U.S.-Cuba News Brief 07/17/2020

Dear Friends,

Happy Friday! We hope you and yours are safe and healthy and that you take advantage of the weekend to recharge.

If you are looking to brighten up your weekend, Rondo alla Mambo will get you dancing. This Cuban style interpretation of Mozart’s famous piece features an enjoyable and unexpected classical musical experience by the Havana Lyceum Orchestra. Watch the full performance in Havana here.

We invite you all to attend the virtual Living Away Fest 2020 next week! This event was created by a group of Cubans living in Chile and the U.S. The festival features over 30 artists of 10 different nationalities, most of them womxn. Living Away Fest is an opportunity to understand how art can be a healing and transformational force for society. To access the program and purchase tickets, visit the Living Away Fest website.

Cuba experienced a slight increase in the number of active COVID-19 cases, with 55 patients at the time of publication. New cases are found only in Havana and Mayabeque provinces; the rest of the island has not detected new cases in over 28 days. Next Monday, with the exception of Havana and Mayabeque, Cuba will enter the last phase of the three-part post-COVID-19 recovery plan, but borders will remain closed for the time being.

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…


Judge dismisses Helms-Burton lawsuit against Carnival; Dismissal of Helms-Burton lawsuit against Carnival may prove a defeat for Cuban Americans

On Friday July 10, a Miami federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Javier Garcia-Bengochea against the cruise operator Carnival Corporation under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (LIBERTAD Act), the Wall Street Journal 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. The lawsuit was filed last year in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Dr. Garcia-Bengochea claims that Carnival used his property in Santiago de Cuba, which was confiscated in 1960 by Cuba’s government, to conduct business.

Judge James Lawrence King dismissed the case, in part, because Dr. Garcia-Bengochea inherited the property in 2000 from a cousin who was a Costa Rican national. In his ruling, Judge King stated that he dismissed the suit partly because, based on his understanding of the law, Congress intended to eliminate incentives for non-Americans to transfer ownership of property to U.S. nationals who may take advantage of Title III. Judge King’s ruling also coincided with a ruling that came down in May, by Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. in Gonzalez vs. Amazon, Inc., which foundthat 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.

Since the LIBERTAD 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. At the moment, there are 25 Title III lawsuits against 51 companies, almost half of them from the U.S. and the rest from 10 other countries, including Cuba, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. 

In Spain, a Spanish judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Cuban Sánchez Hill family against Meliá Hotels International, OnCuba News reports. The Sánchez Hills sued the Spanish company Meliá which manages hotels throughout Cuba, and, in particular, two Cuban-owned hotels in the eastern province of Holguín on land which previously belonged to the family and which they claim was taken from them by Cuba’s government illegitimately.

Florida: Deep-Dive on the Cuban Vote

In this article, Equis Research analyzes the Cuban-American vote in Florida. The analysis is based on a survey of Cuban-Americans conducted by Equis in November 2019 and on two focus groups: one conducted in September 2019 and the other in June 2020.

Equis lists seven major findings. Among them is the finding that President Trump has gained greater support from Cuban-Americans since the 2016 presidential election. Equis also states that two groups may be swayed to vote for Democrats: U.S.-born Cuban-Americans and post-1993 Cuban arrivals. Drawing on data from the biannual FIU Cuba Poll, Cuban voters who arrived in the U.S. after 1993 showed the greatest support for President Obama in 2012 and the least support for President Trump in 2016. However, this trend has been reversing over the last three years. Equis identifies three main reasons for President Trump’s success among Cuban-Americans: approval of President Trump’s economic policies, a bandwagon effect, and his anti-socialism discourse.

The Cuban-American vote varies widely each election. Democrats Obama (‘12) and Clinton (‘16) earned large portions of the Cuban-American vote but Democrats Nelson (‘18) and Gillum (‘18) failed to do so. The article ends with suggestions for what Democrats may do in the next few months to earn Cuban-Americans’ votes ahead of the presidential election in November. Among these are suggestions to introduce Cuban-American voters to Vice President Biden and to discuss issues such as healthcare and immigration, where the article asserts Biden has a leadership advantage.

Press Statement: Pan American Health Organization Transparency

On June 11, during a press conference on the release of the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed concerns over PAHO’s role in “facilitating forced labor by Cuban doctors in Brazil’s Mais [Médicos] (More Doctors) program.” 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.”

In November of 2018, Cuba announced it would discontinue its participation in the Mais Médicos program and recall its medical personnel who were serving in Brazil. The program was launched in 2013 by former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to send Brazilian and foreign physicians to underserved regions in Brazil. Some Cuban physicians who stayed in Brazil after the program’s end recently solicited, and were granted, new medical licenses by the Brazilian Health Ministry. Other Cuban doctors residing in Brazil are expected to follow suit. Cuban doctors will reportedly offer much-needed reinforcement, particularly in remote areas and underserved public clinics and hospitals.

