U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 06/25/2021

Dear Friends,

Happy Friday! We hope you and yours are well.

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This week, Cuba’s state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma announced the efficacy levels of the Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccine candidates following the final stages of clinical trials. The two vaccines have proved to be tremendously effective, with two out of three Soberana 02 doses reaching 62 percent efficiency levels and three Abdala doses reaching 92.28 percent. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. once again voted against an annual resolution condemning the economic and trade embargo imposed against Cuba during a meeting at the 75th United Nations General Assembly in New York City. While the vote is not legally-binding, it signals the U.S.’s and the international community’s position on the embargo. The resolution typically receives nearly unanimous support. The U.S. traditionally votes no, but abstained from voting on the resolution for the first time in 2016 during the Obama administration’s rapprochement with the island. Had the Biden-Harris administration abstained, it could have signaled an openness to engagement. Instead, the “no” vote could signal a continuation of harmful travel and trade restrictions enacted under the Trump administration. Following the vote this week, the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), MEDICC, and Oxfam Cuba released a joint statement denouncing the U.S.’s vote and approach to Cuba. Read the full statement here. 

Yesterday, Cuba reported 177,253 cases of COVID-19. There are currently 10,367 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Matanzas reported the largest number of new cases by far compared to other provinces at 452. The total number of deaths since March 2020 is 1,219. For a graph of case numbers since March 2020, see here. For a detailed breakdown of all COVID-19 data, visit this website

This week, in Cuba news…


No More Euros in Miami for Cubans Trying to Exchange Dollars to Send Remittances, (Spanish)

As of June 16, the availability of the euro at money exchange houses in South Florida has decreased, El Nuevo Herald reports. This decrease follows an announcement made by Cuba’s Central Bank earlier this month, noting that the island will temporarily but indefinitely suspend cash USD bank deposits starting on June 21. Given the high demand for the euro, the currency’s availability at exchange houses in Miami has been limited to 750 euros per person once a day. Individuals trying to exchange currencies in South Florida often face hours-long wait times, highlighting the additional barrier this policy has imposed on Cuban-Americans trying to send remittances to the island. As of June 16, the exchange rate for the euro in Miami was listed at 1.45 USD, while the international exchange rate for the euro was quoted at 1.21 USD. Cuban Economist Pedro Monreal notes that this policy and the current exchange rate may affect the financial ability of families in the U.S. to send remittances to the island, “those who are required to exchange dollars outside Cuba to obtain cash euros to deposit into MLC (freely convertible currency) accounts would likely face a trend of loss of buying power for the dollar.” Dr. Pavel Vidal Alejandro, an associate professor of economics at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Colombia, also mentions that “while there will be less demand for dollars, there will also be less dollars in the informal market to sell, as many people will deposit them into banks.” This will ultimately increase uncertainty about exchange rates in the informal market on the island, making it difficult to determine precisely how much the USD will depreciate moving forward. 

The suspension of cash USD bank deposits stems from the difficulty that U.S. sanctions impose on depositing the currency abroad. Cuban authorities have noted that the policy is temporary and will be removed once “restrictions that impede the normal functioning of the export procedures for the U.S. currency” are lifted. The new measure will not affect cash deposits in other currencies or the ability to transfer money between or withdraw money from accounts. According to Yamile Berra Cires, Vice President of Cuba’s Central Bank, the move was designed to protect the local financial system. The move comes as the black market price of the dollar in Cuba nearly tripled from 24 to 70 Cuban pesos (CUP) following the island’s elimination of its dual-currency system. 

More Cuban Migrants Land in the Florida Keys, But They Likely Won’t Stay for Long

On Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard spotted six men and two women near Duck Keys, 57 miles off the coast of Key West, FL Keys News reports. According to Border Patrol spokesman Adam Hoffner, the migrants, who departed from Cuba, spent two days at sea in a small fishing boat and experienced no serious injuries. The U.S. Coast Guard will most likely repatriate them. 

So far in fiscal year 2021, which began on October 1, 2020, the Coast Guard has interdicted over 400 Cuban migrants, compared to 49 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2020 and 313 interdictions in fiscal year 2019. Unofficial migration by sea from Cuba vastly decreased following the Obama administration’s removal of the “wet foot, dry foot” policy in January of 2017. The procedure essentially provided Cuban migrants who set foot on dry land in U.S. territory a fast track to obtaining visas. Experts on Cuba have also theorized that the recent spike in migration can be attributed to the island’s current economic crisis and treatment of local activists, including those taking part in the San Isidro Movement.


