CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: Very Fresh Thinking

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.

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This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

State Department reportedly to announce new head of mission in Havana

Ambassador Philip Goldberg, a career officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, is expected to be named chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Reuters reports. If approved by Cuba, Ambassador Goldberg would replace current Chargé D’affaires Larry Gumbiner, who himself was publicly named to the embassy’s top post on an ad-interim basis in October, as we reported at the time.

A congressional aide told Reuters that Ambassador Goldberg is “career and best of the best.” Among other State Department roles, he has previously served as ambassador to the Philippines from 2013-2016 and Bolivia from 2006-2008. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales notably expelled the ambassador in 2008 for allegedly “conspiring against democracy and seeking division” in the country.

Royal Caribbean to expand Cuba service; Delta Air Lines wants to increase flights

U.S. cruise line Royal Caribbean announced this week that it will add additional passenger capacity and sail to new U.S. and Cuban cities on its itineraries between the two countries in 2018, USA Today reports. The line currently sails to Havana from Tampa and Miami on the 1,602-passenger Empress of the Seas; next year, it will add sailings on the 2,350-passenger Majesty of the Seas, offer itineraries involving Cuban cities Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, and begin launching trips from Fort Lauderdale.

Separately, Rodrigo Bertola, Delta Air Lines’ director for South America, Central America, and the Caribbean, said this week the company “is very happy” with its Cuba routes and is looking to add two more weekly flights to the island in spite of recently-published travel regulations, EFE reports. The statement is in contrast to recent decisions by Alaska and Sun Country Airlines to abandon their Cuba frequencies.

Secretary of State Tillerson reiterates concerns over alleged Cuba attacks

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this week restated his belief that health issues suffered by diplomats in Havana were the result of “targeted attacks,” and that Cuba could stop the incidents.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr. Tillerson stated, “What we’ve said to the Cubans is, ‘Small island. You’ve got a sophisticated security apparatus. You probably know who’s doing it. You can stop it. It’s as simple as that.’” He also said that he has placed restrictions on U.S. officials sharing information with Cuba on the issue “out of respect for the privacy of the individuals” affected and so as “not to provide whoever was orchestrating these attacks with information that’s useful to how effective they were.”

Cuba has repeatedly reiterated that its investigations have revealed no information on the source of the incidents. Mr. Tillerson’s remarks came after the Associated Press reported Wednesday that doctors evaluating affected diplomats found white matter “brain abnormalities” likely unrelated to sonic interference.

Cuba’s Foreign Relations

Cuba’s imports from China drop in 2017

Cuba imported $1 billion in goods from China in the first 10 months of 2017, down from over $1.4 billion in the same period in 2016, largely due to a shortage of hard currency, Reuters reports. As we reported in August, China overtook Venezuela as Cuba’s largest trade partner in 2016, the first time Venezuela had not been Cuba’s top partner this decade.

According to Reuters, China’s commercial office in Cuba said the decline in trade this year is “due to Cuba’s payment problems.” In July, Ricardo Cabrisas, Cuba’s minister of the economy and planning, told Cuba’s National Assembly that the country’s first-semester export revenues were more than $400 million lower than expected, depleting the country’s already low cash supply. Economic effects stemming from issues in Venezuela, low sugar and nickel prices, and foreign debt payments have all made a dent in the island’s coffers.

What We’re Reading

House Foreign Affairs Committee urges medical institutes to investigate health incidents in Cuba

Representatives Ed Royce (CA-39) and Eliot Engel (NY-16), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, write to the directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health urging them to “take a leading role in investigating” health effects suffered by diplomats in Havana. On Wednesday, two days after publishing the letter, Rep. Engel released a statement criticizing the level of communication between Congress and the Trump administration on the issue, noting that he had learned from a report in the Associated Press of new information about health symptoms suffered by diplomats, rather than from a State Department briefing.

What will be Raúl Castro’s legacy?, Richard Feinberg, Brookings Institute

Richard Feinberg, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, writes that reforms under Cuba’s President Raúl Castro provide “all the more reasons for the next generation of Cuban leaders … to launch their island state into deeper phases of global integration and economic transformation.”

Cuba battling medicine shortages in wake of cash crunch, Reuters

Reuters reports that Cuba’s cash shortage has depleted its supply of medicine, as the country imports 85 percent of its pharmaceutical products.

Kennedy Center to celebrate Cuba in two-week festival in May, Peggy McGlone, Washington Post

The Washington Post reports that the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will host a two-week festival next May that will highlight Cuban theater, dance, visual arts, music, and film.

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