Monthly Archives: June 2014

Handicraft Art Fair Begins in Havana

havana-live-arte-rampaHAVANA, 30 June The 16th edition of the art fair, Arte en La Rampa, considered a unique national cultural fiesta, began in the capital’s Pabellon Cuba Exhibit Halls.

Concerts, exhititions, book launchings and handicraft sales make up the cultural gathering’s program. The commercial exhibition includes 90 stands by artists from the House of Funds for Cultural Assets, the entity that organizers the meet along with the Saíz Brothers Young Artists Association every year.
Another 30 stands are at the disposal of visitors, including Cuba’s largest record label, the Artistic and Literary Promotion Society, Artex, and others.
A new collection of copies of works of art by renowned Cuban fine artist, Alfredo Sosabravo, a concert by Cuban troubadour, David Álvarez, and his band Juego de Manos opened the meet.(Radio Cadena Agramonte)

Endedans Ballet returns to Havana with premieres

havana-live-Carmen-endedansHAVANA, 28 June Camagueyan Contemporary Ballet Company, Endedans, directed by maestra and choreographer, Tania Vergara, is set to perform in Havana in July with the premieres of the pieces By Friction, Furs and Momentos en el viento (Moments in the Wind).

The recently renovated Marti Theater will be the venue of the Endedans shows on July 18, 19 and 20, with pieces choreographed by Danish choreographer, Jens Bjerregaard, and Cuba’s Pedro Alberto de Jesús.
Without leaving behind the plastic and virtuoso movements of classical ballet, this time the company time will assume the style of the above mentioned choreographers, who chose scores by different contemporary composers. With both critics and audiences acclaim, Endedans is a company based in the eastern Cuban city of Camagüey, known for its fruitful work on the island’s national scene and its results in various competitive events.
Its aesthetic is based on the need to recreate a visual world full of symbolism, gesture and a strong relationship among the characters of its pieces. The company’s repertoire includes awarded pieces, such as La muerte del Hombre (Man’s Death) from 2004, and Las manos que nunca me tocaron (The Hands that Never Touched Me) from 2007, among others.

Cuban delegation in Europe to tout benefits of new investment law

havana-live-foreign-investment-lawHAVANA, 27  June  (EFE)  Cuba’s deputy foreign trade minister explained here Thursday the opportunities available to foreign companies under the Communist-ruled island’s new investment law.

Ileana Nuñez Mordoche, who is heading a high-level Cuban delegation, arrived in Madrid as part of a tour of European capitals. In Madrid, she spoke to dozens of business leaders at the headquarters of the High Council of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Navigation of Spain.
Spain is one of Cuba’s main trading partners and a key source country for foreign direct investment, or FDI, Nuñez noted, pointing out that her country is looking to attract foreign capital as part of efforts to “update” its socialist economic model.
The goal of the new legislation, approved by Cuba’s National Assembly in March, is to reduce Cuban imports, promote exports and bolster industry through infrastructure build-outs and technology inflows, the deputy minister said. “We must change the energy matrix, with more space for renewables and biomass,” Nuñez said.
Cuba’s director general for foreign investment, Deborah Rivas, added that there is a “favorable climate” for FDI in Cuba and recalled that the island is a signatory to different trade-promotion and investment-protection treaties under the World Trade Organization and other entities. The new law allows foreign companies to form joint ventures with Cuban entities or create enterprises that are 100 percent foreign-owned.
It sharply reduces the profits tax for foreign investors from 35 percent to 15 percent and exempts them from paying it for the first eight years of business activity. The president of the High Council of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Navigation of Spain, Manuel Teruel, recalled that Spanish small- and medium-sized enterprises have a traditional presence in Cuba and said now is the time to facilitate the entry of large multinational firms.     

Telecome fraud costs Cuba over 10 mln USD annually

havana-live-parabolHAVANA, June 26   Cuba lost over 10 million U.S. dollars in revenue a year due to fraud in telecommunications services, the National Information Agency (AIN) reported Wednesday.

Jorge Sacre, director of the anti-fraud department at the state-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa), told AIN that a considerable number of users sought to avoid legally established traffic channels for international calls by using new technological development that hinders their traceability.
The most common crimes include the theft of lines belonging to legitimate users, subscription fraud and creation of international systems that offer an adjacent service with lower fees than those established by legal telecom service providers, said Sacre.
These crimes can be carried out through the installation of satellite dishes, and the use of ordinary telephone and Internet access, he said.
For every minute of call made via these alternate routes, Cuba lost 0.60 dollars in revenue, and calls originating from these sites were then distributed through the National Communications Network as a local or long-distance call, causing more substantial losses, said Sacre. Cuba has a large expatriate community living in the United States, the epicenter of global telecommunications fraud, and Cuba’s proximity makes it more vulnerable, Sacre added. The island ranks among the 17 countries most affected by such violations, he stressed, adding that Etecsa is working to develop fraud detection mechanisms and various measures to blacklist users who commit such crimes.

Saint Kitts and Nevis opens Embassy in Havana

havana-live-Nevis_Saint_Kitts_And_NevisHAVANA, June 25   Saint Kitts and Nevis will have its own diplomatic mission in Havana since this Wednesday as part of activities here by Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, who paid a three-day visit to Havana.
havana-live-saint- kittsThe embassy will contribute to deepen cooperation and friendly relations between the two Caribbean countries, who established diplomatic links on May 10, 1995, according to a release by the Cuban Foreign Ministry. During his visit to Havana, Prime Minister Douglas held official talks with President Raul Castro and he previously paid homage to Cuban National Hero Jose Marti. Douglas expressed his satisfaction for visiting Cuba and he praised the island’s scientific achievements, particularly during a visit to Havana’s Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center.

German Cinema in Havana again

havana-live-oh_boyHAVANA, June 25   As it is customary in the last week of every June, Havana movie buffs are on their countdown to the start of a season devoted to German cinema, including films like laureate “Oh Boy” (Jan Ole Gerster, 2012).

The Cinematheque of Cuba will screen on June 25-30 a season of films produced in the years 2011-2013, including Gerster’s first work, which is considered a crude social portrait.
Filmed in black and white, Gerster, 34, tells the story of Niko, a teen that abandons his fiancee, the university and the secure relatives’ maintenance.
In several interviews, the filmmaker said he intended to portrait society in general and not only the people of his generacion, as he knowns there has always been people who feel themselves out of place. This film is a German Cinema laureate in the categories of best film, best director and best screenplay.
According to Antonio Mazon, a programmer of the Cinematheque of Cuba, this exhibition will contribute to strengthen cultural cooperation links between Germany and Cuba.

International Communication Festival kicks off in Havana

riphavana-live-communicationHAVANA,  June 23  The 2nd Communication International Festival will begin today and will be attended by nearly 500 participants from Europe and Latin America, who will discuss on the role of designers, publicists and journalists in the construction of current society and economy.

On the opening day, those attending the Nacional Hotel will have the opportunity to receive the lecture by Dr. Francisco Aguadero, initiator of the subject Corporate Social Responsibility in Iberian universities, who holds a bond of close academic collaboration with Cuba.
Today’s exchanges will be focused on the topic of Public Relations, as well as Visuality, Advertising, Media & Marketing, job profiles where Cuba has no a long tradition, but it is beginning to show relevant work experiences.
The session will reserve a space to exhibit the campaigns for the 500 th anniversary of the founding of Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus and Camaguey villas, celebrations that have served as inspiration for communication professionals to develop products, both of tourist propaganda as social welfare, for heritage preservation.
Workshops on strategies for institutional leadership and website design run in parallel with the working sessions of this event, organized by the Cuban Association of Social Communicators, which also includes reflections on the importance of social responsibility in public relations.  

