U.S.-Cuba News Brief: 06/21/2019

Dear Friends,

This week we hosted Cuba’s first independent fashion brand, Clandestina, in D.C. for a fabulous week of exchange, pop-up shopping, conversations, parties, and policy discussions. The business owners and fashion designers spoke about their experiences as women entrepreneurs in Cuba’s emerging private sector. Thank you to our sponsors Jirair Ratevosian,  Bryce Furness, and Christine Quinn, as well as Dacha Beer Garden, for supporting this exciting week of cultural exchange

Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to read more about our takeaways from the week and to stay informed on the latest Cuba news.

Still wondering about recent policy changes, including regressive changes to travel regulations and the elimination of cruise travel? Read more in CDA’s press statement and policy memo on U.S. policy changes under the Trump Administration.

Despite these changes, there are still legal avenues of travel to Cuba. Now more than ever, U.S. travel is important in order to foster collaboration and support for the Cuban people! See our updated Cuba Travel 101 guide.

Thank you to those who SUPPORT OUR IMPORTANT WORK.

This week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-CUBA RELATIONS

Tampa bay area starts to feel sting of Trump policies to reverse engagement with Cuba

Tampa Bay Times reports that Albert A. Fox Jr. of the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy in Tampa reacted to President Trump’s most recent travel restrictions by saying that this is the most critical point in U.S.-Cuba relations yet and that “we are going backwards and it is just a shame.” Fox predicts many links made during the Obama administration may come under threat in the future based on the Trump’s administration’s changes of Cuba policy that halted the issuing of U.S. visas in Havana, restricted remittances, and allowed Cuban nationals to sue companies for land lost during the communist revolution in Cuba. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the University of Tampa is already starting to feel the effects of these most recent measures. The school’s Center for José Martí Studies is bringing 30 U.S. scholars to campus next week to learn the history of Tampa’s role in the Cuban War of Independence during the 1890s. However, since Cubans now must travel to a third country to obtain a U.S. travel visa, some Havana professors cancelled due to the high costs of the visa process. Mayor Rick Kriseman from St. Petersburg, Florida, among other advocates for Cuba engagement, believe President Trump may go as far as designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism. This would negatively impact many public university programs that concern Cuba in South Florida. Most Americans and Cuban-Americans support Cuba engagement. The article reports that, “a 2018 survey by Florida International University found that 63 percent of Cuban Americans in Miami support open diplomatic relations with Cuba and 57 percent favor lifting all travel restrictions. They were evenly divided on the longer term question of whether to lift entirely the travel and trade embargo that the United States imposed on Cuba in the early 1960s.”

U.S. presidential hopefuls advocate better relations with Cuba

Several democratic presidential hopefuls have expressed their interest in improving U.S.-Cuba relations in the wake of President Donald Trump’s most recent increase in hostilities towards Cuba. Senator Amy Klobuchar has been the most vocal in advocating a return to President Obama-era rapprochement initiatives. Prensa Latina reports her saying, “’I led a bill to lift the embargo (blockade), and I believe that is what we have to do; more than 50 years of a failed policy do not necessarily mean another 50 years of the same failed policy.” Senator Klobuchar with the support of 12 other senators, including two other democratic presidential candidates, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, sent a letter to Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross that challenged the Trump administration’s hard line on Cuba.

Number of Cuban nationals detained by ICE has skyrocketed, new data shows

The number of Cuban nationals being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sharply risen over the last few years according to WLRN, a Miami based radio station that received this information through a Freedom of Information Act request. The data provided asserts that during the last year of Obama’s presidency in 2016, 1,271 Cubans were booked into ICE facilities. However, in 2018, a total of 8,514 Cubans were detained. In addition to detention numbers, deportation numbers have also risen since Trump took office. According to the article, in 2016, a total of 64 Cubans were deported back to the island, while two years later, that number shot up to 463.

Amid US-Cuba tensions, Cimafunk bridges a cultural divide

Cimafunk, headed and founded by Erik Iglesias Rodríguez, is a popular Cuban band that is setting the Western hemisphere ablaze despite a period of tense bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States. During these times, the cultural bridge that Cimafunk’s music is building between Cuba and various nations is all the more needed. Cimafunk toured the United States for 50 days and performed in 16 U.S. cities, after they made their debut at the music festival South by Southwest in Texas. More than just perform, The Nation reports that the band also took on the role of cultural ambassadors, complementing their musical performances with cultural, academic and community gigs. The members of the band also shared their views on race and gender issues with students at UPenn, Brown, Howard, Morgan State, Tulane and American University. Cimafunk’s sound is considered Afro-Cuban funk that is reminiscent of James Brown. Their infectious funk, groove and passion proves music is a powerful medium to bring people and countries together.

