U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 07/02/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. We are delivering our news brief early this week because the CDA office will be closed on Friday, July 3, in observance of Independence Day. This weekend be sure to check out Cimafunk’s new online store which offers shirts, hats, and a vinyl of his album, Terapia.

Cuba continues to experience a decrease in the number of COVID-19 patients, with only 44 active cases at the time of publication. Cuba announced that tomorrow, July 3, Havana will enter phase one of the country’s three-phase reopening plan. Havana will partially reopen bars, restaurants, and beaches. Most of Cuba entered phase one on June 18; Matanzas entered phase one on June 23. All provinces, except for Matanzas and Havana, will enter phase two tomorrow.  

CDA is seeking two fall interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Mike East, who lowered U.S. flag in Havana in 1961, dies at 81

On June 24, Francis “Mike” Woodie East passed away from lung cancer, the New York Times reports. Mr. East was one of the three Marine guards who lowered the American flag at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on January 4, 1961, when the U.S. severed all diplomatic ties with Cuba and embassy personnel departed the island.

In August 2015, following the decision by Presidents Obama and Castro to restore diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Mr. East was able to return to Cuba to see the American flag wave over the U.S. Embassy once more. He was accompanied by the two Marines who were with him in 1961, Larry Morris and Jim Tracey. During the almost two years he spent in Cuba, Mr. East formed a deep appreciation for the Cuban people, and since leaving, he longed to return.

In a video produced by the U.S. Department of State about the flag raising ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Mr. East spoke about his stay in Cuba, saying he remembered “the good times, the people you met, the friendships.” Mr. East’s time in Cuba had a profound impact on his life, partly, because of the contrast he observed in matters of racial treatment between Cuba and the U.S. Born and raised in Alabama, he was one of the two African-Americans in his class at Parris Island, South Carolina during his training for Embassy guards in 1959. When he went to Cuba, he was shocked by “what he perceived to be racial equality and how different it was from what he had seen growing up in the Deep South,” he shared with State Department communications official, David N. Arizmendi, who accompanied the three veterans in their return to Havana. “I guess there is a special bond with Cuba. It’s a bond that you can’t put into words; it’s something that you’d like to see,” shared Mr. East, days before the American flag was raised in Cuba again.

Mr. East is survived by his wife, Alice; his sons, Stanley and Michael; his sister, Dora; his brother Alphonse; three grandchildren; and one great-grandson. We extend our sincere condolences to his family.  

Trump policies reverse progress that helped Cubans

Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis reflects on how U.S.-Cuba policy has changed for the worse since 2015 in his Miami Herald opinion piece. Amb. DeLaurentis served as the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Havana from 2015-2017, Chief of Mission at the U.S. Interests Section the year prior, and he was posted several times in Havana throughout his career in the U.S. Foreign Service. He writes that the progress between the U.S. and Cuba he witnessed five years ago—marked by reestablished diplomatic relations between both countries, 23 agreements, 17 dialogues, and the reopening of embassies—has been undone under the Trump administration which has “rewound history.” He writes that the Trump administration is aware that a “maximum pressure” policy, like the kind which the U.S. has implemented for the past 60 years, will not lead to regime change in Cuba. Instead, it will strengthen Cuba’s ties with Venezuela, China, and Russia. Amb. DeLaurentis states that the U.S. Cuba policy currently is not driven by U.S. national interests but by domestic politics. He says, “Hardliners in the White House like to say that engagement didn’t lead to positive change. Yet the notion that nothing changed on the island is just false. Our engagement was helping to make the lives of the Cuban people better and positive change more likely. I saw it firsthand.” He ends the opinion piece by writing that the U.S.’s goal is to improve Cubans’ lives on the island in ways that are consistent with U.S. interests and values, and asks how we will be able to achieve this by using the same policy which has been ineffective for 60 years.

Trump defies demographics by courting Cuba hardliners in Florida

President Trump’s hardline U.S. policies toward Cuba are part of his strategy to secure the Cuban-American vote in Florida, Bloomberg News reports. President Trump needs at least 270 votes from the Electoral College to be reelected, and winning without Florida’s 29 votes will be difficult. According to a recent RealClearPolitics poll, Vice President Biden leads President Trump by 6.4 points in Florida. In an interview with CBS Miami in April, Vice President Biden stated he would restore U.S.-Cuba relations to Obama-era policies. The announcement stands in stark contrast to President Trump’s policies toward Cuba, including ordering the Marriot-run Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Havana to end operations, which are meant to garner support from Cuban-Americans, according to Bloomberg News.

