CUBA CENTRAL NEWS BRIEF: This week, in Cuba news…

We’ll be back with a full-service Brief next week.

In the meantime, this week, in Cuba news…

U.S.-Cuba Relations

State Department asks two Cuban diplomats to leave U.S. after “incidents” involving officials at embassy in Havana

The U.S. State Department asked two diplomats at Cuba’s embassy in Washington to leave the country in May, following a series of “incidents” that left an undetermined number of officials at the U.S. embassy in Havana with hearing loss, the Associated Press reports; according to Canada’s CBC News, at least one Canadian diplomat working in Havana has been treated for similar symptoms. The source of the incidents, which began in Fall 2016, is currently being investigated by the FBI and Diplomatic Security Service in conjunction with the governments of Canada and Cuba.

According to State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert, “some U.S. government personnel” stationed in Havana returned to the U.S. after experiencing “a variety of physical symptoms,” which the AP reports were later attributed to a “covert sonic device” placed near or inside the officials’ residences. According to CNN, U.S. officials are investigating the possibility that a third party carried out the incidents “as ‘payback’ for actions the U.S. has taken elsewhere and to ‘drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba.’” Nonetheless, Ms. Nauert raised that the incidents suggest Cuba’s government is not fulfilling its responsibilities under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which guarantees protection of diplomatic agents.

Cuba’s government, for its part, denied any involvement in the events, saying in a statement released by its Ministry of Foreign Relations, “Cuba complies rigorously and seriously with all its obligations arising from the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” and that it would “cooperate in the clarification of this situation.” The statement also criticizes the U.S.’ request that Cuban diplomats leave the United States, calling the decision “unjustified and unsubstantiated.”

In Cuba

Cuba issues clarifications about freeze of entrepreneur licenses; government seeks to reorganize private taxi cooperative

Marta Elena Feitó, vice minister of Cuba’s Ministry of Labor and Social Security, issued clarifications Monday on CubaTV about last week’s announcement that Cuba would temporarily suspend the issuing of new licenses for would-be entrepreneurs, stating that Cuba’s government would process the 1,600 pending applications for licenses that were filed prior to the announcement while the government works to “approve new laws that will support [entrepreneurship].” Ms. Feitó also commented on the length of the suspension, stating, “We are not talking about a very long period of time. We are not talking about years.”

Separately, Cuba’s government announced this week that it would implement an “experiment” to encourage the over 7,000 taxis ruteros, or private taxis, in Havana to join a state-run cooperative, CubaDebate reports. Drivers opting to join the cooperative would have access to lower gas prices, exclusive routes throughout the city, and spare parts for their often aging vehicles; they would also be required to sign a contract with Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation dictating their routes and fares.

What We’re Reading

U.S. should keep ties to evolving Cuba, Editorial Board, Tampa Bay Times

The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board writes that in the wake of policy changes in Cuba, it is more important than ever that the U.S. continue engagement with the island.

The Harm Behind Trump’s Restrictions on US Travel to Cuba, Collin Laverty, Cuba Trade Magazine

Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Education Travel, writes in Cuba Trade Magazine that “Cubans across the board are bound to suffer” from President Trump’s Cuba policy changes.

Cuban graffiti artists bring social critique to Havana’s walls, Sarah Marsh, Reuters

Reuters’ Sarah Marsh notes the increase in social activism and public expression in Cuba, as measured by art displays across Havana.

Cuban visit shows why we should restore ties and set Cold War policies aside, Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register

Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Reguster recounts her recent trip to Cuba, during which she concluded that it’s time for the U.S. and Cuba “to set aside the enmity and engage respectfully as neighbors.”

What We’re Listening To

Changing tides of U.S. policy may sink Cuban tourism hopes, PBS NewsHour

NewsHour’s Miles O’Brien speaks with Cuban entrepreneurs about the important role U.S. travelers play in their business’ success.

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