Monthly Archives: January 2014

Cuba back in Caribbean Series after 54-year absence

havana-live-BisbolCuba returns to the Caribbean Series of baseball for the first time in 54 years this weekend at a time of time of high interest in Cuban talent after some of its best players defected in recent years in search of multimillion-dollar contracts.
The Cuban team Villa Clara, reinforced with some of the best players from other teams in the Cuban league, will compete on the Venezuelan island of Margarita starting on Saturday against winter league champions from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Mexico in the annual tournament.
The Cuban Baseball Federation is eager to find venues to prove its players can compete on the world stage, especially since the Olympics dropped baseball as a sport after the 2008 Games. “Since their entire baseball enterprise is built around showcasing the quality of their game in the international arena, these tournaments mean a lot,” said Peter Bjarkman, a leading expert on Cuban baseball and author of several books on the topic.
In one of the many reforms instituted by Cuban President Raul Castro since he took over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2008, Cuba this year starting allowing its athletes to play professional sports abroad, while also offering them slightly better pay incentives at home. Scouts for Major League Baseball teams will also get a look at some of Cuba’s best prospects with Cuban players very much in fashion. In October, the Chicago White Sox signed Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract. Pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins won National League Rookie of the year in 2013, and outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers finished second. In the American League, Oakland A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting in 2012. However, returning to the Caribbean Series does not represent any special risk of defections. Cuba frequently faces the possibility its players could be lured by agents at international events, such as the World Baseball Classic in the United States or tournaments in the Netherlands, Bjarkman said.
“Scouts merely evaluate players for their MLB clubs in case they become available. They do not approach players about defecting,” Bjarkman said. “It is the player agents and not the scouts that become a threat.”
Cuban teams won seven of the first 12 Caribbean Series from 1949 to 1960, when new revolutionary leader Fidel Castro removed his country from the tournament, preferring to emphasize amateur over professional sports.
Cuba became a powerhouse in amateur international baseball, winning three Olympic gold medals and two silvers in the five times it was an official Olympic sport from 1992 to 2008. Cuba is rejoining the Caribbean Series on a one-year trial, agreeing to forgo any prize money to avoid violating the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. The Caribbean winter leagues have ties to Major League Baseball.
Although Cuba now allows its athletes to play abroad, several obstacles prevent them from joining teams in the United States. Cuba would collect taxes on their salaries, a violation of the embargo, and retain certain rights over the players that would clash with a Major League contract.

Daniel Trotta (Reuters)

Frank Sinatra was one of the famous patrons of Havana’s Sloppy Joe’s bar

havana-live-sloppy-joes1Located at the central corner of Zulueta and Animas Streets in the Old Havana, the famous and mythical Sloppy Joe´s Bar has reopened its doors after almost three decades of remodeling. Sloppy Joe´s Bar represents the perfect place to bring back memories of the thirties in Cuba. Times, when it became a very popular place, not only appreciated for its fine drinks and liquors but also for its special atmosphere of attractive appointments as well as for having the longest mahogany drinks cabinet of Cuba, and perhaps of the whole world. People who visited Havana during those decades of great splendor had to go to three different places when it had to do with food and enjoyment: “El Floridita”, “Sloppy Joe’s Bar”, and “La Bodeguita del Medio”, otherwise, they wouldn’t have stayed in Havana city.
Don’t be hesitant; only one block from the Prado havanero, on Havana’s heart, open from 12:00 pm to 3:00 am every day, you must give yourself the satisfaction of visiting Sloppy Joe´s Bar and becoming part of the history and the tradition of an unquestionable word-class bar. Therefore, for people who remember those days and for lovers of the best bars around the world, this opening has represented an extraordinary event.
havana-live-sloppy-joes2Sloopy Joe´s Bar symbolizes the good taste of Cuban and international cocktail bartending, having a catalogue with more than fifty different kinds of Cuban rums and also one of the best whisky’s collections of the country.In addition, it is providing one more time its chef’s specialties: the “Ropa vieja Sloppy Joe” (ground beef, tomato sauce,olives and spices) and the “Sloppy Joe´s Burger” (beef, pork leg jam, bacon and cheese); gorgeous offers to the lovers of Cuban traditional cuisine in the most pure Havana style.
A little bit of Sloppy Joe´s Bar History: Property of José Garcia, the bar received this name because the place at the beginning was a mess and the sandwich served there was made of “ropa vieja”. Jose Garcia arrived in Cuba coming from Spain in the year 1904. He began working as a barman in Havana. He stayed in Cuba for three years until he sailed away to the United States heading New Orleans. In 1919, Jose Garcia returned to Havana and he decided to open his own business and bought a grocery store along with a warehouse located in the corner of Zulueta and Animas Streets.This bar had a huge splendor in the 30’s and 40’s, and it was visited frequently by many Hollywood celebrities and international bohemian characters, such as Ramon Jacinto Herrera “Ray Tico” Spencer Tracy, Ernest Hemingwa,John Wayne, Clark Gable, Ignacio Jacinto Villa y Fernandez “Bola de Nieves”, Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”,JoseAntonio Mendez “The King”, and many other personalities of the time. With the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the business became in decline dueto the 90% of Sloppy Joe’s clientele was American. In the 60´s the revolutionary government closed the establishment, leaving the Sloppy Joe’s bar abandoned for more than three decades. Now, after almost a half century, the myth continues waiting for you, restored and better than before.havana-live-sloppy-joes