Barack OBAMA offers to lifty trade Embargo

havana-live-un-vote-cuba-embargoPresident Barack Obama used Uruguayan President Jose Mujica to deliver a letter to Cuban President Raul Castro on June 14th offering to negotiat an end the U.S. trade embargo according to MercoPress. Obama supposedly first asked for help when Mujica visited Washington in mid-May.

HAVANA, 23 June  Cuba has been able to survive 54 years of embargoes because Venezuela provided the island free and discounted oil. But with Venezuela is in chaos as the country is near bankruptcy as its oil production plummets from under investment and earlier this month there was an assassination attempt on the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Cuba could be cut-off from oil imports at any time.
The U.S. embargo against Cuba means that Cuba would have to pay a huge premium to get oil from the black market or cut a deal with the Russians, who are now trying to improve relationships with Latin America. With the “New Cold War” heating up in Eastern Europe, the United States is keen on heading off Russia reestablishing a presence just 90 miles for the U.S. coast. But President Obama cannot lift the embargo with one of his infamous “Executive Orders” because of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act.
The bipartisan passed legislation requires U.S. Congressional approval to lift the embargo and ending sanctions. Such approval is subject to human rights improvements and the democratic election of a new Havana government, preferably without a Castro family member at the helm. An agreement would also face tremendous opposition in Cuba, because of decades of mutual animosity and the fact that many Cuban government officials are “unofficially” involved in the very profitable black market.
But Cuba has been liberalizing its economy slowly for nearly four years. After Fidel Castro died and his brother Raul became the equivalent of President for life, but Raul has been slowly moving to end the stigmatization of private property and market mechanisms as a cornerstone of ideological correctness. His government drafted The 2011 Cuban Central Report to the Congress that declared concentration of property, not private property per se, is antithetical to socialism. This may sound like a small step to Americans, but in Cuba this was a huge policy change. Stratfor Global Intelligence suggests that prisoner exchanges, such as the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen held in a Cuba prison since 2009 for subversive activity would be viewed by Congress as a very popular move. Stratfor believes that Cuba faces an existential threat from the loss of Venezuelan oil. They believe that “leaks” about a pending prisoner release would be a strong sign that a larger negotiation is imminent.

Havana looks to sign a major Oil Deal with Russia’s Rosneft

havana-live-oil-platformHAVANA, 22 June  (Polly Mosendz) As if tensions between the United States and Russia were not high enough, the Russian government-owned oil corporation Rosneft is now seeking a major oil deal with Cuba.

At the World Petroleum Congress in Moscow, Rosneft met with Cuban Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Ruben Cid, to discuss new oil fields right in America’s backyard. Cid told Itar-Tass, “Talks with Russian oil corporations are underway at the moment.
The Director General of our national oil company CUPET, Juan Torrez Naranjo, and Rosneft President Igor Sechin signed a memorandum recently in St Petersburg, under which the two companies will do the joint development of oilfields on the Cuban continental shelf.”
If the deal continues, it will mean two government-owned oil companies will build a meaningful business relationship. Cuba has oil reserves of somewhere between four and 20 billion barrels. CUPET estimates 20 billion, whereas the United States Geological Society has a more modest estimate of four-to-nine billion barrels.0b50dff83 Right now, oil is priced around $110 per barrel. This is quite a lucrative deal, comparable even to the $900 billion deal Rosneft currently has underway with Exxon Mobil. In that arrangement, Arctic drilling should bring in nine billion barrels of oil. The contract CUPET is proposing to Rosneft will allow oil production in deep waters and areas not belonging to the United States. Cid explains, “Production in deep waters is expensive enough and that’s why to attract investors there is a much more painstaking job”.  In this respect, we pin hopes on our partners from Venezuela and Angola, as well as on Rosneft. Hopefully this contract will be signed.” It is in Cuba’s best interests to execute the deal, and because they cannot work with American oil companies due to the longstanding embargo, Rosneft is the logical company to approach. Currently, there are only four wells in Cuba, so the Cuban oil reserves have not been properly prospected.
This is partially why it is difficult to determine how much oil there really is. When it comes to oil, politics are secondary and profitability is by far superior. If CUPET’s 20 billion barrel estimation proves accurate, the arrangement will be double in size to the Exxon/Rosneft Arctic deal. Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson spoke on the same panel as sanctioned Rosneft executive Igor Sechin at the World Petroleum Congress this week.
Russia has been, thus far, relatively unfazed by U.S. sanctions and the upsetting of ties with the States. Because of the potential profitability of this deal and Russia’s generally nonchalant attitude towards the U.S., the CUPET contract may very well be signed and executed quickly. As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Fidel’s former limos reborn as Havana taxicabs

havana-live- Fidels LimosIn this June 18, 2014 photo, taxi driver Moises Suarez cleans the Soviet-made limousine he drives which was once part of Fidel Castro’s fleet in Havana, Cuba. The fleet was often used to ferry around visiting dignitaries, and at least one of the limos was used occasionally by Castro himself, though he usually preferred a military-style jeep for his own transportation needs. Franklin Reyes/AP Photo

HAVANA, 21 June Today the limos have been decommissioned and repurposed as Havana taxi cabs, at the service of tourists who want a little slice of history to go with their ride across town. “When I tell (travelers) where the car came from, they sit in the seat back there and … stretch their legs and say, ‘I can’t believe it!'” said Moises Suarez, 58, who has been behind the wheel of one of the ex-presidential limos for the last three years.
havana-live-Fidels Limos3The luxury automobiles were produced by Russian manufacturers GAZ and ZIL in the 1960s and ’70s. Those sent to Cuba reportedly included a ZIL-111 convertible model that was the first of its kind to roll off the assembly line, a personal gift to Castro from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. They were often used to ferry around visiting dignitaries.
At least one of the limos was used occasionally by Castro himself, though he usually preferred a military-style jeep for his own transportation needs.When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter paid a historic visit in 2002, Castro — who always had a flair for stagemanship — picked him up at the airport in a Soviet stretch despite the fact that by that time the presidency had acquired a fleet of slick Mercedes Benzes. Suarez, who drives for state-owned Cubataxi, said about 14 of the cars passed into the hands of the company about five years ago, and 10 are still on the road.
havana-live- Fidels Limos1Many aspects of his GAZ-built Chaika — Russian for “seagull” — are original, from the camel-colored headliner to the radio with its buttons and knobs labeled in Cyrillic lettering. At some point a Mercedes engine was swapped in, however, similar to the way that 1950s Detroit classics in Havana are still running thanks to makeshift monkeywrenching.
On the driver’s-side door, Suarez has affixed a small sign that says “Smile, Jesus loves you” — a small irony for a country that was officially atheist for decades under Castro (the policy was removed from the constitution in the 1990s). The limo seats six passengers in relative comfort. But despite the extra leg room, it can hardly be considered a luxury ride anymore. The faux wooden inlay is chipped and peeling, and the faded, brown-floral upholstery emits a smell best described as musty with perhaps a hint of stale cigar.
Still, it’s a novel way to cruise down the seaside Malecon boulevard or through Revolution Plaza, where a massive sculpture of Argentine-born revolutionary leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara gazes stone-faced from the side of a building. Suarez said fares are negotiable, from just a few bucks for a quick trip to $100-$140 for an all-day road trip outside the capital. On a recent morning, a group of Spanish tourists took turns having their photo taken next to and inside the car as it sat parked beneath the massive, pyramidal monument honoring Cuban independence hero Jose Marti. “It’s exciting to be able to get inside a historic piece of Cuba,” said Miquel Torres, who was visiting from Barcelona.
havana-live- Fidels Limos2“It’s a very different kind of car.” As Suarez drives through the city, heads turn constantly. Not only tourists but also Cubans, who instantly recognize it as one of Fidel’s fleet. “A lot of drivers pull up next to me at stoplights,” Suarez said. “They start laughing and they say, ‘You never imagined you would be driving the comandante’s car, eh?’ ‘You have a great car in your hands.”

