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This week, in Cuba news…
A growing number of leaders invited to the upcoming Ninth Summit of the Americas hosted by the US are threatening to boycott if invitations are not extended to Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, The Washington Post reports. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Bolivia’s President Luis Arce, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, leaders of CARICOM – the community of 20 Caribbean nations – and others have expressed that they are considering a boycott of the Summit based on the possible exclusion of countries from the region. As reiterated this week by the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, the Biden-Harris administration has stated that “countries that, by their own actions, do not respect democracy, are not going to receive invitations.” Leaders from the region have argued that the Summit should be inclusive of all countries in the region given that the scope of the Summit is to discuss the region’s most pressing issues and argued that the US is politicizing the invite list to the Summit by only inviting allies that will not challenge the US’s agenda. Cuba’s attendance at the Summit, which will convene in June in Los Angeles, CA, has garnered speculation especially as the number of Cuban migrants transiting through the region continues to rise, and in the context of last month’s bilateral U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks. Invitations to the Summit have not yet been sent.
Over the past few weeks, Cuba’s government has repeatedly denounced the US for perceived efforts to exclude the island from the Summit. Both Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Carlos Fernández de Cossio, who also led Cuba’s delegation at last month’s bilateral U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks, and Minister of Foreign Relations, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, argued that Cuba attended the previous two Summits in 2015 and 2018, and that excluding the country now was contradictory to the recent migration talks held between U.S. and Cuba officials. Cuba’s Foreign Minister added that maintaining U.S. sanctions harms Cuba’s economy and thus, incentivizes Cuban emigration, which is also contradictory to the efforts of the Summit to address migration surges in the region by adopting the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection, as the US recently announced in Panama. In April, U.S. and Cuban officials met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the re-implementation of U.S.-Cuba migration accords in response to rising numbers of Cuban migrants attempting to enter the US, which have surpassed those of the three previous years combined, as well as those from the 1994 Balsero rafting crisis, when over 35,000 Cubans crossed the Florida Straits on makeshift rafts. The migration talks were the highest-level formal talks between the US and Cuba since the Biden-Harris administration entered office. Read CDA’s press release on the Bilateral U.S.-Cuba Migration Talks here.
The Summit of the Americas is a series of meetings of the leaders of the Western Hemisphere, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to discuss regional issues and values. The first Summit of the Americas was convened under the Clinton administration in 1994, however, Cuba was only first invited to participate by Panama in 2015 for the 7th Summit of the Americas. Cuba’s participation at the Summit in 2015 was a controversial and notable shift, emblematic of the normalization efforts enacted by the Obama administration beginning on December 17, 2014. Cuba was again invited to the 8th Summit of the Americas hosted by Peru in 2018. The Summit of the Americas has taken place every three years since its conception in different locations throughout the hemisphere.
According to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, the Trump administration discussed a “blockade” of Cuba and a military intervention in Venezuela, The Miami Herald reports. On Monday, during an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, the former secretary of defense spoke about various “dangerous things” that he prevented from happening during his tenure in the Trump administration. Alongside a blockade of Cuba and military action in Venezuela, similar suggestions included “shooting missiles into Mexico to go after the cartels.” According to Mr. Esper, the Trump administration sought to target Cuba with sanctions for its support of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and President Trump demanded via Twitter that “Cuban troops and militia… CEASE military and other operations” in Venezuela or else a “full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba.” President Trump’s comments were met with a proposal by Senator Rick Scott (FL) for a naval blockade to prevent Venezuelan ships from transporting oil to Cuba.
On Tuesday, Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) announced that Cuba’s National School of Public Health (ENSAP) and the U.S.-based University of Minnesota signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase academic and research collaboration, OnCuba News reports. The collaboration aims to strengthen cooperation on disease prevention and public education around diseases, as well as health service provision, both with special attention to vulnerable groups. It also aims to spur cooperation in healthcare professional training and global and bilateral collaboration on health research and among faculty. These objectives will be achieved through joint conferences, the sharing of publications, and bilateral visits of students and faculty. Dr. C. Pastor Castell-Florit Serrate, Director of Cuba’s National School of Public Health, stated at the signing that “The document that we are signing today means one more step in the advancement of these exchanges that will pave the way for future collaborations and alliances for the benefit of the health of our peoples and the planet.”
Over the past week, 58 Cuban migrants in six separate groups made landfall in Florida and been taken into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and a total of 147 Cuban migrants were repatriated to Cuba by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), The Miami Herald reports. On Monday, the USCG repatriated 61 Cuban migrants after being interdicted at sea and an additional 86 migrants were repatriated on Friday. So far in FY 2022, 1,779 Cuban migrants have been interdicted at sea by the Coast Guard. 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.
The increase in seaborne migration has coincided with a 22-year high in CBP arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border. Only behind Mexican migrants, Cubans were the second largest migrant population arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border in March, with CBP processing a total 32,141 Cuban migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees last month.
