This week, CDA published a press release regarding the U.S. Embassy in Havana’s recent announcement of their resumption of limited consular services in Havana. CDA’s Executive Director, Jorge Quintana, stated: “I applaud the Biden-Harris administration’s decision to gradually expand consular services and increase staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The decision marks a significant positive step towards engagement by the Administration, and an optimistic start to President Biden’s “third-way” in U.S.-Cuba policy.” The full press release is available here. Learn more about the announcement here.
Interested in engaging the Americas? CDA might be the place for you! We are seeking a 2022 Fellow and two summer 2022 interns!
CDA’s Stephen M. Rivers Memorial Fellowship is a year-long, full-time, paid position running from May 2022-May 2023. We are looking for qualified recent graduates or master’s students with a special interest in all things Cuba, a thirst for activism, and an interest in pursuing a professional career in the foreign policy NGO community. More information on the Fellowship is available here.
CDA’s internshipis suitable for current undergraduate students or recent graduates interested in U.S. foreign policy and/or working for a non-profit. 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.
Yesterday, Cuba reported 586 COVID-19 cases. There are currently 2,427 total active cases of COVID-19 on the island. The total number of cases since March of 2020 is 1,075,616 and the total number of deaths since March of 2020 is 8,503. Approximately 89.3 percent of the population is fully vaccinated (not including the booster). 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…
Digital App Offers New Way to Send Money to People in Cuba from the U.S. Here’s How;
BCC Issues Note on RevoluGROUP Canada Inc and Remittances to Cuba
Canadian company RevoluGROUP and its Miami-based subsidiary has authorized Cubans to receive remittances sent from its mobile payment app, The Miami Herald reports. Last week, Cuba was added to RevoluGROUP’s list of countries authorized to receive remittances through its services, which effectively allows remittances to be sent to Cuba without involvement of entities run by Cuba’s government. According to the Vice President of RevoluGROUP’s Miami subsidiary, Emilio Morales during a press conference on Tuesday, hundreds of transactions to Cubans have already been successfully processed since RevoluGROUP started sending online remittances to Cuba. To avoid violating restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the U.S. subsidiary of RevoluGROUP shared that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has evaluated the methods used by the company as part of a guidance review and concluded that their transactions fell within what is considered permissible transactions since they use a “Direct to Beneficiary mechanism.”
The aftermath of the July 11 protests generated discussion surrounding the use and reinstatement of remittances to Cuba, however, some Administration officials and members of Congress expressed concerns over the role of Cuba’s government in receiving and distributing remittances. According to Mr. Morales, after years of developing the mobile app, RevoluPAY, and obtaining all the proper licenses, the resulting system is one “the Cuban military can’t touch.” The Central Bank of Cuba confirmed on Saturday that no Cuban financial institution has a contract or formal relationship with RevoluGROUP or its services. In a statement responding to RevoluGROUP’s announcement of services, the Central Bank of Cuba also asserted that the reliability and security of RevoluGROUP’s transactions are unknown, before affirming that the U.S. government maintains restrictions on Cuban financial institutions since 2020.
Through RevoluGROUP’s services, Cubans in the U.S. can send remittances to the island through the web-based system RevoluSEND or through the mobile app RevoluPAY. Through RevoluSEND, money can be sent to the receiver in MLC to one of three Cuban banks that are not under U.S. sanctions. Through RevoluPAY, remittances may be sent to an MLC account or directly to the receiver in “wallet-to-wallet” payments by which RevoluPAY provides receivers with a prepaid debit card issued by a European bank. Cubans can use bank cards issued in Europe in government stores, restaurants, and more, however, card users will not be allowed to withdraw money from the prepaid cards for cash. The bank that will issue the cards is currently unknown. According to RevoluGROUP, the Central Bank of Cuba is unlikely to block debit card transactions with cards provided by RevoluGROUP because they would risk penalties from Visa, Mastercard, and Swift, which are used by banks globally.
