Monthly Archives: February 2014

Havana’s lovers check in to a golden age

havana-live-privat-rooms4Cuba’s political and economic swings have had an effect on the sex life of the population, but lovers and entrepreneurs have learned to adjust – and appear to be enjoying something of a golden age. Countless private pousadas have sprung up in recent years to offer rooms – often charged by the hour – for couples seeking a place for a tryst. Many started illicitly, but have been licensed as part of official economic reforms. Eduardo Pérez, a veteran of the war in Angola, has been a taxi driver for 38 years. His wife was a Russian teacher but found it easier to make a living as a barber.Desperate for extra income during the “special period” – the era of hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union – the couple started renting out spare rooms in their home. Unlicensed at first, this was a surreptitious operation for the business and their customers, many of whom were having extramarital affairs. One client, who asked to remain nameless, said he first started going to the private rooms when state motels went out of business.
“Twenty-five years ago, I used to take my mistress from Havana to Mariel for the weekend. That stopped after the fall of the eastern bloc when there was hardly any fuel, fewer cars and the motels closed. Instead, we found little pousadas in Havana, like this one, that offered rooms for just a couple of hours.”
However, Pérez said the reforms had removed the need for secrecy – at least on the part of the business. “In the past two years, it has become much easier because what we do is legal. I can rent out rooms at any time now, whereas in the past I sometimes had to tell people to come back at midnight because I was worried we were being watched. We don’t have to hide now so I’m making more money.” He is expanding the business and upgrading the rooms with concrete beds. “It’s my wife’s idea,” he grinned. “In this business, the springs wear out too quickly on a normal bed.”

(The Guardian Jonathan Watts Photo Jean Francois Campos) 

Big Time Theft at Havanas Fine Arts Museum

havana-live-romanach3Nearly a hundred paintings have been stolen from Havana’s National Fine Arts Museum in what could well be the most serious misappropriation of Cuba’s artistic heritage of recent decades.
“Dozens of works are missing from storage,” a source employed by the museum told Cafe Fuerte. “Most are vanguard pieces.” The paintings were kept at the warehouse of the former headquarters of Cuba’s Technical Investigations Department (DTI), which has belonged to the museum following its remodeling in 2001.
Police officers were in charge of the local’s security.The thefts were detected last week, when a number of the missing pieces began to be offered to art dealers in Miami.An investigation by Ministry of the Interior and art heritage experts is underway According to the information secured by Cafe Fuerte, the pieces are works by Cuban painting masters. Apparently, news of the theft came from US art dealers.
havana-live-romanach“Someone noticed that the works they were being shown belonged to Cuba’s collection and notified the Fine Arts Museum of what was happening,” the source, who chose to remain anonymous, declared. At least two art dealers in Miami reported seeing works by Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951), pieces which began to circulate in the South Florida market recently.
Though the exact number of works stolen is unknown, reports suggest that it could be close to a hundred. It is believed most of the pieces belong to the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 30s. Cuban authorities and the country’s media do not generally report on the theft of artworks, and many haven’t even been registered by Interpol. Art heritage dealers and experts around the world believe the museum should assume the responsibility of immediately reporting the stolen pieces, so that the Cuban art market can protect itself and prevent the works and objects stolen from being sold and turning their potential buyers into the direct victims of the perpetrators. This is not the first time the museum’s collection suffers a massive theft of this nature. In 1995, Cuban authorities dismantled a network of art smugglers headed havana-live-museum-of-fine-art3_1by Arquimides Matienzo,a former museum administrator, and detained an additional five culprits, including an Italian citizen. The group had stolen 40 paintings from the museum. Founded in 1913, the National Fine Arts Museum is the institution tasked with storing and conserving works belonging to Cuba’s visual arts heritage.
The facility holds the largest collection of Cuban art produced between the 16th century and the present day. Its current director is Moraima Clavijo Colom.

Ivette Leyva Martinez  (Cafe Fuerte) 

Havana Club launches new look for 15 YO rum

havana-live-havana-club-anejo-15-anos-scCuban rum producer Havana Club International has relaunched its Havana Club 15 Year Old expression with a new bottle design. Created to “highlight its authenticity and premium quality”, the latest design features a new shape and taller bottle, with a more “sophisticated” label to increase the product’s shelf stand out.
The words “La Habana Cuba” are also embossed onto the bottle and a bottom-weighted glass base has also been incorporated into the design. “A rum of such outstanding quality and authenticity as Havana Club 15 Year Old deserves packaging that reflects its rich Cuban rum making tradition,” explained Nick Blacknell, international marketing director for Havana Club International. “The new bottle conveys the importance we place on craft, whilst highlighting the quality of the rum inside and we’re confident it will appeal to true connoisseurs who know how to appreciate a rare and luxurious Cuban rum.”
The new release is already available in Cuba and Australia and will be launched into various markets around the world by the end of the month, before being rolled out in Mexico and China later this year.

by Melita Kiely 

National Ballet of Cuba Presents Two New Ballets

havana-live-suite-generis_1_1The National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), headed by Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, will premier two ballets next March 7,8 and 9, informed the institution. Celeste and Triade are the titles of the new choreographies of the well-known Belgian-Colombian choreographer Anabelle Lopez, music by P.I. Chaikovski, wardrove by Dieuweke van Reij and light design by Michael Mazzola. Lopez worked along with assistants Stephanie Bauger and Linnet González, who worked with ballet dancers Viengsay Valdés, Yanela Piñera, Grettel Morejón, Miguel Anaya and Lyvan Verdecia, among others. On the other hand, Triade, by Eduardo Blanco, will present young ballet dancers Chanell Cabrera, Cynthia González and Gabriela Mesa, at a choreography with music by Gioachino Rossini and wardrobe by Salvador Fernández. The premiers program will be complemented with the presentations of Prologue to a tragedy, by Brian McDonald, on the Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare, and Suite Generis, choreography of Alberto Méndez, inspired by the music of Haendel and Haydn.

