U.S.-Cuba News Brief 09/11/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

Our friends at 90 Miles Podcast published their fourth episode this week! This week’s episode features Google Cuba’s Susanna Kohly; Lauren Fajardo, Co-Founder of fashion & lifestyle brand Dador; and Adriana Heredia, a Cuban economist and professor at the University of Havana. 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 664 positive COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March has increased to 106. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week Cuba’s government published a socioeconomic plan to combat the economic crisis the country is currently facing. The document is available in Spanish here.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuban dissident, denied entry to U.S., waits in Mexican border town as cancer spreads

Ramón Arboláez, a Cuban dissident who was previously denied asylum by the U.S., is currently in limbo as he waits in the Mexican border town Reynosa for the U.S. to approve or deny his petition for humanitarian parole on the basis of his cancer diagnosis, NBC News reports. Mr. Arboláez was diagnosed with cancer a year ago by a Mexican doctor. Since he has been unable to afford medical treatment, his cancer has spread and his condition has gradually worsened. On July 17, Mr. Arboláez went to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge to request asylum but a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer told him to “return to Guatemala or Honduras and request asylum there.” In July, Mr. Arboláez also applied for a B2 visitor’s visa for medical treatment at the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros.

At the beginning of August, Mr. Arboláez’s friend in the U.S. applied for humanitarian parole with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on his behalf, but Mr. Arboláez has yet to receive a response. One of his Miami-based pro-bono attorneys, Laura Jiménez, filed an emergency request for expedited processing of humanitarian parole. Mr. Arboláez currently has an appointment at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital scheduled for Monday. According to NBC News, in Cuba he was a member of a dissident group founded by Guillermo Fariñas so he is unable to return to the island. Mr. Arboláez is with his wife, Yaneisy Santana Hurtado, and their three children, ages 21, 12, and 6. He is still awaiting a response from USCIS.

Coast Guard interdicts five Cuban migrants south of Marathon

On September 5, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted five Cubans at sea who were 35 miles south of Florida’s Marathon island, ABC Local 10 News reports. The five Cubans were traveling in a six foot vessel and were repatriated back to Cuba by the Coast Guard. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 35 Cubans have tried to enter the U.S. by boat in the first eight months of 2020, compared with 327 in all of 2019. The number of Cubans who have been interdicted at sea since the U.S. government ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017 decreased considerably and almost immediately. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy allowed Cubans who made it to U.S. soil (“dry feet”) to be paroled in and access a path toward citizenship while those apprehended in the ocean (“wet feet”) were returned to Cuba. The Coast Guard interdicted 2,109 Cubans at sea in FY2017, with the majority of interdictions occurring before the policy change; during FY2018, the Coast Guard only interdicted 351 Cubans at sea.

Claver-Carone predicted to win IDB presidency election [Spanish]

President Trump’s nominee for President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Claver-Carone, is predicted to win the election this weekend, La Jornada reports. The election is scheduled for September 12-13 via a virtual session at which member countries will decide whether they will vote in the election or boycott it, denying quorum for a vote. In August, leaders in Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and from the European Union expressed a preference to postpone the election until 2021, but after failing to secure sufficient support to postpone, it is expected that shareholders will in fact vote this weekend. While there are other candidates, Mr. Claver-Carone, the Cuban-American Senior Director of the National Security Council for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is expected to win the election. President Trump’s nomination of Mr. Claver-Carone breaks with a sixty-year tradition for the Bank of having a Latin American president. This, along with the fact that Mr. Claver-Carone is an architect of some of President Trump’s most ideological policies in the Americas, has made his nomination controversial.

A 75 percent quorum of the 48 member countries is needed to proceed with a vote. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the opposition had failed to secure the 25.1 percent of the vote needed to prevent a quorum. To win, a candidate needs to secure a majority of the vote and support from an absolute majority of the 26 borrowing member countries, in addition to Canada and the U.S.

Joe Biden and President Trump tweet in recognition of Feast Day of Our Lady of Charity, Patron Saint of Cuba

Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden sent a message to Cuban-American voters on September 8, Feast Day of La Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint who is commonly known as “Cachita,” the Miami Herald reports. Mr. Biden published an official statement on his website and a Spanish version of the message in the Miami Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald. Mr. Biden wrote that he will always defend religious freedom and that he and his wife Jill “stand with those who seek a future in which the Cuban people are free to determine their own destiny.” The Biden campaign also prepared a program to celebrate the day called #CaridadConBiden. President Trump’s reelection campaign also tweeted in celebration of Cachita, saying to the Cuban people, “May God bless you!”

IN CUBA

Cuba plans first official peso devaluation since 1959 revolution, sources say

Cuba will soon devalue the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)’s one-to-one exchange rate with the U.S. dollar (USD) for the first time since 1959, Reuters reports. Three anonymous sources shared that this will likely take place before the end of the year. Other sources shared that Cuba’s government will unify their two currencies, the CUC and the Cuban Peso (CUP). The CUP will be kept while the CUC will no longer be used. Cuban economist Omar Everleny stated that changing the official exchange rate used by state-owned companies will be the most important measure. The CUP’s exchange rate with the Canadian dollar, the euro, and other convertible currencies will be adjusted downward. State wages, pensions, and prices are expected to increase by as much as 95 percent.

This move comes shortly after Cuba’s government announced a series of economic reforms in July designed to combat the dire economic crisis on the island. The island’s economy has been struggling due to internal inefficiencies, increased U.S. sanctions, and most recently, the sudden reduction in tourism revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict that Cuba’s economy will shrink by almost ten percent this year. Mr. Everleny said this is the moment for monetary reform, even though it may be “traumatic for some Cubans.”