Havana abre y vuelve a cerrar Radio/TV Martí, Twitter y otros websites

Broken-computer-cableLA HABANA, 21 Junio (Juan O.Tamayo) Por un breve momento, pareció que Cuba había desbloqueado el acceso a varias páginas de internet censuradas por años debido a sus críticas contra el gobierno, incluida la página de la radio del gobierno de Estados Unidos, Radio/TV Martí.

Y ni siquiera era el Día de los Inocentes. El jueves en la tarde, los internautas de Cuba empezaron a notar que tenían acceso a Radio/TV Martí, Cubanet de Miami, que pública a periodistas independientes y disidentes, y Cubaencuentro, radicada en España, que también es crítica del gobierno cubano.
También estuvieron desbloqueadasTwitter, Skype y Revolico, un portal para avisos clasificados cubanos bloqueado, aparentemente, porque compite con las tiendas de la nación que son propiedad del gobierno, de acuerdo a varios residentes de La Habana y contactos de Miami.
El gobierno de Raúl Castro no dijo ni una palabra y los observadores de Cuba se empezaron a preguntar si La Habana había tomado un paso adelante al permitir más libertad de información en la nación comunista. Pero no. Ya el viernes en la tarde el bloqueo estaba de vuelta en funcionamiento y había reportes no confirmados de que el breve levantamiento había sido el resultado de un error por parte de un técnico del gobierno de Cuba.
“Todo parece indicar que fue un error” escribió Alejandro Uloa, quien fue el primero en reportar el levantamiento del bloqueo, mediante un tuiteo el viernes cerca de las 5 p.m. “En otras palabras, sí, estas páginas están prohibidas para los cubanos”.

Havana authorizes Internet access for private companies

havana-live-internet-accessHAVANA,  June 21   The Cuban government has authorized the state telecom company to provide Internet access to the country’s budding private cooperatives, the Cuban News Agency reported Friday.

Communications Minister Maimir Mesa Ramos instructed Etecsa to start the service on June 29, according to the news agency. Internet access will be provided via modems and only to the cooperative’s location, to avoid service being transferred to third parties.
Internet services has been available in Cuba since 1996, but only via satellite as the country was banned from using undersea cables under the U.S. trade embargo. Since 2011, the island has been connected to an optical fiber cable laid from Venezuela, its main political and economic ally. In 2013, Etecsa inaugurated Cuba’s first cyber cafes though Cubans have complained about the high rate per hour of 4.5 Cuban convertible pesos, almost a quarter of the average monthly salaries. Home Internet access is so far only available to certain professionals, such as officials, doctors and journalists.
The authorities claimed that the restriction was due to infrastructure deficiencies, and service would be gradually expanded to the general public.

Diana Fuentes Performs again in Havana

havana-live-diana-fuentesHAVANA,  June 20 (acn)  The singer and composer Diana Fuentes gave a unique, and full of Caribbean sounds and Cuban essences concert after two years without appearing in Cuban scenarios.

The artist, promoting her latest album Planeta Planetario, recorded and licensed by Sony Music, offered those attending Bertolt Brecht Theatre singles of the phonogram, which will be released in the U.S. next August.
Fuentes, accompanied by excellent musicians and her husband, Eduardo Cabra, member of the Puerto Rican band Calle 13, sang singles such as ¨Asuntos de Invencion¨, ¨La Ultima Vez¨, ¨Sera Sol¨ and ¨Los Caminos¨, the latter co-authored with songwriter William Vivanco. The material also includes the tracks ¨Otra realidad¨ and ¨Lo Material¨ which pay tribute to the great female voices of Cuban song and the missing leader of Los Van Van group, Juan Formell.havana-live-diana-fuentes1 The singer said overjoyed that she was very happy to be in Cuba presenting the public her work … production that undoubtedly marks a turning point in her career. Diana, exploring land never before discovered by her, gave the audience a dynamic show full of hip-hop, folk, electronic music and congas.  Regarding the CD, she added that it responds to that name in reference to each of the planets inhabited by people, owners of good energy and love. I came to ask the blessing of Cuba and my friends and also to thank everyone who helped me in my career, she stated during the presentation.
On July 11, Diana Fuentes will have her first test in the American market and it will be through her participation in the Latin Alternative Music Conference, to be held at Gramercy Theater, in New York.

Cuba ferry possible for Tampa port property

havana-live-tampa-portDocks are under construction at Port Tampa Bay. The Tampa Port Authority is developing a master plan for its 35 undeveloped acres along Channelside Drive and is seeking input. 

TAMPA – HAVANA, 20 June  (By Yvette C. Hammett) Patrick Allman envisions the day when a Cuban businessman could come to Tampa, purchase 20 cars at auction and on the same day, ship them back to his home country on a ferry docked in the Channel District.

“I could see a shipment of Ruskin tomatoes heading to Cuba,” accompanied by a boat-load of tourists, said Allman, a member of the Tampa Port Authority board. Should the political winds change and travel and trade between the United States and Cuba resume in a more traditional sense, Port Tampa Bay needs to be prepared, he said.
“We’re thinking ahead to future opportunities. We are apolitical, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this situation will change in the future.” Cuba’s leaders are aging, he added. Allman said he has already spoken to the consultants preparing the Channelside Master Plan about earmarking a piece of property near the cruise ship terminals for a future cargo and passenger ferry that could run between here and Cuba.
The public will have input on that master plan, as well. Port Tampa Bay is hosting an open house Tuesday to give the community a chance to weigh in on the future of the Channel District and how it should be developed. The open house is scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. at the Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St., first floor, TECO Room. There is plenty of room for public input on what should go in on the more than 35 acres of undeveloped land Port Tampa Bay owns in the Channel District, said Luis Ajamil, the consultant for the study.
And there is room for a future ferry berth, he said. “Being we are one of the closest ports to Cuba, from my perspective, I asked the question, what if,” Allman said. “Are we in a position to take advantage of it when the time is right? All we’ve decided so far is that if a ferry opportunity arises, we could use land near the cruise ship area.” The United States imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1960, one year after Fidel Castro seized power, and five decades later, it remains in effect. But in recent years, as Fidel Castro has turned over power to his brother, Raul, and both are aging, there has been more discussion of lifting that embargo. Tampa International Airport already offers six flights a week to Havana, Santa Clara and Holguin and members of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce have visited the island nation. Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco even traveled there in 2002 with a contingent of local businesspeople. As for the port, there is history.
There was cattle trade with Cuba out of Tampa in the 1800s and Henry B. Plant, the railroad tycoon, envisioned trade with Cuba and the entire Caribbean basin, purchasing a steamer in 1884 to connect Tampa with Key West and Havana. Port Tampa Bay is in a great position for a future use such as a ferry because it has close proximity to the interstate system and already has a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office and adequate parking, Allman said. Years back, cruise ship growth was a top priority for the Channel District, said Ajamil, of Bermello, Ajamil and Partners Inc., the firm conducting the study. But the newer, larger cruise ships can’t fit under the Sunshine Skyway bridge, so that priority is shifting.

Cuban economist predicts ‘Day Zero’ for currency merger

havana-live- Merge SignHAVANA,  20 Junio  (By Vito Echevarría)  A leading Cuban economist believes “Day Zero” of currency unification for businesses and government institutions is just a few months away. Pavel Vidal, a former Central Bank economist who currently teaches at the Pontífica Universidad Javeriana in Calí, Colombia, raised eyebrows at a recent conference in New York when he said he believes that a key step in one of Raúl Castro’s most dramatic economic reforms — the unification of the Cuban peso for companies and government institutions — is approaching at the beginning of 2015 (the currency merger for consumers in the Cuba government’s step-by-step approach will occur at a later date).
The topic that stirred most interest during a conference on Cuba in late May at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York was the future of the Cuban peso and its impact on living standards, as well as on foreign investment. For more than 20 years, the country has lived under a two-currency system, with local workers being paid in Cuban pesos (CUP) (worth about 24 pesos to the dollar), while many goods and services are available only in convertible Cuban pesos (CUC) (pegged more or less on par with the dollar).
Foreign investors operate almost exclusively with the CUC. Cuba’s Ministry of Finance and Prices (MFP) published a series of resolutions on the future of the Cuban peso in the Gaceta Oficial last March, and mentioned a Día Cero as the time when the dual currency system will be eliminated for businesses and government institutions. But it didn’t provide a date.

