U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 09/10/2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 8,394 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 38,944 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island, a decrease from previous weeks. Pinar del Río reported the highest number of new cases for the second consecutive week at 1118. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 729,133 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 6,140. 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

Boston Cardinal Meets Cuban Leader on Visit to Havana

During a visit to Havana, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, met with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and other top Cuban officials on Thursday, The Washington Post reports. Before making trips to additional countries in the Caribbean, the cardinal stopped in Cuba to visit the Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a Cuban COVID-19 vaccine laboratory and noted the church’s commitment to health and caring for the sick. Cardinal O’Malley also led an evening mass on Wednesday in honor of Cuba’s patron saint, the Virgin of Charity, or la Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre. While Cuba’s state media published photos of the meeting, neither the cardinal nor Cuba’s government have released details on what was discussed.

IN CUBA

Cuba Will Reopen its Borders as of November 15

On Monday, Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) announced that the country will begin to reopen its borders to tourists on November 15, The Miami Herald reports. By this date, Cuba’s government expects to have 90 percent of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to MINTUR, following the gradual reopening of Cuba’s borders “in correspondence with the epidemiological indicators of each territory,” the island will begin to relax current health and hygiene protocols to accommodate tourists. Travelers’ vaccine certificates will be recognized by Cuba’s government. Travelers will not be required to complete a PCR test, however, protocols such as “monitoring symptomatic patients and taking temperature” as well as random diagnostic tests will be employed. Currently, all travelers must be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and complete a mandatory quarantine in government hotels.

The rise of COVID-19 cases in Cuba began after the island reopened its borders in November 2020. Cuba initially closed its borders in March 2020 and reported minimal cases of COVID-19 until the end of 2020. It’s been reported that the recent spike in cases is attributed to the introduction of the Delta variant brought to the island by international travelers. Due to the immense surge in COVID-19 cases, many are concerned that the projected date to reopen borders is too soon and could worsen the already devastating situation. On the other hand, some have argued that while there is reason for concern, the current economic and humanitarian crisis would greatly benefit from added revenue generated by tourism.

In World First, Cuba Starts Covid Jabs for Toddlers

Cuba began vaccinating children aged two and older against COVID-19 as part of their efforts to reopen schools and increase vaccination rates across the island, France 24 reports. On Monday, children from the age of two began receiving one of Cuba’s two domestically produced vaccines, Abdala and Soberana, while children from the age of 12 began being inoculated last Friday. These vaccination efforts also support Cuba’s government’s goal of vaccinating 90 percent of its population by December, as we reported last week.

Cuban children began the 2021-2022 school year in teleclassrooms on Monday after having irregular and often televised classes since March 2020 when Cuban schools closed due to the pandemic. Last year, Cuba’s government stipulated that all children must be vaccinated before they would reopen schools and on Tuesday, the Minister of Education announced that they hoped to have normal and in-person schooling for the 2023-2024 academic year once children started receiving vaccinations.

Cuba is the first country in the world to inoculate children under 12. Several countries elsewhere in the world have begun vaccination efforts with children aged 12 and older, and countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Chile have announced plans to vaccinate children under 12, however none have enacted such plans to date. Both of Cuba’s domestically produced vaccines have undergone pediatric clinical trials and received authorization from Cuba’s Center for the State Control of Medicines, Equipment and Medical Devices (CECMED) for use in the country, however neither have yet been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) nor have they undergone peer-review. Last week, it was announced that the WHO would be meeting with representatives from Cuba’s healthcare sector to review Cuba’s domestically produced vaccines and begin the process for potential authorization.

