U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/30/2020

Dear Friends,

We wish you and yours a fun and safe Halloween weekend. Also, for those eligible, please VOTE! Visit vote.org for polling place locations, hours, and ballot information.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 493 active COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March is 128. 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 remote 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, we are continuing our interviews with Cuban Americans doing work we admire. We interviewed Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Florida International University in Miami. 

To read this week’s interview with Michael Bustamante, visit the “U.S.-Cuba Relations” section.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba’s government announces closure of Western Union offices and suspension of remittances

On Tuesday, Cuba’s government announced that over 400 Western Union offices throughout the country will soon close their doors as a result of regulatory changes announced by the Trump administration last Friday, the Miami Herald  reports. Western Union, the long-time leader in remittance sending worldwide, including Cuba, stated it is still looking for alternatives to be able to continue the service on the island. For now, those in the U.S. may continue using Western Union to send remittances to family members in Cuba until November 26, the day prior to when the regulations go into effect. FINCIMEX, the entity charged with processing remittances in Cuba which is used by Western Union and other remittance forwarding services, and its subsidiary American International Services (AIS), were recently added to the Cuba Restricted List, due to their ownership by GAESA. GAESA, which stands for Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. GAESA 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. 

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to subject remittance forwarding entities and related transactions to sanctions in the Cuba Restricted List. This policy is purportedly intended to deny Cuba’s military access to funds. However, the move shuts down channels for Cuban Americans to send remittances to families and will hurt the Cuban people who are facing a dire economic crisis on the island in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Wednesday, a Biden for President campaign press release stated that the Trump administration’s attacks on remittances are “cruel distraction[s]” from President Trump’s failure to advance democracy in Cuba, adding that this new regulation will only hurt the most vulnerable Cubans on the island. Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez, condemned the new regulation, tweeting that it aims to “hurt the Cuban people.” Also, in a statement this week, FINCIMEX suggested they do not intend to alter the structure of remittance processing. Click here for our explainer of actions taken by the Trump administration to curb remittances to Cuba. 

A Cuban asylum seeker is freed, then rearrested, as ICE makes Cubans languish in detention

Dayron Naranjo-Álvarez, a Cuban asylum seeker in Louisiana, was freed and rearrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), the Miami Herald reports. Mr. Naranjo-Álvarez, who was being held at Louisiana’s Jackson Parish Correctional Center, was released on October 21, and subsequently left to a friend’s home in Kentucky. Five days later, ICE agents appeared at the Kentucky home saying there was an error and he was never supposed to be released, took custody of him, and sent him to Kentucky’s Boone County Jail, which is also an ICE detention facility. Mr. Naranjo-Álvarez is one of 1,800 Cuban nationals across the U.S. being held in ICE detention facilities awaiting deportation. Mr. Naranjo-Álvarez crossed the U.S.-Mexico border with his three brothers in September 2019 and turned himself into the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in order to apply for asylum, at which point they were detained. Two of the brothers were deported to Cuba and Mr. Naranjo-Álvarez’s twin brother was released in February. 

Under U.S. immigration laws, Mr. Naranjo-Álvarez was eligible to apply for release along with a commitment to report to status hearings. However, ICE can justify detaining someone longer if they are a “flight risk” or “danger” to the community. Applying for release depends on having access to a lawyer, which for those detained in places like rural Louisiana and Georgia, where the U.S. has been sending many Cuban asylum seekers, is often difficult. In Georgia, more than 100 Cubans are still being held after 180 days in detention. Lawyers at the Southern Poverty Law Center say some have been held for two years

Cuban nationals released from detention are eligible to receive special treatment under U.S. immigration law. Although the “wet foot, dry foot” policy ended in January 2017, the Cuban Adjustment Act remains in force and Cubans who are released on parole may still apply for permanent residency status after one year and one day. According to the Miami Heraldthe Trump administration appears to be deliberately detaining Cubans in order to avoid this outcome. Deporting Cuban nationals back to Cuba has always been a tricky process since Cuba decides which nationals they will accept. The last deportation flight to Cuba was in February, 2020, and contained 119 deportees. Shortly after that, international borders closed. While other countries recently began accepting deportees again, Cuba still has not. Two anonymous officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told the Miami Herald that negotiations about deportations will resume with Cuba as soon as November 1. A new Wilson Center report traces the history of U.S. immigration policy for Cubans, including the experience of Cubans at the U.S.-Mexico border and how they have been affected by COVID-19. 

