U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 10/04/2022

On Monday, Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-13), Gregory Meeks (NY-5), and Jim McGovern (MA-2), released a statement urging the Biden-Harris administration to swiftly provide fulsome humanitarian assistance to Cuba in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. CDA echoes the call for the Administration to provide appropriate and critical aid to Cuba in the wake of the compounding devastation caused by Hurricane Ian. Amidst Cuba’s ongoing crises, the time for humanitarian support and sanction relief from the US is now. For more information on the statement, read below, and for recommendations on how the US could best support Cuba at this critical time, read CDA’s most recent statement.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, we encourage those who are able to contribute to disaster relief funds and efforts to support the Cuban people during these difficult times. We will continue to share efforts, as we learn of them, on social media and in future news brief publications.

Disaster relief fund efforts:

This week’s Top Stories

  • Cubans protest in response to enduring blackouts
  • Cuba requests U.S. aid in aftermath of Hurricane Ian

The views and opinions expressed by authors are their own and articles do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of CDA.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Cuba Makes Rare Request for U.S. Aid After Devastation From Hurricane Ian; Top Cuban diplomat: ‘We will have to’ negotiate with the United States

In an incredibly rare move, Cuba’s government requested assistance from the Biden-Harris administration after Hurricane Ian knocked out the island’s power system, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, no exact amount was requested, and the US continues to engage with Cuba’s government to discern the appropriate support. The emails also suggest that Cuba’s government would prioritize channeling the aid toward hospitals, sanitation and other critical infrastructure, and water pumping facilities. On Monday, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) appeared to confirm the exchange when it tweeted that the “Governments of Cuba and the United States have exchanged information on the considerable damage and unfortunate losses caused by #HuracánIan in both countries.”

In light of the aid request and the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Barbara Lee (CA-13), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Gregory Meeks (NY-5), and Chair of the House Rules Committee, Representative Jim McGovern (MA-2), released a statement calling for the Biden-Harris administration to provide immediate humanitarian relief and disaster recovery support to Cuba, stating, “Now is not the time to let the history between our countries get in the way of the United States’ historical support for the people of other countries facing devastation in the wake of natural disasters, especially within our own hemisphere.” In the statement, the Members of Congress pointed out that Cuba’s recovery must also address compounding crises which have overwhelmed the island prior to Hurricane Ian’s landfall. The statement also called for the Administration to suspend relevant sanctions or regulations that would impede a humanitarian response. Rep. Lee, Rep. Meeks, and Rep. McGovern have previously urged the Administration to provide humanitarian support to Cuba on many accounts, most recently in response to the devastating fires in Matanzas, Cuba.

Last Tuesday, in an interview with The Hill, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, seemingly hinted at Cuba’s desire for future U.S. assistance and engagement. When asked whether Cuba would “ever, ever negotiate anything with America ever again after this?”–referencing U.S. policy toward the island–Cuba’s Foreign Minister responded by stating that Cuba “will have to…because there is a historical trend that will, at some point, force us to reestablish dialogue and lift the blockade.” Mr. Rodríguez emphasized a reciprocal approach, stating that Cuba has “that willingness” to engage, and that “the U.S. government will have to show a similar willingness,” which Cuba will “judge based on tangible acts.” Mr. Rodríguez also pointed to the US’s rapprochement with Cuba under the Obama administration, saying “It already happened once, which proves it’s possible. And it proved that it was beneficial. I am sure the historical trend leads to that — a policy that’s failed for 60 years has to be changed.” In the interview, Mr. Rodríguez also noted the US and Cuba’s ongoing cooperation on environmental issues, praised the Administration’s May announcement of limited restoration of trade and travel, and shared his thoughts on U.S. foreign policy and Cuba’s recent Families Code referendum.

In August, the US provided “technical advice” by phone, though no material assistance, to Cuba in the wake of a fire at the island’s largest oil storage facility in Matanzas. Previously, President George W. Bush offered Cuba humanitarian aid in 2001 in the aftermath of Hurricane Michelle, 2004 in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley, 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma, and in 2008 in the aftermath of five major hurricanes. Cuba declined in many of these cases, though accepted in 2001 after some negotiation. Professor of government in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington D.C., William M. LeoGrande, writes in Responsible Statecraft that Cuba’s willingness to accept aid may be greater now given the island’s willingness to receive aid following the oil facility fire and because “the need is so dire” amidst Cuba’s economic and energy crisis.