Cuba Opens Website for Car Marketing

havana-live-cars-for-saleA new specialized website will allow Cubans residing in the country to announce the purchase and sale of vehicles, equipment and parts, transportation or other services that have emerged with the expansion of self-employment activitie.
With national coverage (visible only in Cuba), the website’s name is De Todo ( and whose sole purpose is to facilitate communication in a virtual market in an efficient, practical and free way, even for those who do not have access to the global Internet, but access the domestic version. According to Granma newspaper, among the website’s categories are of cars, trucks, motorcycles, jeeps, bicycles, wedges, minibus, drag, trucks, panels, buses, parts and accessories, car rentals, driving and Repair vehicles.
This system is programmed in free software and is based on very simple and intuitive icons, through which up to three photos that do not exceed 256 kilobytes can be inserted in each ad. The website, created by three computer engineers from the Business Information Services of the Ministry of Transport (SITRANS) was previously subjected to rigorous evaluation by CALISOFT, dependence of the Computer Sciences University who is responsible for the certification of quality, functionality and security of software products.
Jorge Miguel Garcia, director of information of SITRANS said that this is an official website.


Cuba Cruise embarks from Havana for premiere voyage

havana-live-cuba-cruiseAfter four years of enthusiastic preparation, Cuba Cruise embarked from Havana last night for its premiere voyage circumnavigating the Caribbean island. International passengers excitedly watched from the deck as the ship sailed under the moonlit sky towards Holguin, the second port on the exclusive itinerary. Throughout the season, guests will visit six ports of call, relax on world-renowned beaches, enjoy the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and wander colonial towns where time stands still.
“Leaving the port for the first time was a magical experience,” says Cuba Cruise President Dugald Wells from the aboard the ship. “The energy is incredible and we’re all very excited for the journey and adventures that await.”
While at sea today, Cuba Cruise passengers are enjoying the ship’s many amenities, including three restaurants, four bars and lounges, refreshing pool, casino, onboard shops, children’s activity room, fitness centre, salon & spa and more. Tomorrow, guests will have a full day to explore Holguin, the first Cuban city discovered by Christopher Columbus, who declared it to be “the most beautiful land ever seen by human eyes.” Cuba Cruise offers five shore excursions in Holguin, including a tour of Fidel Castro’s childhood farm and even an offshore island safari.
Cuba Cruise has 15 sailings scheduled for the 2013/2014 inaugural season. Guests can join the 7-night cruise at either Havana or Montego Bay with a lead-in price of only $586 CAD. The experience offers the best qualities of cruising and all-inclusive getaways combined with a Cuba that few people see.

Cuban Museum of Fine Arts, a Place full of Endless Culture

havana-live-museum-fine-art2Created in April 1913, the National Museum of Fine Arts in Cuba (NMFA) is today one of the most important cultural institutions in the island with more than 48,000 works distributed in collections and stages.
Three majestic buildings serve as headquarters to the museum which has a priceless heritage, witness of the historical evolution of Cuban and world art.
The Palace of Fine Arts, where lies the Cuban Art building, was inaugurated on June 18, 1954 with a design that boosts free large spaces, susceptible to modifications for accommodating different exhibitions. The former Palace of the Asturian Center, premises of the world art since 2001, is one of the most representative buildings of the Republican architecture in Cuba. In its time, it stood out by the construction techniques employed and the materials used in its finish.
havana-live-museum-fine-artThe third property which forms the headquarters of the NMFA is the former militia barracks that hosts the administrative area, just a few meters from the building of Cuban Art. The institution is distinguished by several collections: the Count of Lagunillas, considered one of the most important in the world for its variety and richness, with more than 600 unique pieces. There is also an outstanding compilation of Spanish painting, the most significant that exists outside Spain; the Latin American colonial painting; Japanese prints, and the foundation stones of Mesopotamia, classed among the oldest pieces. The European painting is the largest set of universal art, highlighting works of Italian and Flemish Renaissance, Spanish Baroque, and French and British painting of the 19th and 18th centuries, respectively. Likewise, stands out the building of Cuban Art as institution promoting the arts in the broadest sense. There can be seen an integrative view of the different art forms, from the colonial times between the 16th and 19th centuries to the present. In addition to the spaces dedicated to the exhibition of art, its inner courtyard, portals and theater serve as scene for concerts, workshops, fashion shows and community projects, among other activities.
havana-live-museum-of-fine-art3These are some of the values treasured by the emblematic cultural building that held its century over 2013 with dissimilar activities that will extend the celebration until next year. The centenary of the NMFA was included among the most important anniversaries of year to Unesco, distinction that, according to the director of this institution, Moraima Clavijo, is a great recognition for Cuba and all the museum workers.She recalled that the celebration of 100 years of Fine Arts began with the exhibition The Origins of the Collection, which brought back many of the original works in an attempt to rescue the institutional memory, she said. Clavijo remarked that this show was followed by others which, throughout the year, bring people closer to the museum thesaurus, confirming it as a source of amusement and endless culture.

By Marnie Fiallo* 

Buena Vista Social Club Announces Good-Bye World Tour

havana-live-buenavistaAdios Tour is the title of the world tour that the mythical Cuban Group Buena Vista Social Club will begin at the end of June of several European countries, with which they will put an end to an important work cycle.
Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos, director of the group, announced in a press conference that the tour will end in November, 2015, that it will take them to several countries in Europe, Latin America, and Africa and also to the United States, and that it will conclude in Havana with two concerts at the Karl Marx Theater. The tour will pay tribute to brilliant musicians that were part of Buena Vista and are no longer with it, like late greats Ruben Gonzalez, Ibrahim Ferrer and Compay Segundo, among others.
Ramos added that the group will record a series of albums with songs that made them popular and others not included in any of the albums recorded so far by Buena Vista.

