May 25, 2018

This week, in Cuba news…


“Physical symptoms” suffered by U.S. government employee in China mirror Cuba incidents

The State Department issued a “health alert” this week after an employee at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China reported suffering “a variety of physical symptoms” from late 2017 until April of this year, the New York Times reports. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the House Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, “The medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba.”

According to the alert, U.S. officials “do not currently know what caused the reported symptoms,” and the State Department did not announce any further action at this time. A series of similar incidents affecting diplomats in Cuba led the department to withdraw non-essential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Havana and expel diplomats from Cuba’s Embassy in Washington last October; the U.S. Embassy was converted to an Unaccompanied Post – no diplomats’ spouses or dependents allowed – in March, as we reported at the time.

U.S. activists visit Havana for Cuban pride events; Same-sex marriage on agenda for July constitutional reform talks

A group of U.S. LGBTQ advocates traveled to Cuba for the country’s International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (IDAHOT) festival, the Miami Herald reports.

The group, visiting from May 12-14, met with Cubans advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriage, and was joined by a delegation of LGBTQ Google employees. In 2016 Google signed a deal to place servers throughout the island, allowing for faster loading times on messaging platforms and for video content on sites like YouTube. As one Cuban activist quoted in the Miami Herald says, “We are pleased by the participation of Google … our marriage equality campaign uses Google tools for pro-LGBTQ messaging.”

The group’s visit coincided with that of a CDA delegation to Cuba of U.S. congressional staff and other leaders on issues of gender equality and public health.

Separately, Mariela Castro announced in a May 4 press conference that she would advocate for an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage during the upcoming constitutional reform process in July. Ms. Castro, the daughter of former President Raul Castro and a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, is a longtime advocate of LGBTQ rights on the island and director of the country’s National Center for Sex Education.

Luis Posada Carriles dead at 90

Luis Posada Carriles, a prominent and polemic opponent of Cuba’s Revolutionary government, died at a South Florida hospital Wednesday after a longtime battle with throat cancer, the Miami Herald reports.

Posada Carriles, a Cuban exile and former CIA agent, participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and was accused of planning and carrying out a number of attacks against Cuban targets, ranging from tourist facilities to Fidel Castro himself. He is perhaps best known for his alleged role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger airliner, which killed all 73 on board. While Cuba’s government has referred to him as “a terrorist financed by the CIA,” Posada Carriles is revered by many of his generation in the U.S. Cuban exile community for his efforts to dismantle Cuba’s government.

UN group estimates U.S. embargo has cost Cuba $130 billion

Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), stated at the commission’s biennial meeting, held this year in Havana, that the “blockade has cost the Cuban people more than $130 billion at current prices,” Reuters reports.

Cuba has estimated a similar figure in the past. The UN has continuously adopted non-binding resolutions calling for an end to the embargo with nearly unanimous support.


Cubana Airlines flight crashes in Havana, killing over 100

A Cubana Airlines flight traveling from Havana to Holguín crashed into a field shortly after takeoff from José Martí International Airport May 18, instantly killing 110 of its 113 passengers, CNN reports.

Two of the survivors have since died from their injuries; the remaining survivor is in critical condition. The Boeing 737 plane was leased to Cubana Airlines by Mexican Charter company Damojh Airlines, and was the subject of past complaints, although there is no report yet on the exact cause of the crash. The aircraft was banned from Guyanese airspace after reports that it was being over-packed with luggage; Damojh airlines has come under fire in the past for insufficient maintenance.

Following the crash, Mexico suspended Demojh’s operations, and Mexican, Cuban, and U.S. authorities are in Havana to investigate further. President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the scene shortly after the crash, which has become one of the first crises of his nascent presidency. The island began an official two-day period of mourning on Sunday.

Cuba’s sugar yield faces precipitous drops, possibly forcing imports

Cuba will produce just 1.1 million tons of raw sugar this season, a 40 percent drop over last year’s yield, Reuters reports.

The harvest, which typically runs from November through May, has been damaged by extensive rainfall this year. Reuters reports 2018 rainfall has been 46 percent greater than Cuba’s historic average for the first five months of the year; Cuba was forced to cancel sugar exports for the month of January due to the effects of Hurricane Irma and a particularly rainy start to the year, as we previously reported.

The low yield may force Cuba to import sugar, which has historically been the country’s most important export product. Cuba has a standing agreement to sell China 400,000 tons of sugar each year, and reserves roughly 700,000 tons for the domestic market, according to Reuters.

Cuba’s 2016-2017 harvest led to the production of 1.8 million tons of raw sugar, a 20 percent increase over the 2015-2016 season; however, yields reached just 85 percent of the goal set by AZCUBA, Cuba’s state sugar enterprise. Cuba attributed the lower-than-expected yields to drought and poor irrigation and drainage systems, as Reuters reported at the time.


EU, Cuba hold first joint-council meeting, announce renewable energy deal

Cuba and the European Union held their first “joint-council” meeting since the EU normalized relations with Cuba last year, Reuters reports.