In October 2020, sanctions implemented by the Trump administration on Cuban financial intermediary institution Financiera Cimex SA (FINCIMEX) led Western Union, which was practically the only U.S.-to-Cuba provider of remittance payments, to terminate its services in Cuba. Since then, sending remittances to the island has been nearly impossible and many Cuban Americans have resorted to sending remittances through Miami-based agencies that depended on individual travelers to manually deliver the remittances on the island. Following the July 11 protests, the Administration announced reviews of remittance channels, including the creation of a Remittance Working Group to discern how remittances can be sent directly to Cuban citizens while bypassing the state. Despite concerns raised of involvement by Cuba’s government, in August 2021, Cuba’s General Manager of FINCIMEX, Yamil Hernández González, stated that Cuba’s government does not have a direct role in receiving remittances nor does it appropriate a portion of received remittances. In February, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, confirmed that the Biden administration had received recommendations from the Remittance Working Group, however a change in remittance policy remains to be seen. To read CDA’s recommendations on remittance policy, see our memo.
Almost 30 Cuban Migrants Taken into Custody in the Florida Keys; Florida Keys Sees Third Migrant Landing in a Week
According to the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), 39 Cuban migrants landed in the Florida Keys this week after traveling across the Florida Straits, The Miami Herald reports. According to CBP, 29 Cuban migrants landed in Conch Key, Florida on Wednesday and an additional 10 migrants landed in Windley Key, Florida, on Thursday. Amidst a renewed wave of migration by Cubans, the arrival of Cuban migrants in the Florida Keys has been an increasingly common scene. The number of interdictions in fiscal year 2022, which began on October 1, 2021, has already surpassed the total number of interdictions in fiscal year 2021. So far in fiscal year 2022, 852 Cuban migrants have been interdicted at sea. 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.
According to CBP, more than 39,000 Cuban migrants attempted to reach the U.S. in fiscal year 2021. The majority of those migrants attempted entrance through the U.S.’s southern border with Mexico. In the previous fiscal year, there were significantly less Cuban migrants reported, with numbers reaching only around 14,000.
Dozen Cuban Protesters Given 5 to 12 Year Sentences
On Tuesday, twelve Cubans were sentenced between five and twelve years on charges of sabotage, public disorder, aggression, aggravated robbery, and intimidation for taking part in the July 11 protests, France 24 reports. According to a press release from Cuba’s Supreme Court, thirteen Cubans were tried in a military court in the city of Cardenas for accusations of “committing and provoking serious disturbances and vandalism.” One individual was acquitted. Trials for Cubans sentenced in connection to their involvement in the July 11 protests have been ongoing since mid-December 2021 with those accused of more serious crimes and many receiving sentences of up to 20 years in prison. In February, defendants in Holguín, Santa Clara, Mayabeque, and Havana who were charged with sedition faced trial and also were charged with up to 20 years in prison. Human rights watchdogs say that over 1,000 Cubans have been arrested in relation to the protests.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cubans Protest at Havana Embassy as Panama Tightens Visa Requirements
On Wednesday, Panama announced it will now require Cubans to obtain transit visas in order to pass through the country, leading hundreds of Cubans to gather in protest at the Panamanian Embassy in Havana, Reuters reports. Effective March 13, Cubans wishing to travel to Panama, including those who previously purchased tickets to travel on and after March 13, must acquire a transit visa at an additional cost of $50 to transit through Panama. According to a press release published by the embassy on Wednesday, those with flights between March 13 and 30 were instructed to reschedule their flight for a future date. Cubans in need of a transit visa will be assisted by the embassy in chronological order of their flight starting with those that take place on March 31. After announcing a temporary suspension of sales of tickets from Havana to Nicaragua in February, Panamanian airline Copa Airlines said they would offer flexibility to passengers affected by the visa requirement. The announcement came just fifteen days after Panama’s National Migration Service announced that it would not require transit visas for Cubans “for the time being.” According to a statement from Panama’s National Migration Service, the measure is intended to ensure “security and control” for Cubans traveling through Panama.
Panama’s announcement comes as many countries in Latin America are considering introducing additional visa restrictions for Cubans in efforts to reduce the flow of Cuban migrants in the region. After Nicaragua lifted visa requirements for Cubans in November, the demand for flights from Cuba to Central America has significantly increased and many of the flight itineraries include multi-stop flights in neighboring countries such as Panama. Two weeks ago,, Costa Rica announced that it would require transit visas for Cubans, resulting in similar demonstrations outside their embassy in Havana. Colombia announced on February 15 that it would “temporarily suspend” its processing of transit visa applications for Cuban citizens due to the high volume of cases.
