Cuba Central News Brief: 1/12/18

January 12, 2018

This week in Cuba news…


Tillerson tells AP Cuba still risky; FBI doubts sonic attack

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week that he would not send personnel back to the Embassy in Havana until Cuba’s government provides assurances that they can protect U.S. diplomats on the island, reports the Associated Press. Tillerson characterized the cause of the health ailments that afflicted 24 U.S. diplomats in Havana as “deliberate attacks,” however a new report by the FBI indicates that the Bureau’s ongoing investigation has found no evidence of sonic attacks. That report has not been released publicly

Returning from a trip to Cuba last week, Senator Jeff Flake said the Cuban Interior Ministry had received the same information from the FBI. Flake stated “There’s no evidence that somebody purposefully tried to harm somebody. Nobody is saying that these people didn’t experience some event, but there’s no evidence that that was a deliberate attack by somebody, either the Cubans or anybody else.”

On Tuesday, officials from the State Department’s Western Hemisphere, security, and medical bureaus testified before a Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the subject, saying that the Department still does not understand the nature of the incidents. Francisco Palmieri, acting Assistant Secretary for the Western Hemisphere, said that it remained Cuba’s obligation to stop the attacks. The top Cuban official for U.S. affairs, Josefina Vidal, forcefully rejected claims that the incidents were attacks and that the Cuban government was responsible for or aware of any actions against U.S. diplomats in Havana.

By law, the Secretary of State must convene an Accountability Review Board (ARB) to examine serious injury to diplomats serving overseas. CNN reports that retired Ambassador Peter Bodde, who led U.S. missions in Libya, Nepal, and Malawi, will head the ARB.

State Department softens travel warning to Cuba, recommends ‘reconsidering’ trip

This week, the State Department made changes to its travel alert system and downgraded the Cuba travel warning to “Reconsider travel,” reports the Miami Herald. The travel warning to Cuba was triggered in September by the Ordered Departure of diplomats in Havana in response to the mysterious ailments afflicting U.S. personnel, as we previously reported.

The new travel advisory for Cuba removes language in the original travel warning that held Cuba’s government responsible for preventing attacks on U.S. diplomats.  The advisory will be reviewed every six months. Travel to Cuba reached record levels in 2017, with over 1 million Americans visiting. Cuban entrepreneurs have already felt the impact of fewer U.S. visitors following the announcement of increased travel restrictions in June, but travel is still legal and straightforward, as the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Also this week, Norwegian Cruise Line announced it would double its Cuba-bound fleet by May 2018, sailing from Port Canaveral in addition to Miami.

A Poor Neighborhood In Chicago Looks To Cuba To Fight Infant Mortality

Health workers in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood are receiving mentorship and advice from Cuban doctors in their efforts to lower the local infant mortality rate, reports Kaiser Health News. The program, which brought three doctors and a nurse from Cuba to Chicago for five months, is a partnership between Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health and the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

Cuba has achieved a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S., as we reported last week. Experts, such as Dr. Mary Anne Mercer of the University of Washington, point out that Cuba surveys and guarantees resources for at-risk pregnant women as a matter of course.


Algeria sends more oil to Cuba as Venezuelan supplies fall

Algeria exported 2.1 million barrels of light sweet crude oil to Cuba in 2017 and expects to make the same delivery in 2018, reports Reuters. This, along with 250,000 barrels of refined oil from Russia and a new 1.8 million barrel deal with Russian state oil company Rosneft, are intended to help offset the steep drop in Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba, which have fallen 40% since 2014. Cuba had relied on Venezuela for 70% of its fuel, including oil to refine and re-export.

In December, Venezuela formally abandoned its 49% stake in Cuba’s Cienfuegos oil refinery, which operated at just 37% of its 65,000 barrels per day capacity in 2017, due to the fuel shortage.


Cuba’s Five Issues to Watch in 2018, Elizabeth Gonzalez, Americas Society / Council of the Americas

Elizabeth Gonzalez previews key issues facing Cuba in 2018, including the forthcoming leadership transition, a new immigration policy, the economy, relations with other countries, and internet access.

