U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 07/23/2021

Dear Friends,

This week, in the wake of the July 11 protests in Cuba and following six months of inaction on the Cuba policy front, the Biden-Harris administration announced reviews of remittance channels, the reestablishment of consular services and the restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and a review on how to facilitate “safe and secure” internet access throughout the island.

In Cuba, civil society, churches, and international organizations have begun efforts to locate and advocate for those currently detained following the demonstrations that took place on July 11. Groups on and off the island have begun collecting donations as Cuba continues to grapple with food and goods shortages and high COVID-19 rates, which were conditions that, in part, drove the protests.

  • The Give to Cuba campaign is collecting donations to help Cuban families access food, medicine, and hygiene products. The campaign, launched by a group of Cuban Americans, “highlights vetted organizations with a long track record of helping families in Cuba” access scarce resources.
  • Global Community X Matanzas, launched by Cuba’s first independent fashion brand Clandestina in partnership with charter airline Evelop and Cuban companies Negolucion and Madao, allows individuals to donate medicines and supplies in Madrid, Spain which will then be shipped to Havana and distributed in Matanzas.
  • MANDAO X DADOR, launched by Cuban lifestyle and fashion brand Dador, allows individuals to donate money to “make it possible for a Cuban family to receive a basket of locally produced food.”
  • ReglaSoul’s donation campaign allows individuals to donate via Venmo to support the purchase of materials needed to construct a community garden in the Regla municipality of Havana, which will provide an alternative source of “food and medicinal resources” for black families. ReglaSoul is a “Cuba based project that promotes an alternative holistic lifestyle” and that “advocates for better access to wellness resources for Afro descendants in Cuba through plant based and holistic healing events and workshops.”

There are two weeks left to apply for CDA’s fall internship! CDA is seeking two fall interns who will work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. Internships may be completed remotely or in-person. The deadline to apply is August 5. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.

Yesterday, Cuba reported a record number of COVID-19 cases at 7,784. There are currently 37,435 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 1,603. The total number of deaths since March 2020 is 2,203. 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…


Biden Looks to Increase Staffing of Cuba Embassy

On Monday, the Biden-Harris administration ordered the U.S. State Department to review the potential restaffing of the U.S. Embassy in Havana and announced the creation of a Remittance Working Group to review how Cuban Americans can send remittances directly to their family members in Cuba, bypassing the state, AP News reports. The announcement comes six months after the Administration began its Cuba policy review and a week after mass protests on the island that began on July 11. A senior Administration official emphasized that “the United States is actively pursuing measures that will both support the Cuban people and hold the Cuban regime accountable.”

The review regarding restaffing consular services in the U.S. Embassy in Havana will examine the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic and consular services, and how best to support civil society engagement on the island.

The Remittance Working Group will review ways to alleviate the barriers faced by Cuban Americans when attempting to send remittances to the island and ensure that these remittances are received directly by Cuban families. The group will seek to find alternative remittance channels after stating that the U.S. was concerned remittances would go directly to Cuba’s government. In response to the announcement of the creation of the Remittance Working Group, U.S. Congresswoman María Elvira Salazar (FL), the daughter of Cuban exiles, called the initiative “embarrassing,” while urging the Administration to find alternatives in assisting the Cuban people. U.S. Senator and Cuban-American Robert Menéndez (NJ), who also chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, praised the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to reestablish consular services on the island and the creation of a Remittance Working Group. The Senator affirmed that he would assist the Administration in drafting additional policies that aim to empower the Cuban people. Julie Chung, acting Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, also noted that the U.S. would “expedite any request to export humanitarian or medical supplies” to the island amidst mass food and medicine shortages.

The President also shared last Thursday that the U.S. was exploring how to provide technology capable of reinstating internet access in Cuba. This is not the first time that the U.S. has explored facilitating greater internet access and freedom of expression in Cuba. In 2017, the Department of State announced the creation of the Cuba Internet Task Force (CITF), which identified challenges and offered “recommendations for expanding effective Internet access and the free and unregulated flow of information in Cuba” in its final report in 2019. U.S. officials have also advocated for creating a fiber-optic cable that would connect Cuba to the U.S. and enhance internet access on the island. Currently, the Guantanamo Bay to Dania Beach Submarine Fiber Optic Cable System (GTMO-1), spanning about 950 miles, connects the Defense Information System Network (DISN) Facilities in Miami, Florida and U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba (GTMO). The cable does not provide internet outside of the naval base. Google and ETECSA, Cuba’s government owned telecommunications company, signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 aimed at facilitating increased internet access throughout the island. The partnership required the establishment of a physical connection between Cuba’s telecommunications company and a Google “point of presence.” At the time, the nearest points were located in Florida, Mexico, and Colombia. While Google servers went live on the island in 2017, allowing Cubans to stream YouTube videos at faster rates, the technology company’s efforts on the island date back to 2016. In 2016, Google partnered with Cuban artist Alexis Leiva Machado, known as Kcho, to open a WiFi center.