Luis Cristal coming back to Havana

havana-live-luise-cristal1HAVANA, 19 Juin  Cuba Cruise, the Canadian company that revolutionized cruising in Cuba, is now offering a repositioning sailing from Piraeus, Greece to Havana, Cuba in preparation for its second season.

The 960-passenger M/V Louis Cristal will be leaving from Piraeus in Greece Nov. 28 and sail in 25 days to Havana via Southern France, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Barbados, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Cienfuegos and Puerto Francés.
Guests aboard the 25-day transatlantic voyage will visit popular ports in Southern France, Spain, Morocco and Portugal and continue their sun-drenched journey to the Caribbean’s finest islands: Barbados, St. Lucia, Jamaica and Cuba. ? “We’re excited to kick off our second season with a multi-continent repositioning cruise on the M/V Louis Cristal,” said Cuba Cruise president Dugald Well.
“This is an exclusive travel opportunity to experience Europe’s famous sea-side destinations, Morocco’s exotic coast and turquoise Caribbean Sea all on one seamless voyage, and at a great price-point.” Guests can embark from Piraeus, Marseille, or Barcelona en route to their final stop: the untouched beaches, colonial architecture and natural reserves of CubaThe Louis Cristal, owned by Cyprus-based Louis Cruises, will be home-ported again in Havana, beginning Dec. 22.

PriceSmart – Cuba dispute resolved

pricesmart-inc-logoCUBAN diplomats are now free to shop at the PriceSmart wholesale club.

HAVANA, 18 June Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, in a statement yesterday, said it was advised that the issue of the PriceSmart membership by the Cuban Embassy has been resolved.
Said the statement: “The ministry understands that PriceSmart has formally advised the Cuban Embassy that it has been authorised to sell consumer merchandise to Cuban diplomats and consular officers, as well as their dependents who are staying at Cuban Embassies and Consular Missions outside Cuba.” The Cubans, the statement said, have welcomed the decision and thanked the foreign ministry and the Government and people of Jamaica “for the solidarity displayed and efforts made”. “I welcome this new development and look forward to sharing the news with my Caricom (Caribbean Community) colleagues who had agreed with Jamaica that the matter might be examined by the Caricom Legal Affairs Committee,” the statement quoted Foreign Minister A J Nicholson.–Cuba-dispute-resolved_16922185

Havana celebrates portuguese culture Week with classical Concert

havana-live-convento-asisi-havanaHAVANA, 18 Junio  Classical Cuban and Portuguese artists will join for a concert next July 12th to celebrate the Portuguese Culture Week.

Camerata Romeu (Cuba) will join Portuguese pianist and teacher Filipe Pinto-Ribeiro in the musical event. The program includes the premiere in Cuba of the Concert in A Major by Portuguese Carlos Seixas, with the performance of Peruvian soloist Rosa María Barrantes.
Afterwards, the piece Consolación by Alfredo Diez Nieto will be played by the pianist Pinto-Ribeiro in his debut in Cuba, accompanied by the Camerata Romeu. The rest of the artistic program includes pieces like La lenta noche en tus ojos by Cuban Roberto Valera and Concert No.1 for piano, trumpet and orchestra by Russian Dmitri Shostakovitch, among others. The special guest of the night Pinto-Ribereiro was born in the city of Oporto and according to event organizers, is considered of the world’s most prestigious Portuguese musicians.
The concert will take place at the Basílica Menor de San Francisco de Asís in Havana. sgl/ef/cbr/pgh/deg

Miami exiles pressure U.S. to loosen policy on Cuba

Cuban-themed murals adorn SW 8th Street in Little Havana, MiamiHAVANA, 16 June (Reuters) Cuban exile Joe Arriola at one time would never have dreamed of returning to his homeland. But after 53 years in the United States, the former manager of the city of Miami swallowed his pride and decided he had waited long enough. Arriola, 67, said a weeklong trip to the island last year had opened his eyes to what he now believes is a failed U.S. policy of trying to isolate Cuba.

“The number one weapon we have is capitalism, and we are not using it,” he said over breakfast at the Riviera Country Club in Coral Gables, a bastion of older, conservative-minded exiles in Miami-Dade County. “We should be flooding the place with tourists and commerce.” Tired of waiting for the end of communism in Cuba, more and more Cuban-Americans have concluded that it is time for the United States to allow more engagement with the island they left behind, polls show.
“Our president has not had the guts to do the right thing,” said Arriola, who helped raise funds for Barack Obama’s campaign and whose son, Ricky, sits on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Advocates of policy change say the administration’s caution stems less these days from concerns about a Miami backlash than from the hard-line stance of lawmakers like Bob Menendez, a Cuban-American and the influential chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The New Jersey Democrat and other members of Congress, including Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who is also of Cuban descent, have lashed out at exiles who favor lifting a five-decades-old trade embargo against Cuba.
But a poll set for release Tuesday by Florida International University is expected to show a tilt in the exile community, with a majority favoring closer ties with Havana. Such widespread sentiment could ease the way for the Obama administration to revise U.S.-Cuba policy by permitting greater travel and commercial activity to help an emerging private sector on the island. “The old understanding was that you could not do anything in Cuba without causing a tempest among the exiles,” said Peter Schechter, director of the Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council think tank.
“Now it’s clear there really isn’t a political price to pay.” TAKING TO THE SKIES The poll is the latest in a series of developments seemingly destined to undo the last vestiges of U.S.-Cuba policy crafted during the height of the Cold War. Many Cuban exiles are letting their feet do the talking, taking advantage of relaxed travel restrictions Obama introduced in 2009.
Between January and June, there were 2,345 flights to Cuba from the United States, and about 82 percent of the 282,450 passengers were Cuban-Americans visiting family, according to Emilio Morales, president of the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group. He calculates that 650,000 people, mostly Cuban-Americans, will travel between Cuba and the United States this year. The exiles will also send $3 billion in cash remittances. George Feldenkreis, owner of Miami-based fashion company Perry Ellis, led a group of 12 family members back to Cuba in 2011 for the first time. “I wanted to make a trip to show my grandchildren what I came from, how poor I was,” he said, describing how he took the family to see his humble home near Havana’s train station.
For Feldenkreis, 78, age was also a factor. “I didn’t want to go while he (former Cuban President Fidel Castro) was still alive, but I am getting old,” he said. Feldenkreis is frustrated with Cuba policy, but remains a staunch opponent of loosening U.S. sanctions. A chorus of voices from Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state under Obama, to John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence under President George W. Bush, have recently spoken in favor of rethinking Cuba policy. The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce visited Cuba last month and praised Havana’s free-market reforms, saying the U.S. trade embargo was an impediment for American companies.
In February, a poll by the Washington-based Atlantic Council found a strong majority of Americans nationwide favored loosening Cuba sanctions. Obama has hinted he is considering a policy shift. In November he told a Miami area fundraiser that it might be time for the United States to “update” its policies toward Cuba. But administration officials have repeatedly said in recent months that there are no plans to change current policy. Policy analysts say Cuba sits low on the list of White House priorities, even as the potential costs of bolder moves appear to diminish.
“The Obama administration expects civil society to be ahead of public policy,” Schechter said. “Before it leads, it wants civil society to agitate and create an atmosphere that will be ripe for its own leadership.” With that in mind, groups in Miami have set about stirring things up to press for more engagement with Cuba. In April, a group calling itself #CubaNow advertised on posters on the Washington, D.C., metro system that Obama should “stop waiting.” To be sure, Cuba still arouses local sensitivities in Miami. When Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist questioned the embargo in May and announced his intentions to visit the island, a Miami Herald columnist warned: “We will punish you.” While the concept of opening up relations with Cuba remains hard to stomach for some in the exile establishment, Arriola says nostalgia is winning out. “Everyone is dying to go,” he said. “They want to see the old place before it’s too late.

