U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 09/25/2020

Dear Friends,

We wish everyone a happy fall! This week, we are so pleased to celebrate CDA’s Director of Programs, María José Espinosa who was recently named one of the 2020 Latino National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders by the New America Foundation. Join us in celebrating this very well-deserved accomplishment!

Our friends at 90 Miles Podcast recently published their fifth episode which features a conversation with CDA Board Member Collin Laverty and Yasser González, a Cuban entrepreneur. Check it out here!

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 572 COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March has increased to 118 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…


No more rum or tobacco, nor hotel stays. Trump imposes new sanctions on Cuba

On Wednesday, the Trump administration announced a series of new Cuba sanctions affecting travel, some cultural exchanges, and the import of goods, the Miami Herald reports. The announcement, which was made by the U.S. Department of Treasury Office of Assets Control Regulations, includes changes to licensing for permissible travel categories to Cuba, restrictions on imports of rum and tobacco, and a prohibition on hotel stays in Cuba. Shortly after the Treasury Department announcement, the Department of State published a new list called the Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List which identifies 433 hotels and private rentals which are affiliated with Cuba’s government and are now off limits for U.S. travelers. The measures are expected to affect Cuban-Americans who travel frequently to Cuba and often visit hotels with family members. John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council stated that he predicts these new regulations will result in fewer flights from the U.S. to Cuba.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Carrie Filipetti said these measures aim to prevent Cuba’s government from receiving funds from persons under U.S. jurisdiction since Cuba’s government dominates the hospitality, rum, and cigar industries. The measures also purportedly aim to benefit owners of private bed and breakfasts (also known as “casas particulares”). The regulations remove two general licenses for travel: one which allowed persons under U.S. jurisdiction to be able to travel to Cuba to attend or organize professional meetings/conferences and a second which allowed persons under U.S. jurisdiction to participate in or organize different types of events including public performances, exhibitions, and some athletic competitions. The new regulations establish that U.S. citizens, residents, and companies subject to U.S. law must now apply for a specific license to travel to Cuba for any of these reasons. Although the Administration stated these measures are meant to benefit Cuba’s private sector, a May 2019 survey from Cuba Educational Travel indicates that 96 percent of Cubans who are a part of Cuba’s private sector report that reduced American travel would harm their businesses. 99 percent of those surveyed indicated that to support the Cuban private sector, the U.S. government should increase American travel to Cuba. 

On Wednesday, CDA released a joint statement with Engage Cuba and WOLA responding to the new regulations. CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala stated “It just keeps coming. And, with the election just over a month away, I don’t doubt it will continue. These measures, timed to coincide with a White House event with the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, are clearly politically motivated. But they will nevertheless inflict pain. As more and more hurdles for American travel to Cuba are erected, it’s the Cuban people who suffer most.”

Remarks by President Trump honoring Bay of Pigs veterans

On Wednesday, President Trump made remarks at the White House honoring Cuban-American veterans of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Bay of Pigs Invasion is a failed U.S. military operation where about 1,500 Cuban exiles trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) attempted to invade Cuba from the Bay of Pigs and overthrow Fidel Castro and his government. President Trump stated “Today, we reaffirm our ironclad solidarity with the Cuban people and our eternal conviction that freedom will prevail over the sinister forces of communism and evil of many different forms.” President Trump, who was joined by Vice President Mike Pence and other Administration officials, spoke to 23 members of Brigade 2506 and mentioned the new sanctions which the Treasury Department announced that day.

The Trump administration has previously met with the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association. In April 2019, National Security Adviser John Bolton met with the association in South Florida and also used the opportunity to announce new Cuba policies. Today, President Trump will be meeting with Cuban-Americans at a Latinos for Trump event.

Menéndez, Rubio unveil new effort targeting Cuba’s international medical missions

On Monday, Cuban-American Senators Bob Menéndez (NJ) and Marco Rubio (FL) introduced legislation, known as the Combating Trafficking of Cuban Doctors Act of 2020, to, among other things, reestablish the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program (CMPP). The bill states that Cuban medical professionals are victims of state-sponsored human trafficking and asks that they be fully compensated for their work abroad. In addition, the bill would require the U.S. State Department to record and publish the medical professionals’ working conditions in each country and determine whether the conditions qualify as trafficking in persons based on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

The CMPP, which was suspended in January 2017, allows Cuban medical professionals who are working in third countries to apply for parole in the U.S. at U.S. embassies abroad. The program also allows the immediate family of medical professionals to apply for parole. Some U.S. elected officials have praised the program and believed encouraging Cuban medical personnel to defect to the U.S. was positive, in that it crippled one of Cuba’s government’s diplomatic tools. Others criticized the program claiming it caused a “brain drain” in Cuba. Sen. Rubio and Sen. Menéndez have previously asked the Administration to restore the CMPP.

