U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 09/04/2020

Dear Friends,

We are happy to be back bringing you the latest Cuba news to your inbox! We wish everyone a safe and healthy September.

Our friends at 90 Miles Podcast published their third episode this week! This week’s episode features Google Cuba’s Susanna Kohly and award-winning Cuban singer Daymé Arocena. Check it out here!

The Care Lab is a new project under development by the team of CDA’s close colleagues, the Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba. The Care Lab is currently hiring a remote Digital Media/Communications Intern. For the full position description and instructions on how to apply, visit the Care Lab’s website.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 638 positive COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March has increased to 100. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

For the past few weeks we have been featuring Cuban and Cuban-American economists and engagement advocates in our news blast. In the coming weeks, we will interview next generation Cuban-Americans doing incredible work we admire. This week we interviewed Cherie Cancio, one of the founders of the CubaOne Foundation and CubaOne’s Chair and Program Leader on the Board of Directors.

Before this week’s news, an interview with Cherie Cancio

CDA: What is the CubaOne Foundation? What’s your role at CubaOne?

Cherie: CubaOne Foundation gives the gift of a 7 day trip to Cuba to Cuban-Americans ages 22-35. We seek to foster, encourage, and promote dialogue and cooperation between the United States and Cuba by offering a new generation of Cuban-Americans the opportunity to interact with the Cuban people and experience Cuba through high-impact, curated trips. We achieve impact through four focus areas: 1) Engagement, 2) Reconciliation, 3) Community and 4) Heritage. I am a Founder of CubaOne and serve on CubaOne’s Board of Directors as Chair and Program Leader.

CDA: What inspired you to help start CubaOne?

Cherie: CubaOne was born out of and inspired by the reestablishment of diplomatic and business ties between the U.S. and Cuba. Fueled by the possibilities of rapprochement with the United States and the emotional distance wrought by time, children and grandchildren of exiles were traveling across the Florida Straits in increasing numbers. There was so much healing and positive discussion that was happening. We sought to build a nonprofit seeking to bridge our community here in exile with that of the Cuban people on the island. 

By offering young Cuban-Americans free trips to Cuba we were embarking on a life changing journey focused on exploring issues of identity and personal heritage, and building connections with our Cuban peers. We modeled our program TuCuba after Birthright Israel, the organization that has sent hundreds of thousands of young Jews to visit Israel since 1999.

To continue reading the full interview with Cherie Cancio, visit the “U.S.- Cuba Relations” section. 

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Continued: Interview with Cherie Cancio

CDA: Why is it so important to go to Cuba?

Cherie: As we often say, “ve a Cuba.” It’s not an island you can understand from the United States. It’s a place that you have to experience. A people you have to meet, to speak to and dance with. Food and streets that you have to smell. It’s only by going to Cuba that you can turn the black and white photos that we’ve grown up with as Americans into real life friends and family. And, it’s a journey we hope everyone in our generation will make.

For us, loving Cuba means going there to learn about our culture, meet family, and engage the people. We want to learn about the Cuba of today through firsthand experiences, meeting family on the island and building friendships – not through the news or through filtered tourist photos on social media. We seek to find ways to tell our families’ stories while taking control of our own narratives.

CDA: What was your connection to Cuba growing up?

Cherie: My father came to the U.S. from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift exodus. I grew up in Miami surrounded by the smells of Cuban coffee, Spanglish spoken around me, and the sounds of Marc Anthony and Celia Cruz blazing from my mother’s radio. Like many Miamians of Cuban descent, I grew up very aware of his family’s history on the island. My father left Cuba on the Mariel boatlift of 1980, in which as many as 120,000 Cubans made a traumatic exodus to the United States. He was born in Havana in 1964, five years after Fidel Castro seized power, into a family of entertainers. My grandfather, Miguel Cancio, founded the popular 60s band Los Zafiros, along with my grandmother’s brother, Kiki Morúa. My grandmother, Monica Leticia Morúa, a musician in her own right, was known as the “Voz de Crystal.” As a young boy, my father had a dream to become a great doctor like my great grandfather, Dr. Leoncio Morúa. He was able to attend a boarding school in the province of Matanzas. When he was sixteen, he was caught telling a joke based on Pepito, a famous Cuban character. My father and his friends were hauled in by the school authorities and were told that they were being expelled for betraying the trust of the revolution. My grandmother, fearing my father’s future in Cuba, decided it was time to leave the country. I first traveled to Cuba at age 4, where I retraced my father’s childhood in his hometown of Varadero. When I was 22, I returned to Cuba for the first time as an adult. It was a profound experience, as I reconnected with my identity and cultural roots in a very pure way, through family, stories, music and food. It allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of our collective history as a community.

