U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 11/05/2021

Dear Friends,

Next Monday, November 8, CDA and partners will host a webinar discussing the effects of U.S. sanctions on Cuba’s emerging private sector. “Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Cuban Entrepreneurs” will feature experts on Cuba and Cuba’s social economy in conversation with various Cuban business owners to discuss their first-hand accounts of obstacles that their businesses face as a result of the current limitations under U.S.-Cuba policy, and the further negative repercussions on their employees and families. The event will be live-streamed in English via Zoom on Monday, November 8 from 1:00PM to 2:30 PM EST. To join, pre-register for the event here.

CDA is seeking two remote spring interns! Interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is November 30. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns.

Yesterday, Cuba reported 606 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 3,057 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 954,948 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 8,257. It was announced that approximately 88 percent of the Cuban population has received at least one dose of a vaccine and 65.9 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…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

A Resolution On Solidarity With Cuban Protesters Divides Democrats; Florida Democrats Stood Up To Support Cuba Protests. 40 Of Their Colleagues Disagreed

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution expressing solidarity with Cubans detained during the protests that occurred on July 11 in Cuba, and condemning repressive measures taken by Cuba’s government in response to the protests, NBC News reports. H Res. 760 resolution, co-authored by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Senators Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25) and Albio Sires (NJ-8), also calls for the release of those arbitrarily detained during the protests. The resolution passed on a 382-40 vote, with four lawmakers voting “present.” Representatives who voted against the resolution criticized the initiative as being largely symbolic and ineffective at supporting the Cuban people without first removing U.S. sanctions. One dissenting legislator, Representative Jim McGovern (MA-2), echoed support for Cuban protesters, but argued that U.S. policies were counterproductive to the stated goals of the resolution, stating, “We can defend the right to peaceful protest and remove restrictive U.S. policies that add to the economic pain experienced by the Cuban people. It is hypocritical to denounce the former while failing to fix the latter. For these reasons, I voted no.”

Amidst the build-up to island-wide demonstrations organized by the group Archipiélago and scheduled for November 15, National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez announced two weeks ago that the U.S. will respond, possibly by introducing additional sanctions, should protesters be prosecuted or have their “fundamental rights” violated at the upcoming protests. Meanwhile, last week, 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 also led a social media campaign highlighting Cubans detained in the aftermath of the July 11 protests, which President Díaz-Canel called “open interference.”

Rubio’s ‘Patria y Vida’ Bill Seeks To Counter Internet Censorship By Repressive Regimes

On Friday, Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Rick Scott (FL) introduced the “Patria y Vida Act,” Miami Herald reports. The bill was drafted in response to the internet blackout on the island after the July 11 protests and requires U.S. government agencies to provide internet access to countries where it “would promote freedom from repressive regimes” while providing the Federal Communications Commission authorization to release funds to companies that assist with the circumvention of government internet censorship. According to a statement by Senator Rubio, “The world witnessed how the Cuban people stood up against over sixty years of communist rule in this summer’s organic protests, which were ignited in large part by the internet. We cannot forget the clamor of ‘Patria y Vida’ and people’s desire for internet freedom worldwide.”

Following the July 11 protests, President Biden stated that the U.S. was exploring how to provide technology capable of reinstating internet access in Cuba and numerous members of Congress, including Representative Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Senator Marco Rubio (FL), Senator Rick Scott, and Representative Val Demings (FL-10) have also encouraged the Administration to sponsor the creation of a satellite-based system that could provide Cubans unrestricted access to the internet. In August, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office on Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) reiterated their support of internet freedom in Cuba in a fact sheet and press release, thereby signaling that they were ready to prioritize the review of licensing and authorization requests related to expanding internet access in Cuba. Additionally in August, the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment introduced by Senators Marco Rubio (FL) and Rick Scott (FL) to the Senate Budget Resolution that directs the Biden-Harris administration to “facilitate free, open, and uncensored access to the internet for the people of Cuba” through the creation of a Deficit Neutral Reserve Fund (DNRF) in the Senate’s next budget reconciliation bill. The fund would contribute to “build[ing] up and deploy[ing] existing technology on the island.”

Biden Thanked The Vatican For Speaking On Behalf Of Those “Unjustly Detained,” Including In Venezuela And Cuba (Spanish)

Last week in a meeting at the Vatican to discuss migration and climate change, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Pope Francis and thanked him for speaking for those who have been unjustly detained in Cuba and Venezuela, OnCubaNews reports. According to a statement from the White House, President Biden expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for his leadership and advocacy surrounding climate change, migration, the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting “the world’s poor and those who suffer from hunger, conflict and persecution.” One week after the protests on July 11 occurred throughout Cuba, Pope Francis spoke about the protests and prayed for “peace, dialogue, and solidarity” for Cubans impacted by the pandemic, food shortages, and a humanitarian crisis. President Biden’s meeting with the Pope came one week after a group of nearly 500 Cubans protested outside of the Vatican to ask for freedom after being prohibited from attending the Pope’s Angel’s Prayer.

