U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/09/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. At CDA, we know that the U.S. and Cuban people are united and our new video #WeAreTogether (#EstamosJuntos) reflects this. Join us and share how you are connected to the Cuban people. Submit your video to info@democracyinamericas.org and we may feature it on our social media platforms. We invite you to keep up with CDA by liking us on Facebook and following us on Instagram and Twitter.

Yesterday, Cuba announced it will open most of the country to foreign tourism starting next week as the country enters a “new normality.” Cuba’s government also announced updates on currency unification. Oniel Díaz Castellanos, co-founder of AUGE, a Cuban business development and communications team, tweeted a summary of the updates. More details about the announcements are available in our “In Cuba” section.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 420 active COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March has increased to 123 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

In Miami, Biden attacks Trump’s plan in the Americas; Joe Biden moves ahead of President Trump among Miami-Dade Hispanic voters, poll finds

On Monday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden criticized President Trump’s Latin America policy, the Miami Herald reports. Mr. Biden was in Miami early this week in his first campaign visit to the city since last year. Mr. Biden met with leaders of the Haitian-American community in Little Haiti, with Hispanic voters in Little Havana, and participated in an NBC town hall at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. In a speech he gave in Little Havana, Mr. Biden stated “The administration’s approach is not working. Cuba is no closer to democracy than it was four years ago.” He also said that President Trump’s hardline policy toward Venezuela has been ineffective.

On Monday, a Bendixen & Amandi International poll of 600 likely voters from Miami-Dade County found Mr. Biden leading President Trump by 20 points, with 57 percent of those surveyed indicating they would vote for Biden. The poll was conducted shortly after the first presidential debate and after President Trump announced he had tested positive for COVID-19. Miami-Dade County, which has a large Cuban American population, is the most populous county in Florida, an important swing state. The poll indicates that President Trump’s current standing is better than in 2016 when he lost in Miami-Dade County to then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by 300,000 votes. After a poll last month showed Mr. Biden losing his lead, his campaign outspent the Trump campaign in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area for the first time this election season. According to the Miami Herald, an aggressive ad campaign across Florida from the Biden campaign and greater outreach to Hispanic voters in the state may be influencing voters.

Most Cuban American voters identify as Republican in 2020

Most Cuban American voters identify as Republican according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. The online survey of 543 Cuban Americans was conducted from July 27-August 2, 2020. It found that 58 percent of Cuban Americans surveyed affiliate with the Republican Party, compared to 32 percent of non-Cuban Hispanics in the U.S. 38 percent of Cuban Americans surveyed affiliate with the Democratic Party, compared to 60 percent of non-Cuban Hispanics. Historically, Cuban Americans have largely supported the Republican Party but those numbers have fluctuated periodically.

In 2018, there were 1.4 million eligible Cuban American voters in the U.S., 55 percent of whom were naturalized U.S. citizens and 65 percent of whom lived in Florida. Although voting trends of Cuban Americans in Florida have made the state’s Latino vote different from the national Latino vote, Cuban Americans’ share of the Hispanic electorate in Florida has significantly decreased to about 29 percent in 2018 compared to 49 percent in 1980. President Trump’s job approval rates follow national partisan trends. The survey also ranks which policy issues are most important to Cuban American voters in the 2020 election. The top three most important issues are the economy, healthcare, and violent crime.

Miami-based agency VaCuba resumes dollar remittances service to Cuba [Spanish]

Miami-based travel and remittances agency VaCuba resumed its dollar remittances service on Thursday, El Nuevo Herald reports. Using VaCuba’s website, people in the U.S. will now be able to send dollars to relatives in Cuba who will receive a deposit in dollars directly in their bank accounts 24-48 hours later. An anonymous source from VaCuba stated that the agency has been working with attorneys for months to find a way to continue providing this service without violating any sanctions. Amid Cuba’s dire economic crisis, many Cubans are only able to purchase basic products in Cuba’s dollar stores. Those individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction must still abide by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’s regulations which limit remittances to $1,000 per Cuban recipient every three months.

Dollar remittances have been in limbo since the French bank Crédit Mutuel Bank ended service to FINCIMEX, the Cuban entity which controls remittances, in July. As a result, money transfers in USD from the U.S. to Cuba that agencies like Cubamax and VaCuba recently began processing were suddenly suspended. Cubamax, VaCuba’s competitor, has not resumed offering this service.

Washington considers options to end remittances to Cuba [Spanish]

The Trump administration is considering modifying federal regulations which would make sending remittances to Cubans impossible, 23yFlagler reports. There is currently a clause in the Code of Federal Regulations provision of travel, carrier, other transportation-related, and remittance forwarding services which prohibits engaging in travel-related transactions with any entities in the U.S. Department of State’s Cuba Restricted List. Item 3 of the code currently does not include that same prohibition for remittances. However, if item 3 is revised to include this same prohibition, remittances could be halted since FINCIMEX, the entity charged with processing remittances in Cuba is included on the Cuba Restricted List. FINCIMEX is used by Western Union and other remittance forwarding services used in Cuba. The U.S.’s stated goal is to remove entities affiliated with Cuba’s military from remittances processing. However, there do not appear to be any viable alternatives for remittance transfers apart from physically transporting cash, which is insecure and-at present- impossible with pandemic-related border closures.