Cuba’s international medical missions have long been the subject of criticism from the Trump administration. There are currently about 30,000 Cuban healthcare workers abroad in more than 50 countries. The Administration has repeatedly targeted Cuban medical missions in an attempt to cut off an important revenue source for the Cuban government. The Trump administration calls the medical missions a form of human trafficking. Human Rights Watch released a report detailing abuses in the program, such as a restriction on health workers’ freedom of movement and freedom of expression. In Cuba, healthcare workers are also a “regulated” population which require special permission to leave the country before obtaining a passport. Cuba’s international medical missions are an important diplomatic tool for the Cuban government, showcase Cuba’s medical expertise, and demonstrate its solidarity. 

Cuban-American judge Barbara Lagoa on Trump high court list

Judge Barbara Lagoa, the daughter of Cuban exiles from Miami, is on President Trump’s shortlist of Supreme Court justice nominees, the Associated Press reports. If nominated and confirmed, Judge Lagoa would be the youngest justice on the Supreme Court. She was previously the first Hispanic woman justice in the Florida Supreme Court, and in 2019 was nominated by President Trump for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta where she currently serves. Judge Lagoa was raised in Hialeah, Florida, a Cuban enclave of Miami-Dade County, is a graduate of Florida International University, and obtained her law degree from Columbia University. In 2000, while working at a private firm, Judge Lagoa was a member of the team of lawyers who represented the family of Elián González in his custody court case. According to the Associated Press, conversations between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are currently mainly focused on Judge Lagoa and Amy Coney Barrett. Some speculate that her nomination could benefit President Trump in the presidential election as he competes for Florida, a critical swing state.

Trump applied in 2008 to register his trademark in Cuba: report

In 2008, the Trump Organization applied to secure trademarks in Cuba, the Hill reports. Almost a decade earlier, in 1999 President Trump spoke at the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF) and stated he would not do business in Cuba unless the island implemented democratic reforms. Although the application was approved in 2010, the Trump Organization ultimately did not pursue any business activities in Cuba. According to the Miami Herald, the Trump Organization explored the possibility of doing business in Cuba up until 2013 when they considered opening a golf course on the island.

Why some Cuban-Americans in Miami support Joe Biden

Cuban-Americans in Miami are organizing in support of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the Miami Herald reports. On Saturday, hundreds of Biden-Harris supporters filled the streets of Miami-Dade County to show support for the Democratic candidate. This public demonstration of support for Mr. Biden surged shortly after polls demonstrated that support for President Trump has expanded among voters in Miami-Dade’s Cuban exile community. Other caravans from non-Cuban Hispanic voter groups showed their support for Mr. Biden throughout different parts of Florida. Mike Rivero who organized the Biden-Harris caravan stated that the Trump campaign has been successful in securing support by generating fears of socialism and communism among Cuban exiles. In response, he said, “Enough is enough. We’re not gonna be manipulated.”

Strategists believe that Mr. Biden could win Florida by winning the support of Cuban-American voters from across the political spectrum, including newer Cuban arrivals and Cuban-Americans born in the U.S. Democrats also sense that they may be able to appeal to Cuban-American Republican voters because of the effects of the Trump administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Cuban woman is among the whistleblowers of “surgeries without consent” [Spanish]

Mileidy Cardentey Fernández, 39, a Cuban woman being held at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Georgia is among the victims of hysterectomies performed without consent, OnCuba News reports. Ms. Cardentey was held at Irwin County Detention Center which is run by a private company, LaSalle Corrections, in Ocilla, Georgia. Ms. Cardentey shared that she was informed she needed to undergo surgery to treat ovarian cysts on August 14, but now, months later, she remains unsure of what kind of surgery she actually received. Her surgery was done by Dr. Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist linked to allegations of performing hysterectomies without consent on immigrant women who were detained at Irwin County Detention Center. The allegations were part of a whistleblower complaint made by a nurse at the facility, Dawn Wooten, last week.

