Monthly Archives: August 2014

New custom rules for flyers’ luggage

paquetes-a-cubaHAVANA, 31 August  (AP MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN)  A carload of burly nephews and grandsons greeted Martha and Alfredo Gonzalez when they stepped out of Havana’s international airport into the blazing heat of an August afternoon.

A round of embraces and the young men got down to business, hefting the retired couple’s seven massive duffel bags into a crude two-wheel trailer hooked behind an antiquated sedan for the sole purpose of hauling the half-ton of clothes, medicines and other items the Gonzalezes bought in Miami. A few cars down, Claribel Torrez watched a trailer being loaded with baggage that included a 40-inch television and a bicycle.
“The reason I work 40 hours a week is to bring all this to my family,” the 50-year-old Miami fast-food restaurant worker said as her companions tied a tarp over the groaning trailer. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans fly to and from the island each year thanks to the liberalization of U.S. and Cuban travel rules over the last five years.
Their Cuba-bound checked baggage has become a continuous airlift that hauls nearly $2 billion a year worth of car tires, flat-screen televisions, blue jeans, underwear and shampoo to an island where consumer goods are frequently shoddy, scarce and expensive. That could change on Monday, however, when the Cuban government enacts new rules meant to take a big bite of that traffic, sharply limiting the amount of goods people can bring into Cuba in their luggage, and ship by boat from abroad.

The Cuban government says the restrictions are meant to curb abuses that have turned air travel in particular into a way for professional “mules” to illegally import supplies for both black-market businesses and legal private enterprises that are supposed to buy supplies from the state. Among ordinary Cubans, reactions range from worry to outrage that their primary, and for many only, source of high-quality consumer goods may be throttled.
“People are really unhappy,” said Maite Delgado, a 75-year-old retired state worker. “All the clothes and shoes that I have come from my granddaughters in Spain or my siblings in the U.S.” The rules that go into effect Monday run 41 pages and give a sense of the quantity and diversity of the commercial goods arriving in checked bags at Cuba’s airports, whose baggage carousels often look like they’re disgorging the contents of an entire Wal-Mart or Target store.
Travelers will now be allowed to bring in 22 pounds (10 kilos) of detergent instead of 44; one set of hand tools instead of two; and 24 bras instead of 48. Four car tires are still permitted, as are two pieces of baby furniture and two flat-screen televisions. Cuban customs also bars passengers from bringing in items worth more than $1,000. Rather than examining receipts, customs agents are given a long list assigning pre-set values to certain goods ($250 for a video-game console, for example.)
Those prices rise sharply under the new rules, making it far easier to reach that $1,000 limit. The new rules similarly increase the duties paid on goods shipped from abroad, another major source of foreign merchandise for the island. Authorities have taken to the airwaves and pages of state media in recent days to assure Cubans that the vast majority of travelers won’t be affected. The change is intended “to keep certain people from using current rules on non-commercial imports to bring into the country high volumes of goods that are destined for commercial sale and profit,” Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of Cuban customs, told government newspaper Granma in Friday editions.

The government has justified the new rules with examples of prolific mules including one passenger it said brought in 41 computer monitors and 66 flat-screen TVs in a single year. Another supposedly brought in 34 printers, 58 monitors and 74 computers between 2011 and 2014. Between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion worth of goods were flown to Cuba in traveler’s baggage last year, with the average flyer bringing in goods worth $3,551, according to a 2013 survey of 1,154 Cuban and Cuban-American travelers conducted by the Havana Consulting Group, a Florida-based private consultancy that studies the Cuban economy. “It’s sustenance, support that greatly aids in the survival of the Cuban family,” Consulting Group President Emilio Morales said.
“Along with cash remittances, it’s the most significant source of earnings for the Cuban population, not the salaries the government pays.” While his study did not look at the final destination of travelers’ goods, Morales said he estimated based on his knowledge of the phenomenon that about 60 percent went to families and 40 percent to black-market retailers. “A sort of long-distance wholesale market has established itself to supplement the lack of a wholesale market in Cuba,” he said. “Many people are trying to meet the needs of their family, and other needs that are outside those of the family, like bringing things to sell them.”
With foreign reserves dropping sharply over the last two years as Cuba tries to pay off sovereign debt and make itself a more attractive destination for foreign investment, Morales said, the government is desperate to reduce the flow of goods and push Cubans’ relatives abroad to send help in the form of cash remittances, which are subjected to hefty government fees.
Limiting informal imports also would presumably help boost business in state-controlled stores. The rule change already has had an effect in Miami, where many stores are dedicated to selling goods to island-bound Cubans and Cuban-Americans. “”Normally I can’t even sit down for lunch,” said Diana Calzadilla, 28, a cashier at Cadalzo Fashion, a store in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood that sells discount clothing and accessories to travelers on their way to Cuba.
“Look around,” she said, nodding at the empty aisles of leggings, baseball caps and tank tops. “I haven’t sold almost anything this morning. … People look around but they don’t buy anything because they’re not sure how much they’re going to be able to bring.” Several “mules” have commented that they are going to look into other ways to make money, she said. At least one customer, she said, appeared decided. “It was their last trip,” she said. “They don’t know if they’ll go again.”

Havana gives US swimmer Diana Nyad sporting medal

 havana-live-nayadHAVANA, 31 August (AFP) US swimmer Diana Nyad — the first to swim across the Florida Straits without a shark cage — was presented with Cuba’s Order of Sporting Merit, the first American athlete to receive the award.