At the May 20 meeting, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, announced the EU and Cuba would sign an $18 million deal to finance renewable energy production on the island, as well as an agreement to provide Cuba with the funds for a “food security support program.” Ms. Mogherini also stated that the increase in trade relations between the two over the last year has made the EU Cuba’s largest trading partner, and that the two plan to hold future talks on issues including the U.S. embargo, non-proliferation, sustainable development, and human rights.

Cuba previously announced a “goal of getting a quarter of its energy from renewable sources by 2030,” as AFP reports. The country currently receives 95 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels.


Cuba Wars Redux, Daniel P. Erikson, Global Americans

Dan Erikson, a managing director at Blue Star Strategies and member of CDA’s Board of Directors, writes in the Global Americans blog that the White House’s decision to cancel a regular State Department briefing with Cuba experts, executed at the behest of Florida Senator Marco Rubio, “represents a potentially dangerous breach in the firewall between domestic politics and the intelligence community.”


Ballet Nacional de Cuba presents Giselle and Don Quixote, May 29-June, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host the National Ballet of Cuba on the heels of their “Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World” festival, where they will perform Alicia Alonso’s staging of the ballets Giselle and Don Quixote.

A Historic Music Festival Celebrates Cuba’s Vast Range, Marisa Arbona-Ruiz, NPR

NPR’s Marisa Arbona-Ruiz recaps the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba festival, writing, “It was the Kennedy Center at its best, hosting an unprecedented — literally — array of Cuban arts, with co-curators Alicia Adams and Gilda Almeida building the country’s world-class musicians into a cultural bridge between our two nations.”


Cuba Central News Brief: 05/04/2018

May 4, 2018

Dear Friends,

Don’t miss the Kennedy Center’s Artes de Cuba Festival, May 8-20, in Washington, DC. A full list of events can be found here.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Sen. Rubio recommends engagement critic to head Cuba broadcast program

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has recommended former Miami mayor Tomás Pedro Regalado to head the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), the program that oversees initiatives including Radio and TV Martí, Politico reports. Regalado, who was born in Cuba, has in the past criticized U.S. engagement with the island. Senator Rubio is widely seen as the architect behind the Trump administration’s Cuba policy shift, and his recommendation will likely carry weight in the executive branch.

The OCB and its Martí outlets have a mission of promoting “freedom and democracy by providing the people of Cuba with objective news and information programming” and have been criticized in the U.S., including by a 2010 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Print, for their high cost and lack of objectivity. Cuba’s government considers their activities, as well as USAID’s Cuba democracy promotion program, subversive initiatives designed to undermine Cuba’s sovereignty.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2019 budget proposes to significantly cut funds for Radio and TV Martí and Martí Noticias, as well as the broader Office of Cuba Broadcasting, as we previously reported. The 2019 budget cuts are in line with proposed reductions in global democracy promotion programs, and likely do not represent a shift in the Administration’s approach to democracy promotion in Cuba.

Florida politicians protest Kennedy Center’s Cuban arts festival

Representatives Albio Sires (NJ-8), Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), as well as Florida Governor Rick Scott, wrote letters to the Kennedy Center and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing the Center’s upcoming Artes de Cuba festival.

In his letter to Secretary Pompeo, Governor Scott wrote that “many” of the participating artists are “known representatives of the dictatorship,” while the representatives’ letter to David Rubenstein and Deborah Rutter, respectively the chairman and president of the Kennedy Center, referred to the delegation as containing “many propagandists.” Meanwhile, in their letter to Secretary Pompeo, the representatives expressed concern that Cuban nationals must travel to a third country to apply for visas to the U.S., as the U.S. Embassy in Havana is not processing non-emergency visas due to its reduced staff size.

As the festival’s curator Alicia Adams told the Miami Herald this week, the event represents “cultural diplomacy . . . Arts are the best tool we have to bring people together.”

In Cuba

President Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro oversee May Day celebration

Cuba held its annual International Worker’s Day celebration May 1, with over 900,000 participating in a parade in Havana and over 6.6 million Cubans taking part in celebrations nationwide, according to CubaDebate.

Newly-elected President Miguel Díaz-Canel and former-President Raúl Castro jointly led festivities in the capital. As Reuters reports, a keynote speech by Ulises Guilarte, head of the Cuban Workers’ Confederation, called on attendees to “to show our support” for President Díaz-Canel and Communist Party leader Raúl Castro, and said the celebration represented “the majority support of workers and the people for the updating of our socio-economic model.”

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

UN Secretary-General to visit Cuba for CEPAL meeting

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres will travel to Cuba for the 37th biennial meeting of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), EFE reports. The meeting will be held May 7-11 in Havana. At the meeting, which is ECLAC’s most important recurring event, the organization presents development proposals for each member country.

The trip marks Secretary-General Guterres’ first official visit to Cuba. Then-Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Havana in June 2016 for the signing of a ceasefire agreement between Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

French, German companies negotiating on Cuba power plant

A group of international corporations, including France’s Total SA and German-based Siemens AG, is in negotiations to construct a natural gas power plant in Cuba’s Matanzas Bay, Reuters reports.

According to Reuters, the new plant could produce up to 600 megawatts of power, representing a significant increase for a country with a current national capacity of 6,000 megawatts. As Reuters writes, “Total [SA] would obtain the liquid gas from abroad, and then store, process and supply it to the plant, which would be built by Siemens.” The project would expand on a 2016 Memorandum of Understanding signed by Siemens and Cuba’s state energy entity Unión Eléctrica to develop the country’s energy and power sector.