Tourism in Cuba is suffering “shock” from COVID-19, says expert

United Nations (UN) Undersecretary General Luis Felipe López-Calva stated that Cuba’s economy has faced a “shock” from the severe drop in tourism due to COVID-19, OnCuba News reports. Mr. López-Calva, who is also Regional Director of the UN Development Program (UNDP) for Latin America and the Caribbean, stated that the Caribbean’s economy has been particularly affected since many countries such as Cuba and the Dominican Republic heavily rely on tourism revenue. Mr. López-Calva stated that it is unclear whether in the short term the tourism sector will return to how it previously was. He also pointed out that in order to stimulate the tourism sector, countries will likely have to make large investments in healthcare because tourists want to be assured that they will receive quality care if they become sick during their travels. Mr. López-Calva said that in order for these countries to prevent the drop in tourism from weakening their economies, economies must be diversified and the tourism sector should be protected through liquidity injections to prevent companies from closing.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

International organizations recognize Cuba’s work against COVID-19

Dr. José Moya, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Cuba, recognized Cuba’s work to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, OnCuba News reports. In an official statement published in the state newspaper Granma, Dr. Moya stated that Cuba’s efforts have been “effective” and that its success can be partially attributed to its national health system. Dr. Moya also stressed the importance of collaboration during this moment of crisis and said that both PAHO and WHO have helped establish space for countries to collaborate.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba Is Staying Strong, Tony Perrottet, The Wall Street Journal Magazine

In this article, Tony Perrottet discusses Cuba’s response to COVID-19, its economic crisis, and the ways ordinary Cubans have been weathering both crises. The article features commentary from CDA friend and President of Cuba Educational Travel Collin Laverty who chose to stay in Havana, despite being based in both Havana and Miami, because he believed Cuba would do a better job of controlling COVID-19. The article also features photographs of Havana and its surrounding provinces from New York-based photographer Andrew Jacobs.

Biden needs to fine-tune his message on Cuba the way John Kerry has, Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, journalist Andres Oppenheimer writes that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden needs to present a more nuanced message of his U.S.-Cuba policy if he wants to secure the support of Cuban-American voters in Miami. Mr. Oppenheimer argues that while President Obama’s policy of normalizing relations with Cuba did help promote a private sector on the island, President Obama did not pressure Cuba’s government enough to respect Cubans’ human rights. Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who worked with President Obama to normalize relations with Cuba, is currently a campaign surrogate for Mr. Biden. He assured Mr. Oppenheimer that Mr. Biden will place human rights at the center of U.S.-Cuba policy. Mr. Oppenheimer ends his opinion piece by arguing that Mr. Biden needs to make this message loud and clear in Miami leading up to the election. Mr. Oppenheimer’s article is also available in Spanish.

Cuba’s Government Needs to Look Within as It Denounces U.S. Racism,Rebecca Bodenheimer, Foreign Policy

In this piece, Rebecca Bodenheimer argues that Cuba has a “problematic” history of racism which is often hidden by nationalist and socialist discourse. Ms. Bodenheimer states that while being called a “racist” is considered taboo, “overt racism has persisted in Cuba.” She presents a historical view of the role of race in Cuba and writes about how discussions of race on the island have resurged over the past few decades. 

Balancing Import and Export Regulations [Spanish], Oniel Díaz, OnCuba News

In this article, Oniel Díaz, co-founder of Cuban business development and communications team AUGE, identifies what he believes are the positive and negative characteristics of Cuba’s new regulation, which allows non-state sector businesses to directly import and export goods in convertible currencies. The article ends by giving three recommendations to state sector intermediaries to help them forge successful partnerships with non-state sector businesses.

Currency unification and changes in conditions for dollarization [Spanish], Mauricio De Miranda Parrondo, La Joven Cuba

In this article, Cuban economist Mauricio De Miranda Parrondo reflects on what is needed for successful currency unification in Cuba. There is currently speculation that currency unification, a move that some economists have been advocating for years, will soon take place. Mr. De Miranda Parrondo identifies four key measures which should be taken when this process is carried out to ensure a smooth transition.

El Toque’s interview with Cuban economist Pavel Vidal [Spanish], Pavel Vida, El Toque

The blog El Toque interviewed Cuban economist Pavel Vidal about Cuba’s currency unification policy which many anticipate will soon take place. Mr. Vidal is a Professor of Economics at la Universidad Javeriana in Cali, Colombia. He previously worked at the Central Bank of Cuba for six years. To watch the interview, visit El Toque’s Facebook page

The informal market of convertible currencies in Cuba [Spanish], Ricardo Torres and Michel Seguí, Progreso Semanal

In this article, Cuban economist Ricardo Torres and Michel Seguí discuss the growth of Cuba’s informal market of convertible currencies. They argue that this informal market developed as a result of the ineffective financial system, the state’s monopoly over foreign trade, and changes in an economic system which has become more heterogeneous. Mr. Torres and Mr. Seguí also discuss what characteristics a plan to reduce the size of this informal market should have in order to be successful.

EVENTS

Zoom, Cuban Civil Society: What is its Role?, The Cuba Program/ The Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University, September 15, 6-8 PM EST

Tune in to this panel to watch CDA’s María José Espinosa Carrillo and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)’s Teresa Castro discuss the role of Cuban civil society. This event is part of the Cuban and Beyond Series. For more information, visit the ILAS website. The Zoom link is available here.


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