U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/16/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy. At CDA, we know that, despite challenges, the U.S. and Cuban people are united and our new video #WeAreTogether (#EstamosJuntos) reflects this. During a time of so much rancor and division, we want to highlight the things that bring us together. Join us and share how you are connected to the U.S. or the Cuban people. Submit your video to info@democracyinamericas.org and we may feature it on our social media platforms!

Cuba experienced a decrease in COVID-19 cases this week, with 290 active COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March is 124. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.

CDA is seeking two spring interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is November 15. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Flying to Havana? American Airlines to resume ‘Scheduled Service To Cuba’ from Miami

On Tuesday, American Airlines announced that on November 4 they will resume flights from Miami to Havana, CBS Miami reports. American Airlines will offer three daily flights to Cuba’s capital. The announcement comes shortly after Cuba’s government announced it will be reopening its borders and will allow most of its airports to open. On April 2, Cuba closed its airports and prevented travel to limit the spread of COVID-19. In December 2019, the Trump administration banned flights to all destinations other than Havana. In a joint press release at the time with Cuba Study Group, Engage Cuba, the Latin America Working Group, Oxfam America, and the Washington Office on Latin America, CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala stated the move was a “blow to the interests of the American and Cuban people alike.”

Cuba replaces U.S. Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez [Spanish]

Cuba’s government will soon replace Ambassador José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez in the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C. after 8 years of service, Periódico Cubano reports. In 2012, Amb. Cabañas led Cuba’s Interests Section in Washington, D.C. and, following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba under President Obama, he assumed the title of ambassador. Cuba has named the current Cuban Ambassador to Vietnam, Lianys Torres Rivera, as Cabañas’ successor Amb. Torres will assume the position of Chargé d’Affaires of the Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., upon approval of her visa and once international flights resume.

IN CUBA

Cuba urges calm as overhaul of monetary system looms

On Monday, Cuba’s government urged citizens to stay calm as the government prepares to unify its dual currency system and multiple exchange rates, Reuters reports. Last Thursday, Cuba’s government officially announced they will soon implement currency unification. Alejandro Gil, Cuba’s Minister of the Economy stated this unification could help Cuba overcome its current economic crisis, and that it will be implemented alongside wage, pension, and other reforms. The government has assured the Cuban people that they will have ample time to exchange their currency and that they will not lose money. Currency unification is expected to be implemented by the end of the year. Cuba currently has two official currencies, the Cuban Peso (CUP) which is valued at about 25 CUP for one U.S. Dollar (USD), and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) which is valued at about 1 CUC for every 1 USD. Once currency unification is implemented, Cuba will end the circulation of the CUC and the CUP’s value will be tied to the dollar. Economists warn that this transition may cause inflation and bankruptcies which would affect domestic economic efficiency and exports.

Because of the two different currencies, Cuba currently has a two-tier economy which causes economic inequalities among Cubans. Those employed by the state sector are paid in CUP, but those wages are often not enough to cover the costs of basic necessities which increasingly are offered for purchase in CUC and U.S. dollars. Some Cubans are able to earn CUC by working in the non-state sector, in the tourism industry, or by receiving remittances from relatives abroad. The CUPs’ value has diminished even more since Cuba began opening dollar stores last year and more in July. These dollar stores only accept payment in dollars or other tradable currencies. Often, dollar stores carry products that CUP and CUC stores do not.

Cuba currently faces a dire economic crisis. Its 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. A decrease in remittances from relatives abroad, fueled by new U.S. sanctions, has also resulted in a loss of revenue for the island in recent months. In July, Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel, announced a series of economic reforms, including the impending unified dual currency system.

Cuba’s National Assembly to meet virtually for first time

On Tuesday, Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power announced it will be meeting virtually for the first time ever, OnCuba News reports. The virtual session will begin on October 26 with the presentation of four bills by International Relations and the Permanent Commission on Economic Affairs. On October 27, the Ministry of Public Health will deliver updates on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic on the island. Then, on October 28, the legislative body will present the 2019 Budget and Economic-Social Strategy report in response to COVID-19. The program will also include the ratification of agreements and decree laws approved by the Council of State.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Wealthy nations defy Trump with debt lifeline to ailing Cuba

Members of the Paris Club of creditors will suspend Cuba’s debt obligations for the year, defying the U.S.’s attempts to block financial relief to Cuba, Bloomberg News reports. Cuba owes a debt payment at the end of October but over a dozen Paris Club members will allow the payment to be delayed. As of December 2019, Cuba owed the Paris Club $5.2 billion and previously requested a two-year moratorium on the debt. The U.S. has lobbied against the suspension but cannot veto the decision because it does not require consensus from the 22 Paris Club members. 14 creditors, including the U.K., Spain, Japan and Canada, want to support Cuba.