CDA: What has your experience as a woman entrepreneur in Miami been so far?

Cherie: Fun fact: Miami is the only major city in the U.S. to be started by a woman. Women are leading the charge to turn Miami into a diverse, international, inclusive, entrepreneurial hub.

Miami has allowed me to share my passion to serve, connect, and spread the good word of cafectio, comunidad, y cultura. I have been privileged to have been able to tap into one of Miami’s greatest resources –  a network of organizations and successful women that have supported and encouraged me throughout my journey. They have helped me build a connected environment to prosper, have connected me to others, recommended me to media outlets, supported my efforts with CubaOne and beyond. For them I am grateful.

CDA: Why do you believe it is important to connect young generations of Cubans and Cuban-Americans to one another?

Cherie: For most Cuban-Americans born here, Cuba has existed in the form of nostalgia and black-and-white photos. A place whose culture, heritage, language and food has been recreated in exile but could only be experienced vicariously through our parents and abuelos. So much of Cuba discussion is focused around politics. I think it’s important for people on both sides of the Florida Straits to talk to one another and have this healthy dialogue. Our community can help bridge the divide between Cubans on and off the island. We want Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba, to experience it, to talk about it, and to think about what an emerging Cuba means for them and their communities in the U.S. When Americans travel to Cuba and stay at casas particulares, support private businesses, and engage with civil society it has a profoundly positive impact on the lives of the Cuban people.

Not only do our CubaOne fellows come back with a better understanding of themselves and their families’ reality, they return with contacts and ideas for collaboration and engagement with their Cuban peers. By connecting to our roots, we can build bridges of cooperation, understanding, and unity among all people of Cuban heritage, regardless of where they may live. We’re able to develop professionally. We’re able to build a community that’s larger than any single person. And we’re able to heal. 

CDA: What have been the most tangible impacts of traveling to Cuba for CubaOne

Participants?

Cherie: Over the past 4 years, we’ve taken twelve trips to Cuba, bringing 118 young Cuban-American leaders to Cuba for the first time. We’ve led trips on a diverse set of topics like technology, women’s leadership, the LGBTQ+ community in Cuba, Afro-Cuban roots, and relief work following Hurricane Irma. Thirty-eight participants were reunited with family members that they had never met, two met their grandparents for the first time.

Working with organizations like Caritas Cubana, Cuba Educational Travel, OnCuba Travel and Major Lazer, we led disaster relief efforts in the central provinces of Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila and Villa Clara following Hurricane Irma and brought relief aid to the eastern edges of Havana following the tornado that touched down January 2019. Those efforts brought the positive intentions and $100,000 of aid from Cuban-American donors to people in Cuba.

After our trips, our participants and their families are changed. Many devote their professional life to Cuba, writing plays and producing Netflix pilots on Cuba. They write poetry, books and op-eds. One participant started a skateboarding brand and worked to bring Cuban skateboarders to international competitions before next year’s Olympics. Our generation has come of age during a time when the world is more connected and innovative ideas and information are more accessible than ever before.

CDA: How would you like to expand CubaOne in the future?

Cherie: We’re a very young organization, still washing off the Agua Violeta, and we have dreams to build something lasting and special over the next two decades of our life.

Our efforts are continuing, even in the face of political challenges and headwinds. We continue to need advocates in this community to voice and give support for this type of engagement. As a new generation of policy makers, shapers, and creatives, CubaOne will continue to build bridges of peace and reconciliation through cultural diplomacy.

A personal goal for our organization lies in the desire to take our entire generation to Cuba to meet its peers and that the Cuban family should be at the heart of policy towards Cuba.