El Jabao: The greatest Cuban crime syndicate you’ve never heard of

Three senior members of the Cuban crime syndicate El Jabao are behind bars, the Sun Sentinel reports. El Jabao, which is a term used to refer to a person of mixed race in Cuba and other Caribbean countries, is an organized crime group which operates in the United States, Cuba, and Mexico and is linked to crimes including thefts, armed robberies, human trafficking and smuggling, and homicide. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, at least twenty of their members are currently in federal prison. The full extent of El Jabao’s crimes, how many members they have, and how members are currently in prison is not yet public information. It is known that over the last ten years they have smuggled thousands of Cubans in Mexico who sought to come to the U.S. They forced families to pay up to $10,000 per person and when they failed to do so, they tortured or trafficked migrants. One of the group’s leaders, Tomas Valle Valdivia, 45, is serving time in federal prison for smuggling Cuban baseball players Yaisel Puig and Raisel Iglesias into the U.S. to play for Major League Baseball teams.

According to the Sun Sentinel, all of El Jabao’s identified members are from a suburb of Havana called Santiago de las Vegas. Most of them moved to the U.S. after growing up in Cuba. Jim Shedd, a former Drug Enforcement Administration officer who has investigated the group stated they have an “organized, disorganized” structure which, combined with their international reach, make them difficult to investigate. Three senior leaders are currently in federal prison facing different charges: George Ferrer Sánchez, Tomas Vale Valdivia, and a third man whose name is not public. Arrests made in South Florida last week suggest that the gang is still active. Members Reynaldo Marquez Crespo, 41, and Jancer Sergio Ramos Valdes, 33, appeared in a Fort Lauderdale federal court on charges of human smuggling and kidnapping at least three people in January 2019. If convicted, they could each serve up to thirty years in federal prison. El Jabao is still under investigation and one of their senior leaders is believed to currently be in hiding.

IN CUBA

Cuba opens most of country to tourism as country enters “new normality”; Cuba’s government shares details about currency unification 

On Thursday, in a broadcast of La Mesa Redonda, the government’s televised official channel of communication, Cuba’s government announced that thirteen of its sixteen provinces will open their borders to international tourism next week, Reuters reports. Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said it is time the country moves toward a “new normality.” The thirteen provinces which will open their airports are all currently in phase 3 of reopening. All travelers will be tested upon arriving in Cuba. Havana will not open its airport yet since it very recently curbed a large wave of infections and lifted a strict lockdown. Sancti Spíritus and Ciego de Ávila will also remain closed since they are still in the process of reducing their outbreaks of COVID-19. President Miguel Díaz-Canel stated that Cuba has proved it has learned to live with the virus and is ready for this next step. Wearing face masks and social distancing will still be required, but Cuba will be shifting strategies to combat the spread of COVID-19. Over the last few months, Cuba’s government has covered the cost of having 115,000 people at isolation facilities. Now, Cubans will be required to isolate in their own homes if they are suspected of having COVID-19 or came into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus.

Also on La Mesa Redonda, President Díaz-Canel shared updates about the process of economic reforms. He announced that currency unification will be implemented soon and the date of implementation will be shared with the public in advance. President Díaz-Canel stated that the Cuban Peso (CUP) will be the main currency and will be convertible to hard currencies. Certain government subsidies will end, but ration cards will remain in place until Cuba’s economy advances to a level where ration cards are no longer necessary. Currency unification will also result in a reform of salaries, pensions, and prices of goods. Additionally, bank deposits in all currencies will be protected, according to the President. President Díaz-Canel recognized Cubans’ anxiety about the impact of currency unification and assured the public that Cuba’s government will establish support mechanisms to protect Cubans who will be in an economically vulnerable situation as a result of the reform. Lastly, he stated that starting next week, through a series of broadcasts on television, details about the design, organization, and execution of currency unification will be shared.

After its first COVID-19 cases were diagnosed in March, Cuba suspended international travel on April 2 to prevent the virus’s spread. In July, Cuba partially opened to foreign tourists but limited their travels to the northern keys. Cuba’s economy is highly dependent on revenue generated by tourism, so the sudden stop in tourism over the last six months has put a significant strain on the economy. Combined with increased sanctions from the U.S., many of which have targeted remittances, and the fact that Cuba’s economy was already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic, the last few months have resulted in a dire economic crisis on the island.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

If this is my last column here, it’s because I’ve been imprisoned in Cuba, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, Cuban columnist Abraham Jiménez Enoa writes about the violence and intimidation he has continually faced from Cuba’s government as an independent journalist. Jiménez Enoa, who is a columnist for Post Opinión, was detained, strip searched, questioned, and threatened last week by the State Security Agency. In this piece, he details the kinds of intimidation independent journalists are subject to in Cuba. He ends his opinion piece by urging Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to comply with international law since “informing is not a crime.” The opinion piece is also available in Spanish.

