U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/02/2020

Dear Friends,

Happy October! We wish everyone a restful weekend.

The Florida International University 2020 Cuba Poll was released today. The Cuba Poll has been tracking the opinions of South Florida’s Cuban American community since 1991. Read our U.S.-Cuba Relations section for highlights.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 624 active 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 we are continuing our interviews of next generation Cuban-Americans doing incredible work we admire. We had the pleasure of interviewing María Carla Chicuén, the founding Executive Director of CasaCuba, a new initiative of Florida International University in Miami, FL to build a leading think tank and cultural center for the study of Cuba and the celebration and preservation of the Cuban heritage.

Before this week’s news, an interview with María Carla Chicuen

CDA: Your family immigrated from Cuba to Miami in 2002. What was your and your family’s experience during your first few years in the U.S.?

María Carla: Our first few years in the United States were our family’s “startup” stage. These years were partly defined by constant changes and challenges. In my case, some of the most significant changes included transitioning not just from Havana to Palm Beach, and then Miami-Dade, but also from middle school to high school, through four different schools in a single year. One of my biggest challenges was to gain and prove fluency in English so that I could be granted permission by the school counselors to advance into more rigorous classes, and embrace all the educational opportunities available to me. My parents faced their own particular set of hardships. For many years, they struggled to find professional jobs and made extraordinary efforts to sustain our family while providing my younger sister and me all the resources they could for our personal and academic enrichment. Parallel to their work, and often, multiple part-time jobs, they were also focused on learning English and preparing to certify their respective university degrees, my mother as a medical doctor and my father as an electrical engineer. Like most startups, our finances were tight, and we lacked a strong support system. The burden of our separation from our family in Cuba also weighed heavily on our shoulders. Almost twenty years later, we look back to that period with fondness, because our teamwork gave us some of our most beautiful moments as a family; with gratitude, for the help we received from many relatives and friends, and the community at large; and with purpose, because we are committed to helping other families achieve their own dreams. As Cubans often say—“no es fácil” (it is not easy) but we always thought that even if it was not easy, it would be possible.

CDA: What has been your connection to Cuba since moving to Miami?

María Carla: With the years, my deep appreciation for my heritage, mi orgullo de ser cubana (my pride in being Cuban), has only intensified. I have always felt enormous pride in my culture, and curiosity for my roots. As a child, I became the family historian, learning the names and stories of ancestors and tracing my Spanish and Chinese lineage.

Beyond Miami, where the Cuban spirit has always felt ubiquitous, I found a very strong and special Cuban community at Harvard University where I completed my undergraduate studies and focused my honors thesis in History on Cuba’s diplomatic and commercial relations with Spain and England. Throughout my professional career in international development and higher education, I have maintained my longstanding commitment to Cuba. In my previous position as Special Projects Assistant to Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padrón, for example, I had the opportunity to coordinate an academic program to train Cuban entrepreneurs. I have also enjoyed mentoring Cuban students for many years, disseminating international education and scholarship opportunities that have enabled many Cubans, including those in Cuba, to access even some of the most selective universities in the world, like Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Columbia. These were remarkable foundational experiences for my current work leading CasaCuba at Florida International University (FIU).

My passion for Cuba far surpasses an accident of birth and blood. I am drawn to my little island’s outsized influence in the world through every century and set of coordinates, to the universality of Cuban culture, and to the immense potential of the Cuban people.

To continue reading the full interview with María Carla Chicuen, visit the “U.S.-Cuba Relations” section.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

U.S. sanctions military-controlled company involved in dollar remittances to Cuba

On Monday, the U.S. State Department announced it will sanction American International Services (AIS) and add it to the Cuba Restricted List, the Miami Herald reports. AIS is a financial institution managed by Cuba’s government which processes remittances sent to Cubans in hard currencies. U.S. citizens, residents, and companies are now prohibited from conducting financial transactions with AIS. Before the sanctions, people in the U.S., Canada, and Europe were able to request an AIS card for their relatives in Cuba and make dollar deposits onto the card through online sites such as Cubamax. Relatives in Cuba were then able to collect those cards and use the funds to make purchases at Cuba’s dollar stores. AIS cards are also reportedly a method for Airbnb to pay their hosts across the island.