Collection of extensions for Cubans living abroad: a citizen question

As of this week, Cuban citizens living abroad must pay a fee for each month their stay is extended beyond two years, OnCuba News reports. Cuban Decree 302 stipulates that a Cuban citizen living abroad must re-enter Cuba at least once every 24 months “to maintain the status of ‘Cuban citizen residing abroad.’” If more than 24 months pass without visiting Cuba, citizens may request an extension for their time abroad and pay a fee which varies depending on the country of residence. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba’s government waived the fee on March 19. A Cuban resident in Spain who disapproves of the measure started an online petition asking Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel and the Ministry of Foreign Relations to waive the monthly payments. The Cuban Embassy in the United States has yet to state if it will be necessary to make monthly payments and what the amount will be.

Cuba is elected to the UN Human Rights Council despite increased government repression

On Tuesday, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly elected Cuba as a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) despite opposition from some states and civil society organizations, the Miami Herald reports. Cuba received 170 out of 192 votes, promising to promote “cultural rights” and highlighted its “participatory and democratic character.” Following Cuba’s election, 85 civil society organizations from Cuba and other countries signed a declaration criticizing the move and arguing that this “undermines the integrity of the Council.” In a press statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that Cuba’s election to the UNHRC validates President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S.’s membership in 2018. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez tweeted that despite the “smear campaign” against Cuba’s election into the UNHRC, it was elected with 88 percent of the vote.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

“The War on Cuba” Episode 2, Belly of the Beast

Episode two of “The War on Cuba” is now available. “The War on Cuba” is a new documentary series created by Belly of the Beast, a Havana-based project made up of Cubans and foreigners. The documentary, hosted by Cuban journalist Liz Oliva, provides an inside look into the effects of U.S. sanctions and the embargo on the Cuban people. Episode one is available for viewing here.

Photo gallery: Cuban women entrepreneurs make their mark, El Toque, Nuevos Espacios Blog- Cuba Study Group

This photo essay features three Cuban women entrepreneurs who are navigating the challenges of being a private business owner in Cuba, the unique circumstances of COVID-19, and systematic machismo in Cuba. The photo essay features Adriana Heredia, owner of Beyond Roots, Saily González, owner of Amarillo B&B/Amarillo Co-Working, and Katia Sánchez, founder of the blog La Penúltima Casa.

Cuba’s Currency Reform Could Ease Its Covid-19 Blues, Mac Margolis, Bloomberg

In this opinion piece, Mac Margolis argues that Cuba’s currency unification will likely present challenges but will also bring an opportunity for Cuba to fix its currency exchange rate. Mr. Margolis also argues that the reform is an opportunity to dismantle top-heavy economic management which for decades has impeded initiative and new enterprises.

Toro Time: Did ‘Bidenistas’ Take The ‘Socialista’ Bull By The Horns In Florida?, Tim Padgett, WLRN Public Radio Miami/South Florida

In this article, Tim Padgett argues that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s increased support in the polls from Florida Hispanics should be credited to the grassroots Latino “Con Biden” (With Biden) groups in Miami. He discusses the work the groups have been doing on the ground to rally support for Mr. Biden and to go against the Republican party’s rhetoric that he is a socialist.

Biden Would Likely Shift U.S. Policy In Latin America Away From Sole Focus On Immigration, Tracy Wilkinson and Molly O’Toole, Los Angeles Times

In this article, Tracy Wilkinson and Molly O’Toole predict that Demoratic presidential nominee Joe Biden will likely shift his Latin America policy away from focusing only on immigration and toward policies of building democratic governments, fighting corruption, and respecting human rights. They predict his immigration policy will likely focus on fighting root causes of migration, while his Cuba policy will likely return to the Obama-era policies he helped create.

