U.S.-Cuba News Brief 06/18/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

We’re delivering our weekly news roundup a bit early this week because the CDA office will be closed Friday, June 19 in observance of Juneteenth, an annual holiday which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the U.S. This year, CDA will reflect on this pivotal moment in U.S. history while recognizing that the fight for freedom of Black people in our country is an ongoing one.

This week marked the three year anniversary of President Trump’s announcement in Miami of a National Security Presidential Memorandum restricting travel to and trade with Cuba. In a press statement, CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala said “It has been three years since President Trump began dismantling U.S. policies of engagement with Cuba. Today, travel, trade, and diplomatic engagement with Cuba are exponentially more difficult than they were three years ago.” She also remarked that these policies are especially cruel during the COVID-19 pandemic and out of touch with the reality of the island. Read the full statement here.

Cuba experienced a decrease in COVID-19 cases, with 188 active positive cases at the time of publication. Today, the whole country, except for Havana and Matanzas provinces, entered the first phase of post-COVID-19 recovery, according to an informative note by the Council of Ministers in Cuba.

This week, in Cuba news…


Senator Rick Scott’s new bill targets countries that hire Cuban doctors through official ‘missions’

Senator Rick Scott (FL), along with Senator Marco Rubio (FL) and Senator Ted Cruz (TX), introduced the Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act in the Senate yesterday, the Miami Herald reports. The bill would require the State Department to publish the list of countries who hire Cuban medical missions and to use that list when deciding countries’ rankings on the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. The bill is the latest in a series of actions in Congress and in the U.S. departments and agencies that seek to publicize reports of abuses in the program, discredit the missions on the global stage, and ultimately deprive the Cuban government of the resources derived from the medical missions.

In 2019, the Department of State ranked Cuba in Tier 3 in the TIP report, the lowest-ranked tier. Sen. Rubio called the medical missions “a form of modern-day human trafficking.” There are currently about 30,000 Cuban healthcare workers abroad in more than 50 countries. The Trump administration’s public condemnation of the countries which contract Cuban healthcare workers has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 11, during a press conference on the release of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concerns over the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) role in “facilitating forced labor by Cuban doctors in Brazil’s Mais [Médicos] (More Doctors) program,” On Cuba reports. In the press conference, Secretary Pompeo demanded an explanation of how PAHO became the intermediary in a “scheme to exploit Cuban medical workers in Brazil”.

Carlos Fernández de Cossio, General Director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted in response, claiming that while Secretary Pompeo turns to coercion, intimidation, and extortion against PAHO in his efforts to attack Cuba, he won’t be able to tarnish the vast recognition of the international solidarity of the Cuban doctors. In a separate tweet, General Director Fernández de Cossio claimed that the intensified efforts of the U.S. State Department and “anti-Cuba politicians” to increase sanctions on the island seems motivated by Cuba’s nearing victory over the pandemic. According to General Director Fernández de Cossio, Cuba is on the “verge of controlling #COVID19, in spite of their [U.S.] efforts to destroy us,” while the pandemic is “out of control in the U.S., threatening over 200 000 deaths” by September.

Meanwhile, the Cuba Nobel Prize Campaign in favor of awarding Cuban Henry Reeve Medical Brigade the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize continues to gain support. The petition has over 15,000 signatures and has been endorsed by writer Alice Walker, musician Silvio Rodríguez, and actor Mark Ruffalo among others.

Senate unanimously approves Menendez-Rubio Resolution calling for the release of Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer

According to a June 12 press release by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Senate unanimously approved Resolution 454 calling for the immediate release of Cuban activist José Daniel Ferrer. As we reported last week, Mr. Ferrer was recently awarded the State Department’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award. He was imprisoned in Cuba on October 1, 2019 and convicted on April 3, 2020 for four years and six months. The resolution calls for his immediate release from prison and commends his work promoting human rights and democracy in Cuba.

U.S. backs senior Trump adviser to lead Latin America Bank

The Trump administration plans to nominate Mauricio Claver-Carone, the Cuban-American Senior Director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, to lead the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Bloomberg reports. Mr. Claver-Carone would be the first president of the IDB who is not from Latin America since its founding 60 years ago.

In a press release, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated the U.S. Treasury Department is “confident that his leadership of the IDB will strengthen its ability to deliver development impact to the region.” Although the U.S. nominee will run against Argentina’s Gustavo Beliz and other candidates, having the support of the U.S. gives him a significant advantage. As the biggest stakeholder, the U.S. controls 30 percent of the votes, resulting in de-facto veto power.