Exiles sue Expedia’s Trivago for ‘trafficking’ in Cuban property

Trivago now joins Carnival Cruise Line as one of the first companies to be sued under Title III of Helms-Burton, which was recently implemented by the Trump Administration and allows U.S. persons to sue those “trafficking” in properties nationalized by the Cuban government after the 1959 revolution. The lawsuit was initiated by the Mata family in Miami, who allege that Trivago has been booking rooms at and therefore benefitting from their previously family-owned hotel in Cienfuegos, Cuba: Hotel San Carlos, Bloomberg reports.

Trump’s Cuba cruise ban, weak Europe demand dent Carnival’s forecast

Reuters reports that Carnival Corp cut its shares nearly 13%, a six month low, as impacts from President Trump’s sudden ban on cruise ships to Cuba and diminished demand in Europe begin to set in.  Cruises have been forced to reroute away from Cuba destinations since the administration’s travel ban took effect on June 5, 2019.

US adds Saudi Arabia, Cuba to blacklist on human trafficking

The U.S. added Saudi Arabia and Cuba to its blacklist of countries that do not do enough to combat human trafficking, according to France 24. The report asserts Cuba fell from its prior designation as “Tier 2 Watch List” to “Tier 3,” in part, because of its national program that sends doctors overseas. “Tier 3” designations are accompanied by sanctions, the impact of which on Cuba, an already heavily sanctioned country, is yet unclear.

Cubans queue for food as Trump tightens sanctions

Cubans are suffering from shortages in food, medications and other goods due, in part, to the Trump administration’s sanctions on U.S. travel to the island, the Financial Times reports. “Everyone expects it to get worse and there isn’t even anything to feed to chickens or a pig if you raise them in your yard,” says Anaida González, a retired nurse from Camagüey. The effects have been far-reaching outside of Cuba as well. The sanctions, along with the implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, have led to an unfavorable investment environment, and banks outside the island have terminated foreign accounts related to Cuba.

IN CUBA

Cuban private sector hit hard by recent U.S. sanctions

MENAFN reports that the non-state sector in Cuba is already being negatively affected by U.S. sanctions. Since President Trump’s sanctions took effect, sales by artisans have dropped by about 60 to 80 percent. Héctor Danilo Rodríguez, a union leader from La Rampa, told Prensa Latina that this was a direct cause of President Trump’s most recent restrictions on travel to Cuba. The tightening of remittances will also negatively impact Cuba’s businesses and private sector. Moreover, the Title III provision in the Helms-Burton act negatively impacts the non-state sector as it discourages foreign investment to the Island.

Draft electoral law presented in parliament

On Thursday Cuban lawmakers reviewed a draft of the country’s new electoral law which will be presented to local legislators from June 21 to June 26 “to encourage public debate”, Prensa Latina reports. Among other changes, the draft proposes that the number of members of the Council of State be reduced from 31 to 21. The draft also recognizes municipal elections, where delegates to the municipal assemblies of the People’s Power are elected, and national elections, where the President and Vice President are elected. Finally, the document shifts the proportions of how many legislators are elected per number of citizens. The process of cementing Cuba’s new electoral laws is a part of the implementation process of the country’s new constitution. As CDA reported at the time, the new constitution was approved by referendum in February 2019.

Cuban Protestant churches form new evangelical alliance

This month, citing a sentiment that they were not well represented by the Cuban Council of Churches, seven protestant churches in Cuba came together to form The Cuban Alliance of Evangelical Churches, Sight Magazine reports. In the past, Cuba’s government “has…attempted to keep divisions between various denominations with attempts at collaborative work ‘met with harsh crackdowns,’” according to Lee Stangl who is the head of advocacy at Christian Solidarity Worldwide, an organization based in the UK that advocates for  religious freedom.

CUBA’S FOREIGN RELATIONS

What does Sweden’s withdrawal of EU-Cuba bill mean?

