Things That Matter

Trump Has Made It More Difficult For Cubans To Seek Asylum So Many Are Being Forced To Settle In Mexico

Among the dilapidated buildings in Downtown Juárez lies Little Habana, a new restaurant emblazoned with Cuban flags, classic car art, and blasting reggaeton music providing the local growing community of Cuban asylum seekers a reminder of home. 

NPR recently reported about the new eatery that owner Cristina Ibarra opened four months ago once she noticed the burgeoning Cuban community that’s developing in the area.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BzidNrpg164/

She ran a taco business for 20 years before opening up a place that’s meant to evoke home for the refugees. 

“The Cubans leave their hotels and come to eat at the restaurant as if it were their own home,” Ibarra told NPR. “They stretch out, relax and talk. They share their experiences, their fears, their accomplishments … and that gives me tremendous satisfaction right now.”

The dishes are not interpretations but authentic recipes since all of her 14 employees are from the Caribbean island and advise her on menu items.

View this post on Instagram

Vamos a probar #ComidaCubana

A post shared by Francisco Nevarez (@nevarezpaco) on

The menu includes traditional fare like ropa vieja, pork chunks in a tomato stew, and three different types of rice. Her efforts extend to the decor and interior as well with bright orange and yellow walls, art depicting a street scene in Cuba, and, naturally, the lone star amid the red, white, and blue of the Cuban flag hanging on the wall. 

The restaurant opening occurred around the time of a new policy introduced by the Trump administration nicknamed  “remain in Mexico” since it requires those seeking asylum in the U.S. to wait in Mexico while their claims are processed. Before the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) policy, those seeking asylum could reside in the U.S. while they waited. 

The number of Cubans at U.S. entry ports and categorized as “inadmissibles” by Customs and Border Protection continues to increase with more than 20,000 expected to seek entry this year.

In 2016 during the Obama administration,  the U.S. deported 64 Cubans but in 2018, the Trump administration deported 463 and this year that number will increase to 560, the LA Times added. 

So far this fiscal year, 6,312 Cubans have arrived in El Paso seeking asylum, whereas the previous fiscal year had 394, according to Custom and Border Protection figures 

“This is a terrible moment for Cuban migrants. There’s desperation and alarm because of the latest measures,” Yaimí González, a 41-year-old who fled Cuba three months ago, said to The Wall Street Journal.

“I just don’t see a solution to our situation,” González added. She now sells french fries at a stand in Ciudad Juárez making $10 a day, which barely pays for the guesthouse room that she shares with four Cuban male migrants, WSJ reports. 

Though MPP affects all asylum seekers, Cubans have historically received better treatment as they were viewed as political refugees.

For decades, Cubans caught at sea would be forced to return but if they stepped foot on U.S. soil they could stay and seek permanent residence after a year and a day. Obama ended the policy, known as “wet foot, dry foot” – in January 2017 and Trump has not reinstated it. 

Now the Trump administrations has banned U.S.-based cruise ships from traveling to Cuba, economically affected groups catering to tourists on the island, and he also imposed restrictions on sending money to the island. 

While they wait for a decision on their case, economics continue to plague Cuban migrants who find work where they can in order to pay for whatever housing they can find in what’s considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. 

NPR spoke with Melba, 32, a waitress at Little Habana who arrived in April and told them that she’s found meaning in her work as she tends to fellow Cubans who, like her, eagerly await to find out if they’ll ever make it to the U.S. 

She and her husband rent a hotel room for about $12 a day and she earns about $20 per day plus tips at the restaurant, NPR reports. This is in stark contrast to her life in Brazil, where she worked as a doctor for nearly a decade as part of a Cuban government exchange program, the LA Times reports. When she was asked what she’d say to Trump if she could, she told the publication, “In Cuba, there is no freedom like you live.”

As the Trump administration continues to make it harder for Cubans and fellow asylum seekers to gain admission to the U.S. and the economy on their island deteriorates, places like Little Habana provide not only a taste of home but a respite from the inhospitable treatment they otherwise receive outside the restaurant walls. 

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Culture

In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Photo via Getty Images

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for Cubans. Not only have Cubans been physically affected by the virus like the rest of the world, but the drop in the island’s gross domestic product has stymied local economic productivity. The island can no longer look to tourism to add to their GDP.

Because of this drop in GDP, food shortages on the island have become more severe than in recent memory. And Cuban cooks are feeling the effects.