They promised Cubans entry into the U.S. Instead, they tortured and extorted them, prosecutors say

Reinaldo Marquez Crespo and Jancer Ramos Valdés, two Cuban men, are being charged in a Florida federal court for the torture and smuggling of Cuban migrants who they promised to smuggle into the U.S. but instead held for ransom, the Sun Sentinel reports. Mr. Marquez Crespo and Mr. Ramos Valdés, along with other unnamed suspects, deceived their victims claiming they would take them across the Yucatán Straits separating Cuba from Mexico but instead took them to Merida, Mexico where they held them in a house and forced them to share U.S. family members’ contact information to force them to pay $10,000 in ransom. Mr. Marquez Crespo and Mr. Ramos Valdés threatened to torture, starve, and murder the migrants if the ransom was not paid. Once families paid the ransom, migrants were placed on a bus to the U.S.-Mexico border where they were instructed to ask for asylum. While the federal criminal complaint against the smugglers only mentions three victims, the victims’ narratives confirm that there were many others held captive and subjected to the criminal acts committed by Mr. Marquez Crespo and Mr. Ramos Valdés. Mr Marquez Crespo has been identified as the leading operator and along with Mr. Ramos Valdés could face up to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and a maximum of 15 years for human smuggling. Currently they are both being held in the U.S. without bail pending trial.


Díaz-Canel calls for reform at United Nations [Spanish]; Cuban foreign minister criticizes “irresponsible behavior” of the United States

Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel denounced the U.S. for its unilateral policies toward Cuba during the COVID-19 pandemic at the virtual 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting OnCuba News reports. President Díaz-Canel criticized the U.S. for being against multilateralism and for withdrawing its membership from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Human Rights Council. President Díaz-Canel also stated that, despite increased sanctions from the U.S., Cuba has been able to combat the COVID-19 pandemic because of its over 60 years of building and maintaining a public health system, universal healthcare for all, and its commitment to scientific investigation and discovery. He praised Cuba’s programs to provide medical assistance to other countries during the pandemic and criticized U.S. efforts to stymie Cuba’s efforts.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla also spoke at the virtual assembly and denounced the “irresponsible behavior” of the U.S. government, calling the U.S. “the greatest danger to international peace and security.” He pointed out the U.S.’s refusal to cooperate with other countries to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and, like President Díaz-Canel, critiqued the U.S. for attempting to prevent Cuba from carrying out its international medical missions. Minister Rodríguez ended his remarks by emphasizing Cuba’s commitment to international law, multilateralism, and cooperation.


Cuba’s Economy Was Hurting. The Pandemic Brought a Food Crisis., Ed Augustin and Frances Robles, the New York Times

In this article, Ed Augustin and Frances Robles discuss the dire economic crisis in Cuba which the country has been facing for months and was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Augustin and Ms. Robles spoke with ordinary Cubans, including a tour guide and a doctor, about the ways they have been navigating the crisis and trying to fulfill their basic needs.

Reforms Proposal for Agriculture in the Short and Median-Term in Cuba [Spanish], Humberto Pérez González, Joaquín Benavides Rodríguez, Fidel Vascós González, Julio Carranza Valdés, y Pedro Monreal González, El Estado Como Tal Blog

In this article, a group of five Cuban economists propose a series of reforms for Cuba’s agricultural sector. Recognizing that Cuba is facing one of the most dire economic crises in recent history, they propose a series of reforms based on three main phases: restarting, stabilizing, and expanding the agricultural sector.

“Don’t mess with my children” docks in Cuba [Spanish] Ailynn Torres Santana, OnCuba News

In this opinion piece, Ailynn Torres Santana discusses the role of the “Con mis hijos no te metas” (“Do not mess with my children”) movement in Cuba. CMHNTM is a neoconservative religious movement which originated in Peru and has found supporters across Latin America. The movement believes that the government is “messing with children” by implementing public policies focused on gender which it alleges aim to destabalize the traditional heterosexual family model and promote a new world order which promotes homosexuality and gay marriage. The movement’s role in Cuba was demonstrated last year during the Constitutional referendum during debates about marriage equality.

How Barbara Lagoa’s fight for Elián González shaped her legal career, Gary Fineout, Politico

In this article, Gary Fineout discusses potential Supreme Court justice nominee Barbara Lagoa’s role in the custody court case of Elián González. Mr. González was five years old in 1999 when he was found floating alone in an inner tube in the ocean after his mother and nine others drowned on the way to Florida. When his Miami relatives took custody of him and refused to return González to his father living in Cuba, Juan Miguel González Quintana, a major custody battle began. Judge Lagoa was a part of the legal team representing Mr. González’s Miami relatives and the article describes how the case shaped Judge Lagoa’s understanding of the law.


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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