All persons reported missing from the Hotel Saratoga following the explosion last Friday have now been found and the search was declared over as of Thursday, The Guardian reports. On Friday, Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health reported 46 people dead, 99 injured, and 13 currently hospitalized from the explosion. Cuba’s government declared a national period of mourning from May 13-14 and announced that a vigil will be held on Friday, May 13 at Parque de la Fraternidad in Havana.
Last Friday, an explosion thought to be caused by a liquified gas leak caused significant damage to the historic luxury hotel, Hotel Saratoga, in Old Havana. The majority of those who lost their lives were workers at the hotel who were preparing for The Saratoga’s reopening on May 10. The blast also damaged several homes in the neighboring Prado 609 building, which experts expect will need to be demolished, as well as Teatro Martí’s lobby, the building that houses the Yoruba Association of Cuba, a primary school, the nearby Calvary Baptist Church, and other buildings, according to El Toque. Those whose homes were damaged have been temporarily relocated. Rescue teams continued to search through the rubble through Thursday. The fate of the hotel remains unknown as the remains of the building have not yet undergone a structural analysis. According to spokesperson Roberto Enriquez of Gaviota, Cuba’s military-owned tourism company, which owns the hotel, approximately 80 percent of the hotel suffered damage.
According to his family, Cuban psychologist, journalist, and political dissident Guillermo Fariñas Hernández was arrested in Cuba after returning from trips abroad during which he spoke out against the detention of political dissidents in Cuba, BBC News reports. During his travels to Spain, Belgium, and the US, Mr. Fariñas, who has long advocated for human rights, spoke to the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, stating that “there are currently more than 1,000 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Cuba – some of them under-age – who are unjustly robbed of their freedom solely for openly disagreeing with the policies of the Communist Party.” Mr. Fariñas also spoke to reporters in South Florida and to fellow Cuban activists living in exile abroad.
Mr. Fariñas was detained last November along with other activists who planned to participate in the November 15 demonstrations in Cuba. He has previously been jailed in Cuba for more than 11 years and has conducted 23 hunger strikes in protest of Cuba’s government and internet censorship, and in support of press freedoms. In 2006, Mr. Fariñas was awarded the Reporters Without Borders’ Cyber-Freedom Prize, and in 2010 he received the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought from the European Parliament.
On Monday, the Organizing Committee of the XV Cuban Conference Against Homophobia and Transphobia announced that initiatives “of a festive nature” for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOT), including the annual IDAHOT conga or parade, will be canceled or postponed in response to the explosion at the Hotel Saratoga last week, OnCuba News reports. Mariela Castro Espín, Director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), posted on Facebook that the decision to postpone was made in order to express solidarity with those in mourning. Activities focused on scientific dialogue and social activism will still be held.
CENESEX kicked off activities surrounding Cuba’s fifteenth IDAHOT last Wednesday. The celebrations were to be in-person for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The announcement also comes just after the popular consultation period for Cuba’s new proposed Families Code, during which the Cuban public could submit feedback on the draft, was completed and the draft was submitted to the Drafting Commission for review. Ms. Castro Espín has emphasized the importance of continuing dialogue on several issues that remain controversial, such as same-sex marriage, even after the closure of the popular consultation process.
CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS
On Sunday, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador departed Cuba following his first official visit, OnCuba News reports. President López Obrador met with Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, upon which the Presidents signed bilateral agreements increasing labor exchanges in “education, sports, culture, [and] human resource training, among other [areas].” The leaders also discussed collaboration in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. During a news conference on Monday, according to Reuters, President López Obrador announced that Mexico will hire 500 Cuban doctors and purchase pediatric COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba. Mexico’s president also renewed his call to the US to invite Cuba to the Ninth Summit of the Americas and praised Cuba’s president. On Tuesday, President López Obrador stated that he would not attend the Summit unless all heads of government in the Western Hemisphere were invited. Cuba’s President Díaz-Canel lauded Mexico’s opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba and presented President López-Obrador with the highest state honor in Cuba, the Order of José Martí.
Mexico and Cuba have grown closer since President López Obrador took office in 2018. In April, representatives from Cuba’s and Mexico’s parliaments reaffirmed mutual desire to “deepen ties” and “strengthen cooperation” during an interparliamentary meeting in Mexico. In September 2021, 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). Mexico has been supportive of Cuba throughout the pandemic, expressing solidarity with the island, calling on the U.S. to act with “political sensitivity” in response to Cuba’s humanitarian and economic crisis, 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
U.S.-Cuba: Putting the “Sonic Attacks” Myth behind Us?,Fulton Armstrong and Philip Brenner, AULA Blog
In this American University Center for Latin American and Latino Studies blog post, Research Professor at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, Fulton Armstrong, and Professor Emeritus of International Relations and History at American University, Philip Brenner, write about how the Biden-Harris administration’s resumption of limited consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana may signal that the Administration is ready to depart from using the mysterious health incidents that affected personnel there beginning in 2016 as rationale for not engaging with the island. At the same time, the authors note that “Washington still appears unlikely to restart the normalization process” and instead appears to favor domestic electoral politics.