Fidel Castro surfaces in new photos with Argentine president

havana-live-castro-kirchner1Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez, left, talks with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, right, and Fidel’s wife Dalia Soto del Valle during a private meeting, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014 in Havana.
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez met with a frail-looking Fidel Castro on Sunday while in Cuba for a regional summit, posting pictures of the two smiling together on her Twitter account. Castro, who has rarely been seen in public since he handed power to his brother Raul in 2006, was wearing one of his customary tracksuits in the photos. In one shot, Castro appears to be signing photos of himself for Fernandez.havana-live-castro-kirchner2
Fernandez wrote on Twitter that Castro had invited her to lunch along with his daughter, Florencia. She said she was “enchanted” by the meeting and, offering a glimpse of the meal conversation, said the two leaders shared “infinite nostalgia” for the late Hugo Chavez.
Fernandez is in Havana to attend the second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). Castro is holding private meetings with some of the heads of state in town for the meeting in an unofficial capacity. NBC’s Mary Murray contributed to this report from Havana.havana-live-castro-kirchner3

By Carlo Dellaverson, Digital Producer, NBC News
Photo Argentina’s Press Office via AP

Taxi to…HAVANA

havana-live-taxi-cubaA SOUTHGATE cabbie with a passion for the achievements of the Cuban revolution is donating his London taxi to a museum in the Caribbean island’s capital Havana.
Tony Caccavone, 70, of Conway Road, is sending his Cuban-themed cab to the Havana Motor Museum in the heart of Old Havana after 16 years of service in which the Hackney carriage has clocked up just under 400,000 miles. Mr Caccavone has driven the black cab,which carries an advertisement for Cuban holidays and has the island’s flag painted on the bonnet and roof, around the capital in an attempt to “tell the other story” about the island. He became interested in the nation when he picked up a Canadian tourist in 1995, who told him it was a popular destination for his countrymen and women.
A year later, the cabbie and his late wife Christina flew on holiday to the island, which has been subject to a commercial, economic, and financial embargo by the United States since 1960 after the US-backed Batista regime was deposed by the revolution led by Fidel Castro. “When I got there, I got very angry about the poverty and lack of products in shops because of the embargo,” he told the Advertiser. “But look at what the country has achieved despite it – more doctors per capita than any other country in the world, very low infant mortality rates, most of its lawyers and politicians are women and there is no racism.”
Mr Caccavone said that when he returned from that holiday he went to the Cuban embassy in London, where he learned about the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and decided to paint the nation’s colours on the cab. He added: “I wanted to tell the other side of the story. I have taken politicians, lawyers and diplomats around London and told them about the Cuban revolution. I used to especially love driving around the American embassy.
“The museum will be the cab’s final resting place, its spiritual home. My gift is a homage to the resilience of the Cuban people.”
In 1997, Mr Caccavone shipped his cab to New York, where he led a convoy of more than 50 vehicles across the border with Canada in protest against the US embargo.
The group flew to Cuba afterwards and Mr Caccavone met Castro, who thanked the taxi driver for his efforts.
The taxi will be shipped to Havana next month.
Mr Caccavone, who has no plans to retire, is now driving a regular rented black cab.

By Koos Couvée North London Press

Cuba Opens Home, Office and Commercial Rental Market

havana-live-Real-Estate--modifiedCuban citizens may now turn to real estate agencies (both state and approved private) to rent buildings as dwellings or offices, commercial establishments and storage sites, the daily Juventud Rebelde reported on Wednesday.
Until now, the state-run agencies could rent spaces only to foreign and state-run companies and to foreigners living in Cuba, not to ordinary citizens. Resolution No. 551-2013 by the Ministry of Finance and Prices has established minimum monthly rental fees in convertible pesos (CUC) per square meter of living space, Juventud Rebelde says. There are restrictions. Buildings may not be rented for use as diplomatic sites (embassies or consulates), international schools, news agencies or nongovernmental organizations, the newspaper says.
But the rented buildings may be used as private dwellings, offices, commercial establishments and storage sites. The buildings may have been originally designed as private homes or not. According to Juventud Rebelde, the new measure “provides new impetus and support for self-employed entrepreneurship and other forms of non-state management.” “Cuban entrepreneurs now can ‘base’ their economic initiatives […] in sites and buildings to which they had no previous access, and thus enter new segments of the market.”
Minimum rental fee for a dwelling will be 5 CUC per square meter; for commercial use, 7 CUC. One CUC is the equivalent of one U.S. dollar. But that rate is applicable only if the building was originally designed as a private home. If the building was erected as a commercial structure, the fee will be 10 CUC per square yard per month. Rental fees above the minimum will be agreed upon by the contracting parties, depending on location, comfort, accessibility and other market considerations. Among those considerations: whether the building has a swimming pool, parking space or areas for public access. Also if the building has “patrimonial” or historic value. The rental fees do not include water, electricity, telephone, gas, sewage and Internet facilities, all of which must be contracted with each provider. The new resolution also permits foreigners living in Cuba to rent out their property to Cuban citizens by availing themselves of the state-run real estate agencies. For this service, the agencies may charge a minimum commission of 5 percent over the rental fee.

