Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,017 new cases of COVID-19. There are currently 5,112 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana, Matanzas, and Granma reported the largest numbers of new cases, with 484, 153, and 86 new cases reported respectively in each province. The total number of deaths since last March is 448. For a graph of case numbers since March, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website.
This week we interviewed Guillermo Grenier, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies at Florida International University, about his thoughts on recent polling of Cuban American political opinion, how the Biden-Harris administration can engage the Cuban American community, and what the priorities should be for U.S.-Cuba policy.
To read this week’s interview with Professor Grenier, visit the “U.S.-Cuba Relations” section.
This week, in Cuba news…
In response to a series of questions from the Miami Herald, Katia Alonso, director of foreign capital investments for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (MINCEX), stated that Cuba is open to foreign investment from Cuban Americans. Ms. Alonso told the Miami Herald that Cuba would evaluate potential investments from Cuban Americans as it would investments from “any other potential investor from any other place of origin,” regardless of whether the Cuban American had been born in the U.S. or had migrated there. Ms. Alonso also reiterated that Cuban laws have never prohibited foreign investment from Cuban Americans. However, there has long been a stigma among Cuban authorities against allowing Cuban businessmen who live abroad to bring their capital to the island.
Ms. Alonso’s statement comes after she spoke at a press conference in March, during which she also invited Cubans residing outside the island to invest in projects listed in Cuba’s Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment. Many of the portfolio’s 503 projects, totaling an estimated $12 billion in investment opportunity, are small and medium enterprises, which Cuba hopes will be attractive to small-scale investors. Ms. Alonso also told the Miami Herald that foreign investors could create their own business proposals that would then be considered by Cuba’s government as long as they meet existing foreign investment requirements.
This week, Cuba began testing its Foreign Trade Single Window (VUCE) an electronic platform that would consolidate and expedite processes regarding international business with the island. As part of a series of economic reforms, in March Cuba began allowing foreign investors to have majority ownership in projects on the island. The reforms came after Cuba’s flagship project to attract foreign investment, the Mariel Special Development Zone, failed to generate its expected revenue.
Juan Gonzalez, special assistant to the president and senior director for the Western Hemisphere on the U.S. National Security Council, stated in an interview with CNN that President Joe Biden “is not Barack Obama” with regards to U.S.-Cuba policy. Mr. Gonzalez reiterated President Biden’s campaign promises to raise limits on remittances to Cuba and decrease restrictions on flights to the island; however, he said the “political moment has changed significantly” and that the “political space” for Cuba policy has contracted, citing that Cuba’s government’s “oppression against the Cuban people may be even worse than it was during the Bush administration” and a perceived lack of response on the part of the Cuban government. He also stated that currently the U.S. is not complying with an immigration accord with Cuba to process 20,000 Cuban immigrant visas annually due to safety concerns about personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Mr. Gonzalez said the Administration needs to be assured of the safety of U.S. staff at the embassy and assured that the personnel would not run the risk of “microwave attacks,” referencing the still unexplained health incidents that afflicted U.S. personnel in Cuba, Russia, and China.
During the campaign, Mr. Gonzalez had stated that there was a sense of “disappointment” among members of the Obama administration that Cuba’s government had missed an opportunity following the Obama administration’s opening to the island, especially with regards to improvements in human rights conditions. However, he also stated that the Obama-era policy of engagement was “not something we were doing for Cuba but it was something we were doing to Cuba,” and that diplomatic engagement is a “tool for the United States to advance its interests.” For his part, President Biden, while still the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, stated that he would “in large part” go back to the Obama-era policy of engagement with Cuba. Later in the campaign, then-candidate Biden said that he would reverse President Donald Trump’s Cuba policies that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” Since President Biden assumed office, messaging from the Administration has largely revolved around its “core principles” for U.S.-Cuba policy: support for democracy and human rights, and the idea that Americans, especially Cuban Americans, are the best ambassadors for freedom and prosperity in Cuba.
In response to Mr. Gonzalez’s remarks about the alleged attacks on U.S. personnel, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez issued a tweet rebuking the “legend” of the microwave attacks, referring to the theory as “nonsense that has already been dismissed by science.” U.S. government investigations into the health incidents are currently ongoing, including by the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo.
