U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/29/2021

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Cuba reported 866 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 4,378 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 950,613 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 8,223. It was announced that 87.9 percent of the Cuban population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 72.9 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…


Cuba-U.S. Tensions Mount Over Pending Protests On Communist-Run Island; Cuba’s Government Heats Up Rhetoric Against The US Ahead Of Protests Planned For November 15

Amidst the build-up to island-wide demonstrations organized by the group Archipiélago and scheduled for November 15, the governments of the U.S. and Cuba have exchanged warnings and threats, Reuters reports. On Sunday, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel alleged that the U.S. has been involved in fomenting the upcoming demonstrations and warned the U.S. Embassy in Havana against involvement with demonstrators or dissidents. Cuba accuses the U.S. of supporting dissidents through providing “guidance, encouragement, and logistical and financial support.” In recent weeks, the U.S. Embassy in Havana has led a social media campaign highlighting Cubans detained in the aftermath of the July 11 protests, which President Díaz-Canel called “open interference.” Meanwhile, top Biden-Harris administration official Juan Gonzalez announced last week that the U.S. will respond, possibly by introducing additional sanctions, should protesters be prosecuted at the November 15 protests.

According to William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University and expert on U.S.-Cuba relations, the U.S.’s “hostile rhetoric” with respect to Cuba leaves little room for engagement, which “Ironically [gives] the Cuban government no incentive to treat the upcoming march or its organizers with tolerance.” Professor LeoGrande also argues that the aftermath of November 15 will likely dictate the Biden-Harris administration’s Cuba policy going forward.

In response to the threats made by the U.S. to issue additional sanctions, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) urged the U.S. to learn from its previous mistakes and move past failed Trump policies and the embargo, stating, “The White House is right to defend the human rights and aspirations of the Cuban people, but it is using the same tactics that failed for 60 years and that are making their lives even worse…Engaging with #Cuba does not mean agreeing with its repressive system. It means having confidence in the power of our ideas, in the character of the American people, and in the perseverance of the Cuban people.” Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) also released a statement immediately following the July 11 protests, condemning Cuba’s government repression and human right violations while urging the Biden-Harris administration to adopt policies of engagement that actively empower the Cuban people.

For additional coverage of the demonstrations, continue to the “In Cuba” section below.

Coast Guard Transfers 28 Cubans To The Bahamas; Five Cuban Migrants Make Landfall in Key West

Over the past week, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted two groups of Cuban migrants, totaling 32, CBS Miami reports. The first group of 28 migrants were found on unworthy sea vessels near the Bahamas and transferred to the Bahamas due to the proximity. The other group of 5 migrants landed in Key West on a makeshift vessel. So far in fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, 210 Cuban migrants have been interdicted at sea, which is roughly 25 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.


Cuba Approves Laws Granting Greater Rights As Criticism Of Protesters’ Arrests Heats Up; Archipiélago Open Letter to Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel… (Spanish); ‘We Know Terrible Things Can Happen:’ Cuba Opposition Leader Vows National March

Two weeks ahead of upcoming island-wide demonstrations organized by the group Archipiélago, Cuba’s National Assembly approved laws which expand citizens’ legal rights on Thursday, despite calling protesters efforts “illicit” and threatening repercussions for those involved in the demonstrations in recent days, Reuters reports. The new laws, stemming from the 2019 constitution, are aimed at modernizing Cuba’s judicial and penal codes, and increasing protections and transparency for those accused of a crime. Additionally, the new laws will grant citizens access to their court files, expand the possibility for an individual to defend themself in a court of law, require notice be given to those with potential charges against them, and grant those detained the right to an attorney within 24 hours of detention. The reforms also removed legal permission for authorities to jail potentially dangerous individuals and included a prohibition on unlawful detention. Still, despite the legal changes, some experts are concerned that Cubans may not see the changes in practice due to the amount of discretion inherent to the laws and the nature of a one-party system of government. The laws are set to go into effect in 2022.