Farming in Havana

 havana-live-farming-in-cubaCourtesy of Russel Fernandez/ Princeton Architectural Press
The following is an excerpt from Carey Clouse’s Farming Cuba: Urban Agriculture from the Ground Up, which explores Cuba’s impromptu agricultural development after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the challenges that development poses for modern day architects and urban planners.

HAVANA, 16 June  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Cuba found itself solely responsible for feeding a nation that had grown dependent on imports and trade subsidies. With fuel, fertilizers, and pesticides disappearing overnight, citizens began growing their own organic produce anywhere they could find space, on rooftops, balconies, vacant lots, and even school playgrounds. By 1998 there were more than 8,000 urban farms in Havana producing nearly half of the country’s vegetables. What began as a grassroots initiative had, in less than a decade, grown into the largest sustainable agriculture initiative ever undertaken, making Cuba the world leader in urban farming. Featuring a wealth of rarely seen material and intimate portraits of the environment, Farming Cuba details the innovative design strategies and explores the social, political, and environmental factors that helped shape this pioneering urban farming program.

havana-live-farmingDesigning and Planning

Cuba’s food crisis highlighted many of the deeply entrenched and largely invisible structural problems within the country’s food system. Flaws in agricultural infrastructure, community-engagement process, modes of knowledge transfer, production methods, and urban planning were plainly exposed with the dissolution of the Soviet bloc. Architectural theorist Mark Wigley links these larger systems failures to design, suggesting that these “crises always appear as the failure of a spatial system, a failure of architecture.” In this sense, periods of extreme breakdown can also act as agents of physical change: according to Wigley, “crises produce new forms.”
 havana-live-farming-HavanaWhile urban planning would ideally engage agricultural opportunities well in advance of food shortages, in the case of Cuba these efforts were applied across the city’s fabric as a response to real needs. From an urban design perspective, many of these agricultural interventions in Havana continue to remain disassociated from their physical context, lacking linkages that could be made with built elements, comprehensive signage, or other synergistic design responses. The formal implications of urban agriculture could be used constructively, perhaps even sustaining or branding within the larger urban planning work in Havana. This shift in thinking—from the strictly functional urban farm to the revered cultural landscape—would necessarily need to draw insight from both growers and designers. Planner and permaculture activist María Caridad Cruz acknowledges that this collaboration is a challenging yet essential undertaking, and that “inserting urban agriculture into the land management system is not a task to be worked out on a drawing board.” Instead, she writes, “it depends, to a great extent, on the interrelation among planners and doers, the community, and governments.” Indeed, Fidel Castro’s ability to seamlessly embed agriculture within Cuba’s political and social context has not given rise to an associated design cohesion, despite the potential to link farms to neighborhoods through physical and spatial planning. The communication breakdown between design and agricultural professionals in Cuba appears to be a missed opportunity.

cubhavana-live-farming2From the scale of individual farm components to the much larger systems that define growing spaces, design could serve to frame and contextualize the discussion around Havana’s agricultural infrastructure. Whether formally designed or not, growing spaces affect urban identity and have attendant shaping power, becoming part of the anatomy of the city. According to architect and educator Keller Easterling, some “of the most radical changes to the globalizing world are being written about not in the language of law and diplomacy, but rather in a spatial language of infrastructure. “Design thinking at this level also scales up to urban and regional planning, where infrastructural changes might begin to have profound impacts on the larger foodshed.

 havana-live-farming4Havana’s urban agriculture movement has been criticized as being a utilitarian and reactionary response to food scarcity rather than a proactive urban design initiative. Many of the state-sanctioned permanent farms in Havana occurred opportunistically in the decade following the food crisis, using land that was available rather than appropriate. Adriana Premat points to the informal space appropriation that growers employed in Havana, noting that “organopónicos have been built just because there was a nook here, a vacant lot there, even though they broke up the normal flow of city streets.” Landscapes that might otherwise have been slated for more conventional uses—parking lots, playgrounds, city parks, rooftops, and front yards—transitioned into a new agricultural terrain for food production.

Because food access was such a dire and immediate need in Cuba, urban agriculture was prioritized over many other important uses, including environmental stewardship, housing development, and the formation of public recreation spaces. Urban agriculture initiatives have occasionally prevented the development or retention of valued civic amenities, such as parks. This collective tunnel vision has led to a divide between agricultural advocates and other types of developers, “pitt[ing] those involved in city planning and renovation against key decision makers in the Urban Agriculture Department and the armed forces, whose primary concern was food production rather than good urban design.” Despite the regular interweaving of agriculture with buildings and other types of spaces, there is still a perception by designers and planners that food production has unfairly taken precedence over housing and recreational spaces in urban areas. This interlacing is evident in most of Havana’s neighborhoods, with the exception of the historic Habana Vieja district, where development for tourism has all but eliminated the last two decades of urban agriculture efforts.

havana-live-farming3Despite the popularity of urban farming in Havana, arguments against the practice still surface. For these trained planners, government officials, and residents, agriculture in the city is seen as an inappropriate use of public space or a stopgap measure that would prove unsustainable in the long term. One urban planner agreed that “urban agriculture is a city function, like housing, but gardens should be properly designed,” while other Habaneros simply do not view farming as an appropriate piece of the contemporary city. According to Premat, “those with official jurisdiction over the design and development of urban space rejected the notion of bringing food production into core municipalities because such activities were considered unsightly and out of place, particularly in the capital.” And as in the rest of North America, there remains a real cultural divide between the design community and the growers themselves: “Cubans are very pragmatic, emphasizing usefulness. Planners and architects are trained otherwise, and the stigma of urban farming is maintained.

”Nevertheless, a number of architects and planners in Havana have taken an interest in the urban agriculture movement through personal research or have at least conceded that the informal allocation of city gardens impacts urban form in important ways. For instance, city historian Eusebio Leal Spengler, the esteemed and vocal force behind the multimillion dollar tourist industry resurrected in Old Havana, buffers unsightly food crops with flowers in organopónicos. This is a striking example of what landscape architect and scholar Mira Engler calls a “camouflage approach” to landscape design, one that denies the aesthetic value of food production. In Havana, the few examples of formally designed farms use hedge and flower plantings to mask farming from the surrounding city.

 havana-live-farming5While the urban agriculture movement is widely supported by Cubans, many of these advocates today also support efforts to introduce more comprehensive planning and design into the urban farming movement. In contrast to the organic and ad-hoc form these gardens assumed during the early stages of the food crisis, people now see an opportunity to better relate the material, environmental, and social aspects of urban agriculture with other urban processes. In an effort to facilitate this transition, Havana’s city government has incorporated urban agriculture into the city’s land-management plans, adopting legislation and regulations that support and protect this work. At the popular level, urban agriculture is now so visible and useful that it has a protected role in the city, both physically and culturally. Indeed, many Cubans see urban agriculture as a valued landscape type within the city of Havana, beyond the production of food and capital.

