U.S.-Cuba New Brief: 11/13/2020

Dear Friends,

We hope you’re all doing well.

Cuba experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, with 430 active COVID-19 cases at the time of publication. Cuba’s total number of deaths since March is 131. 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…


Cubans applaud Biden win, hope for easing of sanctions

Cubans celebrated Joe Biden being declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election on Saturday, Reuters reports. The announcement was welcomed with relief as Cubans across the island anxiously awaited the results and closely monitored the election for days online. While most Cubans do not expect President-elect Biden to lift the trade embargo or that U.S.-Cuba relations will immediately return to the way they were under President Obama, they are confident that President-elect Biden will reverse the hardline policies of the Trump administration. In an off-the-record interview, a top Biden foreign policy adviser disclosed to Reuters that President-elect Biden will reverse policies which are separating families and limiting travel and remittances, and that he may re-staff the U.S. embassy in Havana. On Sunday, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel recognized President-elect Biden’s win, tweeting that the U.S. has chosen a new direction and that “We [Cuba’s government] believe in the possibility of constructive bilateral relations respecting one another’s differences.”

Miamians bang pots, dance downtown to celebrate Biden’s victory. But not everyone’s happy

Some Cuban Americans in Miami reacted to the announcement of Joe Biden’s presidential election by celebrating, others by protesting, the Miami Herald reports. When the announcement was made on Saturday morning, Cuban Americans alongside Latinos of all nationalities took to the streets to celebrate. Some celebrations took place outside the Freedom Tower, a historic landmark of the Cuban American community which was used in the 1960s as a federal government processing center for Cuban refugees. In other areas of South Florida, Latinos protested the win, echoing President Trump’s claims of electoral fraud. The mixed reactions were not surprising since President Biden only won Miami-Dade County by 7 points, while Hillary Clinton won by a 30 point margin in 2016. President Trump increased his support among Cuban Americans and non-Cuban Latino voters in the county compared to the 2016 election.

Under Trump asylum policy, hundreds of Cubans remain locked up in US detention centers

Hundreds of Cubans are being held at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers across the country, the Arizona Republic reports. The number of Cubans arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border tripled from 7,079 in 2018 to 21,499 in 2019. According to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, there is a backlog in Cuban migrants’ case processing in federal immigration courts which has increased 347 percent from September 2018 to December 2019. The number of Cubans deported back to Cuba has also increased under the Trump administration. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in February, Cuba stopped accepting deportees, so hundreds of Cubans awaiting deportation are currently being detained by ICE. According to Immigration Impact, as of late September, 1,805 Cubans were in ICE custody, which is 9% of the total detained migrant population in the U.S. The extended detention seemingly contradicts a 2001 Supreme Court ruling which stated that ICE cannot detain people indefinitely and should not detain immigrants with final removal orders for more than six months.

Some Cubans, like Merlys Rodríguez Hernández, a 29-year-old Cuban doctor, have spoken up about the harsh conditions and treatment faced in ICE detention centers. Ms. Rodríguez was held for 13 months at Eloy Detention Center 60 miles south of Phoenix. She shared that she and many others contracted COVID-19 after a large outbreak took place in the facility and that she and the other detainees were served poor food, did not have enough soap, and were mistreated by correctional officers. Despite the numbers of Cubans in ICE detention facilities, Cuban American politicians and advocacy groups have remained largely silent. Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University, stated this is partly because many in the Cuban American community are unaware that this is happening, partly because of a lack of visibility since most detention centers are not near South Florida.


Storm Eta pounds Cuba with torrential rain on track to Florida

On Sunday, tropical storm Eta made landfall in central Cuba with torrential rains, Reuters reports. The storm made its way to Cuba after causing dozens of casualties in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and southern Mexico due to flooding and landslides. In Cuba, the strongest rains were reported in the province of Sancti Spíritus which received 12.9 inches of rain. Tens of thousands of Cubans who live in low-lying areas were asked to evacuate prior to Eta’s landfall. So far, there have been no reports of deaths in Cuba. Workers have worked proactively in central Cuba to remove fallen trees from roads and repair any electrical outages in the region. On Tuesday morning, the provinces of Villa Clara and Sancti Spíritus in central Cuba remained on high alert, with warnings that strong rains would continue.