(Havana Times) 

Cuba sees “major role” for foreign investment

havana-live-capiteaux-etrangereCuba plans to open its economy to greater foreign investment under a new law to be taken up soon by its legislature, a report in state-run media said Saturday.
Outside investment no longer would be merely a “complement” to Cuba’s state-run economy but “would occupy a major role” under the proposed law, said Pedro San Jorge, a top official at Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment.
The national assembly is take up the bill in March as part of an ongoing overhaul of Cuba’s Soviet-style economy under President Raul Castro. San Jorge, who heads the ministry’s economic policy office, said it envisions among other things a role for foreign investment in agriculture, which he said was unusual.
His remarks were published in Cuba’s Opciones weekly newspaper. A 1995 law mandates that foreign capital should play only a complementary role in Cuba’s economy, including providing funds and technological know-how to enterprises run by the Cuban state. San Jorge said that the planned changes reflect the “current circumstances” faced by Cuba, which has been struggling to get out from under an inefficient, top heavy, state-run industrial apparatus.
Castro last month called an extraordinary session of the assembly in March to approve the bill. He said that the measure opening up the economy to outside investment seeks to attract greater foreign capital, generate new jobs and bolster domestic industry. Castro said he also wants to increase Cuba’s exports and reduce its dependence on goods purchased from overseas. “You have to strengthen the country’s capacity to generate many of the products that we currently import,” the Cuban leader said.
The island of some 11.1 million people has seen some significant changes since 2011.
The reforms have covered everything from the currency system to the kinds of jobs Cubans are permitted to take on as self-employed workers. Castro also has created hundreds of cooperatives from former state enterprises, in a bid to reduce the legions of state workers who get a government paycheck.

Andrew Moore’s Cuba photos at Couturier Gallery in L.A.

andree_moore_1In one of Andrew Moore’s photographs of Cuba, on display through Feb. 15 at Couturier Gallery in Los Angeles, a half-dozen men and women are hanging out at an aging ferry terminal. Their postures are casual and unself-conscious, yet they form a quasi-theatrical tableau. One couple appears absorbed in intimate conversation. A single man rests his head on his hands. Through the modest structure’s three arched openings, the verdant tropical landscape can be glimpsed.
The image is titled “La Espera,” a Spanish word that can mean both “wait” and “hope.” No further commentary is needed to evoke the bittersweet mood that pervades the prints on display as well as in Moore’s just-published oversize book, “Cuba.”
Moore is something of a connoisseur of time’s melancholy, corrosive effects on buildings, cities, human beings. His haunting book of images, “Detroit Disassembled,” captures the Motor City in all the tattered grandeur of its postindustrial decline. Mainly devoid of any human presence, his Detroit pictures allow abandoned railway terminals and ruined movie houses to speak for themselves. “It’s the way architecture represents history and the way buildings tell the story of our times, and the way they are kind of a witness to our times,” says Moore, who makes his home in New York. “Whether that’s a reliable witness or not, they definitely bear witness.”
By contrast, his new book of Cuba photos conjures the hardships but also the teeming humanity of the Caribbean island nation. In one portrait, two handsome, intense-looking young men, posing with their crude, hand-made boogie boards beside the gray surf, suggest a pair of scarred warrior-knights nobly bearing their shields into battle.
Another image depicts the decrepit interior of one of Cuba’s countless colonial-era edifices, reborn during the Castro era as a barbershop. A painting of the Sacred Heart of Jesus bears watch over the barber and his customer, while in a baroque touch worthy of Diego Velázquez, a side mirror reveals another man hovering somewhere outside the camera frame. “I really like kind of being a detective,” Moore says. “I like to follow leads and getting into places and talking to folks. havana-live-Andrew_mooreThat’s why Cuba was so fun, because pretty much any door you knocked on, somebody would welcome you into their house.”
Yet another image of a living room, though it contains no people, summons their presence through its composition: the humble mismatched furniture, the non-working Russian-made television, the salvaged odds and ends that pass for decor. “There wasn’t any scrap of material that wasn’t repurposed, reused, reconfigured in some sort of way,” Moore observes. In Cuba, he says, there’s always “this mixture of high and low, of the elegant and the improvised.”Decades before Fidel Castro’s revolutionary army toppled the Batista dictatorship, Cuba was an enticing subject for foreign photographers, most notably Walker Evans, who went to Havana on assignment in the 1930s. But whereas Evans, ever the photographer-flâneur, kept a certain detachment from his Cuban subjects, Moore’s images manifest a palpable empathy.