In 2016, President Trump won 35 percent of the Latino vote in Florida, including 54 percent of the Cuban-American vote. The dynamics of the 2020 election may look different, though, Bloomberg News reports. For one, as a younger, more moderate Cuban-American population takes the place of older, hardline Cuban-Americans, there is growing support for engagement between the U.S. and Cuba. Moreover, Cubans who arrived in the U.S. after 1995 are also less likely to support a hardline policy toward Cuba. Guillermo Grenier, Chair and Professor of the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, co-directs FIU’s bi-annual Cuba Poll, the longest-running research project documenting the opinions of the Cuban-American community in South Florida. In an interview with Bloomberg, he stated “I think you have a good chance of the new arrivals being the key voting bloc this time around.” Florida’s electorate has also been transformed by a greater number of Puerto Ricans living in Central Florida since Hurricane María in 2017, as well as greater numbers of Venezuelans, Colombians, and Brazilians, which could dilute the influence of the Cuban vote in Florida.

Insiders familiar with President Trump’s Cuba policy shared with Bloomberg News that he may continue enacting hardline policies against Cuba, including implementing travel restrictions against Cuban diplomats traveling to the U.S. and requiring foreigners who travel to Cuba to obtain a visa to visit the U.S.

IN CUBA

Cuba prevents protest over police killing of Black man

Cuba detained at least 40 activists so as to prevent a protest against the state after Hansel Hernández Galiano, a 27 year-old unarmed Black man, was shot and killed by the Cuban police on the morning of June 24, Reuters reports. Among the detainees were many artists, journalists, and activists such as Tania Bruguera and José Daniel Ferrer, who leads an opposition organization in Cuba and was recently awarded the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom Award by the U.S. Department of State. According to a Facebook post by Tremenda Nota, prospective protesters were unable to arrive at the site where the demonstration in Havana was supposed to occur due to police intervention.

The killing that motivated the protests was first denounced in a Facebook post on June 25 by Lenia Patiño, Mr. Hernández Galiano’s aunt, describing it as an act of police brutality and calling for justice. Three days later, Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior released a statement reporting the death, arguing that the officer shot the gun in fear for his own life, and highlighting Mr. Hernández Galiano’s criminal record. It concluded by saying that Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior lamented the death. The official Twitter account of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, among other state entities and affiliates, have supported the government’s stance, providing this unofficial audio recording as evidence that the shooting was justified, and warning that critics of Cuba may lie and twist the truth. There has been criticism about the government’s lack of investigation and accountability for the police officers involved in the incident, especially after Cuba condemned the U.S. response to police brutality and widely reported on the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States.

Facing crisis, Cuba calls on citizens to grow more of their own food

As Cuba’s food shortages continue, some Cubans have responded to Cuba’s government’s call for Cubans to grow their own food, Reuters reports. Havana native Nelson Piloto, 40, created a garden outside of a temple of the Afro-Cuban religious brotherhood Abakua. He planted bell peppers and cassava and is “making the most of the earth.” He is following Cuba’s leaders’ suggestions and taking advantage of any space available in order to grow food.

Food security is currently a major issue in Cuba. The island imports about two-thirds of its food which costs around $2 billion each year. It also imports fertilizer, machinery, and animal feed for agriculture. Cuba’s imports were already decreasing for years, long before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived on the island. Most recently, the pause on tourism due to COVID-19 has only made the economic situation worse.

Cuba’s leaders have asked Cubans to use the survival lessons learned from the Special Period of the 1990s, the grave period of economic crisis in Cuba following the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s main economic partner at the time. Some are hopeful this period of crisis will lead to reforms of Cuba’s agricultural model, toward a less-centralized one. Cuban economist Pedro Monreal stated “Nothing good can come from the combination of monopoly of supplies, monopoly of distribution and distorted prices.” Meanwhile, Cubans across the island are waiting in long lines for hours each day in the hopes of purchasing basic goods, like chicken and rice. Yanet Montes, a 51 year-old Havana native shared, “Today we Cubans have two big worries: COVID-19 and food. Both kill. We are flooded with scarcity.”