Latin America’s past weighs on US Hispanic voters, Rafael Romo and Ana María Mejía, CNN

In this article, Rafael Romo and Ana María Mejía discuss how for many Latino voters who immigrated to the U.S. from socialist or authoritarian regimes, the fear of the U.S. resembling those systems is a major motivator as they decide who to vote for in the U.S.’s presidential election this November. They state that many Latino immigrant groups, including Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and Nicaraguans are determining who to vote for based on this.

Trump, Pence promise a ‘Cuba libre’ in Miami, but only Obama outsmarted the Castros, Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Fabiola Santiago notes that, when it comes to U.S. politics around Cuba, “Words don’t cost a thing, except maybe to the isolated and repressed people in Cuba.” She reports on President Trump’s and Vice President Pence’s visits to Miami this week, and Vice President Pence’s well-worn “que viva Cuba libre” remarks before a Miami crowd. She goes further to draw a distinction between U.S. policy toward Cuba under Presidents Obama and Trump, noting that Obama’s approach was one of statesmanship that returned U.S. democratic influence to the island.

The future of Cuba will not depend on Trump or Biden, but on the allied countries, Iván León, CiberCuba [Spanish]

In this opinion piece, Cuban columnist Iván León discusses an interview with John Kavulich, President of the Cuban-American Commercial and Economic Council, published by Infobae. According to Mr. Kavulick, the key to changing the state of U.S.-Cuba relations is not who will be elected the next U.S. president in November, but what countries Cuba has strategic partnerships with. Mr. León also discusses Mr. Kavulich’s views on the challenges of U.S. companies considering doing business in Cuba and the role of Cuba’s trade with the European Union.

The Cuban American Political Right in U.S.-Cuba Policy: Architects, Puppets, or Useful Tools?, Manuel Gómez, Cubarte [Spanish]

In this essay, Cuban American Manuel Gómez argues that the Cuban American political right has not been the principal architect of U.S.-Cuba policy. Mr. Gómez argues against the common belief that U.S.-Cuba policy has been since 1959, and continues to be, a domestic policy issue. Instead, he asserts that U.S.-Cuba policy has always been an issue of foreign policy which is determined by each Administration, not by the Cuban American political right. At best, this demographic has managed to be a useful tool for certain Administrations implementing their U.S.-Cuba policy.

Military economy in Cuba, Alina B. López Hernández, Joven Cuba [Spanish]

In this opinion piece, journalist Alina López Hernández argues that Cuba should transition from a military economy to a civil economy. She states that a civil economy would allow Cuba to achieve three important goals: to gain popular control over large properties, to fight against corruption, and to create a strategy to weaken the U.S. embargo.

Havana and Washington, conservative force camps, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, El Pais [Spanish]

In this opinion piece, Cuban journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez discusses his relationship with Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez who was detained and interrogated by Cuba’s State Security last week and subsequently recounted his experiences on Twitter and in a piece published by Post Opinión. Mr. Álvarez discusses how Cuban and U.S. hardliners alike are comfortable with the current state of hostility, and the Cuban people suffer as a result.

Cubans share their coming out stories, Washington Blade

In this article, Cuban LGBTI+ activists share their experiences coming out in celebration of National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated on October 11. Although National Coming Out Day is not yet widely celebrated in Cuba, some activists celebrated the day by sharing their stories on social media. This article is also available in Spanish.

Race and Heredity in Contemporary Cuban Society, Julio César Guanche, Nuevos Espacios Blog- Cuba Study Group

In this essay, Cuban historian Julio César Guanche traces the history of race and racism in Cuba, incorporating a series of contemporary and historical photographs throughout the text. Mr. Guanche also describes the different ways discussions of racism and race relations in Cuba are shaped, and proposes solutions for combating racial inequalities. This essay is also available in Spanish.

EVENTS

Virtual, Cuba: Environmental Challenges, October 20

The Cuba Program at Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies is hosting a panel about the environmental challenges Cuba currently faces. The panel will feature Giselle García Castro, a Cuban filmmaker, and Dan Whittle, Senior Attorney/Senior Director at Oceans and Energy Programs at the Environmental Defense Fund. To learn more and register for the event, visit the event website.


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