HomeUS News updateBetween the U.S. and Cuba, more cultural exchanges and engagement signal modest...

Between the U.S. and Cuba, more cultural exchanges and engagement signal modest shift in policy

MIAMI – After years of relatively limited cultural exchange between the US and Cuba, the US Embassy in Havana has been hosting events, often in collaboration with the Cuban government. With recent meetings between the two governments and delegations visiting the island, a slight change in relations has appeared.

A recent event, with American singer-songwriter Tonya Boyd-Cannon, was organized in conjunction with Cuba’s Ministry of Culture. Documentary filmmaker Don Porter visited Havana in February for a series of exchanges with Cuban filmmakers. Porter’s visit, which was sponsored by the State Department’s American Film Showcase, was part of Black History Month celebrations, as was Boyd-Cannon’s.

A State Department spokesperson told NBC News, “As the embassy continues to expand its staff in Havana, we are developing a public diplomacy program to enhance our direct engagement with the Cuban people.”

American jazz saxophonist Ted Nash played at the Jazz Festival in Havana in January and participated in a cultural event with music students at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes. Although his trip was organized by a US-based foundation, it relied on help from both the US and Cuba.

“The support we’ve had for this project is significant in some aspects, because we’ve had support from the highest levels of both governments,” Cathy Barbash, president of the Barbash Arts Foundation, told NBC News during an event for Nash. events.

A State Department spokesperson said, “Cultural events are a longstanding, integral part of our public diplomacy activities and are designed to connect directly with the Cuban people.”

Cuba’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the recent cultural exchange.

recent changes after stress

The US embassy in Cuba recently reopened visa and consular services, the first time since the US repatriated most of its staff following unexplained health incidents in 2017 that came to be known as the “Havana syndrome”. US intelligence agencies have found no evidence linking a foreign adversary to the so-called syndrome, according to a recently declassified document.

But the embassy’s charge-in-chief, Benjamin Ziff, told the Miami Herald in January that the imprisoning of hundreds of Cuban protesters stemming from island-wide protests in July 2021 is the “most serious obstacle” to further improvement in ties.

During Joe Biden’s presidency, Cubans on the communist-run island have expressed more discontent than in any other period since the 1959 revolution.

Weeks after Biden was elected in 2020, Cuba’s Ministry of Culture became the center of attention when a rare protest spontaneously erupted outside the building with young artists calling for greater freedom of expression on the island.

Although the protests were a surprising show of discontent, even more unexpected were the large-scale anti-government protests that began in July 2021, six months after Biden was inaugurated. In tightly controlled Cuba, the protests were dealt with harshly by the authorities. More than 1,500 have been arrested and 675 are still in prison, according to Justicia 11J, the organization that monitors detentions.

Following the Cuban action, tensions between the two governments ran high. Biden called Cuba “a failed communist regime” and the State Department issued strongly worded statements condemning the action. In early 2021, the Biden administration said in a statement that its foreign policy is “focused on defending democracy and protecting human rights.”

After a lengthy review of Cuba policy that is slated to end in May 2022, Biden expanded US flights beyond Havana to airports across the island, eased limits on remittances and restarted a family reunification program.

Migration talks between the US and Cuba resumed as historic numbers of Cubans left the island for the US. Engagement between the two governments on law enforcement issues also resumed with a US delegation visiting the island in January. .

A small delegation of Democratic congressmen traveled to Cuba in December and met with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Another delegation from Delaware traveled to Cuba in January in search of ways to strengthen trade with the island. And Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment recently signed an agreement with the US-based NGO Ocean Foundation.

more change?

Cuban officials have repeatedly asked the US to remove Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism; Other countries on the list are Iran, North Korea and Syria.

But Cuba will have to take an important step for the Biden administration to take further steps, said Rick Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a Washington, DC-based organization that supports engagement with the island.

“The Biden White House is not paying much attention to Cuba. They are almost completely consumed by the war in Ukraine and deteriorating relations with China,” Herrero said. “For Cuba to get the attention of the decision-makers in the Oval Office, they have to do something that will appeal to them (the US).” advance the interest.

Herrero, who has met with Cuban government officials, said he has pushed for the release of political prisoners to improve relations with the US.

“Before Cuban political prisoners are released, we should not expect the Biden White House to take active steps toward improving relations,” he said.

Relations between the two countries have been full of ups and downs in the last decade. Then-President Barack Obama’s historic thaw in engagement with Cuba led to warmer relations, relaxed travel restrictions and the first US presidential visit to the island since 1928.

But major diplomatic ties broke down shortly after President Donald Trump took office in 2017. He reversed most of Obama’s policies, condemning Cuba’s communist government. Relations deteriorated further when Trump withdrew most of the embassy personnel later that year.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana is planning more cultural workshops, speaker events, entrepreneurship training, and other activities in the coming months.

Carmen Cesin reported from Miami and Orlando Matos from Havana.



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