New Cuban tourism system to isolate visitors from population

Cuba’s new tourism system, which opened on Wednesday, will separate foreign visitors to the keys on Cuba’s northern coast, the Associated Press reports. Tourists must take charter flights directly to the keys or to central Cuba and upon arrival must take a COVID-19 test. Those who test negative will be allowed to go directly to their hotels via buses. Tourist buses will not be allowed to make stops on the way to hotels and tourists will not be allowed to rent cars or leave the designated resort areas. Travelers who test positive will be isolated. The details are still not clear, but isolation will likely consist of being quarantined and being sent home. Foreign tourists will be separated from domestic tourists. The reopening of international tourism is part of Cuba’s first phase of its three-phase reopening plan, which began on June 18 and includes all provinces except Havana and Matanzas. Hotels are implementing different measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including requiring tourism workers to work seven consecutive days without leaving the facilities, and rest for the following seven days at their homes, under medical watch and isolation.

Although Cuba is opening to tourists, it is still unclear when tourists will arrive again, given many countries’ travel restrictions. Tourism is a major source of revenue for Cuba. Last year, Cuba earned approximately 10 percent of its gross domestic product, around $4.1 billion, from tourism. The loss of tourism revenue since March, derived from efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, is one of the factors that has pushed the island further into an economic crisis marked by widespread food shortages. 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.

Cuba’s Council of Ministers June meeting report[SPANISH]

Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez affirmed that Cuba will overcome the difficult situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic according to a summary published by Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The president called for an increase in national production to be able to meet internal demand for food and other goods, and for the implementation of municipal and provincial production systems. He also highlighted that although other countries have lost doctors working to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba has not lost any healthcare workers to COVID-19.

Vice Prime Minister Alejandro Gil Fernández elaborated on the exceptional conditions that shaped the first six months of the year and reported on a few favorable trends for the Cuban economy, including an increase in sales by mixed and national enterprises in the Mariel Special Development Zone and the approval for 12 foreign companies to enter Cuba’s market, with the expectation that three more companies will be added before the end of the semester.

Vice Prime Minister Gil discussed the spring sowing campaign for various crops and specified that fuel and certain inputs for agricultural production and equipment have been given priority. Production deficits exist for rice, beans, and pork.

The Vice Prime Minister also reported that in terms of employment, more than 626,000 people work remotely and will continue working this way during the post-COVID-19 recovery phase. There are 147,775 workers whose work was interrupted, but, he stated, “complying with the protection measures, we have to recover this workforce so that the country’s activity levels are restored.” The Finances and Prices Minister, Meisi Bolaños Weiss highlighted budgetary adjustments that have been made to face challenges, including an increase of approximately one billion Cuban pesos of the state budget destined for public health, isolation centers, food, transportation and salary guarantees.

In addition to economic and budgetary updates, Cuba’s Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso Grau, shared the results of a project by the Governmental Commission of the National Program against Racism and Racial Discrimination.

Tornado collapses building and causes damages to homes in eastern Cuba

On Sunday, a tornado struck the city of Palma Soriano in Santiago de Cuba, OnCuba reports. The Mario Maceo Quesada wine factory, not currently in use, sustained damage. At least nine homes were also affected. There were no fatalities, but two people were evacuated to relatives’ homes and six will be temporarily placed in a government facility due to damage sustained to their homes.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Andorra expresses gratitude to Cuba to fight Covid-19

Andorra’s government hosted a second farewell ceremony for the remaining 39 Cuban doctors in light of their return to Cuba, Prensa Latina reports. Part of the brigade already returned home in late May. During the ceremony, Andorra’s Foreign Minister María Ubach reiterated the European country’s gratitude towards the members of the brigade and the Cuban authorities for this partnership. Minister Ubach expressed her appreciation for Cuba’s essential help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and asserted that this was the first time “a country comes to help us in one of the most critical moments in our history.”

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuban families are the collateral damage of Donald Trump’s policies, William LeoGrande, The Sun Sentinel

In this opinion piece, William LeoGrande, Professor of Government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C., discusses the impact of the Trump administration’s Cuba policy for Cubans on the island and Cuban Americans. Professor LeoGrande argues that President Trump’s political strategy is based on anger, fear, and an “us” versus “them” mentality. For Cuban Americans, the “them” is Cuba’s government, which President Trump promises to bring an end to. Professor LeoGrande writes that “Cuban families are the collateral damage” and that the clear attacks on Cuban families’ welfare may lead to opposition from Cuban American voters and affect President Trump’s electoral results in November.