According to El Toque, the opening of visa-free travel to Nicaragua has led to the spread of misinformation both regarding the travel process to Nicaragua and other nearby countries. Namely, rumors, confirmed to be false by El Toque, have spread that Nicaragua would soon remove their visa-free travel for Cubans due to the high demand it has posed for both flights from Cuba to Nicaragua and to other Central American countries.
Russian Tourists Evacuated From Cuba On Charter Flights
The increase in airspace bans on Russian aircrafts and subsequent suspension of flights to Cuba by Russian airlines has left thousands of Russian tourists stranded in Cuba, France 24 reports. According to Cuba’s Embassy in Moscow, as of March 4, 5,570 Russians were on vacation in Cuba and in need of charter flights to return back to their country. Despite the suspension of the airline’s regular flight operations, Russian airline Nordwind Airlines will operate four weekly charter flights between Moscow and Varadero, and Moscow and Cayo Coco, Cuba to return Russian tourists. This week, two groups of over 900 Russians took chartered flights to Russia from Varadero and Cayo Coco, Cuba. Last week, as part of international sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine, the European Union, Canada, and the U.S. instituted bans on Russian flights from entering their airspace. In response, Russia also closed its airspace to 35 European countries and Canada.
As we previously reported, the drop in Russian tourists and the recent additional sanctions on Russia more generally will likely have a negative impact on Cuba’s tourism industry. Russian tourists have been the largest group of tourists in Cuba since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Cuba seeing a 200 percent increase in Russian tourists, or over 146,000 individuals, from 2020 to 2021. The drop in Russian tourism could exacerbate Cuba’s current economic difficulties, which were worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and tightened U.S. sanctions.
Mexican President Says Regional Tour In May Will Include Cuba
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Friday announced a visit to Cuba during a regional tour this upcoming May, Reuters reports. While all three of President López Obrador’s previous foreign diplomatic visits have been to the U.S., the upcoming tour will include visits to El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize, and Cuba.
Mexico and Cuba have grown closer since President López Obrador took office in 2018. In September, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Mexico to attend the country’s 200th anniversary of independence and a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). During the Independence Day celebration, President López Obrador expressed its support for Cuba, calling on the U.S. to lift the embargo on Cuba and act with “political sensitivity” in response to Cuba’s humanitarian and economic crisis. Mexico has been supportive of Cuba throughout the pandemic, expressing solidarity with the island and sending them donations of syringes, oxygen tanks, face masks, powdered milk, cans of tuna, beans, flour, and cooking oil. Mexico’s state-run oil company Petroleos Mexicanos also delivered gasoline to Havana.
RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS
A New Culture of Dissent Is Remaking Cuba’s Politics, William M. LeoGrande, World Politics Review
This article by Professor William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University and expert on U.S.-Cuba relations, discusses how the protests that occurred on July 11 revealed significant changes in Cuban society that have allowed for the expansion of Cuban civil society and disturbed the existing political order on the island. The article describes how the expansion of the internet, a series of protests led by artists in 2018, the July 11 protests, and the protests planned for November 15, among other events, have empowered Cubans and transformed the political landscape in Cuba. According to Professor LeoGrande, Cuba’s government will have to respond to the demands and concerns of the Cuban people in order to quell discontent and political volatility, in part because “The genie of online political activism cannot be put back in the bottle.”
Why Cuba Has Threaded The Russia Needle For 60 Years, William M. LeoGrande, Responsible Statecraft
This article analyzes the history of relations between Cuba and Russia in an attempt to better understand Cuba’s position on Ukraine and its decision to abstain from the recent UN General Assembly emergency session vote on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As detailed in the article, Cuba has been forced to walk a “diplomatic tightrope” while being caught in the crossfire of conflicts between Great Powers in multiple instances before, including in important moments like the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the current invasion of Ukraine.