Well-known Cuban-American writer defends Biden in new political ad

Carlos Alberto Montaner, an award-winning Cuban-born journalist and a well-recognized Cuban exile, is featured in a new Spanish-language ad rejecting allegations that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a socialist, the Miami Herald reports. The ad, which is funded by former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s political action committee, Independence USA, began airing on Tuesday on various Spanish-language networks in South Florida. In the ad he states, “I have been in exile for many years, and I can recognize friends of freedom perfectly. They are [friends of freedom],” referring to Vice President Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris (CA). Mr. Montaner, who is a registered Independent, stated he has never publicly endorsed a candidate but decided to because he believes it is “an absolute injustice” that Vice President Biden and Sen. Harris are being labeled socialists.  

Over the last few weeks, Democrats have been fervently pushing back against the Trump campaign’s accusations that Vice President Biden is a socialist, and trying to fight against rampant misinformation spreading through social networks in South Florida’s Latino community. Mr. Bloomberg’s PAC also financed an ad which featured Santiago Morales, a Cuban Bay of Pigs Veteran based in Miami. 

Is your family name on this list? Time to sue for property lost in Cuba might run out

On Monday, the Miami Herald published a list of persons and companies whose assets were confiscated and nationalized by Cuba’s Ministry for the Recovery of Stolen Property starting in 1959. Many Cubans whose property was confiscated became exiles in the U.S., and Cuba’s government published lists of those people’s names in the Cuban newspaper El Mundo where they called them “enemies of the people.” The report suggests these public lists may serve as evidence in U.S. courts in Helms-Burton Title III lawsuits. Since May 2019, when President Trump allowed lawsuits under Title III to be filed, 29 corporations and individuals, many of whom are Cuban Americans, have sued Cuban, American, and other foreign companies which run businesses in properties previously seized by Cuba’s government. To date, no suits have been decided in favor of the plaintiff. 

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act allows U.S. nationals to file lawsuits against individuals and entities who “traffic” in property confiscated by Cuba’s government. Since the LIBERTAD Act was passed on March 12, 1996, every U.S. president suspended the implementation of Title III, citing U.S. national interests, until the Trump administration allowed the provision to go into effect on May 2, 2019. In 1972 and in 2006, the Department of Justice’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission certified close to 6,000 claims for seized property valued at approximately $8.5 billion. These claims have not been settled, and experts doubt that plaintiffs will be able to successfully sue and receive compensation, pointing out that litigation will take years, cost millions of dollars, and face many legal challenges.

U.S. Agency targets its own journalists’ independence

Michael Pack, CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), removed a “firewall” intended to protect Voice of America and its affiliates from political interference in their journalism, NPR reports. The rule prevented the CEO of USAGM from conducting managerial and editorial oversight. In a statement, Mr. Pack stated he eliminated the policy because it was “harmful to the agency and the U.S. national interest.” This move affects the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) and Voice of America (VOA) among other networks which collectively reach over 350 million people around the world each week. 

Mr. Pack has faced criticism since he became CEO of USAGM in June when he fired the heads of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other outlets on his first day. The firings, known as “the Wednesday night massacre” among USAGM employees, led to a Congressional review of the agency’s funds. Mr. Pack has also faced criticism for investigating journalists for bias against President Trump, pushing for those journalists’ dismissals and reassignments. The OCB runs Radio and TV Martí, which broadcast programming in Cuba from the U.S. that promotes freedom and democracy. 

Interview with Michael Bustamante 

CDA: What is your connection to Cuba? How has traveling to Cuba impacted your research?  

Michael: My father was born in Cuba. My paternal grandparents spent their entire childhoods and a portion of their adult lives there before migrating to the United States with their children in 1962. But growing up outside of a Cuban immigrant enclave, and in a mixed-heritage home, my knowledge of and connection to Cuba was thin—though apparently not as thin as I once thought. My mother recently showed me several reports I wrote on Cuba during elementary school. And I always adored my abuela’s flan.

Still, it wasn’t until college that I developed an academic interest in Cuban history and achieved Spanish fluency. I was fortunate to travel to the island for the first time in the summer of 2005 to conduct research for my undergraduate thesis. I haven’t looked back since.

