CUBA BRIEF: Don’t miss new section: UM-Watch:Cuba. Mexican Foreign Minister asks Cuba for help; expands Castro’s credit line by $26 million Euros. Havana suspends more self employment licenses

ooking for “the forgotten Caribbean paradise,” a professor, writing in The Hill, discovers that in Cuba, time did not stand still – it went backward.”

Quoting newswire services, Havana based 14ymedio said on 16 August 2017that “The effect of the Venezuelan crisis on the Cuban economy is greater than expected, judging by the latest data from the National Statistics Office (ONE) that reveals a 70% fall in trade between the two countries in only two years.” 

Two days later on August 18th Reuters filed a story: “Mexico’s foreign minister is in Havana hoping to persuade Cuba, one of Venezuela’s top allies, to help resolve the tense political situation in the beleaguered South American nation…” In exchange for Havana’s promise to play a constructive role in Caracas the minister, Luis Videgaray agreed to “expand a credit line with Mexico’s state-owned Bancomext bank from 30 million to 56 million euros as a gesture of goodwill.”

With this issue CubaBrief begins a new section: , which will be published from time to time. Read the latest about the UM-ICCAS imbroglio, from yesterday’s The Miami Herald online “University of Miami president promises exiles no agreements will be established with Cuban universities.” Many continue to ask for the replacement of Dr. Andy Gomez, the recently appointed ICCAS interim director.  

The “government of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located in Oceania and part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, has suspended the sending of medical students to Cuba.” The cancellation is not an isolated event. The professional quality of Cuban graduates has been questioned in countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Pakistan, among other nations. Chilean doctors graduated from ELAM have also faced serious difficulties in passing the theoretical-practical exams required to practice their profession in Chile. In 2012, of the 477 students graduating from foreign universities who presented themselves in Chile to take the National Examination of Medical Knowledge, only 20% passed. The majority of those who did not pass the exam had obtained their degrees in Cuba,” reported 14ymedio.

The regime “announced the temporary and final suspension in the delivery of licenses for several forms of self-employment, a decision that has caused great nervousness in the private sector,” according to 14ymedio on August 18th. “In the most recent session of the National Assembly, the non-agricultural cooperatives (CNA) form of management was the target of Raul Castro’s criticism during his closing speech. ‘We decided to allow the cooperatives, we tried with some and immediately we launched ourselves to create dozens,’ he said. Castro said that many of the decisions in this sector have been made with ‘a good dose of superficialities and an excess of enthusiasm.”


The Hill, August 18, 2017

In Cuba, time did not stand still — it went backward

By J.A.S. Viera

Recently, I took a cruise from Miami to Cuba — the forgotten Caribbean paradise. At first, I was looking forward to seeing the beauty of the island’s first city. However, when my ship pulled into Havana’s bay, I quickly found myself appalled, deep within my soul. 

The waterfront was almost empty. The only thing in sight was a tourists vessel nearby. The harbor surroundings were destroyed, with broken cement and cracks everywhere. Buildings were abandoned like sightless phantom structures, disintegrating and putrid.

The seawater was anything but seawater. Instead, it was a mix of discarded fuels and garbage. It was salt water polluted by thick petroleum films where no fish dare enter. Pelicans and other birds that normally wade and swim in brine were nowhere to be seen. It looked as if they knew Havana bay was contaminated to such degree, that it would be simply foolish to dig around.

The atmosphere was dense. The air possessed an unpleasant odor. It was unfit to the point that it might not be suitable for people to breath, particularly if one is suffering from a pulmonary ailment.

By midday I went into the city. Instantly, I spotted old and deteriorated buildings; blemished with scars on the walls. There was no sign of recent maintenance — everything was neglected. Structures were abandoned and looked as if they could fall down at any minute; perhaps suitable for rats, roaches, bugs and scorpions — but not for humans. 

Edifices where people still dwelling, the balconies are use as dryers hanging clothes and filthy bedding, not moving at all. It seems that even the wind is reluctant to move around such a decrepit zone. 