Despite President Biden’s praise, three members of the U.S. Congress criticized the Roman Catholic Church for poor leadership and an insufficient response to the protest and current crisis in Cuba. Representatives Mario Díaz-Balart, Carlos Giménez, and María Elvira Salazar expressed disappointment in Pope Francis and the Vatican for failing to condemn repression perpetrated by Cuba’s government in response to the protests and for inadequately supporting the Cuban people. In a joint letter to the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Representatives also criticized the Vatican for having an apathetic response to the group of over 500 Cuban protesters who gathered in front of the Vatican and were denied entry to St. Peter’s Square.

Blinken Speaks On New Efforts To Investigate ‘Havana Syndrome’; Secretary Antony J. Blinken On the Department’s Health Incidents Response Task Force

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced new efforts to investigate and manage the unexplained health incidents impacting U.S. personnel, including new coordinators of the Health Incident Response Task Force and deploying new technology at U.S. missions abroad, ABC News reports. Speaking about the health incidents and task force on Friday, Secretary Blinken explained that the U.S. had begun developing and deploying new technology at U.S. missions around the world which will help identify potential causes of the health incidents and protect U.S. personnel. Secretary Blinken also highlighted various improvements to and mechanisms for greater transparency and communication, while encouraging affected personnel to report any experiences or knowledge they may have in an effort to get more information on the health incidents. During his remarks, Secretary Blinken announced the appointment of retired ambassador Margaret Uyehara to serve as senior care coordinator for affected personnel and the appointment of Ambassador Jonathan Moore to serve as the new head of the Health Incident Response Task Force. Ambassador Moore replaces Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, who received complaints of inattentiveness from affected personnel and in a letter from a bipartisan group of U.S. senators last month and had been serving in the position since March. The senators noted concern over the growing number of incidents around the world, calling them “a significant, unmitigated threat to our national security.”

Anomalous health incidents have been reported as recently as last month, when personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Colombia reported incidents a week before Secretary Blinken was scheduled to visit Colombia. The incidents reported in Colombia mark the second time that health incidents have been reported in the days ahead of visits by high-level U.S. officials. In August, two health incidents affecting U.S. personnel were reported in Hanoi, Vietnam one day before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was scheduled to visit, causing a delay to her trip to Vietnam. Amidst growing concerns and criticism, in October, President Biden signed the “HAVANA Act” into law after unanimous support from both houses of Congress, which seeks more financial support and medical care for U.S. personnel impacted by the health incidents. Since the initial reports, incidents have reportedly impacted over 200 U.S. personnel around the world, including in the U.S., China, Russia, and Austria among other countries.

Following the initial reports of health incidents impacting U.S. personnel between 2016 and 2017, the Trump administration announced 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. In September, the U.S. Department of State announced that it will begin allowing diplomats to be accompanied by some adult family members at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The announcement marked the first step towards enacting U.S. President Joe Biden’s promise to re-staff the embassy and resume consular services on the island. The U.S. State Department emphasized its continued focus on the safety of its personnel considering the unexplained health incidents and announced it would provide additional services at the embassy and for those who have been impacted by the health incidents. For a timeline and more detailed information on the health incidents, see our memo.

Cuba Authorizes Increase In Weekly Flights From The United States (Spanish)

The number of weekly flights between the U.S. and Cuba will begin to increase on November 15 when Cuba opens its borders to international travel, El Nuevo Herald reports. On Tuesday, Cuba’s Transportation Minister, Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila, announced that Cuba authorized 77 flights to travel between the U.S. and Havana per week, with a gradual increase in the number of weekly flights to follow. Regular flights between the U.S. and nine destinations in Cuba, with the exception of Havana, were suspended at the end of 2019 under the Trump administration in an attempt to strengthen the effects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. The number of flights also dwindled in the past year due to the rise of COVID-19 cases in Cuba, which led the island to close its borders in March 2020 before reopening in November 2020, only to largely close them again due to a surge in infections. Under the new announcement, Cuba will also be expanding the number of flights from other destinations, amounting to 400 flights weekly in total in comparison to 63 flights weekly at present.

