Cuba newsletter October 2016

This newsletter from Sue Bingham, AIUK Cuba Coordinator has some updates from the International Secretariat Caribbean team in Mexico and some significant  news stories from Cuba:

1) A number of dissidents, including Guillermo Fariñas,  winner of the 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought,  carried out hunger strikes to protest against what seems to be a rising tide of repression of opponents of  the Cuban government. They were not in detention at the time.
Many people wanted to know why Amnesty has been silent on this subject. The IS view is that AI’s policy on hunger striking – for those detained – is neutral.  This means we understand hunger strikers have a right to take this extreme measure, as a form of free expression. We do not try and deter hunger strikers – although it is of course concerning – or express support. In this case as they were not detained, it’s complex to comment on the actual hunger strike.
Amnesty would only be able to comment on the current human rights concerns they were raising, in other words, the alleged increase in violence and detentions reported, but obstacles remain in independently verifying those claims.

2) The Caribbean researcher has been busy preparing a report on police brutality & its effects on female relatives of victims in Jamaica (which will be launched on 23 Nov), and will now begin to focus on the Cuba study – ONLINE FREEDOMS – which is scheduled to be released in March / April 2017. There will be opportunities for campaigning activities then.

3) In September I was invited to the Foreign Office (FO) to brief the new UK Ambassador to Cuba who will be taking up his post in Havana this month. I expressed my disbelief that Cuba has been removed from the list of Countries of Concern, which means that the FO will no longer produce quarterly updates on human rights issues there.
I was assured that this was a difficult decision and Cuba only narrowly missed inclusion in the list, so human rights will continue to be monitored closely, and established projects to foster human rights will be continued.

4) On 13 September President Obama renewed the Trading with the Enemy Act,  which in fact allows him to continue to tweak the embargo. This was followed on 14 October by  a ‘Presidential Policy Directive’ (PPD-43) devoted to ‘United States-Cuba Normalisation’ which aims to consolidate changes adopted with regard to Cuba, and making the new policy toward the island irreversible.
PPD-43 states:

“We recognise Cuba’s sovereignty and self-determination and acknowledge areas of difference. We seek to address such differences through engagement and dialogue, and by encouraging increased understanding between our governments and our peoples.”

The policy directive coincided with a US Treasury department announcement which set out new measures for joint cooperation projects in the fields of scientific research, and US imports of Cuban manufactured pharmaceutical products.

The measures, which come in to force on 17 October include allowing US citizens travelling to the island to import, for their personal use, unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars in their luggage.

The restriction which prevented hundreds of foreign ships which had docked in Cuba from making port in the United States in order to load or unload for a period of 180 days, is also being lifted.

Full text of Presidential Policy Directive available here

Full list of Treasury Department Regulatory changes here

Full text of President Barack Obama’s statement regarding the Presidential Policy Directive on Cuba available here


5) Cuba was not hit as hard by Hurricane Matthew as the neighbouring island of Hispaniola


However, the town of Baracoa was devastated and 90% of the buildings destroyed. Thanks to efficient Cuban evacuation procedures, though, there were no fatalities.

There are reports of arrests and confiscation of materials of six independent journalists who were attempting to report on the aftermath of the hurricane in Baracoa.

Cuba has turned down emergency relief from the US, (who have sent aid to Haiti, Jamaica & the Bahamas) but has accepted help from Japan & Venezuela.