Monthly Archives: January 2015

Spanish Ballet at Havana’s Marti Theater

  havana-live-spanish-balletHAVANA,31 January (Elvira Pardo Cruz)  Since its re-opening in 2014, Havana’s Marti Theater has surprised us with artful and powerful performances.

This time around, Cuba’s Spanish Ballet Company – a dance ensemble that will be celebrating 28 years of existence next April – was responsible for the performance we enjoyed.
Resplandor de tacones (“Shining Heels”), a dance performance directed by Eduardo Veitia, with choreographies by Pablo Egea and Spain’s Francis Nuñez, featuring prima ballerinas and dance teachers Lesli Ung, Graciela Santana, Daniel Martinez and Ricardo Santana, was staged on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of January before a full house.  havana-live-spanish-ballet

The performance opened with a repertoire of dances from the Bolera school, representative of Spanish classicism, a current that developed in the 17th century – a beautiful combination of castanets, gestures and traditional wardrobe that evoked Spanish identity through the classics of Sonata y fandando, Castilla and El Cid.
The varied aspects, sensuality and gestures of flamenco, performed in the traditional dresses, was reserved for the second act.
En las sombras, La luz mudejar (a world premiere), Esencia, Arte y tronio and Añoranza were some of the pieces performed. Near the end, the intermingling of sounds produced by the Spanish cajon, the bata drums, chequeres and tambourines – a mix of Spanish and Afro-Cuban music – engendered a powerful rhythm that eared the dancers and musicians a standing ovation from the audience.

This brief season aims to expose audiences to the company’s reportoire, which draws from Spain’s historical and artistic heritage.
(Havana Times Photo by Elio Delgado Valdes)
  havana-live-spanish-ballet

Odebrecht sees Cuban port expanding with better U.S. ties

mariel1HAVANA, 30 January (Reuters )  Cuba’s improved relations with the United States could lead to a more rapid expansion of the port upon which the country has staked much of its economic future, an executive whose company built the port said on Friday.

Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht SA [ODBES.UL] completed the $800 million project at Mariel, west of Havana, a little over a year ago. It is seen as a potential distribution center for the Caribbean and Central and South America and is at the heart of a special development zone designed to attract foreign investment in Cuba.
The United States and Cuba are restoring diplomatic relations after five decades of hostilities, though full trade and travel will take longer as President Barack Obama needs the Republican-controlled Congress to completely lift the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

Mauro Hueb, director of Odebrecht’s operations in Cuba, said he expects a spike in foreign investment as a result of improved expectations. “We believe that (the embargo) will be lifted in the short to medium term,” he told Reuters in an interview on Friday. “The Cubans always had expectations the blockade would be lifted and Mariel of course was a project looking toward the future.”
Odebrecht also has hotel and sugar interests in Cuba, plans to build a plastics factory at Mariel, and is expanding Terminal 3 of Havana’s international airport, making the company an obvious advocate for Cuba.

Many potential foreign investors are more skeptical of doing business in the communist-ruled island, concerned about the safety of investments in a country that has shown a willingness to take over businesses it finds attractive or to jail foreign executives. At Mariel, Odebrecht built 700 meters of port connecting to roads and rails in an initial phase that is expected to last eight to 10 years before expansion. With enough demand, Cuba could triple the waterfront infrastructure to 2,140 meters.

Hueb said that expansion might be needed sooner, though he did not predict exactly how soon. The embargo bans commercial vessels from U.S. ports for six months after they dock in Cuba. “There could be an acceleration of the master plan for Mariel with the possible lifting of the embargo,” Hueb said. In the initial phase, Mariel has the capacity to handle 1 million containers a year and so far has reached 30 to 40 percent of that, Hueb said.
A year after Cuba declared the Mariel zone open for business, no foreign company has signed a deal. Odebrecht’s plastics factory was once expected to receive the Cuban government’s approval in the second half of 2014 but it has since been delayed to some time in 2015.
BY DANIEL TROTTA

Chicago Dancers to Perform in Havana

havana-live-trade-windsChicago’s Hedwig Dances company will present in Cuba Saturday, Jan. 31, the piece “Trade Winds”

HAVANA, 30 January   (PL) This piece, by choreographers Susana Pous and Jan Bartoszek, will gather on stage dancers from the Windy City with stars of the local company DanzAbierta, at the capital’s National Theater. Musicalized by Eme Alfonso, James Cotton and Panthu du Prince, this piece recreates possible happenings at a warm Havana and an icy Chicago, dance critic and advisor Noel Bonilla said.

