U.S.-Cuba News Brief 07/10/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.  

Cuba reports 76 active cases COVID-19, with only two of those in critical condition by the time of publication. There have been no deaths in over a week, and the country started reopening on June 18

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

‘Suddenly they started gassing us’: Cuban migrants tell of shocking attack at ICE prison; More than 30,000 Cuban Americans ask Trump to reverse order to suspend immigration 

On May 14, at the Torrance County Detention Facility near Albuquerque, New Mexico, about 20 migrants under the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were attacked and gassed by prison guards, The Guardian reports. According to Ryan Gustin, a spokesman for CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs the facility, the incident occurred in response to a protest and the pepper spray was used on detainees who failed to comply with guards’ verbal orders and were disruptive. Mr. Gustin stated that the migrants did not suffer from injuries. 

Detainees, such as Yandy Bacallao, a 34-year-old Cuban seeking asylum, and others who did not reveal their names, shared a different story. According to them, the attack was in response to a hunger strike that the migrants had started a few days before to protest poor food quality and living conditions that made them vulnerable to COVID-19. As a result of the incident, Mr. Bacallao and another Cuban migrant recall suffering from painful skin irritation, trouble breathing, temporal blindness and other effects. The Guardian reports that the use of pepper spray and other irritants is especially dangerous right now because the coughing it produces increases the risks of transmitting and contracting COVID-19 and it worsens the symptoms of those who already have the virus.  

This is Mr. Bacallao’s third attempt at entering the U.S. He commented on the irony of his situation saying, “I left running away from communism, from the communist system in Cuba, because I didn’t want to be arrested… and when I come here to the United States, to the freest country in the world, the first thing they do is imprison me.”

A group of Cuban Americans have started a petition to reverse President Trump’s decision to stop issuing visas and permanent residency through the end of 2020, the Miami Herald reports. On June 22 President Trump issued an executive order which suspends the entry of immigrants to the U.S. until the end of the year. The petition argues that this policy is separating families and is unfair to the thousands of Cuban American citizens who “have been working hard and paying taxes in America to be able to bring their families to the United States.” The petition, posted on June 24, has collected over 31,000 signatures on the White House’s We the People platform. It needs to collect 100,000 signatures by July 24 in order to be considered for review by the White House. 

Cuba broadcaster confronts budget calamity amid fight with lawmakers

The Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), a sub-entity of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), is running out of money and may have to furlough employees and lay off contractors, Politico reports. The OCB runs Radio and TV Martí, which broadcast programming in Cuba from the U.S. that promotes freedom and democracy. USAGM has been chaotic since Michael Pack became CEO in June and fired the heads of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets on his first day. Congress is currently holding all USAGM funds until Mr. Pack testifies to explain his controversial choices as CEO. The OCB was already struggling to adjust under the $8 million budget cut it suffered in the latest appropriations bill, so the hold on funds is having an immediate impact. 

The firings, known as “the Wednesday night massacre” among USAGM employees, concern both Democratic and Republican members of Congress. Senators Lindsey Graham (SC) and Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), the highest ranking members of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee who oversee the State Department and related matters, want to hear from Mr. Pack directly. Mr. Pack stated that, “Far from being a witch hunt of Democrats, it is a very fair, let’s-start-over process.” On July 1, a bipartisan group of seven senators, led by Senator Marco Rubio (FL), wrote a letter informing Mr. Pack that they would be conducting a “thorough review” of the agency’s funds to ensure its journalism was not being politicized and that USAGM is carrying out its core mission. On Wednesday, Mr. Pack wrote an official response letter to each of the senators where he stated he was eager to meet with them. 

In the meantime, the OCB is expected to run out of money in mid-July. The office has to move money around to ensure it has enough funds for payroll and to pay contractors. If the OCB does not receive funds soon, it may have to lay off some of its over 70 contractors, furlough some of its 100 federal employees, or reduce or stop radio broadcasts to Cuba, or perhaps all three. On Tuesday, Radio Television Martí announced a temporary disruption in Radio Martí broadcasting. 

Department of Energy labels Cuba and Venezuela ‘foreign adversaries’

The U.S. Department of Energy found that Cuba and Venezuela are “foreign adversaries” who may target the U.S. electrical grid, the Miami Herald reports. The announcement came as the Department of Energy works to implement President Trump’s Executive Order on Securing the United States Bulk-Power System issued on May 1, 2020. The goal of the executive order is to secure the bulk-power system, from the “malicious activities” of foreign actors, and it ordered the Department of Energy to identify these actors. The bulk-power system refers to “the facilities and control systems necessary for operating the electrical network.” 