Members of Congress have also previously expressed interest in facilitating internet and telecommunications services throughout the island. In 2015, Representative Kevin Cramer (ND) and Senator Tom Udall (NM) introduced the Cuba DATA Act. While the bill was never passed, it authorized the President to allow U.S. nationals to export telecommunication devices to Cuba; provide telecommunication services throughout the island; establish facilities that offered telecommunication services throughout the island; conduct transactions that allowed the services to take place; and “enter into, perform, and make and receive payments under a contract with any individual or entity in Cuba regarding the provision of telecommunications services involving Cuba or persons in Cuba.”

Biden Administration Imposes Sanctions on Cuban Officials Following Attacks on Protesters

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on Cuba’s Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Álvaro López Miera and the Ministry of the Interior’s Special National Brigade or “Boinas Negras” (Black Berets), according to a Department press release. The sanctions, imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, aim to hold accountable the Cuban officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses on the island following the July 11 demonstrations, The Washington Post reports. The sanctions allow the President to impose economic limitations on and bar foreign persons involved in human rights abuse or corruption from entering the U.S. In a statement, President Biden affirmed that the U.S. would “continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people.” Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla called the U.S. imposed sanctions “unfounded” and “slanderous” while pointing to alleged abuses and repression by U.S. authorities. U.S. Congressman Marco Rubio (FL) also commented on the sanctions, calling them a “symbolic but meaningless measure.” Michael Bustamante, assistant professor of history at Florida International University, notes that targeted sanctions may have little effect on Cuban officials, as the island already faces comprehensive sanctions. Furthermore, Mr. Bustamante stresses that the newly announced sanctions do not serve the Cuban people, but rather that the move “risks morphing / blurring even more into a US-Cuba conflict rather than one among Cuban citizens and their government.”

The Trump administration formerly imposed sanctions on Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior (MININT), and its Minister, General Lazaro Alberto Álvarez Casas under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act in January of 2021. At the time, Mike Pompeo alleged that MININT and Minister Álvarez Casas were connected with “serious human rights abuse[s]”, including the detention of prominent Cuban political opposition activist José Daniel Ferrer from October of 2019 until April 2020, during which Ferrer alleged he suffered physical and psychological mistreatment.

White House Listening Session with Cuban American Leaders

On Monday, Senior Advisor and Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Cedric Richmond and Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere for the National Security Council Juan Gonzalez met with Cuban-Americans to discuss the recent demonstrations on the island and listen to the community’s policy recommendations, as shared in a White House Readout report. The government officials stressed that the Administration continues to closely monitor the events taking place in Cuba and hopes to create policies that empower Cubans on the island. Participants shared methods that they had adopted in the past week to empower the Cuban population while providing recommendations on U.S. policies that would help elevate Cuban voices. Among those that attended were Gloria and Emilio Estefan; former Miami-Dade College President Eduardo Padron; Democratic State Party Chair Manny Diaz; and Key Biscayne Council Member Luis Lauredo.

Homeland Security Has Warning For South Florida Boaters Planning To Take Part In Flotilla To Cuba

On Friday, a small flotilla of five boats departed Miami to sail 15 nautical miles from Havana’s shores in a show of support for the Cuban people, according to CBS News. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) urged South Florida residents not to make a trip across the Florida Straits to Cuba without a permit. The statement sought to deter South Florida residents from traveling to Cuba by sea this week, emphasizing that, “it is illegal for boaters to depart with the intent to travel to Cuba for any purpose without a permit.” In the wake of last week’s protests in Cuba, social media personalities and various other interested parties in Miami announced that they would be traveling across the Florida Straits by boat to bring supplies such as cases of water, flashlights, food, medicine, and firearms as well as their support to those on the island. Similar reports reemerged on Thursday and in response, DHS stated that any boater found in Cuba’s territorial waters would face fines of at least $25,000 and ten years in prison. Additionally, any boater found bringing migrants into the U.S. unofficially would face fines of at least $250,000 and five years in prison. In response to the flotilla on Friday, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, warned the U.S. that the arrival of such boats to Cuban shores may lead to “incidents that are not in anyone’s interest.”