After possible winds of change that Trade Winds encloses, Hedwig Dances and DanzAbierta try to be convergence of friendship and kindness, the specialist says. This work was premiered in the United States in October 2014, and arrives in Havana with the same courage to lay cultural and human bridges between both cultures, in order to a better neighborhood.

The U.S. will not return Guantanamo Bay to Havana

 HAVANA-LIVE-GuantanamoU.S. has leased land on Guantanamo Bay since the 1903 Cuban–American Treaty

HAVANA, 30 January (AFP) Despite the recent historic thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, the White House said Thursday it had no plans to return Guantánamo Bay, the site of a significant U.S. naval base and military prison on the island-nation’s southeast coast.
This announcement comes in response to Wednesday’s statement from Cuban President Raúl Castro that restoring Havana’s control of the bay is a prerequisite for normalizing ties with the U.S, Agence France-Presse reports. However, White House spokesman Josh Earnest indicated any such move was off the cards.

“The President does believe that the prison at Guantánamo Bay should be closed down,” he said. “But the naval base is not something that we wish to be closed.” The U.S. currently controls over 45 sq. mi. of Guantánamo Bay as a result of treaties dating back to the Spanish-American War. The military prison has been embroiled in controversy for reports of torture and the absence of trials for inmates accused of terrorism.
The U.S. and Cuba reopened diplomatic ties in December after over 50 years of nonacknowledgment. Obama issued an executive order to close the Guantánamo prison in 2009, but so far this has not come into fruition.http://time.com/3688995/u-s-guantanamo-bay-cuba-return/

Guantanamo ne sera pas restitué à La Havane

HAVANA-LIVE-GuantanamoLA HAVANE, 29 Janvier  Les efforts pour renforcer les liens entre les Etats-Unis et Cuba n’iront pas jusqu’à la restitution par Washington du contrôle de la baie de Guantanamo, située au sud-est de l’île.

«Le président pense réellement que la prison de la baie de Guantanamo doit être fermée», a déclaré Josh Earnest, porte-parole de la Maison-Blanche. «Mais la base navale n’est pas quelque chose que nous souhaitons fermer».
L’enclave américaine accueille une importante base navale ainsi que le centre de détention militaire extrêmement controversé qui a commencé à accueillir les suspects de terrorisme quatre mois après les attentats du 11 septembre 2001.

Le président américain Barack Obama a maintes fois répété son intention de faire tout son possible pour fermer la prison de Guantanamo, réitérant encore cette promesse la semaine dernière dans son discours annuel de l’Etat de l’union. Sous contrôle américain depuis 1903 Le président cubain Raúl Castro a fait savoir mercredi que la restitution à La Havane du contrôle de ce territoire de 116 km2 constituait un préalable à la normalisation des relations avec les Etats-Unis.

Guantanamo est sous le contrôle américain depuis un traité de 1903. Ouvrant une nouvelle ère dans leurs relations, les Etats-Unis et La Havane ont annoncé mi-décembre un rapprochement diplomatique, qui passe notamment par l’allègement des restrictions commerciales américaines frappant l’île communiste.
Mais les différentes mesures annoncées par Washington ne mettent toutefois pas fin à l’embargo économique imposé à Cuba depuis 1961 et que seul le Congrès américain peut lever.
http://www.20min.ch/ro/news/monde/story/Washington-ne-compte-pas-restituer-Guantanamo-17249895

Kayak adds Cuba to Its travel search engine

havana-live-kayak HAVANA, 29 January  President Barack Obama’s decision earlier this month to ease restrictions on travel from the United States to Cuba has already increased demand from travelers, and travel websites are responding.

Kayak, a travel search engine, announced on Thursday that it will now include Cuba hotel and flight information to its search results, a move that its competitors have yet to make. “Cuba travel information is now on Kayak, and specifically, Kayak users can search for both flight and hotel information,” Chief Marketing Officer Robert Birge tells Newsweek.
That decision, Birge says, came as a result of user demand. Since the government’s announcement on January 15, Birge says, “we’ve gotten quite a few requests.” Kayak’s Cuba search results will be somewhat different from results for other travel destinations.