The research I and so many other scholars of Cuba do simply would not be possible without travel to the island. While there are excellent collections of Cuban materials in libraries and archives in Latin America, Europe, and the United States, for many topics there is no substitute for conducting research on the ground—where the challenges are not insubstantial, but there are sources that may not be available anywhere else. 

Traveling to and conducting research in Cuba over the years has also afforded me the special opportunity to learn from and get to know Cuban scholars. I consider it a personal commitment to reciprocate their generosity whenever I can. While there are real divides politically and ideologically between some scholars of Cuba on and off of the island (and especially between scholars of Cuba on the island and in its diaspora), I consider myself fortunate to be part of a transnational scholarly community where the will to collaborate in my experience has been stronger than the power of those who prefer to build walls.

CDA: As Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami you teach courses on Cuba and Cuban-America among other topics. What do you hope your students gain from your courses? 

Michael: I’m lucky to teach classes on Cuban and Cuban American history at an institution where, by virtue of its location, a sizeable portion of my students are Cuban and/or Cuban-American. That is to say, the material has an intrinsic interest for many of my students that it might not for others. Or at least their interest takes on a more personal form.

But I always stress two things.

First, just because you’re Cuban or Cuban American doesn’t mean you know much about Cuban history. Students in my classrooms who have no connection to Cuba have as much to contribute to the conversation as those who do. “Insider” perspectives matter, as do the lived experiences of my students that allow them to relate to or challenge the things we read. But so can “outsiders” to the topic offer insights that are just as perceptive, or that shine a new light on a part of the story that others did not fully appreciate.

Second, and especially for my Cuban and Cuban American students who may come into the class with relevant life experiences or prior knowledge (often filtered through family stories and lore, as in my experience growing up), I always emphasize that my classes are their opportunity to test how they know what they think they know about Cuba’s past and present, and why. I expose them to a diversity of material and perspectives. And if they come out at the end of the class reaffirmed in their prior point of view—whatever that may be—that’s perfectly ok. If I’m doing my job right, their perspective grows in depth and complexity. 

CDA: Why do you believe it is important to teach the history of Cuban and Cuban-America in Miami? 

Michael: I think my response to the previous question largely answered this. But fundamentally, it’s about providing a space for deep conversations about legacies that are so frequently invoked in Miami’s public sphere, or around dinner tables, but that students rarely have the opportunity to study closely. (The same could be said for students of mine educated in primary and secondary schools in Cuba, but who arrive in my classroom as recent migrants eager to critically interrogate the ways the island’s history continues to be taught back home.) 

CDA: Why do you believe U.S.-Cuba engagement is important? 

Michael: Engagement can mean many things. And I’m certainly on the record in my belief that a U.S. policy toward Cuba grounded in diplomacy and building bridges is more in line with U.S. interests, more just, and more likely to improve the lives of the Cuban people than one based on hostility. Such a policy also allows Cubans’ internal debates about the direction of their country to have more breathing room. Otherwise, those necessary arguments become prisoner to a U.S. policy of regime change.

But let me keep my scholarly hat on and speak about engagement principally in that context. From joint digitization projects like recent work between the University of Florida Libraries and Cuba’s National Library, to a special issue of Temas magazine on the state of Cuban studies as a field (to which I and other U.S. scholars were privileged to contribute essays), engagement means exchange—of ideas, resources, and perspectives—in pursuit of the advancement of knowledge. There is a long record of such exchanges, dating back to the late 1960s and early 70s, despite the political and diplomatic hurdles at the time. Cuban diaspora scholars in the United States were among the pioneers. It is upon all of us involved in this kind of work to make sure that such exchanges are as inclusive as possible, treat no topic as taboo, and are in fact two-way streets. 

CDA: As someone currently living in Miami, in what ways have you noticed this election season has been playing out among the Cuban-American community in ways that are different from past elections? What similarities, if any, have you observed? 

Michael: The typical tendency to treat “the Cuban vote” as a monolith is alive and well, as is the tendency of non-Cuban politicians to pander (Hispander, we might say) to Cuban voters by presuming that they care more about foreign policy toward Cuba than they really do. (Polls repeatedly show that policy toward Cuba ranks at the bottom of priority issue for Cuban voters in the United States.)