In a press statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated “We urge anyone who sends remittances to family in Cuba to use means other than Cuban government-controlled remittance entities.” The only known method of sending remittances outside Cuban government structures is through cash delivery. This method is insecure, hampered by the Trump administration’s flight suspensions to locations other than Havana, and, most importantly, is impossible due to pandemic-era border closures.

Due to the severe economic crisis on the island which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, remittances have been a lifeline for the Cuban people and a way for family members in the U.S. to support Cubans on the island. In response to the announcement, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted “New #US government measures vs Cuba are tightening blockade to attempt manipulating voters in Florida. This maneuver is aimed at harming the Cuban people and family ties in both nations.” CDA, along with six other U.S.-based organizations, issued a statement on Tuesday denouncing the sanctions, stating this policy is “cruel and runs contrary to American values.”

This measure is yet another in a series of policies designed to limit the amounts of remittances sent to Cuba and to dismantle prominent avenues for sending them. In June, the Trump administration announced it would be adding FINCIMEX, the Cuban financial services company, to the Cuba Restricted List. FINCIMEX is the entity charged with processing remittances in Cuba and is used by Western Union and other remittance forwarding services. For more information about remittance policy changes under the Trump administration, see CDA’s remittance policy explainer available on our website.

U.S. sanctions powerful Cuban general and former son-in-law of Raúl Castro

On Wednesday, the Trump administration sanctioned General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the former son-in-law of Raúl Castro who is the head of GAESA, a conglomerate of corporations owned by Cuba’s government, the Miami Herald reports. Gen. López-Calleja will soon be added to the U.S. Treasury Department’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons which will freeze all his assets in the U.S. or under control of U.S. persons. Individuals and companies under U.S. jurisdiction will be banned from doing business with him. GAESA, which stands for Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., is the economic branch of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces and controls more than 50 corporations in Cuba’s most profitable sectors, including tourism, remittances, financial services, import and export, and shipping and construction among others. In June 2017, President Trump banned direction transactions with GAESA in a National Security Presidential Memorandum.

Travel services provider fined $5.9 million for Cuba sanctions violations

The San Diego-based travel services provider Generali Global Assistance Inc. agreed to pay $5.9 million in a settlement deal with the U.S. Department of Treasury over Cuba sanctions violations, the Wall Street Journal reports. Generali violated the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations between 2010 and 2015 when they rerouted insurance reimbursement requests through a Canadian affiliate in an attempt to avoid OFAC sanctions. The company codified this practice in their official procedures manual and self-reported the violation when reviewing its compliance protocols. OFAC stated that the violations were especially “egregious” since they were done intentionally. OFAC is the office charged with sanctioning individuals and corporations who violate Cuba sanctions.

FIU 2020 Cuba Poll

The Florida International University (FIU) Cuban Research Institute published its 2020 Cuba Poll, a bi-annual poll conducted since 1991. It is the longest-running research project documenting the opinions of the Cuban American community in South Florida. The poll was conducted through telephone surveys of 1,002 randomly selected Cuban-American residents of Miami-Dade County which were held from July 7- August 17. Poll respondents were asked a variety of questions about U.S.-Cuba relations and domestic politics. Responses are broken down by age group, political party, and time of migration/not Cuba-born. The poll also analyzed Cuban Americans’ top five domestic policy issues, their support for President Trump’s handling of certain non-Cuba issues, and how COVID-19 has affected them.

In general, support for policies that help the Cuban people is strong. 69 percent of those surveyed support food sales to Cuba and 71 percent support medicine sales. There is increased support for the embargo, with 60 percent of those surveyed in favor of it. Support for the embargo was higher among older age groups than among the youngest age group (18-39 years old). 71 percent of Cuban Americans surveyed believed the embargo has not worked up to this point. A major takeaway from the poll is that a greater number of recent arrivals (those who arrived in the U.S. from 2010-2015) support the Republican party. The poll results also demonstrate that Cuba policy is not among the most important issues for Cuban American voters; the economy, healthcare, and race relations are more important, and a majority of Cuban Americans support President Trump’s handling of these issues. The poll results are available here.

