U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 9/18/2020

Dear Friends,

We wish everyone a relaxing and safe weekend.

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. The application is due October 1. 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 642 positive COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March has increased to 111 deaths. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Senators condemn administration for sending Cubans, Venezuelans, and Nicaraguans back

On Monday, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf asking the Trump administration to end policies denying asylum and sending migrants who left Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua back to their countries, the Miami Herald reports. The senators also ask the Administration to end policies forcing asylum seekers from these countries to wait in Mexico for the chance to apply for asylum. The letter was signed by Senators Robert Menéndez (NJ), Richard Durbin (IL), Ben Cardin (MD), and Patrick Leahy (VT). In the letter, the Senators cited data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University which states that between October 2019 and March 2020, 64 percent of asylum claims made by Cubans and 61 percent made by Nicaraguans were denied. The letter asserts, “the Trump administration has taken the egregious step of sending Venezuelans, Cubans, Nicaraguans, and others directly back into the hands of the persecutors and torturers they fled.”  

In the letter, the four senators drew special attention to the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as the Remain in Mexico policy), which allows U.S. immigration officials to send asylum seekers back to Mexico and have them wait there while their cases are being decided. They write that because of this policy, migrants are forced to wait in violent cities and are often the victims of organized crime. The letter ends by stating that policies which expel and endanger the lives of asylum seekers and migrants “send a message of callousness, cruelty, and disregard” and urged the Trump administration to end these practices immediately.

Florida Latinos swamped by wild conspiracy theories

South Florida’s Hispanic community is being overwhelmed by conspiracy theories on social media and radio, Politico reports. The Spanish-language radio station Radio Caracol recently allowed 16 minutes of paid programming on air in which a local businessman inaccurately attributed anti-Semitic and anti-Black sentiments to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. El Nuevo Herald ran a paid publication by the newspaper Libre which attacked Black Lives Matter and included anti-Semitic views, but has since announced it is ending its relationship with Libre. Several of the conspiracies are about the group QAnon, while others focus on the defamation of Mr. Biden and other left-leaning politicians and activists.

With the rise of WhatsApp group chats among Latino Americans, Republicans have reportedly begun using the app’s encrypted messaging system as a way to reach Latino voters. Latino Democratic strategist Evelyn Pérez-Verdia noticed that WhatsApp groups which were originally dedicated to sharing COVID-19 updates from Venezuela and Colombia have become carriers of far-right conspiracies. She is one of many who have noticed that radicalism and tension between political parties appear to be increasing to new levels.

According to Eduardo Gamarra, Director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University, the “onslaught has had an effect.” Gamarra notes that focus groups and, to some extent, polls demonstrate voter skepticism of Democrats tied to misinformation about a “Deep State.” The influence may be especially strong on recently-arrived immigrants who might not yet have a strong affiliation with a particular U.S. political party. Former Miami mayor Manny Díaz said he believed the problem is that since Republicans have many surrogates they are able to quickly disseminate their messaging while the Democrats are not doing enough to discredit these messages.

Latino voters make up about 17 percent of Florida’s electorate, and Florida will be a key swing state this November. At a campaign event in Central Florida on Monday Mr. Biden stated “I am going to work like the devil to make sure I turn every Latino and Hispanic vote.” Frank Mora, Director of the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center (LACC) and Professor of Politics and International Relations at Florida International University, stated “The rhetoric is out of control,” and worries that the extreme polarization is reminiscent of a violent past in the Miami Cuban-American community.

Biden is getting trounced with Cuban American voters in Florida, a trend that could tip the state to Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is underperforming with Cuban-American voters in Miami-Dade County and the Latino community in Florida more broadly, USA Today reports. Mr. Biden recently began shifting his campaign strategy to focus on Florida. Last week his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (CA), visited Miami Gardens where she met with leaders of the African-American community and Doral, a city with a large Venezuelan population. Both Senator Harris and Mr. Biden have also recently participated in interviews with both English and Spanish-language media in South Florida. Allies, including New York City Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg, have begun working to help Mr. Biden win the state.

Mr. Biden and President Trump are virtually tied in Florida, according to the latest NBC News/Marist poll. Hispanic voters make up about 17 percent of Florida’s registered voters, and as the largest ethnic group in the state, Cuban-Americans in South Florida wield significant influence. Miami-Dade, the area with the largest Cuban-American population, represents about 10 percent of the state’s votes. Since the summer, Latino activists in Florida have been pressuring the Biden campaign to do more in Florida. In July, Florida Democratic Party field organizers published a seven-page letter accusing the Biden campaign of lacking a “fully actionable field plan” on voter outreach in the state. Some Democrats believe the Biden campaign should strongly oppose accusations that the Democratic Party is “socialist.” Biden campaign surrogates, including Cuban-American Senator Robert Menéndez (NJ), have begun pushing back against these accusations. Sen. Menéndez recently published an opinion piece in Univision denouncing President Trump’s actions that have harmed the Latino community and stating, “Donald Trump is the one you have to fear, and Joe Biden is no socialist.” In a speech Mr. Biden gave at a campaign event in Pennsylvania recently, he addressed these allegations head on, saying “You know me. You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”

Until recently, the Trump campaign had outspent the Biden campaign by nearly $4 million in TV ads in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market, most of them in Spanish. Last week, the Biden campaign outspent the Trump campaign in this market for the first time this election season. Dario Moreno, Associate Professor in the Department of Politics & International Relations at Florida International University asserted “Given the margins that Hillary Clinton won Dade County by and given how close Florida is, the Democrats have to put real resources in the Hispanic community.”