The recognition of urban agriculture as a piece of the broader physical planning process paves the way for a more critical, integrated, and perhaps effective future role for agriculture in the city. Since 2000, urban agriculture has become a permanent type of land use in Havana’s master plan. Access to land granted through usufruct has become increasingly flexible during the past five years, opening up new possibilities for people to qualify for loans, to co-opt idle land, and to have better long-term security on their farmland. Cuba’s formalization of this city-planning strategy is a critical milestone, one that guarantees a place for this foodscape in a post–Special Period Havana. Thus the Cuban government has effectively legitimized urban agriculture—promoting it from a fringe movement pre-1989 to a valued economic driver and a central pillar of Cuban identity. This newfound status also provides other individuals and institutions—perhaps even designers—with the language and conceptual framework that they could use to effectively advocate for urban agriculture.

While some specific urban design strategies have been employed to accommodate farming at the city scale, most of the post-crisis agricultural innovation parallels practices deployed throughout the country. In this respect, many of the farming practices in urban growing areas appear to simply be downsized versions of rural practices. Surprisingly, the inverse situation may also be true: Raúl Castro has appealed to rural farmers to “apply the same concepts of Urban Agriculture in traditional agriculture.” However, urban areas differ radically from their rural counterparts in size and shape, and these smaller footprints support more productive and diverse crops. With dense populations and dangerous environmental pollutants, cities also require more rigorous agricultural management to safeguard the health and safety of their growing areas. Current regulations in Havana ensure that plants and animals grown in low-tech enterprises are done so in accordance with human health and sanitation laws, but little oversight ensures compliance.

 havana-live-farming4Without articulating a specific design form, Havana’s current office of urban agriculture prescribes six design mandates: agroecology and sustainable agriculture; production diversity; small-scale crops for state, cooperative, and private groups; economic adequacy; preserving harmony with the urban environment; and preservation of the goals of the Revolution. The state provides design guidelines that are technical rather than formal, describing how to orient beds for optimal solar access, where and how to plant trees and shrubs, and other pragmatic farming tips. The office of urban agriculture in Havana has developed a lengthy list of target goals, which include the following objectives for urban farms: processing and distributing food; reusing material resources; improving food security; increasing the amount of food available to the poor in urban areas; increasing access to fresh food; increasing the variety and nutritional value of available food; eliminating poverty by generating income and jobs; strengthening local economies; and converting underutilized vacant land or green space for productive uses. These administrators state that urban agriculture should contribute to human and environmental health, restore traditional farming methods and medicinal plants, and improve both soil and urban microclimates. Even in the absence of formal design goals, they provide broad program guidelines and standards that could lead the state to adopt a more holistic and cohesive design language.

These design goals and physical guidelines have been made available to farmers through the state’s agricultural support network in an effort to develop a countrywide urban farming vision. Very few design firms, however, have consulted on projects that implement these directives. Two notable designers, Maria Caridad Cruz and Jorge Peña Diaz, are working to repair this divide. They teach design principles of urban farming through two different state-based organizations, which may affect change in the perception of formally designed agricultural landscapes for a new generation of students.

 havana-live-farming6New Natural Infrastructures

That urban farming emerged in almost every physical context in Havana is a testament to the flexibility of the movement’s design, the tenacity of the Cuban growers, and the support of the Cuban government. These growing spaces are truly “architectural accretions, layerings of program and use, existing infrastructures made useful,” in what landscape architect Chris Reed calls the “new civic realm, one created by appendage and insertion.” This creative space appropriation also points to a new form of ecological urbanism that American landscape theorists see as a critical platform for environmental stewardship. Landscape architect James Corner’s assertion that “ecologically aligned landscape architects see cities as grossly negligent with regard to nature” may well be true, but in Havana, gardens serve useful ecological functions within the city that may begin to repair this divide. Productive urban landscapes demand the theoretical reframing of outdated conceptions around the division of nature and the city. The infusion of productivity into this infrastructure also stands to recast urban landscapes, from what Corner calls “a bourgeois aesthetic” to something far more vital. The pairing of landscapes of pleasure and of utility could link the living tissue of the city to urban needs and values, lot by vacant lot.

 havana-live-farming5Havana’s urban agriculture emerged as an infrastructural response rather than a set of discrete architectural interventions. Despite its organizational legibility, the city’s farming system stems from unplanned and informal design decisions, with an aesthetic identity more in line with landscape urbanism than the disciplines of architecture and urban planning. However, designers could contribute important ideas for the development and deployment of urban gardens, and, in doing so, could improve the relevance of their chosen profession. As Havana’s economy opens up to the competing land uses of tourism and industrial production, urban farming will need to stake its claim on available land in the city

Transgender Life In Cuba

havana-live-TRANSCUBATransCuba, from photographer Mariette Pathy Allen, documents the lives and  experiences of transgender individuals living and working in Cuba.

HAVANA, 16 June Allen has been documenting transgender culture on a global scale for more than 30 years and previously won the Lambda Literary Award for The Gender Frontier.
Published by Daylight Books, this compelling new work from Allen serves as a monograph of transcoder culture specifically within Cuba, with 80 color photos accompanied by personal essays and interviews. transcuba “The people who comprise what we understand as transgender have always existed, but the understanding of who they are and how they can participate in society is new,” Allen notes in TransCuba.
“As the Cuban population as a whole gains greater personal freedom, it will hopefully continue to be reflected in the treatment of sexual minorities. I can envision a future time when mainstream society will be so free of judgment and prejudice that gender-variant people will be appreciated as teachers who show the rest of us how to liberate ourselves from the rigidity of gender roles and find alternative ways of integrating mind and body.
For now, though, I just want to celebrate the inherent beauty, artistry, and humor of the Cubans I was so fortunate to meet.”havana-live-TRANSgenderhavana-live-transcuba1 havana-live-transcuba havana-live-transcuba2 havana-live-transcuba Mhavana-live-transcuba

Hillary says sí to Cuba

havana-live-hillary-clintonClinton sees the future

HAVANA, 15 June Former Secretary of State and future likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton broke welcome ground by calling for the United States to move toward ending the Cuban embargo.
Never before has a political figure with a credible claim on the White House spoken in favor of abandoning the trade blockade imposed almost 54 years ago in hope of toppling Fidel Castro. Opposition among Cubans in the key electoral state of Florida was too intense to allow for even a hint of softening. Now, though, the maturing of new generations of Cubans who are less hard-line has opened the door to overhauling our relationship with a still repressive Cuban regime that has been forced to take tiny steps toward economic liberalization. Clinton sees a chance to deprive the Cuban government of the ability to cast the U.S. as an enemy while further opening Cuban society.
Across the ideological spectrum, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sees trade opportunities for American businesses that are presently going to other countries. Ending the embargo would be win-win.

Mojito – Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Drink

Ernest-Hemingway-and-his-mojitoHAVANA,  14 June  “A mojito is one of Cuba’s oldest cocktails — it comes from the African word mojo, which means to place a little spell.” 

As history has shown, a spell has indeed been cast. Legendary American author Ernest Hemingway loved mojitos and helped make them famous with his presence at Havana’s La Boguedito del Medio, as well as in Key West, Florida.
While the author of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The Old Man and the Sea” had the right idea, he wasn’t the only one who helped put them on the culinary map.
Pierce Brosnan drank a mojito as James Bond in “Die Another Day, and the drink made an appearance in “Miami Vice,” as well as “The Rum Diary” starring Johnny Depp. The mojito has become a signature staple in both Latin and American cuisine, incorporating fresh ingredients like lime, mint, sugar and rum. Numerous versions incorporate passion fruit, which reaches peak popularity during the summertime.  havana-live-mochito-mint-ice“Let’s start with the fact that mojitos are a combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus, and mint flavors that emerged as a perfect complement to the hot, sticky weather of the Caribbean,” “Rum, perhaps one of the world’s first distilled spirits is made from sugarcane. And the largest producer of sugarcane and rum in the 18th and 19th centuries was Cuba.” “Mojitos quickly became the drink of choice in Havana and have remained so through many generations,”. Legend has it that it was discovered by an English pirat Richard Drake who were on a mission to find gold in Cuba.“Bacardi traces the drink’s roots to 1586, when Francis Drake and his pirates tried to sack Havana for its gold. While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake’s associate, Richard havana-live-mojitoDrake, was said to have invented a mojito-like cocktail known as ‘El Draque’ made with aguardiente (a crude forerunner of rum), sugar, lime and mint. Early on, it was consumed for medicinal purposes. “Around the mid-1800s, the recipe was altered and gained in popularity as the original Bacardi Company was established. In 1940, Cuban playwright and poet Federico Villoch proclaimed: “When aquardiente was replaced with rum, the Draque was to be called a Mojito. Other accounts suggest that slaves working in Cuban sugar cane fields in the late 19th century invented the mojito.”