Despite policy changes, many opportunities remain for US businesses in Cuba, Anya Landau French, The Hill

Anya Landau French, Senior Policy Advisor at the law firm Akin Gump, discusses opportunities for U.S. businesses to continue and deepen their engagement in Cuba.

Cuba has a lung cancer vaccine. Many US patients can’t get it without breaking the law, Sally Jacobs, PRI

Sally Jacobs, award-winning reporter, tells the stories of U.S. lung cancer patients forced to travel illegally to Cuba to obtain the medication that allows them to survive, due to new stringent U.S. travel rules.


Cuba Central News Brief: 1/5/2018

January 5, 2018

Happy New Year!

Thank you for your incredible support for CDA and our good work.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba allows Cuban descendants to apply for citizenship, with requirements

Cuba’s 2017 Gaceta Oficial, the publication of the country’s laws, included policy changes expanding possibilities for the children of Cubans living abroad to obtain Cuban citizenship. Beginning this week, it is no longer necessary for applicants to reside in Cuba for any length of time or for their parents to have been born in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald. Applications are still subject to political considerations, including whether the applicant or parents have committed acts considered counterrevolutionary by Cuba’s government.

Children of Cuban descents whose parents were born outside the island but later obtained Cuban citizenship may now apply and must pass a new citizenship exam proving knowledge of Cuba’s political system, current events, and the Spanish language, and must provide evidence of strong and sustained links to the island for at least two years. Cuban-Americans born in the U.S. would be subject to these requirements. The new changes do not alter Cuba’s eight-year travel ban on Cuban doctors, athletes, academics, and government officials who do not return from government missions abroad.

The changes taking effect this week were announced in October 2017, along with the removal of travel restrictions on Cubans who left the island by irregular means, including many Cuban-Americans. The decree is the latest in a series of measures easing restrictions on travel and citizenship requirements that began in 2013, when Cuba eliminated the exit visa requirement and began allowing Cubans to live abroad for two years without losing their citizenship.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

European Union’s top diplomat visits Cuba to strengthen ties

This week the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, visited Havana. Reuters reports the visit was intended to bolster EU economic and political relations with Cuba. In December 2016, the EU signed a Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement with Cuba to normalize diplomatic relations, dissolving the previous EU Common Position toward Cuba, under which the EU had previously imposed sanctions on the island.

Mogherini met with Foreign Investment and Cooperation Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez. In public remarks, she highlighted the EU’s position as Cuba’s number one trading partner and forthcoming agreements on renewable energy and agriculture. She also criticized the U.S. trade embargo, stating her regret “that the current U.S. administration has apparently changed course with Cuba.” The European Investment Bank is scheduled to visit Cuba later in January. Mogherini concluded the two-day visit with a meeting with Cuban President Raúl Castro.

In Cuba

Cuba reaches lowest infant mortality rate in its history

In 2017, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was four per 1,000 births, according to preliminary data from Cuba’s Medical Records and Health Statistics Directorate. State newspaper Granma reports that this is the tenth consecutive year Cuba maintained an infant mortality rate below five per 1,000 live births. In 1970, Cuba’s infant mortality rate was 38.7 per 1,000 births.

Japan leads major industrialized countries with an estimated infant mortality rate of 2 per 1,000 births in 2017. The estimated infant mortality rate in the U.S. is 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births in 2017.

What We’re Reading

Cuba Looks More to Russia as the Prospects for Better U.S. Ties Fade Under Trump, Interview with William M. LeoGrande, World Politics Review

American University Professor and Cuba expert William LeoGrande discusses Russia’s reinvigorated economic and political ties with Cuba in the context of soured U.S.-Cuba relations.

A Cuban Island That Has Played Both Paradise and Prison, Tony Perrottet, The New York Times

Travel author Tony Perrottet travels to Cuba’s Isle of Pines and describes its historical development from the prison island where Fidel Castro planned the Revolution, to a growing eco-tourism destination of today.


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Cuba Central News Brief 12/15/2017

December 15, 2017

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

U.S., Cuba hold migration talks; interdiction of Cubans drastically down

Officials from the U.S. State Department and Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) met in Washington Monday for the 31st meeting of the biannual Migration Talks series.