You Would Understand Bitcoin if You Were Under Cuba’s Embargo,Erich Garcia, Coin World
This opinion piece explains how cryptocurrency has been a way for Cubans to circumvent fintech companies and other financial institutions that are otherwise inaccessible to Cubans under the U.S. embargo. The author also recounts his efforts to promote cryptocurrency in Cuba and his founding of “Cuba es Bitcoin,” which was, “the first meeting of crypto entrepreneurs, artists and enthusiasts on the island.”
RevoluGROUP: The Not so New, the New, and the Positive of the Proposal for Sending Remittances to Cuba (Spanish), David J. Pajón Espina and Omar Everleny, OnCuba News
This article analyzes various aspects of the new remittance service provided by RevoluGROUP that allows remittances to be sent to Cuba from the U.S. through the mobile app RevoluPAY, including its lack of association to Cuba’s governmental institutions, its mechanisms for sending and receiving funds, and their recharging mechanisms, all of which has been promoted in their press conference and other promotions for the service.
Will Sanctions Suffering For Russia Mean More Pain For Cuba, Venezuela And Nicaragua?, Tim Padgett, WLRN
In this interview with Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald reporter Antonio Maria Delgado explains how international sanctions on Russia may have a more substantial impact on its allies whose economies depend more closely on Russia, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Cuba’s Dollar Shops Stoke Anger, Division Amid Economic Crisis, Dave Sherwood, Reuters
This article explains Cubans’ frustrations that many necessities are sold in dollar stores known as “MLC stores,” which are less accessible and serve as a way for Cuba’s government to remittance dollars to buy goods like fuel. Cubans who do not receive remittances and do not have access to foreign currency through tourism must shop in barren markets that accept the Cuban peso as payment.
NTV, Fundamentalism, and Discrimination (Spanish), El Fotuto, La Potajera
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 features pastor Adiel González Maimó who recounts his experience dealing with the aftermath of being part of a campaign video on Cuba’s National Television News regarding the new proposed Families Code. Mr. Maimó and his partner, who were the same-sex couple that participated in the video, were the only ones omitted from the video that aired.
The Invasion of Ukraine, Cuba, and International Relations (Spanish), Raudiel Peña Barrios, El Toque
This article discusses Ukraine, Russia, and Cuba’s respective political positions through realist and liberalist lenses. It also uses realism and liberalism to help explain justifications given by Russia and Cuba in the recent invasion of Ukraine.
Expert: U.S. Sanctions Mainly Affect Population and Private Sector (Spanish), Amaury Valdivia, El Toque
This article attempts to debunk the argument that U.S. sanctions have the ability to harm Cuba’s government by analyzing the effects of the U.S. embargo on Cuban individuals and on Cuba’s private sector based on data from a study published in February by Cuban economist and professor Pavel Vidal.
What Has Resulted from the Measures to Increase Agricultural Production in Cuba? (Spanish), Olivia Marín Álvarez, Periodismo del Barrio
This article discussed whether agricultural production has successfully increased since measures approved in 2021 were implemented. The measures, which involved adjustments to service fees, pricing of inputs, insurance, and taxes, were intended to improve structural and socioeconomic issues that were identified in the agricultural industry.
Being an Airbnb Host in Cuba: An Uphill Journey (Spanish), Pedro Sosa Tabio, El Toque
This article contextualizes current struggles to recuperate the Airbnb business in Cuba since the island’s borders reopened last year. The article discusses how Airbnb owners have struggled to respond to major ebbs and flows in demand due to the legalization of private rentals and policy changes during the Obama, Trump, and now Biden administration.
Where Are The Limits For My Child? Progressive Autonomy in Cuba (I) (Spanish), El Toque Jurídico
In response to extensive debate surrounding the topic, this article explains the implications of including the term “progressive autonomy” in the preliminary draft of the new Families Code.
Virtual, The Jewish Community in Cuba, March 25
This lecture will discuss the current situation of the Jewish community in Cuba, and the community’s relations with Israel and other religious groups on the island. David Prinstein, Vice-President of the Federation of Hebrew Religious Communities of Cuba, and Marién Fernández Borroto, Head of the Israeli Folk Dance Program at the Patronato Synagogue in Havana, will lead the lectures in discussion with Ruth Behar, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan. The lecture hosted by the Cuban Research Institute at the Florida International University will begin at 1:00PM EST. Register for the virtual event here.
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