On Monday, Carlos Fernández de Cossío, general director of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX), summoned U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Zúñiga-Brown to convey Cuba’s rejection of the U.S. State Department’s recent human rights report regarding Cuba, OnCuba News reports. According to a statement released by MINREX, during the meeting Mr. Fernández de Cossío accused the U.S. of opportunistically taking advantage of human rights concerns in its “policy of aggression” against countries like Cuba. Mr. Fernández de Cossío also dismissed the report as being characterized by “allegations and accusations that are untrue.” He also discussed what he viewed to be domestic and international human rights violations on the part of the U.S., and he highlighted Cuba’s membership in various international human rights bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Council. The MINREX statement did not include any details about how Mr. Zúñiga-Brown responded to Mr. Fernández de Cossío’s remarks.
On March 30, the U.S. State Department released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual report required by law that details the human rights situations in most all countries around the world, including in Cuba.
A group of about a dozen Cuban migrants are refusing to leave a Panamanian-flagged ship that brought them on board after finding the migrants in a precarious boat 50 nautical miles west of Grand Cayman, the Miami Herald reports. The migrants on board the ship, a freighter called the MV Bulk Freedom, are insisting that they be taken to Panama so they can continue their journey to the U.S. However, the captain of the ship is adamant that they disembark in the Cayman Islands. Cayman authorities had previously been monitoring 10 of the migrants via electronic ankle bracelets, but lost contact with them when they disarmed the tracking devices and left the Caymans in the small craft from which they were brought on board the MV Bulk Freedom. The migrants have been on board the ship since Tuesday. Cayman Islands Custom and Border Control (CBC) are currently trying to get the migrants to disembark the ship, while providing them with food and drinking water. CBC was recently alerted that an infant ill with a fever is on board the ship; however, the mother and father have refused offers from CBC to take the child to a hospital on Grand Cayman.
According to the Miami Herald, last Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard interdicted 11 Cuban migrants 20 miles southeast of Key Largo. The day before, the Coast Guard had interdicted four Cuban migrants close to Aventura. All 15 were repatriated this Monday, according to a tweet from U.S. Coast Guard Southeast. The interdictions come as the Coast Guard is experiencing an increase in the number of Cuban migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S.
Interview with Professor Guillermo Grenier on Cuban American political opinion and U.S.-Cuba policy
CDA: What is your connection to Cuba?
Professor Grenier: I was born in Cuba and came to the United States in the early 1960s with my parents. I returned to the island in 1979 as a member of the second group of the Antonio Maceo Brigade, a diverse amalgamation of young Cubans who left the island as children. Since then, I’ve developed friendships and professional relationships on the island and continue to visit frequently.
On a more adventurous note, since 2011 I have conducted a series of long distance walks in Cuba. The first walk was from Baracoa to Bayamo (400 km approximately). A couple of years later, I traced the steps, more or less, of the Three Juanes who carried the statue of the Virgen de la Caridad from the Bay of Nipes to El Cobre (150 km). The third trek followed the life of Esteban Montejo, as captured by Miguel Barnet in his book Biografía de un Cimarrón, from Sagua la Grande to Cienfuegos (400 km). I created a trail called El Camino del Cimarron that we hope to establish as a cultural itinerary as soon as this pandemic madness releases its hold on us. Cuba is more than Havana. Who would have guessed!
CDA: The Cuban American community is not a monolith. As you said in one of your books and in a recent blog post, “There are Cubans and there are Cubans.” How can the Biden-Harris administration engage a broad sector of the Cuban American community to ensure it is getting a complete and nuanced picture of the community’s opinions and priorities?
Professor Grenier: The minimum that any administration truly interested in the Cuban American community should do is engage the community in discussions about other issues besides US/Cuba policy. I’m exploring a series of data sets that provide compelling evidence that Cubans are outliers in the Republican party when their views on core Republican issues are taken into consideration. Cuban Americans, for example, are significantly more likely to support reproductive choice policies, gun control, the opposition to deportation of undocumented immigrants and the establishment of a path to citizenship for the undocumented, particularly the children. The community is extremely supportive of student debt forgiveness and national health care for all citizens. These are core Democratic issues that resonate within the Cuban American community. President Biden would do well to encourage the Democratic Party to see the Cuban American community in its entirety as residents and citizens of the U.S., rather than simply an audience receptive to foreign policy speeches on the evils of socialism.
CDA: In October, you and your team at Florida International University (FIU) published the 2020 Cuba Poll. What were your main takeaways from that poll with regards to how the Biden-Harris administration should move forward on Cuba policy?