On Wednesday, Secretary Pompeo released a press statement welcoming PAHO’s independent review of its role in Brazil’s Mais Médicos program, for which Pompeo asserts PAHO provided over a billion dollars to Cuba.

Trump seduces Cuban and Venezuelan opposition with his antisocialism; Trump vows to “fight for Venezuela” and appeals to Cuban exile

During his visit to Doral, Florida on Friday, President Trump portrayed a tough on drugs image and promised “not to disappoint” Cuban and Venezuelan dissidents who asked him to intervene for the freedom of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and to prevent the U.S. from falling into socialism, Agencia EFE reports.

According to the Miami Herald, President Trump visited the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) at its Doral headquarters for a briefing on the results of a counter-narcotics operation launched in the Caribbean in March. The goal of the operation is reportedly to prevent drug cartels from profiting from the COVID-19 public health crisis and to cut funds going to Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro.

While in South Florida, President Trump also attended the Doral Jesus Worship Center to meet with Cuban and Venezuelan exiles, seeking to appeal from both groups of his commitment to “fight socialism” in the Americas. During the meeting, Cuban activist Rosa María Payá accused Cuba’s government of killing her father, Cuban opposition leader Oswaldo Payá, and requested the U.S. make formal accusations against Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro, and other high ranking officials. President Trump’s presence in South Florida comes ahead of the contested race for Florida in the November presidential election. President Trump assured his Miami audience that his administration had Cuba and Venezuela matters “very much under control.”


Cuba’s government informs citizens of new economic reforms

On Thursday evening, Cuba’s Council of Ministers appeared on Mesa Redonda, the government’s televised official channel of communication, to announce a series of economic reforms to confront the severe economic crisis the island is currently facing, Cubadebate reports.In attendance were Vice President Salvador Valdés Mesa, Minister of the Economy Alejandro Gil Fernández, Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca, the president of CIMEX Héctor Oroza, and Director of Tiendas Caribe Ana María Ortega. The Mesa Redonda started by playing a speech by Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel at a special session of the Council of Ministers that took place earlier that day. The announcement, made by Cuba’s President during the speech, and expanded on by the rest of the ministers and government executives during the program, announced a series of forthcoming policy changes across several sectors, but few details were given about most measures. The Council of Ministers stated they will provide more details in the future. 

The new strategy, approved last week by Cuba’s Communist Party (PCC), is based on the 2030 National Plan for Economic and Social Development, the Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development, and the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy, documents approved during the VII Congress of the PCC in 2016. According to Cuba’s President, in creating the plan they also considered recent public debate in academia and on social media platforms. The plan, which stresses the urgent need for reforms in the current moment, includes both new and old goals and measures, some of which have been pending approval for years. The goals include: increasing domestic production and reducing imports, allowing domestic demand to play a greater role in shaping the economy, granting greater autonomy to private and state enterprises and fostering a partnership between both sectors, and continuing with central planning of the economy and market regulations.

The new reforms prioritize domestic food production. Minister Gil Fernández stated that greater productivity and efficiency in Cuba’s agricultural sector are necessary. Reforms which target the private sector include granting private businesses legal status and allowing private businesses to import and export goods and services. Cuba identified 37 state companies which will be able to work as intermediaries for the export of goods and services of the non-state sector in a way which keeps commercial margins low. Private businesses and state enterprises will also be able to establish partnerships. Small and medium-sized enterprises in both the state and non-state sectors may be created. Moreover, non-agricultural cooperatives, which were previously allowed only on an experimental basis, may now be created, though it is unclear yet for what kinds of businesses this will be approved. Cuba also announced it will expand self-employment by granting more licenses and creating new categories for other kinds of work. There was also a mention of using remittances for productive uses, beyond consumption.

Finally, the Council of Ministers announced the elimination of the 10 percent tax on U.S. dollars and that it will begin allowing stores to sell goods in U.S. dollars and other foreign currencies starting July 20, in an effort to increase the amount of hard currency on the island. Minister Gil Fernández assured that Cuba is working on designing a wholesale market with goods which may be purchased in convertible currencies by the state and private sectors. Stores that operate in CUC and CUP will continue working and will offer a limited selection of only 47 products.

Cuba’s government currently faces a liquidity crisis and its economy, which was already struggling before COVID-19, has dramatically worsened over the last few months as tourism, one of the main sources of revenue, was halted until earlier this month. 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. Cubans face a shortage of basic foods, medicines, and other goods and wait in long lines for hours hoping to purchase the few goods that are available in stores.