In this article, CNN’s Patrick Oppmann reports on the record number of Cubans emigrating from the island as it faces an economic crisis, and food and medicine shortages. This article follows “Claudia,” a Cuban mother who left the island with her husband and son in July 2021 following the July 11 demonstrations, and her family’s journey through Mexico to the U.S. border with the help of human smugglers. Claudia and her family obtained Mexican visas in Havana, traveled to Cancún, Mexico under the guise of being tourists, flew to Mexico City, and from there to Mexicali, a city on the U.S.-Mexico border. The human smugglers the family was in-touch with instructed them to bribe border agents in Mexico, helped transport the family and other migrants to a temporary holding location, and drove them across the desert and dropped them off at a path leading to a gap in the border wall. The family was picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, requested asylum, and were released and are now staying with relatives in Miami, Florida.
Gay man who livestreamed Cuba anti-government protest released from prison,Michael K. Lavers,The Los Angeles Blade
In this article, The Los Angeles Blade’s Michael K. Lavers reports that Yoan De La Cruz, a gay Cuban man arrested for using Facebook Live to stream the July 11 demonstrations in Cuba’s San Antonio de las Baños municipality, was released from prison last Friday. In March, Mr. De La Cruz was sentenced to 6 years in prison for filming the protests. San Antonio de las Baños was the first municipality where demonstrations broke out on July 11.
“Going out in her dress marked her a lot”: The convictions of Brenda, a trans woman who marched on 11J, Mel Herrera, Tremenda Nota
In this article, Tremenda Nota’s Mel Herrera reports on the imprisonment of Brenda Díaz García, a Cuban trans woman who was accused of throwing stones at MLC stores (stores that require payment in freely-convertible currency) during the July 11 demonstrations in Cuba’s Güira de Melena municipality, the second municipality where demonstrations broke out on July 11, and sentenced to 14 years in prison. The article highlights how Ms. Díaz García has been placed in the men’s section of the prison, has experienced homophobia, transphobia, and violence while in prison, has had her head shaved against her will (her hair was a significant gender affirming aspect of her appearance for her), and that although she is being treated for her several medical conditions, the medical treatment is insufficient and she remains in significant pain.
How Vegans and Vegetarians Eat in Cuba (Spanish), Claudia González Marrero, El Toque
In this article, Claudia Gonzalez Marrero, a research fellow at the Food Monitor Program, discusses the additional challenges faced by vegans and vegetarians in Cuba as they attempt to meet their dietary needs amidst widespread food shortages, the pandemic, and the current economic crisis in Cuba. According to the article, while people attempt to maintain a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet, the products necessary are not always readily available. Other obstacles also play a part; according to the article, these include the government’s lack of will to provide these vegan or vegetarian friendly foodstuffs, the lack of support networks, workshops, or literature that promote these diets, and the stigma surrounding vegan and vegetarian diets.
In Cuba, Cryptocurrency Gains Momentum, Ed Augustin, NBC News
In this article, NBC News’s Ed Augustin reports on the increased use of cryptocurrency in Cuba, which is now up to 1-2 percent of the island’s total population. According to the article, the increase in the use of cryptocurrency was accelerated by the introduction of mobile internet access on the island in 2019 and U.S. sanctions that resulted in Western Union, the main remittance transmitter between the U.S. and Cuba, to terminate operations on the island.
On the heels of last week’s explosion at the Hotel Saratoga in Old Havana, OnCuba News reports on a gas leak in a residential building in Old Havana on Wednesday that resulted in an explosion that damaged several houses and led to several hospitalizations. Last week’s explosion at the Hotel Saratoga was also caused by a gas leak.
Cities across the US,Cimafunk U.S. Tour, April 30-May 13
Afro-Cuban funk sensation Cimafunk will perform at festivals and venues in Los Angeles, Texas, Florida, and California as a part of the group’s U.S. leg of its latest international tour. Cimafunk works at the intersection of contemporary Cuban music, Afro-Latin identity, and black cultures, and released their second album, El Alimento, in October 2021. The album received recognition from Rolling Stone and NPR.
Dr. Jorge Felipe-González, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Texas, San Antonio, will give a lecture presenting the role that U.S. merchants played in training the first generation of Cuban-based traders of enslaved people. The lecture is based on a decade-long multinational archival research project. The event requires registration and will be held virtually at 1:00PM EST.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 13th Annual Minnesota Cuban Film Festival, May 26-June 30
The Minnesota Cuba Committee will host its 13th Annual Minnesota Cuba Film Festival where it will screen 6 Cuban-made films to share Cuban culture with Minnesotans and raise awareness around the effects of the U.S. embargo. The screenings will be held in-person at MSP Film at the Main Theatre, 15 SE Main St, Minneapolis.
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