In September, Cuba’s Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) announced that the country would begin to reopen its borders to tourists on November 15, the date by which Cuba’s government expected to have 90 percent of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s currently estimated that 65.9 percent of Cubans are fully immunized. In preparation of the arrival of international travelers, MINTUR announced that COVID-19 safety protocols will be relaxed to accommodate visitors. The number of flights and airports in service will also increase gradually as protocols are relaxed.

US Institute to Begin Clinical Study with Cuban Cancer Vaccine (Spanish); Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center References Its Clinical Trials For Cuba’s CIMAvax-EGF

The U.S.-based Roswell Park Institute and Cuba-based Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM) are beginning concurrent clinical studies of the Cuban vaccine CIMAvax-EGF in the prevention of lung cancer, OnCubaNews reports. The Cuban drug CIMAvax-EGF has shown effectiveness in treating advanced lung cancer and seeks to treat smoking patients with a high risk of developing lung cancer and early-stage cancer patients at risk of relapse. Researchers from the U.S. and Cuba are also exploring the possible use of the drug as a prevention against the formation of lung cancer. On Monday, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted about the collaborative effort and reflected on promising prospects under normalized relations between the U.S. and Cuba, positing, “How much more could Cubans and Americans do together for humanity if the government of that country put aside its obstinate and cruel policy against #Cuba? Again, science showing us the way forward.”

In 2018, Roswell Park and CIM initiated the first ever U.S.-Cuba joint biotech venture. The vaccine was originally developed in Cuba and underwent clinical trials in the United States. Roswell Park and CIM signed an initial agreement to partner in the further development of the vaccine during a CDA-led trade delegation for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2015.

Coast Guard Returns 31 Migrants To Cuba

Over the past week, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted four groups of Cuban migrants, totaling 31, The Miami Herald reports. All migrants were repatriated on Tuesday. So far in fiscal year 2022, which began October 1, 248 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.

IN CUBA

Cuba Authorizes The Granting Of Loans In Foreign Currency To MSMEs; Cuba: Open Call For New SMEs And Non-Agricultural Cooperatives

On Tuesday, Cuba’s Central Bank announced it would allow loans to be granted in foreign currency to the recently legalized micro, small, and medium size enterprises (SMEs or PYMES in Spanish), as well as agricultural cooperatives, El Toque reports. The move had previously been called for by experts, including Cuban economist and professor Omar Everleny Pérez Villanueva, however, according to Dr. Pérez Villanueva, the move would have been more effective if carried out earlier, prior to the legalization of SMEs. Dr. Pérez Villanueva also sees continued limitations, including the fact that SMEs must import and export through state entities, that certain professionals, such as lawyers and architects are not permitted to form SMEs, and the requirement that owners must be citizens or permanent residents of Cuba.

The Central Bank’s announcement followed Cuba’s Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP)’s additional call on Monday for Cubans to submit applications to create SMEs. The call included requests for SMEs focused on construction activities and transport services, in addition to other approved activities included in previous calls such as food production, manufacturing, recycling, computing, technology, and local development. At the beginning of October, Cuba’s government authorized the first 32 privately owned and three state-owned SMEs in the two weeks after the long-awaited new law regulating SMEs came into effect.

Cuba Inaugurates Modern Biotechnological Industrial Complex In Mariel

On Monday, Cuba opened the CIGB-Mariel Biotechnological Industrial Complex, which is the island’s first high-tech biotechnological facility tasked with researching, developing, and producing vaccines and novel drugs, OnCubaNews reports. The medical complex, a collaborative effort between the BioCubaFarma Group, a Cuban state-run business organization and producer of medicaments, and the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), a Cuban scientific research center in medicine and biology, will be located at Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone. The Mariel Special Development Zone is Cuba’s flagship project to attract foreign investment, and when it opened in 2013, was expected by Cuba’s government to raise at least $2.5 billion annually and a total of $12.5 billion in its first five years. However, during its first five years, it actually raised less than 10 percent of its goal at $1.19 billion according to government figures. The new institution will develop and produce a variety of different medical treatments, including Cuba’s domestically produced COVID-19 Abdala vaccine, Jusvinza drugs used to treat severe COVID-19 patients, and drugs treating cancer, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases, among others.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS

Cuba’s Crypto Artists Put New Spin On The Genre, Mario Fuentes, Reuters

Artists in Cuba have begun creating 1,492 original digital portraits of Cubans to sell through non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and to mark the creation of the “CryptoCuban Social Club.” This article describes how, after authorizing the use of cryptocurrencies in August, Cuba has become a hotspot for crypto art, or NFTs, and how Cuban artists have been using digital crypto platforms to collaborate, share, and sell their art to a much wider audience. The “CryptoCubans” behind the “CryptoCuban Social Club” have promised to give 20 percent of proceeds made from the NFTs to the portrait subjects in an effort to grant more Cubans access to digital crypto platforms and currencies. Additionally, buyers of the digital art will be granted access to an exclusive digital, and later in person, community with the “CryptoCubans” to further connect Cuban culture to the rest of the world.