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. About the dollarization strategy, he told Reuters “It is an option that may partially work in the short term, but it generates segmentations, more distortions and does not guarantee inclusive and sustainable economic growth in the long term.”

Cuban economy will decrease 8% in 2020, according to CEPAL [Spanish]

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) predicts that the Cuban economy will shrink by 8 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, OnCuba News reports. The prediction is part of a broader report by CEPAL about the effects on COVID-19 on the economies of the region. In April, CEPAL predicted a contraction of 3.7 percent but, in just three months, this number has more than doubled. CEPAL predicts that the region’s GDP will contract a record 9.1 percent this year, the most dramatic contraction of the region’s economy since this data was first recorded. Unemployment in the region is predicted to reach 13.5 percent, a figure that is alarming since it is almost twice the rate of unemployment during the 2008 Great Recession. CEPAL also predicts major increases in levels of extreme poverty, which disproportionately impact women. Inequality in the region will increase and remittances are expected to decrease as economies all over the world also contract.

Areas of Havana with outbreaks of coronavirus no longer in phase 1 of de-escalation; Cuba to enter last phase of 3-part reopening plan, except for Havana and Mayabeque [Spanish]

Some communities in Havana and Mayabeque are no longer in phase one of the post-COVID-19 recovery plan due to recent outbreaks of about 15 COVID-19 cases in the last few days, OnCuba reports. While the rest of Havana province remains in phase one and Mayabeque in phase two, the neighborhoods of Los Sitios, Amistad, Pilar-Atarés, and Lawton, among others, and parts of Mayabeque, have returned to the COVID-19 confrontation phase, according to the president of the Cuban capital’s Defense Council, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar.

Local newspaper Tribuna de La Habana reports that Mr. Torres Iríbar noted that Havana is aiming to enter phase two of the post-COVID-19 recovery plan, but to do so, the province will need to show favorable results and evidence that it is ready to move forward. Mr. Torres Iríbar also urged Cubans to not let their guard down and for local authorities to increase disciplinary measures if needed to ensure compliance with the established regulations such as social distancing. He also instructed areas under reinforcement to administer PCR or rapid tests based on individuals’ symptoms and highlighted the importance of responding to residents’ need to access water and food.

The rest of Cuba will enter the third and last phase of the post-COVID-19 reopening plan next Monday, continuing the mandatory use of face coverings in indoor public places, OnCuba reports. This phase includes the resumption of all economic and productive activities, health services, and bureaucratic processes. Air and marine traffic, however, originally scheduled to reopen during this phase, will remain closed until the situation in Havana and Mayabeque improves. According to a report by the Office of the President of Cuba, there have been no new cases of COVID-19 in the other provinces and Isla de la Juventud in over 28 days.


Cuba presents Friendship Medal to Vietnam’s ambassador

On Wednesday, Cuba presented the Friendship Medal to Vietnam ambassador Nguyen Trung Thanh, Prensa Latina reports. Ambassador Nguyen has been in Cuba since January 2017 and his diplomatic mission has come to an end. Cuba’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Anayansi Rodríguez praised Ambassador Nguyen’s work in promoting economic and commercial ties between both countries. Minister Rodríguez pointed out the successes of both countries’ relations and stated they should be further strengthened in the future. Last week, the U.S. State Department released a statement “Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations Between the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” which caught the attention of proponents of U.S.-Cuba engagement.


Point of View: An appeal for Cubans – and for the US, Ambassador (Ret.) Vicki Huddleston, Palm Beach Post

Although many things have changed between Cuba and the U.S. since the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the two countries are further than ever from reconciliation, Ambassador (Ret.) Vicki Huddleston writes. In her opinion piece, the former Principal Officer of the United States Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, Ambassador Huddleston recounts many of the events from the past decades that have changed the circumstances surrounding the U.S. and Cuba. Ambassador Huddleston calls for a change in the U.S. policy toward Cuba by highlighting the fact that both governments have their own downsides. The author criticizes the unjustified U.S. hostility toward Cuba and hopes for a better future for their youth. 

Cuba‘s economy and its emigrants, Jesús Arboleya, Progreso Weekly

In this article, Jesús Arboleya writes that Cuban emigrants contribute to the Cuban economy by sending remittances, increasing revenue on the island through tourism and family visits, and financing visits abroad of people who live in Cuba. A less discussed area, according to the author, is the potential impact that establishing a business relationship between Cuba and the U.S. could have on the U.S. economy. Mr. Arboleya explains that, although these contributions do not imply support for Cuba’s government, they highlight the needs and interests of the people involved, who would benefit from the two countries coexisting with each other.

Cuba escaped Covid-19 surges hitting Caribbean and South America, Patrick Oppmann, CNN

While countries around the Caribbean and South America experience an increase in COVID-19 cases, Cuba has flattened the curve, reports Patrick Oppmann for CNN. With a population of 11 million people, Cuba has only registered around 2,500 cases and fewer than 90 deaths. In this video, Mr. Oppmann states that this success can be attributed to the Cuban government’s mandate to wear masks, rigorous contact tracing, and isolation protocols. The country has slowly started reopening, with the pandemic under control. It is uncertain how the situation will develop once airports open and tourism resumes.  

Coronavirus in Cuba: four months living with the pandemic, OnCuba News

Four months ago, Cuba identified the first few cases of COVID-19, a disease that has greatly impacted the world and the island, OnCuba Staff writes. As cases rapidly spread across the globe, Cuba’s government adopted rigorous public health measures, including mass testing and isolation of those who tested positive. Since the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in March, Cuba closed air traffic, received a British cruise ship to provide medical attention to its ill patients, demonstrated the effectiveness of Cuban drugs such as Interferon Alfa 2B and Itolizumab to treat COVID-19, and sent medical brigades around the world. Since the pandemic started, Cuba has reported 87 deaths related to COVID-19. Given the low numbers, Cuba started reopening a few weeks ago. Havana, the city most affected by the pandemic, was the last one to enter the second phase of post-COVID-19 recovery. This article provides an in-depth look at the ways Cuba has worked to contain the spread of COVID-19 and the various impacts the pandemic has had on life on the island.

The right to demonstrate in Cuba, OnCuba News

Although Article 56 of the Cuban Constitution recognizes the right to assembly, demonstration, and association, a legal framework establishing what kinds of demonstrations are allowed, and what the proper procedure to legally carry out demonstration is, are still missing in Cuba, OnCuba News reports. So far, questions of which demonstrations are allowed to take place and how they may be carried out have reportedly been decided based on officials’ discretion, not on the letter of the law. For instance, a demonstration against police violence which was scheduled for June 20 in response to the killing of Hansel Hernández Galiano, a 27 year-old unarmed Black man, by the Cuban police was prevented from taking place. At least 40 activists were detained before arriving at the protest site and prospective protesters were unable to arrive at the site where the demonstration in Havana was supposed to occur due to police intervention. On the other hand, an April 8, 2019 protest against animal abuse was approved by the Plaza de la Revolución municipal government. In each of these instances, the legal guidelines which lead to each decision are unknown. This is expected to change in September 2020, though, with the expected approval of the decree-law on the rights to demonstration and protest.

Let’s be grateful children! Let’s be bridges of love!, Carlos Lazo, OnCuba News

In this letter, Carlos Lazo writes that he will be cycling from the U.S. west coast to the east coast to advocate for “building bridges of love between our two peoples.” Mr. Lazo is a Cuban-American from Seattle, Washington and he will be undertaking this trip across the country with his two sons and two nephews. The cycling trip will end in Washington, D.C. where the group hopes to speak with President Trump and “share our message of reconciliation and peace with senators and congressmen, elected or to be elected representatives.” Mr. Lazo also points out that the need for reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba is especially urgent now, during the COVID-19 crisis.

If Mozart was born in Cuba? This ‘Rondo alla Mambo’ flashmob will lift your spirits, Maddy Shaw Roberts, Classic FM

In this brief review piece, Maddy Shaw Roberts introduces Rondo alla Mambo, an interpretation of Mozart’s famous piece with a Cuban twist. The performance by the Havana Lyceum Orchestra offers an enjoyable and unexpected classical musical experience with dancing and singing included. The song was arranged by Joshua Davis and Yuniet Lombida Prieto and is the first single from French horn player Sarah Willis’ album Mozart y Mambo. Ms. Willis was inspired to release this album after admiring a statue of Mozart in Old Havana and hearing a local musician say “Mozart would have been a good Cuban.” Watch the full performance in Havana here.


HotHouseGlobal, Concert for Cuba, July 18-19

Musicians from around the world, well-known human rights activists, artists, and political leaders, will gather to honor Cuba’s cultural tradition and its role in helping to combat the pandemic around the world. The concert will be broadcasted from the Instituto Cubano de Musica in Havana, Cuba, and streamed across the globe. The four-hour long free Concert for Cuba will constitute the world’s largest virtual performance and first-ever tribute for Cuba. The event will air at 7 pm CST/8 pm EST/6 pm PST. For more information and registration, visit the event website.

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 whom 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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