In the document the Department of Energy published on Wednesday in the Federal Register, they identified Cuba, Venezuela, China, Iran, and North Korea on a “current list of foreign adversaries,” defined as foreign states and actors who “engaged in a long‑term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States.” This announcement from the Department of Energy follows the U.S. State Department’s announcement on May 13 that it added Cuba to the list of countries not fully cooperating with U.S. counterterrorism efforts. 

Cuba reopens its cays to tourism, but Cuban-Americans will not be able to visit for now 

Last Wednesday, Cuba reopened international tourism, which will be limited to the northern cays for now, the Miami Herald reports. Tourists will be administered a PCR test upon arrival which  rapidly identifies those who have COVID-19 to be able to contain COVID-19 infections. Foreigners will not be allowed into the mainland and Cuban nationals are banned from having contact with them. As part of the phase two reopening guidelines, tourists can rent cars and perform excursions only in the Largo, Coco, Guillermo, Cruz, and Santa María cays. Hotel workers will need to quarantine for seven days after leaving the workplace and guests will be subject to temperature checks, among other measures implemented to prevent cases of COVID-19.  

The country has suffered severely from the pause in tourism due to the pandemic, resulting in a decrease of almost 50 percent in tourism revenue between January and April compared to the same period last year. 

Cuban Americans will not be allowed to travel beyond the cays until tourism services are fully restored in a later reopening phase. The dates have yet to be announced. 

The United States does not want Cuba and Venezuela to buy on Amazon

On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Amazon was fined $134,523 for selling goods and services to people in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Sudan, the Miami Herald reports. The Treasury Department stated that sales occurred between 2011 and 2018, totaling $269,000. In the document, the Treasury Department stated “These apparent violations occurred primarily because Amazon’s automated sanctions screening processes failed to fully analyze all transaction and customer data relevant to compliance with OFAC’s sanctions regulations.” 

The violations also included selling items to people on the “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons” list which includes individuals in the aforementioned countries involved in drug trafficking, illegal sales of weapons, terrorism, and human rights violations.  

New site identifies fake Cuban accounts on Twitter

Las CiberClarias is a new website that identifies false social media accounts used to promote propaganda by Cuba’s government, the Miami Herald reports. The website was founded by Raul E. Danglade Pujals, a Cuban Florida International University software engineering graduate. Because of the way the accounts operate, Danglade believes they are managed directly by government employees rather than by bots. Bots are a kind of software that publishes content automatically. Exiled Cubans call social media accounts that regularly support Cuba’s government “ciberclarias,” referring to the claria, a catfish that is farmed on the island. CiberClarias has so far identified about 200 accounts that have a combined 200,000 followers. 

In addition to posting content in support of Cuba’s government, some accounts also publish messages in favor of Nicolás Maduro’s government in Venezuela. According to Special Envoy Lea Gabrielle, coordinator of the Global Engagement Center at the State Department, there is “an increasing alignment of efforts between accounts that promote Russian, Cuban, and Maduro regime disinformation and propaganda narratives.” Gabrielle also stated these accounts’ activity result in the “intentional undermining and disruption of public conversation.” 

Last fall, Twitter temporarily suspended the accounts of Raúl Castro, Mariela Castro Espín, and of various state-run media outlets, including Mesa Redonda, Granma Digital, and Radio Rebelde. 

IN CUBA

The pandemic shuts down a lifeline for Cuba 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Cuba, mulas, or mules, have stopped transporting goods, The Economist reports. Mulas is the informal name for Cubans who transport clothes, food, money, and other goods to Cuba from other countries, ensuring the flow of goods to the island continues despite the U.S. embargo and the economic hardships on the island. 

According to estimates, about 50,000 Cuban residents travel to the U.S., Panama, Russia, and other countries to bring scarce or overpriced goods to the island. Because of the sudden stop of the flow of goods and the lack of domestic production in Cuba, products are hard to find and prices of basic items have soared. Emilio Morales, president of the Miami based Havana Consulting Group, estimates that so far this year remittances are $518 million lower than they were last year by this time. Today, they carry about half of the cash remittances that enter the country, which may be up to $1.8 billion a year, according to the article

In the meantime, Cubans with internet access are replacing mulas with mobile applications such as Telegram and WhatsApp, which they use to create new networks that facilitate communication about where certain goods are available on the island. Users inform each other about the locations of scarce goods and how long the lines are. They also notify each other when they see a branch of Western Union that is open. Western Union currently remains one of the main ways Cubans access remittances. The agency has suspended financial transfers to Cuba, except those from the U.S.