One of the organizers of Friday’s expedition, Osdany Veloz, assured officials that the boats will remain in international waters to avoid legal consequences and will serve as a symbol of support to the Cuban people on the island following the demonstrations that began on July 11. Boats departing last week were also stunted by DHS and U.S. Coast Guard efforts according to one of the trip’s organizers, Santiago Rivera, who reported that the group had been stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard on July 13 due to their possession of firearms. Mr. Rivera thanked those that supported the initiative, emphasizing that “this isn’t politics, this is brotherhood, this is humanity and common sense, proud to be Cuban for my land I give my life.” Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has noted that permission would not be granted to Cuban-Americans embarking on the dangerous, unofficial journey.

Vienna Is the New Havana Syndrome Hotspot

About two dozen U.S. intelligence officers, diplomats, and government officials in Vienna have experienced symptoms related to the mysterious health incidents that were first reported in Havana in 2016, according to The New Yorker. The first reported cases of the health incidents in Vienna occurred shortly after President Joe Biden’s Inauguration in January, however, the Administration waited to publicly disclose the information to encourage further U.S. intelligence and law enforcement investigations in the region. U.S. officials have recently confirmed that the Austrian capital now exhibits the highest number of reported cases, following Havana. CIA Director William Burns has created a “targeting team” composed of U.S. analysts and operators working to understand these health incidents and unveil the culprit behind the health incidents. In addition, U.S. federal agencies, including the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of Defense have ongoing investigations.

Between 2016 and 2017, dozens of U.S. and Canadian personnel working in Cuba reported a variety of symptoms including headaches, dizziness, cognitive impacts, and ringing in the ears. Similar incidents were later reported by U.S. personnel in other countries, including China and Russia. The incidents led to staff reductions at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, an increase in the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory level for Cuba, and the expulsion of Cuban diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington, D.C. This week, officials reported that as many as 200  U.S. personnel around the world have been affected by these mysterious episodes in the past five years. Recent efforts made by the Biden-Harris administration to investigate the incidents have expanded known cases to the U.S., Europe, and Asia. CIA Director Bill Burns has also begun receiving daily briefings on the health incident cases. Despite the increased prioritization by the Biden-Harris administration, information concerning the health incidents remains limited. For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo.


As Cuba Begins Handing Out Sentences to Protesters, Some Families Left in the Dark

Participants in the historic July 11 protests in Cuba are being detained and sentenced to prison on charges of instigating unrest, according to relatives of the protesters, Reuters reports. Relatives of the protesters shared that their family members were being taken to collective trials of about a dozen people without defense or lawyers involved and were sentenced to a year in prison. Cuban authorities confirmed on Tuesday that the trials of those detained on charges of “instigating unrest, committing vandalism, propagating the coronavirus pandemic, or assault” began this week and could carry prison sentences of up to 20 years. Family members have faced large obstacles and, in some instances, found no answers while tracking down those who have been detained. On Tuesday, Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior reported the death of Diubis Laurencio Tejeda, a 36-year-old man who had attended a demonstration in La Güinera, located in the Havana province. While Cuban authorities reported Mr. Laurencio’s death, the exact cause remains unknown. Some have called for additional information around Mr. Laurencio’s death on social media.

Among those detained was Anyelo Troya, a visual artist who filmed scenes of the “Patria y Vida,” (‘Homeland and Life’) music video set in Cuba. According to his relatives, Mr. Troya was charged with instigating unrest after attending a demonstration in Havana and was sentenced to a year in prison. Raisa Gonzalez, Mr. Troya’s mother said that her son had been under heightened surveillance due to his involvement in the song “Patria y Vida.” The song has become a rallying cry for protesters inside and outside of Cuba.

The United Nations (UN), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have denounced the detentions and subsequent trials. Last Friday, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Cuba’s government to immediately release those detained following the demonstrations. The UN High Commissioner noted, “it is particularly worrying that these include individuals allegedly held incommunicado and people whose whereabouts are unknown” while urging that those responsible for the deaths and unjust detainment of Cuban citizens be held responsible. According to Human Rights Watch, the government responded to the demonstrations with the arrest and disappearance of more than 500 protestors, activists, and independent journalists thus far. Human Rights Watch also linked a spreadsheet outlining those that have allegedly gone missing throughout the island following the demonstrations.