In February, Cuba announced a $4 billion agreement with the European Union to promote renewable energy on the island, as we reported at the time. Cuba aims to generate 24 percent of the island’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030; at present, renewables account for less than 5 percent of Cuba’s electricity generation. Cuba’s dependence on Venezuelan oil shipments has contributed to its economic stagnation in recent months, as oil imports from Caracas have fallen 40 percent in total since 2014.

What We’re Watching

Cuba’s Public Health Approach to Dementia, Cuba Platform

The Platform for Innovation and Dialogue with Cuba releases the first in their series of “micros,” short videos that feature Cuba’s successful experiences working toward social, economic, and health equity, and stories about Cuban-global exchange.

What We’re Reading

A Cuba without a Castro, Vicki Huddleston, The Globe and Mail

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston, former head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, writes, “My personal experiences in Cuba led me to the realization that repeating a failed policy time and time again will not lead to a different outcome.”

Marine Ecology and Conservation in Cuba, Bulletin of Marine Science

The Bulletin of Marine Science announces, “A new special issue on the ecology and conservation of Cuba’s coastal and marine ecosystems . . . that celebrates science and conservation efforts, but also warns of potential future risks.

The can’t-miss shows of the Kennedy Center’s unprecedented Cuba festival, Peggy McGlone, The Washington Post

Washington Post reporter Peggy McGlone outlines some of the highlights from the Kennedy Center’s upcoming Artes de Cuba festival, from a car-themed art exhibit to a female rap duo.

This is the incredible story of Cuba’s first independent fashion label, Niloufar Haidari, Vice UK

Vice UK speaks with the team behind trendy Cuban shop Clandestina.


Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Jornada contra la Homofobia y la Transfobia, May 4-18

Friday marked the beginning of Cuba’s annual two-week celebration in advance of the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The country’s activities, which have a different theme each year, center this year on preventing homophobia and transphobia in schools.


April 27, 2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S. visits to Cuba plunge following Trump administration measures

International arrivals to Cuba declined 7 percent and U.S. arrivals by 40 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared with the first three months of 2017, Cuba’s Tourism Ministry told reporters this week.

Reuters reports that Cuban officials attribute the low numbers to the perception of damage from Hurricane Irma in September of last year, renewed travel restrictions for U.S. travelers, and a U.S. State Department Travel Warning (now a Travel Advisory).

While visits from foreign travelers were down, Cubans living abroad traveled back to the island more often than last year (21 percent more often through March). According to Reuters, Canadians remain the largest foreign traveler demographic, Russian travel increased 32 percent, and Mexican travel to Cuba increased 23 percent in the first three months of 2018.

In January, Cuba said that 619,523 U.S. travelers visited Cuba in 2017 (up from 284,900 in 2016), though tourism slowed in the second half of the year, as the Miami Herald reported at the time.

Congressional Republicans argue for engagement

Representatives Roger Marshall (KS-1), Rick Crawford (AR-1), and Tom Emmer (MN-6), wrote on this week to make the case for passage of the Cuba Agriculture Exports Act, HR 525, and the Cuba Trade Act, HR 442. The Congressmen argue that opening Cuba’s market to U.S. farmers would expand U.S. exports and increase net farm income. As the Members write, the U.S. share of Cuba’s agribusiness market is less than 15 percent, with Cuba’s other food imports coming from countries that offer preferential trade credit terms such as Brazil, Argentina, Vietnam, and the EU. The article estimates the market potential of agricultural sales from their respective states as $52 million in sales from Arkansas farmers, $55 million from Kansas, and $50 million from Minnesota.

Separately, the Miami Herald reports that Cuba policy was at issue in a delayed Senate confirmation vote for NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. Senator Jeff Flake (AZ) reportedly took advantage of a close floor vote count to obtain a conversation with the nominee for Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to discuss travel to Cuba among other Cuba-related issues.

In Cuba

Cuba sees 2018 nickel plus cobalt output topping 50,000 tonnes

Eder Manuel Olivero Garcel, director of Cuba’s state mining entity Cubaniquel, said this week Cuba will produce over 50,000 tons of nickel and cobalt this year, Reuters reports.

Cubaniquel anticipates producing roughly 31,000 tons of nickel and cobalt from its joint venture with Canadian mining company Sherritt International. The joint venture mine produced just over 18,000 tons of nickel and cobalt last year.

Cuba’s government and international sources like Moody’s Investors Service have cited low nickel prices as contributing to stagnation in Cuba’s economy over the last two years. Last year, Cuba predicted nickel and cobalt production would reach 54,500 tons, but Reuters reports the final output was under 50,000 tons for the first time in decades.

Cuba’s Council of Ministers holds first meeting under President Díaz-Canel

Cuba’s Council of Ministers met Wednesday to discuss the state of the country’s economic and social affairs, this first such meeting under newly-elected President Miguel Díaz-Canel, reports Granma.

