U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 11/06/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you and yours are safe and healthy.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 554 active COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March is 130. 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, in Cuba news…


Trump cultivated the Latino vote in Florida, and it paid off

President Trump’s years-long focus on the Latino community in Florida, including Cuban Americans, helped him win Florida’s 29 electoral votes, NBC News reports. Trump won about 55 percent of Florida’s Cuban American vote, 30 percent of the Puerto Rican vote, and 48 percent of the “other Latinos” vote. His increase in support from non-Cuban Latinos in the state, which make up about half of Florida’s Latino electorate, helped him increase support in Miami-Dade County; some analysts are estimating that he won almost half of the non-Cuban Latino vote in the county. Vice President Joe Biden won Miami-Dade County by 7 points, while Hillary Clinton won by a 30 point margin in 2016. President Trump’s support in Miami-Dade County increased from 333,999 votes in 2016 to 532,409 votes this year. His constant courting of Latinos in Florida also affected the state’s congressional races, where districts 26 and 27 were flipped from Democrat to Republican. District 26 incumbent Debbie Mucarsel-Powell lost to current Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, and District 27 incumbent Donna Shalala lost to Cuban American journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.

President Trump has been active in Florida and in Miami since he was elected in 2016. He has repeatedly returned to South Florida to hold rallies and make policy announcements, including several new rounds of sanctions on Cuba. In June 2019, Latinos for Trump created a coalition in Florida and Evangelicals for Trump also launched a group. Since early 2020, some Democrats sounded the alarm, pointing out that Trump’s strategies were earning him the support of Latino voters and argued that Democrats and the Biden campaign needed to do more.

Large disinformation campaigns on Spanish-language media and the Trump campaign’s narrative that Vice President Biden is a socialist put Democrats on the defensive early on. Eduardo Gamarra, a professor at Florida International University in Miami, stated that it was difficult for Democrats in Miami to “develop a ground game” since they were focused on fighting off accusations that Vice President Biden is a socialist. Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster based in Miami, stated that the Trump campaign has been reaching out to Latino voters in the state for years, while the Biden campaign began making a significant effort in the last seven weeks. Chuck Rocha, a former senior advisor for Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign stated that the Democratic Party needs to reflect on their performance with Latino voters in Florida, and across the country, pointing out that Vice President Biden underperformed with Latinos in multiple Latino-majority congressional districts and in communities along the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which President Trump ultimately won. The results from the Latino community have led to discussions on social media and various articles pointing out that Latino voters are not a monolith.

Cuba has big stake in U.S. election after Trump’s trashing of detente

Cuba has a large stake in the U.S. presidential election because of the Trump administration’s hardline policies, Reuters reports. The Administration has pursued a series of sanctions and other policies in an effort to force change on the island by choking off its economy which was already in crisis. Cubans have hope that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would reverse the current Administration’s policies which have negatively affected the Cuban people and reimplement policies of engagement similar to those of the Obama era. CDA’s Executive Director Emily Mendrala stated “A Biden presidency would likely not only reverse Trump’s policies but also resume dialogue on matters of mutual interest like health and security that had fizzled out of late.” Cuban dissidents are divided in their views on a Biden presidency. Some believe engagement would be positive while others, like José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the largest opposition group, the Patriotic Union of Cuba, fear that being too lenient with Cuba’s government could “embolden” it to act as it wishes. 

Flights from Miami and Tampa to Cuba begin on November 12 with HavanaAir [Spanish]

On Monday, HavanaAir released a statement saying it will resume flights to Havana from Miami starting November 12 and from Tampa starting November 19, Periódico Cubano reports. HavanaAir, which runs public charter flights, will offer a daily 6 am Miami-Havana flight, in addition to multiple evening flights. José Martí International Airport in Havana will reportedly remain closed until November 10, but the airports in other provinces have already begun operating and receiving international flights. Travel from the U.S. to Cuba has been limited to Havana since in December 2019, when the Trump administration banned flights from the U.S. to all destinations in Cuba other than Havana.

22 Cubans were stranded on a Bahamian beach for 10 days. They were spotted by a plane

22 Cubans were found 30 miles from Cuba’s northern coast, at Cay Sal Bank beach in the Bahamas last week, the Miami Herald reports. A Miami-based U.S. Coast Guard plane spotted the group and sent small patrol boats to pick them up. They were later transferred to Bahamian authorities in Freeport, Grand Bahama.

This is one of multiple instances this year where the U.S. Coast Guard has found and sent back Cubans. On September 5, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted five Cubans at sea who were 35 miles south of Florida’s Marathon Island. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, 35 Cubans tried to enter the U.S. by boat in the first eight months of 2020, compared with 327 in all of 2019. The number of Cubans interdicted at sea each year decreased considerably and almost immediately after the U.S. government ended the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January 2017.

Cuban asylum seekers dismayed their compatriots boosted Trump in Florida

Cuban asylum seekers in Mexico are disappointed by Cuban Americans’ support for President Trump this election, Reuters reports. Many Cuban asylum seekers are currently living in Mexico under the Migration Protection Protocols (also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy), which requires that some asylum seekers wait in Mexico until the date of their hearing with U.S. immigration officials. Dairon Elisondo, a Cuban doctor and asylum seeker who works in a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico stated, “They’re only thinking about the benefits for themselves if Trump wins, and nothing else.” Some Cuban asylum seekers said they do not believe President Trump’s hardline Cuba policy should outweigh other issues, including immigration. Yuri González, who has waited in Mexico over a year for his asylum claim to be processed, said that there is a divide in the Cuban community between those who immigrated during a time when U.S. immigration policy favored Cubans versus those who are immigrating now.