Since 2018, when Mr. Claver-Carone assumed his current position on the National Security Council, he has played an important role in shaping U.S. policy toward Venezuela and Cuba toward a hardline approach. If elected as president of the IDB, Mr. Claver-Carone will be faced with several regional challenges including the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Trump policy change frightens Cubans, shows Washington chaos

The State Department’s June 3 announcement that FINCIMEX would be among the seven new subentities to the Cuba Restricted List led to panic among Cubans on the island and Cuban families in the U.S. who rely on Western Union to send remittances to their families, the Washington Post reports. FINCIMEX is the entity charged with processing remittances in Cuba which is used by Western Union and other remittance forwarding services. However, the regulation was published in the Federal Register on Friday but FINCIMEX was not listed. The State Department stated this was due to a clerical error and that FINCIMEX would soon be added to the list.

However, many experts speculate that even if FINCIMEX was added to the list, remittance forwarding services could be grandfathered in, and those in the U.S. will still be able to send remittances to family members in Cuba. The Trump administration’s decision to sanction FINCIMEX has caused panic and worry on both sides of the Florida Straits as Cuba faces one of the worst economic crises it has seen in decades. For many Cubans on the island, receiving remittances is currently their only lifeline. Collin Laverty, founder and president of Cuba Education Travel and member of the CDA Board of Directors stated, “It kind of is symbolic of the Trump approach to Cuba, which is to make a lot of noise, cause a lot of confusion,’’ he said. “Sometimes they follow through with regulations, sometimes they don’t…the policy’s been extremely inconsistent and incoherent.”

Cuban-Americans stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter

A group of Cuban-Americans signed a petition in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and their work to end systemic racism in the U.S. The petition was prepared by Ana Sofía Peláez, Co-Founder of the Miami Freedom Project, and features the signatures of dozens of Cuban-Americans from across the U.S. The statement explains that white power structures have prevented people of African descent, including Afro-Cubans, from participating in equitable structures like education and healthcare and from feeling safe in their homes and neighborhoods.

The statement also mentions that as advocates for human rights in Cuba they believe in freedom of speech and the right to protest. The statement ends by recognizing that while the Cuban-American community has faced exile, family separation, and political violence, Afro-Cubans have also had to endure systemic abuse and racial injustice in the U.S. They deny the myth of a monolithic white Cuban diaspora and commit themselves to creating a space for all Cuban-Americans to engage with the cause of racial justice. The full statement may be read here.


Details on reopening tourism in Cuba post-COVID-19 Reopening [SPANISH]

Last week, Cuba’s government announced its three-phase plan to gradually reopen the country. On the television program La Mesa Redonda (The Round Table), President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that because of the island’s low number of COVID-19 cases and low mortality rate, Cuba is ready to reopen the country.

In the first phase of reopening, the country will allow domestic tourism. In the second phase, it will allow international tourism limited to the beaches in the keys while prohibiting access to the mainland, El Toque reports. According to Cuba’s Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, every tourist will be tested for COVID-19 and have their temperature checked upon arrival in Cuba. Individuals who test positive will be transported to a hospital. Hotels will implement nearly 150 new measures to guarantee adequate sanitary measures and social distancing. Hotels will work at a maximum capacity of 60 percent and will be equipped with a medical team. There are also new protocols for tourism workers, who will work seven consecutive days without leaving the facilities, and rest for the following seven days at their homes, under medical watch and isolation.

Alejandro Gil Fernández, Minister of the Economy, recognized that Cuba’s economy has suffered significantly due to the COVID-19 crisis and that the country is facing a difficult economic situation. Cuban economist Pedro Monreal is skeptical of the road to the recovery of tourism, especially considering that countries that were essential members of Cuba’s tourism market have been severely affected by COVID-19. Cuba is scheduled to start the first phase of reopening in mid-July, but it has yet to announce an official date.

Cuba’s doctors to make up for lost tourism revenue

Delegations of Cuban doctors helping combat COVID-19 around the world are on a dual mission, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. These doctors are both providing crucial medical support to overwhelmed medical systems abroad and earning hard currency for Cuba’s struggling economy. The United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean predicts that Cuba’s economy will contract by 3.7 percent in 2020. The island is facing the worst economic crisis since the economic crisis of the 1990s, known as the Special Period. In 2018, Cuba’s medical missions generated $6.4 billion in revenue. Since the Trump administration’s sanctions have tightened, Venezuela has reduced its oil shipments, and tourism has stopped because of COVID-19, medical missions are currently one of Cuba’s main sources of revenue. The economic crisis is profound. Cuba has once again started rationing basic goods like chicken and rice and Cubans’ only way of obtaining food is by waiting in lines for hours.

