Cuba Central News Brief: 12/1/2017

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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.

Cuban revolutionary figure dies

Armando Hart, who fought in the Cuban Revolution, oversaw Cuba’s vast literacy campaign, and served in various leadership positions in Cuba’s government for over 40 years, died November 26, the Associated Press reports.

Hart served as Cuba’s minister of education, minister of culture, and led the country’s efforts to disseminate the works of national hero José Martí, among other positions. As minister of education, Hart directed Cuba’s 1961 literacy campaign, which according to UNESCO saw Cuba’s rate of illiteracy drop from 24 percent to 4 percent in one year.

Cuba marks one-year anniversary of Fidel Castro’s death

Cuba held a series of vigils and concerts across the country to mark the anniversary of former-President Fidel Castro’s November 25 death last year. He was 90 years old.

You can read CDA’s 2016 statement on former-President Castro’s passing here.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Raúl Castro meets with North Korean Foreign Minister; Trudeau discussed North Korea with Castro

Cuba’s President Raúl Castro met with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in Havana last week, according to a press release from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting came during a visit by a North Korean diplomatic delegation to the island, during which the two reiterated their bilateral relationship and criticized “arbitrary and unilateral certifications and listings established by the U.S. government,” as Granma reported. (The U.S. State Department re-instituted North Korea on its list of State Sponsors of Terrorism last week; President George W. Bush had removed North Korea from the list in 2008. Cuba was removed from the list in 2015.)

Separately, last week, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that while in Havana last year, he had discussed with President Castro ways to ease global tensions with North Korea. Cuba, which is one of the few countries with diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, has been involved in such discussions before. In September 2016, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Cuba’s former-President Fidel Castro in Havana to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, as Reuters reported at the time.

What We’re Reading

Cuban businesswomen seek Rubio meeting as U.S. policy bites, Marc Frank, Reuters

A group of female Cuban entrepreneurs write to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, requesting a meeting to explain how the new U.S. policy toward Cuba has impacted them. Several of the women traveled to Washington on a partially CDA-sponsored delegation of Cuban entrepreneurs in July to urge policymakers against increasing U.S. restrictions on travel to the island.

Alaska Airlines cites Trump policy change in ending service to Cuba from L.A., Hugo Martin, LA Times

Hugo Martin reports in the Los Angeles Times that Alaska Airlines’ decision earlier this month to cancel service to Cuba was directly related to new travel restrictions imposed by the Trump administration, rather than low demand, as some other airlines have cited.

What We’re Listening To

‘The Highlight Of My Career’: Diplo On Major Lazer Performing In Cuba, NPR’s All Things Considered

Musician Diplo speak to NPR on his group Major Lazer’s free performance in Cuba, a forthcoming documentary on the show, and how music spreads on the island.

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