US swimmer Diana Nyad less than two miles off Key West, Florida September 2, 2013 Nyad, after four failed attempts, successfully swam from Cuba to Key West Florida in September 2013 without a shark cage, in a 53-hour feat.
Speaking in Spanish, the 65-year-old said the Cuban award was “the most precious honor of my whole life.” “The dream is also to connect our great countries one day — it’s my dream and that of millions of people,” she said, referring to the half-century-long dispute between Washington and the Americas’ only communist government in Havana.  havana-live-nyadFirst Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, also head of Cuba’s Olympic Committee, said Nyad had been given the award in “recognition of her prowess, as a symbol of friendship between our peoples.” Nyad said her next attempted feat of endurance will be to walk across the United States from California to Washington “to draw attention to the problem of obesity,” followed by another project in Cuba to try to boost US-Cuba relations.
She also said she wanted to build an Olympic pool in Cuba for swimmers to “have a better chance to train.

a4a7100ab7e30c0a3885145c833b5ad0HAVANA, 29 August  EU and Cuban officials have made “substantial progress” towards agreeing a trade and political co-operation treaty, the bloc’s top diplomat to Havana said following the second round of talks in Brussels.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (28 August) following two days of talks, Christian Leffler, who heads the EU’s external action service in the Americas, added that negotiators would discuss “more sensitive political questions,” when they reconvene for the next round to be held in Havana later this year.
Diplomats opened talks on a ‘Political dialogue and co-operation” agreement in April. EU-Cuban cooperation, political and institutional matters in Cuba, and trade relations are the three key elements of the talks.
“The Cuban side is clear and in agreement that the accord must facilitate cooperation among all the actors of Cuba and the EU, including civil society,” noted Leffler. He added that the EU team had made their first presentation on what the main areas of trade co-operation and investment facilitation should be.
The EU froze its diplomatic relations with Havana in 2003 after Cuban authorities threw 75 dissidents in jail but provided aid and emergency support worth over €80 million in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Unlike the United States, the EU has not imposed restrictions on its trade with Cuba, but it is the only Latin American country with which Brussels does not have a bilateral accord.  Despite limited access between their markets, the EU is Cuba’s second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela, accounting for 20 percent of total Cuban trade. Meanwhile, more than half of the EU’s member states already have bilateral trade agreements with Havana.
In return for better trade links, the EU is demanding that Raul Castro improves its human rights record. For their part, the Cuban government stated in a communiqué that the talks had “developed in a constructive manner.” The two sides are hoping to clinch a deal by the end of 2015.
http://euobserver.com/news/125395

New Mall Opens in Cerro

havana-live-mall-cerroHAVANA, 28 August  (Havana Times)  On Saturday August 30th the Puentes Grandes Shopping Plaza opens its doors in Havana.
The government administered stores are located in a restored building in the municipality of Cerro. The complex has departments including a perfume shop, supermarket, hardware and appliance stores, a meat market and cafeteria. 
Surprisingly clothing and shoes are not among the products to be initally offered. All sales will be charged in two currencies: regular domestic currency (CUP) and freely convertible (CUC) at the exchange rate of 25 x 1. The new shopping center occupies an entire city block and has two entrances: one on Puentes Grandes St. for pedestrians and the other on 26th Ave. for customers arriving in cars.In contrast to the new mall, the over a hundred-year-old popular Cuatro Caminos market, also located in Cerro, remains deserted after it closed its doors at the end of January.

Cuba Cruise is launching its second season

havana-live-cuba-cruiseCharter flights, seven-night cruise and transfers included for as low as $721* CAD, if booked by September 30th 

HAVANA, 28 August  Cuba Cruise, the Canadian initiative that revolutionized travel to Cuba, is launching its second season with a pioneering package that combines convenient charter flights, airport transfers, and seven-night circumnavigation cruise, available direct from the operator.
The hassle-free Sky-to-Sea package rivals any Cuban resort stay, providing intrepid travellers the opportunity to fly direct to Havana, cruise the Caribbean, and effortlessly explore Cuba’s vibrant cities, colonial villages, rolling countryside and world famous beaches – all in one seamless vacation.
“We’re proud to offer an exclusive and immersive way to experience Cuba like never before,” says Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President. “With a successful launch year behind us, we’re continuing the momentum and creating superior options to bring our stand-out niche product to the forefront.
Our new Sky-to-Sea package invites agents and tour operators to easily book their clients a total vacation package that is experiential in nature, with only few clicks of a button, direct from our website.”
Cuba Cruise secured season-long Air Transat Boeing B737-800 new generation charter flights from Toronto Pearson International Airport direct to José Martí International Airport in Havana, departing every Monday beginning December 22nd, 2014.
Once landing in sun-soaked Cuba, guests are transferred directly to the Cristal ship docked in charming Old Havana for check-in (approx. 25 minutes travel time).
The return airport transfer and charter flight from Havana to Toronto are also included in the exclusive travel package. Early Bird Bonus Sky-to-Sea Early Bird rates start at $721* CAD (plus taxes and port dues), if booked by September 30th, 2014.
The package includes return charter flights, airport transfers, onboard meals, snacks and entertainment featuring star performers from Cuba and Canada.
Regular Sky-to-Sea package rates start at $852* CAD. Packages will be available to book beginning Monday, September 8th, 2014. Cuba Cruise’s next season begins December 19th, 2014 through to March 30, 2015, departing every Monday from Havana and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

TriAdvisor dedicated 2014 Certificate of Excellence to the Chocolate Museum in Havana

havana-live-MuseoDelCacaoHavana, Aug 27  (Prensa Latina)  The Chocolate Museum, one of the main attractions of the historic center of Havana, received the Certificate of Excellence 2014, awarded by the world largest travel website TripAdvisor.
Each year,the site recognized with the prestigious award accommodations, vacation rentals, attractions and restaurants around the world from the travelers reviews.
Inspired by the Museum of the Royal Plaza in Brussels,Cuba has so far registered 112 reviews on TripAdvisor, including 82 sites of excellent and very good, and only 12 are negative. According to the site the Chocolate Museum ranked 43 among 115 attractions in Havana.key2 Since November 2013 this cozy place is located in the famous House of the Green Cross, former residence of the Counts of Lagunilla, and starting point of the procession of the Holy Cross in Havana vieja.
The permanent exhibition displays a collection of china cups chocolateras, coming from Britain, Germany, France and Italy, a show case of the variety of designs of these table ware between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Several Cuban facilities also received this year’s Certificate of Excellence, among these, the Iberostar Ensenachos, Playa Pesquero, Meliá Varadero and Paradisus Varadero hotels.