Havana freeze foreign funds linked to al Qaeda, Taliban

havana-live-taliban2The Cuban government adopted legislation to immediately freeze funds from foreign banks linked to terror groups, including al Qaeda and the Taliban, officials said Friday.
The decree, signed by President Raul Castro, stresses that the sanctions are part of Cuba’s legal framework demonstrating its “commitment in the fight against money laundering, financing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons.”
“Funds or other derived or generated assets that belong to or are directly or indirectly controlled by persons or entities linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban will be frozen immediately and without notice,” it said.
The measure also targets “persons or entities” identified as “terrorists” by the United Nations or “at the request of cooperation by third countries.” Sanctions may apply to foreign financial institutions that operate on the island under license from Cuba’s Central Bank and their representative offices, as well as to “individuals and legal persons.”
Eleven foreign banks operate in Cuba, where the banking system operates under tight control by authorities, a far cry from nearby offshore tax havens. Cuba’s latest effort to align its banking sector with international norms comes as the communist island prepares to push through a new law on foreign investment in March meant to attract much-needed capital for the country’s sagging economic system.

Havana School of Ballet Triumphs at International Contest

havana-live-ballet-contestCuba won the largest number of medals at the 4th International Ballet Contest of South Africa (two gold medals, one silver and one bronze), announced today the principalship of the National School of Ballet.
Students Rafael Quenedit and François Llorente won gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the junior category, while the professionals who have graduated from this same institution, Ramiro Samón and Javier Monier, won gold and silver among the seniors. Director of the National School of Ballet, Ramona De Sáa, told Prensa Latina she was satisfied with these results of the effort of the young students and the hard work of various teachers in the center.
She was also pleased because the eight students sent to compete passed the first round and the references on their performance were all excellent.
Professor Yuneysi Rodríguez, who led the delegation to the contest, talked with the director about the good performance of the schoolÂ?s new values.
The event was attended by participants from Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, China, the United States, South Africa and Cuba. Master De Saa, National Award for Dance 2006, stated that the important thing was to dance well, with technique, and also style and taste.

Cuba Cruise announces 2014/2015 sailing season

havana-live-luise-cristal1Midway through its successful inaugural season, Cuba Cruise, the niche product affiliated with Louis Cruises, is thrilled to announce new sailing details for the 2014/2015 season. The Canadian company launches its much-anticipated second season with innovative seven-night circumnavigation sailings embarking every Monday from Havana, Cuba and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica from December 22nd, 2014 to March 30th, 2015. Travellers can take advantage of Cuba Cruise’s Early Bird Discount and book their next winter escape beginning March 2014. “The feedback is overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to providing future cruisers with the same great itinerary, impeccable service, delicious food and first rate entertainment program next winter,” says Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President. “Cuba has welcomed us with open arms and we’re not saying goodbye anytime soon.” Across social media and online forums, Cuba Cruise’s valued guests are raving about their voyage, describing the itinerary as completely unique and an authentic immersion into Cuban life and culture. Notable compliments include the outstanding entertainment team, friendly crew, engaging shore excursions, well-appointed cabins and delectable dining options.

New for 2014/2015 Season
The yacht-like M/V Louis Cristal resumes calling at six ports including Havana, Holguin (Antilla), Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth and Montego Bay, with minor changes to its exclusive itinerary. Guests will now have more leisure time on idyllic Punta Frances to soak up the hot Caribbean sun, swim and snorkel in the crystal clear water and relax on the white-sand beach.havana-live-Cuba-Cruise-Tour

U.S. says it offered Cuba a solution to banking dilemma

havana-live-flagThe U.S. State Department says it came up with a “workable solution” to the banking dilemma that prompted Cuba to suspend its consular services in the United States but Cuba decided not to pursue it.
But it’s hard to say whether the solution was truly workable. Neither the State Department nor Cuba will disclose what it was. The U.S. government has been working with the Cuban Interests Section and the Cuban mission to the United Nations since July to try to find a bank or banks that would provide services after their former bank, Buffalo-based M&T, informed them it was getting out of the business of handling accounts for foreign missions.
Last Friday was the deadline that M&T gave the Cuban missions for accepting deposits of fees for visas, processing passports for Cuban citizens, authenticating documents and other consular services. That meant, said the Cuban Interests Section, that it was forced to suspend consular services, except for humanitarian cases, until it found a replacement for M&T.
“We are disappointed in this action, given that we had helped the mission identify a workable solution to its consular fee processing needs with ample time for its implementation,’’ said a State Department spokesperson. “That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike.” Asked for details on the solution, a State Department employee responded, “Since these were confidential communications, this is a question best asked of the Cuban missions.”
But the Cuban Interests Section didn’t respond to an email or phone call seeking comment. M&T has informed the Cuban missions that their accounts will be closed on March 1. The State Department said while the primary responsibility to find a new bank lies with the Cuban missions, in an effort to help, it has been in touch with more than 50 financial institutions since last summer and that M&T also had tried to help the Cuban missions identify a new bank or banks.
“We encourage the Cuban government to consider all available options, including potential solutions we have repeatedly discussed with them, to address their missions’ needs and to restore full consular services,” said a State Department employee.
The Cuban Interests Section also shut down its consular services on Nov. 26 after reaching a previous M&T deadline without finding a replacement bank, but less than two weeks later the consular section was back in service after M&T offered an extension.