Lesbian woman from Cuba granted asylum in U.S.;Cuban film director seeks humanitarian visa to treat rare cancer in U.S. [Spanish]

Yanelkys Moreno Agramonte, 36, a Cuban lesbian woman, was granted asylum after being held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for ten months, the Washington Blade reports. Judge Pedro J. Espina, based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, granted Ms. Moreno asylum based on the harassment she faced in Cuba because of her sexual orientation, which he believed would continue if she was ordered to return to the island. Ms. Moreno stated she and her partner, Dayana Rodríguez González, 31, were the victims of homophobic treatment from Cuba’s National Revolutionary Police.

Ms. Moreno and Ms. Rodríguez both arrived in the U.S. together on November 3, 2019 through a port of entry in El Paso, Texas, but were separated shortly after. Ms. Rodríguez was released on parole on February 4, 2020 and currently lives in Arizona. Meanwhile, Ms. Moreno was transferred to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center in Basile, Louisiana where she has since been living. Upon being released, Ms. Moreno plans to move to Houston and later reunite with her girlfriend.

Also seeking entry to the U.S. through a humanitarian visa is Cuban film director Víctor Alfonso Cedeño, as reported by El Nuevo Herald. Mr. Cedeño is in desperate need of a visa since he is battling a rare disease that only affects one percent of cancer patients. In Cuba, doctors are reportedly unable to provide further treatment. Mr. Cedeño hopes to participate in clinical trials conducted at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Florida. He created an online petition to secure support for his case which collected 4,320 signatures.   

IN CUBA

Cuba shuts down interprovincial transportation due to new COVID-19 fears

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Cuba’s government announced that interprovincial transportation will be closed until the end of the month, Reuters reports. In Havana and other areas, a curfew will be extended until the end of September as additional preventive measures are taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. While other provinces are living a new normal as schools and businesses open, strict measures to control the spread of COVID-19 will continue in Havana.

Cuba had mostly contained the spread of the virus by the end of June, and by July 19 the country announced it had no new cases of COVID-19. However, when cases increased once again in August, businesses including restaurants, bars, and pools were ordered to close. The worst outbreak to date outside of Havana is currently taking place in the province of Ciego de Avila in central Cuba. Out of the 60 cases reported on Saturday, 28 came from the Ciego de Avila. The impact of COVID-19 on the island has not only affected the economy, but also citizens who are trying to fulfill their daily needs while navigating the new measures.

Cuban enterprises will receive tax benefits for increased exports

State-owned, cooperative, and private Cuban businesses will receive tax benefits if they increase exports of products and services, OnCuba News reports. The regulation, called Resolution 222, was announced by the Ministry of Finance and Prices on September 10. Companies must provide financial records to prove they are eligible for the tax discounts and the regulation will be effective in 2021. This new regulation is part of a broader set of economic reforms announced in July which were designed to confront the severe economic crisis on the island. Among the major changes, private enterprises will now have the right to import and export goods without government intervention and with state-owned companies acting as intermediaries providing low commercial margins.

Central Bank of Cuba denies rumor about monetary unification on October 1

The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) denied rumors that currency unification will begin this fall, OnCuba News reports. The BCC stated that the information about forthcoming unification is not true and that when the decision is made it will be shared with the public through official channels of communication. The BCC also stressed that when currency unification does happen, it will not affect the public’s bank account balances. Last week, anonymous sources claimed the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP) will be unified this year. For years, local and foreign economists have urged Cuba’s government to eliminate the dual currency system, which is one of many economic reforms it promised to implement ten years ago. Last December, two department stores in Havana took a step toward ending the dual currency system by providing change to customers only in CUP. At that time, the BCC stated it was experimenting with the regulation and would consider expanding it throughout Havana and into other provinces. As a result, many believed the reform would finally be implemented in 2020. Experts are still awaiting this change and believe it is of urgent need to the Cuban economy.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

I know an authoritarian when I see one, Senator Robert Menéndez (NJ), Univision

In this opinion piece, Cuban-American Senator Robert Menéndez (NJ) denounces President Trump’s actions in office which he compares to those of an authoritarian dictator. He writes that President Trump has used his office to “tear our nation apart” and that his presidency has significantly harmed Latinos across the U.S. Sen. Menéndez also highlights Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s career in public service and argues that Mr. Biden is the candidate the Latino community can count on. He ends the piece by endorsing Mr. Biden for president and Senator Kamala Harris (CA) for vice president, and urges voters in Florida to vote this November.