One-on-one: Joe Biden on Latin American politics;MEGATV & Z92.3FM Lands First Hispanic TV & Radio Interview With Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris

In an interview with NBC 6 South Florida’s Cuban-American news anchor Jackie Nespral, Former Vice President Joe Biden discussed his plan for Cuba and Venezuela policy. Mr. Biden said he would reverse the failed Trump policies toward both countries. He believes the U.S. should be “empowering the Cuban people to determine their own future” and that Cuban-Americans should be able to help their friends and family on the island. Mr. Biden called President Trump’s Venezuela policy an “abject failure,” stating he has “failed to alleviate human suffering,” even failing to grant Venezuelans in the U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS). The interview is available for viewing on the NBC 6 website and the full interview will air Sunday morning on the television program NBC 6 Impact.

MegaTV network and the top-rated Hispanic radio station in South Florida, Z92FM, interviewed Mr. Biden’s running mate Senator Kamala Harris on Monday to discuss issues important to the Hispanic community in the U.S. The interview is available on MegaTV’s Facebook page.

Biden lags among Florida Hispanic voters

According to a survey done by Equis Research, former Vice President Joe Biden leads President Trump among Hispanic voters by 53-37 percent, Politico reports. President Trump has marginally increased his numbers from 2016. Mr. Biden’s 16-percentage point margin is 11 points lower than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 exit polls, and she lost Florida to President Trump. The results come after months of criticism of the Biden campaign for their lack of Latino outreach in Florida and other states. While Mr. Biden’s margin may not not be as high as Mrs. Clinton’s was in 2016, it is currently on track to surpass Democratic Senator Bill Nelson’s margins with Hispanic voters in the 2018 race he lost by roughly 10,000 votes. Carlos Odio, a co-founder of Equis, stated that if Mr. Biden continues receiving the support of Black and non-Hispanic white voters in Florida he could still win the state.

The survey consisted of 1,000 Hispanic voters in Florida, including those of Cuban, Puerto Rican, Colombian, and Mexican descent among other groups. Equis estimates that Hispanic voters could account for up to 17 percent of the overall registered voters in the state. The Biden campaign recently bought more advertising on Spanish-language television than the Trump campaign for the first time this election season. The campaign also hired more Hispanic outreach staff and Mr. Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris have recently made appearances on Spanish-language television and radio in South Florida. 

Forced by Trump, Marriott closes operations in Cuba

On Monday, the American hotel chain, Marriott International announced the end of their operations in Cuba, OnCuba News reports. Kerstin Sachl, the company’s Director of Communication for Latin America and the Caribbean stated “We can confirm that starting tomorrow (Tuesday) [September 1] Marriott will no longer be operating the Four Points by Sheraton in Havana.” CDA reported in June that the U.S. Treasury Department announced it would not renew Marriott’s license to operate the Havana hotel.

Marriott began managing the Four Points by Sheraton in 2016 and renewed its license in 2018. The hotel became a symbol of the U.S. and Cuba’s renewed engagement under President Obama as the first and only hotel to be managed by a U.S. company in Cuba since 1959. The Four Points by Sheraton is owned by Gaviota, a Cuban company linked to the military, which is a frequent target of Trump administration sanctions. Marriott planned to acquire a second hotel in Havana, the Hotel Inglaterra, but will now be unable to do so.

Top envoy says U.S. preparing tighter oil sanctions on Venezuela

The top U.S. envoy for Venezuela states that the Trump administration is planning to tighten oil sanctions soon, claiming that the Administration may remove exemptions that currently allow some oil companies to exchange Venezuelan crude oil for fuel, Reuters reports. Elliott Abrams, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela stated in a phone interview “We think our sanctions have been extremely effective in reducing income to the regime but we think we can make them more effective.”

Current sanctions, designed by the Trump administration to oust Nicolás Maduro from power, have reduced Venezuela’s oil exports to their lowest levels in 80 years, but Maduro remains in place. Some Venezuelan opposition activists and economists have warned about potential humanitarian impacts of ending swaps of crude oil for fuel, since fuel is needed for humanitarian purposes to, for example, transport food and run electricity generators. Special Representative Abrams stated “If there are shortages of diesel in Venezuela, they can be remedied by stopping this colonial relationship with Cuba.”