Updates on Cuban Migration to the US

Three bodies found off the Florida Keys. Cops believe they’re all migrants from Cuba

In total, the bodies of one male and four female Cuban migrants have been discovered off the coast of Florida after a boat traversing the Florida Straits capsized last week, The Miami Herald reports. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) began a search for 20 Cuban migrants on Wednesday after their raft sank during Hurricane Ian and four migrants swam to shore and reported the incident. USCG officials have confirmed that nine migrants have been rescued since Wednesday. Four of the migrants have been repatriated, while another four remain in the custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. According to a report from one of the migrants who swam to shore, the group was at sea for five days where it faced extreme weather conditions. According to updates from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), over the past week, a total of 120 Cuban migrants were repatriated to Cuba by the USCG, bringing the total number of Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 interdictions of Cuban migrants to 6,182. Seaborne migration in FY 2022 so far now totals more than the past five years combined; the total number of interdictions between FY 2017 and FY 2021 was 2,927.

Source: Elaborated by CDA with data from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)

Source: Elaborated by CDA with data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

During the month of August, there were 20,031 attempts at entrance into the US through land and sea borders by Cuban migrants; so far in FY 2022, CBP has recorded 197,870 total “encounters” with Cuban migrants and asylum seekers. “Encounters” constitute either an expulsion, in which migrants are deported to their home country or last country of transit, or apprehension, in which migrants are detained in the US, by CBP. The number of encounters therefore can vary from the number of individuals who attempted entrance into the US as some individuals have made repeat attempts to enter and therefore had multiple encounters with CBP. However, Cubans in particular are less likely than other nationalities to make repeat attempts because so far the vast majority of Cubans have not been subject to immediate expulsion (as under Title 42) and instead are being placed in U.S. immigration removal proceedings. As a result, the figure of 197,870 encounters with Cuban nationals is likely to approximate the actual number of Cubans who have crossed rather than repeated attempts. Eleven months into FY2022, Cuban migration to the US has eclipsed the previous two largest waves of Cuban migration – the Mariel boatlift in 1980 and Balsero crisis of 1994combined.

IN CUBA

Cubans protest in Havana for 2nd night over lack of power; Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid

Groups of Cubans across the island took to the streets to protest enduring blackouts, water and gas supply issues, and food shortages in the days after Hurricane Ian hit the island, AP News reports. Hurricane Ian, which hit western Cuba last Tuesday, September 27 as a Category 3 hurricane, led to an island-wide power outage lasting from Tuesday evening until Wednesday, although some areas including many neighborhoods in Havana were left without power until Saturday evening; some residents in Havana reported experiencing up to 100 hours without electricity. As of Thursday evening, Cuban electrical authorities reported that only 10 percent of Havana’s population of over 2 million had power, but by Saturday morning, officials reported that power had been restored to 82 percent of Havana. Protests began on Thursday evening throughout the island in response to the prolonged outages and continued sporadically until Saturday evening largely in neighborhoods that remained without electricity. Reports and videos from Havana show that several hundred demonstrators chanted “we want light” as they marched through dark neighborhoods across Havana, while some groups also chantedlibertad,” or “freedom,” as they marched. Protesters described the compounding challenges these power outages have brought to existing difficulties, including concerns about spoiling food, which is already difficult to come by or requires hours-long lines to acquire, due to being unable to refrigerate it. Some protesters brought their spoiled food into the street on Thursday to exhibit their struggles. In addition to being unable to power air conditioning or fans, clean water shortages and electricity shortages render many living above ground floor units unable to access water to clean, take showers, cook certain foods, and more. According to Reuters, much of the western part of the island was still without electricity as of Monday.

On top of power outages, on Thursday, reports of an internet blackout across the island emerged. NetBlocks, an organization that monitors internet disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed that internet access and cellphone service had been restricted throughout the island on Thursday and again on Friday morning. Service interruptions continued until around 4 a.m. on Saturday. According to NetBlocks, the service interruptions were unrelated to problems caused by the storm, leading some, including Alp Toker, the director of London-based Netblocks, to speculate that they were “a measure to suppress coverage of the protests.” This is not the first time an internet blackout has occurred in conjunction with civic demonstrations, as internet connection was cut off in January 2021 following a gathering of artists in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana and in the days following the July 11, 2021 protests. The main cellular network and data provider on the island, Cubacel, is owned and operated by the government owned telecommunications company, ETECSA. Cuba’s government responded to the protests by sending truckloads of security forces in black berets and heavy police presence on Friday and Saturday to meet protesters in the streets in Havana. According to Reuters, the security forces prevented protesters from moving forward, although no clashes or arrests have been reported. At the same time, protesters were also met by a group of government supporters carrying sticks and baseball bats and chanting “I am Fidel.” To respond to the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian, Cuba’s Council of Ministers announced that part of the State budget will be allocated to defray the cost of housing repairs and reconstruction as well as other economic and social measures aimed at recovery for the provinces impacted by the hurricane. According to OnCuba News, the Council of Ministers also stated that Cubans who are unable to afford the necessary means for partial or total recovery will be able to obtain products through bank loans or social assistance.

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province on Tuesday, September 27 with top winds of 125 mph before intensifying in its path towards the southern US on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane. The storm caused particular damage in western Cuba, where it first made landfall, and raised water levels along Cuba’s western coast by as much as 14 feet above normal tide. Official reports reveal at least five people have died, two of whom died due to collapsing buildings. In preparation for the storm, Cuban officials cut power to the province, evacuated 50,000 people, constructed 55 shelters, brought in emergency personnel to the province, and secured 33,000 tons of tobacco from Pinar del Rio, which is the island’s top tobacco production region. Before Hurricane Ian made landfall, immense concerns were raised over its probable impact on Cuba’s ailing infrastructure and frail power grid, which was already teetering on the brink of collapse for months. According to Jorge Piñon, director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy’s Latin America and Caribbean program at the University of Texas, Cuba’s power grid “was already in a critical and immunocompromised state as a result of the deterioration of the thermoelectric plants. The patient is now on life support.”

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

President Maduro will send aid to Cuba in the face of Ian’s destruction (Spanish); The UN offers help to Cuba for its recovery after the passage of Ian (Spanish); The ninth shipment of supplies from Mexico arrives in Cuba after the passage of Ian (Spanish); Argentina will send aid to Cuba to shovel the damage of Hurricane Ian (Spanish)

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian’s destruction, Venezuela, Argentina, and the United Nations (UN), among others, have offered aid to Cuba, OnCuba News reports. On Tuesday, immediately after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro expressed “all the support and solidarity from Venezuela” to Cuba in the face of the damage caused by the hurricane. It was not revealed what kind of aid will be sent or when. On Wednesday, the UN reported that it was in contact with Cuban authorities and had offered emergency aid, including food and other products, in preparation of phase one of the island’s recovery. The UN also stated that it remains in contact with Cuban authorities and attentive to responding to ongoing and future recovery needs. Mexico promised to supply 100 tons of humanitarian aid to the island to support recovery efforts. Previous donations included cables, insulators, and circuit breaker devices to support the island’s recovery of its electrical system. On Monday, the ninth shipment of resources arrived in Cuba where it will then be sent to the Pinar del Rio and Artemisa provinces. Also on Monday, Argentina announced that it will send 19 boxes of water purification tablets and kitchen kits. The purification tablets would make up to 950,000 liters of water drinkable, or enough for 2,000 people for 90 days.

RECOMMENDED READINGS & VIEWINGS

Disaster diplomacy: Why Biden should rush to help Cuba after Hurricane Ian, William M. LeoGrande, Responsible Statecraft

Thousands of Cubans in Pipeline of US Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, Aline Barros, VOA News

How Have Cubans Lived During the Long Hours of Total Blackout? (Spanish), Glenda Boza Ibarra, El Toque

Evolution of how baseball players leave Cuba for chance to play in MLB, Cesar Brioso, USA Today

EVENTS

Cities across the US, Cimafunk 2021-2022 Tour, August-October

Afro-Cuban funk sensation Cimafunk will perform at festivals and venues in Los Angeles, Texas, Florida, California, Virginia, and more as a part of the group’s U.S. leg of its current 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. See upcoming tour dates and purchase tickets here


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