U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/22/2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 1,476 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 6,038 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 943,038 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 8,153. It was announced this week that 99 percent of eligible candidates in Cuba have received at least one dose of a vaccine and 60 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Cuba is hoping to reach full vaccination by the end of the year. 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

USCG: 45 Migrants Repatriated To Cuba; 20 Cuban Migrants Land In Florida Keys

Last weekend, the U.S. Coast Guard intercepted three groups of Cuban migrants, totaling 45, who were repatriated on Monday, FL Keys News reports. So far in fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, over 120 Cuban migrants have been interdicted at sea, which is roughly 14 percent of interdictions from the previous year. In fiscal year 2021, the Coast Guard interdicted 838 Cuban migrants, compared to 49 Cuban migrants in fiscal year 2020 and 313 interdictions in fiscal year 2019. Amidst a renewed wave of migration by Cubans by sea, the arrival of Cuban migrants in the Florida Keys has been an increasingly common scene.

IN CUBA

Cuban Prosecutor Warns Dissident Leaders Against November Protests; Professor Involved With the Archipiélago Group Expelled From The University of Medical Sciences of Cienfuegos (Spanish); They Will Not Silence Us

Cuban activists and members of the group Archipiélago, which is responsible for planning the upcoming island-wide demonstrations on November 15, were summoned by Cuban prosecutors on Thursday to be warned against mobilizing under penalty of the law, Reuters reports. According to Cuban officials, additional warnings of legal consequences were issued this week because Archipiélago continued to call for the marches, despite previous rulings by Cuba’s government not to march. In response to the prosecutors’ warnings, Archipiélago released a statement which stated that they still intend to march on November 15, as is within their constitutional rights and in line with their personal differences of opinion with the government. One of Archipiélago’s leaders, playwright Yunior García, reaffirmed that the march will be peaceful and non-violent, and that he will participate despite the threats from the government.

Archipiélago has made plans to march on November 15 “Against violence, to demand that all the rights of all Cubans be respected, for the freedom of political prisoners and for the solution of our differences through democratic and peaceful means,” according to documents submitted by the group to several government entities across the country. Last week, Cuba’s government denied permission for the island-wide demonstrations after determining that the reasons for the march were “illegitimate” and that the demonstrations were of a “destabilizing character.” In a letter to Yunior García, Cuban authorities rejected the proposal and stated that the march was “illegal,” sponsored by foreign “subversive organizations,” and has the “open intention of changing the political system in Cuba.” Despite the government’s ruling, organizers of the demonstrations remained committed to marching on November 15, which is the same day that the island opens back up to international visitors. Under article 56 of Cuba’s new constitution, approved in 2019, the right to peaceful demonstrations is recognized. As such, Archipiélago responded to the government’s decision in a statement on Facebook, stating, it “shows once again that the rule of law does not exist in Cuba, that they are not willing to respect even their own constitution and that they violate the Human Rights of Cubans.” The group originally requested authorization to demonstrate on November 20, but changed the date when Cuba’s government announced that November 20 would become a National Defense Day when Cubans participate in annual military and civilian defense exercises.

In addition to the warnings by Cuban prosecutors, leaders and members of Archipiélago have reported instances of harassment by the government and repressive tactics aimed at discouraging demonstrators in recent weeks. The day after receiving the prosecutors’ warning, Yunior García shared photos of dead chickens placed in front of his home, calling it an act of political “repudiation.” Additionally, a Cuban professor at the University of Medical Sciences of Cienfuegos was fired this week due to political beliefs and activism on social media, as reported by independent Cuban news source El Toque. David Alejandro Martínez Espinosa is a professor of chemical engineering and a member of the group Archipiélago, and has argued against the decision to fire him, saying that he has a right to share his independent ideas on Facebook and does not bring them into the classroom. He intends to appeal the decision on the grounds of political and non-professional discrimination and has shared that he still intends to participate in the upcoming demonstrations. On Wednesday, an additional member of Archipiélago was fired from his job for his involvement in the group.

Independent Cuban news source El Toque also reported that members of their team have received police summons, and experienced instances of harassment and intimidation by Cuba’s government in recent days. El Toque wrote an editorial condemning the repression and coercion against its team members and calling for a peaceful solution in which Cuba’s government is held accountable to its actions. Despite choosing to respond to previous instances of repression and coercion by sustaining its efforts, the press outlet stated that the “escalation that the Cuban authorities seem to have undertaken against our project, as part of their offensive against all political expression of civil society that they do not control, makes it impossible to remain silent,” and intends to continue its reporting.

Havana Biennial Boycott Gathers Support, With Hundreds Signing Open Letter Against Government Crackdown

In protest of restrictions on freedom of expression and injustices being committed by Cuba’s government, hundreds of artists and cultural workers are boycotting Cuba’s largest visual arts event, the Havana Biennial, ArtNet News reports. Cuban cultural workers and artists penned an open letter to their colleagues in Cuba and abroad asking for others to boycott participation, support, and attendance of the 14th Havana Biennial on November 21. In response to the letter, multiple artists have withdrawn from the event. Cuban artists and activists, such as Tania Bruguera, have previously called for a boycott of the 14th Havana Biennial, arguing that the biennial is a “smokescreen” amidst a severe economic crisis, immense food and medicine shortages, the COVID-19 pandemic, and noting the frequent detainment of artists. Earlier this month, Tania Bruguera announced that she agreed to leave Cuba on the condition that 25 individuals would be released from prison, including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Hamlet Lavastida, who was released and exiled at the beginning of October.