The U.S. government first imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) in January 2019, banning U.S. firms or U.S. subsidiaries of foreign firms from selling fuel to PDVSA both for domestic consumption and for re-export. Venezuela has been supplying oil to Cuba under a bilateral agreement since 2000, which permits Cuba to pay with services such as medical care and adviser services. Despite this agreement, oil shipments to Cuba began decreasing as far back as 2016 after the Venezuelan economy entered a recession and oil production declined. In September 2019, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned four maritime firms and vessels shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. Cuba’s current oil shortage has been especially detrimental during the COVID-19 crisis as the island attempts to increase domestic food production, a task which is especially difficult without sufficient oil supplies. Most recently, PDVSA increased its fuel shipments to Cuba in February following the U.S.’s increased sanctions against the island.

IN CUBA

Government orders curfew in Havana and other strict measures to fight coronavirus spread;The atypical return to the classrooms in Cuba

Cuba’s government began implementing a strict curfew in Havana on Tuesday, the Miami Herald reports. The province is under curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. which will be enforced by police and by the citizen groups Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women. The governor of Havana, Reinaldo García Tamayo, went on Mesa Redonda (The Roundtable), the government’s televised official channel of communication, last week to announce additional restrictions including severely restricted entry and exit from the capital. Additionally, Havana’s store hours will be reduced and Cubans must present identification proving they are residents of a specific neighborhood before being able to shop in that neighborhood’s stores. The school year start date, which was planned for September 1, will be postponed in Havana and a few other cities and only essential workers will be allowed to leave their homes to go to work. For now, students of all grades in Havana will receive instruction through television programs. Although Havana had partially reopened in July, Cuba’s government reimposed a lockdown on August 10 after cases in the capital began surging. The news measures are part of a plan to reduce the growing outbreak in Havana, which resulted in 1,220 cases in August alone, and accounts for 60 percent of Cuba’s total COVID-19 cases since March.

Meanwhile, thousands of students across central and eastern Cuba returned to school on Tuesday. Students from areas with the largest outbreaks, including Havana and cities from Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Matanzas, and Villa Clara remain at home for now. Students, teachers, and staff are required to wear face masks and other health measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. PCR tests will also be administered randomly to identify any asymptomatic individuals.

The 2019-2020 school year will resume until October 1 and the 2020-2021 school year will officially begin in November. Cuba’s Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velázquez stated that secondary, pre-university and polytechnic schools will follow a calendar where groups of students attend school on alternate days. This will also allow primary schools to use these empty schools’ classrooms to reduce crowding. Some parents are hesitant to send their children back to school, as shown in the comments section of an article about schools reopening in Cubadebate. Some even took to Twitter expressing their disapproval of this move with the hashtag #MisHijosSeQuedanEnCasa (My children are staying home).

Cuba presents its COVID-19 vaccine to international health authorities

On Wednesday, experts from Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute met virtually with authorities of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide updates on the status of Cuba’s COVID-19 vaccine, Soberana 01, OnCuba News reports. The meeting was also attended by members of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international foundation which works to develop vaccines. Soberana 01 is currently in its first phase of clinical trials. The second phase will begin on September 1 during which the vaccine will be applied to 676 volunteers. Dr. Sonia Pérez Rodríguez, the lead investigator of the clinical trials, explained that the vaccine consists of two doses: one initial dose and a second dose given 28 days later. Cuba states it has the infrastructure needed to produce millions of vaccines for its population if it is found to be effective.

Cuba allocated only 5% of its investments to agriculture in 2019

Cuba allocated only five percent of its investments to agriculture in 2019 according to the 2019 Statistical Yearbook published by Cuba’s National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), OnCuba News reports. Cuban economist Pedro Monreal highlighted the disparities in investments by sector, highlighting that 37.3 percent of investments were for business services and real estate while there was a decrease in investments in agriculture, public health, science, and innovation. Mr. Monreal also pointed out a disparity in investments by provinces, with Havana receiving almost six out of every ten Cuban pesos invested in the country.