Bank of Ireland Freezes Cuba Transfers

A Bank of Ireland Branch, Castlerea, West IrelandHAVANA, 27 August  The Bank of Ireland began to prevent all financial transfers to Cuba in recent weeks because of a business relationship with a US bank, reported the Irish Times newspaper. In a statement, the bank confirmed that it would no longer facilitate transfers to Cuba, in one more case of how third parties are affected by the US embargo on the island. A leading bank in the USA is the one who handles all the movements in the Single European Payments Area, and “it has to meet its own needs and regulatory obligations and avoid possible exposure to penalties and sanctions,” said a Bank of Ireland spokeswoman. Neither Ireland nor the European Union have imposed restrictions on trade with Cuba, but banking institutions are victims of the extraterritorial character of the US sanctions against the island.http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=105748

Keeping cool is serious business

 havana-live-havana-beachHAVANA, 26 August (Photo Ramon Espinosa/AP) In the long, sticky Cuban summer, keeping cool is serious business. Each day, and especially on weekends, thousands of Havana residents rise early to make the trek from rural hamlets and stuffy urban neighborhoods for the more forgiving temperatures at the island’s powdery beaches.

Temperatures in the capital can reach as high as 31 degrees Celsius (87 degrees Fahrenheit) in July, August and even September. When it’s running, many people take a special summer train from Havana to Guanabo, east of the capital.
Some families squeeze into 1950s classic American sedans. Neighbors pool their money and hire a bus to travel en masse. Others clamber onto covered horse-drawn carriages that take them a few kilometers (miles) down a dirt track to the coast for just 2 pesos a head, or about $0.08. Once there, some recreate their dining rooms in the sand underneath makeshift tarpaulin shelters, with wooden chairs and tables topped by pots of rice and beans. havana-live-havana-beach1There are cakes to celebrate birthdays, and barrels of ice to keep drinks cold. A shirtless man with an arm tattoo of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara holds a young girl’s hand as they wade into the gentle waves. Kids splash around on an inner tube. At a nearby river mouth, daredevil teenage boys try to impress girls by leaping from a rusty, 30-foot-tall (10-meter) train bridge.
Musicians in mariachi costumes roam the white sands serenading young lovers and sweet-15 “quinceaneras.” As dusk nears, couples sit in the shallows sipping rum and enjoying a romantic sunset snog. Soon enough it’s time to go home. One man carries his daughter on his shoulders. It’s a long way back, and she’s tuckered out after a long day in the sun. havana-live-havana-beachCuba’s Meteorological Institute said recently the island had recorded its third-hottest July since 1951, with an average of 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit) for the whole month amid unusually warm mornings, weak sea breezes and relatively scarce rains that provide at least temporary relief from the suffocating weather.
http://www.chron.com/news/world/article/AP-PHOTOS-Cubans-trek-to-beach-to-cool-off-5712141.php#photo-6773606  havana-live-havana-beach6 havana-live-havana-beach7622x350 (4) havana-live-havana-beach5 havana-live-havana-beach4622x350 (1)622x350 (3)

Young fan meets his idol

Mendez holds a picture of him and Castro, in San Antonio de los Banos, outside Havana CityHAVANA, 25 August ( CREDIT:REUTERS/ENRIQUE DE LA OSA)  An 8-year-old Cuban boy who likes to dress up as Fidel Castro got to meet his idol after Cuba’s 88-year-old retired leader invited him and his family to his Havana home for a chat.

“I felt a lot of emotion upon seeing Fidel,” Marlon Mendez told Reuters on Monday from his home near Havana. “The whole family hugged him. It was my dream to meet Fidel, and I did it. … My mother was shaking.” Marlon and his family went to visit Castro on Aug. 16, upon the invitation of the retired leader who is revered by some and detested by others for leading the Cuban revolution of 1959 and remaining in power for 49 years.
The boy likes to dress in green fatigues, army boots and cap as Castro once did. Marlon wore the costume to his meeting with Castro, but without Castro’s trademark beard and cigar. Castro was frequently seen puffing on a Havana until he quit smoking in 1985. Marlon was first featured on Cuban television on Aug. 12, a day before Castro turned 88.
His bedroom wall is decorated with dozens of pictures of Fidel, in contrast to the bed made with Snoopy sheets. After Marlon appeared in the media in his Fidel costume, first on Cuban television and later in Reuters photographs, his family received the invitation. Marlon showed off pictures of his meeting with Castro and a hand-written note in which the aging revolutionary referred to “my great friend Marlon Mendez.”
The boy’s grandmother, Maria Elvira Hernandez, said they talked about agriculture and Venezuela, Cuba’s close socialist ally. “Eight-eight years are 88 years. But a lot of 88-year-olds would like to be like him,” Hernandez said. “We want Fidel around for a lot longer.” While many Cubans love or respect Castro for standing up to the United States and leading the one-party state for so long, others dismiss him as a dictator.
Due to failing health, Castro handed power to his younger brother Raul Castro, at first provisionally in 2006 and then permanently in 2008. In retirement, Fidel Castro has traded his habitual military uniform for a track suit. He has mostly withdrawn from public view, occasionally writing columns or receiving foreign leaders.

X Regularity Rally held sunday in Havana

  X Castrol cup HAVANA, 25 August  (Autor: Raúl Pupo)  What was I missing for the last nine years ! Actually, I was able to see it this Sunday, when i was eyewitness of the X Rally Castrol Cup 2014, in which drivers competed in 75 classic cars and 15 motorcycles, represented in six Cuban teams.