Cubans frustrated as dollar shops only accessible to some

As Cuba opens more dollar stores selling scarce goods in high demand, those Cubans who are paid in Cuban Pesos (CUP) struggle to make ends meet, Reuters reports. The dollar stores often sell basic goods including different foods, personal hygiene products, and electrical appliances which stores that accept the CUP do not carry. The dollar stores are widening the divide between those who have access to foreign currency and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and those who only have access to the CUP. Cuba is preparing to implement a series of monetary reforms, including ending the circulation of the CUC and pegging the value of the CUP to the dollar. However, due to several overlapping economic challenges, Cuba’s government is short on dollars, driving up the informal exchange rate to 50 CUP to the dollar.

Dollar stores began opening last year and since July have been expanding throughout the island. About 40 percent of Cuba’s population receives remittances, but remittance channels have come under systematic attack by the Trump administration in recent months, and levels are certain to fall. Also, the reduction in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic has shut off a common avenue for obtaining convertible currencies. Long lines and scarcity of foods and basic goods were common since before the pandemic began, but the economic situation has significantly worsened with the halting of tourism, a major source of revenue for the island, and increased economic sanctions from the U.S.

Havana’s José Martí International Airport to resume operations November 15

Havana’s José Martí International Airport will open on November 15 and begin accepting commercial, regular, and charter flights, OnCuba News reports. The airport will implement the same sanitary protocols that the rest of the country’s airports have implemented since they opened on October 15. When international travelers arrive at the airport they will receive a PCR COVID-19 test. State newspaper Granma reported that travelers will be charged a fee to cover the new costs associated with the sanitary protocols, but did not provide additional details. Havana’s airport has been closed since March 23, only operating humanitarian and cargo flights. It is the only airport which provides service to the U.S. since the Trump administration banned flights from the U.S. to all destinations in Cuba other than Havana in December 2019.

Cuba leads race for Latin American coronavirus vaccine

Cuba leads Latin American countries in the race to find an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters reports. While most countries in the region are testing vaccines from across the world, Cuba is testing its two vaccines, Soberana 01 and Soberana 02. If Cuba succeeds in finding a vaccine, it would be able to serve its population and supply neighboring countries. José Moya, the representative in Cuba for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), told Reuters that if a Cuban vaccine is successful, it will be available for purchase in the region through PAHO. Mr. Moya also stated that Cuba’s vaccines are being tracked by COVAX, a program co-led by the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation to ensure global distribution of vaccines. Vicente Vérez, Director of the Finlay Institute, Cuba’s foremost vaccine research center, said that Cuba aims to vaccinate all its citizens by the end of the first half of 2021. Last week, Cuba stated it expects to begin clinical trials on two other COVID-19 vaccines.

Cuba may face challenges in the late-stage trials of the vaccine since Cuba has a low COVID-19 transmission rate and vaccines are most easily tested in places with high levels of virus spread. Cuba may also face other difficulties, including the high cost of purchasing raw materials for large-scale vaccine production and finding trial sites abroad. 

Cuba has a long history of producing its own vaccines and currently produces 80 percent of the vaccines it uses in its National Immunization Program. Due to its large vaccine production capacity, Cuba has exported hundreds of millions of vaccines to over 40 countries.

Online business forum to replace Havana International Trade Fair this year

A two-day virtual business forum this year will replace the Havana International Trade Fair (FIHAV), which was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, OnCuba News reports. FIHAV is Cuba’s main method of attracting foreign investment. The Cuba 2020 Business Forum will be held from December 8 to 9, with the same goal of presenting foreign investment possibilities in Cuba, facilitating contact between national entrepreneurs and foreign firms. In 2019, FIHAV brought together more than 4,000 participants from some 55 countries, with Spain as the most represented country. Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment Rodrigo Malmierca stated that those interested must register ahead of time and that the website will allow participants to schedule private chats. He also shared that both state-run foreign companies and private foreign companies will be allowed to participate.


European Union, PAHO and Cuba will expand cooperation against the pandemic [Spanish]

The European Union (EU), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and Cuba signed a cooperation agreement at the end of October to strengthen the Cuban health system’s capacity to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and expand its ability to diagnose and treat the virus, OnCuba News reports. The agreement includes a 1.5 million euro contribution to Cuba from the EU. Juan Garay, Chief of Cooperation of the EU’s delegation in Cuba stated the agreement aims to increase access to personal protective equipment, expand the national capacity to diagnose positive COVID-19 cases, and continue developing ventilators. José Moya, a PAHO representative, assured that this agreement will benefit the health and solidarity of Cubans, Latin America, and Pan-Americanism. The collaboration will involve Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (known as MINSAP in Spanish), five entities of Cuba’s Biocubafarma group, and many Cuban and European specialists. 


AUGE Report: Private Enterprise and Monetary Reform [Spanish]

AUGE, a Cuban business development and communications team, published a report titled “Private Enterprise and Monetary Reform” which discusses the long-awaited monetary reforms which Cuba’s government will soon implement, including, among other measures, the elimination of the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). The report focuses on the potential effects of this reform on Cuba’s private sector, with the goal of providing Cuban entrepreneurs with guidelines to decide how to prepare for and react to the upcoming changes.

Biden vowed to be better for Latin American than Trump has been. Now, he has to deliver, Andres Oppenheimer, The Miami Herald

In this opinion piece, Andres Oppenheimer argues that President-elect Joe Biden should keep his word and try a positive agenda with Latin America and the Caribbean. Mr. Oppenheimer discusses President-elect Biden’s extensive experience with policy in the region as President Obama’s point-person for the region from 2009 to 2017. He writes that while it is still unclear exactly what President-elect Biden’s Latin America policy will look like, he will likely cooperate on shared challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Joe Biden can shift the tone on Cuba, John Caulfied, The Hill

In this opinion piece, John Caulfield, former Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, argues that in order for the U.S. to support Cuba’s transition into a “modern Western nation,” U.S. foreign policy should focus on supporting private economic activity for its citizens, tolerance of political dissent, and no limits on access to information. Mr. Caulfield also argues that the first move of a Biden administration should be to restaff the American consulate in Havana after ensuring safe work conditions for American diplomats.

Joe Biden is a double-edged ally for the Cuban regime, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, The Washington Post [Spanish]

In this opinion piece, Cuban journalist Abraham Jiménez Enoa argues that while Joe Biden will likely undo some of the more harmful sanctions President Trump has implemented, he will also demand change from Cuba’s government. He writes that for Cuba’s government, navigating a hardline U.S.-Cuba policy is easier because it is a more familiar and predictable course than is having to negotiate with the U.S. and admit to their internal failings.

La Victoria de Biden no Garantiza una Nueva Normalización, Luis Carlos Battista, El Toque [Spanish]

In this opinion piece, Luis Carlos Battista argues that a Biden administration does not guarantee that the U.S. will normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba to the same extent or beyond what it did under President Obama. Citing a political climate in Congress where all Cuban Americans oppose Cuba engagement, as well as the perception of the Cuban government’s slow pace of reforms during the Obama administration, Mr. Battista argues that if Cuba’s government wants to effectively and permanently normalize relations with Cuba, it should first normalize relations with its emigrés.

The Cuban revolution explains why younger Cuban Americans supported Trump, William Kelly, The Washington Post

In this Perspective essay in the Washington Post’s “Made by History” column, William Kelly argues that post-1995 Cuban arrivals’ increased support for President Trump is the result of their experiences with the Cuban Revolution. Mr. Kelly argues that this group of Cuban immigrants came of age after 1989, and, based on their personal experiences, did not know Cuba as a leader in the global anti-imperialist struggle, but as a country marked by struggle and personal sacrifice. Mr. Kelly argues that recent Cuban arrivals are attracted to President Trump’s portrayal of the American Dream as one based on economic self-sufficiency and personal success.

‘People believe it.’ Republicans’ drumbeat of socialism helped win voters in Miami, Andres Viglucci, David Smiley, Lautaro Grinspan, and Antonio Maria Delgado, The Miami Herald

This article discusses how the Republican Party’s persistent and widespread labeling of Democrats of “socialists” appealed to South Florida voters’ fears about socialism. The authors write about how this tactic has been used for decades by the Republican Party, but it was intensified by the Trump campaign and his surrogates in South Florida. 

La emigración y el tema de Cuba en las elecciones de Estados Unidos, Jesús Arboleya, Progreso Semanal [Spanish]

In this essay, Jesús Arboleya discusses the major takeaways from the Cuban American community’s voting patterns in the U.S. presidential and Congressional elections. Mr. Arboleya points out that the elections changed the balance of power in Miami which will affect the ability for U.S.-Cuba relations to improve. 

To reclaim Florida, Democrats must reimagine who Florida Latinos are, Tim Padgett, WLRN

In this article, Tim Padgett argues that if the Democratic Party wants to win the Latino vote in Florida, they need to engage individuals, rather than attempting to block all Latino voters together, since they all have their own concerns and views.


Virtual, The 90 Miles Podcast

The 90 Miles Podcast released a special episode called “Understanding the Cuban American vote in the US Presidential Election” featuring Michael Bustamante, Assistant Professor of History at Florida International University. The 90 Miles Podcast is produced by a collective of Cubans, Americans, Cuban-Americans. Each episode features interviews with Cuban entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives.

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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