The meeting, which was originally scheduled to be held last week, covered topics ranging from Cuba’s budget to the country’s higher education system. Alejandro Gil Fernandez, Cuba’s first deputy minister of economy and planning, presented a report on Cuba’s economic performance in the first quarter of 2018. In his report, Mr. Gil Fernandez attributed current economic stagnation to low export levels and fuel availability, and estimated that the island reached 90 percent of its foreign investment goal for the first three months of the year. Reuters reports Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba have fallen 40 percent in total since 2014.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

President Díaz-Canel receives Venezuela’s President Maduro

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro arrived in Cuba for a state visit last Friday, the day after Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel took office, Reuters reports. President Maduro was the first foreign head of state to travel to Cuba and recognize Cuba’s new president, according to Prensa Latina.

What We’re Reading

Engage with Cuba: With a new president, try to rekindle ties, Editorial Board, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Editorial Board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes, “A new relationship with Cuba — one that emphasizes a conditional engagement that requires some reforms on Cuba’s part — could reduce diplomatic tension and improve both nations’ economies.”

What We’re Watching

How an alleged sonic attack shaped U.S. policy on Cuba, New York Times

This New York Times mini-documentary covers the diplomatic impact stemming from alleged health attacks on diplomats in Havana.


Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

This Washington Life Magazine article offers a look at the planned activities.

Support CDAClick here to support CDA’s work bringing you the Cuba Central News Brief each week and promoting a U.S. policy toward Cuba based on engagement and recognition of Cuba’s sovereignty. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now!
Like our work? Keep up with CDA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram!

Cuba Central News Brief: 04/20/2018

April 20, 2018

ICYMI: CDA STATEMENT: CDA on Cuba’s Leadership Transition

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

FBI has “made a lot of progress” in health attacks investigation, Rubio says; Canada removes families of diplomats in Havana

Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Peru, Florida Senator Marco Rubio told the Miami Herald the FBI briefed him last week on its investigation into the mysterious symptoms experienced by U.S. diplomats in Havana, saying, “They have been investigating this and they have made a lot of progress.”

According to Sen. Rubio, the FBI “has been able to rule out several theories in terms of the technology that was used and I think there will come a time when we will know a little more.” He went on to say, “All the hypotheses stand. There are two things being studied: who did it and how they did it. On the subject of how they did it, that is progressing. On the issue of who did it, I think the first question is going to answer the second one.”

In February, University of Pennsylvania doctors found evidence of brain injury among diplomats who suffered mysterious ailments in Havana, as we reported at the time. An article published by the doctors in the Journal of the American Medical Association describes the symptoms experienced and the evidence of brain injury, including vision and balance abnormalities that “could not have been consciously or unconsciously manipulated.” The study identified no definitive cause for the diplomats’ ailments.

Separately, Reuters reports that Canada has designated its Havana embassy as an unaccompanied post, meaning it will withdraw all family members of diplomats. The decision comes as a result of a months-long investigation into mysterious symptoms experienced by Canadian diplomats and their families, similar to those experienced by U.S. diplomats. A statement from Canada’s Global Affairs department notes, “There have been no new incidents since the early fall of 2017,” and, “There is no evidence to suggest that Canadian travelers to Cuba are at risk.”

Cuba, in a response published by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated, “There is neither a single shred of evidence to explain the symptoms reported by Canadian diplomats, nor any indication that any attack or incident of any kind had ever occurred on Cuban soil.” The statement described the decision as “unjustified,” said the Cuban government will continue its investigations, and called for collaboration between the two countries. Cuba has released similar statements in response to U.S. actions to reduce staffing at its embassy in Havana.

In Cuba

President Raúl Castro steps down; Miguel Díaz-Canel steps up; and the upper-level leadership shuffles

Cuba’s National Assembly named First Vice President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers Thursday, marking the end of Raúl Castro’s term as President. The vote was announced during the second day of a special National Assembly session to select the country’s leadership, and Díaz-Canel, who was the sole candidate nominated for the presidency, was confirmed by 603 of the assembly’s 604 attending members. As noted in a speech by the outgoing President Castro, Díaz-Canel will be eligible to serve two consecutive five-year terms, pursuant to a term limit proposal approved by the Party Congress in 2011.

Castro will remain first secretary of the Communist Party and head of Cuba’s armed forces. In his first speech as the country’s President, Díaz-Canel said Thursday that “General Raúl Castro Ruz, as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, will lead the most important decisions for the present and the future of the nation.”

In his speech, President Díaz-Canel suggested he was committed to the process of updating Cuba’s economic model without making major changes to the Cuban Revolution. He said, “The mandate given to this legislature is to give continuity to the Cuban Revolution at a crucial historical moment, which will be marked by all that we can advance in updating the economic and social model … In this legislature there will be no space for those who aspire to a restoration of capitalism; this legislature will defend the Revolution and will continue the improvement of socialism.”

In his own speech to the Assembly, meanwhile, Castro laid out the likely plan for Cuba’s leadership in the coming years. He stated that, pending the approval of party and state leadership, President Díaz-Canel would succeed him as first secretary of the Communist Party in 2021, and remain in that role for three years after the completion of his two five-year terms to ensure a steady transition to the next leader. Castro said that the National Assembly will hold a session in July to select a new Council of Ministers, and at that session the assembly will also appoint a commission to write a new national constitution, which will in turn be ratified by the National Assembly and the Cuban public.