As I walked through, a sad realization began to sink in: Havana was a dead city where its citizens have been forced to live or die, not knowing the difference between one or the other.

I am quite familiar with Cubans living in my state. They are optimistic, cheerful, and good-hearted. They are full of grace with a desire to prosper. But, what I saw in Havana broke my heart — beggars fighting among themselves for a penny. Almost no one smiled at me. The few who did it, displayed something much deeper than content — they were showing sorrow, despair, hopelessness. Their eyes were empty and their spirits dead. 

The system has robbed Cubans of their souls. And, most likely, they are unaware that this has been the case. When people become the pawns of a given agenda and are poorly informed of any other possibilities, they believe that they have everything — even when they don’t.

This is the product of communism. Everything belongs to the state — no wonder there are almost no shops, stores or restaurants. Instead, only a few disintegrating spaces here and there.

A friend of mine whispered to me that Havana is the city where time stood still. Well, that is not quite true. It has gone backward, perhaps 50 years before the end of the revolution. 

Thirty hours later, I found myself sailing back to Miami with one question in my mind: What is the rationality of a revolution if you are going to be worse off than before?

J.A.S. Viera is an author of multiple books on statistics. Viera previously worked as a professor of statistics, population, sociology and psychology at the University of Puerto Rico for 30 years.


The Miami Herald, August 18, 2017

University of Miami president promises exiles no agreements will be established with Cuban universities

By Nora Gámez Torres

Following a private meeting Friday with 17 representatives of the Cuban exile community, the University of Miami announced that it will not establish agreements with Cuban universities or other institutions run by the Cuban government.

According to a statement, UM President Julio Frenk assured participants that “the University will not establish any institutional agreements with the current Cuban government, including its universities.”

Frenk, who took over as UM president in 2015, found himself in the middle of a heated controversy with members of the Cuban-American community because of speculation about an impending closure of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) following the departure of its director, Jaime Suchlicki.

In July, UM announced the departure of Suchlicki without clearly explaining what would happen with ICCAS. The former director of the institute said he had received instructions to “cease operations” in August. He also referred to his departure as a “resignation,” not as a retirement, because of differences with Frenk about the future of ICCAS.

Some members of the Cuban exile community worried about the loss of a university space that frequently hosted dissidents from the island, as well as other opponents of the Castro regime. The appointment of ICCAS founder Andy Gómez as interim director seems to have added fuel to the fire.

On Thursday, Inspire America President Marcell Felipe issued a statement asking for Gómez’s replacement because of his involvement with boat trips to Cuba “in which he lectures U.S. businessmen on investing in Cuba.” Gómez has said he canceled his participation in these trips.

Similarly, the Cuban Resistance Assembly, a coalition of Cuban exile organizations, said in a statement Thursday that Gómez’s appointment would “further divide the Cuban-American community of the University of Miami, rather than unite it” and requested “that the University / Institute does not establish relations of exchange with academic institutions on the island because they are under the direct control of the Cuban one-party totalitarian state.”

UM found an “elegant solution” to the controversy, Felipe said. After the meeting, the university also announced that a search for a new permanent ICCAS director would begin “immediately” and that the search would be headed by UM Provost Jeffrey Duerk.

“We will develop a mechanism for the Cuban-American community to provide input on this important search. While the search for a permanent director is underway, no policy changes or hiring will take place at the Institute,” the UM statement added.

The gathering with exiles, which was closed to the media, included high-profile Cuban Americans and others with an interest in Cuba. Among those present: Brigade 2506 President Humberto Arguelles; former Coral Gables mayor and diplomat, James Cason; vice president and regional general manager of Univision in Miami, Claudia Puig; author and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner; Felipe, of Inspire America, as well as several members of Facts About Cuban Exiles (F.A.C.E) and Operation Pedro Pan.

“In my opinion many things were clarified,” said Montaner. “Dr. Frenk acknowledged the merits of Suchlicki and assured that ICCAS would continue to function.”

“I think the meeting was important in order to explain what ICCAS meant under Suchlicki,” he added, “as an expression of the Cuban victims of the totalitarian dictatorship.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres