U.S.-Cuba News Brief 06/26/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you have been enjoying the first days of summer and staying safe and healthy. We are celebrating Pride Month throughout June and invite you to check out our posts on CDA’s Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages. In Cuba, a group of artists, musicians, writers, and over 2,377 others including Cimafunk, Daymé Arocena, and Haydée Milanés have signed a petition to create awareness about, reflect on, and increase solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba. The petition may be accessed here.

Cuba experienced a significant decrease in the number of active COVID-19 cases, with only 58 patients at the time of publication. This week, Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health released a document with detailed plans for the three post-COVID-19 recovery phases. Most of Cuba entered the first phase last Thursday.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

A gringo takeover bid for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB); Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) statement on the IDB

Today, Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) released a statement in opposition to President Trump’s plans to nominate Mauricio Claver-Carone to be the next President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Mr. Claver-Carone is the Cuban-American Senior Director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs. According to the Bello column in The Economist, a gentlemen’s agreement with which the IDB was founded in 1959 stipulates that Latin America was always meant to have the presidency. The IDB has only had four presidents: from Chile, Mexico, Uruguay, and Colombia. The move to have a U.S. president breaks with tradition and raises concerns for some about the role of the Bank moving forward. Mr. Claver-Carone has served as an advisor in the Trump Administration in roles at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and, currently, at the National Security Council, where he drives the administration’s Cuba and Venezuela policies. The Economist column makes the case for a delayed vote next year after the U.S. presidential election in November takes place.

Citing Mr. Claver-Carone’s frequent use of sanctions tools for U.S. policy toward Latin American countries, Sen. Leahy calls him the “wrong nominee” and states there are qualified Latin American candidates who the U.S. would support, instead. Additionally, Sen. Leahy stated that electing Mr. Claver-Carone to a five-year term shortly before the U.S. presidential election in November “coupled with his unpopularity with some Members of Congress, including key members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, would not bode well for United States support for the Bank in the coming years.” Sen. Leahy also stated that a Claver-Carone presidency will not increase support for a “capital increase” for the Bank in the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which he is Vice Chairman.

The statement ends by urging the IDB Board of Governors to “carefully consider the enormity of the economic, public health, political, and other challenges currently confronting Latin America, and the implications of Mr. Claver-Carone’s election shortly before the U.S. presidential election.” Senator Leahy’s full statement may be accessed in English and in Spanish.

State Department 2019 Country Reports on Terrorism released 

On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism report which aims to provide Congress with a complete list of countries in which acts of international terrorism occured and whose territory is being used as a sanctuary for terrorists and/or terrorist organizations. As we previously reported, on May 13 the State Department announced Cuba’s inclusion in the list of countries “not cooperating fully” with counterterrorism efforts.

The Cuba report released this week reflects this. Cuba has not received this designation since 2015. The report recognizes there were no terrorist attacks in Cuba in 2019. However, the State Department’s justification for this categorization is Cuba’s refusal to extradite leaders of the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN), Victor Orlando Cubides (aka “Pablo Tejada”) and Israel Ramirez Pineda (aka “Pablo Beltran”), who claimed responsibility for a 2019 police academy bombing in Bogotá, which resulted in 22 deaths and injured 87 others. As we reported previously, Cuba asserts the extradition of ELN leaders would contravene protocols put in place at the start of peace talks between the Government of Colombia and the ELN.

Suits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act suffer their first significant setback

Helms-Burton Title III Act (LIBERTAD Act) lawsuits face their first major obstacle as the dismissal of Gonzalez v. Amazon, Inc. in May set a precedent for the interpretation of this law, Lawfare reports. Title III of the Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. nationals to file lawsuits against individuals and entities who “traffic” in property confiscated by Cuba’s government. Since the act was passed on March 12, 1996, every U.S. president suspended the implementation of Title III, citing U.S. national interests, until the Trump administration allowed the provision to go into effect on May 2, 2019. There have been a total of 26 lawsuits filed since then.