These “rolling jewelery ‘stunned me, and with me, much of the Havana’s population, in company of family and friends. The beautiful multicolored caravan past the five municipalities of Havana : Playa, Plaza, Centro Habana, Marianao and La Lisa.   X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup
Famous brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge, and Ford,satisfyed the expectations of both the Havana and foreigners visitores Havana this summer.
The road book,a rough layout of 61 kilometers, was given to the teams only five minutes before the start. In fact these classic cars showed their beauty and excellent technical condition, thanks to the constant care of their owners.
In the end, the winner was the duo composed of pilot and copilot Gelasius Ramos and Erick Estrada, who participate in a FIAT 600, 1958 and took over the Castrol Cup.  X Castrol cup  X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup  X Castrol cup

Tenth edition of Antique Car Rally in Havana

 havana-live-old-car-rallyHavana, August 23. (RHC) The Antique Car Club “A lo Cubano” will have this Sunday 24, the tenth edition of the regularity Rally “Castrol Cup 2014” in Havana.

In the event will participate 75 vintage cars and 15 motorcycles, which circulate in the regular traffic and tour various Havana neighborhoods with a total of 61 Km.
The road map is secret and will be given to competitors minutes before departure. The starting and finish will be located at 3rd Street A, between 0 and 2, Miramar, in the Havana municipality of Playa.
On that site, distractions for children and adults will be offered, as the contestants perform their maneuvers. The event is part of the end of the summer and is supported by the Department of Provincial Sports. The sponsoring companies like Castrol, Miracuba, Ciego Montero “Los Portales, among others.

Silvio Rodruguez Havana recording studio is dying

havana-live-Silvio-RodriguezHavana, August 23   (EFE)  Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez complained that his Abdala recording studio, which he founded in Havana in 1998, is “dying” as a result of all the bureaucratic red tape and useless government officials, while directly blaming the island’s Culture Ministry.

“Abdala, which was a project approved and supervised by Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, is being destroyed by the complacency of the many government officials aware of the situation but who do nothing,” Rodriguez wrote in the latest entry on his personal blog, Segunda Cita.
The founder of Cuba’s “Nueva Trova” musical movement said that some of those culture officials “never forgave the existence of Abdala,” a project carried out with financing by the Cuban government and by Rodriguez himself, and which became the leading studio on the island from the time it was inaugurated 16 years ago.
“Instead of seeing the studio as a cultural gem, they felt it was showing up their incompetence. People who think like that aren’t musicians, and if someone was a musician, he would quit thinking like that,” he said.
The studio – managed in recent years by the state-run Cimex corporation – is currently without electricity for not paying the bill, but it can’t pay its bills “because for the past eight months it’s been in the process of being transferred to the Culture Ministry, a process that never gets done for some unknown reason,” Rodriguez said.
“Several days ago a deputy culture minister said that he can’t pay Abdala’s electricity debt because companies must pay off their own debts,” he said. The musician said the studio had to suspend its work despite having signed contracts “that could bring our country quite a few thousands.” “Abdala won’t be able to start that work because of this situation.
Nor can it pay its debts and, naturally, it will continue deteriorating as a company,” he said. “It looks like ‘a plan of the enemy’ but it’s not the CIA,” he said. Rodriguez noted that the Abdala matter “has gone through the hands of three Culture Ministries” and believes “there’s no willingness to do anything.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time knocking on doors that don’t open and talking to ears that don’t listen. Don’t think I don’t feel ashamed to confess this in public. But it will make me even more ashamed when I see the studio in ruins,” he said. EFE

Retro-soviet restaurant opens in Havana

 havana-live-russian-restaurant HAVANA, 23 August  (By PETER ORSI Associated Press) There’s no rice, beans or fried plantains at Havana’s newest private restaurant. You can order a minty mojito, but it’ll come mixed with vodka instead of the traditional white rum.

