U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 07/30/2021

Dear Friends,

Happy Friday!

Yesterday, CDA and 37 civil society organizations, foundations, and academics sent a joint letter to President Biden urging the Administration to prioritize policies to relieve the humanitarian crisis currently affecting the Cuban people. Read our press release here.

There’s one week left to apply for CDA’s fall internship! CDA is seeking two fall interns. Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. Applications must be submitted by August 5. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.

Yesterday, Cuba reported 8,736 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 43,161 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, an increase from the previous day. Havana reported a record number of new cases by far compared to other provinces at 1,736. The total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 2,693. 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Treasury Sanctions Cuban Police Force and Its Leaders in Response to Violence Against Peaceful Demonstrators

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced the sanctions on Oscar Callejas Valcarce, Eddy Sierra Arias, and the Policia Nacional Revolucionaria (PNR) of the Cuban Ministry of the Interior (MINIT), according to a Department press release. Mr.Callejas serves as head of the PNR, and Mr. Sierra serves as his deputy. The sanctions, imposed under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, aim to hold accountable the Cuban officials and the PNR for “serious human rights abuse[s]” and for “suppress[ing] peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba” that occurred on July 11. According to a senior Administration official, the sanctions are also aimed at “keeping these individuals in the spotlight, not just on the international community, but that the Cuban people know that the United States is supporting them and is trying to defend them,” The Hill reports.

The sanctions follow last week’s 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), which were also imposed to hold officials in Cuba accountable for their response to the July 11 protests. The targeted sanctions are largely symbolic and unlikely to have a significant effect on Cuban officials, as the island already faces comprehensive sanctions.

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. for “serious human rights abuse[s].”

Biden to Host Cuban American Leaders to Discuss Response to Cuba Protests

On Friday, President Biden will host Cuban American leaders at the White House, NBC News reports. The meeting, which comes in the wake of the protests that occurred throughout Cuba on July 11, will include Cuban American artists, political figures, and community leaders, and members of Congress. President Biden hopes to collect insight from these leaders and gather their opinions on the Administration’s recently announced policies concerning Cuba, as well as discuss the newly announced Treasury Department sanctions on officials in Cuba and “efforts to improve internet connectivity.” Notable figures that will be in attendance include Yotuel Romero, one of the musicians who created and sings the song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life), which has served as an anthem for many protesters, former Miami Mayor and the current chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, Manny Díaz, eMerge Americas CEO and Roots of Hope founder L. Felice Gorordo, and Miami Freedom Project co-founder Ana Sofía Peláez. Earlier in the week, Julie Chung, acting assistant secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department, also hosted a meeting to discuss the response to the protests in Cuba and invited undisclosed civil society leaders “working to empower the Cuban people and advance human rights on the island” on July 28.

Last week, Juan Gonzalez, senior director for the Western Hemisphere for the National Security Council, and Cedric Richmond, senior advisor and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, also 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.

20 Countries and U.S. Condemn Mass Arrests in Cuba Following Protests

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers from 20 countries released a joint statement condemning mass arrests throughout Cuba and demanding the restoration of internet access throughout the island, NBC News reports. The joint statement stressed support for the Cuban people, stating that “the international community will not waver in its support of the Cuban people and all those who stand up for the basic freedoms all people deserve.” Foreign ministers of Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Guatemala, Greece, Honduras, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Republic of Korea, and Ukraine joined Secretary Blinken in signing the statement.

Notably, leading democracies and traditional U.S. allies such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia did not sign on. Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, noted that the U.S. was only able to garner a small number of countries to support the joint statement in comparison to the 184 countries that voted in favor of lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba at the annual United Nations General Assembly’s 75th session. Ricardo Herrero, the executive director of Cuba Study Group, noted that the statement by Cuba’s Foreign Minister was “a practical example of how current U.S.-Cuba policy isolates the United States, not Cuba.”

Biden Plans to Nominate a Cuban American Democrat to be the U.S. Ambassador to O.A.S.

