Daily Briefing – February 9, 2018

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A daily look at deals, events, and transactions of note for trade and investment in Cuba.

UM doctor rules out stress as cause of ‘sonic attack’ symptoms: University of Miami doctor Michael Hoffer, who examined American diplomats stricken with mysterious symptoms, told el Nuevo Herald that he had ruled out mental angst, which Cuban officials suggested could be the cause. “It is not psychosomatic,” Dr. Hoffer said. The State Department had Hoffer, a former U.S. Navy doctor, examine 80 U.S. diplomatic employees and relatives in Havana after 24 diplomats and other workers complained of headaches, loss of hearing, and other ailments. The State Department suspects the Americans were attacked with some kind of sonic weapon, although FBI investigators found no evidence of that. (The Miami Herald)

Photographer returns to Cuba and shakes up media landscape: Celebrated photographer Luis Mario Gell has been busy since returning from Italy to Havana five years ago. He has started an art gallery, co-founded an online cultural magazine, and made videos for leading performers and the Ministry of Tourism, pioneering the use of drone footage on the island. He’s also transforming an old glass factory owned by the Cuban government into a TV and film studio, and that’s just a partial rundown of his projects. (Cuba Trade)

U.S., Cuba differ over Venezuelan move toward early elections: The Venezuelan government’s decision to move ahead with early elections despite objections by the opposition stoked tensions within the country and abroad. The State Department issued a statement criticizing the “decision to unilaterally advance presidential elections without guarantees to ensure free, fair, and internationally-validated elections,” and saying the U.S. stood with the Venezuelan people as President Nicolas Maduro’s “regime continues to dismantle Venezuela’s democracy and reveals its authoritarian rule.” Cuba’s Foreign Ministry countered by tweeting: “It is imperative that all Latin American peoples unite in pursuit of defending our legitimate interests against imperialist greed, and solidarity with #Venezuela.” (State Department, Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba)

Cuba says U.S. shows bias against Havana with internet push: Cuba’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday pushed back against criticism leveled at the Cuban government during Wednesday’s first meeting of President Trump’s Cuba Internet Task Force. Members of the task force said Cuba restricted internet access to stifle dissent, noting that internet penetration in Cuba is between 5 percent and 40 percent, with the higher figure counting users who only can access government-run internet. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said that the U.S. was showing its bias against Cuba by singling it out “in a world where almost 50 percent of the population still does not have access” to the web. (Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba, The Associated Press)

Trump touts success backing religious liberty, criticizes Cuba, Iran: President Trump touted his success defending religious liberties in the U.S. and abroad during an address at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. He used the occasion to criticize the records on religious freedom in Cuba and other nations he has sparred with since taking office last year. “We know that millions of people in Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea and other countries suffer under repressive and brutal regimes,” Trump said. “America stands with all people suffering oppression and religious persecution.” (ABC News)

Algeria says more Cuban doctors not included in oil deal: A spokesman for Algeria’s Health Ministry, Slim Belkessam, is refuting reports that a recent agreement on oil and medical services exchange with Cuba includes a request for more Cuban doctors to work in the North African nation. Belkessam said the agreement just “seeks to update the legal framework governing Algerian-Cuban cooperation in the health sector” already ongoing. The medical cooperation was included in a Jan. 30 agreement to increase Algerian oil exports to Cuba to make up for reduced supply from Venezuela. (14ymedio)

Cornell students report eye-opening experience in Cuba: Eleven Cornell University students returned to campus after a winter-break trip to Cuba saying the cultural exchange transformed their views of the island. “I was able to right all of the misconceptions that Americans have about Cuba,” said Andrea Coleman, whose family is from Cuba but left before the revolution. The students said they knew about critics who call Cuba’s government a dictatorship, but not about its record on education and health care. “This trip showed me that there are two sides to every story,” said junior Christine Estimé. (Cornell.edu)

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