By Reed Johnson

Start-up aims to put Cuba back on the coffee map

havana-live-startup1Former Treasury minister Philip Oppenheim has signed a deal with Cuba, which will allow his start-up business, The Cuba Mountain Coffee Company, to purchase high-quality coffee and invest into the Cuban agriculture industry. Before the revolution, Cuba was one of the biggest coffee producers in the world but the industry has shrunk by more than 90pc over the past 50 years. Under the terms of the deal, the company, which trades as Alma de Cuba, will invest $4m (£2.4m) into the coffee farming community in the south east of the country over the next five years.
havana-live-handbeans“By investing into nursery, root stocks, and the processes that strip the cherries from the beans, we will improve the quality and the quantity of the coffee produced,” said Mr Oppenheim. “We get these very rare coffee beans and the Cuban farmers get what they need to grow more.” Before the revolution, Cuba was one of the biggest coffee producers in the world but the industry has shrunk by more than 90pc over the past 50 years. Cuba now produces just 500,000 tonnes of coffee a year.
“Only a small percentage of that is high quality,“ said Mr Oppenheim, who has a long history of working with Cuba. He owns Cubana, a Cuban-themed bar near Waterloo in London. “I buy rum and raw sugar from Cuba for the bar,” he said. “It’s a small country, so you get to know people.”Mr Oppenheim first started exploring other business opportunities in Cuba 10 years ago. Mr Oppenheim first started exploring other business opportunities in Cuba 10 years ago. havana-live-mapcrystal-mountain-coffee“The rum business was owned by Pernod Ricard and Imperial Tobacco dominated in cigars,” he said. “Cuba has the perfect climate for growing coffee and, with its illustrious coffee-making past, that was the most exciting opportunity.”
This deal marks a new chapter in the liberalisation of Cuba. “It was hard to get a foot in the door,” Mr Oppenheim said. “The Cubans are suspicious of foreigners. They remember the Americans coming in and buying up all the sugar plantations and don’t want that to happen again. But this deal proves that Cuba is becoming an exciting emerging market for entrepreneurs.” Alma de Cuba roasts and packages the Cuban coffee beans in the UK.
“The price point is about 20p-30p a cup,” said Mr Oppenheim. “That’s much cheaper than Starbucks and much better quality.”

Rebecca Burn

First American Paintings to Be Shown in Havana in 50 Years

havana-live-art--beautiful-florida-keysLess than one month after the departure of the first commercial flight from Key West to Havana in more than 50 years, another kind of U.S.-Cuba exchange will begin: the first cross-cultural gallery exchange in just as many decades.
In Havana, at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the project (dubbed One Race, the Human Race) will kick off with an exhibition of work by the late Mario Sanchez — a selection of which can be seen below. Sanchez, a Key West folk artist, was a second-generation American descended from Cuban immigrants. Then, in February, Key West will host several of Cuba’s most prominent artists for residencies and exhibitions.Nance Frank, who curated the Sanchez show, says she knows that many Americans have an idea of Cuba that doesn’t include a booming arts scene, but that she hopes this exchange helps bring attention to a society that venerates artists in a way she hasn’t seen in the States, and allows them privileges not every Cuban has (for example, she says, they can accept foreign currency when selling their work). Her hopes are particularly high because it was so hard to pull off, especially when it came to insurance and getting permission from the U.S. government to bring Cuban artists to Florida. “Until I got off the plane in Havana with the [Sanchez] artwork, about a month ago,” she recalls, “I was holding my breath.”havana-live-art-la-comparsa-de-al-bolsahavana-live-art-strawberry-grouperhavana-live-art-lucky-fish-rhumbahavana-live-art-famous-key-west-landmarkjpghavana-live-art-el-galano

By Lily Rothman

Cuba and the UK on Business Forum to Stimulate Links

havana-live-wilsonCuban and British entrepreneurs started a Business Forum in the Cuban capital Tuesday, with the objective to stimulate the economic and commercial relations between Cuba and the Great Britain. On the first day, Omar Fernandez, general secretary of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, highlighted the importance of the presentations of this event on sectors of the Cuban national economy, such as tourism, renewable energy, biotechnology and agricultural industry.Fernandez highlighted the potential for developing beneficial projects for both countries, to give continuity to businesses already started by enterprises from Cuba and UK, or those which can propitiate new exchanges.
He also talked about the work deployed in the last years by Iniciativa Cuba, an entity formed by British managers and officials that constitutes an important alternative for the promotion of the economic links, since other bilateral mechanisms do not exist.
For his part, the UK business ambassador, Brian Wilson, said that the bilateral economic links have had a progress in the last years since the UK established its presence in the Caribbean island at the time that Cuban managers are interested in establishing new joint ventures with the European nation.
Wilson highlighted the existence of renovated interests to empower this relation between Cuba and the UK and considered that the project of the Mariel Special Development Area is a favorable opportunity to promote them. The Forum of Business among the two countries will have this Wednesday another intense day of of work with the realization of a workshop on agricultural energy.

Exhibition of Bible-related Relics Inaugurated in Havana

havana-live-cathedralAn exhibit of bible-related millenary relics was opened in Havana, which also displayed a series of funerary face packs of ancient Egypt, papyruses and other archeological pieces. The sample, named: The Bible, the path of God on the path of Man, is being exhibited at Havana´s Cathedral till February 2 and it is made up of 72 objects related to the history of sacred writings belonging to the Christian and Jewish religions. At the inauguration of the exhibit, Havana´s historian Eusebio Leal stressed the significance of the arrival of the pieces for Cuban culture, since they are testimonies of universal history.Meanwhile, Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega thanked the efforts of local authorities and individuals to make the exhibition a reality.
havana-live-SpenglerThe opening of the exhibition was attended by first vice-president Miguel Diaz Canel and by presidential advisor Abel Prieto, as well as special guests such as French Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, who is in charge of the famous secret archives and the library of the Vatican.