Cuba’s government has identified agriculture as a strategic sector and its low food production as a national security problem, according to OnCuba News. Cuba’s food production has been especially struggling this year in the midst of a dire economic crisis which has been exacerbated by the underperformance of domestic agriculture, reduced oil imports from Venezuela, and increased sanctions from the Trump administration which have resulted in a significant decrease in U.S. visitors to the island and fewer remittances.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Human rights groups call on Cuba: Government must release journalist and prisoner of conscience Roberto Quiñones Haces

The organizations ARTICLE 19, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), and Amnesty International demand the immediate and unconditional release of Cuban independent journalist Roberto Quiñones Haces, Amnesty International reports. ARTICLE 19 and IWPR receive financial support from the U.S. government, among other governments around the world. Mr. Quiñones, 63, was arrested on September 11, 2019 in the province of Cienfuegos and has been imprisoned in the Guantánamo Municipal Prison since then. Mr. Quiñones claims he has been arbitrarily detained on multiple occasions beginning in 2015. Most recently, in April 2019, he reported for the online newspaper Cubanet News about a court case of two evangelical pastors who decided to homeschool their children. Mr. Quiñones stated the National Police detained and beat him following this reporting. Amnesty International writes that provisions of “resistance” and “disobedience” in the Cuban Penal Code grant authorities the discretion to stifle freedom of expression.

On World Press Freedom Day, May 2, ARTICLE19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Amnesty International published an open letter to Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez calling for Mr. Quiñones’ immediate release. This week’s article serves as a follow-up to this plea since Mr. Quiñones’ one-year sentence should end this month.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Trump and the RNC should remind Cuban voters of Fidel Castro, not their political home, A.J. Fuentes Twombly, NBC News

In this opinion piece, A.J. Fuentes Twombly, a former CIA officer and the daughter of Cuban refugees argues that after watching corrupt leaders dismantle democracies around the world she is noticing similar strategies being used by President Trump in the U.S. While recognizing Cuban-Americans’ historic loyalty to the Republican Party, Mrs. Fuentes Twombly argues that this loyalty needs to be reconsidered given President Trump’s actions. 

Trump isn’t our savior from socialism, Florida Latinos. He’s the ‘caudillo’ we fled, Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Fabiola Santiago argues that Latino voters in Florida, a key voting bloc in a swing state, should carefully consider which candidate they will support this presidential election. Ms. Santiago argues that some of President Trump’s ability to sway Hispanic voters, especially Cuban-Americans, lies in his appeal to people’s fears of socialism. Read the full opinion piece here.

Living in Cuba in times of pandemic (I), OnCuba News

In part one of an ongoing series, OnCuba News explores the on-the-ground realities of how different provinces in Cuba have been affected by and are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, the provinces of Cienfuegos, Holguín, and Granma are discussed.

Coronavirus curfew in Havana, Cuba – in pictures, Guy Lane, The Guardian

This series of photos compiled by Guy Lane for The Guardian shows Havana, Cuba’s capital, during the strict 15-day lockdown which began September 1 in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Private Sector in Cuba: An Opportunity to Empower Women, Glenda Boza Ibarra, Nuevos Espacios

In this article, journalist Glenda Boza Ibarra points out that only about 35 percent of Cuban women are self-employed. Highlighting the important contributions of Cuban women entrepreneurs on the island, Ms. Boza Ibarra explores what is holding women back from entering the non-state labor force in greater numbers and proposes solutions to fix this disparity. Ms. Boza Ibarra’s article is available in English and in Spanish.

Rendezvous in Havana: in Quest of a Transnational Nation-State?, Roberto Veiga González, Nuevos Espacios

In this article, Roberto Veiga González reflects on what the future of Cuba’s Nation and Emigration Conference should look like. The fourth conference, which was scheduled for April of this year, has been postponed indefinitely. Mr. Veiga González predicts the meeting will be held as soon as it is safe to do so. He writes that Cuba’s economic and social difficulties cannot be solved without the involvement of all Cubans and that this meeting could be an opportunity to formalize a commitment to do so. Mr. Veiga González’s article is available in English and in Spanish.

Three Events that will Shape Cuba’s Future, Aldo Alvarez, Nuevos Espacios

In this article, Aldo Alvarez identifies three major events which will shape Cuba’s immediate future. The three events are (1) the implementation of reforms approved by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, (2) the U.S. presidential election in November, and (3) the 8th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party which is currently scheduled for April 2021. Mr. Alvarez’s analysis is available in English and in Spanish.

Alexis Valdés: Cubans need to learn how to have a conversation [Spanish], Marita Pérez Díaz, OnCuba News

In this exclusive interview with OnCuba News, Cuban actor and comedian Alexis Valdés, who is based in Miami, speaks with Marita Pérez Díaz about how his work has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of relations between Cubans and Cuban-Americans, and the role of Cuban immigrants on the island. The article also features a video of the full-length interview.

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