Cuba: 99% Of Population That Can Be Vaccinated Has Already Received At Least One Dose Against Covid-19

Cuban health officials have reported that 99 percent of eligible candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine in Cuba have received at least one dose of a vaccine, OnCuba News reports. Additionally, nearly 60 percent of those eligible on the island have completed full immunization. In May, Cuba’s government began a widespread vaccination campaign using the Soberana 02 and Abdala vaccines. Both of Cuba’s domestically produced vaccines have received full authorization from local regulatory authorities but are awaiting approval by the World Health Organization. In September, Cuba began using the Chinese manufactured Sinopharm vaccine in addition to the domestically produced vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuban authorities aim to reach a 90 percent immunization rate by November and to fully vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year. After facing sustained high infection rates in recent months, Cuba has begun to see COVID-19 cases fall. Last week, the number of cases fell below 2,000 a day for the first time since June. Experts credit this trend to the increased immunization rate across the island. Cuban health officials also announced that they would begin administering a booster shot to those who received a vaccine more than six months ago.

Cuba Expects Tourism to Rebound in November

Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) expects the island’s tourism industry to rebound after international travelers are allowed to visit Cuba beginning in November, Global Times reports. In preparation of the arrival of international travelers, COVID-19 safety protocols will be relaxed to accommodate visitors. This week, MINTUR announced that as of November 7, international travelers with proof of vaccination will not be required to complete a mandatory quarantine or PCR test upon arrival into the country. Unvaccinated foreign visitors will be required to present a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours prior to arrival. Cuba’s tourism industry accounted for approximately one-tenth of Cuba’s GDP in 2019, when an estimated 4.2 million foreign travelers would visit the island. So far in 2021, only less than 200,000 foreign travelers have visited the island.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

Energy Pact Sees Cuba Sign Up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Cuba signed a pact with China this week to upgrade Cuba’s energy sector as part of China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), The Times reports. It’s expected that the Chinese government will back the financing of this initiative on Cuba’s power grid. In 2018, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz Canel highlighted the importance of the BRI during his visit to China when signing a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between the two countries. Since 2018 and as recently as this past May, when China donated 5,000 solar panels to Cuba as part of the BRI, China has invested in various parts of Cuba’s infrastructure. China has been a top trading partner for Cuba. In 2017 it was the island’s most active trading partner, and as of 2019, China was Cuba’s second largest trading partner, behind Venezuela.

China’s President Xi Jinping proposed the BRI in the fall of 2013. Under this policy, “Chinese banks and companies seek to fund and build roads, power plants, ports, railways, 5G networks, and fiber optic cables around the world.” The initiative initially targeted countries in Central, South, and Southeast Asia, although in 2017 it extended into Latin America and the Caribbean. The BRI aims to promote an interconnected world stage where China can gain economic influence while competing with the U.S. Thus far, 139 countries have affiliated with and endorsed the initiative.

Cuba, Paris Club Reach Deal To Skip 2021 Debt Payment

This Wednesday, Cuba reached a deal with the 22 countries that make up the Paris Club, an informal group of officials from major creditor countries, to postpone an annual debt payment until next November, Reuters reports. After defaulting on payments agreed upon in an initial 2015 agreement, Cuba negotiated with the Paris Club in June to address the unfulfilled payments and create an outline for future payments. Cuba signed an agreement with the Paris Club in 2015, when the group agreed to forgive $8.5 billion of the $11.1 billion in foreign debt that the island had accumulated. The remaining balance would be repaid in annual installments through 2033 and a portion of this balance would be allocated to fund foreign investment projects on the island. Cuba failed to meet payment expectations last year while barely meeting payment obligations in 2019, and has now fallen behind in payments totaling around $200 million. Under this week’s amended deal, Cuba will resume making payments in 2022 and the remaining payment schedule will be adjusted accordingly.

Along with the Paris Club agreement in 2015, the London Club offered a sizable debt relief proposal to Cuba in January of 2018. Cuba had defaulted commercial creditors in the London Club of commercial banks, which held $1.4 billion worth of Cuban debt, effectively excluding Cuba from international capital markets at the time. The proposal was seen as a move by the creditors to increase pressure on Cuba to meet a portion of its financial obligations.