University of Tampa baseball team arrives in Havana

havana-live-tampa-baseballUniversity of Tampa baseball team catcher Nick Tindall holds 6-month-old son Maximus while Tindall and his teammates wait to check their bags at Tampa International Airport on Sunday before a weeklong trip to Havana. University of Tampa pitcher Jimmy Hodgskin adjusts items in his bag at Tampa International Airport on Sunday. About 50 people, including some parents, are part of the trip to Cuba, where the team will play three exhibition games.
The University of Tampa’s baseball team formed a sea of red polos at Tampa International Airport Sunday as the players prepared for a weeklong trip to Havana.
The trip will see them take on the Industriales Blue Lions, Mayabeque Hurricanes and Artemisa Hunters in three exhibition games. Mayabeque and Artemisa are among the country’s best baseball teams. “It’s just a privilege and it’s a blessing,” said pitcher Tyler York, 21. “I think we all feel honored to have the chance to play a national team.” As pitcher Jimmy Hodgskin waited with his parents at the counter, his glove out, he said the storied tradition of Cuban baseball made him a little nervous. “I’m expecting a pro team, pretty much,” said Hodgskin, 22.
Though baseball is taking them to Cuba, the trip was designed as a cultural exchange. About 50 people, including parents, coaches and a few visitors who helped organize the trip, left on a 2 p.m. flight to Havana on Sunday. The team will travel on cultural literacy and international education licenses through the organization People to People. Representatives from the World Trade Center of Tampa, the UT Athletic Department and the UT Office of International Programs also helped plan the trip, believed to be the first of its kind for a Florida team.
From their home base in Havana, players will visit the Ernest Hemingway House, eat at local restaurants and meet with college-aged Cubans. Travel to Cuba remains somewhat restricted for Americans, and many players and parents said they recognized it as a rare opportunity. Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who traveled to Cuba as a youngster to play baseball, will accompany the Spartans.
Along with their suitcases and gym bags, the team hauled uniforms, bats, gloves, and other gear donated by the New York Yankees and the Palma Ceia Little League. And when they leave Cuba on Saturday, Urso will ask players to return home without their shoes and gloves. The Spartans will come back to new gear, but they hope leaving something behind will help spread goodwill — no matter what happens on the field. “We’re going to do this first class,” Urso said, “and make sure the people out there are going to end up with equipment that’s really good.”

Claire Wiseman  

5.1 earthquake sways buildings in Havana

havana-live-earthquakeA 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck in the Straits of Florida off Cuba on Thursday, startling office workers in medium-rise buildings set swaying in Havana. There was no immediate word of any damage or injuries. The temblor occurred just before 4 p.m. about 106 miles (172 kilometers) east of Havana, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The closest city to the epicenter was Corralillo, 17 miles (28 kilometers) to the southwest. In Old Havana, the quake was felt clearly by workers in two 6-floor buildings that were temporarily evacuated. It appeared to last around 30 seconds.
Sandor Polo, a 31-year-old waiter, said he was delivering food to a third-floor office when boxes suddenly began to move and workers started yelling. “I got dizzy,” Polo said, adding that he’s never felt anything like it in his life. “Everything was moving,” said Nuria Oquendo, a 44-year-old office assistant who was on the sixth floor of a Like Polo, she had never been in an earthquake before. She called the experience unsettling, but said she wasn’t scared.
“Not frightened, but a sensation that something strange is going on,” Oquendo said.
The USGS initially reported a magnitude of 5.0, and later upgraded it to 5.1. The quake struck at a depth of six miles (10 kilometers).
Cuba is not as known for seismic activity as other parts of Latin America, especially countries along the Pacific Rim of Fire.
But a number of significant quakes have hit the island over the years, including one in 1932 that killed eight people and damaged 80 percent of the buildings in the eastern city of Santiago, according to U.S. National Geophysical Data Center records.


Cuba to partially privatize state taxi service

havana-live-TaxiThousands of Cuban state taxi drivers will soon be leasing their vehicles and working on their own as part of a reorganization of the country’s taxi service aimed at improving efficiency, according to rules published today. The measure follows the similar transfer of barbers, beauticians, small cafeterias and other retail services by the state to what is called the “non-state” sector as part of market-oriented reforms under way in the country.
Cuba nationalized all retail business in 1968, down to the shoe-shine shops, and fixed all prices. But in an attempt to stimulate the stagnant economy and reduce bureaucracy, it is giving some of it back in a form of legal private enterprise operating on a market basis. The sector now numbers 445,000 people, or 5 percent of the labor force, and is made up of private, leased and cooperative small businesses, their employees, private taxi drivers, the building trades and others. The administration of Cubataxi, which operates in the local US dollar equivalent called the convertible peso (CUC), will be downsized. Drivers will become self-employed, leasing a vehicle from the company at a daily rate, according to the resolutions published in the official Gazette. “The idea is to eliminate irregularities in the service, the stealing of fares and reduce inflated administrative payrolls,” said Debora Canela Pina, a transportation ministry specialist at Cubadebate, an official on-line news site.
Cubataxi drivers are notorious for not using their meters.
havana-live-taxi1Canela Pina said the reorganization would improve service and 60 percent of taxis, many old Russian Ladas, would be replaced by newer models consisting of second-hand rental cars. Outside the Havana Libre Hotel, two Cubataxi drivers said they hoped their new status would prove beneficial. Besides, they noted, they had no choice but to accept their fate or be laid off. The new system is based on a pilot project in Havana begun in 2010 at a single garage.
Thirty of the more than 2,000 state taxi drivers in the capital began leasing their vehicles rather than working for a wage, a small percentage of the tips and whatever they could pocket on the sly.
Instead of three support staff for every driver, as in other garages, there were just three for the thirty. “You pay 595 CUC ($595) for the car and then after a month 39 CUC plus 40 (Cuban) pesos a day,” Elio, one of the drivers, said at the time. He requested his last name be withheld. The government reported that after the first year, the state’s yearly take from each taxi was estimated to multiply 30-fold compared with before the experiment began.
Under the new rules, the daily rate was reduced to 23 CUC ($23) and costs can be deducted before paying income tax.
The drivers will be responsible for maintaining their taxi and gasoline, but can buy parts and services from the state company at reduced prices