Cuban asylum seeker in Nogales ‘can barely sleep’ while separated from wife, son

Yosbel Lingueño, a Cuban asylum seeker, has been separated from his wife and newborn son for months while waiting for his immigration case to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Arizona Daily Star reports. Mr. Lingueño, who is currently in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, is one of about 23,000 asylum seekers who must remain in Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy), a policy which stipulates that migrants wait in Mexican border towns for hearings in U.S. immigration courts. He and his wife, Yarlenis Viltres, left Cuba last year for southern Mexico, where they faced threats of violence. Mr. Lingueño and Ms. Viltres, who was pregnant at that time, crossed the river of the Texas border in July where she was rushed to the hospital for an emergency cesarean section. While Ms. Viltres was in labor, Mr. Lingueño was sent back to Mexico to await his immigration hearing and was unable to meet his newborn son. He has since requested humanitarian parole to be reunited with his wife and newborn son. While his next hearing is scheduled for late October, his lawyer, Alex Miller, a pro bono lawyer with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, stated it is unlikely the hearing will be held on that date.

On March 24, The Trump administration issued an order under the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control which bars entry into the U.S. from Mexico and Canada, essentially closing the border to migrants until the Administration states otherwise. Mr. Lingueño is one of many migrants prohibited entry under this order. Luis Guerra, a legal advocate for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, stated the practice of not processing asylum requests has become even more common since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic since “the government now has an excuse to say it’s too dangerous for you to go to court.” Migrants like Mr. Lingueño currently have no option except to wait in Mexico for an undetermined amount of time for their cases to be processed.

9 Cuban migrants found 10 miles south of Key Colony Beach

On Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted nine Cuban migrants about 10 miles south of Key Colony Beach in Florida, ABC Local 10 News reports. The nine migrants were repatriated to Cabañas, Cuba. According to officials, the Coast Guard has interdicted about 40 Cuban migrants on the waters in fiscal year 2020 and 327 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2019. The number of Cubans interdicted at sea since the U.S. government ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017 decreased considerably and almost immediately following the policy’s conclusion. 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.

Continued: Interview with María Carla Chicuen

CDA: What is CasaCuba? What is your role at CasaCuba?

María Carla: I am proud to serve as the founding Executive Director of CasaCuba, a new initiative of FIU in Miami, FL to build a leading think tank and cultural center for the study of Cuba and the celebration and preservation of the Cuban heritage. CasaCuba will live in an iconic facility on FIU’s main campus, featuring a state-of-the-art venue for artistic performances and academic conferences, exhibition galleries, study and co-working spaces, a café and outdoor event areas, and seminar rooms and classrooms to learn from Cuba experts in academia, business, government and the arts, while sampling over seventy courses on Cuba currently offered at FIU. CasaCuba has launched a capital campaign to finance the construction of our facility and has already received significant contributions from individuals and organizations alike, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. To learn more about CasaCuba and support our historic initiative, please visit casacuba.fiu.edu, contact us at casacuba@fiu.edu, and sign up for our newsletter.

CDA: What inspired you to join the organization? Why do you believe it is important to continue discussions about Cuban affairs and to preserve Cuban culture?

María Carla: I have been deeply inspired by FIU’s sense of purpose and urgency as it set out on the monumental task to build the only think tank and cultural center in the United States devoted to Cuba. FIU is the ideal host institution for CasaCuba. It enrolls the greatest group of university students of Cuban origin outside of Cuba, and it has a long trajectory as a hub for Cuban studies, mainly through the work of the FIU Cuba Research Institute, which will be housed at CasaCuba, and the more than fifty FIU faculty experts on Cuba across 21 disciplines. At FIU, CasaCuba will benefit not only from extraordinary scholarly resources, but also from the University’s broader commitment to catalyze social impact and build an inclusive learning community.

Cuba’s relevance for U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and its role in hemispheric affairs, have long merited a sustained, rigorous effort to study the past, present, and future of the Island. At a critical juncture for the Cuban diaspora, as new generations of Cubans abroad risk losing the connection with our homeland, CasaCuba will also ensure that the Cuban heritage, and especially the experiences of Cuban-Americans, are preserved for posterity. CasaCuba is the home away from home our community has been awaiting for far too long. 

