U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 02/18/2022

Dear Friends,

CDA is seeking two remote summer interns! Our paid interns work in three key areas: Policy and Advocacy; Communications and Social Media; and Nonprofit Development. The deadline to apply is March 15. Visit our website to learn more about the internship and to read reflections from past interns. Stay tuned on social media to learn more about what our spring interns are up to!

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Yesterday, Cuba reported 647 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 3,309 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 1,064,128 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 8,484. Approximately 89 percent of the population is fully vaccinated (not including the booster). In response to the Omicron variant, Cuba has reintroduced some restrictions on international travelers. 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 

Despite Ban, U.S. Cruise Lines Hired Cuban Agencies to Provide Tourism Services to Passengers

Recently unsealed documents from Miami lawsuits revealed that major cruise lines made deals with Cuban Ministry of Tourism agencies to provide “tourist services” to their passengers, violating the U.S embargo’s ban on tourism to the island, The Miami Herald reports. The documents revealed that four major cruise lines— Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and MSC Cruises— pledged that their passengers would participate in humanitarian initiatives to help Cubans gain independence from the state while also making deals to provide tourist services to passengers. Despite warnings in the U.S. Treasury Department’s regulations that authorization to take travelers to Cuba was not authorization for tourism activities, after the Treasury Department’s allowance of “carrier services by vessels,” Carnival proceeded with registering a subsidiary with the Cuban Chamber of Commerce for the purpose of, “conducting commercial activities related to tourism,” and Royal Caribbean made inquiries into operating casinos in Cuba. According to further evidence presented in the January hearing, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian all signed contracts with Havanatur, the Cuban Ministry of Tourism’s largest travel agency, which included terms by which Havantur would sell “tourist reception services” to the passengers.

The unsealed documents surfaced in hearings as part of several lawsuits by American company, Havana Docks against the cruise lines Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC Cruises, respectively, which claim that three Havana ports previously owned by the company were wrongfully confiscated by the Castro government in 1960 and that the cruise lines’ use of the docks constituted trafficking in confiscated property. The Helms Burton Act’s Title IIIwhich allows Americans to sue entities in U.S. court for “trafficking” in properties nationalized during the Cuban Revolutionwas enforced for the first time under the Trump administration, which allowed Havana Docks to proceed with their lawsuit against the cruise lines. Read more about recent developments in Helms Burton Title III cases, including the Havana Docks case, here

The cruise lines argue that since they had a license from “the Treasury, from Commerce, and the blessing of the White House,” and under the Helms-Burton Act, which permits the use of confiscated property if used for “lawful travel,” this would prevent the lawsuit from succeeding. Although the case’s decision has not yet been finalized, the ruling has the potential to conflate all people-to-people travel to Cuba with tourism and therefore inhibit the reestablishment of the people-to -people travel license category to Cuba, which facilitates vital cultural exchange activities. Havantur received $38 million and Cuba’s government made $54.4 million in tourist visas related to cruise travel. People-to-people travel was one of multiple new or renewed avenues for engagement that was facilitated by policy changes during the Obama administration and that resulted in a surge in U.S. travel to the island. In June 2019, U.S. cruise travel to Cuba was halted after the Trump administration announced new travel regulations prohibiting them.

Cuban Activist is Denied Boarding to AA Flight to Havana

On Wednesday, Cuban activist and art professor, Anamely Ramos, was denied entry onto an American Airlines flight from Miami to Havana at the request of Cuba’s government, The Miami Herald reports. Officials from the Miami International Airport and American Airlines told Ms. Ramos that she could not board the plane due to Cuba’s government’s request, which, according to Ms. Ramos, came with no justification or warning. Cuba has denied entry to activists, such as individuals like Ms. Ramos who are affiliated with the San Isidro Movement, in the past, but usually once they have arrived on the island. Cuba has also denied entry to Cubans in the past who, unlike Ms. Ramos, are also residents or citizens of other countries, meaning they can return to the country where they live. In an interview with The Miami Herald, Ms. Ramos commented on her domicile status which is currently in limbo, stating, “​​right now I have no country, nowhere to return to, no residence in any other country in the world, no visa to anywhere.” According to American Airlines, in every country where they operate, airlines merely operate under bilateral agreements between two countries meaning entry requirements and traveler admissibility are determined by the country’s authorities, not the airline. 

Ms. Ramos left Cuba in January 2021 to pursue a doctorate in Anthropology at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City and then visited the United States, where she attended the opening of a contemporary art exhibition on Cuba and Venezuela. Ms. Ramos is also a member of the San Isidro Movement and organized events to demand for the release of her fellow members, Maykel Castillo and Luis Manuel Otero.