Mula imports first began during the 1980s when emigrant Cubans started sending money and goods to their families in Cuba. According to Mr. Morales, Cuba’s government encouraged these transactions to help the country’s economy. Cuba’s government continues to benefit directly from high tariffs and other fees related to their immigration services, such as the $450 cost of renewing a passport every six years for Cubans living outside the island.  

Cuba, the “new normality” and economic uncertainty; Cuba faces “tense situation” due to shortage of medicines

While Cuba seems to have successfully combated the pandemic, the country now needs to overcome the severe economic crisis, which the pandemic has worsened, OnCuba reports. Havana reopened on Friday, July 3, making it the last province to enter phase one Cuba’s three-phase post-COVID-19 recovery plan. Most of Cuba started reopening two weeks ago and has not seen an increase in COVID-19 cases. The few new cases in Cuba are found in Havana. 

Beaches in Havana reopened but were not overcrowded. Public transportation also reopened at limited capacity. After three months of buses not running, residents became accustomed to walking exceptionally long distances. Now, buses may be used but require that riders wear face masks and follow social distancing guidelines. Long lines outside stores of customers waiting to purchase basic foods and other goods already existed before COVID-19 because of Cuba’s struggling economy, but the pandemic has exacerbated the economic situation. 

In addition to food shortages, Cuba is also facing shortages of medicines, which has caused a “tense situation” according to José Ángel Portal, Cuban Minister of Public Health, OnCuba reports. Minister Portal also added during La Mesa Redonda, the government’s televised official channel of communication, that this problem is happening around the world, not just in Cuba, and that Cuba’s government is working to address the problem. There are 11 drugs that have been categorized as being “in short supply” that are distributed to Cubans through a medicine “card.” In addition to the 11 drugs that are rationed, there may be up to 47 unavailable drugs. 

Do Cuban women fear COVID-19 more than men?

According to the study “Gender and Fear of COVID-19 in a Cuban Population Sample,” Cuban women are significantly more afraid of COVID-19 than men, OnCuba reports. The study consisted of a survey which was administered online to 772 individuals over the age of 18 between April 4 and May 27, during the state-mandated national lockdown. 

The study analyzed how people’s levels of fear varied at different times throughout the duration of the study as Cuba’s government worked to control the pandemic. One of the five authors of the study, Dr. Boris C. Rodríguez Martín found that for women, “It’s not only the fear of getting sick or dying, there is also the fear for children or family members. The fear of COVID is much more than the fear of COVID.” Gender stereotypes also play a role in people’s responses to fear, and Dr. Rodríguez Martín argues that it also “has to do with the emotional education that men and women receive… It is not that men express their fear less, but that we have been educated not to express our emotions or not to recognize them.” The study shows that fear also increases Cuban women’s psychological vulnerability, for which Dr. Rodríguez Martín highlights the need for increased psychological support to address the emotional consequences of the lockdown. Although Cuban women experience greater fear of COVID-19, a greater percentage of men in Cuba have died from the disease. Dr. Francisco Durán, director of the Department of Epidemiology of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, stated that this is caused by the greater presence of the angiotensin-2 converting enzyme in men. 

COVID-19 impacts men and women differently due to societal norms as well. The United Nations accurately captured this when it stated “The coronavirus does not discriminate against women, patriarchal gender norms do.” According to the United Nations, COVID-19 has more significantly affected women in three main ways: by causing other health problems, increasing domestic work and the need to care for others, and increasing domestic violence against women. Work within the home continues to fall on women because of traditional gender roles. Worldwide, domestic violence cases have soared, urging UN Secretary General, António Guterres, to make a call “for peace in homes.” 

In Cuba, there have been at least five femicides registered since the pandemic, four of which happened in the victims’ homes. Platforms such as Yo Sí Te Creo en Cuba, dedicated to supporting victims of gender violence have offered telephone counseling to 30 women between 18 and 70 years old who are victims of “physical, psychological, police, sexual violence and a case of obstetric violence.” Although Yo Sí Te Creo en Cuba does not have statistics about gender violence, they are certain that the COVID-19 confinement worsened the levels of domestic violence in the country. Some of the particular effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Cuban women and women around the world are explained in detail in a publication by CDA’s Maria José Espinosa Carrillo and Cuban professor Ailynn Torres Santana, Cuba’s Policies to Confront the COVID-19 Pandemic

Explosions linked to a military base reported in Holguín, Cuba

On Monday, some residents of eastern Cuba heard two loud explosions near La Púa, in the province of Holguín, the Miami Herald reports. The explosions seemed to have originated in a military base in the town. Residents of Velasco, a town near La Púa, claim there are tunnels storing weapons on the base. 