The Swedish government has withdrawn from a proposal that would have ratified an EU-Cuba deal covering trade and political dialogue, The Local SE reports. The EU believed that further isolation would not encourage Cuba to improve on human rights. The implementation of this deal was a pathway to fight the country’s one-party system and human rights violations. However, two of Sweden’s political parties said in 2018 that they would not back the agreement until there were significant changes in the Cuban regime’s stance on human rights. The Local SE reports this puts the agreement on hold, leaving Cuba as the only Latin American country that the EU does not have some kind of legal agreement with.

Cuba, Barbados strengthen bilateral ties, Cuba reiterates willingness to strengthen ties with its emigration

This week, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez, visited a series of countries in the Caribbean as part of a tour that took him to Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Guyana and Barbados. During his visit in Guyana, the Cuban foreign minister participated in the 6th CARICOM-Cuba Ministerial meeting where he expressed appreciation for continuing medical cooperation between the two countries and Guyanese support in opposing the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Rodríguez also met with Cubans living in Guyana and expressed a desire to strengthen relations with Cuban nationals living abroad, Prensa Lationa reports. In Barbados, the last stop of the Caribbean tour, the Cuban foreign minister met with the Governor General of Barbados, Sandra Mason, as well as with Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, Foreign Minister Jerome Walcott, and other government officials and figures. To end his trip, Rodríguez visited the monument to the Martyrs of Barbados, dedicated to the victims of a mid-air terrorist attack on a Cuban commercial aircraft.

Cuba shares experiences of constitutional process with China

Cuba’s Council of State secretary, Homero Acosta, traveled to China on Monday to explain the country’s experiences with the recent constitutional reform, reports Prensa Latina. Acosta, who is also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), said in remarks delivered before his trip that at his meetings with leaders, he will share the understanding gained from every stage of the constitutional process. In addition, Acosta stated he plans to learn about some initiatives implemented in China that could possibly help with Cuba’s new institutional changes. The agenda includes meetings with officials from the Ministry of Justice in addition to members of the Communist Party of China and the Foreign Ministry.

Cuba, Britain vow to expand economic, trade ties

Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canal and Lord David Triesman, co-chair of Britain’s Cuba Initiative, met this week in Havana, Cuba to discuss strengthening trade ties between the two countries, Xinhua reports. Britain’s Cuba Initiative was founded in 1995 as a working group at the government level between London and Havana to strengthen investment links. The meeting lasted two days, and they pledged to expand and strengthen bilateral cooperation and economic and trade relations. Lord Triesman was accompanied by a delegation of 30 British entrepreneurs that committed to developing more cooperation in the fields of industry, agriculture, tourism, green energy, and telecommunications.

Meliá faces $10 million lawsuit for hotels on confiscated properties in Cuba

Relatives of Rafael Lucas Sánchez Hill, a former Cuban businessman, have filed a lawsuit against Meliá, a Spanish hotel chain with lucrative hotel property in Cuba. The Sánchez Hills are Cuban Americans who live in the United States and are suing Meliá for property that was confiscated by the Castro government in 1960. According to the Miami Herald, this is the first ever lawsuit to be filed in Spain by Cuban Americans against a Spanish company. The lawsuit will be heard in Spanish courts, so it will not be covered by Title III of Helms Burton, the recently-enacted provision of U.S. law that allows for suits in U.S. courts for “trafficking in confiscated property.” The Spanish hotel chain is being sued by the Sánchez Hills for up to $10 million in compensation.

RECOMMENDED READINGS AND VIEWINGS

Cuba’s generosity after Chernobyl, Doreen Weppler-Grogan, The Guardian

In a letter to the editor, Dr. Doreen Weppler-Grogan critiques The Guardian’s extensive coverage of Chernobyl, a new TV series about the nuclear disaster. She notes The Guardian neglects to mention that Cuba had the largest program to aid those affected by the nuclear accident, including “medical care, schooling, clothing, food, accommodation, playgrounds – all free of charge.” She also notes that Cuba is planning to offer treatment to the children of victims of Chernobyl who are suffering from similar symptoms and that the recent tightening of the embargo will harm not only the Cuban people, but also those people seeking treatment in Cuba.