The waiters speak Russian, and patrons are expected to order in that language if they want to get served. But don’t worry, the menus at this retro-Soviet restaurant come with translations and pronunciation guides for the non-initiated.
Nazdarovie, which is named for the popular Russian toast and opened Friday, is all about Slavic fare like bowls of blood-red borscht and stuffed Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, hand-rolled in the back by “babushkas” who were born in the former Soviet Union but have long called Cuba home.
It’s a nod to nostalgia for the island’s Soviet ties during the Cold War, a time when Moscow was Havana’s main source of trade and aid and hundreds of thousands of Cubans traveled to the Soviet bloc as diplomats, artists and students. “For most of them it was the first time they ever left this island.
They have nostalgia about their time there, about the flavors they experienced for the first time,” said Gregory Biniowsky, a 45-year-old Canadian of Ukrainian descent who dreamed up Nazdarovie and launched it with three Cuban partners.
“The idea with Nazdarovie is really to celebrate a unique social and cultural link that existed and to a certain degree still exists today between Cuba of 2014 and what was once the Soviet Union,” said Biniowsky, a lawyer and consultant who has lived in Havana for two decades. The collapse of the Soviet bloc largely ended the Havana-Moscow connection and sent Cuba into an economic tailspin.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked recently of renewing the relationship. He made a state visit last month, Russian navy ships periodically dock in Havana’s harbor and Cuba has backed Russia in its dispute over Ukraine. Occupying the third story of a historic building on the seafront Malecon boulevard, Nazdarovie is an homage to the old country.     havana-live-russian-restaurant3
Behind the bar, Russian nesting dolls and a bust of Lenin perch next to bottles of high-end vodka. Reproductions of Soviet propaganda posters line one wall in an attempt to spark conversation among customers sitting at a long communal table. About the only sign of the tropics is the million-dollar terrace view of Havana’s skyline and the Straits of Florida.
At a pre-launch dress rehearsal this week, smartly dressed young waiters set steaming bowls of solyanka, a meaty Russian soup, before about 20 invited guests. The evening’s menu also included pelmeni, dumplings filled with meat, sour cream and dill; golubtsy, stuffed cabbage rolls slow-cooked in a tomato sauce; pork Stroganoff (beef is often scarce in Cuba); and for dessert, savory-sweet blintzes, called “blinchiki” in Russian.
Biniowsky said most of the ingredients can be found on the island, with some exceptions such as flour for black bread, and caviar, for which they’ll rely on tins imported in the personal luggage of friends and family. It will go for about $15 an ounce, with fancier and pricier varieties available for special occasions. In the air-conditioned kitchen, Irina Butorina stirred gobs of mayonnaise with potatoes, eggs, ham and peas to create an olivier salad, a popular dish in former Soviet states that, according to legend, was invented by a Belgian- or French-Russian chef named Lucien Olivier.
Butorina, 56, fell in love with a Cuban student she met at university in her native Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, now Kyrgyzstan, and moved here in 1984. She said the taste of her mother’s recipes faded as she adapted to Cuba. “At first I used to cook a lot of Russian food here, but then a lot of things disappeared from the market — cabbage, for example. … so then I make Cuban food,” she said. “But these people here have started this restaurant. It was their dream … and our dream as well.”   havana-live-russian-restaurant1
Experts say Butorina’s story is typical of the Soviet diaspora here: Of the estimated 3,000-4,000 islanders who were born in the Soviet Union or descended from them, most are cases of Soviet women who married Cuban university students and moved to the Caribbean nation. Some were divorced or widowed but remain in Cuba decades later with little or no tie to their homelands.
“I think for many it was a truly traumatic experience because there are many of our women who have not traveled, who have not returned to visit their countries after the Soviet Union disintegrated,” said Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov, an anthropologist who studies the Soviet diaspora in Cuba. At Nazdarovie, one poster in particular stands out amid the current crisis between Moscow and Kiev.
Created under Nikita Khrushchev to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Russia and Ukraine, it shows two runners representing the Soviet republics simultaneously breaking the tape at a finish line. “To the indestructible friendship and to new successes in sports,” the slogan reads.
“That poster could seem like a joke, almost black humor,” said Prieto-Samsonov, who was born to a Russian mother and a Cuban father and spent his first 13 years in Russia. “I wish (the conflict) weren’t happening between our countries,” he added. “We have great desires for peace.” Biniowsky said Nazdarovie seeks to transcend politics and build community:    havana-live-russian-restaurant2People of Russian and Ukrainian descent and others working, cooking and eating side by side, united by the shared memory of a vanished nation-state rather than divided by current animosities. “Not in the kind of naive utopian sense, but sometimes breaking bread and getting drunk on vodka is key to peace.” (Ramon Espinosa – AP Photo)
http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/23/5123296/havana-retro-soviet-restaurant.html#.U_iRb8V5OSo#storylink=cpy

Another way for americans to tour Cuba

 havana-live-panoramaHAVANA, 21 August  It wasn’t too long ago that travel to Cuba was near impossible but, slowly, opportunities are opening up for Americans.

Group IST has been granted a license by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets allowing the travel agency to offer an exclusive eight day People to People exchange program of Cuba throughout 2015.
The Havana to Cienfuegos tour will be based on the mega-yacht S/C Panorama from which travelers will explore the western part of the country. Cuban experts and interpreters will help Americans explore the country and meet the locals.
The program includes excursions to the UNESCO–designated Biosphere Reserve region and the eco-community of Las Terrazas, walking tours of Old Havana, a visit to the Sea Turtle Breeding Center and Endangered Species Protection program on Cayo Largo with coral reef and conservation experts, a tour of Cienfuegos, and more.
Havana to Cienfuegos starts at $4490, including seven nights on the S/C Panorama, all meals, a Cuban visa, mandatory Cuban medical insurance, and transportation. To learn more, visit groupist.com.

Beyonce and Jay Z trip to Havana was legal

 havana-live-beyonceHAVANA, 21 August Good news for Beyoncé and Jay Z, in the midst of fending off toxic rumors: Their fifth wedding anniversary visit to Cuba last year was legal, despite questions raised by some Republicans in Congress.

According to widespread but unconfirmed reports, America’s most powerful entertainment couple might not make it to their next wedding anniversary. But at least they’re not in trouble with the feds.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a report today saying Bey and Jay did not violate longtime U.S. sanctions against Cuba, which forbid U.S. citizens from visiting the island and spending any money there as tourists except under special license.
The couple did have such a license to visit under the “people-to-people” educational exchange program, and they did not abuse it, the report concluded. When Shawn Carter and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (their real names) were mobbed by fans during their four-day visit to Cuba in April 2013, two Miami-area Cuban-American lawmakers demanded an investigation.
Most Americans aren’t allowed to visit Cuba, not even superstars.
http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/music/2014/08/20/beyonce-and-jay-z-trip-to-cuba-was-legal-say-feds/14359477/

New added security measures to pesos

havana-live-20convertiblesbHAVANA, 20 August  (BY JUAN O. TAMAYO)   The Central Bank of Cuba will add new anti-counterfeiting measures to the 20, 50 and 100-peso bills in apparent preparation to upgrade the value of the Cuban peso, now worth about four U.S. cents.