Central Bank of Cuba Eliminates the Possibility of Remittances Through Telephone Recharges; Cuba’s Central Bank Issues New Banknotes; Cubans Can Withdraw Cash From Their Magnetic Cards at CADECA Offices (Spanish)

Despite previous regulations, the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) will not allow telephone recharges from abroad to be converted into bank balances, independent Cuban news source El Toque reports. In March, the BCC authorized Cuba’s state telecommunication’s company ETECSA to facilitate financial transactions through a mobile wallet as a part of ETECSA’s Transfermóvil mobile app platform. The telephone top up balance then “could be transferred first to the mobile wallet and then to a magnetic card account to be withdrawn in cash from ATMs” according to El Toque. The move effectively created an unofficial channel for remittances to flow through ETECSA and into Cubans’ bank accounts. Resolution 216/2021, published last Friday in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial (Official Gazette), clarifies that bank cards will be the only source that can deposit funds to mobile wallets and that the money is not permitted to be withdrawn in the form of cash but may be transferred between bank accounts and wallets. According to El Toque, the changes could be an effort to prevent ETECSA from running into U.S. sanctions, as it is not authorized to act as a remittance channel. Michael Bustamante, associate professor of history at the University of Miami tweeted in response to the news that if the change was to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions, that it was “more evidence of how sanctions get in the way,” given that this method of receiving remittances from abroad bypasses the Cuban government, which the Biden administration stated was a goal when it announced the creation of a Remittance Working Group in July. Professor Bustamante also notes that “legal recargas [phone recharges] from abroad themselves already operate as indirect remittances anyway.”

The BCC also announced on Monday an increase in the maximum mobile wallet balance to $15,000 CUP and transaction amounts to $7,500 CUP to account for inflation, and the printing of new $200, $500, and $1,000 Cuban peso banknotes. On the new banknotes, the Celia Cruz watermark will be replaced by the image of one of Cuba’s revolutionary martyrs, which have been on the front of the banknotes until now, OnCuba reports. The banknotes will be introduced into circulation gradually and the previous issue of those same banknotes will remain legal tender. Also on Monday, the Cuban Mercantile Society Casas de Cambio S.A., better known as CADECA, a state entity which has currency exchange offices throughout the island, announced that Cubans can withdraw cash from their bank accounts with their bank cards, including those issued by the Metropolitan Bank, the Popular Savings Bank and the Credit and Commerce Bank (BANDEC), and international cards accepted on the island. According to OnCuba, this service is underutilized by Cubans.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Cuba Receives Three Tons of Medical Supplies Donated by Argentina (Spanish)

On Sunday, Cuba received three tons of donated medical supplies aimed at curbing the outbreak of COVID-19 across the island from Argentina, OnCuba News reports. The donation comes from the White Helmets, an organization within the Argentine Foreign Ministry charged with humanitarian assistance abroad, as well as other organizations within the country. According to the Argentine Foreign Ministry, the shipment contained “517,600 disposable syringes, 31,000 needles, 10,000 N95 masks, 10,000 surgical masks, 10,000 protective screens, 10,000 gloves, 2,000 disposable medical gowns and 10,000 vial containers, among other sanitary items.”

The donation follows an announcement last week that Cuba and Argentina had reiterated a mutual desire to maintain solidarity and announced joint efforts to develop technical cooperation projects and business models in Cuba’s agricultural sector. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuba and Argentina have sought closer ties and increased cooperation. In May, Carla Vizzotti, the Argentine Minister of Health, stated interest in purchasing Cuba’s domestically produced vaccines to be used in Argentina during a visit to the island. While visiting, the Argentine Minister of Health met with Cuba’s President Díaz-Canel to discuss the progress of the island’s vaccination campaign and the production of the Abdala and Soberana II vaccines. During the visit, Ms.Vizzotti emphasized that Argentina would be willing to “collaborate in whatever way it can” with the production of Cuba’s homegrown vaccines. Following the meeting, Cuba received 380,000 syringes and 359,000 needles collected by the Argentine Movement of Solidarity with Cuba (MasCuba), the Union of Cuban Residents in Argentina (URCA), and other solidarity groups in Argentina.