‘A Powder Keg About to Explode’: Long Marginalized Afro Cubans at Forefront of Island’s Unrest

Afro-Cuban families continue to face discrimination in Cuba while experiencing great economic hardship, The Washington Post reports. Raúl Soublett López, director of Alianza Afro-Cubana, a Cuba-based organization working to defend the rights of the Afro-Cuban and LGBTQI+ communities on the island, emphasizes that Black families are “the ones with the lowest incomes, and the ones who are criminalized when they try to find food for their children and homes.” Mr. Lópes notes that Afro-Cubans often face discrimination from government officials and police on the island, while being treated with greater levels of violence than light-skinned Cubans. Approximately 60 to 90 percent of White households in Cuba have relatives abroad, increasing the prospects of remittances. However, only 30 to 40 percent of Afro Cuban households have relatives abroad. This disparity creates a wealth gap between the two Cuban households, creating greater inequality throughout the island. While having less access to remittances, Afro-Cuban households also experience greater discrimination in the work force. According to Harvard University Professor Alejandro de la Fuente, “business owners often discriminate against Black job applicants, particularly in the tourism sector.”

Alianza Afro-Cubana released an official statement on their social media platforms following the protests, condemning Cuba’s government response to the demonstrations, and urging the immediate release of those detained and an end to state surveillance. While doing so, the organization highlighted that Afro-Cubans have been disproportionately specifically affected by police brutality on the island and called “on activists and anti-racist groups to be concerned about the situation of Black people, who are the most vulnerable group and who bear the heaviest burden of violence.”

Following the July 11 demonstrations, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation released an official statement condemning U.S. sanctions and the economic embargo for the conditions which sparked the protests, and lauding Cuba’s government’s solidarity with “oppressed peoples of African descent.” The statement sparked pushback from Black and Afro Cubans and Cuban Americans on social media. In response to the statement, Mr. López, director of Alianza Afro-Cubana, notes “They made an observation of Cuba from the distance that negates the reality. They should listen to Black Cuban voices, the voices of those who resist oppression day after day.” On Friday, Black Lives Matter released a second statement, announcing their commitment to “uplifting the voices of  our Afro-Cuban family as they call for change” and once again condemning the U.S. embargo and condemning the recent sanctions by the Biden-Harris administration. Black Lives Matter also announced a webinar on Monday, July 26 “with leaders and organizers in Cuba and in the movement space here in the U.S.” Alianza Afro-Cubana responded directly in an Instagram post expressing disappointment that the panel did not include the voices of queer, Black, and trans Cubans who were at the protests and who, according to the alliance, “suffer the brunt of police violence on the island.” Black Lives Matter has not made any statements pertaining to government repression and police brutality on the island.

This week, over 400 activists, intellectuals, scientists and artists published an open letter titled “Let Cuba Live!” to President Biden in the New York Times. The letter urges the Administration to lift sanctions imposed on the island under the Trump administration. Among the signatures were the Black Lives Matter Global Network and Opal Tometi, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter.

Cuba, Gripped by Unrest, Battles Highest COVID-19 Caseload in the Americas

On Monday, Cuba reported the highest number COVID-19 infections per capita in Latin America, Reuters reports. Last week, the island reported about 4,000 confirmed cases per million residents. With 11 million residents, the reported cases in Cuba are nine times higher than the international average of infections per capita. Earlier this month, the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus reached Havana and put additional pressure on Cuba’s healthcare system. With increased levels of internet access throughout the island, photos of patients lying in poorly equipped hospital corridors and rooms have surfaced on the internet and amplified discontent over Cuba’s management of the pandemic. The recent rapid and widespread COVID-19 infection rate has strained Cuba’s healthcare system and been a point of major frustration for Cubans.

Most recently, the province of Matanzas reported the most significant number of new cases out of any region on the island, with over 1,600 COVID-19 cases. Support for Matanzas became a rallying call leading up to the July 11 protests and garnered international attention on social media through the hashtag “SOSMATANZAS.” Food shortages on the island, which have forced many Cubans to form long lines in front of state-owned grocery stores, have also led to increases in COVID-19 cases throughout the island, given a lack of social distancing and isolation measures. Initially, Cubans participating in the July 11 protests said that “they were angry about the collapse of the economy, food, and medicine shortages, price hikes and the government’s handling of COVID-19.”