On Thursday, Francisco O. Mora was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) by the Biden-Harris administration, The New York Times reports. Mr. Mora, who is Cuban American, is currently a professor of politics and international affairs at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, and previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere during the Obama administration. He has been outspoken in his support of U.S.-Cuba engagement. In speaking to the suitability of Mr. Mora for the position, Manny Diaz, former Miami Mayor and the current chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, stated “When Latin America or the Caribbean sneezes, Miami catches a cold. It’s so important that we have someone that has lived through that, that is sensitive to that, that has been in the middle of it and really understands the hemisphere, the people of the hemisphere and their plight.” Throughout his career, Mr. Mora has been vocal about the Caribbean population and combating political disinformation. If the position is confirmed, Mr. Mora will replace Ambassador Carlos Trujillo, a Cuban American from Miami.

Flotilla in Support of Cuban Protests Returns To Florida

On Saturday, the small flotilla of less than a dozen boats that left last Friday from Miami to sail near Cuba to demonstrate support for the Cuban people in the wake of the July 11 protests returned to Florida, NBC Miami reports. The flotilla stopped 15 nautical miles off the coast of Cuba in international waters, where the boaters claim to have launched fireworks that were visible in Havana. Social media personalities and various other interested parties in Miami had announced last week 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.

The flotilla left despite urges last week from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to South Florida residents that they should not to sail to Cuba without a permit. DHS emphasized that, “it is illegal for boaters to depart with the intent to travel to Cuba for any purpose without a permit.”

Cuba Blames The U.S. For A Molotov Cocktail Attack At Its Paris Embassy

On Monday, two Molotov cocktails struck Cuba’s Embassy in Paris, France, NPR News reports. According to Cuba’s Foreign Ministry International Press Center, suspects directed three Molotov cocktails towards the Embassy. Two out of the three gasoline bombs directly hit the Embassy and caused a small fire. No injuries were reported. Since then, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry has denounced the incident, deeming it a “terrorist attack” aimed at inciting violence and hate in Cuba. On Tuesday, the Parisian prosecutor’s office declared that an investigation was in progress. While French authorities began investigating the incident, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, alleged that U.S.-sponsored hostility towards Cuba was responsible for the incident. No one has been arrested or found liable for the incident yet.

Since the protests that began on July 11 in Cuba, Mr. Rodriguez has actively attributed the demonstrations to U.S.-sponsored hostility. The Foreign Minister alleged that the protests had been instigated and financed by the United States and claimed that the international media does not adequately or appropriately represent the Cuban revolutionaries actively defending the revolution.

IN CUBA

Nearly 60 Prosecuted over Cuba Demonstrations, says Top Official

Nearly 60 Cuban nationals have been prosecuted on charges of instigating unrest following the demonstrations beginning on July 11 in Cuba, Al Jazeera reports. According to Ruben Remigio Ferro, President of the Supreme Court in Cuba, “Until yesterday [July 23], 19 judicial processes had reached the municipal courts of the country – cases involving 59 people accused of committing alleged crimes (during) these disturbances.” Relatives of the protesters shared that their family members were being taken to summary trials of about a dozen people to be tried without legal representation and were sentenced to a year in prison. Despite these claims, Mr. Ferro alleges that the trials were not summary trials, but rather brief trials and were still in progress. Family members have also faced arduous obstacles and, in some instances, found no answers while tracking down their relatives who have been detained. “We went from police station to police station looking for her,” noted Alberto Betancourt, whose sister was detained after attending a protest in Havana. Mr. Betancourt located his sister six days after she was detained, but claims that Cuban authorities have not allowed him to speak to her. An official number of detentions remains unknown.

Officials in Cuba’s Interior Ministry have denied that individuals are missing while claiming that the various lists, such as the list maintained by Human Rights Watch, stating the number of detentions have been based on false allegations. However, many international organizations have vehemently challenged these claims. According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba’s government responded to the demonstrations with the arrest and disappearance of more than 700 protesters, activists, and independent journalists thus far. The spreadsheet created and updated by Human Rights Watch lists those that have allegedly gone missing throughout the island following the demonstrations. On Thursday, the European Union denounced the arbitrary detentions and urged Cuba’s government to release those detained following the July 11 demonstrations.