Professor Grenier: The main takeaway from the poll is that Cuban American opinions regarding US/Cuba policy are shaped by the policies established in Washington. Leadership matters. The year before Obama assumed the presidency, 68% of Cuban Americans supported the embargo. By the time Obama left office, 63% opposed the embargo. Similarly, in 2016 64% of Cuban Americans supported Obama’s engagement policy.
This is not to say that Cuban Americans supported everything about the policies or that they approved of the Cuban government’s responses to the policies. It simply shows that if policies of engagement are established, Cuban Americans will adjust. Some will see the policies as an opportunity to do business on the island. Others will respond to the family reunification dimensions of engagement policies. Others will see it as a way to ferment conflict on the island by increasing the expectations of the Cuban people and watching/criticizing as the Cuban government maneuvers a response.
This pattern, by the way, of Washington influencing opinion (rather than simply the other way around), holds all the way back to the first Bush administration. During the first Bush’s administration, 85% of Cuban Americans supported the embargo. During the Clinton administration, embargo endorsement rate declined by 3.6% per year. George W.’s years saw a stabilization of the embargo support at the level reached during the Clinton years. During the Obama administration, support for the embargo resumed its decline by 2.6% per year. This resulted in a drop of 21% between 2008 and 2016.
My advice is “follow the science.” Build the policy, and Cuban Americans will come.
CDA: Recently, Bendixen & Amandi International released a poll of 400 Cuban American Florida voters which some are using as justification for the Biden-Harris administration’s lack of action on Cuba policies. What were your main takeaways from this poll? How would you say these results compare to the FIU 2020 Cuba Poll?
Professor Grenier: So, Cuban American voters in Florida are still crazy in love with Trump and his isolationist policies towards Cuba. I do not think that this surprised anyone. The social contagion of the Trump virus will not dissipate overnight. Ignoring for a second the peculiar decision by the pollsters to include the name of Obama in a question designed to measure policy opinions (Obama’s name carries a certain amount of baggage, shall we say), it is clear that the community has not changed its opinions since the FIU Cuba Poll captured many of the same sentiments leading up to the elections.
The one bit of data which did surprise, that 45% of Cuban Americans have a favorable view of the Biden presidency, did not receive much attention. That’s ten percentage points over the number of respondents who reported voting for Biden. He’s clearly winning over some skeptics.
But the poll is providing political cover for Biden to do nothing about Cuba, even on issues that are supported by most Cuban Americans, such as reopening the consular services of the embassy, resuming flights to all regions of the island and reestablishing the flow of remittances.
CDA: Leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, President Biden stated he would reverse “failed Trump policies” on Cuba. This made many Cuban Americans and Cubans on the island hopeful that President Biden would implement Cuba policies which support the Cuban people–policies which are especially needed now as Cubans face a dire economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. What policies do you believe the Biden-Harris administration should prioritize to support the Cuban people and allow Cuban Americans to support their loved ones on the island?
Professor Grenier: The “mangos bajos” of US/Cuba policy are evident: reopen the consular services of the embassy, resume flights to all regions of the island and reestablish the flow of remittances. If the Biden/Harris administration is unable to take these humanitarian, simple steps unapologetically, then we are in big trouble.
In fact, over sixty percent of Cuban Americans supported the suspension of the embargo during this time of Covid! This offers a huge opening for the implementation of humanitarian assistance policies, even if temporary, to the Cuban people. Similarly, with some creative strategizing, many economic engagement policies could be packaged under the broad umbrella of “strengthening the Cuban and Cuban-American family.”
But ultimately the lack of will to engage Cuba, and the all too facile willingness to let the south Florida Cuban American community, most of which did not vote for President Biden, call the shots stems from the fact that Cuba is not of significant geopolitical importance. Obama saw US/Cuba relations as a hinge pin of a broader Latin America strategy. I don’t think that Biden/Harris have looked beyond the shoreline yet. China, Iran, Korea, all are out there begging for attention.
Cuba doesn’t play in that league but acting quickly and decisively on Cuba sends a message that the US is paying attention to details and is able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Until Biden and Harris act on Cuba and forge their own way on other foreign policy issues, the United States will remain mired in the world defined by Trump. And to many in the Cuban American community, that is just fine by them.