One difference I see this year is just how charged the language around “socialism” has become, in often shockingly disingenuous ways. As I recently told WYNC’s Tanzina Vega, not in his wildest dreams has Bernie Sanders proposed a near-total state takeover of the economy, let alone breaking from a system of multiparty elections. And yet that is how the specter of “socialism” is being invoked again and again locally in Miami to drum up support for President Trump among conservative Latino voters. (Not just Cubans by the way.) This is a reflection of the broader tenor of our national conversation, or our lack thereof. But in Miami, this discourse manifests itself with a particular intensity that resonates with historic and newer Cuban emigrants’ grievances vis-a-vis their home country, albeit in ways that are quite divorced from the reality of the issues we face in the United States and the proposals the Democratic Party has put on the table for addressing them.

CDA: The 2020 FIU Cuba Poll was recently released. What stood out to you the most about the results? 

Michael: The recent FIU Cuba Poll confirmed trends that we have been seeing since at least 2018, as I wrote about for El Toque earlier this year. Namely, after 8 years of the Obama administration in which Cuban American political support and party affiliation became more evenly divided than ever before, and support for U.S. engagement with Cuba rose to historic highs, we have seen a significant swing back toward support for sanctions and the Republican Party. The swing toward Trump is particularly noteworthy among recent Cuban migrants, which has come as a surprise. These results, though, present us with more questions than answers. Do they signal a lasting turning point? Or are they a momentary shift? Are they being driven principally by the messaging coming out of the White House—and the way in which Trump’s cult of personality and politics of white grievance connect with white Latino voters in Miami who dominate a “majority-minority” city—rather than a truly grassroots change from the ground up? What role are new channels of misinformation (WhatsApp groups, social media “influencers,” etc.) playing in weaponizing bad faith political arguments and flat-out lies? We have the polling results, but what we need now is more qualitative research.

A final note on the FIU poll. For supporters of engagement with Cuba, the results may seem dispiriting. But look under the hood at Cuban American opinions of individual measures like opening travel and remittance flows, or support for reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and there is still a strong undercurrent of support for commonsense engagement policies. This is true even as the mood overall in the community seems to have taken a cue from the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign.

IN CUBA

First international tourists arrive in Varadero, after seven months of pause due to coronavirus [Spanish]

On Sunday, 240 tourists from Manchester, United Kingdom were among the first tourists to arrive in Varadero, Cuba after a seven month tourism pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OnCuba News reports. Dunesky González, Director of Gaviota Tours Varadero stated that the group arrived with TUI Travel, a British tour company, and that on November 5, TUI Travel will begin twice weekly flights from London, with a capacity of 680 travelers. This arrival follows Cuba’s government announcement a few weeks ago that it would open most of its airports to international travel. 

New social security regime for Cuban cooperative members with less state dependence

The Cuban Council of State approved Decree Law No. 5 of 2000, establishing a new social security system for workers in the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC), OnCuba News reportsUBPCs are agricultural cooperatives which were created in 1993. Under the new law, cooperative members will contribute to the social security system at a rate of 6 percent of the contribution base they selected, and the cooperative will contribute 14 percent, for a total of 20 percent of the contribution, increasing workers’ participation and reducing the state’s. The law also stipulates that the amount of the monthly pension by age is calculated using the average of the monthly contribution base of the last 15 years. The law will be made effective in 180 days. 

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Many Cubans hope US election will lead to renewed ties, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press 

In this article, Andrea Rodríguez writes that many Cubans on the island, including entrepreneurs, hope Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is elected in November. Ms. Rodríguez interviews Cubans who reflect on the damage the current administration’s Cuba policy has caused both to the Cuban people and private businesses, and hope that if Mr. Biden is elected, he will return to Obama-era Cuba policy. 

Beyond the Partisan Noise, Cuban-Americans Still Support Engagement Policy, Ricardo Herrero, El Toque 

In this article, Ricardo Herrero, Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group, writes about what he believes to be one of the main findings of the 2020 Florida International University Cuba Poll: Cuban Americans still support Cuba engagement policies. Mr. Herrero also argues that Cuban Americans’ opinions are swayed by the president’s Cuba discourse and that political party preferences are not strictly tied to Cuba policy. He ends his article by arguing that the 2020 Cuba Poll gives an important lesson to whoever wins the presidential election next month: Cuban-Americans are opposed to policies which harm the Cuban people. 

In Fight for Florida’s Young Latinos, Social Media Becomes the Battleground, Augusta Saraiva, Foreign Policy 

In this article, Augusta Saraiva discusses the ways millennial and Gen Z Cuban Americans in Florida are turning to social media to engage with progressives outside the Cuban American community. Ms. Saraiva also discusses disinformation on social media throughout the campaign has affected the Cuban American community. 