On Tuesday, Archipiélago, the group of Cuban artists and activists responsible for planning the November 15 demonstrations, wrote an open letter in response to Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s statement that the planned protests were “an orchestrated plan” conceived and prepared by the United States government. Archipiélago stated that they were simply attempting to exercise their rights under Cuba’s constitution. According to documents submitted by the group to government entities across the country, the purpose of the demonstrations is to march “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.”

In an interview with NBC News on Friday, one of Archipiélago’s leaders, playwright Yunior García, spoke about the negative treatment he and other activists have faced from Cuban authorities, while reaffirming the group’s commitment to showing up on November 15. Mr. García reported that Cuban authorities have attempted to blackmail, intimidate, and threaten him and his family members. He previously shared photos of dead chickens placed in front of his home, calling it an act of political “repudiation.” Last week, Mr. García was also among the Cuban activists, journalists, and members of Archipiélago who were summoned by Cuban prosecutors to be warned against mobilizing under penalty of the law. According to Cuban officials, additional warnings of legal consequences to protesting were issued because Archipiélago continued to call for the marches, despite previous rulings by Cuba’s government declaring the marches illegal. Archipiélago released a statement in response to the prosecutors’ warnings, stating 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.

Other leaders and members of Archipiélago have reported instances of harassment by the government and repressive tactics aimed at discouraging demonstrators in recent weeks. Last week, two individuals were fired due to their political beliefs, activism, and involvement in Archipiélago. 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, stating their commitment to continue reporting, and calling for a peaceful solution in which Cuba’s government is held accountable to its actions.

Earlier this month, 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.


UN Rapporteurs Express Concern About Restrictions On Freedom Of Expression And Assembly In Cuba (Spanish)

United Nations (UN) Rapporteurs issued a statement to the UN High Commissioner expressing concerns over Cuba’s government violating freedom of expression and assembly, independent Cuban news source El Toque reports. The statement, written by special rapporteurs Irene Khan, Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, and Mary Lawlor, warns that Cuban law and regulations found in Decree Law 35, its regulations and Resolution 105/2021 could be used as a tool to further restrictions on freedom of expression, which would render Cuba in violation of article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The regulations could also restrict “the freedom of peaceful assembly and association in accordance with the provisions of Article 20 of the aforementioned Declaration.” They also cited “a deep concern” about the powers of the Ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior over the management, and possible restrictions of telecommunications in Cuba.

Hundreds Of Cubans Protest Outside The Vatican After Being Prevented From Entering Pope Francis’ Congregation

Last weekend, a group of nearly 500 Cubans protested outside of the Vatican to ask for freedom after being barred from attending Pope Francis’ Angel’s Prayer, Amico Hoops reports. The group, dressed in all white and carrying Cuban flags, reportedly traveled from various parts of the world to ask Pope Francis to take a stand and speak on the current situation in Cuba. Some of those in attendance sought a report from Pope Francis on the condition of human rights and freedom on the island. The Vatican has not yet commented on the protests.


Taking Page From Regime Change Playbook, It’s Back To Confrontation With Cuba, William LeoGrande, Responsible Statecraft

In thisarticle, William M. LeoGrande, professor of government at American University, warns that the Biden-Harris administration’s support of Cuban dissidents on the island puts dissidents and U.S.-Cuba relations in danger and fuels Cuba’s government’s accusations that dissidents are U.S. mercenaries. According to Professor LeoGrande, the U.S.’s historic and ongoing support of Cuban dissidents, which has been undertaken with the goal of regime change, has pushed the limits of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and led to the imprisonment of the Cuban dissidents whose human rights the U.S. professes to support. Professor LeoGrande argues, essentially, that when the U.S. supports Cuban dissidents, dissidents are punished instead of the U.S., making the dissidents collateral for U.S. policy goals.

What Could a “Third Way” Cuba Policy Look Like Under Biden?, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Cuba Study Group

In this blog post, Cuban historian and human rights activist Manuel Cuesta Morúa argues that the Biden-Harris administration should pursue a “third way” of doing foreign policy toward Cuba that includes dialogues on issues of security such as immigration, drug trafficking, and climate, replacing blanket sanctions with sanctions on individuals, re-establishing people-to-people diplomacy, increasing Cuba’s government’s recognition of the opposition and civil society, empowering the private sector, de-bilateralizing the democratization agenda, viewing democratization as a process instead of something that will occur all at once, using softer rhetoric, and removing the link between calling for democratization and ending the embargo on Cuba.