(Miami Herald) 

Havana makes “Cuba’s adopted son”trove available to US

havana-live-hemingway1Cuba has released to US researchers copies of more than 2,000 documents related to Ernest Hemingway, media reported Tuesday in Havana, the American literary giant’s home during the 1940s and 1950s. “More than 2,000 documents held at the Finca Vigia Museum in Havana are now available for the first time for researchers in the United States after having been digitized and sent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,” the Cuba Contemporanea magazine wrote on its website. Now a museum, Finca Vigia, which means “lookout house” is located in the town of San Francisco de Paula just outside Havana. It was Hemingway’s home during much of his more than two-decade-long residence in Cuba. Among the treasures now accessible to US scholars at the Kennedy Library in Boston is the 1954 telegram from the Nobel Prize Committee in Sweden informing Hemingway that he had just been awarded its prestigious literature prize.
A statement from the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts said that the trove of documents, which had never seen outside of Cuba, includes letters, passports, telegrams, household accounts, bar bills and recipes.
“We are pleased to make available to researchers copies of these materials that provide a unique glimpse into the everyday life of Ernest Hemingway,” said Tom Putnam, Director of the Kennedy Library. “For a literary figure who is often portrayed as larger than life, this trove of personal ephemera serves to humanize the man and to understand the writer.” Officials said it is the second large document release from the Finca Vigia. A first huge tranche of 3,000 digitized images was donated to the Kennedy Library in 2008. Hemingway, who took his own life in 1961 at the age of 61 after returning to the United States, wrote some of his most famous works in Cuba, including “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”
He was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of the art of narrative… and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”

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Havana’s “Mob Hotel” Opens After Renovation

havana-live-capriIn its heyday, Havana’s Capri hotel and casino was the playground of men known as The Blade and The Fat Butcher.
It was also a pleasure garden for headline stars who portrayed Mafiosi on the silver screen: George Raft, known for hoodlum roles such as Guino Rinaldo in 1932’s “Scarface,” was the casino’s celebrity “greeter” and made his home in the 19th-floor penthouse. Havana’s hedonistic mob-and-movie-star days came to an end with Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, and the hotel drifted into a long, slow decline. But now the Capri is back in business after being closed more than a decade ago. Its rebirth is part of Cuba’s latest bid to trade on its colorful pre-Communist past and attract tourist dollars to fund its socialist present.
“It’s a feeling of that era (at the Capri). I think in Cuba you feel that in general,” said Roberto Escalante, a 62-year-old Mexican university professor who was staying in the hotel this month during an academic conference. “It’s very comfortable. It’s missing some services still, but yes, you feel like you’re back in those times – which were good!”
Indeed, details such as the Capri’s polished, art-deco granite floors with their flowery bronze inlays fit right into a city that still teems with finned Chevrolet and Cadillac classics. So do the graceful copper-colored lobby chandeliers, which like the floors are restored originals. The newly refurbished Capri reopened around New Year’s as a partnership between state-run tourism company Grupo Caribe, which owns the hotel, and Spanish hotel chain NH Hoteles SA, which is responsible for administration.
History, Heritage and a Bit of Drama.
Built in late 1957, the Capri enjoyed a brief but madcap run as one of the flashiest mob joints of the time. Charles Tourine (The Blade,) managed the nightclub, while Nicholas di Costanzo (The Fat Butcher) ran the casino. The two were lesser-known henchmen associated with more notorious bosses like Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante. Gangsters rubbed elbows with some of Hollywood’s leading lights here. Swashbuckling actor and renowned playboy Errol Flynn frequented the Salon Rojo club where scantily clad cabaret dancers shimmied for tourists.
The handsome public face of it all was Raft, who grew up around gangsters and maintained personal ties to a number of capos. T.J. English’s “Havana Nocturne,” a history of the mob in Havana, recounts Raft’s memories of the night when Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista fled the country ahead of the inexorable advance of Castro’s bearded rebels. New Year’s Eve merrymaking was coming to an end and Raft had just retired to the penthouse, where a young woman recently crowned Miss Cuba was waiting. “There she was, asleep in my bed, but I noticed how she opened one eye when I came in the room. Now she’s half awake and amorous. ’Feliz ano nuevo,’ I said as I got between my silk sheets, alongside this fantastic girl,” Raft later said, according to “Havana Nocturne.” ’’In the middle of this beautiful scene – suddenly – machine-gun fire!” Hurrying downstairs, Raft pleaded for calm with revolutionary-minded Cubans who were ransacking the hotel, English writes. Finally a young woman recognized the movie star and persuaded the others to listen. They ended up doing a little “lightweight looting,” then left.
“So while the shooting and all that continued in the streets, the Capri was saved, at least for the moment,” said Raft, who died in 1980. It wasn’t long before the mob’s hotels all passed into the hands of the revolutionary government. Castro himself set up shop for a time in the nearby Havana Hilton, later redubbed the Habana Libre.
Most of the mafia bosses fled Cuba – out millions of dollars in lost revenue and investments. The Capri operated as a state-run hotel for decades and at times hosted a different sort of celebrity guest, people such as Cuban crooner Omara Portuondo and left-wing Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. In 1997, militant anti-Castro exiles set off a bomb in the lobby that caused severe damage but no fatalities. The Capri survived, but like many buildings it became run-down from lack of maintenance, and closed in the early 2000s. After apparently sitting idle for years, restoration began about four years ago according to hotel officials. Workers are still refurbishing some rooms and laying carpeting on some floors. During a recent visit, finishing touches were being put on the rooftop pool, which boasts stunning views of the Florida Straits. Much has been kept faithful to history, down to the Capri’s swooping deco logo. Low-slung, 1950s-modern sofas grace the lobby, and old Havana cityscape photos hang in the rooms. Hotel operators are talking about putting historic pictures in the lobby like the nearby Nacional, another hotel where the mob once ran a lucrative casino. Nods to modernity include building-wide Wi-Fi, though it’s not included in the price of a room. What once was Raft’s penthouse is now a high-end restaurant with white tablecloths and plush, lavender-paisley chairs. The Salon Rojo is a popular disco with a $10 cover – no gambling allowed.
“It’s just friendly, modern. We like being here,” said Elke Feusi, a 49-year-old banker from Winterthur, Switzerland. Ciro Bianchi Ross, a Cuban journalist who has researched and written about the Capri, disagreed with the notion the hotel represents a lost, glamorous past. He noted that the cabaret parties and casino riches were for the elite, while many Cubans struggled with poverty, disease and illiteracy – a social equation that the 1959 revolution was specifically intended to upend.
Still, he called the Capri one of the three most architecturally important hotels of its era in Havana and said there’s nothing wrong with using Cuba’s mafia past to create income and jobs for the country. “It’s benefiting from history, and I think that’s valid. We can’t renounce a heritage like this or the Hotel Nacional,” Bianchi said. “Buildings are not to blame for their history.”