Cuba’s government announced in October that it would unify its two official currencies: the peso, or CUP, and the convertible peso, known as a CUC and equal to 25 CUPs. It has given no date or further details for the change.
Counterfeit CUCs have been turning up in Cuba regularly almost since their introduction in 1994. Havana residents say that fake CUPs are less common, apparently because of their lower value. A 100 CUP-bill, now worth $4, would be worth $10 if the currency is revalued to 10 to the CUC, as predicted by an island economist in a recent report. Cuba is also expected to introduce higher denomination bills after the currency unification.
The bank’s announcement Tuesday made no mention of the unification plans, but the introduction of new anti-fraud measures in the higher denomination CUP bills will make them more difficult to counterfeit. “The Central Bank of Cuba informs the population about the coming emission of bills in the national currency (CUP) with new security measures,” said the bank statement, which went on to detail the changes.
A new watermark with each bill’s denomination will be added to the 20, 50 and100 CUP bills, the announcement said, and the current watermark will incorporate an image of the historical figure on the face of the bill. All bills in circulation will remain valid, the bank added. Cuba’s largest denomination bills are the 100 CUP and CUC bills.
The country also has had CUP bills in denominations of one, three, five and 10. The dual currency system in place since 1994 created distortions in the economy that ruler Raúl Castro now wants to eliminate. Most salaries are paid in CUPs, but imported goods and many locally made items in short supply are usually priced in CUCs.
The currency unification, which analysts expect to be completed in 2015 or 2016 with the elimination of the CUC, would affect consumers as well as state enterprises that use imported supplies and export goods at widely varying currency exchange rates. Economist Pavel Vidal has predicted the government will unify the currencies at a rate of 10 CUPs per CUC — the same rate set by law for employees of the foreign firms that will operate out of a special economic development zone in the port of Mariel.
Some Cubans already have been trading their CUCs for CUPs or U.S. dollars in hopes of avoiding any losses when the currencies are unified. Authorities have vowed that no individuals will suffer as a result of the change. Former ruler Fidel Castro started printing CUCs to soak up foreign currencies after he opened the doors to mass foreign tourism in the early 1990’s.
He also legalized holding U.S. dollars, previously punishable with several years in prison. The black market exchange rate spiked to more than 140 CUPs to the CUC as Cuba tried to recover from the loss of the Soviet Union’s massive subsidies in the mid-1990s. But the government-set rate of 25-to-1 held relatively steady in recent years.
Foreign visitors who want to exchange $100 U.S. — now again not accepted in legal trade — receive 87 CUCs at the state-run CADECA currency exchange shops because the government imposes a 13 percent fee on transactions on dollars and no other foreign currency. But they can easily get 100 CUCs on the black market.
http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/08/19/4298400/cuba-to-add-security-measures.html

Fast actions is needed against giant african snail

havana-live-Lissachatina-fulicaHAVANA, August 19 (acn) A Cuban scientist said that Cuba must take fast actions to prevent the spread of the Giant African Snail, a species introduced on the island about two years ago, which is considered to be dangerous for humans.

We have the chance to control it if we take fast action, since the snail has a high reproduction rate, said scientist Antonio Alejandro Vazquez, who heads a lab in the sector at the Havana-based Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute.
The African snail, known as Lisachatina fulica bowdich, was introduced in Cuba two years ago, according to studies at the Institute, and it has been located at the Havana southern municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, however the expert said that he has no doubts that it may spread to other areas because of the favorable Cuban climate for it reproduction.
The snail can act as intermediary to transmit diseases considered as dangerous to humans, including meningo-encefallitis.

Tobacco company breacks new record

havana-live-tabacHavana, August 19 (acn) Workers from the Internacional Cubana de Tabacos SA  maintained a high productive efficiency in the first seven months of the year, which allowed them to break the historical rolled and packaged figures.

The special high-tech machines used to elaborate the famous Cuban “cigarillos”, made with high-quality raw materials from Pinar del Rio province, and produced 105.7 million units, 17 of which corresponded to the months of June and July, also record for a month.
From May to July, they averaged 16.3 million packaged units monthly, for a 34 percent growth over last year, Vladimir Rodríguez González, ICT president, told ACN.
Rodríguez González said that each activity is under a rigorous check of quality standards established by the entity, belonging to Tabacuba Business Group of the Agriculture Ministry. He added that the sales, exports, profits and contributions to the country maintain a favorable performance for the stage.
The cigarillos elaborated on that company are marketed in Spain, France, Germany, England , Switzerland, Greece, Canada, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and some regions of Africa and the Middle East.

Cuban cocktails participates in international event

Colorful-cocktail-WallpaperHAVANA, 18 August (RHC-AIN) Cuba participates in the Mexican city of Guanajuato, the XVIII Panamerican Congress of Educational Bartenders and Bar Show, where representative national cocktail’s will be presented as Mojito, Daiquiri and President .

The chairman of the Association of Bartenders Cuba, ACC, José Rafa Malem, told reporters that seven Cuban bartenders will participate in the meeting which will be held until Thursday, including champions in national events.
Organized by the International the International Bartenders Association, the event is part of its strategy to raise the profile and qualification of professionals in the world in this activity, the spokesperson said. 
Malem specified that are also part of the Cuban delegation company executives Havana Club International SA who will present very Caribbean themes as coffee, snuff and rum. 
According to experts,10 jewels of Cuban cantina include the Mojito, the Daiquiri, the President, the Mulata, Special Havana, Cuba Libre, the Cubanito, Mary Pickford, Isle of Pines and Ron Collins. 

Cradle of one of the best light rums in the world, Cuba stands out for the quality of their spirits, among these, the Havana Club, the Cubay and Santiago, fruits of the richest folk traditions of the island.

Vietnamese water puppet theater coming to Havana

havana-live-Water-Puppets-Show-of-VietnamHAVANA, Aug 16  (acn) The Thanglong Water Puppet Theater of Hanoi will perform in Havana for the second time, on August 16-19.

On this occasion it brings the new show called Estampas vietnamitas. The company’s director, Nguyeng Hoang Tuan, expressed his joy for making presentations for the second time in Cuba, where he felt the great interest of the public for his country’s history and culture.
 Marionette artist Lo Quoc Toan said he felt at home and pointed out that Cuba was his second homeland, while his compatriot Nguyeng Xuan Long asserted he was very happy to express his great love for the Cuban people.
This art is exclusive to Vietnam and a world cultural heritage. It’s the only company of its kind in Asia and has been continuously working every day over the last 19 years, explained the company’s director.
He pointed out that water puppets appeared in the year 1010, during the Li Reign, that women were not allowed to practice it then and that later presentations were interrupted due to wars. It revived in the 20th century.
Shows will take place at 5:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Trompocoloco Big Top, in Havana

Cuban beer shortage in hot summer

havana-live-empty-beer HAVANA, 18 August   (AFP) Cuba has been hit by a severe beer shortage during one of its hottest summers on record, sparking hoarding and driving thirsty drinkers to pay greatly inflated prices.