However, experts assess that the number could significantly decrease in the future. In the Gonzalez vs. Amazon, Inc. case, the court held that the act requires that the person filing the suit must have acquired ownership of the property and already have been a U.S. citizen before March 12, 1996, the day the law was passed. This strict interpretation of the statute determined that Gonzalez did not have standing to file suit because he inherited the property rights from his mother in 2016. He argues the law should be interpreted differently for cases of inheritance. Former Indiana Representative Dan Burton, an author of the law in question, argued that the law was not meant to be interpreted this way. The Gonzalez decision suggests that lawsuits with similar defenses might be dismissed on similar grounds and that heirs of original owners of properties confiscated in Cuba will not be able to sue companies under Title III, eventually leading to the gradual fade of Title III’s strength. Future outcomes of Title III lawsuits still depend on whether additional district courts, and the Gonzalez v. Amazon, Inc.’s latest appeal filed on June 8, uphold the same interpretation of the law.

Caribbean criticizes FL Sen. Scott legislation, says Cuban doctors vital in COVID-19 fight 

Leaders of the Eastern Caribbean nations are speaking in opposition of Senator Rick Scott’s (FL-13) new bill, which attempts to punish countries who employ Cuba’s medical assistance, the Miami Herald reports. Senators Marco Rubio (FL-13) and Ted Cruz (TX-21) joined Sen. Scott in the introduction of the Cut Profits to the Cuban Regime Act, which specifically calls for the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report to consider the country’s partnerships with Cuba’s medical brigades in its Tier determinations. Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and incoming chairman of CARICOM, Ralph Gonslaves, defended Cuba’s medical brigades arguing that the U.S. senators proposing the bill “aren’t properly informed.” Prime Minister Gonslaves said that engaging with Cuba’s medical missions “[is] not human trafficking,” and that by classifying it as such, the U.S. makes “more difficult the fight against genuine human trafficking and [underestimates] the big impact of how much the Cubans are helping.”

The Eastern Caribbean countries also criticized the Trump administration’s decision to add Cuba to the list of countries not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. In a statement released on Sunday, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) called the blacklisting of Cuba a “continued erosion of the progress that had been achieved in recent years in relations between the two countries” and expressed concerns that “the action undermines the stability, peace and security of the Caribbean region.” The OECS also highlighted that sanctions on Cuba only cause more harm and suffering for the businesses and the people of Cuba. There are currently over 470 Cuban healthcare professionals addressing COVID-19 needs in nine Caribbean countries, six of them members of the OECS.

IN CUBA

In Cuba, families fear shortages will worsen as coronavirus affects the economy

As shortages continue in Cuba, many fear they will live through another Special Period, NBC News reports. The Special Period is the name given to the grave period of economic crisis in Cuba in the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main economic partner at the time. During the Special Period, food production decreased by 40 percent, GDP declined by 33 percent from 1990-1993, and extensive food scarcity led to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies for many Cubans.

Like many countries around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted Cuba’s economy. However, Cuba’s economy was already under strain due to increased sanctions by the United States, a decline in tourism, fewer oil shipments from Venezuela, and the underperformance of domestic agriculture. The decrease in remittances from relatives abroad and a decrease in tourism since Cuba closed its airports in March to limit the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in a loss of revenue for the island the last few months.

Cuban economist Pavel Vidal Alejandro, Associate Professor of Economics at La Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia, predicts Cuba’s GDP will shrink 10 percent in 2020 and continue shrinking in 2021. For weeks, there have been widespread shortages in basic goods such as chicken, rice, and beans. When a product is available in stores, Cubans wait in lines for hours in the hopes of being able to purchase it. Cuba has also returned to rationing. Through their ration cards, known as libretas, Cubans are able to acquire goods like eggs, rice, and coffee each month. Resident of Havana Caridad Piedra, 65, said in an interview with NBC “We cannot choose. We buy whatever appears in the stores.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been successfully controlled on the island and all provinces except for Havana and Matanzas recently entered phase one of Cuba’s three-phase reopening plan. Mr. Vidal predicts that even once Cuba fully reopens to international tourism, tourism levels will not return to normal for 18-24 months. This prediction is based on tourism data following SARS and Zika outbreaks, as well as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. Cuban economist Pedro Monreal is also pessimistic about the recovery of tourism numbers.