by Peter Orsi (Associated Press) 

16th Habanos Festival 2014

havana-live-cigar-festival-2014Havana will open its doors once again from February 24th to 28th, 2014 for the 16th annual Habanos Festival offering the largest international meeting for the cigar enthusiasts. This year the event will be paying tribute to four of the most prestigious Habanos brands we know and love: Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagás, Trinidad and H.Upmann. The 2013 Habanos Festival was attended by more than 1,200 delegates from almost 80 countries – that’s a lot of matches used! The Commercial Fair will again be celebrated during the week of the Festival. In 2013, the Fair was attended by 72 exhibitors from 8 countries – Germany, Canada, China, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Panama and Cuba – and received over 2,000 visitors from the world of cigar, luxury products and business. During this 16th Edition of the Habanos Festival, those attending will have the pleasure of tasting in exclusive the new vitolas that will be launched to the market in 2014 as well as discover the roots and the secrets of a century-old tradition of Cuban cigar culture. The program of the Habanos Festival maintains has been released and it looks like it’s shaping up to be a big one:

What to Expect

Visits to the best tobacco plantations in Vuelta Abajo, Pinar del Río
Visits to Cigar factories
A Commercial fair
Tastings and Marriages with the best gastronomy and drinks
Habanosommelier International Contest
Master class on the Cigar Hand Rolling Technique
The longest ash contest

The opening of the event will take place on Monday, February 24th, 2014 with the inauguration of the Commercial Fair at the International Convention Center Palacio de Convenciones . The Fair will be a perfect opportunity to mingle and network with fellow BOTLs, businessmen, producers and suppliers of the cigar world.
havana-live-cigar1The day will end with the Welcome Evening at Club Habana, which includes an exclusive concert from some of the best Cuban artists. The Nominations for the Habanos Award of the Year will also be announced; all wrapped up with a welcome Cocktail dedicated to the Partagás and Hoyo de Monterrey brands. We are already drawling at the mouth. On Wednesday, February 26, there will be a special and emotive Dinner in tribute to the Trinidad brand, with participation of prestigious chef Ron Blaauw from The Netherlands, awarded with two Michelin stars, and of sommelier Cuno Van’t Hoff in the selection of the menu and marriages.
Dust off the tux as the closing of the Festival will take place on the evening of Friday, February 28, with a Gala Dinner in tribute to H.Upmann and the Traditional Humidor Auction for the benefit of the Cuban Public Health System.
The opening of the event will take place on Monday, February 24th, 2014 with the inauguration of the Commercial Fair at the International Convention Center Palacio de Convenciones . The Fair will be a perfect opportunity to mingle and network with fellow BOTLs, businessmen, producers and suppliers of the cigar world.

French pharma startup produce hepatitis vaccine in Havana

havana-live-poulettyIn a rare Europe-based Cuban R&D partnership, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) partnered with a new company formed by French equity investment firm Truffle Capital, licensing a therapeutic vaccine for chronic hepatitis B for sale in markets in Europe and Asia, for starters. Under the agreement, CIGB will manufacture the hepatitis B vaccine in Cuba, for sale in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, once it is approved there.
“As long as CIGB can scale up and meet quality requirements, Cuba wil continue to exclusively manufacture and supply the vaccine,” Truffle co-founder and ABIVAX Chairman Philippe Pouletty told Cuba Standard. He declined to specify which markets are covered by the licensing agreement. Truffle said in a press release it merged three French life sciences companies to form ABIVAX, which the investors would like to become “a global leader” in therapeutic vaccines and antivirals. Founded in December, Paris-based ABIVAX has two therapeutic vaccines under development and is in negotiations over more acquisitions. Poulletty said he hoped CIGB will contribute more products to ABIVAX’ pipeline, but he declined to specify them.
“At Truffle Capital, we are proud to have founded ABIVAX after two years of discussion with Cuba, which is known for its excellent physicians and high-quality vaccines,” Pouletty said in the press release. “This is an international project that is intended to place France and Cuba at the forefront of progress in the field of therapeutic vaccines.”
CIGB, the largest subsidiary of state holding BioCubaFarma, has partnered with companies in China, India, Canada and Brazil, but this is its first such cooperation in European markets. When signing the licensing agreement with ABIVAX executives in Havana this week, Norkis Arteaga Morales, business development director of BioCubaFarma, told Prensa Latina that CIGB will contribute the hepatitis B vaccine, which it already sells in various markets around the globe, and its production capacities, while Truffle will contribute the capital to complete clinical studies in Europe and Asia, as well as its marketing resources.
CIGB products are sold in ALBA member nations Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, as well as in Brazil, China, Vietnam and Angola, among others.
“Our complementary skills in both R&D and production will enable us to take several vaccines into international markets in the years to come”, Arteaga said, according to Prensa Latina. Pouletty told Cuba Standard that BioCubaFarma did not want to form a joint venture this time, but added that ABIVAX has a “very open spirit to future collaboration.” Truffle Capital is a 13-year old independent venture capital firm with €550 million ($754 million) under management and advisory, specializing in energy, information technology and life sciences companies. The firm is led by a team of four general partners, Philippe Pouletty, Jean-François Fourt, Henri Moulard, and Bernard-Louis Roques. Pouletty’s track record includes founding and developing life science companies such as Deinove (Alternext: ALDEI), Carbios, Carmat (Alternext: ALCAR), Neovacs (Alternext: ALNEV), Splicos, Pharnext, Plasmaprime, Vexim, and Wittycell. He holds 29 patents, including the second highest revenue generating life science patent for Stanford University, and was inducted in the Stanford University Hall of Fame of Inventors in 2012. He has an MD from the University of Paris VI, and is a former chairman of France Biotech, the French biotech industry association.
havana-live-hepatitisThe three French biotech companies Truffle put together to form ABIVAX are Wittycell, Splicos and Zophis. CIGB, which specializes in the discovery, development and production of vaccines and antivirals, has already been working with Wittycell on getting the hepatitis B vaccine to market. The vaccine is in Phase IIb clinical trial in patients with chronic hepatitis B, which leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Pouletty made his first contact with CIGB in South Africa four years ago, and he said he was impressed by Cuba’s biotechnology progress.Two years ago, his company began negotiations with CIGB. “It took some time to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said. “It’s a process that can be relatively complex.” Other ABIVAX products under development include an anti-viral drug for AIDS from Splicos, an anti-HPV therapeutic vaccine to treat uterine cervix dysplasia and prevent the emergence of cancer from Wittycell, and an adjuvant to boost NKT and B cell response from Wittycell.