Will Cuba tip Florida to Trump?, Tim Golden, The New York Times 

In this news analysis, Tim Golden speculates about which presidential candidate will win the Cuban American vote in Florida this November. Mr. Golden provides an overview of President Trump’s and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s Cuba policy and draws on data from the Florida International University 2020 Cuba Poll, the longest-running poll of Cuban Americans from South Florida, to discuss how Cuban Americans’ support for each political party has changed since 2016.

How pro-Trump disinformation is swaying a new generation of Cuban-American voters, Stephania Taladrid, The New Yorker

In this article, Stephania Taladrid discusses the experiences of recent Cuban arrivals, those who migrated to the U.S. after 1995, who support President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. Ms. Taladrid includes opinions from experts and discusses the influence of Otaola, a Cuban YouTuber who is a strong supporter of President Trump, to argue that this pattern in recent migrants’ political affiliation has renewed a debate about whether or not the Cuban American community is linked to the Republican Party.

More bridges of love between Cuba and the United States, Glenda Boza Ibarra, El Toque [Spanish]

In this article, Glenda Boza Ibarra profiles Cuban American teacher and U.S.-Cuba engagement advocate Carlos Lazo’s latest projects, including a petition to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to establish humane policies toward Cuba which reflect the interests of Cuban Americans, Cubans, and the U.S. if he wins the presidential election. This summer, CDA interviewed Carlos Lazo; read the full interview here

Her grandmother’s decision 40 years ago to flee Cuba from Mariel changed everything, Cherie Cancio, The Miami Herald 

In this essay, Cherie Cancio shares her family’s immigration story from Cuba to the U.S., which began with her grandmother, aunt, and father leaving Cuba on the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, 40 years ago. This story is part of a collaborative effort between the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries and the HistoryMiami Museum to collect memories, stories, and reflections in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the Mariel Boatlift. 

Edel Rodriguez I want to paint the reality here — real life, Rebecca Sánchez, WePresent

In this essay, Cuban American journalist Rebecca Sánchez follows Edel Rodríguez, a Cuban American artist illustrator who immigrated from Cuba to the U.S. in the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Ms. Sánchez follows Mr. Rodríguez’s return to Cuba for the first time in ten years telling a story of creativity, loss, and immigration. 

La difícil tarea de ser periodista en Cuba, Mariana Badeni, La Prensa 

In this article, Mariana Badeni interviews Camila Acosta, an independent journalist in Cuba who writes for Cubanet. Ms. Acosta reflects on the difficulties of being an independent journalist in Cuba and her hopes for the future of journalism in Cuba. 

Imposed Social Agendas or Outstanding Debts?, Alina B. López Hernández, Cuba Study Group Nuevos Espacios Blog 

In this essay, Alina B. López Hernández explores why certain civil society debates are so popular today on social media. Ms. López Hernández discusses Cuba’s internal conflicts with these issues, grounded in the 1960s, and their resurgence in the economic crisis of the 1990s known as the “Special Period.” 

EVENTS 

Facebook Live, See Art Again Concert Series, November 1 

The U.S. Cuba Artist Exchange is hosting a virtual concert series with various Cuban artists in a Facebook live event. For the artist line-up and more information, visit the U.S. Cuba Artist Exchange Facebook page

Virtual, “The War on Cuba” Episode 3

Tune into episode three of “The War on Cuba,” a new documentary series by Belly of the Beast, a Havana-based project made up of Cubans and foreigners. This episode, hosted by Cuban journalist Liz Oliva, explores Cuba’s healthcare and interviews doctors working to help combat COVID-19 in Cuba. Episode three is available for viewing here.

Virtual and Syracuse, NY; Photo Exhibit: “Waiting for Normal”, October 22-January 17 

Joe Guerriero, a documentarian and photojournalist, is unveiling a new photo exhibit called “Waiting for Normal” which tells the stories of Cubans affected by the embargo. Mr. Guerriero, who has been visiting Cuba since 1999, created the exhibit which features 32 photos taken during his travels to the island from 1999 to 2019. He said he hopes his photos “help people understand how the embargo has impacted Cuban society over time.” The exhibit is available for viewing in person at ArtRage Gallery in Syracuse, NY and virtually


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