For the first time, Cuba registers a child with two mothers

For the first time, the Cuban Ministry of Justice (MINJUS) issued a birth certificate that recognizes that a child has two mothers, OnCuba reports. While Cuba does not legally acknowledge marriage between women, Dachelys Valdés, from Cuba, and Hope Bastian, originally from the U.S., obtained a birth certificate which recognizes that their son, Paulo Cesar Bastian, has two mothers. The birth certificate was issued under the authority of Cuba’s Constitution, which recognizes an individual’s right to form a family in whatever organization it might take and protects the child’s best interest. The mothers believe that this is an important step for Cuba as the state sets a precedent and recognizes a non-traditional family structure as “legitimate and legal.”

Elian Gonzalez of Cuba says he’s becoming a father

Elián González, whose custody battle when he was a boy provoked tensions between Cuba and the U.S., announced on Father’s Day that he and his fiancée are expecting a baby girl this summer. In a Facebook post, Mr. González, 26, shared he will “soon understand what it truly means to be a father.” He also wrote that he learned what he currently knows about being a father from his dad and that he “hopes to do half as well as he did with me.”

Elián González’s story caused tension in Miami’s Cuban-American community and sparked a media frenzy in South Florida and nationally. On Thanksgiving Day 1999, two men fishing off the coast of Fort Lauderdale found González, then nine years old, and two others floating in a tube in the ocean. González’s mother and nine others had drowned on the journey from Cuba to Florida. González’s Miami relatives took custody of him and refused to return González to his father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, in Cuba.

It led to a custody battle which was ultimately resolved in June 2000 when then-Attorney General Janet Reno sent armed federal agents to take González from his relatives’ home and ultimately return him to Cuba to reunite with his father and stepmother.

Elián González grew up in Cuba and in a 2017 interview with CNN’s Patrick Oppmann he spoke on U.S.-Cuba relations, saying, “Everyone can have their different point of view, have their political differences, but I don’t think the countries and families should continue to be separated.” His story is still painful for many in Miami’s Cuban-American community as the 2017 documentary, Elián, shows.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuban doctors may stay longer in Mexico if coronavirus cases keep rising

The 585 healthcare professionals who arrived in Mexico City in May to help treat COVID-19 may have to stay longer as the number of cases continues to increase, according to Reuters. According to Mexico City Health Minister Oliva Lopez, the 135 million Mexican pesos (about $6.03 million) contract was scheduled to end July 31, but may now be extended as the number of cases in the city now accounts for almost 25 percent of confirmed cases throughout the nation. The support from Cuban healthcare workers, biomedical engineers, and epidemiologists is especially crucial for Mexico City, as the city faces a shortage of about 6,600 doctors and 23,000 nurses. The Cuban brigade in Mexico constitutes one of the largest medical contingents Cuba has sent abroad amid the pandemic. Referring to U.S. accusations that Cuban medical missions are “forced labor,” Ms. Lopez said, “I have seen the criticism (of the Cuban program), but the role [Cuban doctors] play in the city is fundamental.”