It’s currently estimated that 30 percent of Cuba’s population has been partially or fully vaccinated by one of Cuba’s two domestically produced vaccines. While Cuba’s state-run biopharmaceutical corporation BioCubaFarma announced high efficacy levels for the Soberana 02 (91.2 percent) and Abdala vaccine (92.28 percent) candidates following the final stages of clinical trials, the island faces a syringe shortage, further delaying vaccination efforts on the island, and its overwhelmed healthcare sector lacks the infrastructure to care for such a high number of COVID-19 patients. In recent months, various international organizations have led coordinating efforts to fund, obtain, and deliver syringes to Cuba. On Monday, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) announced they would be sending a 12-ton shipment of medicines, laboratory tests and face shields, among other materials, to Cuba in the coming days. It was also announced on Tuesday that a coalition of organizations led by Global Health Partners and Puentes de Amor delivered a shipment of 1.6 million syringes last week and are expecting to deliver an additional 4.4 million donated syringes in the coming weeks.

With Increasing Defiance, Cuban Churches urge Government to Listen, Not Repress

Cuba’s Churches urge the island’s government and protestors to avoid violence and facilitate dialogue, Reuters reports. In response to the recent detention of those taking part in the demonstrations, various churches throughout the island have released statements emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech in Cuba. Dionisio García, Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, declared “amid the difficulties, the protests of recent days and also the detentions, the repression, the Church wants to pray for all Cubans, for all Cuba.” On Sunday, The Cuban Conference of Catholic Religious also created a hotline to help locate those detained, provide legal counseling, and support relatives whose loved ones are currently under custody.

Joeluis Cerutti Torres, a Professor at the University of Havana and one of the hotline’s organizers notes, “A mother who does not know where her child is yet will not sit down to talk without first doing her best to locate her child. In this regard, we also found it useful to help those who wish to present the habeas corpus remedy and try to locate the detainees, whether by calling the places, accompanying the family to the care offices where they are supposed to give information.” According to Mr. Torres, while the habeas corpus resource is not complex, assistance is useful to those not aware of the process. Eduardo Llorens, Catholic priest of the Society of Jesus, highlights that the coalition has been able to present about twenty writs of habeas corpus since July 12. While Cuba’s authorities deem the claims of habeas corpus unfit, the coalition is able to receive further information on the status and location of detainees following the procedure. When accompanying family to detention centers, obtaining further information on the status of those detained remains difficult. Despite this, the coalition stresses the importance of making the “cases visible and to show that there are people interested in the whereabouts of the detainees.” Thus far, the hotline mainly caters to individuals in Havana, although it has received a number of calls from provinces throughout the island.

Censorship Circumvention Tool Helps 1.4 million Cubans get Internet Access

Psiphon Inc., a Canadian-based company specializing in advanced censorship circumvention technology, offered Cubans access to restricted websites following a widespread and reportedly government-induced internet blackout throughout the island last week following the July 11 protests, Reuters reports. The company’s internet censorship circumvention tool offered about 1.389 million individuals in Cuba access to the internet last Thursday, and granted access to an additional 1.238 million users last Friday. The company, which receives partial financial support from the U.S. government, also provides internet access to individuals in Iran and China.

On July 12, reports of an internet blackout across Cuba emerged. NetBlocks, an organization that monitors internet disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed that social media platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram had been restricted throughout the island on Monday. Service interruptions continued throughout the week. The restrictions made it difficult for Cubans to share and receive information from on the island. This is not the first time an internet blackout has occurred in Cuba, as internet connection was cut off in January following a gathering of artists in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana. The main cellular network and data provider on the island, Cubacel, is owned and operated by the government owned telecommunications company, ETECSA. This grants Cuba’s government the ability to block usage and specific websites on the island, making communication with and between those in Cuba nearly impossible.

Vehicles Assembled with Parts and Pieces to Be Legalized in Cuba

On Thursday, Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation announced that, following technical evaluation, vehicles “assembled with parts and pieces,” known as riquimbili, will be legalized, OnCuba News reports. Over 40,000 vehicles in Cuba, especially in rural areas, are assembled with parts and pieces and are considered illegal by Cuba’s government. Under this resolution from the Ministry of Transportation, Cubans will now be able to register one vehicle modified or assembled from parts and pieces, following a technical evaluation. Should a vehicle not meet the standards of the evaluation, they will be allowed a period of approximately six months to make necessary corrections to be considered legal. Once the vehicles are registered, the resolution also allows the owners of the vehicles to obtain a means of transportation operating license so that they can use their vehicles in a professional capacity.


