Morning Brief

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In Cuba, Renewed U.S. Services for Would-Be Migrants

The number of Cubans detained at the southern U.S. border is now second only to the number of Mexicans.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
Cubans line up to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Cubans line up to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Cubans line up to enter the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Jan. 4. ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, a Russian blame game, and a scrapped cease-fire in Colombia.

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U.S. Embassy in Cuba Reopens for Visa Services

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, a Russian blame game, and a scrapped cease-fire in Colombia.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.S. Embassy in Cuba Reopens for Visa Services

The United States reopened its embassy in Havana, resuming all visa services. Consular services are reopening too.

This marks the first time visa services have been restarted in Havana since 2017, when they were effectively shut down following health incidents among embassy staff from what became known as “Havana syndrome”—unexplained medical symptoms that have since been reported by diplomatic personnel and federal employees in various parts of the world, including in Washington.

The decision to reopen visa services comes under pressure from migratory demand. U.S. authorities have reported stopping tens of thousands of Cuban migrants trying to enter the United States each month—the result of economic problems (which Cuban officials blame at least in part on U.S. sanctions) and, as The Associated Press put it, “discontent among Cubans and the relative ease with which Cuban migrants can obtain legal status in the U.S., another hangover from the Cold War.”

This week, the arrival of hundreds of migrants to the Florida Keys by boat led to the temporary shutdown of Dry Tortugas National Park. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Cubans are now second only to Mexicans in numbers detained at the U.S. southern border. Resuming visa services is a way to try to ensure a legal pathway to migration; the United States could give out as many as 20,000 visas this year.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama moved to improve relations with the historic U.S. antagonist, lifting a trade embargo in 2016. His successor, Donald Trump, reversed Obama’s Cuba policies in 2017. U.S. President Joe Biden has so far walked a middle path by, for example, easing restrictions on remittances sent from the United States to Cuba. It is yet unclear whether the resumption of visa services will usher in a more general thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations.


What We’re Following Today 

Russia blames Ukrainian strike on soldiers’ phone use. The Russian defense ministry blamed its own soldiers for a successful Ukrainian strike in Makiivka, Ukraine, on New Year’s Day, which it says killed at least 89 Russian soldiers. The “main cause,” the ministry said, was that “contrary to the ban,” Russian soldiers were using cellphones, allowing Ukraine to “track and determine the coordinates of the soldiers’ locations.”

A military blogger, Semyon Pegov, writing under the name WarGonzo, wrote that this explanation was “a blatant attempt to smear blame.” Serhii Cherevatyi, spokesperson for the Eastern Group of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said, “They are putting the blame on each other.” The Ukrainian accounting of what is believed to be the same strike put the death toll at around 400 Russian soldiers, but even the Russian version of events makes it one of the wars deadliest for Russian forces.

Colombia’s ELN guerrilla group denies cease-fire. Despite an announcement by Colombian President Gustavo Petro that the country’s biggest armed groups agreed to a truce, the National Liberation Army (ELN) said it had not been part of such talks. “The ELN Dialogue Delegation has not discussed any bilateral cease-fire with the Gustavo Petro government, therefore no such agreement exists,” the ELN wrote in a statement, thwarting Petro’s promise of “total peace” in Colombia. The Colombian government then called off the cease-fire it had announced.


Keep an Eye On

French film awards ban suspected sex criminals. The César Awards, sometimes referred to as the “French Oscars,” announced anyone being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct will be barred from its upcoming ceremony. The decision came among fears that the ceremony would be protested after it became known that 25-year-old actor Sofiane Bennacer was being investigated on allegations of rape and violence. Bennacer denies any wrongdoing.

The French Academy said in a statement: “It has been decided not to highlight people who may have been put in question by the judiciary for acts of violence.” The decision also comes after the 2020 ceremony, at which director Roman Polanski, who pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a 13-year-old before fleeing the United States in the 1970s, won best director, an event that brought with it protests and a reorganization of the César Awards.

Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia. In what could be the beginning of a new era for professional soccer in the Persian Gulf, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo held his first press conference in the country where he is now playing, Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, he referred to it as South Africa. “Its not the end of my career to come to South Africa,” he said. He is now believed to be the world’s highest paid soccer player. His new club, Al Nassr, tweeted, “Everyone is happy today.”


Wednesday’s Most Read

Russia Is Afraid of Western Psychic Attacks by Lauren Wolfe

10 Conflicts to Watch in 2023 by Comfort Ero and Richard Atwood

Ukraine Needs Long-Range Firepower for Victory by Gabriel B. Collins


Odds and Ends 

Denmark did not record a single bank robbery in 2022. By comparison, Finance Denmark, the countrys banking sector association, said 221 bank robberies were recorded in 2000. Cash transactions in Denmark are so rare that criminals, who briefly tried to make a go of things by holding up ATMs, are now focused on defrauding people online.

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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