Installation of Medical Oxygen Plant Donated by UNICEF to Cuba

On Saturday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) donated an oxygen plant to a hospital in Cuba, OnCuba News reports. The medical oxygen plant is being installed at the Carlos J. Finlay hospital in Havana as part of UNICEF’s efforts to “redouble its actions to help the island in confronting the pandemic.” The donation comes weeks after Cuba announced its oxygen supply was limited due to the failure of the country’s main oxygen plant. While the main medical oxygen plant has since resumed operation, Cuba’s healthcare system still faces immense strain and shortages.

In August, UNICEF’s Cuba program in partnership with the Canadian government donated a shipment of humanitarian aid consisting of more than 1.2 million tablets and 400,000 ampules of the drug dexamethasone. UNICEF has also previously donated syringes, personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrators, and other medical supplies to help combat COVID-19 in Cuba.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS

11J: When Repression in Cuba Ceased to be “Utilitarian”, Ricardo Acostarana, Cuba Study Group

Reflecting on his experiences walking around Havana on July 11, in this essay Ricardo Acostarana analyzes the nature of the J11 protests and the repressive response from Cuba’s government. The author reflects on his previous experience serving as an officer of Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior and questions what he would have done if he were still working as an officer during the J11 protests.

Cimafunk Announces New Album, El Alimento

Afro-Cuban funk sensation Cimafunk announced the release of a new album, El Alimento, on Friday, October 8. In conjunction with the album’s announcement, Cimafunk released a new single and music video for their new song, Caramelo. The album will feature 13 songs including Funk Aspirin (feat. George Clinton) and their new single Caramelo, both of which are currently available to listen to on all streaming platforms. El Alimento is the second album for Cimafunk and follows their debut album, Terapia, which was released in 2017. The group is currently on tour. For tickets, click here.

Meet Three Prepaid Cards That Work in Cuba (Spanish), Enrique Torres, El Toque

This article in independent Cuban news source El Toque highlights three prepaid cards which facilitate the transfer of money to people in Cuba. The cards, Correos Prepaid from Spain, Albo from Mexico, and Postepay from Italy, can be used in MLC stores in Cuba and can be recharged through a variety of easy processes. The author explains the functionality, regulations, and usability of such prepaid cards in Cuba.

Habemus Norms. We Will Have SMEs, Dr. C Juan Triana Cordoví, OnCuba News

In this opinion piece, Dr. Triana provides a substantial analysis of the recently announced reforms to micro, small, and medium enterprises (SMEs), suggests potential improvements to the reforms, and describes how the reforms could lead to substantive growth for Cuban entrepreneurs and the Cuban economy. The author stresses that it is important to understand the new norms so that the opportunities can be taken advantage of to their fullest potential.

Afghanistan Isn’t America’s First Nation-Building Failure, Jack Lane, Orlando Sentinel

In the context of the current situation in Afghanistan, this opinion piece describes one of the U.S.’s previous attempts at nation building and democracy promotion at the turn of the 20th century in Cuba. The author, a professor of American history at Rollins College, describes the various reforms that the U.S. enacted as part of their attempts to “‘Americanize’ both Cuban institutions and the Cuban people” and the reasons why the reforms failed in Cuba.

Poll: Americans Favor Diplomatic Engagement with Cuba, Rafael Betancourt, The Hill

As we reported last week, in a survey conducted by the online political platform Moxy, a majority of Americans don’t believe the embargo has been an effective policy and prefer a policy of diplomatic engagement. This article details each question in the survey and analyzes their meaning in the contemporary context. One South Florida political analyst featured in the article suggests that, based on the survey’s results, President Biden should pursue a policy of engagement.

EVENTS

Virtual, Cuba: An American History: Ada Ferrer with Ana Menéndez, September 14

Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University Ada Ferrer will speak about her new book “Cuba: An American History,” which examines Cuba’s history and relationship with the U.S. in this live stream on September 14 from 7PM-8PM EST. The conversation will also feature writer and professor, Ana Menéndez.


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