According to a MINREX press release, the two delegations discussed the benefits of cooperation between Cuba’s Border Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the effects of the State Department’s decision to freeze consular services at its Havana embassy. A State Department press release noted that the U.S. has met its annual commitment for the fiscal year ending September 30 to grant immigrant visas to 20,000 Cubans under the 1994 and 1995 Migration Accords.

Meanwhile, the State Department statement announced, “Apprehensions of Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry decreased by 64 percent from fiscal year 2016 to 2017, and maritime interdictions of Cuban migrants decreased by 71 percent.” Earlier this year, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft attributed the precipitous drop in migrant interceptions to the Obama administration’s January decision to rescind the “wet foot, dry foot” policy, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the time. (In fiscal year 2016, the U.S. Coast Guarded interdicted 5,213 Cuban migrants at sea and the U.S. border patrol apprehended 1,930 Cuban migrants at U.S. ports of entry.)

Delta to alter Cuba routes; American and JetBlue look to consolidate Cuba frequencies

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines will cancel six of its seven weekly flights between New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and Havana, effective February 1, but is looking to add a second daily Miami-Havana flight, according to a letter published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle by Alexander Krulic, Delta’s associate general counsel for regulatory & international affairs.

Krulic writes, “Recent regulatory changes have resulted in lower demand for travel to Cuba from areas outside of South Florida.” The action comes just one week after Rodrigo Bertola, Delta Air Lines’ director for South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, said the company “is very happy” with its Cuba routes and is looking to add two more weekly flights, as EFE reported at the time.

Meanwhile, American Airlines and JetBlue Airways, who filed applications with the Department of Transportation in August to add new Cuba frequencies, have amended their requests to propose absorbing Cuba flight frequencies left behind by Delta and Frontier. (Frontier ended its service to the island, a once-daily Miami-Havana route, in March.) American and JetBlue had previously each proposed adding seven weekly flights to Havana to their current itineraries; this week, American filed with the Department of Transportation to add another seven weekly flights between Miami and Havana, and JetBlue filed to add seven weekly flights between Tampa and Havana and claim two of Delta’s flights between New York and Havana. Airlines FedEx, Southwest, and United also filed with the department in September to increase frequencies to the island. Read the rest of this entry »

Very Fresh Thinking

December 8, 2017

This week, President Trump said, “When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking. We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past. Old challenges demand new approaches.”

Three years prior, President Obama said something similar: “When I came into office, I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy… I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”

The two presidents were speaking about different issues. But, as we approach the third anniversary of the historic diplomatic breakthrough between the U.S. and Cuba, we can reflect on the progress made and the benefits accrued to people in both countries, and the folly of returning to the failed strategies of the past.

President Trump has clearly expressed his desire for new approaches in foreign policy. We hope that he will step back and reflect on how the fresh thinking in our Cuba policy over the past three years has already begun to heal the wounds of the past and to advance U.S. interests in the entire Western Hemisphere.

CDA’s Year End Appeal Continues– Preserve engagement with Cuba! Click HERE to support CDA’s advocacy work!

This week, in Cuba news… Read the rest of this entry »

Cuba Central News Brief: 12/1/2017

December 1, 2017

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*NOTE* THANK YOU for all you do to support CDA and engagement with Cuba. As a token of our thanks, we’ve teamed up with Cuba Trade Magazine to offer our readers a FREE subscription to the Cuba Trade publication. CLICK HERE to access your complimentary subscription.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Cuba reaches 4.2 million travelers in 2017

Cuba has reached its 2017 goal of 4.2 million travelers one month ahead of schedule, according to CubaDebate. CubaDebate reports that the 4.2 million travelers include 573,000 visitors from the U.S.

Cuba announced last December that it was aiming for 4.2 million visitors in 2018, and stated in July that it was on target to reach the mark in spite of the threat of new U.S. travel restrictions (which have since been published). In 2016, Cuba received 4 million international visitors, including 285,000 from the U.S.

In Cuba

Cuba holds municipal elections

Cuba held elections for municipal assembly delegates last week, the first step in an election cycle which will culminate in the selection of a new president, Reuters reports. Municipal elections are the sole step of the process where candidates are directly elected.