Cuba Sends Nicaragua One Million Doses of Its Abdala Vaccine

This week, Cuba sent one million doses of Cuba’s domestically produced Abdala vaccine to Nicaragua for emergency use, OnCuba News reports. Earlier this month, Nicaragua authorized emergency use of the Abdala vaccine to be administered to children aged 2 to 17. Under the agreement made between Nicaragua and Cuba, this shipment is the first one that Nicaragua will receive out of 7 million doses in total. Nicaragua joins Venezuela, Vietnam, and Iran in granting emergency use of Cuban vaccines. Both the Abdala and Soberana vaccines have gained approval by Cuban regulatory authorities, however, neither have yet been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) nor have they undergone peer-review. Last month, representatives from Cuba’s healthcare sector met with the WHO to review Cuba’s domestically produced vaccines and begin the process for potential authorization.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS

In Cuba, Divisions Over Law To Allow Same-Sex Marriage, Andrea Rodríguez, AP News

This article discusses the debate surrounding the recently published draft of Cuba’s new Family Code and how some religious groups in Cuba have pushed back on the legalization of gay marriage. Additionally, the article explores how religious affiliations have changed in Cuba and how that has influenced the discussion surrounding the Family Code and gay marriage.

‘This Has Destroyed My Family’: How Spanish-Language Radio Helped Radicalize A Generation Of Miami Abuelos, Lautaro Grinspan, Huffington Post

This article discusses how misinformation spread by South Florida, Spanish-language radio talk shows has stirred up fears and paranoia in a generation of older Cuban Americans, changing how they view reality and straining family relationships. The article notes how Cuban exile stations such as Radio Mambí, Actualidad Radio, and La Poderosa airing misinformation from election fraud claims to anti-vaccine propaganda, as well as public officials endorsing this misinformation over the airways, lends the misinformation mainstream legitimacy. According to the author, Spanish-language talk radio shows have been a part of many older Cuban Americans’ daily routines for decades, offering them the first sense of belonging they had in exile, leading to a deep level of trust in the stations. The spread of Spanish-language misinformation has flown under the radar, according to the author, because it is seen as minority language.

Cuba: Peaceful Protesters Systematically Detained, Abused, Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Tuesday condemning Cuba’s government for systematic abuses against the peaceful protests in July 2021 in an attempt to instill fear and suppress dissent. The report documented 130 cases of arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions in response to the July 11 protests, which HRW described as “overwhelmingly peaceful” demonstrations. According to HRW, all 130 cases were confirmed and informed by direct accounts from the detainee, their lawyer, or a relative.

Despite Vows, Biden Hasn’t Lifted Trump Sanctions On Cuba, Tracy Wilkinson, The Los Angeles Times

This opinion piece suggests that the Biden-Harris administration is internally at odds with U.S. policy towards Cuba, particularly as it pertains to remittances. Additionally, the article compares campaign promises to the recent policy decisions and general inaction by the Administration, discusses opposing suggestions posed from the Cuban American community, and suggests policy areas where the Administration might act next.

Cuba’s Peaceful Opposition Mounts A Comeback, The Washington Post

In this opinion piece, The Washington Post discusses the recent demonstrations and activism in Cuba to argue that Cuba’s government may be losing confidence in its ability to maintain cohesion and control over the Cuban people. The article also argues that when the Cuban people act again, as is planned on November 15, the international community should be ready to support them.

EVENTS

Hialeah, FL, Cuba Today, October 25

Florida Grassroots Coalition and Cubanos Pa’lante are hosting an event to discuss Cuba’s past, present, and future led by experts on Cuban history, U.S.-Cuba policy, and community activists. The discussion will take place at Unbranded Brewing in Hialeah, FL on Monday, October 25 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm EST. Register for the event here.

Virtual, Cuba and Beyond Series – Update: Peru, October 26 

Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies is hosting an event to discuss recent events and updates in Peru. The discussion will feature Dr. Jo-Marie Burt, an associate professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University, Dr. Cynthia Mcclintock, a professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, and Lic. Martha Pro Santana who is the Director of the Center for Urban and Rural Development in Lima, Peru. The event is part of Columbia University’s Cuba and Beyond series and will take place from 6:00pm to 8:00pm EST. Register for the virtual event here.

Virtual, Book Launch: Cuba-U.S. Working Together Again: Lessons from Environmental Cooperation, November 4

Authors Dan Whittle, of the Environmental Defense Fund, and David Farer, of the American College of Environmental Lawyers, will discuss their upcoming book “Cuba-U.S. Working Together Again: Lessons from Environmental Cooperation” alongside representatives of Havana’s Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez. The event is hosted by Columbia University’s Institute of Latin American Studies and will take place from 6:00pm to 8:00pm EST. Register for the virtual event here.

Virtual, Cuban Plagiarisms: How Shopkeeper Bernardo May Sold Nineteenth Century Havana, November 8

Visiting Cuban scholar at Florida International University, Justo Planas, will discuss the origin and impact of Frenchman Frédéric Mialhe’s rendering of Havana that defined European views of the nineteenth century Havana. The virtual lecture hosted by Florida International University begins at 1pm EST. To register for the event, click here.

Virtual, Dancing with the Revolution: Power, Politics, and Privilege in Cuba, November 9

Author and Professor at Northern Arizona University, Elizabeth B. Schwall, will speak about the intersection of dance artists and political movements, as well as how the very influential dancers showed their support for or criticism of political regimes and cultural biases. The virtual book presentation hosted by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University will begin at 7pm EST. Register for the event here.


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