China Says U.S. Should ‘Immediately’ Lift Cuba Embargo and Stop Interfering

On Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, urged the U.S. government to lift economic and trade restrictions imposed on Cuba to better U.S.-Cuba relations, Newsweek reports. Zhao Lijian notes that “it is China’s consistent belief that every country’s right to independently choose their social system and development path should be respected.” Mr. Lijian also discouraged the U.S. from interfering with the island’s domestic affairs. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson emphasized the recent United Nations General Assembly vote on whether to adopt a resolution condemning the U.S. economic and trade embargo on Cuba, which received an overwhelming majority of votes at the Assembly’s 75th session. According to Mr. Lijian, the vote condemning the U.S. embargo on Cuba “reflects the common voice of the international community.”

Cuba-China bilateral relations have been prominent since the fall of the Soviet Union. In May, China planned to donate 5,000 solar panels to Cuba as part of China’s government’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI). In 2018, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz Canel highlighted the importance of the BRI during his visit to China by signing a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between the two countries. China has also been a top trade partner for Cuba. In 2017 it was the island’s most active trading partner. As of 2019, China was Cuba’s second largest trading partner, behind Venezuela.


Biden Stalls on Reinstating Cuban Remittances for No Good Reason, William M. LeoGrande, Responsible Statecraft

In this article, Professor William M. LeoGrande explains the lack of control Cuba’s government exercises over the flow of remittances. Specifically, Professor LeoGrande notes that Cuba’s government does not receive direct economic benefits from remittances, only collecting a ten percent tax on U.S. dollars sent to the island in cash form. Additionally, Professor LeoGrande explains how Cubans are able to spend U.S. dollars, despite recent changes and restrictions to foreign currencies and foreign currency stores. The Professor explains that there is currently no obligation for Cubans to exchange foreign currencies into the Cuban convertible pesos, or CUC, thereby allowing Cubans to directly spend the U.S. dollar at stores that specifically cater to foreign currencies. This leads to lower markup prices on items in foreign currency stores than in stores selling goods in the island’s national currency.

What the U.S. Really Needs to Do About Cuba and Haiti, Dan Restrepo, CNN

In this opinion piece, Dan Restrepo, former principal advisor to President Obama on issues pertaining to Latin America, the Caribbean, and Canada, argues that U.S. military intervention in Haiti and Cuba would do more harm than good. In Cuba’s case, Mr. Restrepo notes that the U.S. must seek to empower the Cuban people by lifting Trump-era restrictions that are harmful to the Cuban people. He emphasizes the counterproductive nature of antagonistic policies, stating, “history tells us intense pressure on the island results in two outcomes only – maritime mass migration and/or a harsh clampdown on civic activity blamed on US policy.” According to Mr. Restrepo, the road to democracy in Cuba is a long one that requires patience and policies that allow Cubans to choose their own fate.

Now Is the Time for Biden to Re-Staff the Havana Embassy, William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, The Nation

In this article, Professor William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, co-authors of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden Negotiations Between Washington and Havana, chronicle and analyze the 2017 decision by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to withdraw staff from the U.S. Embassy in Cuba. At the time of the decision, staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Havana urged the Trump administration to reconsider the decision, arguing that a fully functional embassy is vital to advancing U.S. interests and achieving the U.S. mission in Cuba. As President Biden is considering re-staffing the Embassy, Professor LeoGrande and Mr. Kornbluh reiterate the staffers’ argument and add that a well-functioning embassy is necessary for basic diplomatic functions, will restore normalized immigration, and would allow the continuation of important discussions on bilateral agreements, including human rights, among a multitude of additional benefits.


Virtual, Cuba and Beyond Series: Reports on Current Developments in Nicaragua and Cuba, August 3

The Columbia University Cuba Program will host a panel discussion on current developments taking place in Cuba and Nicaragua on August 3. The panel will include Professor Mark Ungar from City University of New York, Dr. Margaret E. Crahan from Columbia University, and Professor Emeritus Philip Brenner from American University. To register for the panel, click here.

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