Cuba suspends consular services in US

havana-live-Visa1Cuba has suspended consular services for the second time in less than three months after being unable to find a new bank in the U.S. for its diplomatic accounts, officials announced Friday.
M&T Bank decided to sever its relationship with Cuba last year, but agreed to continue processing its banking through March 1 and accepting deposits through Feb. 17. Cuban Interests Section officials in Washington said that “in spite of huge efforts made” they had been unable to find a replacement bank and that as a result it was being forced to suspend consular services, effective Friday.
“The Section regrets any inconvenience this situation may cause,” the statement said. The Cuban diplomats blamed Washington’s embargo against the Communist-run island for the inability to get a new bank, though it has been in place for more than five decades. It’s unclear why now no bank is agreeing to service the financial accounts. The State Department had been working with Cuban officials since last July to identify a new bank for the Cuban Interests Section and Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, said spokesman Noel Clay.
“We are disappointed in this action, given that we had helped the Mission identify a workable solution to its consular fee-processing needs with ample time for its implementation,” spokesman Noel Clay said. “That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike.” The State Department had reached out to more than 50 banks, and that several “may be exploring whether to provide the mission with banking services,” said deputy spokesman Marie Harf. The department would continue help the Cuban Interests Section find a long-term solution, she said. The U.S. and Cuba maintain limited diplomatic relations. Since 1997, both countries have operated Interests Sections under the legal protection of the Swiss embassies. The Interests Sections allow Cubans and Americans to request travel documents such as visas and passports, among other services. Travel operators had been preparing for the Feb. 17 deadline, which falls on a bank holiday, and advised those who plan to travel to the Caribbean island to get their documents beforehand.
Armando Garcia, the owner of Marazul, one of the largest Cuba charter flight operators, said most U.S. and Cuban-American travelers planning visits to the island for the spring had gotten their documents in beforehand.
“Two, three weeks from now, people who don’t have their documents up to date obviously would not be able to arrange anything unless the Cuban Interests Section resolves the problem with the bank,” Garcia said.
An estimated 557,000 U.S. travelers are expected to visit Cuba in 2014, according to one estimate by the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group. Analyst Emilio Morales has projected that they will bring with them some $2 billion. Most of the travelers are Cuban Americans; a small amount is Americans taking part in licensed cultural exchange programs. Morales said Friday he estimated 40,000 U.S. travelers would visit in March and again in April. On average, they spend about $3,100 per person — a collective $124 million each month. “The impact is going to be much less than if it had occurred in December,” Morales said, referring to the temporary suspension last year before the height of holiday travel. “People had time to get their passports in order.”
Cubans living in the U.S. who still have a valid Cuban passport would still be able to travel to the island, but those who need to request a visa or have their passport renewed would be impacted. The U.S. State Department said in November that the U.S. bank that had handled Cuba’s accounts had severed the relationship due to a “business decision.” A State Department said the bank had apparently decided to discontinue banking diplomatic missions several years ago.
Travel operators in Miami said they had been advised by licensed consular agents to submit all their paperwork for visas, passports and other documents needed to travel to the island by last Monday, Feb. 10. Other affairs that could be affected include requests for copies of marriage licenses and birth certificates, as well as requests from those who want to extend the amount of time they are visiting the United States or who want to return to Cuba permanently. November through March is the high season for U.S. travelers participating in “people-to-people” travel to the island. Garcia said most of those applications were submitted far in advance. The upcoming March spring break and summer is when more Cuban-Americans tend to travel to visit family. Pedro Vega, a branch manager at Cubamar, an agency that helps process travel documents near Miami’s Little Havana, said he received about double the usual number of paperwork requests in January and February as clients rushed to submit before the banking deadline.
“I am worried for those who have family there that they need to visit and who have to leave with their transactions processed,” Vega said. Noemi Hernandez, co-owner of MIA-Habana Express, Inc., said she was advising clients who weren’t able to get their requests in by Monday to hold off on submitting any more documents. “We’re afraid if we send something it’s going to be stuck in limbo,” she said.