Wealthy nations offer Cuba one-year moratorium on debt

The Paris Club of creditors granted Cuba a one-year moratorium on debt payment, Reuters reports. In May, Cuba asked the Paris Club for a two-year moratorium to resume debt payments in 2022. Under this agreement, Cuba and the Paris Club will be able to negotiate a payment plan in the spring of 2021 to settle the remaining debt. Cuba will also be responsible for payment penalties on the debt. The members of the Paris Club Cuba group are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 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 Latin America’s second best recovery rate from Covid-19; Cuba studying genetic factors of patients recovered from COVID-19

Over 91 percent of Cubans who tested positive for COVID-19 recover, making Cuba the Latin American country with the second-highest COVID-19 recovery rate, Prensa Latina reports. The data, compiled by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), showed Uruguay has Latin America’s best recovery rate, at 94.9 percent. Cuba has reported 85 deaths since the first positive cases in March, resulting in a 3.7 percent mortality rate.

Recovered patients in Cuba, which now amount to 2,180, are the subject of a new study by Cuba’s National Group of Genetics to analyze the role of genetic factors in a person’s propensity to contract and develop more severe COVID-19 symptoms, OnCuba reports. According to the Director of the Center for Medical Genetics, Beatriz Marcheco, the study will start this week in the municipality of La Lisa, Havana, and will be executed with the patients’ consent and the collaboration of the local health departments, Tribuna de La Habana newspaper reports. The study is also in progress in the Eastern provinces of Guantánamo, Granma and Santiago de Cuba. Findings from international studies suggest type A blood leads to increased complications from COVID-19. Director of Epidemiology of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Francisco Durán, said that Cuba will release the findings of its research upon conclusion.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

The Bible of the people’s freedom [SPANISH], Julio César Guanche, OnCuba

Debates about Decree-Law 370, which became effective July 2019, dominate Cuba’s online platforms, according to Julio César Guanche. 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.” In his opinion piece, Mr. César Guanche analyzes what freedom of speech is, what the Cuban Constitution says about it and how this should impact the implementation of Decree Law 370.

Cuba’s two pandemics: The coronavirus and the US embargo, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, Aljazeera

In this opinion piece, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, Josefina Vidal Ferreiro, writes that Cuba is suffering from two pandemics: COVID-19 and the U.S. embargo. She discusses Cuba’s historical tradition of sending medical brigades abroad since the 1960s to support healthcare workers in other countries and she condemns the Trump administration’s allegations that this program is a form of “human trafficking” and the U.S. calls to reject Cuba’s aid. Ambassador Vidal also discusses the negative impacts of President Trump’s economic sanctions and embargo on the island, particularly as Cuba works to control the spread of COVID-19. Ambassador Vidal ends the piece by calling on people around the world to demand an end to the U.S. embargo because “these are times for solidarity and cooperation, not sanctions and blockades.”

Economic debate in Cuba: first and second planes (II), Ailynn Torres Santana, On Cuba

Two weeks ago, we reported on the first part of a debate by five Cuban women economists surrounding the challenges of the Cuban economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, in this discussion, Ailynn Torres Santana shares the second and final part of the debate. In this part, the economists engage with topics on the role and challenges of small and medium-sized enterprises and the gender gap in the state, private, and self-employment sectors. The panelists emphasize the need to find strategies and solutions to current problems, thinking through inequalities while brainstorming reforms for the future and insisting that no individual be left without protection in the Cuban economy.

Cuban dons full-body cardboard shield against coronavirus, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

“I am at home, what about you?” reads the side of the tall cardboard box shaped like a house which Feridia Rojas has been wearing as a form of protection from COVID-19 since the pandemic started, Sarah Marsh reports. The 82-year-old widower and retired nurse, whose daughters live in the U.S., has found this attire to be the safest way to run her errands around Havana since personal protective equipment is not sold to the public. Ms. Rojas enjoys how her “little home makes people laugh” amid the stress caused by the pandemic.

EVENTS

Webinar, El Efecto Mariel: Before, During, and After, Thursday, July 9

The University of Miami Libraries and the Harvard University’s Cuba Studies Program will co-host the first of a series of webinars and online events discussing the various moments of the 1908 Mariel boatlift. The panel will feature professors and scholars from various universities and fields to bring together diverse perspectives on the historic event. The webinar will start at 11 am EST. For more information and to register visit the event website


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