Growing number of private operators in Cuban education

havana-live-privat_shoolsCuba’s state education monopoly is increasingly sharing space with private operators, including churches and teachers working as tutors, which are filling in gaps and providing knowledge that has become necessary as a result of the country’s economic reforms, such as business management courses.
“School is not enough these days,” said Raiza Martínez, the mother of a 13-year-old girl. “Sometimes a teacher does not know how to reach students or does not teach the subject well. I had to look for support from [private] tutors,” she told IPS. “It wasn’t like that in my day. You used to get a very good education in [public] school,” said Ms. Martínez, a 48-year-old resident of Havana.
“Now the material conditions in classrooms are good, and they are receiving the scheduled classes. But there are fewer excellent teachers than there were before [the crisis]”, lamented Ms. Martínez, who works two jobs. Her daughter, Patricia, meets twice a week with her tutor, a retired teacher, to review her class work. Also twice weekly, she attends a small private academy in the Vedado neighbourhood that has been providing English classes for almost 20 years.
Another mother, Ania Porro, helps her son with “most of his classes,” she says. “My help was enough while he had good teachers in elementary school. Now that he is in secondary school, where there is a lack of consistency and a shortage of teachers, I had to put him in private English and math classes,” she said.
Cuba’s public and completely cost-free education system has not recovered the quality that it lost following the start of the economic crisis in the 1990s, which brought a gradual deterioration of infrastructure and an exodus of teachers to better-paying industries such as tourism. In the present school year, 1.84 million students are enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and 200,000 are enrolled in university, in this country of 11.2 million people, which has a markedly aging population.
Improving facilities and recuperating excellence in education is a slippery goal for authorities, despite more rigorous teacher training and a redistribution of available personnel. The most critical situation is found in Havana. This year, the nation’s capital hired 3,069 teachers from other provinces, mostly for secondary education. Other provinces with teacher shortages include Matanzas, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila, according to Education Minister Ena Elsa Velázquez.
In contrast, Pinar del Río, Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Guantánamo have plenty of staff, enabling teachers with poor performance to enroll in full-time re-training courses.
“Not all of the results are visible yet, because it’s not something that changes from one day to the next,” Ms. Velázquez told local news outlets in mid-December. For now there are no plans to resort to rapid training courses, such as the “Emerging Teachers” program that ensured the necessary number of teachers in 2000.
Meanwhile, families who can afford it – and others who make sacrifices – are hiring private tutors. The job of tutor was authorized in 2010 as a self-employment activity, although active public school teachers are forbidden from working as tutors. Since the mid-1990s, authorities have issued licenses for teachers of stenography, typing and languages. Some enterprising persons transform their homes into classrooms and others go to students’ homes. Fees vary from 10 to 50 Cuban pesos (40 cents to $2) per class. The average monthly salary paid by the state – which employs most of the workforce – is $19. Some tutors promote their services on websites for classified ads, such as Porlalivre and Mil Clases. In October of 2013, employment offices reported 1,023 private tutors among a total of 444,000 self-employed workers.
That same month, the official Granma newspaper reported that many teachers at public schools and other professionals are offering services in violation of the law.
Churches have not been left behind in this opening up of the education sector.
Religious schools disappeared in 1961, two years after the revolution, when education was completely taken over by the state.
But in the early years of the economic depression, churches opened a window with courses on non-religious themes to meet local needs.
About 500 young people climb a steep hill every week to the La Salle Centre in the 10 de Octubre municipality. Managed by the Catholic order of Brothers of the Christian Schools, for the last 15 years the center has been offering certificates to meet the new needs of the labor market. “The teachers are very good, and they instil a set of values in us that you don’t find elsewhere,” Andy Morera told IPS. The young man wears a cross around his neck and a Yoruba – an Africa-based religion – bracelet on his wrist. “I’ve taken several courses in English. I’m a dedicated student,” he said.
English classes for young people and children, small and medium business management, computers, executive management, and human values training are the courses offered by this center, directed by Aurelio Gómez, who is known as Brother Martín. “The demand is too much for us to meet,” he told IPS.
Workshops for English and private business ownership, with 150 students, are the most popular. In 2014, the center will add prep courses for university entrance exams, because “people ask for them often,” he said.
A similar institution exists in Santiago de Cuba, 847 kilometers (526 miles) east of Havana. The centers are financed by tuition, which is about 25 Cuban pesos ($1) a month. “We give free summer courses for the lowest-income people in the community,” he said. “In recent times, we’ve seen all of the dioceses making an effort to contribute to education,” Orlando Márquez, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, told IPS. Currently there are several educational initiatives being carried out by the country’s 11 dioceses, some of them free.
These initiatives included tutoring, language, computers, graphic design, teacher training, preschool, and business management courses. The Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue in Cuba has designed workshops for the growing private sector since 2011. This evangelical institution has trained more than 100 entrepreneurs in Cárdenas, in western Cuba. Its workshops on subjects such as agriculture, environment, gender, sexuality, marriage and family life attracted 1,435 people this year; 935 of them were affiliated with one religion or another, and 500 of them were not.