Our Cuba: LGBTQ+ people do not have equal conditions before powerful enemies: religious fundamentalism and patriarchy [SPANISH], OnCuba

Lidia Romero, Cuban lawyer and LGBTQ+ activist, comments on the challenges the Cuban community faces as it strives to achieve its fundamental rights. As coordinator of various activist groups, including 11M Cuba, she focuses on addressing what she considers to be the most important challenges: the lack of unity and the lack of leadership in the movement. In a video interview with OnCuba TV, Ms. Romero shares her opinion on the reforms the Cuban Constitution needs and how marriage should be defined in the new Family Code.

Editorial: ‘LGBTI+ pride and the fight for same-sex marriage in Cuba’ [SPANISH], Tremenda Nota

This editorial by Tremenda Nota, a Cuban digital magazine which covers Cuba-specific stories about women, the LGBTI+ community, the Black community, and migrants argues that the fight for same-sex marriage in Cuba should be the LGBTI+ community’s goal now. The editorial states that official efforts by Mariela Castro and El Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (The National Center for Sex Education) to foster greater inclusion of the LGBTI+ community over the last decade have failed because they attempt to assimilate the LGBTI+ community into a system which excludes them and fails to recognize the historically oppressive relationship that has existed between the state and the LGBTI+ community. The editorial argues that same-sex marriage must be achieved without a popular referendum, outside the norms established by Cuba’s parliament, and that marriage equality will make Cuba more hospitable for LGBTI+ people.

Cuban Immigrants in the United States,Brittany Blizzard and Jeanne Batalova, Migration Policy Institute

This article by the Migration Policy Institute’s Brittany Blizzard and Jeanne Batalova discusses the current state of Cuban migrants in the U.S. Blizzard and Batalova write that the way Cuban migrants arrive in the U.S. has been changing since 2014, with greater numbers arriving to the U.S. by traveling through Central America. The article also mentions that since 1970 Cubans have been among the top 10 largest immigrant groups in the U.S. Because of changes in U.S.-Cuba policy and broad changes in President Trump’s immigration policy, Cuban rates of arrival to the U.S. slowed in 2018 compared to previous years. The article includes graphics and information on various topics including “Age, Education, and Employment” and “Distribution by State and Key Cities.”

If we don’t know each other, we don’t understand each other, Emilio Cueto, OnCuba News

Emigration plays a major role in Cuba’s society and history, and Cuba cannot be spoken of without mentioning the over one million Cubans residing outside of Cuba, Emilio Cueto writes. Mr. Cueto shares the urgency he feels to implement efforts to improve the relations between these Cubans from around the world and to connect them to life on the island. With this purpose, the author puts forward seven measures that would facilitate exchange and understanding between the Cubans in and outside of the island in hopes of creating a better future together.

The emigrants and the future of Cuba[SPANISH], Jesús Arboleya, Progreso Semanal

In this article, Jesús Arboleya, writes that there have been two phases of Cuba’s emigration policy. The first one, between 1960 and 1978, is marked by the rejection of those who left the country. The second phase, from 1978 until now, was characterized by the renewed contact between the two countries and a new desire to open dialogue with the emigrants. Since the beginning of the second phase, there have been exchanges and visits in various areas, especially those related to improving family connections. Mr. Arboleya writes that the current question is whether Cuba is nearing the need to establish a third phase and what its emigration policies would look like.

Book review of The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times by Anthony DePalma, Ann Louise Bardach, Washington Post

Ann Louise Bardach’s book review of Anthony DePalma’s book The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times highlights how DePalma uses the stories of five ordinary Cubans in Guanabacoa, a part of Cuba that stays out of the touristic radar. The book narrates the raw reality of Cubans “inventando” and “resolviendo,” or trying to survive. It contains the testimonies of Arturo Montoto, a struggling artist; María López Álvarez, whose religious beliefs hindered her career in the sciences; Lili Durand Hernández, president of her neighborhood’s Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and self-proclaimed revolutionary communist; Caridad “Cary” Limonata, Lili’s friend and a disillusioned revolutionary who met President Obama in 2016; and Jorge García, who lost many family members attempting to flee the island in July 1994.  

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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