba and FAO sign agreement on project that will benefit seven municipalities in the country

On June 1, Cuba and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) signed a $119 million dollar agreement for the implementation of a project to combat climate change on the island, OnCuba reports. According to Agencia Cubana de Noticias, the agreement was designed by Cuba’s Ministry of Agriculture and FAO, and approved by the Board of the Green Climate Fund (FVC), held in Geneva, Switzerland.

The project, to which Cuba will contribute $81.7 million, will be the first in the country and the fourth in Latin America supported by the FVC. The initiative aims to improve food and nutrition security and increase the stability of local food production systems, employment, and access to water in the provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, and Las Tunas, as they are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The project is expected to benefit 240,000 people and work with 52,000 farmers over seven years. It will also include investments in technology, machinery, and other resources to rehabilitate productive landscapes.

Cuba pockets $70 million for its doctors in Algeria, but has not paid them salaries since March

Although the Algerian government pays Cuba $70 million a year for the services of almost 900 Cuban doctors, Cuba has not paid these doctors their salaries since March, the Miami Herald reports. Cuban doctors in Algeria work in four areas: ophthalmology, maternal and child health, oncology, and urology. While Algeria has received assistance from Cuban doctors since the 1960s, it published the official agreement with the Cuban government in their official gazette for the first time this month. According to the document, Algeria pays Cuba’s government approximately $79,000 annually for each of the 890 doctors it welcomes. Cuba’s government pays its doctors $900 per month. Of this total, $350 is reportedly deposited in a bank account in Cuba and the remaining sum is paid directly to doctors in Algerian dinars. Of the Cuban doctors serving in Algeria who were quoted in the Miami Herald report, one described the situation as “desperate” and another said the stipend was “enough for me.”

Cubans stranded in Moscow return to the island

Cubans and other Latin American citizens stranded in Russia because of COVID-19 returned to their countries on a special flight on June 3, OnCuba reports. On its way back to Russia, the flight will repatriate Russian citizens stranded in Latin America.

According to a Facebook post by the Cuban Embassy in Russia, the flight is not a humanitarian flight, meaning citizens had to purchase their tickets. The flight was arranged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Azur Air carrier. The post does not say how many spots were available to Cubans, but OnCuba reports that potentially many had to stay behind. Russia’s cancelation of international flights until at least August has left hundreds of Cubans stranded in Russia in precarious situations, with no money, food, or lodging. The Russian government reportedly used the occasion of the flight to send a donation of 15,000 COVID-19 tests to the Cuban government.

Cubans stranded in the UAE were repatriated this week as well, in what constituted Etihad Airways’ first flight to the Caribbean, The National reports. Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba notified that there were two more repatriation flights for U.S. citizens currently in Cuba that took place on June 4th.


Demand for Cuba’s paquete semanal increases during quarantine, Mónica Rivero, Slate

Demand for “el paquete” – a hard drive with music, films, computer games, television shows, and other media from around the world that is updated and distributed weekly through informal networks in Cuba – has dramatically increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown on the island, Mónica Rivero reports. “El paquete” supplies downloaded digital content for Cubans allowing them to access content which would otherwise not be available on official state media outlets. Since high prices and restricted hotspots limit internet access and make live streaming unfeasible, “el paquete” is a more accessible option. For about $2 to $3 CUC, Cubans can access the most recent and popular sources of domestic and international entertainment that travel the country through a hand-to-hand network. Disregarding the stay-at-home order, distributors continue to move around the city carrying Cuba’s “offline internet.”

Environmental map of Havana, [SPANISH], Inter press Service in Cuba

In honor of World Environment Day, the Inter Press Service in Cuba (IPS Cuba) published a map of Havana, with information about public and private institutions and initiatives dedicated to protecting the environment in the city. The initiatives aim to combat Havana’s environmental problems that arise from poor waste management systems, deforestation, water contamination, and lack of recycling systems, among others. The IPS Cuba infographic invites interested parties to send suggestions of additional information that can be included.

Camerata Romeu’s COVID-19 Home Concert 

The all-female Cuban instrumentalist chamber music group, Camerata Romeu, released a home concert video on YouTube. The group played a song they planned to perform at Classical:NEXT, a global classical music event hosted in the Netherlands, which has been postponed due to COVID-19.

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