IN CUBA

Cuba lifts Havana lockdown as coronavirus cases fall

On Wednesday, Cuba announced it would lift the curfew and partial lockdown in Havana which was implemented on September 1, Reuters reports. Havana’s governor, Reinaldo García Zapata, stated that the number of new daily cases has decreased to about 21. Over the next week, public transportation will begin running again, stores will return to operating on standard schedules, and restaurants will be allowed to open at 60 percent capacity. Schools are scheduled to open in November, but airports will remain closed. Wearing face masks, practicing social distancing, and other guidelines will continue to be legally required. The province of Ciego de Ávila in Central Cuba is still struggling to contain its cases.

Over the summer, Cuba had largely managed to control the outbreak of COVID-19 and began reopening in phases. Although Havana had partially reopened in July, Cuba’s government imposed a partial lockdown on August 10 after cases in the capital began resurging. Following a surge of 1,220 positive cases throughout August in Havana, on September 1 the province implemented a strict lockdown including a curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. and severely restricting entry and exit from the capital.

Cuban Washington Post columnist denounces threats from Cuba’s government [Spanish]

Independent Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa, who is a columnist for the Washington Post, states he was arrested, questioned, and threatened by Cuba’s government on Thursday, Yahoo News reports. Jiménez Enoa, who has written for the Washington Post since November 2019, stated that police in Havana requested he visit a police station. Once at the station he was asked to undress to be processed, was handcuffed and transferred to Havana’s police headquarters, where he was interrogated for five hours. Jiménez Enoa was accused of practicing independent journalism without the proper license and of being financed by the U.S. government in order to subvert Cuba’s government and promote a counterrevolution. According to Yahoo News, Cubans who wish to write for foreign publications must be legally accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.  

Over the last few months, Jiménez Enoa’s articles in the Washington Post have discussed police brutality, racism, marriage equality, and the housing crisis in Havana. In a Twitter thread, Jiménez Enoa shared details of this incident. He stated that despite being warned that if he published one more article with the Post he will be charged, he will continue writing. Over the last year, independent Cuban journalists have denounced an increase in intimidation methods by Cuba’s government.

‘Big opportunity’: Cuba’s entrepreneurs reinvent to survive pandemic

Cuban entrepreneurs are reinventing their businesses in innovative ways to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports. In order to contain the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, Cuba’s government has shut its borders, resulting in a big blow to the tourism industry, which many private businesses heavily depend on. El Jíbaro, a bar in Old Havana, is one of many businesses which has adapted by focusing on take-out service and offering a new service, mixed cocktails to go.

In July, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel, announced a series of economic reforms, some of which target the expansion of the non-state sector. Due to a lack of data, it is still unclear exactly what effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Cuba’s economy at large and on the non-state sector specifically. Oniel Díaz, co-founder of AUGE, a Cuban business development and communications team, estimates that 250,000 people in the non-state sector, most of whom are linked to the tourist sector, have lost some or all of their incomes since March. 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. President Díaz-Canel said the economic crisis will likely last a few years.

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, has been halted. Although Cuba’s government began allowing tourism in the cays on the northern coast, its revenue has not reached pre-pandemic levels. 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 has also resulted in a loss of revenue for the island over the last few months.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba and Russia develop plan to modernize Cuban railroads [Spanish]

Cuba and Russia developed a plan to modernize Cuba’s railroads in 2021, El Nuevo Herald reports. Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, met with Russia’s Vice Minister of Transportation, Dmitri Zvérev, in Russia where they discussed the plan and emphasized the importance of beginning this work soon. A representative of the Russian corporation Sinara-Transport Machines who was also present at the meeting shared that they will deliver seven trains to Cuba by the end of this year. Plans to improve maritime transportation and other transportation forms were also discussed. Mr. Cabrisas left Cuba to visit Russia on September 21 and had numerous meetings with officials from Russia’s government, parliament, and business sector where they discussed Cuba and Russia’s cooperation in the economy, energy, transportation, and health industries.

Cuba elected to PAHO Executive Committee despite US opposition

Cuba was elected to the Pan American Health Organization’s (PAHO) Executive Committee for a three-year term, Telesur reports. The U.S. opposed the measure and was the only country to vote against it. Suriname and Brazil were also elected alongside Cuba. At an annual PAHO meeting on Monday, which was held virtually, Dr. José Angel Portal Miranda, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, denounced the U.S.’s targeting of Cuba’s medical missions.