He commented extensively on Cuba’s economic reforms, admitting that he thought “we would have advanced more, and that we would have, if not resolved all the problems, have them well organized and planned.” He warned against “the desire to move faster than the ability to do things well” moving forward. Castro also stated that Cuba would continue allowing the country’s self-employment sector to grow, but that plans to revamp Cuba’s dual currency system had given lawmakers “serious headaches.”  (Reuters has a series of graphics on reforms undertaken during Raúl Castro’s presidency.)

Cuba’s new legislature, by the numbers

Cuban national media reports that a total of 58 percent of the 605 National Assembly members are new to the country’s highest legislature, women make up 48 percent, and 45 percent of elected members identify as Afro Cuban or mixed race. According to Granma, the average age of Cuba’s parliament is 49 years old, and 88 percent were born after the 1959 Revolution.

U.S. Response

Following the announcement, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement calling the transition part of a “repressive monopoly on power.” President Trump told reporters, “We’re going to take care of Cuba. We’re going to take care of it.” Earlier this week, President Trump, in his remarks to a Florida audience on tax reform, said “We’re, as you know, very tough on Cuba. Have no choice.” In an interview with Univision last week, President Trump said, “We’re being very tough on Cuba because we want the people to have freedom … You’re going to see some very, very good things happen.”

Meanwhile, the bipartisan Congressional Cuba Working Group released a statement Thursday, saying, “If Congress is serious about repairing American-Cuban ties and improving the well-being of the Cuban people, we must take action to reset relations and ensure the next 60 years are not filled with the same outdated, unproductive, and shortsighted rhetoric and policies of generations past.”

As CDA Executive Director Emily Mendrala told ABC this week, “Demographic, emerging cultural trends, U.S.-Cuba policy changing is by no means a sidebar issue. Other countries around the world are deepening their commitment and diplomatic ties while the U.S. is on the sidelines … Taking a step back, not having a fully staffed embassy, for example, puts us at a disadvantage. Family, cultural, academic ties are suffering with consular services in Havana. If the U.S. is leaving a vacuum in Cuba, other countries are filling it.”

Cuba set for lowest sugar production in a century

A Reuters estimate suggests Cuba will produce between 1.1 and 1.3 million tons of sugar this harvest, a number which would mark Cuba’s lowest raw sugar output in over a century and a roughly 30 percent drop over last year’s production. Cuba cancelled sugar exports for the month of January due to the effects of Hurricane Irma and a particularly rainy start to the year, as we previously reported.

Cuba’s 2016-2017 harvest led to the production of 1.8 million tons of raw sugar, a 20 percent increase over the 2015-2016 season; however, yields reached just 85 percent of the goal set by AZCUBA, Cuba’s state sugar enterprise. Cuba attributed the lower-than-expected yields to drought and poor irrigation and drainage systems, as Reuters reported at the time. Cuba’s sugar industry, once the country’s most important sector, has declined since the collapse of the Soviet Union. (In 1991, Cuba produced nearly 8 million tons of raw sugar.) Still, raw sugar accounts for nearly 80 percent of Cuba’s food exports, according to Cuba’s National Office of Statistics.

What We’re Reading

In the Sierra Maestra, Castro Revolution lives on, Alexandre Meneghini, Reuters

For this photo essay, Reuters’ Alexandre Meneghini talked to Cubans living in the rural Sierra Maestra mountains, the region where the Cuban Revolution first gained a foothold.

U.S.-Cuban relations are about to get worse, Ted Piccone, Brookings

Brookings Senior Fellow Ted Piccone discusses the Trump administration’s decision to ratchet up its strong rhetoric against Cuba in the days preceding and following Cuba’s presidential change.

Cuba in Transition: Issues to Watch 2018-2023, Cuba Study Group

This Cuba Study Group report outlines some of the key issues facing Cuba over the next five years.

‘My Dearest Fidel’: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro, Peter Kornbluh, Politico

Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, recounts how a U.S. reporter developed a unique bond with Cuba’s revolutionary leader.

President Trump should engage Cuba’s new president, not leave policy to Marco Rubio, Fabiola Santiago, Miami Herald

The Miami Herald’s Fabiola Santiago writes, “It’s an ill-suited strategy to squeeze and isolate Cuba at this moment.”

From Cuba With Love: Yissy Garcia And Bandancha’s ‘Universo’, NPR

Cuban artist Yissy García, who will visiting Washington for the May Kennedy Center festival, talks with NPR about her relationship to American music and what it’s like being an artist in the current political context.


Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 04/13/2018

April 13, 2018

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

President Trump to skip Summit of the Americas; State Department representatives meet with Cuban civil society

The White House announced this week that Vice President Mike Pence will travel to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru in place of President Trump, who has elected to stay in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world.” The summit takes place less than a week before Cuba is due to select a new president; Cuba’s current president Raúl Castro is expected to travel to Lima this weekend. U.S. officials stated last week that President Trump would not meet with President Castro.