The president has the constitutional power to unilaterally terminate the embargo on Cuba, Robert Muse, Global Americans

In this article, attorney Robert Muse discusses why and how a U.S. president has the power to unilaterally end the embargo on Cuba, even without approval from Congress. This power lies in a provision of the Helms-Burton Act and is based on the president’s management of the U.S.’s foreign relations. Mr. Muse argues that truly normalized relations with Cuba require the end to the U.S. embargo and the resumption of trade between both countries.

Will 2020 Be Trump’s Bay of Pigs?, Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

In this essay, Peter Kornbluh argues that President Trump’s new Cuba sanctions, and those he is expected to announce in the lead up to the November presidential election, have dire consequences for Cubans who are facing an economic crisis and for Americans whose right to travel is being sacrificed. Mr. Kornbluh argues that Democratic nominee Joe Biden will remind the Cuban American community in Florida that the policies he and President Barack Obama implemented years ago advanced the interest of the Cuban and American peoples.

What’s behind Trump’s gain in Cuban American support?,Carmen Sesin, NBC News

In this article, Carmen Sesin seeks to explain one of the biggest takeaways of the Florida International University (FIU) 2020 Cuba Poll: Cuban Americans’ support of President Trump has increased since 2016. Featuring interviews with Cuban American Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor of Latin American History at FIU, and Felice Gorordo, national Co-Chair of Catholics for Biden and a member of Biden’s National Finance Committee, Ms. Sesin discusses possible reasons for Trump’s increased support. 

Why Are So Many Latinos Obsessed With Black Lives Matter? It’s Complicated — Or Simple., Tim Padgett, WLRN Public Radio Miami/South Florida

In this article, Tim Padgett discusses why many Latinos in South Florida are opposed to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Mr. Padgett writes about how on Spanish-language media in South Florida, some people spread falsehoods about the movement and even link it to communism. The article features insights from Danielle Clealand, a Black Latina and former professor at Florida International University in Miami, who argues this is not surprising since racism runs deep in Latin America and since some Latinos believe they cannot perpetuate discrimination as members of a community who often face discrimination themselves. 

Meet the YouTube Star Who’s Pushing a Generation of Florida’s Cuban Voters to Trump, Noah Lanard, Mother Jones

In this article, Noah Lanard discusses the role of Cuban YouTuber Otaola in Florida’s politics. Otaola, who immigrated to Miami in 2003, has a YouTube show called Hola! Ota-Ola where he mixes pop culture and politics. Mr. Lanard discusses the content of the YouTube show, which is popular among recent Cuban arrivals, and how some credit Otaola with swaying this demographic toward the Republican party.

Without Rosaries in our Ovaries: The Right to Abortion and Sexual Education in Cuba, Ailynn Torres Santana, El Toque [Spanish]

In this essay, Cuban scholar Ailynn Torres Santana writes about women’s right to abortions in Cuba. Grounding the essay in a discussion of her own personal experiences, Torres Santana describes how Cuba’s legal abortion laws stand in stark contrast to laws in the rest of the region. Torres Santana also writes about who has the right to decide to have an abortion in Cuba, what barriers to access exist, and how the national understanding of abortions has changed in recent years, partly due to a movement of neoconservative religious fundamentalists.

Reforms in Cuba: Will the Third Time be the Charm?, Aldo Álvarez, Cuba Study Group Nuevos Espacios Blog

In this essay, Aldo Álvarez identifies three periods of transformation in the Cuban economy and the counter-reforms that preceded them. Mr. Álvarez argues that understanding these transformations will help economists predict where Cuba’s economy is headed next. He discusses these reforms in light of the July announcement of a New Economic Strategy. The essay is also available in Spanish.

EVENTS

Virtual,“The War on Cuba” Premiere and Q&A with Liz Oliva, Oct. 9

Tune in to the virtual premiere of episode one of “The War on Cuba,” a new documentary series by Belly of the Beast, a Havana-based project made up of Cubans and foreigners. The documentary will provide an inside look into the effects of U.S. sanctions on the Cuban people. Tonight, Belly of the Beast will host a conversation with protagonist and narrator Liz Oliva. Registration is available here. Episode one is available for viewing here.

Marco Island Center for the Arts, “Here and There” Art Exhibition, Oct.12

The Marco Island Center for the Arts located in Marco Island, Florida is featuring the work of six Cuban-born artists for an exhibition called “Here and There.” Their work will be available for viewing from October 12- November 20. For information visit the Marco Island Center for the Arts’ website.


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