Cuba’s government has been accused of “banishing” Cuban activists, particularly since the July 11 protests. In September 2021, Cuban artist Hamlet Lavastida, who had been detained for three months following accusations of “incitement to commit a crime” for involvement in 27N and the San Isidro Movement, was released on the condition that he and his partner, writer and activist Katherine Bisquet, leave the island. In a post written by Katherine Bisquet, the writer detailed the conditions of his release and their exile, sharing that she repeatedly heard “it was not convenient for [Cuba’s government] to have Hamlet imprisoned and that, due to this ‘political rationale’ they decided to release him under the condition that both of us would leave the country.” In October 2021, Cuban artist and activist Tania Bruguera was also encouraged to leave Cuba by Cuba’s government and did so on the condition that 25 individuals be released from prison.

IN CUBA 

Cuba Protestors Sentenced Up To 20 Years As Hundreds More Await Verdicts; The U.S. And Canada Decry Harsh Sentencing Of Cuban Protesters After Sedition Convictions 

On Monday, 20 defendants in Holguín, Cuba were sentenced up to 20 years in prison each on charges of sedition for taking part in the July 11 protests, The Guardian reports. Similar trials have been taking place across the island, including last month in Santa Clara, Mayabeque, and Havana, and hundreds of other Cubans await verdicts. Family members of the sentenced individuals, along with ​​local activists and international organizations, have criticized the trials as being excessively harsh and as lacking transparency. A wife of one of the sentenced individuals in Holguín, Mailyn Rodríguez, shared that she would appeal the sentencing and criticized the trials, stating “the prosecution requests were too high and sentences horrific.” As previously reported, July 11 marked historic, island-wide protests regarding many grievances, from the island’s COVID response to food shortages to the economy, to the island’s political leaders and system, among others. Following the demonstrations, several mass trials have taken place in which demonstrators were charged with sedition, among other charges. Human rights watchdogs say that over 1,000 Cubans have been arrested in relation to the protests. Trials for those accused of more serious crimes began in mid-December and resulted in sentences of up to 20 years in prison. 

The U.S. Embassy in Havana responded to the sentencing in a tweet on Tuesday, calling the sentences “unjust,” and for the immediate release of the protestors. On Thursday, Canada also condemned Cuba’s government’s harsh sentencing of demonstrators involved in the July 11 protests. Canada’s Global Affairs Ministry tweeted its stance in response to the first sedition sentences of up to 20 years in prison that were handed out this week, stating, “Canada strongly advocates for freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly free from intimidation. We stand with the people of Cuba in their aspiration for #democracy.” 

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

More Official Exchanges Between Cuba and Russia (Spanish)

A day after top Cuban and Russian officials met to discuss multilateral issues, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov visited Cuba on Friday to discuss trade and economic cooperation, OnCuba News reports. Deputy Prime Minister Borisov, who is the head of the Russian-Cuban intergovernmental commission on trade, economic and technical cooperation, traveled to Cuba following trips to Venezuela and Nicaragua earlier in the week. Mr. Borisov was joined by officials from the ministries of finance, economic development, industry and trade, energy, and agriculture. This week, it was also announced that Russia’s Chairman of the State, Duma Vyacheslav Volodin, will visit Cuba and Nicaragua next week to meet with the countries’ parliaments and leadership, and to enhance cooperation and communication between the countries’ parliaments. 

Russia and Cuba have drawn particularly close over the past month as tensions continue to rise between the U.S. and Russia over a possible invasion of Ukraine, and as Russia floated the idea of placing a military presence in Cuba or Venezuela. In January, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel discussed strategic coordination in the technical military sphere and a desire to strengthen bilateral ties. During a phone conversation in January, the presidents also discussed a strategic partnership on the global arena. Russia and Cuba have become closer allies since tensions between the U.S. and Cuba reignited during the Trump administration.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS 

The U.S. Embargo Against Cuba is 60, Peter Kornbluh, Startup Cuba

In this article, Peter Kornbluh, a Senior Analyst at the National Security Archives who directs the Archive’s Cuba and Chile Documentation Projects, examines how the U.S. embargo, which turned 60 this month, has impeded the the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s technical assistance program.

Cuba Could Be The Door To A New Imperative For U.S., John Elliott, Orlando Sentinel

This article argues that removing the U.S. embargo on Cuba offers greater diplomatic benefits at this time. This removal could reduce tensions and perhaps prompt Russia to pull back its troops from Ukraine.

