Cuba Central News Brief: 1/19/2018

This week in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Tourism booming in Cuba despite tougher new U.S. policy

Cuba received record numbers of visitors in 2017 despite the tightened travel restrictions of the Trump administration, reports the Associated Press. Figures from Cuba’s government show 4.7 million visitors last year, with more than 619,000 coming from the United States, an increase of 217% in U.S. travelers from 2016.

The Trump administration announced policy changes in June 2017 that were implemented in November, rescinding the permissions for individual people-to-people travel and prohibiting transactions with certain Cuban entities with ties to the Cuban military. Those Cuban entrepreneurs whose enterprises serve U.S. travelers saw a sharp downturn in business immediately following President Trump’s June policy announcement. Many Cuban entrepreneurs have appealed to the Trump administration not to stifle travel, as we have previously reported.

Commercial flights and travel to Cuba by cruise ship were not affected by the new policy. More than 541,000 cruise ship passengers visited the island in 2017, up from 184,000 the previous year. Travel to Cuba is still legal and straightforward, as we reported last week.

Cuba and U.S. hold technical meeting on law enforcement cooperation

Interagency delegations from the U.S. and Cuba met on Tuesday in Washington to discuss cooperation on criminal matters, reports Cuba’s state news agency Prensa Latina. The discussion included dialogue regarding exchange of information in criminal investigations and was the second technical meeting convened on the topic as part of the ongoing U.S.-Cuba law enforcement dialogues started in November 2015. Most recent was a dialogue on cybersecurity, convened January 12.

The third bilateral law enforcement dialogue was held in Washington in September 2017, and addressed various national security topics, including fugitives, Cuban nationals in the U.S. with final orders of removal, and the incidents affecting diplomatic personnel in Havana. Technical discussions since 2015 have addressed a variety of other topics, including human trafficking, migratory fraud, counter-narcotics, and cybercrime.

IN CUBA

Cuban economic data omitted from 2016 accounts

Cuba’s latest report on the country’s economy omits key details, reports Reuters. The 2016 statistical abstract, published by Cuba’s National Statistics Office in summer 2017, does not include specifics on key macroeconomic indicators, including gross domestic product, exports, debt, and money supply. It is not clear whether this specific information will be released, as it usually is within a months following the abstract’s publication.

In December 2017, Cuba announced that its economy grew by 1.6%, surprising analysts who had predicted 0.5% growth in 2017, following the 2016 recession in which Cuba’s economy shrank by almost 1%.

Cuba continues to recover from Hurricane Irma

Four months after the Category 5 Hurricane Irma ravaged Cuba’s northern coast in September 2017, the island is still recovering, reports the Miami Herald. The storm caused 10 deaths and $13 billion in damages.

Cuba is renowned for its comprehensive national and local disaster and emergency response preparedness, restoring power quickly and clearing flood damage within weeks, and repairing tourism facilities ahead of the winter season. However, a report by Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma found that of more than 156,300 homes damaged in the hurricane, more than 111,000 are still awaiting repair.

Central coastal provinces like Camagüey and Villa Clara were hardest hit, with less than a third of homes rebuilt so far. In Ciego de Ávila, 30% of educational centers, 34% of health facilities, and over 25% of businesses are yet to be repaired. By contrast, about 90% of damaged homes in Havana have been repaired.

Reuters reports the hurricane damaged 740,000 acres of sugar cane and 40 percent of the country’s mills. Cuba’s state-run sugar enterprise, AZCUBA, urges maximum efficiency in this year’s sugar cane harvest.

Cuba accepted foreign aid for Irma recovery from the United Nations, Venezuela, and notably U.S.-based organizations. U.S.-based CubaOne Foundation led a relief mission to the island in October.

RECOMMENDED READING

The Havana health mystery, Philip Peters, The Cuban Triangle

Cuba expert Philip Peters analyzes the response to health ailments affecting U.S. diplomats in Havana and the politicization of the investigation into the incidents.