A sharp fall in production at the island’s main brewery, Bucanero, at the beginning of the year has trickled its way down the supply chain at the worst possible time: the third-hottest summer since 1951. Bucanero makes four brands of beer: Bucanero, Cristal, Cacique and Mayabe.
The company has a virtual monopoly in Cuba, though some imported beers are also available, albeit at a large mark-up. “It was an odyssey to find beers for a going-away party Tuesday,” one Chilean expatriate said.
“I covered half of Havana going to supermarkets, gas stations and liquor stores before I finally had to buy them at a restaurant” — where he had to pay 15 percent higher prices,” he said.
Cuban media said the problem was caused by delayed imports of malted barley in the first four months of the year. That hit production at Bucanero, a joint venture between the Cuban state and brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev, and reached consumers just as summer set in.
“Now in the summer more than ever, you go to look for a cold beer at this moment when you needed it the most, and you can’t find any,” said an agonizing islander interviewed on local TV.
Cuba has registered average temperatures of 28 degrees Celsius (82 Fahrenheit) this summer, according to the national meteorological institute.
Media reports said the beer problem had been exacerbated by hoarding by consumers and the “paladares” that have flourished since the introduction of economic reforms by President Raul Castro, who took over from his 88-year-old brother Fidel, the father of the Cuban Revolution, eight years ago.

A quarter of the Cuban’s smoke

havana-live-smokeHAVANA, August 16   24 percent of Cubans over 15 years actively smoke and more than 50 percent of the population is today exposed to tobacco smokes, revealed a medical source to the National News Agency.

These data are the results of the third survey of risk factors that included more than nine million people of Cuba, noted Patricia Varona, coordinator of the Special Working Group on Lung Cancer, of the Public Health Ministry.
The survey, noted Varona, showed that 16 percent of Cuban women actively smoke, that is, two out of 10 females over 15 years, while 31 percent of men (three in 10) has this harmful habit.
He noted that the largest number of addicted to tobacco is between 40 and 50 years, while university students are less addicted to cigarette or cigar and the average age to start smoking is 17 years.
Tobacco consumption is responsible for the death of 1,500 Cubans a year from lung cancer, 80 percent of the annual deaths in Cuba for that ailment or ischemic heart disease, Varona pointed out.
This harmful habit also causes cancer of the pharynx, larynx, esophagus, bladder, urinary and biliary tract, pancreas, kidney, stomach, liver and cervix, just to mention some, added the specialist at the National Institute of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology.(Prensa Latina)

Retired professors can return to cuban universities

havana-live-RetiredHavana,  August 15    In an effort to improve and maintain higher education quality with full professors of experience, the Cuban Council of Ministers agreed that retired professors may returned to their classrooms with the same salaries they had as active workers plus their current pension.
The director of the Human Resources Department at the Cuban Higher Education Ministry Ana Karell said that the initiative is part of strategies adopted by the Cuban government to guarantee the preparation of future graduates. Karell said that Cuba’s 67 higher education centers count on 35 thousand professors and researchers, out of whom nine thousand are either full or associate professors and another four thousands hold PhD titles with an average age of 50 years.
The new measure is expected to encourage those highly skilled professors to return to their classrooms, since in other educational levels it worked appropriately, while it will have specific impact on those courses that need skilled professors, such as accounting, economics, natural sciences, agronomy and engineering.(ACN)

El Ciervo Encantado organizes summer concerts in Havana

havana-live-pedro-luis-ferrerHAVANA, 15 August   The theater company El Ciervo Encantado organizes a series of concerts this summer at its headquarters in Havana.

The first event this Saturday, August 16, will be led by songwriter Pedro Luis Ferrer. August 23  Jazz group  Tú Sabes  will be on stage, and on Saturday 30  it’s the turn to ancient music ensemble Ars Longa.
Also invited to dialogue with artists El Ciervo Encantado host a talk show every night. El Ciervo Encantado theater group was founded in Havana in 1996, from the educational experience developed by the actress and director Nelda Castillo at the Instituto Superior de Arte.
Since then the group has carried out an intense artistic work which includes “explorations in the conceptual universe of the mise en scene and the use of literary, historical, artistic, musical and dance sources” as well as the exploration of languages such as performance and public interventions.
The concerts will be at 8:30 pm at the group’s headquarters, on Calle 18 between Line and 11, in Havana’s Vedado district.

Havana’s Intl. Ballet Festival to be Dedicated to Shakespeare

havana-live-shakespeare-y-sus-mascaras_2HAVANA, August 14   “For Shakespeare, Dance,” is the slogan of the 24th edition of Havana’s International Ballet Festival, to be held in this capital from October 28 to November 7 under the general direction of prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso.

As a tribute to the 450th anniversary of the birth of the English poet and playwright, the official program will include the revival of the piece Shakespeare and his Masks, a stage version of the literary drama Romeo and Juliet.
Giselle Mazorra, a specialist with the Paradiso Cultural Tourist Agency, which coordinates the Festival along with Cuba’s National Ballet Company (BNC), told ACN that, as usual, the public will be able to also enjoy great pieces of the traditional classical repertoire, like Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle and the Nutcracker. Ballet Nacional de Cuba
On the occasion of the bicentennial of the birth of writer Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, the Cuban company will revive the choreographic piece Tula, a ballet in two acts by Alicia Alonso, which recreates the intense life of this woman of letters and her passion for stage art, asserted Mazorra.
Within the framework of the meeting, in addition to presentations scheduled, the Festival will include a special course of ballet technique for professionals, students of advanced levels and professors, as well as a film cycle.
http://www.cubanews.ain.cu/culture/1280-havana-s-intl-ballet-festival-to-be-dedicated-to-shakespeare

WTO Director arrives in Havana

havana-live-wto-director-general-roberto-azevedo-bali-agreement-benefits-developing-countries-1296493-wto-1677579fHAVANA, Aug 13 (acn) The director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo, arrived in Havana on Tuesday afternoon as part of a tour that also includes Mexico and El Salvador.