The Libre Crisis Is Part Of A Larger, Toxic Problem In Miami’s Spanish-Language Media, Tim Padgett, WLRN

In this commentary piece, Tim Padgett discusses his take on Roberto Escalona’s “monstrously racist” essay in the weekly Spanish-language newspaper Libre. Mr. Padgett questions whether Latino leaders in Miami understand their responsibility as a majority community in the city and argues that they have failed to call out disinformation on Spanish-language media. Mr. Padgett ends his piece with a call to action for Latinos in the U.S. who are the majority group in a community to understand that their media no longer goes unnoticed and is not immune to scrutiny.

¿Qué Pasa, USA? writer: ‘I’m a Cuban American who loves our democracy. I’m voting for Joe Biden’ | Opinion, Luis Santeiro, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Luis Santeiro, head writer for the popular 1970s sitcom ¿Qué Pasa, USA?, expresses his reasons for voting for Joe Biden in the presidential election. Mr. Santeiro writes about his experience as a young boy who immigrated with his family to Miami after the Cuban Revolution. He laments the political polarization among the Cuban-American community today and writes that he will be voting as a U.S. citizen “who has weighed all the issues affecting this country.”

Joe Biden can display a new diplomacy-first US foreign policy by re-engaging Cuba, John McAuliff, Responsible Statecraft

In this opinion piece, John McAuliff, Executive Director & Founder of The Fund for Reconciliation & Development, assesses what he believes the Biden administration should do to repair the “political distrust” between Cuba and the U.S. He offers a four-step process that will aid not only in mending the damage done by the Trump administration, but in strengthening the pre-existing policies and progress made by former U.S. President Barack Obama in partnership with former Cuban President Raúl Castro. Mr. McAuliff believes that if Biden is successful in removing the U.S’s unilateral embargo and returning the Guantanamo naval base to Cuba, then he has the opportunity to move the U.S in the “right direction.”

External commerce and non-state sector in Cuba: An opening that yields greater economic growth [Spanish], David J. Pajón, Inter Press Service en Cuba

The global impact of COVID-19 has harmed the Cuban economy by exacerbating problems it has been facing for a long time, Cuban economist David J. Pajón writes. Among the many challenges, the lack of convertible currencies and scarcity of consumer goods have worsened. Mr. Pajón reflects on the economic reforms Cuba’s government announced in July, discussing what measures are omitted from the plan and posing questions about specific measures and problems.

Cuba punches above weight with ‘white coat army’ during pandemic, Sarah Marsh and John Zodzi, Reuters

Togo welcomed 12 Cuban healthcare workers to help combat COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic, Reuters reports. Togo is one of nearly 40 countries around the world which has welcomed the help of Cuban healthcare workers since the pandemic began in an act of medical diplomacy which Cuba has been engaging in since 1959. Cuba has one of the highest physician-to-population ratios in the world and routinely deploys healthcare workers abroad.

The Trump administration has repeatedly targeted Cuban medical missions, calling them a form of human trafficking. Human Rights Watch has critiqued the harsh working conditions of Cubans who go on these medical missions. Cuban doctors interviewed by Reuters shared that while they would prefer to work in better conditions, they are able to earn more abroad than they would working in Cuba.

Fidel Castro’s Fateful Visit to New York, 60 Years On, Andrew Downie, Americas Quarterly

In this article, Andrew Downie reviews Simon Hall’s book “Ten Days in Harlem: Fidel Castro and the Making of the 1960s.” The book tells the story of Fidel Castro’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1960 where he arrived as a minor player on the world stage and as an internationally known head of state who planted Cuba on the geopolitical map. The book, which includes quotes from speeches of major figures and newspaper archives, discusses the impact of the Cuban delegations’ decision to stay at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, one of the most well-known African-American neighborhoods in the U.S.

EVENTS

Zoom, Election 2020: Political Trends Among Latinos in Florida, September 22

Join CDA’s Executive Director, Emily Mendrala, alongside Eduardo A. Gamarra, Professor of Political Science at Florida International University and Dr. Ernesto Domínguez López, Professor and Coordinator of the US Study Group at the Center for Hemispheric and United States Studies (CEHSEU) at the University of Havana for a discussion of political trends among Florida Latinos and candidates’ policy positions. This event will be moderated by CDA’s 2018 Rivers Fellow and current Nuestra America Podcast co-host, Luis Carlos Battista. This virtual event is organized by Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) and is part of the Cuba and Beyond Series.

Virtual, Los Hermanos/The Brothers film, October 1 & 9

Los Hermanos/The Brothers is a film by Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider about two Afro-Cuban born brothers—Ilmar, a violinist, and Aldo, a pianist—who live parallel lives in New York and Havana. The film traces their first performances together and explores themes of music, family, and estrangement between the U.S. and Cuba. The trailer is available here. Information about virtual screenings is available on the film’s website.


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