By Ivet González  

Havana Says Good-Bye to Catholic Leader Carlos Manuel de Cespedes

havana-live-Carlos_Manuel_de_CespedesHundreds of people gave their final farewell Saturday to Cuban priest and intellectual Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, one of the most outstanding and influential figures of the Catholic Church on this Caribbean island in the last few decades. Cespedes, who died suddenly on Friday at age 77, was buried Saturday in the priests’ pantheon at Colon Cemetery in Havana, following a crowded funeral ceremony in San Agustin parish, where had served as its priest in recent years. The Havana church was packed with more than 600 people for the funeral Mass attended by the the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, along with bishops, priests and seminarians from provinces around the country.
Representing the Cuban government were the president of the National Assembly, Esteban Lazo, and the head of the Religious Affairs Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Caridad Diego.
Also present was the former Parliament leader, Ricardo Alarcon, the current adviser to Cuban President Raul Castro.
Born in Havana on July 16, 1936, Cespedes said during a television interview a few years ago that “Cuba and the church are my two passions! I’ve always said that, because that’s the way it is.”
Placed on his tomb were floral tributes in the name of Cuban President Raul Castro, the president of the government Writers and Artists Union of Cuba, Miguel Barnet, and also of friends like the director of the National Ballet, Alicia Alonso.
Reporting this Saturday on the priest’s death, official Cuban media said that “he dedicated his life to the Catholic Church and to his country.”
Carlos Manuel de Cespedes studied law and philosophy at the University of Havana and later studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he was ordained a priest in 1961.
In 1963 he returned to Cuba in a time of tension between the Catholic Church and the Cuban Revolution, which had triumphed in 1959 led by Fidel Castro.
Since 1966 until 1970 he was rector of the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary in Havana, where he was also professor of sacred scripture.
In the intellectual world, he published several novels, collaborated with a number of publications and in 2006 was accepted as a member of the Cuban Academy of the Language, becoming the third Catholic dignitary to be part of that institution.

Cuban hopes dashed as new and used cars go on sale

havana-live-calles-in-havavaCubans awoke on Friday for the first time in half a century with the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without special permission, but markups of 400 per cent or more quickly dashed most people’s expectations.
At the state-run Peugeot dealership in Havana on Friday morning, where prices ranged from $91,000 for a 2013 model 206 to $262,000 for a 508, people walked away shaking their heads in disgust.
“I earn 600 Cuban pesos per month (approximately $30). That means in my whole life I can’t buy one of these. I am going to die before I can buy a new car,” Roberto Gonzales, a state driver, said, walking back to his 1950s Plymouth.
The average monthly wage in Cuba, where four out of five of the 5 million-strong labor force work for the state, is $20.
A European diplomat quipped, “I am slightly flabbergasted. With these prices, the old-time U.S. cars will not disappear fast from the streets.” Under a reform two years ago, Cubans can now buy and sell used cars from each other, but until Friday had to request authorization from the government to purchase a new vehicle or second-hand one, usually a rental car, from state retailers.
Before September 2011, only automobiles that were in Cuba before the 1959 revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many 1950s or older cars, most of them American-made, rumbling through Cuban streets.
havana-live-peugeot1Along with Cuba’s famous rolling museum of vintage U.S. cars, there are also many Soviet-made cars, dating from the era when the Soviet Union was the island’s biggest ally and benefactor. Newer models are largely in government hands and were sold used before Friday at a relatively low price to select individuals, for example, Cuban diplomats, doctors and teachers who served abroad. Across town from the Peugeot dealership, where more than a hundred used rent-a-cars went on sale for prices ranging as a rule from $25,000 on up, disgust turned to anger on Friday.“These prices show a lack of respect for all Cubans. What is here are wrecks. I now have no hope of getting a car for my family,” artist Cesar Perez said, looking at a 2005 Renault on sale for the equivalent of $25,000 and available outside the country on the Internet for $3,000.
A teacher looked at the price list and yelled “Are there any bicycles?” as she stomped away without giving her name. The Cuban state maintains a monopoly on the retail sale of cars. There are 650,000 autos on the island, half of them owned by the government. The decades-old ban on importing cars and need for state permission to purchase from the state has left nine out of 10 Cuban households without a car or other vehicle such as a motorcycle and dependent on the decrepit public transportation system. The cost of new and used cars sold by Cubans to each other is similar to those that went on sale on Friday because of limited availability.
The government said all profits would go into a special fund to upgrade public transportation. Diplomats, foreign businesses and select Cubans will still need government permission to import a new or used car without the huge markup.
havana-live-peugot1The liberalizing of car sales was one of more than 300 reforms put forth by President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, and approved in 2011 at a congress of the Communist Party, Cuba’s only legal political party. The proposed changes put a greater emphasis on private initiative, which had been largely stifled under Cuba’s Soviet-style system, and less government control over the sale and purchase of personal property such as homes and cars. “These prices will clearly be outside the purchasing capability of the vast majority of Cubans, even with the support from relatives abroad. In essence, they represent a luxury tax imposed by the government on the nouveau riches of Cuba,” John Kirk, one of Canada’s leading academic experts on Latin America and author of a number of books on Cuba, said by email. There are now tens of thousands of small private businesses in Cuba, and thousands of farm, construction, transportation and other types of cooperatives, all of which in theory should benefit from the opening up of car sales.
Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg said in an email that many businesses needed vehicles, but such high prices would make it difficult for most.

Marc Frank Reuters