Protest against Law 370 in Cuba

Havana Times published the Joint Statement from Organizations and the Independent Media reiterating their support of the May 6 petition declaring Decree-Law 370 unconstitutional in Cuba. The petition, “Declaración contra el Decreto-Ley 370: Ley Azote” (Declaration against Legal Decree 370), was originally published on the online platform Avaaz.

The Joint Statement says that while Decree 370 is described as a law on cybersecurity, national defense, technical sovereignty, and security, it actually violates fundamental rights associated with the use of information and communication technologies, including freedom of expression and privacy. Among other restrictions, Decree-Law 370 “penalizes the dissemination of information contrary to ‘social interest,’ ‘morals,’ and ‘good customs’ on social media, classifications which do not imply unlawful conduct and inhibit debate in the public and political sphere.” The decree also grants Cuba’s Ministry of Communications the discretion to issue licenses for computer programs and applications but does not require explanations when certain programs are denied a license. The Joint Statement claims the decree-law violates the Cuban Constitution as well as international treaties ratified by the Cuban State, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Decree-Law 370 has been in effect since July 4, 2019 and since then, 20 people have been subject to 3000 Cuban pesos (approximately $120 USD) in fines. Since the signing of the May 6 petition, an additional nine people have been fined.

According to the statement, on June 8, the petition was presented to the National Assembly, the State Council, the Supreme Court, the Office of the Attorney General, and the President of the Republic with signatures from Cuban residents, expatriates, and Cuban nationals of 83 countries.

Cuba’s small businesses step up in fight against Covid-19

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Cuban small private businesses have provided great support to local authorities, leading to unprecedented levels of collaboration between the private and the state-owned sector, according to a photo-journalism essay published by the Cuba Study Group. Private entities have helped implement the government’s social distancing regulations, produce protective gear for healthcare personnel and assist the most vulnerable populations. El Club de Motos Eléctricas de Cuba (The Cuban Electric Motorcycle Club) and Mandao Express, a Havana-based delivery service, for example, have played an essential role in helping restaurants and coffee shops stay open and offer free food to the elderly. Another restaurant in Havana, Bella Ciao, coordinated with a local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), to identify and provide free meals to vulnerable individuals.

The private and the state sectors have also collaborated in the technology field; entrepreneurs have manufactured 3D face masks and spare parts for ventilators and other critical hospital equipment. These efforts have been recognized not only by the independent media, but also by state-run outlets such as La Mesa Redonda (the government’s televised official channel of communication), Juventud Rebelde, and Cubadebate, which have celebrated the role of private business in the handling of this crisis.   

Private sector in Cuba: Cuba implements the role of translator and certified interpreter [SPANISH]

Translators and certified interpreters will now be able to work independently in the Cuban private sector, according to two legal documents published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba No.40, Cubadebate reports. Otto Vaillant Frías, Director of the Equipo de Servicios de Traductores e Intérpretes (Team of Services of Translators and Interpreters) (ESTI), said in a press conference that Presidential Decree 365 and Resolution 85 of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) authorize the private sector implementation of translation services in light of the growing demand for those services in Cuba. Previously, all officially sanctioned translation and interpretation work was completed by ESTI. Certified individuals will now gradually be able to offer services to the general public, national and foreign businesses, associations, and other entities, except for the Organizations of the Central State Administration, which will continue to be exclusively managed by ESTI. Decree 365 also establishes the Sistema Nacional de Traducción e Interpretación (National System of Translation and Interpretation) which will be governed by MINREX. After prospective translators and interpreters pass the certification exam administered by MINREX, they will be able to start the process to acquire a self-employed license.

Santiago de Cuba authorities publish phone numbers to receive complaints  [SPANISH]

In a rare move, Cuban authorities in the province of Santiago de Cuba published phone numbers of government officials, companies, organizations, and other parties, aiming to listen to the people’s concerns in an effort to maintain unity and discipline during the COVID-19 pandemic, OnCuba reports. The phone numbers were published in the final page of the June 13 issue of the local newspaper Sierra Maestra, along with a message encouraging individuals to focus on urban agricultural production, comply with public health regulations and measures, and come together to overcome these hard times.