On Thursday, Acting Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and USAID Administrator Mark Green met with those Cuban civil society members who traveled to Lima apart from the official Cuban government delegation, according to a State Department press release. Earlier this week, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement in response to reports of Cuba’s government acting to prevent members of Cuba’s civil society from traveling to the summit, calling on Cuba “to facilitate full, robust participation in the Summit by allowing the free and unrestricted travel of its citizens, a universal human right.” The remarks have led some, such as Cuba Educational Travel President Collin Laverty, to criticize Spokesperson Nauert’s characterization, noting the persistence of U.S. restrictions that limit its citizens’ ability to visit Cuba.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who earlier this week expressed his opposition to Cuba’s participation in the summit, will also travel to Lima.

U.S., Cuba hold agriculture exchange; Cuba’s U.S. Ambassador meets with Cuban Americans in Florida

Representatives from the U.S. and Cuban departments of agriculture and foreign affairs met in Washington, D.C. April 10 and 11 for a technical exchange on cooperation in agriculture.

According to a press release from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the exchange primarily served to review both countries’ actions to implement the bilateral Memoranda of Understanding on Agriculture and Understanding on Animal and Plant Health, agreements signed in March 2016 and January 2017, respectively, as part of the U.S. rapprochement with Cuba. The press release also noted, “Both delegations shared the view to underscore the importance of maintaining the bilateral cooperation in these topics.”

Separately, José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the U.S., met with Cuban Americans in Miami this week to discuss “the Cuban election process and the consular services that the Embassy of Cuba in Washington D.C. continues to provide,” according to a press release from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ambassador Cabañas also met with representatives from U.S. businesses operating in Cuba, namely those in the transportation sector, according to the press release.

Secretary of State Nominee Pompeo speaks on staffing at Havana Embassy

Speaking during his nomination hearing to be Secretary of State, CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he would work to improve ties with Cuba. Mr. Pompeo went on to say, “We will build out a team [in Cuba] that will deliver American diplomacy to Cuba in a way that represents the finest of America.”

Last week, the Miami Herald reported that just 10 U.S. diplomats remain at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, and “most of the jobs . . . deal with maintenance, security or the internal functioning of the embassy.” There are no political, economic, public affairs or cultural officers listed on the embassy roster.

In Cuba

Cuba reaches five million mobile users

ETECSA, Cuba’s state telecommunications entity, announced this week that it has registered five million mobile phone lines, representing mobile access for nearly half of the country’s population.

Access to cellular phones has drastically increased in Cuba in recent years. According to an ETECSA press release, Cuba had just 223,000 active mobile lines 10 years ago, and nearly 800,000 mobile lines have been opened in 2018 thus far.

New dates announced for Havana art festival

Havana’s 13th Biennial art festival, the country’s largest international visual arts showcase, will be held from April 12-May 12, 2019. The festival was originally scheduled for late 2017, but was postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. Over 200 artists from 15-20 countries are expected to participate in the showcase, which will be themed, “La Construcción de lo Posible.

What We’re Reading

Why the U.S. Should Deepen Security Cooperation with Cuba, Geoff Thale and Marguerite Rose Jiménez, Washington Office on Latin America

Geoff Thale and Marguerite Rose Jiménez of the Washington Office on Latin America explain why, “With shared waters, shared challenges, and shared threats, the United States should maintain and deepen its cooperation with Cuba.”

Senate Dems Urge “Americas Together Policy”

Fourteen Democratic Senators sent a letter to Vice President Pence urging him to adopt an “Americas Together” vs. an “Americas First” policy at the Summit of the Americas. The letter, led by Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticizes President Trump’s “derogatory comments” about countries in the Western Hemisphere, and calls for “respectful engagement” as a means of recovering U.S. leadership in the region.

With Trump skipping the Summit, the stakes are even higher for the U.S., Daniel Erikson, BlueStar Strategies

Daniel Erikson, managing director at Blue Star Strategies, LLC, and Member of CDA’s Board of Directors, writes in the Miami Herald that the absence of the U.S. President from this weekend’s Summit of the Americas will hinder the U.S.’ ability to engage with the region moving forward, and comes at a particularly inopportune time one week before Cuba selects a new president.

New Startup Cuba Documentary Series Puts The Cuban Entrepreneurial Spirit On Display

A new weekly documentary series, “Startup Cuba,” highlights the work of Cuba’s cuentapropistas in an attempt to “show Americans that Cuban entrepreneurs do exist and that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as we have.”

El Salvador Update, April 2018: FMLN grapples with post-election turmoil and human rights censure, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, El Salvador expert and CDA Advisory Board Member, catalogues post-election turmoil in El Salvador, analyzes the events that led to the FMLN’s consequential political defeat in that country’s March 4 legislative and municipal elections, the FMLN leadership’s response, and the lead-up to next February’s presidential election in El Salvador.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

DC’s Atlas Performing Art Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players. Emily Mendrala, CDA’s Executive Director, will speak on a panel discussion following the film screening.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 4/6/2018

April 6, 2018


President Trump and President Castro will attend Summit of the Americas

Peruvian Ambassador to the U.S. Carlos Pareja confirmed the attendance of Presidents Donald Trump and Raúl Castro at the eighth Summit of the Americas next week in Peru, the AP reports; the Cuban government has not yet announced President Raúl Castro’s plans to attend. The Summit will focus on governance and anti-corruption, and will be held in Lima weeks after the resignation of former Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski amid allegations of corruption. With regional attention focused on the deepening political, economic, and humanitarian woes in Venezuela, and Venezuelan President Maduro’s vow to attend the Summit despite Peru’s decision to revoke his invitation, Cuba is not expected to be a focal point. President Trump will not meet with President Castro, according to White House officials, but we can expect U.S. officials to meet with Cuban participants in the Summit’s Civil Society Forum.