Azevedo’s agenda in Cuba includes meetings with the Vice-president of the Council of Ministers Ricardo Cabrisas, Foreign Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca and Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno.
He will also meet with officials of the Regulatory Office of the Special Development Zone of Mariel, an enclave located 50 kilometers west of Havana, which will become in the future the main area of activities of Cuban foreign trade.
The Special Development Zone, the first of its kind on the island, will include an industrial platform for import, production and sales to the domestic market or to other countries, as well as a modern megaport.

Havana celebrates its carnival on a small budget

140812-havana-carnival-jms-1317_24cdef7418aaf9889a2eb6008f020e5f.nbcnews-ux-680-480Havana, 12 August  (Emmanuelle Saliba)  This is the capital’s carnaval, a century-old tradition which has been forced to adjust its scale due to a more modest budget brought about by the economic crisis.

It’s not known how much this event will cost the city – these figures are not released – but it’s a very modest celebration. Yet judging by the stream of people, the crowds are not paying attention to the carnival’s budget issues.
It’s an opportunity to have fun at a price reasonably accessible to a population for whom elaborate entertainment events are usually elusive; they are more available to those with foreign currency. “We came to enjoy,” said a couple from one of the stands in front of the passing floats and groups of dancers.
“This is what there is,” said a group of young people. Away from the stands, a crowd dances and sings along to musical groups taking part in the carnival’s so-called paseo or “walk” that extends to other parts of the city.
Havana’s carnival is not lavish, but there is variety and color in the different floats’ dresses and costumes and the choreographed pieces are full of rhythm. Most importantly, the infectious conga music makes everyone’s hips move.
Cuba’s carnavales are the most popular parties in the entire country, and Havana’s carnival can stand up to the one in Santiago de Cuba, whose fame transcends beyond the island’s borders. festival, which started August 8th and goes to August 17th, is a breather for the capital’s residents. It’s a time to leave behind any struggles with transportation, food, currencies and a struggling economy. It’s a joyful break. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/cuba-celebrates-its-carnival-tight-budget-n178776140812-havana-carnival-jms-1315_24cdef7418aaf9889a2eb6008f020e5f.nbcnews-fp-1360-600

Cuba shifts energy focus on renewable energy

havana-live-offshore-oil-gasHAVANA, 11 August  (Reuters) Cuba has shifted its focus away from offshore oil, concentrating on renewable energy and improving output from onshore wells due to a lack of interest by foreign companies for further deepwater exploration, sources close to the industry say.

With so much oil readily available around the world, oil companies including those from allies China and Russia see little incentive in drilling off the Caribbean island, delaying the Cuban dream of oil wealth that could inject vigor into its socialist revolution. With the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba further complicating drilling plans, the country is seeking investors in renewable energy such as biomass and wind while attempting to increase output from existing onshore and shallow water wells.
Russia’s state-run Rosneft and the China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) separately agreed last month to help Communist-run Cuba extract more oil along the traditional northwest heavy oil belt, but did not sign on to deepwater exploration. The northwest heavy oil belt is a 200-mile (320-km) stretch of the northern coast from Havana to Villa Clara and reaching up to 3 miles (5 km) offshore.
It produces poor quality oil that meets 40 percent of the country’s needs. Rosneft and CNPC will also support the horizontal drilling of new wells from shore and join Canadian firm Sherritt International and another Russian state-run oil company, Zarubezhneft, which are already carrying out similar work.
Cuba had hoped Russia and China, whose presidents visited in July, would explore deepwater offshore fields that it says may hold 20 billion barrels of oil and end its dependence on socialist ally Venezuela. Venezuela sends 115,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba under favorable terms.
“The Cubans have stopped talking about offshore oil exploration in the state-run media and in private appear more interested in new recovery methods for existing wells, biogas projects and windmill farms,” a European diplomat said. Three deepwater wells drilled in 2012 by Spanish, Norwegian, Indian, Malaysian, Russian and Venezuelan firms came up dry.
All but the Norwegian state firm Statoil ASA and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA have pulled out, and those companies are inactive. Future drilling has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

A BIG GAMBLE
Difficult geology from hard rock encountered while sinking the wells, alternative prospects elsewhere and U.S. sanctions that require oil rigs to carry less than 10 percent U.S. technology are discouraging further drilling, according to Western diplomats. “Exploration is not a one-shot deal, but in Cuba due to many factors it is. Drilling is like playing once at a roulette wheel with $100 million chips,” said a diplomat whose country was involved in exploration.
http://www.todayonline.com/business/after-offshore-oil-failure-cuba-shifts-energy-focus?page=1

Descemer Bueno teams up with Juanes and Estopa

havana-live-descemer-buenoHavana, August 9 (EFE)  Descemer Bueno, composer of the hit “Bailando,” which topped the charts in several countries this summer, announced his new projects with Colombian singer Juanes and the Spanish duo Estopa. Descember Bueno singer-songwriter and disc producer was referring to the number “La Maleta,” in which he accompanies Juanes, and the artistic project with Estopa, the rock/rumba duo with whom he recorded the song “Pastillas para Dormir,” the official Prensa Latina news agency reported.
Bueno also spoke about his plan to invite the famous rapper and reggaeton star of Jamaican origin, Sean Paul, to give concerts in Cuba this September. Nor could he fail to mention the tremendous international reception that the music video of “Bailando” has enjoyed in the version he did with Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias, members of the Cuban reggaeton group Gente de Zona, and dancers of the Lizt Alfonso troupe.
He also said that his next performances abroad will be in Panama and the Dominican Republic. Descemer Bueno, currently one of the most popular figures of Cuban music both on the island and internationally, recently gave his first concerts in Santiago de Cuba, where he took part in the 23rd anniversary of the Tropicana Santiago cabaret of that city, some 940 kilometers (584 miles) east of Havana.