New travel restrictions will only hurt Cuban people, Patricia Tomé, Orlando Sentinel

Patricia Tomé was in Cuba with university students when the Trump administration announced the most recent travel restrictions to Cuba. According to Tomé, the Cubans who were on the trip were “disappointed and desolate.” The Cubans knew that these restrictions would negatively impact the non-state sector and the Cuban people. Tomé reports that the restrictions come at “a twofold agenda for the Trump administration: to win the Cuban-American vote in Florida and to force the island nation to end its support of the discredited socialist president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.” Tomé notes that decades of history show the embargo did not change the political environment in Cuba, yet it did impoverish and cause misery to the Cuban people. Engagement is important now more than ever.

Tour operators remind public it’s still possible to visit Cuba, Jeri Clausing, Travel Weekly

Tour operators leading and organizing trips to Cuba have been proactive about letting past, present and future clients know that American visitors can still travel to Cuba despite the most recent travel bans by the Trump administration. According to Travel Weekly, Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel, said, “We’ve had dozens of small and large groups that were planning on visiting by cruise ship reach out,” he said. “And we’ve rebooked them with compliant land programs that allow them to visit and see Cuba now, often the original draw that had them sign up for the cruise.” Social media has been a major platform for spreading the word about what is still allowed and how American travelers can still legally travel to Cuba. Furthermore, in the wake of the new travel restrictions, tour companies in compliance with regulations from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) are developing tours that are designed to support the Cuban people and their independence from Cuba’s government.

Cuban artist sketches under the sea among fish and coral reefs, Rodrigo Gutierrez, Reuters

According to Reuters, “for Cuba’s Sandor Gonzalez, there is no better place to sketch than several meters below the surface of the sea, surrounded by iridescent Caribbean fish and fantastical coral forms.” Gonzalez was inspired by a Spanish biologist who painted underwater in Spain to document different species. Gonzalez sketches and paints with oil and charcoal, materials that are not water soluble. His favorite dive spot is in the Bay of Pigs. He is working on getting the State to approve his request to develop an underwater art center at the dive spot and to sell his work. He said, “I would like for a department of submarine painting to be created…I don’t think anything like that exists yet anywhere in the world.”

EVENTS

Actually, I’m in New York, Clandestina pop-up shop, June 4 – June 24, The Canvas by Querencia Studio, Brooklyn, NY

Cuba’s first independent clothing brand Clandestina will hold its first U.S. pop-up shop in New York.

Rafael Soriano: Cabezas (Heads) opening reception, June 20, Art Museum of the Americas, Washington, DC

The Art Museum of the Americas will host the traveling exhibition “Cabezas (Heads)” by Cuban-born artist Rafael Soriano, whose biomorphic, abstract, surrealist-like style is attributed to his exile from Cuba in the 1960’s.

Dayramir González: Afro-Cuban Jazz, June 22, Joe’s Pub, New York

Dayramir González & Habana enTRANCé embraces the pulse and mystique of New York, as well as the allure of early 20th Century Cuban sonic leanings and the cultural roots and myths of sensually fused Yoruba religious elements (Cuban-centric Yoruba beliefs identity both natural and spiritual characteristics as part of its foundation) elevated by Dayramir’s 21st Century precision.

Los Van Van’s 50th Anniversary, June 27, Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C.

Los Van Van have returned the United States on a tour to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Founded in 1969 by the late Juan Formell, Los Van Van continue to dominate as one of Cuba’s most well-known ensembles. The tour will present compositions from Los Van Van’s latest album, titled, La Fantasia, as well as some of their older famous hits.

Iconic Cuban Illustrator Gets First Exhibition in Miami, Over 50 Years After Death, June 7, 2019-Feb 2, 2020, Miami, Florida

The Wolfsonian Museum on Miami Beach has opened its doors to an exhibition titled  Cuban Caricature and Culture: The Art of Massaguer. The show will go on until February 2, 2020. This will be the first time Conrado Wilson Massaguer’s artwork will be shown in the U.S. since 1931. His illustrations helped to cement the image of Cuba as a tropical paradise in the minds of American tourists in the first half of the 20th century.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band Announces ‘A Tuba to Cuba’ Tour, Nov 29-Dec 1, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Baltimore, Maryland

Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be embarking on a Tuba to Cuba tour this coming fall. It will feature a soundtrack they created for their documentary of the same name, A Tuba to Cuba. Both their soundtrack and documentary are based on a trip they took to Cuba in 2015 to learn more about the origins of New Orleans Jazz.

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