Cuba Encouraged by Early Efficacy Results of COVID-19 Vaccine

On Saturday, Cuba’s state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma announced the efficacy level of two out of three doses of the Soberana 02 vaccine developed at the Finlay Vaccine Institute earlier this year, Al Jazeera reports. According to preliminary data collected from Phase III clinical trials, the Soberana 02 vaccine has 62 percent efficacy after the first two doses of the three-dose regimen. Vicente Vérez​, director of the state-run Finlay Vaccine Institute, has expressed “in a few weeks we should have the results for the efficacy with three doses which we expect will be superior.” On Monday, BioCubaFarma also announced the efficiency levels of the Abdala vaccine candidate developed at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology earlier this year. After three doses, the vaccine proved to be 92.28 percent effective. Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel praised the Finlay Vaccine Institute and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology on Twitter, giving tribute to the institutions’ perseverance in the face of multiple obstacles. 

The results come as the island faces the highest number of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. While reported cases continue to increase on the island, the number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) reach record highs. In the beginning of June, as many as 161 patients remained in intensive care, the highest number of patients in ICUs since March of 2020.

In May, Cuba’s government implemented an emergency vaccination campaign in Havana before Phase III clinical trials for the Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines were complete. The vaccination campaign hoped to curb an increase in COVID-19 cases. Since the beginning of this vaccination campaign, the island’s capital of Havana has seen a decrease in infection rates – falling to about 370 cases from nearly 800 peak cases per day before the campaign’s initiation. This may not only be a result of the vaccine’s efficiency, but also a result of increased measures taken by the state to prevent the virus from spreading in Havana. While the island hopes to vaccinate its entire population by the end of this year, the country currently faces a shortage in syringes. In response to economic shortages, international campaigns and organizations have helped fund and compile syringes for the island. Global Health Partners (GHP), a coalition of nonprofit organizations that foster exchange programs and humanitarian medical aid to Cuba, among other initiatives have begun a Syringes for Cuba Program. The program hopes to raise enough funds to purchase at least 10 million syringes for the island. 

Travelers Arriving in Cuba through Varadero and Cayo Coco Must book Tourism or Isolation Packages

As of June 20, foreign travelers and Cuban nationals arriving in Cuba at the Juan Gualberto Gómez airport in Varadero and the Jardines del Rey airport in Cayo Coco must purchase a hotel package before traveling to the island that includes a brief isolation-period stay at a hotel in Varadero or Cayo Coco, OnCuba News reports. All passengers traveling to these locations will be required to present proof of purchasing a package before boarding an aircraft to Cuba. Cubans with permanent residency on the island will be required to purchase the “isolation package,” which includes a seven-day stay in a hotel facility and transportation to the traveler’s final destination. Foreign travelers must purchase the “tourist package,” which includes a seven-day stay in a hotel facility. The packages will be available for purchase in freely convertible currency. Cuba’s national travel agencies and tour operators abroad plan to market the packages following the policy’s recent announcement. Travelers arriving at the José Martí International Airport in Havana and the Antonio Maceo International Airport in Santiago are expected to quarantine for five nights and six days in the respective province but do not have to purchase a package.

The policy aims to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on the island while maintaining its borders open to tourism. Since opening its borders to tourism, the island has implemented various reforms that both welcome tourism and work to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus domestically. On June 5, Cuba announced that it would require tourists arriving at airports in Varadero and Cayo Coco to quarantine in hotels for six days. This policy differs from the recently announced requirements given that individuals were formerly expected to pay for their stay in U.S. dollars while residing at hotels in the provinces of Varadero or Cayo Coco. The policy aimed to increase the flow of U.S. dollars throughout Cuba, as tourists were expected to pay for their stay at these facilities with USDs directly rather than exchanging the USD for the CUP. Given recent announcements made by Cuba’s Central Bank, temporarily but indefinitely suspending cash USD bank deposits on the island, the USD will no longer be a common form of payment.

Cuba Develops Device for Visual and Auditory Screening of Newborns

Cuba’s Neuroscience Center (CNEURO) has developed a system to trace hearing and vision impairments in newborn babies, OnCuba News reports. The State Control of Medicines, Equipment, and Medical Devices (CECMED) registered the device’s auditory screening component in 2019, while its vision screening component was registered in 2020. The device is known as “Infantix.” When performing a hearing screening on a newborn, the Infantix will “emit a sound” and analyze the child’s reaction, expecting an echo in response. The device targets the child’s middle and inner ear. In reference to the visual screening, the Infantix releases a visual stimulus and analyzes “the brain’s response to that stimulation.” Specialists highlight that while devices used for auditory stimulation exist, the Infantix is one of the first devices in the world to incorporate a visual component to these evaluations.


U.S. Again Votes Against U.N. Call to End Cuba Embargo

The annual United Nations General Assembly vote on whether to adopt a resolution advocating to end the U.S. economic and trade embargo on Cuba was held in New York City this past Wednesday at the Assembly’s 75th session, Reuters reports. During the session, the Biden-Harris administration opted to vote against the resolution, signaling its support in upholding the embargo. Israel was the only other country to vote no; while Colombia, Ukraine, and Brazil abstained. Before the vote, U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter emphasized that the Administration noted “the challenges the Cuban people face. That is why the United States is a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners.” Mr. Hunter highlighted that the embargo was a U.S. strategy to promote long-term democracy and human rights on the island. Ultimately, the Resolution received 184 votes in favor of lifting the embargo. Before the General Assembly meeting, Pedro Luís Pedroso, Cuba’s permanent representative to the United Nations, declared that the embargo was “an act of war, a policy that causes calculated damage to an entire people” as it continues to deny “the Cuban people their right to self-determination.”