Cuba Approves Sale on Credit of Products Whose Prices Exceed 2,500 Pesos

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Ministry of Domestic Trade (MINCIN) published Resolution 98/2021, thereby granting Cuban nationals the right to buy goods whose price exceeds 2,500 Cuban Pesos, (CUP) in credit, OnCuba News reports. The Resolution, originally outlined in Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 66, grants Cuban citizens with permanent residency the right to use credit when purchasing goods including furniture, mattresses, bicycles, and electrical appliances. Those hoping to buy such goods using credit must be over the age of 18, reside in the province where the sale is completed, and have legal and payment capacity to complete the purchase.

Upon registering for installment payments, the purchaser must provide documentation of fixed or guaranteed income and must demonstrate that they are actively paying back former debt obligations. If the purchaser receives social assistance, they must present proof of their income endorsed by the island’s Department of Labor or a subsidiary of the National Institute of Social Security. Stores participating in credit sales will have up to ten business days to evaluate the documentation provided by a customer and either approve or deny a purchase. The interest rate charged by the facility will not exceed “2.5% of the price of the product.” Lastly, a certification of ownership will be granted by the facility once a customer pays for the product entirely. If a customer fails to abide by the guidelines and timeframe provided, the facility has the right to confiscate the product without providing a refund for the portion of the credit that has been paid back.

Cuban Entrepreneurs Complain about Limitations for Bank Transfers in MLC (Spanish)

Since July 29, several bank branches have verbally communicated to Cuban cuentapropistas, or entrepreneurs, that they will no longer be allowed to make financial transfers between their business accounts used for imports and their personal accounts in freely convertible currency, ElToque reports. The news has affected Cuban entrepreneurs who have previously completed such transfers before the policy’s recent announcement. Cuban business owners will now only be allowed to complete transfers to authorized importing companies and receive funds from cash deposits in freely convertible currency, excluding the U.S. dollar or transfers from accounts abroad. Cuban entrepreneurs claim that the newly announced restrictions make transfers between their personal bank accounts and their business accounts difficult and hinder the import process through foreign trade companies. However, Cuba’s Central Bank has not released any official statements concerning the policy, leaving many entrepreneurs confused.

Five Cuban Generals Have Mysteriously Died. Is it Linked to the Country’s Spike in COVID-19?

In a period of only ten days, five high-ranking Cuban generals passed away, Miami Herald reports. While Cuba’s official news outlets have not reported the cause of death for the Generals, some speculate their deaths may be related to recent spikes in COVID-19 cases. Most of the generals were in their 70s or 80s and the youngest was 58.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Mexican President Says Biden Must “Make Decision” on Cuba Embargo; Mexico is Sending Navy Ships with Food, Medicines to Cuba

On Monday, Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged the Biden-Harris administration to make a decision on Cuba policy, Reuters reports. President Obrador emphasized the importance of lifting the U.S. imposed economic and trade embargo on Cuba, noting that “we must separate the political from the humanitarian.” While urging the U.S. to lift the embargo, the President also stressed that the Biden-Harris administration should lift restrictions on remittance flows to the island. The president also attributed civil unrest in Cuba following the demonstrations that took place on July 11 to the U.S. embargo. While expressing solidarity with Cuba, President Obrador affirmed that his Administration would send medicine, vaccines, and food to the island. The shipment was set to leave on Sunday carrying syringes, oxygen tanks, face masks, powdered milk, cans of tuna, beans, flour, cooking oil, and gasoline. The gasoline shipped from Mexico’s state-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos arrived in Havana’s port on Monday. Following the shipment’s arrival, President Obrador criticized regulations imposed by the U.S. embargo that create additional barriers for “independent nations,” such as Mexico, to dock in U.S. ports after delivering supplies to Cuba. John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, refuted this, noting that there are no specific U.S. sanctions preventing the sale or donation of Mexican gasoline to Cuba. In addition to the shipments from Mexico, additional countries including Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Russia are planning on sending food to the island.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS

11J, Redacción Alma Mater, Medium (Spanish)

This article interviews five young Cubans who offer an array of perspectives on the contributing factors that led Cubans to the streets on July 11. Mauro Díaz Vázquez, a fourth-year student at the University of Havana, notes that the protests taking place throughout the island on July 11 reflect a variety of concerns. According to the student, “the event includes diverse factors, both social and economic, political and health. First, it is a years old problem due to the acute economic crisis of the 1990s, aggravated by the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and, obviously, by the pandemic phase.” Carolina García Salas, a journalist based in Spain, also credits the protests to a lack of economic reform throughout Cuba. Denis Alejandro Matienzo Alonso, a student studying geography at the University of Havana, credits the protests to an increase in internet accessibility throughout the island.