Last Wednesday, the first stage of Phase III trials in Havana for Cuba’s Soberana 02 vaccine for COVID-19 concluded after a total of 44,010 volunteers received their first dose, OnCuba News reports. The principal researcher for the clinical trial, Dr. María Eugenia Toledo Romani, stated in a television appearance last Thursday that so far the study’s results are encouraging with regards to both the vaccine’s safety and the immune response it induces. Dr. Toledo further stated that 82 percent of the reported adverse effects in response to the vaccine have been mild and that although cases of COVID-19 have been reported among the participants, most contracted cases were also mild. Administration of the second dose of the vaccine for the clinical study began this Monday. The first stage of the Phase III trial was completed in 18 days and involved 31 clinical sites and 48 vaccination centers in Havana. Venezuela and Iran are also participating in the Phase III trials for the Soberana 02 vaccine.
According to OnCuba News, a previously announced “intervention study,” in which a majority of residents in Havana will receive the Soberana 02 or Abdala vaccine, both of which are in Phase III trials, will begin by the end of April. The intervention study, which will not use any placebos, will include more than 1.6 million volunteers over 18 years of age in Havana: 812,6000 volunteers in the seven municipalities in Havana that are not included in the Phase III trial for Soberana 02 and 842,300 volunteers in the eight municipalities where the Phase III trial is being carried out. Dr. Rolando Pérez, director of science and innovation for the Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industries of Cuba Business Group (BioCubaFarma), also stated that Cuba could begin pediatric trials with the Soberana 01 and 02 vaccines in the near future, beginning with those between 12 and 18 years of age, and then progressing to those between 5 and 11 years of age.
According to a study released on Wednesday, scientists in Cuba have detected five genetic variants and six mutation patterns for COVID-19 on the island. Among the genetic variants are those that originated in South Africa, California, and the United Kingdom, all considered highly contagious. Cuban scientists pointed out that the fact these variants spread more easily could help to explain the recent uptick in cases on the island.
Authorities in Cuba aim to vaccinate six million people on the island by August and all of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants by the end of the year.
On March 20, the Cuban political opposition activist José Daniel Ferrer, who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), began a hunger strike with about 60 others on and off the island to protest what they deem are human rights violations in Cuba, Local 10 News reports. Most of the hunger strikers are in the UNPACU headquarters building in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba, which Mr. Ferrer had previously turned into a food bank and medical clinic for over 200residents in the city. Mr. Ferrer said that those striking at the UNPACU headquarters are defending their right to deliver food and aid to people in Santiago de Cuba, who reportedly suffered harassment from state security forces for receiving aid from UNPACU. Rosa Maria Payá, leader of the Cuba Decide organization and the daughter of the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, said that the headquarters building has been surrounded by Cuban police. According to Cuba Decide’s Twitter, 26 people in Cuba and one person abroad were still maintaining the hunger strike as of this Wednesday, April 7, 18 days after the strike began. According to a statement released by Cuba Decide, several of the hunger strikers are now unconscious.
According to Bloomberg, the Organization of American States (OAS) released a statement saying that it holds Cuba’s government responsible for the health of the hunger strikers. Further support for UNPACU’s efforts and concern for the health of the strikers has come from EU and U.S. politicians, including Vice-President of the European Parliament Dita Charanzová, U.S. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar, and Member of the European Parliament José Ramón Bauzá. Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department, also released a tweet expressing concern for the strikers and urging Cuba’s government to “deescalate the situation.” Cuba’s government has accused UNPACU and Mr. Ferrer of being provocateurs financed by the U.S. government.
On Sunday, hundreds of Cubans took to the streets in the Havana neighborhood of San Isidro to protest Cuba’s government and support the activists of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), el Nuevo Herald reports. Cuban police attempted to arrest the artist Maykel Castillo, a member of MSI and one of the two Cuba-based singers featured in the viral song “Patria y Vida,” which expressed strong critiques of Cuba’s government. Reportedly, those involved in the protest swarmed the streets and prevented the arrest from occurring.
The day before the protest, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the leader of MSI and organizer of the protest, was allegedly briefly detained by Cuba’s security service. According to el Nuevo Herald, he was detained as he was preparing to deliver candy to children in the San Isidro neighborhood. The previous day, Humberto López, a Cuban state television journalist, had referred to Mr. Otero’s plan to distribute candy as a “subversive activity.” The Cuba Money Project reports that Mr. Otero had also been planning an exhibition of paintings featuring candy wrappers, alluding to the fact that many children in Cuba, not having access to candy, enjoy the scent of discarded wrappers. Mr. López also accused Mr. Otero of working for the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that receives much of its funding from the U.S. government.
RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS
Exit of Cuba’s last Castro brings curtain down on revolutionary era, Marc Frank, Financial Times
In this article, Marc Frank discusses the impact that the impending resignation of Raúl Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba will have on the island. He details the present crises Cuba currently faces and the challenges that President Miguel Díaz-Canel will encounter once he assumes the role of first secretary. Mr. Frank also discusses Cuba’s recent economic reforms and the expectation that further reforms are imminent.
Cuban Americans Make Plea To Biden Administration For Help On Immigration Limbo, Daniel Rivero, WLRN
In this article, Daniel Rivero discusses recent advocacy efforts by Cuban Americans in support of resuming the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, a program which has been effectively paused by the reduction in staff and operations at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. Mr. Rivero details the circumstances of several Cuban Americans who have been waiting years for family members in Cuba to come to the U.S. through the program. He also discusses the large-scale immigrant visa backlog for Cubans not in the reunification program and writes about the recent uptick in Cuban migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to the U.S.
A hunger strike in Cuba reveals a deepening crisis, Editorial Board, The Washington Post
In this opinion piece, the Editorial Board for The Washington Post discusses recent protest movements in Cuba, including a hunger strike organized by José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. The Editorial Board discusses other individuals and groups that have spoken out against Cuba’s government and how the government has responded to these incidents.
Activists and trans people demand gender identity law on social media (Spanish), SEMlac Cuba
This article discusses how trans people and activists in Cuba took to social media on March 31, International Trans Visibility Day, to demand a Gender Identity Law in Cuba. The article details several of the individual tweets in support of the law and trans rights in Cuba. It also details some of the specific demands made for the law, including the ability to change one’s name and gender on identity documents without having to go through gender reassignment surgery.
Cuban cooks overcome shortages with ingenuity on Facebook, Andrea Rodríguez, Associated Press
In this article, Andrea Rodríguez writes about the current food scarcities in Cuba and how people on the island are helping each other find supplies and create adapted recipes through Facebook pages. She talks with Yuliet Colón, one of the creators of the Facebook page “Recipes from the Heart,” where Cubans post recipes and dishes that others can make with what is currently available in the supermarkets. Ms. Rodríguez also discusses the economic factors that have led to the current food shortages and some of the other ways Cubans are utilizing social media.
Young Cubans invest in cryptocurrencies, Dan Hirschfeld, Deutsche Welle
In this video segment, Dan Hirschfeld discusses the use of cryptocurrencies in Cuba. He puts the growing popularity of digital currencies on the island in the context of restrictions on remittance sending, the economic downturn in Cuba, and domestic economic reforms that have devalued Cuba’s currency. Mr. Hirschfeld also discusses the rationale behind the use of cryptocurrencies with a technology entrepreneur and a software programmer in Cuba.
Climate change shrinks marine life richness near equator: study, Sarah Marsh, Reuters
In this article, Sarah Marsh discusses research published Monday that found a strong correlation in open-water species decline in tropical marine zones and rising sea surface temperatures. She writes about the study’s findings in the context of Cuba’s marine life and, especially, its coral reefs, which may be damaged as fish and other mobile marine life migrate to more temperate waters. Ms. Marsh also details the scope of the new study and offers perspectives from various scientists on its significance.
Cuba revisited –– Mozart y Mambo, one year on, Deutsche Welle
This video segment and accompanying article feature the French horn player Sarah Willis, whose album “Mozart y Mambo” topped the classical charts in 2020 in Germany, the U.S., and the UK. In the video segment, Ms. Willis returns to Havana and reunites with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra, which accompanied her on her hit album. Ms. Willis then travels through the island, learning more about Cuban music, and performs songs with various musicians.
Massachusetts Peace Action, the Center for Cuban Studies, the Latin American Solidarity Coalition of Western Massachusetts, and other organizations are hosting a series of five weekly discussions with leading voices from Cuba. The discussions will focus on the challenges and opportunities that COVID-19 and the U.S. embargo on Cuba have presented to those on the island and on how Havana has changed in the past year. All five events will begin at 8 p.m. EDT. The first event, on April 13, will be with Estéban Morales, who will offer his thoughts from the perspective of an economist. Each event will start with a short presentation, followed by an opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue. To register for the event, please click here.
Virtual, Art, Activism, Censorship: A Conversation with Tania Bruguera, April 16
The Cuba Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University, is hosting a seminar at 12:00 p.m. EDT on April 16 with the Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera. The event will be moderated by Professors Doris Sommer and Alejandro de la Fuente of Harvard University as well as by Karina Ascunce González, co-president of the Cuban-American Undergraduate Students Association (CAUSA) at Harvard. To register for the event, please click here.
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