Usually, Kayak includes booking links with results, but because many travel restrictions are still in place for Cuba, those results will not include booking links. People looking to travel to Cuba can now use Kayak to find “data for 300 hotels” and information on flights to Havana, Santiago de Cuba and other cities.
Because regular commercial flights do not operate between the U.S. and Cuba, Kayak users will have to book travel directly through charter companies. Those companies, which are licensed to coordinate travel in Cuba, operate out of cities such as Miami and Tampa, Florida, and use aircraft and crew from commercial carriers. Priceline, a similar site, does not currently have Cuba information in its results.

“Offering consumers the opportunity to travel to Cuba is something we’re keeping an eye on,” a spokeswoman says. Orbitz, another travel website, is keeping an eye on Cuba as well. “It’s going to take a bit for us and others to be able to sell travel to Cuba,” says Chris Chiames, the company’s vice president of corporate affairs. Chiames adds that Orbitz is currently in negotiations with the Office of Foreign Assets Control and that it hopes to add Cuba to booking options by the end of 2015.

Last month, President Obama announced that the U.S. and Cuba were resuming diplomatic relations. Two weeks ago, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Commerce announced revised travel and financial regulations, which went into effect January 16. To travel to Cuba, Americans must be going for one of 12 reasons, such as family visits or professional meetings.

“Under the new rules, Americans will not need specific licenses to certify they fit in those categories,” The New York Times reported. A spokesman for Miami International Airport says its number of chartered flights to Cuba has not yet increased from this period last year, but Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, Inc., which flies from Miami, says the requests are pouring in.“We have just been inundated,” he says.
http://www.newsweek.com/demand-grows-kayak-adds-cuba-its-travel-search-engine-303021

Bipartisan Senate group introduces bill to end Cuba travel ban

havana-live-cuba-carHAVANA, 29 January  (AP)  A bipartisan group of senators has introduced legislation to end travel restrictions on Americans seeking to visit Cuba, saying it would help foster change in the island nation.

Current law generally bans travel to Cuba, although there are numerous exceptions.  Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake said similar legislation to end the ban has cleared the Senate in the past.
“It’s time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba,” he said. The bill faces obstacles in the House and Senate. In addition to Flake, Republican Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Patrick Leahy of Vermont attended a news conference Thursday to unveil the measure.

President Barack Obama has announced plans to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after more than 50 years. Travel restrictions have already eased somewhat, allowing for Americans with official reasons to travel to the country to do so without applying for a government license. A trade embargo remains in effect and can only be reversed by congressional action.

‘Godfather II’explains why Dominicans worry over U.S.-Cuba ties

 havana-live-cigaresHAVANA, 29 January (Bloomberg Ezra Fieser) Why is the Dominican Republic worried about improving ties between the U.S. and Cuba? Just watch the movie “Godfather II.”

The scenes of mafia don Michael Corleone driving through the streets of Havana on the eve of the Cuban revolution were shot in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. The cigars that made the Caribbean country the world’s top exporter often carry a label saying they were grown from “Cuban seed.”
With President Barack Obama easing a five-decade-old embargo on Cuba, no nation in the Caribbean has more at risk than the Dominican Republic, the region’s biggest economy.

Every U.S. tourist that visits a Cuban beach undermines the country’s position as the region’s top destination. Each time a Major League Baseball franchise holds out to sign a Cuban prospect means less cash for Dominican players, the largest single contingent of foreign-born players in the big leagues.
“The Cubans produce the same things that we produce,” said Arturo Martinez Moya, a former economist at the central bank who authored “Dominican Economic Growth: 1844-1950.” “Their development will be based on the same sectors as ours because we live on two identical islands.” The island of Hispaniola, home to both the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is just 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the east coast of Cuba, separated by the Windward Passage.
The former Spanish colonies both have populations of about 11 million people and a topography marked by mountain ranges, fertile lowlands and white-sand beaches.

Tourism Record
With only the U.S. restricting travel, 3 million foreigners arrived in Cuba last year, according to the government. That made it the second-most visited island in the Caribbean after the Dominican Republic, which attracted more than 5 million visitors. That record helped the $61 billion Dominican economy expand 7.1 percent last year, the best performance in Latin America.

Cuba’s economy was poised to expand 0.8 percent last year, Moody’s Investors Service said. The opening of Cuba will probably take a bite out of the Dominican’s domination as Americans flock to Cuba to see a country made famous by its 1950s-era automobiles and historic downtown, recalling a Caribbean of a bygone era. “It’s a destination that people have heard about but still carries some mystery,” said Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, a professor of economics who studies Cuba at Florida International University in Miami.