Reflections on the Great Lockdown in Cuba [SPANISH], Pavel Vidal, Columbia Law School Cuba Capacity Building Project

In this article, Pavel Vidal, Cuban Economics professor at la Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia, reflects on the impact of the current economic moment which the International Monetary Fund calls “The Great Lockdown” and its unique implications for Cuba. Dr. Vidal discusses the factors which exacerbate the negative effects of the crisis, such as poor internet connectivity, and those which cushion the economic blow, such as Cuba’s health system. He also remarks that Cuba’s government has yet to implement major economic reforms to combat this economic crisis.

Domestic work or modern slavery in times of pandemic [SPANISH], Aracely Rodríguez Malagón, SEMLAC

In a personal reflection about gender disparity and COVID-19, Aracely Rodríguez Malagón, member of El Club Espendrú, questions the social structures and household dynamics which she believes have transformed the work of some women into a form of modern slavery. The author shares her observations about how the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic have disproportionately burdened women, especially those who work as caretakers for other families, by also making them responsible for homeschooling and forcing them to figure out impossible ways to get to work when all transportation is suspended. Ms. Rodríguez calls us all to reflect on how to eradicate certain patriarchal values that have infiltrated everyday interactions, even those between women, and highlights the need to dismantle the mechanisms that still keep women oppressed.

The Cuban Vote in 2020: Rejection of Trumpism or “Somos Continuidad”?, Michael J. Bustamante, El Toque

In his article, Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Florida International University, speculates what the “Cuban vote” could look like in the 2020 presidential election. Citing election data from the past few election cycles and several opinion polls of Cuban-Americans, Dr. Bustamante paints a nuanced picture of what we may expect from Cuban-American voters in November. He argues that the U.S.-Cuba policy is not a decisive issue which determines who Cuban-Americans will vote for. The author also argues that Cuban-Americans’ beliefs on U.S.-Cuba policy are influenced by several factors, including Cuban officials on the island; how Cuban authorities treat members of the diaspora, and by Cuban-Americans’ perceptions of the events on the island. He ends his article by listing four recommendations for Cuban authorities to consider as they create their legislative agenda in the future.

The US Has Much to Gain From Increasing Scientific Cooperation With Cuba,Paul Bierman & Amanda H. Schmidt, The Conversation

Geoscientists Paul Bierman and Amanda Schmidt argue in their op-ed that the U.S. would benefit from collaboration with Cuban scientists. Bierman and Schmidt have collaborated with Cuban geoscientists over the last two and a half years and have even visited Cuba to work with their partners. The experience has been valuable and they have learned from Cuban scientists about sustainable farming methods. As Bierman and Schmidt point out, the Cuban scientists they work with are unable to visit the U.S. until the U.S. decides to grant them research visas. They write in support of policies which would facilitate collaboration with Cuban scientists in the future.

Thinking about specific public policy changes against racial inequality [SPANISH], OnCuba

In this video, historian and Director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University, Alejandro de la Fuente, analyzes racism in the Cuban context. Author of A Nation for All, Dr. de la Fuente has become one of the leading experts on topics of race and racism in Cuba. In the recording, Dr. de la Fuente discusses the ingrained racial prejudices among Cubans that result in discrimination against people of African descent, and the presence of different dynamics that may not appear overtly racist but lead to unequal access to resources, such as receiving remittances, which Black Cubans are less likely to receive.

Olivier Assayas’ film “Wasp Network” comes to Netflix June 19,  Ryan Lattanzio, IndieWire

French filmmaker Olivier Assayas’ film “Wasp Network” will be released on Netflix June 19. The movie stars Penélope Cruz, Edgar Ramirez, Gael García Bernal and Cuban actress Ana de Armas. It is an espionage thriller based on the book “The Last Soldiers of the Cold War: The Story of the Cuban Five” by Fernando Morais and tells the true story of a group of five Cuban spies, known as the Cuban Five, who were arrested by U.S. authorities in September 1998 and convicted in Miami. On December 17, 2014, when Presidents Obama and Castro announced the intent to re-establish diplomatic relations, it was also announced that the U.S. and Cuba had successfully negotiated the release of members of the Cuban Five as well as the release of a CIA asset in Havana. Assayas’ film first premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019 and a second version of the film was later released at the New York Film Festival. Following initial hesitation from Cuba’s government, Assayas and the cast and crew were eventually allowed to live in Havana for six months to finish filming. The trailer may be viewed here

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