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.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba on edge as government readies landmark currency devaluation, Marc Frank, Financial Times

In this article, Marc Frank writes that according to three sources Cuba’s government is preparing for currency devaluation and will implement the measure before the end of the year. Mr. Frank discusses the need for this reform given Cuba’s ongoing economic crisis and its shortage of tradeable currency.

Mr. Biden, please talk to us, Cuban Americans, Manuel Gómez, The Sun Sentinel

In this opinion piece, Manuel Gómez writes that the Biden campaign should seize the opportunity to speak with Cuban Americans in South Florida about two key issues: the community’s top domestic policy concerns and Cuba policy. He argues that Mr. Biden can sway moderate and progressive Cuban American voters at a time when polls show his support is closely tied to President Trump’s.

Why Florida’s Cuban population is susceptible to Trump’s propaganda, Alexandra Martínez, CNN

In this opinion piece, Alexandra Martínez argues that first-generation Cuban Americans have an obligation to discuss the 2020 presidential election with their families in order to help preserve our country’s democracy. Ms. Martínez argues that President Trump has more in common with Cuba’s authoritarian government than Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden does. She also writes about negative effects the scare tactics the Trump campaign has used in South Florida to win the Cuban American vote.

The Cuba time machine: Despite Castro long gone, Donald Trump re-imposes an absurd economic embargo, New York Daily News Editorial Board, New York Daily News

In this opinion piece, the New York Daily News Editorial Board argues that the Trump administration’s Cuba policy has only served to suffocate and isolate Cuba and discusses the many negative consequences of the Administration’s Cuba policy.

The change is already here, Leydi Torres Arias, OnCuba News

In this essay, Leydi Torres Arias writes about a Cuban YouTuber based in Miami named Jorge Medina who advocates in favor of ending the embargo and policies that support the Cuban people. Mr. Medina, known by the name of his YouTube channel Protestón Cubano (Cuban complainer), has organized bike rides and caravans in South Florida and is supported by other Cubans who share similar views including Carlos Lazo.

Lives Lost: Father, son doctors started as Cuban refugees, Adriana Gómez Licón, StarTribune

Adriana Gómez Licón wrote a tribute to a Cuban-American father and son, both doctors, who passed away from COVID-19 in June. Dr. Jorge Vallejo left Cuba 55 years ago for Miami and established himself as an OB-GYN. He and his wife, Gisela Vallejo, had three sons: Jorge Jr., a geriatric psychiatrist, Carlos, a doctor of internal medicine, and Freddy, a dentist. On the night before Father’s Day, Dr. Vallejo Sr. and his son, Carlos, were both hospitalized for COVID-19 after working on the front lines to treat elderly COVID-19 patients. Dr. Vallejo Sr. passed away six days later at age 89. He is survived by his wife, his two sons, and his grandchildren. Carlos passed away 42 days later at age 57. He is survived by his wife, Lissette, and his three children. Carlos’s son Charlie Vallejo, who is in his third year of medical school, stated “My dad died a hero. He made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Cuba: Nothing Left to Lose, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, 2020 Oslo Freedom Forum

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, Cuban environmentalist, biologist, and LGBTQ+ rights activist, recently spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum. The Oslo Freedom Forum is an annual event which has been held since 2009 and is organized by the Human Rights Foundation. At the virtual conference he shared his story of activism in Cuba, including being arrested by Cuba’s government following a hunger strike. The full presentation is available for viewing here.

How a tourist restaurant in Cuba has adapted in a country with no tourists, Brendan Sainsbury, OnCuba News

In this article, Brendan Sainsbury discusses how Muñoz Tapas, a popular restaurant in tourist town Trinidad, Cuba has been able to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant has adapted by streamlining staff, lowering prices, and shifting to attract more domestic Cuban customers. 

The Mariel Boatlift: How Cold War Politics Drove Thousands of Cubans to Florida in 1980, Karen Juanita Carrillo, History

In this essay, Karen Juanita Carrillo tells the story of the Mariel Boatlift, a massive exodus of about 125,000 Cubans to the U.S. who traveled across the Florida Straits. Ms. Carrillo discusses Fidel Castro’s decision to allow this episode of mass migration and the ways “Marielitos” represented a new and different kind of Cuban-American.

EVENTS

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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