Hollywood Films
Since the “Godfather II” days, Santo Domingo has been a reliable stand-in for Havana. Director Sydney Pollack’s 1990 film “Habana,” and the 2005 film “The Lost City,” starring Andy Garcia, featured the streets of Santo Domingo in lieu of the Cuban capital.
When contacted by Bloomberg, officials at the Dominican Tourism Ministry cited comments by Minister Francisco Javier Garcia in December, when he said that competition from Cuba is “nothing new” since the country has competed against its neighbor for tourists from Europe and Canada for decades. Bond investors have also shrugged off the detente.

Dominican dollar bonds have returned 13 percent since the Obama-Castro announcement Dec. 17, compared to a 6 percent gain for emerging markets, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s EMBIG index. The biggest threat from better U.S.-Cuba ties may be to Dominican cigars, a $500 million export industry. Cuban cigars have long been a valued commodity among aficionados.
Before he signed legislation authorizing the embargo, President John F. Kennedy asked Press Secretary Pierre Salinger to buy as many Cuban cigars as possible. He received 1,200 Petit Upmanns on Feb. 6, 1962, Salinger recounted.

‘More Competition’
Today, the Dominican Republic is the world’s No. 1 producer of cigars, according to the country’s Export and Investment Center. “We are going to see more competition for things like our cigars,” said Pavel Isa-Contreras, an economics researcher at the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo. “We could lose market share because the United States is the biggest importer of our cigars.”
Officials at the Association of Dominican Cigar Manufacturers didn’t respond to messages left by Bloomberg News. To be sure, the embargo isn’t going away yet. As part of improving ties between the countries, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro last month said they would work first to restore diplomatic relations. No break-through occurred last week when Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson visited the island.

Foreign Tourists
Only Congress, where opposition to the Castro regime remains fierce, can end the embargo. Obama did use his executive authority to ease some trade and travel restrictions, including allowing tourists to use U.S. credit cards on the island.
Most Americans can’t fly to Havana from the U.S. on their own, but the tour companies that arrange such travel can do so more easily now. While the embargo won’t disappear overnight, Dominican baseball prospects have already felt the pinch of increased competition. On opening day last year, 83 of the 224 foreign-born players to appear on MLB rosters were Dominican, with Venezuela ranking second with 59 players. Yet Cuba, which had 19 players on rosters when the season began, is one of the most sought-after markets for scouts.

Most Cuban players join MLB after defecting. “There’s no question that it has already changed the market,” said Ulises J. Cabrera, who runs the Dominican Prospect League, which showcases Dominican players for scouts. “There has already been an overwhelmingly negative impact on the Dominican players.”

Signing Bonuses
Cabrera said teams, limited in how much they can spend on international signing bonuses, are holding out for more-experienced Cuban players, leaving less money for Dominican prospects. That could hurt the search for a future Albert Pujols, the Dominican first baseman who won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2005, 2008 and 2009.

The rules “severely limit the marketplace,” said Cabrera, whose players will receive around $30 million this year in signing bonuses. Yet on the country’s baseball fields, not everyone is worried. Between hitting line drives to a training partner 100 feet away in a park in Santo Domingo in January, 17-year-old Gabriel Martinez paused to contemplate competing against Cuban prospects. “They say the Cubans are good, that they get money to train,” he said. “But just look at the major leagues. The best players are Dominicans.”

American Express plans to start operations in Cuba

Credit_Card_LogoHAVANA, 28 January The credit card company hopes to open for business in Cuba following the loosening of trade restrictions with that country.

American Express  said it would launch operations in Cuba following President Barack Obama’s decision this month to ease sanctions against the communist-ruled island. MasterCard  said last week it would allow its cards issued in the United States to be used in Cuba from March 1 as Washington eases restrictions on travel, trade and financial activities.
Marina Norville, a spokeswoman for American Express, confirmed in an email that AmEx also planned to start business activities in Cuba but provided no further details. Visa has not revealed its plans for Cuba, and company executives were not available to comment on Tuesday.(Reuters)

Fidel Castro sort de son silence et prend acte du rapprochement avec Washington

 havana-live- Fidel Castro LA HAVANE, 27 Janvier (AFP Par Francisco JARA) L’ex-président cubain Fidel Castro a rompu un silence de plusieurs mois en approuvant implicitement dans une lettre le récent rapprochement avec les Etats-Unis, tout en réaffirmant sa méfiance à l’égard de son vieil ennemi.