The elections were originally scheduled for late October, but were postponed due to the effects of Hurricane Irma. According to CubaDebate, the country saw 86 percent voter turnout, which the Miami Herald reports is its lowest mark in 40 years. CubaDebate also reports that women made up 35 percent of elected representatives, a slight increase over the number elected in 2015.

The elections also served as an arena for some U.S. and Cuban officials to trade barbs. Cuba’s First President Miguel Díaz-Canel, considered a possible successor to President Raúl Castro, said at a polling station “Our people don’t bow down … to external pressure and some people’s desire to see our system change,” and “The future [of U.S.-Cuba relations] depends on them, not us.” Meanwhile, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert opened her November 28 press briefing by calling the elections “a flawed process” under “an authoritarian state.”

Nestlé, Cuba break ground on new factory in Mariel

Nestlé S.A. and Cuba’s food enterprise Corporación Alimentaria have begun construction on a joint enterprise factory to produce coffee and powdered beverage products, cereal, and cooking aids, Reuters reports.

According to a press release from Nestlé, the Swiss multinational will invest roughly $55 million in the factory, which is expected to employ over 250 people and produce 18,500 tons in products annually. The factory is expected to open in January 2020. Nestlé currently operates two factories on the island, which produce mineral water, carbonated soft drinks, and ice cream.

Cuba begins 2017-2018 sugarcane harvest

A sugar mill in Cuba’s western Mayabeque province has begun harvesting sugarcane, marking the beginning of the country’s November-May harvest season, Reuters reports.

The 2017-2018 harvest season is marked by concerns over issues stemming from Hurricane Irma, which damaged 300,000 hectares of sugarcane crops and 40 percent of sugar refineries in Cuba.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Photo of a Family

November 17, 2017

*NOTE* THANK YOU for all you do to support CDA and engagement with Cuba. As a token of our thanks, we’ve teamed up with Cuba Trade Magazine to offer our readers a FREE subscription to the Cuba Trade publication. CLICK HERE to access your complimentary subscription.

* * *

“Behind all of the distance

Behind the separation

Behind all of the governments

All of the borders and religion

There is a photo of a family”

~Carlos Varela, “Family Photo”

This time last year, we gathered at the Hamilton as Dave Matthews and Carlos Varela, “the poet of Havana,” shared a stage to recount stories of togetherness and exchange across geographic and linguistic boundaries.

The occasion, CDA’s 10th anniversary celebration, served to capture the spirit of collaboration that engagement represents. As CDA Founder Sarah Stephens said at the time, “So much can be gained, so much can be learned when you bring people together and truly listen to what’s being said.”

In the face of what seems like a difficult time for our two peoples, in the light of new regulations and the administration’s decision last month to restrict visa services at both countries’ embassies, those words ring truer than ever. As she went on to say, “There will be, sometimes, overwhelming obstacles, detours … but we can get through it together.”

And indeed, the policy changes are obstacles, especially for the people and families divided across the Florida Straits. The stories, as shared this week by Congresswoman Kathy Castor, are heartbreaking: A son in Cuba who cannot secure a visa to see his mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy in the U.S. A father in the U.S. whose wife and young daughter had visa interviews scheduled for late October at the U.S. Embassy in Havana – interviews which the embassy has since cancelled. And, stories of disappointment: a Cuban skateboard team who had planned to participate in a Tampa competition last weekend. They were slated to be Cuba’s first skate team to compete in the U.S. – until their visa applications and appointments were cancelled without a refund.

As the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board wrote this week, “The embassy pullout reflects this administration’s inclination to disengage.” And yet, the U.S. and Cuban people have shown time and time again that they yearn for closer ties, and the present is no exception. In recent days, we’ve seen a number of promising signs that the human side of our relationship is as strong as ever.

Take Cuban clothing design shop Clandestina, profiled last week in Vogue Magazine. Clandestina have found their designs, slick reproductions of Cuban culture and lifestyle, to be in high demand among U.S. visitors, and have recently began selling products in the U.S. – one of the only Cuban companies to do so.

Airbnb recently agreed to partner with Cuban taxi company and vintage car repair shop NostalgiCar for one of its Cuba “experiences.” In July, NostalgiCar co-owner Julio Álvarez told DC policymakers, “It means a lot to us to be able to help keep the doors open between the U.S. and Cuba, to be able to help our businesses as well as our communities.” Airbnb, meanwhile, spoke out last week about engagement with Cuba, telling The Hill, “Travel helps to break down barriers between people and countries and contributes to a greater understanding of the world.”