Cubans must stand in line for hours at markets with no guarantees that the ingredients that they want will be available.

This way of living is especially hard for Cuban cooks, like 39-year-old Yuliet Colón. For Colón, cooking is both a creative expression and a stress reliever. “The kitchen is my happy place, where I am calmer and I feel better,” she recently revealed to the Associated Press.

Yuliet Colón is one of the creators of a Facebook page called Recetas del Corazón that has changed the cooking game for thousands of Cubans.

Now, thanks to Colón and other curious and generous Cuban cooks like her, Recipes from the Heart is now 12,000 members strong.

The goal of the page is to help struggling Cuban cooks cope with food shortages. Members of the page share creative recipes, tips, and food substitutions. Launched in June of 2020, the page was an instant success. Its success proves that Cubans have been desperate to find ways to adapt their cooking to the post-COVID-era.

To AP News, Yuliet Colón laments about the lack of rice, beans, cheese, fruit, and, most of all, eggs. “What I like the most is making desserts, but now it’s hard to get eggs, milk or flour,” she revealed.

The brightside is, however, that Cuban cooks are finally able to share food-related tips and tricks with each other on a much larger scale than they were before the internet became more widespread in the country.

Now that many Cubans have access to communication apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, they can now connect with one another and make the most of what they have–however little that may be.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Things That Matter

This Is How Cuba Is Developing Its Own COVID Vaccine When It Can Barely Get Daily Necessities To The Island

Cuba has long been a biotech juggernaut in the Caribbean. When health crises emerge around the globe or there’s a medical disaster, Cuba is often one of the first nation’s to send medical staff and emergency workers to help. Its medical team has become part of the country’s diplomacy.

But the Coronavirus pandemic has brought economic devastation to a country already facing severe economic issues. Many on the island struggle to even find daily necessities like Tylenol or Band-Aids yet the Cuban government is just steps away from developing its own vaccine against COVID-19. How is this possible?

Cuban researches are making their own Coronavirus vaccine and seeing great results.

Currently on the island, there are five vaccine candidates in development, with two already in late-stage trials. Cuban officials say they’re developing cheap and easy-to-store serums. They are able to last at room temperature for weeks, and in long-term storage as high as 46.4 degrees, potentially making them a viable option for low-income, tropical countries that have been pushed aside by bigger, wealthier nations in the international race for coronavirus vaccines.

If they’re successful and developing and rolling out the vaccine, Cuba – a country where the average scientific researcher earns about $250 a month — could be among the first nations in the world to reach herd immunity, putting it in a position to lure vaccine tourists and to export surpluses of what officials claim could reach 100 million doses by year’s end.

If they pull this off, it would be a big win for the communist government.

Achieving success would be an against-the-odds feat of medical science and a public relations win for the isolated country of 11 million people. Cuba was just added back to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in the final days of the Trump administration.

It could also make Cuba the pharmacist for nations lumped by Washington into the so-called “Axis of Evil.” Countries like Iran and Venezuela have already inked vaccine deals with Havana. Iran has even agreed to host a Phase 3 trial of one of Cuba’s most promising candidates — Soberana 2 — as part of a technology transfer agreement that could see millions of doses manufactured in Iran.

“We have great confidence in Cuban medical science and biotechnology,” Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told The Washington Post this week. “It will not only be fundamental for Venezuela, but for the Americas. It will be the true solution for our people.”

So how is Cuba managing to pull this off despite all the challenges they face?

Cuba is an authoritarian, one-party state with strict controls on everything from free speech and political activism to social media and LGBTQ rights. But the island has always invested heavily in education and healthcare, which has led to an unusually sophisticated biotechnology industry for a small developing country, with at least 31 research companies and 62 factories with over 20,000 workers.

Should Cuba’s vaccines succeed, its researchers will have overcome even more hurdles than their peers in Western labs — including shortages of equipment, spare parts and other supplies, due in part to U.S. sanctions

A successful vaccine could also become a vital new source of revenue for Cuba, which has been suffering a brutal economic crisis that has citizens waiting hours in line to buy scarce food, soap and toothpaste. The economy worsened under Trump-era sanctions that tightened the long-standing U.S. economic embargo of Cuba by curbing remittances, scaling back U.S. flights, ending cruise ship passenger traffic and further complicating Cuba’s access to the global financial system. President Biden has called for a possible return to Obama-era policies, but he has made no such moves yet.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com