(AP Jessica Gresko) 

Cuban Equestrian Skill on Display at Auction Tonight

havana-live-Equestrian-SportsCoaches and presenters of the Royal Dutch horse jumpers that will be auctioned this weekend in this capital have extensive competition and training experience. The trainer of the Cuban National Riding Team, Carlos Alberto González, explained that many of his students will take the reins of the animals at the auction.
The Flora and Fauna Protection Agency has announced that 33 jumpers of the Dutch variety will be auctioned at the National Equestrian Center in Havana (Lenin Park) on February 15. These animals will be shown at auction tonight by experienced trainers and jockeys, many of them young members of the national equestrian team. Gonzalez has experience as an athlete and trainer since 1979, when he joined the national team riding for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) at major competitions, including the Pan American-1991 and Central American Ponce-1993.
Furthermore, Gonzalez competed in the Espartaquiadas 1985 and 1989, and in Poland, and was a trainer for the Pentathlon team, among other activities. He said that the Cuban Riding Team is composed now of 12 jockeys around the age of 20, many with three-months of training in Holland and experience in Latin American events. Of those 12 jockeys, two are women.

(Prensa Latina)

Majority of Americans support normalizing relations with Cuba

havana-live-flagA strong majority of Americans – and an even greater percentage of Floridians – support normalizing relations with Cuba, according to a poll released on Tuesday by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank. In an apparent boost to efforts to end the half-century-old economic embargo against Cuba, the poll found that 56 percent of respondents nationally favoured changing U.S. Cuba policy, a number that rose to 63 percent when just counting Florida residents.
Supporters of the embargo said the poll was politically biased, questioned its methodology and said it was unlikely to have any impact in Washington.
The poll comes on the back of a series of surprise political announcements in recent days that could challenge longstanding U.S. policy towards the communist-run islandOn Friday, Florida’s former Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the office again in November – this time as a Democrat – said in a TV interview that he supports lifting the embargo. Also last week, Alfonso Fanjul, a wealthy Cuban American sugar baron in Florida and a major political donor, spoke publicly for the first time about trips he has made to the island in an interview with the Washington Post, and his interest one day in investing there. The poll, conducted by a Republican and a Democratic pollster, found that only 35 percent of Americans, and 30 percent of Floridians, opposed improving ties with Cuba. “Given the results of the survey, it is clearly time to take another look at U.S.-Cuba policy. There has been a surge in thinking about whether it’s working,” said Jason Marczak, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. The results in Florida show conventional wisdom about U.S. policy towards Cuba may need to be reconsidered.
Political commentators often note that U.S. presidential candidates support a hard line on Cuba out of fear of losing the swing state of Florida. “We may have crossed the Rubicon with this poll,” said U.S. Senator, Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona and longtime opponent of the embargo.
“This tells us that Floridians by a greater percentage than the rest of the country want to see changes to the policy, so there’s really no reason not to move ahead now politically,” he added.


Supporters of the embargo accused the Atlantic Council of having a political agenda, as well as poor methodology.
“The entire release is biased and agenda-driven,” Mauricio Claver-Carone, head of the largest Cuban exile lobby group in Washington, said in reference to the Atlantic Council’s announcement of the survey. “They didn’t ask if they were voters. In other words, it’s not a poll of ‘likely voters’ or ‘registered voters’.” Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, said proponents of ending the embargo lacked the votes in Congress, or the financial backing to effectively lobby to change the law.
“The fact remains every single Cuban-American elected official, in any position, in Miami-Dade County supports the embargo. So the facts speak for themselves,” he added. Officials from both countries have told Reuters that U.S.-Cuban relations have taken on a more pragmatic tone in recent months, with cooperation on drug interdiction, oil-spill mitigation and immigration.
President Barack Obama told a Miami fundraiser in November “we have to continue to update our policies” on Cuba, but he has withheld using his executive power since last easing rules on travel to Cuba and the flow of remittances in 2011.

Obama cannot lift the economic embargo without the support of Congress, where there is serious opposition from both parties.
The poll showed some ambivalence among those surveyed when they were reminded of the state of human rights in Cuba, where dissent and freedom of speech are inhibited. When told that changing U.S. policy would send a message to Iran or North Korea that they can act against American interests, 51 percent found it very or somewhat convincing. The poll – conducted over the phone in English and Spanish from January 7 to January 22 – surveyed 1,024 randomly selected U.S. adults age 18 and older, with disproportionate numbers of Florida residents and Latinos, the council said. It had a nationwide margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, the council said. In Florida the margin of error was plus or minus 4.0 percent.
The Atlantic Council bills itself as a non-partisan research institution that promotes “constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs.” Chief Executive Frederick Kempe is a former Wall Street Journal reporter and editor, and the council’s honorary directors include recent secretaries of state and national security advisers. Its findings provided a timely boost to Crist, who said in an TV interview on Friday that he doesn’t think the embargo has worked.
“If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there,” he said later in a statement. Crist, who currently leads in early polling, is the first candidate for governor from either major party to endorse lifting the embargo, a position that has long been considered politically risky in Florida due to Miami’s large Cuban American population.
His Cuba comments were pounced upon by Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott who insisted on that Floridians still support the embargo, saying it “stands for the Cuban people’s right to be free.”

Reuters, By David Adams

China’s Disabled Art Troupe to Debut in Cuba

havana-live-china-artist-groupThe China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe stated his tour in Cuba to present its show “My Dream” at Havana’s National Theater over the weekend. “Some people were denied some gifts, but it is still possible to choose one’s attitude toward life, look on the positive side, and face it with a joyful and grateful heart,” said Tai Lihua, director of the troupe.
The troupe consists of two teams, which allow it to perform in different countries at the same time. So far, it has performed in more than 30 countries in Asia, Europe, America and Oceania.
Its repertoire includes about 150 shows, characterized by its artistic elegance and spiritual depth.
The troupe’s members have won world recognition. The World Association of Persons with Disabilities named them “Ambassadors of the disabled” and “Torchbearers of special art,” while the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hailed them as “Artists for Peace.”