Criptomonedas en Cuba: innovaciones y oportunidades (I), David J. Pajón Espina, OnCuba

In this article, David J. Pajón Espina, Cuban economist, professor and entrepreneur, explores the increasing use of cryptocurrency in Cuba and the associated opportunities and implications. Mr. Pajón discusses factors such as the increase in internet access on the island, the expansion of the private sector, the COVID-19 pandemic, remittance flows, investment fund scams, access to previously inaccessible software and websites, race and gender dynamics in the use of crypto, and more.

At Odds With Cuba’s ‘Myth’, Patricia Sulbarán, Latino USA

In this Latino USA podcast, Latino USA’s Patricia Sulbarán interviews Carolina Barrero, who returned to Cuba after living abroad to participate in protests. Ms. Barrero speaks from her apartment in Old Havana where she is currently on house arrest for allegedly “defying the authorities, inciting crime, and printing clandestine flyers.” Ms. Barrero goes on to share her current situation, explain her views of the protests and what sparked them, the views of the younger generation, and more.

Cuban Artists Want Others To Protest Regime’s Repression, Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald

This opinion piece by columnist Andres Oppenheimer explores how support for a boycott of Havana’s Arts Biennial has expanded from local artists and activists to well-known Cuban artists such as painter Tomás Sanchez and international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. Mr. Oppenheimer states that he would usually advocate for artists to express themselves in any way possible in “repressive regimes,” however, given that Cuba “is imprisoning artists and now banning a planned peaceful demonstration slated for Nov. 15 to demand basic freedoms, participating in this event amounts to endorsing an increasingly decrepit and brutal regime.”

Romantic Encounters Between Cuban Zoo Animals Surge During Quarantine Quiet, Reuters

This article discusses the increase in rare and endangered animal breeding at Cuba’s National Zoo during the pandemic. According to a veterinarian at the zoo, Rachel Ortiz, the lack of visitors during the COVID-19 lockdown created a calmer environment that increased breeding and led to at least 10 births of animals from species that are in danger of extinction.


Virtual, Caribeños At The Table: How Migration, Health, & Race Intersect in NYC, November 1

Author and Associate Professor of Public Health Nutrition at Tulane University, Dr. Melissa Fuster will discuss her upcoming book, “Caribeños At The Table,” and how food culture, economic and racial inequalities within the global migration experience, structural limitations to access to food, employment and healthcare, and more factors into the health of Hispanic communities in the U.S. The virtual book presentation is hosted by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, Books & Books, and Miami Book Fair, and will begin at 7pm EST. To register for the event, click 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.

Virtual, The Crisis of Care, Aging, and Welfare Policies in Cuba, November 12

Visiting Cuban scholar at Florida International University and Executive Director of Cuido60: An Observatory on Aging, Care, and Rights, Elaine Acosta González, will speak about the challenges currently facing Cuban society in terms of care and well-being. The virtual book presentation hosted by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University will begin at 12pm EST. The event will be held in Spanish. To register for the event, click here.

Virtual, Understanding the San Isidro Movement from a Historical Perspective, November 15

This event hosted by the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University (FIU) will discuss the origins and identity of the San Isidro Movement (MSI). Visiting Professor at FIU and Professor of Political Science at IHEAL-Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, Maria Laure Geoffray, will give a historical overview of MSI, and discuss their contemporary existence and efforts. The virtual event will begin at 12pm EST. Register for the event here.

Virtual, How Do Cubans Get to The End of The Month?, November 19

Sergio Angel, Associate Professor and Principal Investigator of Sergio Arboleda University’s Cuba Program, will be presenting on the informal mechanisms of the Cuban economy used to meet the basic needs of an average Cuban amid extreme restrictions and difficulties. The event will begin at 12pm EST. Register for the event here.

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