Cuba Is Cracking Down On Critics. This Unlikely Dissident Says He’ll Protest Anyway, Patrick Oppman, CNN

Cuban playwright Yunior García, a leader of the group of Cuban artists and activists, Archipiélago, that is responsible for planning the November 15 demonstrations, was interviewed by CNN regarding his somewhat unlikely ascent to leading the group, the harassment he has faced from Cuban authorities, and his reasons for taking up the cause. Despite the continued harassment, Mr. García remains committed to protesting on November 15, advocating for the release of the peaceful protesters detained on July 11, and calling for greater individual freedoms and a lifting of official censorship in Cuba.

Infographics Regarding Upcoming Protests, Archipiélago

Archipiélago, the group of Cuban artists and activists responsible for organizing the upcoming November 15 demonstrations, released infographics that provide information about how to participate in the demonstrations for those not physically present at the march.

Gabo 2021 Award: These Are The 40 Best Works In Latin America, Gabo

The Gabo Foundation, an institution created by journalist and Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Gabriel García Márquez, nominated journalists from independent Cuban news source El Toque as one of 40 nominees for the 9th Gabo Prize. The Gabo Prize is considered the most important recognition of Spanish and Portuguese language journalism. El Toque was nominated in the “Innovation” category for a multimedia special surrounding food scarcity in Cuba, “The Drama of Food in Cuba,” which follows the production, distribution, and consumption of food on the island.

Are There Criminal Or Misdemeanor Consequences For Absenting Summons From The Ministry Of Communications In Cuba? (Spanish), El Toque Legal, El Toque

In this analysis, El Toque’s legal project, El Toque Legal, discusses the practice and legality of Cuban officials issuing summons and/or citations to Cubans due to publications on their social media profiles. The article argues that the frequent use of summons by Cuban authorities at present is part of a larger effort and strategy to criminalize political expression on social media and the internet. Additionally, the article criticizes Decree Laws 35, passed in August, and 370, passed in 2019, which effectively restrict and penalize expression on social media and the internet that may damage or offend the “country’s prestige,” as evidence of such criminalization. El Toque Legal discerns that it is not legally required to attend a summons by Ministry of Communications authorities and further discusses the legal parameters of the aforementioned Decree Laws.

Saily González Velázquez: In Archipelago, We Want Freedom And Rights For Cuba (Spanish), Glenda Boza Ibarra, El Toque

In this piece, Archipiélago leader Saily González Velázquez is interviewed about her membership in the group Archipiélago, the harassment she has faced from Cuban officials, and her experiences as an entrepreneur before joining the group. Additionally, the Cuban activist discusses the important dialogue amongst Cuban civil society that has occurred because of the platform that Archipiélago has generated and the changes she wishes to see in Cuba.

EVENTS

Virtual, No Hay Negocio – Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Cuban Entrepreneurs, November 8

Various Cuban business owners will be discussing the negative impact of U.S. sanctions on Cuba’s emerging private sector. Entrepreneurs including Oniel Diaz – Founder of Cuban private business consulting AUGE; Adriana Heredia – Founder of Beyond Roots, entrepreneurship promoting Afro-Cuban culture; Carlos Miguel Perez – Founder and CEO of private IT business Dofleini Software; and Viviana Sanchez – Founding member of ACERCO accounting services cooperative, will be sharing their first-hand accounts and experiences on the obstacles their businesses, employees, and families face as a result of the current limitations under U.S.-Cuba policy. The event will be moderated by former President of WOLA, Geoff Thale, and feature commentary from Professor William LeoGrande of American University and Camila Piñeiro – Researcher and Professor focusing on social and solidarity economy at FLACSO – Havana. The virtual discussion hosted by CDA, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), the Latin America Working Group (LAWG), Puentes de Amor, and the Alliance for Cuba Engagement and Respect (ACERE) will take place from 1:00pm-2:30pm EST. Pre-register for the 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 Road Ahead: Cuba After the July 11 Protests, November 10

Professors William LeoGrande, John Kirk, and Phil Brenner have organized a virtual symposium to present essays from various respected scholars and analysts to analyze the protests that occurred in Cuba on July 11. In conversation together, the essays examine the political, economic, social, and cultural conditions that led to July 11, key elements of the protests, and what the events surrounding July 11 may suggest about Cuba’s future. The virtual event hosted by American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies will begin at 5pm EST. To register for the virtual symposium, click 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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