As we noted in our “Cuba Travel 101” fact sheet published this week, there are still plenty of ways to visit Cuba and continue engaging. We encourage you to do so.

Because, as Dave Matthews reminded us last November, “There’s no reason on earth we shouldn’t find as many reasons as possible to embrace each other.”

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Let’s Make a “Better Deal”

November 10, 2017

In June, President Trump announced plans to bring about a “better deal” by “canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” ordering relevant agencies to promulgate new regulations based on a National Security Presidential Memorandum published by the White House.

This week, the Treasury and Commerce Departments published new Cuba regulations (described below), and the State Department formulated a list of entities with ties to Cuba’s military and other select government departments, with which transactions are now prohibited.

While the new regulations, which restrict U.S. travel to Cuba and regulate how Americans can spend money on the island, do not go so far as to “cancel” the rapprochement started in December 2014, they certainly cannot be considered a “better deal,” either. The rules restrict the rights of U.S. citizens to travel freely, effectively limiting how much money will be spent at paladares and casas particulares, and are a blow to regional and global perceptions of the U.S. as a partner.

As we saw at the United Nations last week, virtually the entire world adamantly opposes the U.S. embargo. This isn’t a case of the U.S. having wisdom or a moral compass the rest of the world is missing. It is symbolic of a tendency to ignore the mistakes and failures of the past, and to pursue interventionist politics without an eye for their consequences. Meanwhile, doubling down on this failed policy will only continue to hurt U.S. credibility and perception abroad, two things already in sharp decline.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin released a statement saying that the new regulations would “encourage the [Cuban] government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.” Not only does this ignore the reality that attempts to strong-arm Cuba’s government into reforms have failed for over 50 years, it makes a flawed judgement that limiting the ability of Americans to visit Cuba will somehow yield economic prosperity for people on the island.

Even a cursory look at the explosion of U.S. travel to Cuba clearly shows how it benefits people in both countries. But you needn’t take our word for it – read the words of the Cuban people who we spoke with in the aftermath of President Trump’s announcement last June. The bottom line is, the administration’s new policy will most hurt the people it supposedly aims to support.

Despite the setback, we would be remiss to analyze this policy without noting a few positive (or perhaps more aptly, not-so-negative) takeaways. The new regulations allow for continued diplomatic relations, bilateral agreements and commercial contracts remain in effect, and ongoing negotiations on issues such as property claims are expected to continue. All this at a time when there is momentum in Congress to add bipartisan cosponsors to bills to ease travel and trade restrictions.

In addition to these agreements, the manner in which the writing of the new policy unfolded shows that many of the gains from engagement are already entrenched.

Recall the reports from the early months of the Trump administration that in discussions about altering U.S. policy toward Cuba, “Most of the agencies favored maintaining Obama’s more open policy.”

This week, Senator Marco Rubio, purportedly the architect behind President Trump’s memorandum, lamented that his intentions were not perfectly reflected in the regulatory iteration. Said Rubio, “Bureaucrats in the State Department who oppose the President’s Cuba policy refused to fully implement it.”

We think that one factor behind the softening was that departments, unlike the White House, heard some of the right voices. In July, CDA helped sponsor a group of Cuban entrepreneurs to travel to Washington to deliver policy recommendations to the Departments of State, Commerce, and the Treasury. Among their recommendations, the entrepreneurs wrote, “The Department of Commerce should adopt a favorable disposition to approving those exports to Cuba likely to benefit Cuban private sector individuals and/or companies.” That is precisely what Commerce did, a rare bright spot in this week’s regulatory changes.

This influence is made all the more noteworthy by the Miami Herald’s reporting this week that politicians like Senator Rubio and Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart were kept “in the dark” on the policy process, learning about the new rules well after news reporters.

Undoubtedly, the regulations published this week are a setback for U.S.-Cuba relations, and ultimately reflect the decision of a president with misguided intentions. But our two countries have weathered far graver moments in the past, and we are confident that we can brave the current storm to continue on the path toward normalization.

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