• Frank Gonzalez

CUBA NEWS MAY 30, 2021


Lines in Havana and throughout Cuba are the start of Cuba's new "special period"
Long lines in Havana in May 2021 to purchase scarce food. Photo by Saddam Soto

Cuba remains closed to travelers from the United States, and we do not plan to arrange travel to the island until October. Most businesses on the island are closed, including tourist attractions and restaurants, and there are serious shortages of food and basic necessities. Only a handful of flights are operating weekly between the U.S. and Cuba. American, JetBlue, and Southwest are each flying to Havana once a week. All passengers arriving in Havana from the U.S. must quarantine for at least a week in one of a handful of authorized hotels. Prices at the lowest priced hotels are $520 for a shared double room for five days. Air Canada plans to begin regularly scheduled flights to Varadero and Cayo Coco in July. U.S. airlines have not announced plans to commence regular flights to Cuba.

The Cuban government claims to be working on a handful of COVID-19 vaccines, two of which are in the final stage of development. However, last week the Cuban government announced that it would begin to vaccinate the general population without waiting for the conclusion of Phase 3 trials. Healthcare workers in started being vaccinated in March as part of the trials, and Cubans as young as thirty received their first of three doses last week. Case counts hover at just over one-thousand, and never increase significantly from day to day or increase exponentially as they have in all other countries. This may be because the number of new cases is not being accurately reported or there are problems with the tests. When the first cases were being reported in early 2020 the daily count of new cases hovered around fifty for several months.

According to rumors circulating in Havana neither of the Cuban vaccines is effective. Three significant deaths in the past month indicate as much. Medical personnel in Havana started receiving the first dose of the Cuban Abdala vaccine in March and were fully vaccinated by the end of April. On May 26th Doctor Pedro Vilorio, a well-known and respected pediatric surgeon passed away in Havana due to COVID related symptoms. The eighty-nine-year-old had been hospitalized for a month. On May 12th, the seventy-four-year-old President of Cuba’s Baseball Federation, Higinio Velez Carrion passed away, and on April 27th the lead researcher in charge of Cuba’s COVID vaccine program, Dr. Gustavo Sierra, passed away. All three were probably among the first Cubans to have been vaccinated by Cuba’s homegrown and apparently ineffective vaccine.

The Cuban government announced on May 17th that it would prosecute any Cuban national who resided overseas that posted social media content that was critical of the communist party or the government. The announcement stated that these non-resident Cubans could be tried in absentia and upon their return to the island.

On May 25th, the Cuban Olympic baseball team arrived in Miami for pre-Olympic qualifiers and within an hour the team’s second baseman abandoned the team. Media reports have described the twenty-two-year old’s action as a defection, but I would describe it as self-declared free agency. Cesar Prieto Echevarria is one of Cuba’s best prospects and will likely be playing in the major leagues within a couple of years.

Last week the Cuban government announced a 30% decrease in the amount of flour that would be available across the island. The flour shortage has been an ongoing issue in Cuba since October 2018, when both bread and eggs disappeared from markets across the island. Cuba imports over 60% of its food, and those imports have declined significantly since March 2020, so food has become difficult to obtain, with Cubans spending countless hours waiting in lines just to buy what little food is available.

On May 27th , the U.S. Coast Guard rescued eight Cuban nationals and recovered the bodies of two others in the Florida Straits approximately sixteen miles from Key West. The Coast Guard was searching for ten missing passengers from the same group, whose boat had capsized.

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