Cuba participated in its first Summit of the Americas in 2015, as we reported at the time, at which Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro held an historic meeting—a symbolic end to the more than half-century hostility between both governments. President Obama said the meeting put them on “a path toward the future,” reported the Washington Post. Cuba will undergo a historic leadership transition the week following the Summit, when Cuban Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel is expected to assume the presidency on April 19.

Visa difficulties force Esperanza Spalding, National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba to cancel Chicago concert

The National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, has canceled a February 2019 concert in Chicago, according to a report from a Chicago-based public media organization WFMT. The move was reportedly attributed to visa difficulties resulting from the halt to most visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. As we previously reported, the U.S. Embassy in Havana stopped processing visa applications (with very few exceptions) following the October diplomatic drawdown, and recommends all Cuban nationals seeking non-immigrant visas to the U.S. to apply for those visas in a third country.

DOT awards new Cuba flights to U.S.-based airlines

The U.S. Department of Transportation tentatively awarded new U.S.-Havana routes to five major airlines from four cities in the country, reported USA Today. The decision was made after several carriers reduced service to Cuba last year, freeing up empty slots. The new flights proposed last week will include routes to Havana from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boston and Houston. The Miami Herald reported that the schedule will likely be finalized later this month.

In June 2016, the department of transportation awarded the first commercial service to Cuba to six U.S. airline carriers: American Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines. However, as we reported last November, Sun Country abandoned its Cuba flight allocation because, “The market demand remains uncertain and there is still a lack of clarity surrounding travel restrictions.”

New cruise lines, hotels; travel to Cuba remains popular

This week, Victory Cruise Lines announced plans for a series of 13- and 14-night cruises to circumnavigate Cuba between January and April 2019. Carnival Cruise Line also added departures—20 departures aboard Carnival Paradise from Tampa in 2019, reported SeaTrade Cruise News. This is in addition to 17 recently announced Cuba cruises aboard the Carnival Sensation departing from Miami in 2019 and the 11 cruises to the island aboard the vessel through next year. The Spanish Meliá Hotels International chain plans to open a total of seven new hotels in Cuba in 2018 in cities outside of Havana.


Cuba boosts oil drilling

Cuba continues the extension of an horizontal oil well in Varadero, which should reach 8,240 meter depth this year, becoming the deepest in Latin America and the Caribbean, reports Prensa Latina. Last year Cuba Trade Magazine reported that due to the elevated costs of offshore drilling, foreign investors are interested in expanding production by using horizontal wells that grab the oil near the coastline. According to the article, Cuba’s domestic production comes from onshore drilling, and because the existing wells are maturing, onshore output has fallen 11 percent in the last decade or so. New operations are backed entirely with Cuban capital, according to Marcos Antonio Pestana Roque, head of a regional state oil enterprise.

Cuba desperately needs to reform currency system, but timing couldn’t be worse

Cuba’s Central Bank denied rumors last week that it had imminent plans to withdraw one of the island’s two currencies from circulation. However, economists agree that it will be very difficult for the Cuban economy to advance without unifying the two currencies, reports The Miami Herald. The article quotes Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist, who posits, “It is impossible for Cuba to achieve a significant and sustainable improvement in the productivity of its economy so long as it operates with two national currencies, with multiple exchange rates between them and an official exchange rate that is excessively overvalued.”

As we reported last week, according to the Central Bank, Cuban government officials have repeatedly stated that establishing a single monetary system is a top priority for this year, but they have not announced a more specific time table. Despite rumors that the CUC will be withdrawn from circulation this year, experts such as Richard Feinberg, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, believe that, due to its many complexities, the next president won’t rush the currency unification.

Cuban President Raúl Castro has made the monetary consolidation a top priority in Cuba’s economic updating process, saying in December 2017 that the currency unification could no longer be delayed. More than 200 Cuban specialists are working the issue, according to the chairman of Cuba’s Economic Policy Commission.


President Raúl Castro receives Saudi Foreign Minister

On Monday, President Raúl Castro received Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Minister, Adel Bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir. During the visit, both parties stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation between both nations. This was the first visit to Cuba by a Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister. Minister Al-Jubeir also met with Cuban Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Padilla, and with Ricardo Cabrisas, Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and Minister of the Economy, reports Prensa Latina.


A Summit on the Brink: Trump in Latin America, Daniel P. Erikson, BlueStar Strategies

Dan Erikson previews the April 13-14 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, noting that unique circumstances may lead to it being an historic event.

Cuban Revolutions, Lauren Du Graf, The Topic

Audiences worldwide enjoy the talent of Cuban musicians, but what they do not know is how musicians record their albums in a vibrant underground music-recording industry in the streets of Havana. Check out the story of Isnay Rodríguez and Guampara Music, an independent music collective he runs out of his Centro Habana home.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

DC’s Atlas Performing Art Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players. Emily Mendrala, CDA’s Executive Director, will speak on a panel discussion following the film screening.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.