(Source: China Daily)

Griffey Jr. y Barry Larkin en La Habana

havana-live-griffeyGriffey (izquierda) y Larkin, dos ases de un tiro. Foto: Raúl Pupo

La muchedumbre de la Peña del Parque Central habanero no se lo podía creer, y algunos incluso llegaron a enjugarse los ojos, como en las películas: inesperadamente, delante de ellos se aparecieron Ken Griffey Jr. y Barry Larkin, dos monstruos sagrados de la historia reciente de las Grandes Ligas estadounidenses.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it” (Dios mío, no puedo creerlo), decía repetidamente uno de los habituales de la Peña en aceptable inglés. “Nosotros no te vimos jugar en tus tiempos, Ken, pero te reconocemos y siempre hemos sabido de tu grandeza”, terminó, casi con los ojos llorosos.havana-live-griffey1Todos desesperaban por darle la mano al pelotero que mereció calificativos como El Natural, entre sorprendidos, felices y admirados. El espontáneo líder del grupo, que se multiplicó enseguida como los hormigueros, dedicó entonces unas palabras a Larkin, y casi apenado, le confesó: “Pero Griffey era mi ídolo”. Sonriente, Larkin le contestó: “And mine too” (Y el mío también).
Al poco rato, la comitiva visitante prosiguió su camino Prado abajo, mientras la fanaticada buscaba papeles (“cualquier cosa”, decían) para pedirle autógrafos a las estrellas.havana-live-griffey2Ken Griffey Jr. se retiró en 2010 luego de pegar 630 jonrones, sexto en la lista de todos los tiempos en Ligas Mayores. Fue un auténtico fenómeno que combinó la capacidad para batear consistentemente con la velocidad de piernas, la potencia del brazo y la habilidad para fildear en la pradera ancha.
Mientras, Larkin jugó 18 temporadas sucesivas para los Rojos de Cincinnati, con un rendimiento clave en el triunfo final de 1990. Nueve veces ganó el Bate de Plata, en tres ocasiones el Guante de Oro, y fue exaltado en 2012 al exigente Hall de la Fama de Cooperstown.

Over 50 US Wrestlers to Attend Havana Tournament

havana-live--wrestler1More than 50 US wrestlers are expected to take part in the Cuban tournament Cerro Pelado-Granma, to be held at Havana”s Sport City on Feb. 12 – 15, announced Julio Mendieta the host team head coach. In remarks to Cuban News Agency (AIN), Mendieta revealed an expected large presence by US athletes, many of them of high quality, to guarantee more rivalry in the competition.
He added that Canada and Germany will bring more than 10 wrestlers each, expected to be tough rivals to the Cubans due to their frequent participation in international competitions.
Regarding the Cuban team fitness, he said they have trained well and will go for the highest number of medals possible. Some 20 Cuban wrestlers will compete in the free style in this traditional tournament.
Mendieta referred to main figures in every division, including Alednier Hernandez (57 kg), whom he described as a young, talented, very promising wrestler. He also cited Yowlys Bonne (61 kg), Geandri Garzon (70), Reineris Salas (86) and Javier Cortina (97).
He said the 74 kg category may be not so strong. It includes Reinier Perez and Esteban Quintana, who will try to make up for injured Livan Lopez.
After the Cerro Pelado-Granma tournament, Cuba will form the team that will travel to Puerto Rico on Apr. 3 – 7 to try grab six places for the Central American and Caribbean Games to be held in Veracruz, Mexico, on Nov. 14 – 30.


European and LatAm Dancers to Attend Workshop in Havana

havana-live-modern-dance1Dancers from nine European and Latin American countries will participate in the 22nd edition of the International Workshop of modern dance, Workuba 2014, to be held from February 13 to 15.
Marta Bercy, founder, artistic and general director of the event told the press today that professional or amateur dancers, from Argentina, Chile, Spain, United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Uruguay and Cuba will participate in the experience. For the fifth consecutive time, the event will take place at America theatre, in this capital, where specialists and artists will offer lectures and master classes on different rhythms. Rumba, Bachata, Milonga, Cha Cha Cha, Casino, Salsa and Afro-Cuban folklore are some of the dances that will be available to participants. Bercy standed out the workshop of chamamé given by Argentinean Ana María Trainini, Director of Ballet of Goya, in Corrientes province.The events closure ceremony includes the Habana Musical performance along with the Ballet group of Laura Alonso, the one of the America Theatre and the youth ballet of Lizt Alfonso. The attendees will also enjoy the presentation of violinist Cinthia Salomón and percussionist Manuel Jiménez, among other artists.
Workuba is celebrated since 2003 every September in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and in February Cuba assumes the headquarters.havana-live-modern-dance

Earthquake hits off the northern coast of Cuba again

havana-live-earthquake1An earthquake hit in waters off Cuba Tuesday night — the second time in less than a month. The 4.3 magnitude quake, measured by the U.S. Geological Survey, was reported at 10:19 p.m. off the northern coast, some 100 miles east of Havana, near the town of Martí. It’s unclear if the minor quake was felt in Cuba or if it caused any damage. After Tuesday night’s quake, the National Weather Service in Miami-Dade said there was no threat of a tsunami . On Jan. 9, a 5.1-magnitude quake hit in a similar area off the island coast. That quake was felt in the Florida Keys and as far north as Naples. The earthquake east of Havana puzzled scientists, who said it came during a two-week spate of tremors in the region.The source of the frequent tremors in the region is the slow movement of the Caribbean plate, which moves about one inch each year along a boundary against the North American plate. It’s when the two plates catch along fault lines, build up pressure and then release that quakes happen, in a process sometimes called “stick-slip.” Occasionally the quakes are more significant, such as the 6.4 magnitude tremors recorded off Puerto Rico on Jan. 13. Earthquakes that size may happen off Puerto Rico once every few years, Bellini said.
“I won’t say every year but they do happen,” he said. When it comes to the islands of Hispaniola and Puerto Rico, two east-west fault lines cause much of the seismic activity, including the recent quakes.
The Septentrional fault line, which runs across the northern parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and stretches out into the Caribbean Sea, was the cause of the 6.4 magnitude quake off Puerto Rico. The quake, with an epicenter about 35 miles north of the island, was the strongest in the region in the last few weeks. No injuries were reported, but dozens of small aftershocks have followed.