State Authority or Parental Responsibility: Who Will Raise Our Children? (Spanish), Eloy Viera Cañive, El Toque

This article explains the implications of switching the verbiage in the new proposed Family Code, from “custody” to “parental responsibility.” Namely, the article discusses how this may impact the 55 minors who are currently in criminal proceedings from the July 11 demonstrations and general concerns that this change will serve to decrease parents’ agency in raising their children.

Misinformation About The New Family Code (Spanish), Defacto, El Toque

This article clarifies some of the misinformation circulating on social media about the contents of the new Family Code. Among some of the confusions addressed regard the expansion of legal marriage, adoption, and parental responsibility.

El Fotuto: Código de las Familias (Spanish), La Potajera, Spotify

This episode is part of a new segment of the podcast, La Potajera, which is a podcast developed by independent Cuban media source Tremenda Nota dedicated to discussing common questions regarding the LGBTQ+ community, feminism, and racism in Cuba. This particular episode focuses on the new proposed Family Code in Cuba, and features interviews with Cuban activists about the lack of inclusion of a gender identity law and the lack of mention of trans and nonbinary Cubans in the code, where they think these rights should lie, why they are needed, and more.

Diary of An Island (Spanish), David López Cruz, Periodismo del Barrio

This article is a Cuban student’s first-person account of volunteering at the COVID isolation center at the University of Matanzas, which became a temporary field hospital and COVID-19 epicenter. The article recounts the volunteers’ responsibility for maintaining cleanliness and distributing meals and described the variety of patients they tended.

Netflix in Cuba: From Chimera To Reality (Spanish), Pedro Sosa Tabio, El Toque

This article explains how more Cubans on the island are finding creative ways of accessing Netflix. Netflix initially became easier to access following the Obama administration’s loosening of the U.S. embargo, which allowed payment services including Mastercard and American Express to operate in Cuba. That, in turn, allowed Netflix to offer its services in Cuba as well, albeit symbolically due to limited Cuban infrastructure, wifi access, and continued obstacles in paying for the service. According to the article, some ways that Cubans are able to access Netflix today include through shared accounts and payment methods, as well as through services like Nauta Hogar, Cuba’s at-home wifi service launched in 2017. 

Ministry of Communications Establishes Maximum Tariffs For Self-Employed (Spanish), El Toque Jurídico

This article delineates the telecommunications services offered to cuentapropistas, or private business owners, and their respective prices as established by the Ministry of Communications under Resolution 177, which was passed in December 2021.

The Day of Love and Friendship in Cuba (Spanish), Xel2, El Toque

This article displays several Valentine’s-Day-themed satirical and/or humoristic cartoons that comment on the new Family Code proposal, Cuba-Russian relations, and more.

Carmen Herrera, Cuban-Born Artist Who Won Fame  at 89 Dies at 106, Robbert D. McFadden, New York Times

This article recounts the career and life of Carmen Herrera, a Cuban artist who was based in New York and gained fame relatively late in her life. Ms. Herrera recently passed away and is remembered for her work with abstract geometric shapes.

EVENTS

Virtual, Catholics and Communists: Rethinking Religion in Revolutionary Cuba, February 25

The Cuba Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University will host a seminar to discuss the paper Catholics and Communists: Rethinking Religion in Revolutionary Cuba by Dr. Petra Kuivala’s, Associate at the Department of History at Harvard University and Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki, about Cuban Catholics inhabiting revolutionary and socialist Cuban society. The conversation will be moderated by Alejandro de La Fuente, Director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute and Chair of the Cuba Studies Program at Harvard University, and will feature Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology at Florida International University in Miami. The virtual seminar will take place from 12:00pm-2:00pm EST and will be held in English. Register for the event here.

Virtual, Cuba’s Pandemic Response: Lessons For Public Health, Pharma & Global, March 1

This discussion, moderated by Dr. Margaret E. Crahan, Senior Research Scholar and Director of the Cuba Program at the Institute for Latin American Studies at Columbia University, will feature Vicente Vérez Bencomo, Director of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute; Sonia Resik, Head of Cuba’s Pedro Louri Tropical Medicine Institute’s Virology Laboratory; Agustin Lage, advisor to president of BioCubaFarma; and commentary from Gail Reed, executive director of MEDICC REVIEW. The virtual panel discussion will take place from 7:00pm-9:00pm EST. Register for the virtual event here.


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