Cuba leads 64th Hemingway fishing Tournament

havana-live-marlin1HAVANA, 13 June (by Roberto F.Campos) The Cuban team now leads the 64th Ernest Hemingway International Fishing Tournament, where 82 fishermen from 11 countries are participating, according to official data.
In the Hemingway this year, 22 boats from 11 countries enrolled, although five from the U.S. and Canada, four from France and one each from Mexico, Italy, England, Latvia, Spain, Sweden and Russia are in competition.
Such Cuban leadership is based on tradition, with local sailors well versed in this sport, and also in light of the fact that Ernest Hemingway donated his medal for the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature to his fellow Cuban sports-fishermen. The Cuban team held an advantage on Thursday, with a 40.5 pound golden fish and a marlin, and is the first official appearance, at least according to the records of the most recent 20 years, of a group with five experienced fishermen from Jaimanitas, a town adjacent to the marina.
The tournament’s regulation, provides for catch and release for each specimen, with teams accumulating 550 points in the case of blue marlin and 350 for white marlin, or 250 for a sailfish. One point is added for every pound of dorado, wahoo and tuna, in a battle that must be fair and clean, as Hemingway specified.
Hemingway loved this sport, and the competition, set along the Havana coastline, brings a touch of class to the ascendant local leisure industry. sus/sa/cgm/pgh/rfc

Brit wins Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix

havana-live--cocktailsBritish bartender Andy Loudon has been crowned victor of Pernod Ricard’s 10th annual Havana Club Cocktail Grand Prix in Cuba.havana-live-Havana-Club-Grand-Prix-winner

HAVANA, 13 June  (by Amy Hopkins)  Andy Loudon impressed with his Jose Marti Especial cocktail, which was made from Havana Club 3 Year Old, fino sherry and pastis, with limes, sugar syrup and cloves. Participants were tasked with creating the next “classic Cuban cocktail” using local ingredients sourced during a week-long trip to Cuba.  The final of the competition took place at hotel Habana Riviera in Havana last week following a programme of seminars lead by spirits experts such as Dave Broom and Naren Young. “As a bartender, I am well aware of Cuba’s great reputation for cocktails so to be challenged to come up with a world-class Cuban cocktail that can stand the test of time like the Mojito, Daiquiri and El Presidente was hugely exciting for me,” said Loudon.
“The intensive educational programme during our week in Havana really helped me get a better understanding about Cuban rum and the country’s cocktail culture and seeing the Malecon and the beaches of Havana inspired me to create my Jose Marti Especial cocktail, which went down well with the judges.” Second place went to Germany’s Indika Bandula Silva for his Doña Isabel cocktail, which contains Havana Club 3 Year Old, Cuban cordial, pink grapefruit, fresh lime juice and Angostura bitters.
In third place was the El Cantinero cocktail, created by Alessandro Palumbo from the Cayman Islands, which consisted of Havana Club 7 Year Old with honey, coffee beans and mint. Sitting on the panel of judges for the final round was global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, El Floridita’s Alejandro Bolivar, and world-famous mixologist, Tony Conigliaro.
Loudon will return to judge next year’s Havana Club Grand Prix final, while his Jose Marti Especial cocktail will be served in top Havana bars and be promoted globally by Havana Club.

Copperbridge brings dance troupe MalPaso to Miami

havana-live-malpaso1 HAVANA, 12 June (by Jordan Levin) The cultural exchange between Miami and Cuba has been mostly musical, followed by theater and visual art.

But a visit last week by a new Cuban dance company, presented by a new Miami group devoted to artistic interaction with the island, marked a different stage in that dialogue. Last Thursday night, as nine dancers from Cuban troupe Malpasothundered around the dark stage of the  Miami Light Project’s Wynwood theater in Why You Follow, a new dance by famed American choreographer Ronald K. Brown, the audience clapped, shouted and cheered along as the dance came to an exuberant finish. MalPaso made a high profile international debut in a sold-out, weeklong run at New York’s Joyce Theater at the end of May, where they premiered Why You Follow and a dance by artistic director Osnel Delgado to a rave review in the New York Times.
It was a dream-come-true introduction for an upstart independent troupe launched just a year and a half ago. Their Miami visit was different — a series of free workshops and performances for friends and family, people from the dance and arts worlds and community groups publicized mostly by word of mouth. They were sponsored here by the Copperbridge Foundation, a new cultural group launched two years ago by Geo Darder, a Miami-raised Cuban-American who aims to create a slate of new artistic programs in Miami and Havana.
Darder has produced a show of street fashion in Havana, brought a Chicago jazz orchestra together with Cuban musicians and co-produced a documentary film on Cuban artists. Last summer he staged an introductory party for Copperbridge in Wynwood with another Cuban dance troupe, Danzabierta, and musician Descemer Bueno. In early September Copperbridge will stage its biggest and first public event in Miami, a weeklong Cultural Evolution series of Cuban music, dance, art and film — featuring the Afro-Cuban fusion group Sintesis and the return of Danzabierta.
MalPaso_t750x550Both MalPaso and Copperbridge owe their existence to a changing cultural landscape on the island. “I see so many artistic changes in Cuba,” says Darder, who first traveled to the island 20 years ago. In the late ’90s he began organizing cultural trips to Cuba for U.S. groups, initially focusing on Art Deco architecture. Now Darder says loosened visa and travel rules and expanding private enterprise in Cuba have created new possibilities for artists — from projects like musician X Alfonso’s Fabrika Arte Cubana, a showcase for Cuban visual, film and performing artists, to a growing number of financially independent visual artists with international careers. “For me it’s a counterpart of Wynwood,” Darder says.
“I decided we can’t just go to Cuba and not give them something in return. We have to invite them to our country to see what we’re doing here.” Copperbridge is still very much an individual labor of love for Darder. As people began to arrive at Miami Light last Thursday, he pulled up in his small car, piled high with bottles of soda for a reception, and lugged them inside himself. The MalPaso troupe stayed at his home in the Design District.
malpaso2-articleLargeShortly after their arrival last Tuesday, the dancers were scattered on furniture and the floor among piles of luggage and bags of groceries, staring intently at various devices and luxuriating in Wifi (still an expensive rarity in Cuba). MalPaso’s three founders left secure positions to launch the company. The executive director, Fernando Saez, was working with the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, an independent and prominent cultural foundation there. Choreographer and artistic director Osnel Delgado and co-founder Daileidys Carrazana Gonzalez were members of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, the island’s oldest modern troupe. Their name — “misstep” in Spanish — is a self-deprecating joke as well as a jab at those who told Delgado that leaving Danza Contemporanea was a mistake. “I wanted to develop my own career as an artist,” Delgado said, sitting in Darder’s backyard. He and Saez want to give chances to other Cuban choreographers and seem to see MalPaso as a group enterprise. “We want to create our own style and choreographic voice,” Saez says. “We really have to work as a team,” Delgado told the audience at the Lightbox. “When each dancer can express themselves, that’s when you have respect for each other.”
They are eager to connect with American dance artists. While Cuba is known for ballet and Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, its modern dance, a mix of classic American modern and Afro-Cuban styles, has been less well regarded, with outside critics tending to praise the quality of the dancers but not the choreography. “The genesis of Cuban ballet and modern dance traditions are very connected to the American dance tradition,” Saez says. “To develop this dialogue is extremely enriching for Cuban dance, and we believe we have something to offer as well.” A year ago the Joyce Theater, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Ludwig Foundation collaborated to send Ronald K. Brown, known for his vibrant, original blend of contemporary, African and Afro-Cuban movement and spiritual themes, to Cuba, where he chose MalPaso from 11 companies. “It was a really lovely experience,” Delgado says of working with Brown in Havana last winter. “It helped us connect with our sources.”
malpaso2Although the Cuban dancers’ training includes the emphatic, grounded, poly-rhythmic movements of Afro-Cuban ritual dances, Brown’s version was a challenge — looser, more colloquial, lower to the ground, with different rhythms. In contrast, 24 Hours and a Dog, the piece Delgado (in collaboration with MalPaso’s dancers) made for this trip, had a much more stretched-out, balletic vocabulary. Set to a bright, driving Afro-Cuban jazz score by New York’s Arturo O’Farrill (son of Chico O’Farrill, an arranger and composer who was an architect of pre-Revolutionary big band Cuban jazz), 24 Hours is meant to evoke a day in the lives of these Havana dancers, or any young city-dwellers. Because of visa restrictions, MalPaso’s Miami events were private. All were held at Miami Light, which has a long history of presenting Cuban artists. About half the 200 people attending Thursday were friends and relatives of MalPaso’s nine dancers, with others from community and arts centers in Overtown, Liberty City and Little Haiti. 
Juan María Seller, a dancer and choreographer who recently moved to Miami from Spain, came because he had been impressed by the Cuban dance scene he had encountered in visits to the island. “I liked how valiant the dancers are in tackling experimental work, given how little economic possibility there is,” Seller said. “Since there’s not much contemporary dance [in Miami] it’d be good to exchange that with Cuba.” For the Cubans, Thursday night’s event was an emotional experience.