Havana World Music – the world fits in Havana

havana-live-Havana-World-Music1On February 7 and 8, 2014, Havana will become the capital of the World Music, in order to “make known the musical diversity of Cuba to the Cubans themselves as well as outsiders,” the general coordinator Havana World Music festival (HWM) , Ismael Sayyad, told OnCuba.
HWM takes hold of the concept known as world music, to create a space in which converge local bands and musical expressions, little played on the island, and groups from other parts of the planet. As world music people identify traditional or folk music, and ethnic and genres characteristic of cultures around the world. Meanwhile, debates between specialists that place it as a huge genre or market category label.
“The use of this term is somewhat opportunistic. We’re going to take advantage of it because it contains a lot of things, “the artistic director of the event, the Cuban singer Eme Alfonso confessed.
For the production of the HWM, Raquel Avila, the idea is “that musicians work with a base identity, which then merged with music such as rock, funk, jazz … But we have the assurance that is not a thing made in a studio or in a music distributor.”
From Cuba is confirmed the presence of Cossiá, a group founded in 1982 in the eastern province of Guantanamo, which recreates Haitian songs and dances, as well as La Cinta, which, in the town of Baraguá (Ciego de Avila), rescues the calypso, a dance accompanied by weaving colored ribbons on a pole and clustering of bagpipes of the Galician Art Society, with Spanish roots.
Cuban culture has seen their budgets cut from the start of the economic crisis of the 90′s that had a negative impact on the national and international dissemination of cultural expressions outside Havana, according to experts.
In this sense, organizers admitted that the origin of HWM is Para Mestizar , an audiovisual project of Alfonso that records living cultural expressions that make Cuba’s cultural diversity, among which are the two expressions involved in the festival in attractive and simple communication products.
Groups like Los Van Van and Sintesis also confirmed their attendance and while these may not be considered World Music, “Why not? At a festival in Denmark they are “Alfonso questioned, who dreams to carry the event to other Cuban provinces.
About the invited foreign musicians and groups, Alfonso said they are talking with artists from Norway, Mexico, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela, Netherlands, Senegal, Netherlands and the UK, and seeing the forms of finance.
“Cuba represents a lot of interest for everyone, all the famous and not famous people we contacted said yes. What we are seeing ways to fund it, “the artistic director of HWM said.
Avila confirmed that “from Norway Thea Hjelmeland will be present to show the results of a project with Cuban musicians that must be recorded soon.” Hjelmeland performed in Havana during the Peace and Love festival, 2013.
Although Alfonso wants to “make it as accurate as possible,” she warned they will have to “be open to people who can finance his trip, people who are willing to not charge for their performances, because organizations that are here are non-profit”.
This is the case of Fuel Fandango, Spanish duo closer to alternative music and pop. “They are a little out of the concept. But they have a lot of quality, their presence encourages the international interest in the Festival and the Cuban public want to have fun, have a good time, “the singer said.
Havana World Music intends to conduct a parallel theoretical event , so that ” the most interesting musicians who have something to contribute musically and visually on music , share it with us ,” Alfonso said.
According to the leader of HWM, “we talked with professionals who can catch up on the state of music in the world , new trends and how you can develop a band in the international market .”
Meanwhile, Avila stressed the idea of ​​becoming “reference space “that can “invite other festivals programmers to also be a window into the music made in Cuba“. The conference will take place in the capital’s baseball field at the José Antonio Echevarría resort (Calzada and 12, Vedado ), with support from the Cuban Music Institute and the Ministry of Culture of the island, involved from the beginning of the project Para mestizar .
Alfonso insisted in recognizing advances in “Cuban cultural institutions, they are leaving the prejudices and working with other non- Cuban embassies and agencies such as UNESCO and the Swiss Cooperation Fund”.

Marta María Ramírez

South Florida ship first into Havana’s Mariel mega-port

havana-live-crowleyWhen Cuba cut the ribbon on its nearly $1 billion mega-port at Mariel on Monday, the first ship at the dock came from South Florida’s Port Everglades Jacksonville-based Crowley arrived with some 50 shipping containers of mainly frozen chicken under a waiver to the five-decade-old U.S. embargo against the communist-run nation. It ships weekly to the island, underscoring opportunities for business when U.S.-Cuba ties are fully restored. Some analysts say the presence of the U.S. line at Mariel’s high-profile debut — when the presidents of Brazil, Venezuela and other Latin American nations were on hand for a regional conference — signals that Havana is not only open for business, but open for business with the United States.
“The long-term viability of Mariel depends on a change in U.S. policy,” said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College in New York and president of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy. “Clearly, [Crowley’s presence] is a sign they’re willing to do business with the United States, even if we’re not willing to do business with Cuba now.” The largest infrastructure project in Cuba in decades, the modern Mariel port was financed mainly by a Brazilian loan and built by Brazil’s construction giant Odebrecht, which also is active in South Florida. The seaport aims to replace Havana as the island’s top cargo port, and once dredging is complete, will be able to host the world’s largest ships that soon will cross an expanded Panama Canal.
havana-live-crowley1But perhaps most intriguing, the port some 30 miles west of Havana features a “special development zone,” where businesses will receive tax breaks and other incentives to set up, partly for export. Companies from Asia and South America, including Chinese carmaker Geely, already have expressed interest in the zone, now a 180-square-mile field.
Mariel’s launch comes as some see a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, including recent talks on migration and oil drilling. President Raul Castro has been opening Cuba’s state-controlled economy, allowing more self-employment, plus home and car sales, to spur growth.
Said Jay Brickman, vice president of Crowley Liner Services on his return from Mariel: “This could be a game-changer for the Cuban economy.”

(Doreen Hemlock, Sun Sentinel)