Eta to become tropical storm again and unleash heavy rain, strong winds in Cuba and Florida

Tropical storm Eta is expected to land in Cuba Friday night, the Washington Post reports. The storm, which entered Nicaragua as a category 4 hurricane on Tuesday unleashed floods and mudslides in Nicaragua and Honduras, is responsible for at least 57 deaths so far. It weakened into a tropical depression but is predicted to strengthen again into a tropical storm this weekend when it passes through Cuba and South Florida. Models currently predict that western and central Cuba will be most affected with 10 to 15 inches of rain and strong winds. Cuba’s government warned all provinces, from Pinar del Río in the west, to Ciego de Ávila in central Cuba, and la Isla de la Juventud in the south, about the storm.

314,000 students return to classroom [Spanish]

On Monday, approximately 314,000 Cuban students returned to in-person classes in Havana for the first time since March, TeleSUR reports. La Habana and Ciego de Ávila are currently wrapping up the 2019-2020 academic year which was interrupted in the spring and will soon begin the 2020-2021 school year. Pinar del Río and Sancti Spíritus have yet to announce their reopening date for the 2020-2021 school year due to the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in those provinces. 11 of Cuba’s 15 provinces successfully began the 2020-2021 school year this week.

Cuban drug against COVID-19 will be tested in the US, Brazil, and Mexico

On Wednesday, Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) announced that the Cuban drug Itolizumab is authorized to begin phase three of its clinical trial in patients with COVID-19 in the U.S., Mexico, and Brazil, OnCuba News reports. Itolizumab, which was created in partnership with the Indian company Biocon, has been used over the last few months in Cuba to treat COVID-19 patients, particularly elderly and immunocompromised patients. In limited studies on the drug’s effectiveness on patients in Cuba and India, specialists have found that the drug has significantly reduced the risk of patients needing intensive care and has reduced the risk of death tenfold. Itolizumab was originally created in 1995 by CIM for the purpose of treating certain types of cancer and autoimmune diseases. Cuba began exploring its use to treat COVID-19 at the outset of the pandemic.


Wealthy creditors give Cuba a pass, but will impose penalties

The Paris Club of Creditors will waive Cuba’s annual debt payment but impose a penalty on the island, Reuters reports. Cuba was required to pay about $85 million by October 31. This is the first year Cuba missed a full payment since the debt restructuring agreement was signed in 2015. A number of diplomats who remained anonymous shared with Reuters that the Paris Club countries were encouraged by Cuba’s recent announcement that they would devalue the Cuban peso, increase exports, and decrease imports among other economic reforms. As of December 2019, Cuba owed the Paris Club $5.2 billion.

The 2015 Paris Club agreement was signed under a period of U.S.-Cuba engagement during President Obama. The move was reportedly an effort to bring Cuba into the international financial system, despite the country not being a member of the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. The agreement forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion of debt Cuba defaulted on in 1986, plus charges, and has been repeatedly criticized by the Trump administration. Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist who is a professor at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali, stated that due to the COVID-19 pandemic most countries are borrowing at record-levels, and Cuba is not an exception. The Cuba group of the Paris Club includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Britain, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.


In Florida, Biden couldn’t shake Trump’s lie that Democrats are radical socialists, Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Fabiola Santiago argues that the Biden campaign didn’t do right by Miami and its Cuban American community. Ms. Santiago writes that the campaign’s failure to connect with the Latino community on the ground, coupled with other factors including the failure to support the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and the voter suppression of Florida’s Black citizens and ex-felons whose voting rights were supposed to be restored, ultimately resulted in his inability to earn a wide-enough margin of support to offset conservative Florida voters and win the state.

Biden blew it with Miami’s Cuban, Venezuelan voters, and got clobbered, Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Andres Oppenheimer argues that the Biden campaign did not win Florida because they failed to appeal to the state’s Latino voters, especially Cuban American and Venezuelan American voters. Mr. Oppenheimer writes that Vice President Biden’s failure to address the communities’ desire to see change in their home countries by presenting a clear plan instead of only stating he is not a socialist are largely responsible for his inability to win the community’s votes.

Trump insulted but then boosted the Latino vote, John Paul Rathbone, Financial Times

In this opinion piece, John Paul Rathbone argues that President Trump’s appeal to Latinos’ culturally conservative traits including family, language, the Church, and work, along with fear of socialism and racial attitudes help account for his increased support among Latino men and women since 2016.

Some Latinos Voted for Trump. Get Over It., Isvett Verde, The New York Times

In this opinion piece, Isvett Verde cautions against the tendency of the media and political campaigns of seeing the Latino/Hispanic community as a monolithic one, and argues this is not enough to win the diverse community’s vote. Ms. Verde argues that the Trump campaign’s ability to appeal to some in the Latino community’s interest in issues such as the economy and religion helped him earn their support in multiple states including Florida and Texas.

What Democrats can learn from South Florida’s exile communities, Shepard Nevel, The Sun Sentinel

In this opinion piece, Shepard Nevel argues that Democrats nationally should take responsibility for not having a deep enough understanding of the South Florida Latino exile community and its values, while failing to communicate the Democratic Party’s commitment to freedom, human rights, and economic opportunity for immigrants in the U.S. Mr. Nevel ends his opinion piece by urging Democrats to gain a deeper understanding of South Florida’s exile community.


Virtual, Havana Glasglow Film Festival, November 10-15

The annual Havana Glasglow Film Festival will be held virtually from November 10-15 and with the theme “Extraordinary Cuba.” The event will highlight multiple films, in addition to hosting a Cuban food night and Cuban cocktail making class with MasterChef Champion Gary Maclean will lead a cultural program for Cuban Food Night and there will be a Cuban cocktail making demo. To view the full program and purchase a festival pass, visit their website.

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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