4 dead while planning to leave Cuba

havana-live-balserosHAVANA, 12 June Four people were murdered in Cuba in a case presumably related to the group’s alleged plan to leave the country “with help from abroad,” Cuban authorities reported Wednesday, adding that they have arrested six people linked to the case. The Interior Ministry said in an official statement that on Tuesday afternoon “the bodies of four people who had been violently killed were found on the Niña Bonita farm in the town of Playa Baracoa … in Artemisa province.” “According to the preliminary results of the investigation being conducted by a multidisciplinary team, the crime is linked to an alleged plan to illegally leave the country with help from abroad,” the statement said. So far, Cuban authorities have arrested six people they say were “involved” in the case. The Interior Ministry said that “reports will continue to be issued” on the case but it provided no further details at the time on the incident in Playa Baracoa, a town located on the island’s northern coast about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) west of Havana.

Havana protects its Cohiba Brand from forgery

havana-live-cohiba-behikeHAVANA, June 11 In an effort to protect forgery of the Cuban cigar brand known as Cohiba Behike, a new hologram will be incorporated to the ring of each cigar.

The new hologram will allow identifying the original brand around the world and will also provide additional information on the distributor, the bill number and other details. Since their presentation in 2010, the Cohiba Behike cigar rings have the head of an Indian and a security hologram on each of them. Cohiba, the most representative brand of Cuban Habano cigars, was established in 1966. The name Cohiba refers to the bunches of tobacco leaves that Cuban aborigines used to smoke on the island.
Cohiba Behike cigars are produced in limited amounts and it is characterized by its blend with exceptional scent and taste. Despite the world economic crisis and anti-tobacco campaigns, Cuba earned over 400 million dollars in terms of cigar exports in 2013. Major markets for the Cuban products are Spain, France, China, Germany, Switzerland, Lebanon, and the Arab Emirates.

Saucy ‘Carmen Jones’ Musical Gets A Makeover in Havana

havana-live-carmen-johnsHAVANA, 10 June The saucy and sexy Carmen Jones is getting a makeover in an old warehouse that sits abandoned along the port of Havana.
The American musical, based on the beloved opera Carmen, was brought to Broadway by Oscar Hammerstein in 1943 and adapted to the silver screen a decade later by the director Otto Preminger. Now the newest adaption will have an all-Cuban cast and an adapted script that sets the story in pre-Revolutionary Cuba.
Titled Carmen Jones—El Amor Cubano, the femme fatale in this latest version works in a cigar factory in a small town near Santiago, the place where Fidel Castro’s militantes were waging war against the dictator Fulgencio Batista. Carmen and her friends dream of leaving the squalor for the bright lights and glamour of the capital. Taking a page from the original story, Cuban Carmen has a fiery temper that gets her in trouble.
Like the original, she too becomes infatuated with the young soldier assigned to guard her while pursuing a second love interest. The Cuban musical brings together a creative team from various countries. Start with Music Director Alex Lacamoire, whose successes on- and off-Broadway include Wicked and High Fidelity.havana-live-carmen-johns He won a Tony Award in 2008 and a 2009 Grammy for his work on In The Heights. Mixing Broadway and opera with Cuban culture  and  the sounds of the sounds of salsa, mambo, rhumba and cha cha cha was an “absolutely brilliant idea”, said Lacamoire. “It’s a chance to try something new but also do something that was familiar.” British Theater director Christopher Renshaw, nominated for a Tony for The King and I, has directed all over the world.
“This is truly a first,” Renshaw explained, noting that musicals rarely come to the Cuban stage. And the musical draws on top Cuban talent. Renowned choreographer Rocian Chavez has a strong corps of dancers catapulting and leaping through varied dance styles while playwright Norge Espinosa used his poetic skills in writing a Spanish-language script and lyrics. 24 years old, hopes to perform Carmen from Havana to London to New York.
Performing the role of Carmen is Luna Manzanares, a 24 year old singer who has already made a name for herself on the island. Fifty performers are joining her on stage, most of them graduates of Cuba’s national art academies. After four performances in Havana later this month, the company wants to go beyond the Caribbean. They are hoping ‘Carmen Jones’ will play in London and New York.
(Photo Credit Roberto Leon, NBC News)



Van Van enjoy success in French Concert

havana-live-los-van-vanHAVANA,  Jun 10  More than 15 thousand people enjoyed the concert given by the popular Cuban band Los Van Van in France, where they celebrated their 45th anniversary and at the same time paid tribute to its founder Juan Formell.
The audience that filled the lake surroundings of Enghien-les-Bains city, located north of Paris, sang and danced until dawn to the rhythm of the famous group for more than four hours. We really felt very happy with the job done tonight.
It’s amazing how the audience gathered here knows Van Van repertoire, Pedrito Calvo, ex-singer of the band, told Prensa Latina. When asked about Formell´s legacy, Calvo said that he was a very outstanding composer and arranger and an excellent person.
havana-live-van-van-franceHe was an authentic Cuban and so his music will transcend for a long time. Pedrito Calvo, Angel Bonne and Isaac Delgado were among the artists invited to the concert, co-produced by Dominique Roland, director of Enghien-les-Bains Arts Center, and Abdala studios from Cuba. My father left a great legacy. For over four decades the band has remained at the preference of Cubans, Samuel Formell, current director of the group, stated.
havana-live-juan-formell-y-los-van-van-Before the concert, recorded on a DVD, a meeting on business opportunities in Cuba took place in the town of Enghien-les-Bans. Hector Igarza, Cuban ambassador to France, highlighted the historical and cultural ties between Cuba and that European nation, and added that this celebration is an opportunity to strengthen bilateral bonds.