A nurse from the José Ávila Serrano health clinic, where 13 wounded military personnel were treated before being transported to the Holguín military hospital, said that no one knows for certain what happened. Some soldiers the nurse treated said the tunnels storing weapons caught fire and exploded. Smaller explosions seemed to follow the two main ones. According to residents of the area, ambulances, military vehicles, and military personnel went to the base to secure the area and evacuate neighboring towns. 

According to an informative note by Cuba’s government, the base stored old ammunition, suggesting this as the cause of the explosion and anticipating future explosions. The report also said that there were no casualties. By the time of the reporting, 1,245 people had been evacuated and an investigation was underway.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Leahy’s Yankee Imperialism, Mary Anastasia O’Grady, The Wall Street Journal; Let’s Get the Right President to Run the IDB, Sen. Patrick Leahy, The Wall Street Journal

In her opinion piece, Mary Anastasia O’Grady criticizes Senator Patrick Leahy’s (VT) 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). Ms. O’Grady writes that American politicians should not be telling Latin American countries what is best for them and that, given Mr. Claver-Carone’s support from a majority of the 28 IDB regional members, he will likely win the election in September. Because of a gentleman’s agreement with which the IDB was founded in 1959, a Latin American has always been president. Ms. O’Grady claims that Sen. Leahy’s mention of this tradition is just “a fig leaf to cover his ideological attack.” 

In response, Sen. Leahy wrote a letter to the editor where he states that Mr. Claver-Carone’s work in Latin America has damaged the U.S.’s reputation in the region and alienated allies. Sen. Leahy ended his letter by writing that the U.S. should “encourage the Latin Americans to nominate candidates with the vision, the credibility and the skills to chart a better future for their people.”

U.S.-Cuba relationships for beginners (II) [SPANISH], Rafael Hernández, OnCuba

The relationship between Cuba and the U.S. resembles a soap opera, getting more complicated with each episode, Rafael Hernández writes. The opinion piece starts by highlighting how matters of race are perceived differently in the two countries, and continues by analyzing the role of the U.S. in the construction of the Cuban identity and the weight of Cuba in the American imaginary. With allusions to historical figures of both nationalities, Mr. Hernández gives an introduction to a U.S.-Cuba relationship trying to move beyond bilateral divisions and instead conceiving the present and the future as the result of a complicated history.  

New forms of marketing of agricultural products are urged in Cuba [SPANISH]

In this article, Inter Press Service en Cuba analyzes the challenges of and possible solutions to Cuba’s centralized agricultural model. Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that there is an immediate need to “boost the commercialization of products…, with alternatives which allow us to negotiate directly with producers and bring products to market at a local level.” According to the article, the problem with the current agricultural model is not commercialization, but the excessive number of restrictions and regulations that control it, hindering the agricultural sector’s performance. An innovative alternative would be “second-degree cooperatives,” which group producers according to their needs and interests and eliminate unnecessary intermediate links. 

Cubans Ana de Armas and Libia Batista, selected for US Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, OnCuba

Cuban born actress Ana de Armas and Cuban casting director Libia Batista have been selected to join the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, along with the 819 new other members, OnCuba reports. The selection of two minority artists comes amid the Academy’s efforts to respond to accusations of racism and segregation due to the exclusive makeup of the Oscars awards nominations in the past. Other Cuban filmmakers, including Gloria Rolando, are already members of the Academy. 

Netflix’s ‘Wasp Network’ Stings Miami’s Cuban Exiles, Mac Margolis, Bloomberg Opinion

French director Olivier Assayas’s recent film “Wasp Network” has left everyone unsatisfied, Mac Margolis writes. The film, which is based on a book by Brazilian author Fernando Morais, is inspired by the true story of a Cuban spy ring operating in the U.S. during the 1990s. The film has provoked debate from all sides, including right-wing Cubans from Miami, left-wing actors like Spain’s Vice President Pablo Iglesias, the former spies themselves, and Cuba’s government. Some members of the Cuban exile community in Miami created an online petition to remove the film from Netflix, which has almost 19,000 signatures. They argue that the story it portrays is inaccurate, incomplete, and insensitive to Cuban exiles. 

EVENTS

Living Away Website, Living Away Fest, July 20-26 

The Living Away Fest is a multidisciplinary art festival which will include live performances, short films, workshops, radio programs, self-guided practices, poetic walks, and video games created by more than 25 artists around the world, many of which are Cubans living inside and outside of the island. Due to COVID-19, this year the festival has been modified to present the artworks through an online platform. You may find a promotional video for the event here. For tickets and more information, visit the Living Away Fest website.


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