Misinformation in the Context of July 11 Protests, ElToque (Spanish)

In this article, staff writers at ElToque fact check various photos and claims and identify misinformation in the wake of the July 11 protests in Cuba. For instance, the article points to a photograph of a Cuban police officer allegedly forced to suppress the July 11 protests on the island. The photo, which widely circulated on social media following the demonstrations, was originally shared months before the recent protests in February 2021 and therefore was shared in a misleading manner. The article also disproves claims of law enforcement agencies resigning in Camagüey after the demonstrations, that the European Union canceled aid to Cuba due to repressive measures enacted by Cuba’s government following the protests, and the existence of a code used to know if an individual’s phone was tapped by the government, among other rumors.

Afro-Cubans Come Out In Droves To Protest Government, Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Amalia Dache, NPR

In this podcast episode, NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Professor Amalia Dache discuss the role of Afro-Cubans in Cuban society. Professor Dache, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, notes the economic and social barriers faced by Afro-Cubans on the island. Specifically, she emphasizes that Afro-Cubans often disproportionately face poor living conditions, decreased access to higher education, and experience increased incarceration rates. Professor Dache notes how important it is, particularly in the context of the demonstrations, for the international community to empower Black voices in Cuba, voices that are often “invisible on the island.”

“I Walked a Block with Rage”: The Story of a College Student who Protested on July 11 in Cuba, Lucas Sansón, Tremenda Nota (Spanish)

In this article, a Cuban university student recounts their experience in one of the many demonstrations that took place in Cuba on July 11 and the impact it had on their view of freedom. In particular, the student, who writes under a pseudonym, attended a demonstration in Havana. Against their mother’s guidance, they ran to the island’s capital in hopes of marching alongside Cubans that filled the streets on July 11. While recalling July 11, the student notes, “For the first time in my life I felt it was free. Here they also shouted that we were not afraid, now I could also say so. There is one thing that made me very clear on 11 July: I never want to feel that I am not free again. However, I write this using a pseudonym. The path of freedom is difficult.”

Poll: Plurality say the US should not get involved following protests in Cuba, Hill-HarrisX, The Hill

This Hill-HarrisX poll is the first poll conducted on U.S.-Cuba relations following the July 11 demonstrations in Cuba and shares how registered voters in the U.S. believe the U.S. government should respond. The poll found that 38 percent of registered voters said that the U.S. government should not get involved in the domestic affairs of Cuba. While the majority of voters were against direct U.S. involvement, 32 percent said the U.S. should donate vaccines to the island currently facing an uptick in COVID-19 cases. The poll was conducted from July 20 to 21 and consisted of 949 registered voters, with a margin of error of 3.18 percentage points.

For Cuba’s Government, Twitter is to Blame for the Protests, France 24 (Spanish)

This article brings attention to claims made by Cuba’s government that the recent demonstrations throughout the island were started and perpetuated by social media campaigns organized by the U.S. government and aimed at destabilizing Cuba’s government. The widely circulated #SOSCUBA hashtag, which was trending on Twitter prior to the July 11 demonstrations, was originally created to share information about the overwhelming recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and the humanitarian crisis in Cuba. The hashtag quickly drew international attention to the crisis and also became a platform to criticize Cuba’s government. Despite the allegations from Cuba’s government, the article notes that while automated accounts may have contributed to the #SOSCUBA tag, the protests were not instigated by the social media activity and instead were a reflection of “tiredness” and “economic exhaustion” for Cubans. According to the article, rather than being instigated by international campaigns, Cubans authentically and spontaneously took to the streets demanding reforms and relief from the island’s government.

EVENTS

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.

U.S, Cimafunk U.S. Tour, August 26-September 3

Afro-Cuban funk sensation Cimafunk announced eight tour dates as part of his Northeast U.S. Summer Tour 2021. The tour will include performances in major U.S. cities including New York, Washington D.C, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. To purchase tickets, click here.


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