Cuba Central News Brief: 3/30/2018

March 30, 2018


Update to Immigrant Visa Processing for Cuban Nationals

In the coming months, Cuban nationals seeking immigrant visas to the United States will no longer be processed at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, but will now conduct visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guayana, the State Department announced Thursday. Due to the halt in consular services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, which we previously reported, Cuban nationals must process visa applications in a third country. While Cubans applying for non-immigrant visas can apply at any U.S. Embassy or consulate outside of Cuba, immigrant visa applications are limited to one pre-determined location. A State Department spokesman stated, “In determining an alternative location, now Georgetown, Guyana, we considered a number of factors including availability of flights, visa requirements, space to accommodate additional applicant files, and availability of staff.”

In contrast to Colombia, Cubans do not need a visa to travel to Guyana. However, a round-trip flight from Havana to Guyana in early June costs approximately twice as much as one from Havana to Bogotá, and, while multiple airlines offer regular non-stop service between Havana and Bogotá, the majority of flights to Georgetown, Guyana require a layover.

Kennedy Center Hosts Cuban Art and Culture Festival in May; Cultural Diplomacy

The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., will host Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, a Cuban art and cultural festival, in May. The festival will feature performances by Cuban musicians and dancers, as well as works of theater and visual art. The Latin American Herald Tribune reported the official Cuban delegation will number almost 200 and will amount to a significant cultural diplomacy push in a time of political tension and diminished cultural exchange. At a press conference in Havana this week, Fernando Rojas, Cuba’s Deputy Culture Minister, called the festival “a gift for those who yearn for peace.”

The full schedule can be found here, and will include Pablo Milanés, the band Los Van Van, the painter Roberto Fabelo, jazz performer Yissy García y su Bandancha, as well as pianists Aldo López-Gavilán and Jorge Luis Pacheco.


Cuba’s Communist Party Admits Errors, Slowdown in Reforms

This week, Communist Party officials gathered at a two-day central committee plenary session where they expressed a commitment to continuing efforts to update Cuba’s economic model, a process initiated in 2011 by President Raúl Castro, Reuters reports. The reforms, which are designed to shrink the state sector and the subsidized services it offers citizens; expand the private sector through cooperatives, self-employment, and small-scale private enterprise; and seek foreign investment, moved quickly at first, but have stalled in recent years. Marino Murillo,  Vice President of Cuba’s Council of Ministers, attributes the slow pace to a number of factors, including a disengaged Cuban bureaucracy. Additionally, as we previously reported, Cuba suspended the issuance of new business licenses for certain private-sector activities as it reportedly implemented reforms and corruption safeguards. Reuters reports frustration among Cubans, who expected reforms to move more quickly.

Cuba quashes rumors currency unification around corner

Cuba’s Central Bank denied rumors Thursday that it would withdraw one of the island’s two currencies from circulation over the weekend, reports Reuters. The official note was released after Cubans were rushing to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) for Cuban pesos. Cuban government officials have repeatedly stated that establishing a single monetary system is a top priority for this year, as we reported. According to the Central Bank, the date of the currency unification has not yet been set, and recalled the decision made by the Communist Party in its last congress to guarantee bank deposits in accounts in foreign currencies, CUCs, and Cuban pesos.


Vietnam State Visit to Cuba

The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, arrived in Havana Wednesday for a three-day state visit, reports Granma. He met with President Castro, Esteban Lazo, President of the Parliament, and other top Cuban officials. The two countries signed several governmental and business cooperation agreements, including one on cooperation on rice production for the 2018-2022 period, reports Prensa Latina. They also signed several Memoranda of Understanding on technical and scientific cooperation, environmental protection, response to climate change, and cooperation on construction.

Cuba also granted the first concession to administer and market part of the Mariel Special Development Zone to Viglacera S.A., a Vietnamese company, reports Reuters. Havana and Hanoi established diplomatic relations in December, 1960, and maintain close ties.


Cuba After the Castros, Marguerite Jiménez, Foreign Affairs

In Foreign Affairs, Marguerite Jimenez, Director of the Cuba Program at the Washington Office on Latin America and professor at American University and Georgetown University, profiles Cuba’s likely next president, First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and makes the case for Washington to engage with Cuba’s next president.

First Female U.S. Envoy to Cuba Couldn’t Even Get a Seat at a Baseball Game

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston runs an excerpt from her recently released book, Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle With Castro’s Cuba in the Daily Beast.


Oil Drilling in Cuba: How Soon? How Safe?, Dan Whittle, Columbia Energy Exchange

Dan Whittle, Senior Director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba Program, speaks with Columbia Energy Exchange host Bill Loveless about U.S.-Cuba engagement on energy and environmental issues, Cuba’s energy needs, and lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.


Film: Ghost Town to Havana, April 17, Atlas Performing Arts Center

D.C.’s Atlas Performing Arts Center presents an inspiring film about an Afro-Cuban youth baseball coach from Havana, an African-American coach from Oakland, California, and the friendships developed between the coaches and their players.

Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World, May 8-20, The Kennedy Center

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week international festival celebrating Cuban culture, featuring music, dance, theater, visual art, and more.