The UN General Assembly has voted annually on the resolution condemning the U.S. imposed embargo since 1992, following the fall of the Soviet Union – what was then one of Cuba’s greatest allies and a U.S. rival. In 2019, during the most recent vote, 187 countries supported the end of the policy. Most notably, in 2016 the U.S. abstained from voting on the Resolution for the first time under the Obama administration. At the time, the U.S. abstention was a symbol of growing potential for better U.S.-Cuba relations.


Why is Biden Following in Trump’s Footsteps on Cuba?, Jorge Dávila Miguel, CNN

In this opinion piece, Jorge Dávila Miguel urges the Biden-Harris administration to take an active role on Cuba policy. According to Mr. Dávila, the Administration can actively promote trade and support private businesses on the island without alienating Cuban-Americans in South Florida

Artist’s Archive Sheds Light on ’60s, ’70s Cuba, Barbara Gutierrez, University of Miami News 

This article highlights the experience of Anna “Connie” Veltfort, a German immigrant who moved from the U.S. to Cuba following Fidel Castro’s Revolutionary triumph on the island. Ms.Veltfort returned to the U.S. in 1972, after “the conflicts between my ideals and my experiences became more and more difficult to navigate,” expressing her disillusionment with the progress of civil rights on the island at the time. Upon her return to the U.S., Ms. Veltfort created a blog titled “El Archivo de Connie” (Connie’s Archive) where she displayed “vintage posters, LPs, publications, and other ephemera” from the early Revolutionary era in the 1960s and 1970s. As of recently, she has decided to donate the archive to the University of Miami Libraries’ Cuban Heritage Collection. 

U.S. Policy on Cuba: Is It Safe to Go Back into the Water?, Daniel Whittle, Jdsupra

In this article, Daniel Whittle, Senior Director for the Caribbean at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), highlights the importance of establishing positive bilateral relations between the U.S. and Cuba and explains how these relations impact the environment. Mr. Whittle emphasizes the positive impact of increased levels of scientific collaboration and bilateral agreements between the two countries under the Obama administration, urging the Biden-Harris administration to adopt similar measures. 

Obispo, the Most Tourist Boulevard in Havana, Otmaro Rodríguez Díaz, OnCuba News 

This article briefly highlights the history of Obispo Street in Old Havana through a collection of anecdotes and photography. The article highlights the cultural, commercial, and historic significance of the street. Exhibiting a collection of state-run and private businesses, the street serves to merge the island’s past with a future that potentially welcomes economic reform. The street, ranging from Monserrate Street to the Plaza de Armas, contains attractions like the Ambos Mundos Hotel and the Floridita Bar-Restaurant, attractions enjoyed by U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway. 

The ‘In the Heights’ Dinner Scene Brought My Cuban Family’s Table to the Foreground, Patty Diez, Eater 

In this article, Patty Diez highlights the importance of representation in the media by examining Latinx representation in the Jon Chu-directed movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Broadway musical In the Heights. Ms. Diez shares that a scene containing traditional Cuban dishes including crackers with guava jelly and cheese made her feel seen and represented as a Cuban woman. She also notes, however, the lack of Afro-Latinx representation throughout the film. 

Celia Cruz in New York’s Intimate Geometry, Michel Hernández, OnCuba News 

This article announces a new street in the Bronx named after one of Cuba’s most respected artists, Celia Cruz. The street was inaugurated on June 5 and will be known as “Celia Cruz Way,” located on the corner of Reservoir Ave. and West 195th St. The ceremony honored the legacy left by the Cuban artist and her ties to not only Cuba, but the Latinx community at large in New York City. 

The 25 Best Sandwiches in the D.C. Area, Tim Carman, The Washington Post 

Mi Cuba Café, located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. was featured in Washington Post Food reporter Tim Carman’s article on top 25 best sandwiches in Washington D.C. The featured sandwich was the restaurant’s widely recognized pan con lechon, which includes “elongated wedges of Cuban bread” stuffed with thinly sliced pork.


Virtual, Cuba’s Digital Revolution: A Virtual Event with Ted A. Henken and Sara Garcia Santamaria, July 9 

Independent bookstore Books & Books independent bookstore and the Cuban Research Institute will host a virtual event with Ted A. Henken and Sara García Santamaria, on their new book Cuba’s Digital Revolution: Citizen Innovation and State Police, on July 9 at 12 PM EST. The book explores how Wi-Fi access in Cuba has impacted the island’s cultural, economic, social, and political arenas. The work also examines the impact that extended levels of internet access have on transitional democracies and precisely to what extent these increased levels of access influence Cuba’s state government policies. To register for the event, click here.  

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