“Je n’ai pas confiance dans la politique des Etats-Unis, et je n’ai échangé aucun mot avec eux, mais cela ne signifie à aucun moment un rejet d’une solution pacifique aux conflits”, déclare l’ex-chef d’Etat, âgé de 88 ans, dans un courrier lu sur l’antenne de la télévision nationale et publié mardi dans la presse d’Etat.

Cette lettre lève les interrogations quant au regard porté par Fidel Castro sur la normalisation avec l’ennemi américain qu’il n’a cessé de fustiger pendant des décennies. Elles surviennent aussi au moment où l’état de santé du “Comandante”, qui n’est pas apparu en public depuis plus d’un an, fait l’objet de rumeurs récurrentes. Son silence remarqué au moment de l’annonce du dégel avec les Etats-Unis le 17 décembre, puis lors du retour au pays d’agents cubains libérés par Washington, avait alimenté de nouvelles conjectures.

Dans cette lettre adressée à une fédération estudiantine, le père de la Révolution cubaine – qui a cédé le pouvoir à son frère Raul en 2006 pour raisons de santé – ne commente pas ces rumeurs. Mais il tient à manifester son appui à la politique de son successeur à l’égard de Washington, alors que d’autres rumeurs attribuaient son silence persistant à son opposition au dégel.
“Le président de Cuba a pris les mesures pertinentes au regard de ses prérogatives (…) Nous défendrons toujours la coopération et l’amitié entre tous les peuples du monde, y compris nos adversaires politiques”, a déclaré Fidel Castro dans ce long message daté de lundi. Sa publication survient quatre jours après des premières discussions officielles de haut niveau entre les deux pays depuis plusieurs décennies.

Ces pourparlers ont ouvert la voie au rétablissement des relations diplomatiques rompues en 1961. A Washington, la porte-parole du Département d’Etat a vu dans ces déclarations “un signe positif”, et insisté pour que le régime communiste se mette en conformité avec les traités internationaux “pour un Cuba démocratique, prospère et stable”. Pour Jorge Duany, de l’Université internationale de Floride, ce soutien à “la solution pacifique et négociée” pourrait “accélérer” le processus de normalisation entre les deux pays.
– La “marque et le style” de Fidel – Comme souvent, Fidel Castro évoque dans son courrier divers sujets allant des inégalités dans la Grèce antique aux campagnes militaires cubaines en Afrique dans les années 1970 et 1980.

Il revient aussi sur ses années d’étudiant et de révolutionnaire jusqu’à son arrivée au pouvoir en 1959. “J’ai lutté et je continuerai à lutter (pour la dignité humaine) jusqu’à mon dernier souffle”, a-t-il conclu. “L’article de Fidel porte sa marque et son style”, remarque Arturo Lopez Levy, professeur de relations internationales à l’Université de New York. Mais faute d’apparition, cette sortie épistolaire ne lève pas totalement le voile sur l’état de santé du Lider Maximo, qui n’a pas été vu en public depuis plus d’un an.

Le 8 janvier 2014, il s’était rendu à l’inauguration d’une galerie pour une brève apparition qui avait donné lieu aux dernières images filmées du “Comandante”. Il était alors apparu voûté et semblait avoir des difficultés à se déplacer, s’aidant d’une canne et du bras de son médecin personnel. Depuis, les images du père de la Révolution cubaine se sont faites très rares. En juillet, il avait rencontré les présidents chinois Xi Jinping et russe Vladimir Poutine à son domicile, mais hors caméras.

Seuls quelques clichés avaient immortalisé ces tête-à-tête. Ces cinq derniers mois, aucune image du “camarade Fidel” n’a été diffusée et ses fameuses “réflexions”, auparavant publiées avec régularité dans la presse d’Etat cubaine, se font de plus en plus rares. Ses derniers billets datent d’octobre. Le 12 janvier dernier toutefois, il s’était manifesté en adressant une lettre à son ami, l’ex-footballeur argentin Diego Maradona. Mais le contenu de ce courrier dactylographié n’avait pas été dévoilé par les médias d’Etat.

Brazilians Rush To Cuba Before It’s “Americanized”

  havana-live-Tam  HAVANA, 27 January (Marc Alves)  When Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the two countries would “normalize” relations between the two countries, most observers were quick to point out that this unexpected move would eventually benefit the Cuban economy by boosting the tourism industry, among other sectors.

And according to Folha de S. Paulo, the announcement could achieve just that — but with a slight twist. A growing number of Brazilians have been visiting the island during their current summer break, before it becomes too “Americanized.” For them, the embargo that had been imposed on the Communist island makes this place special, and they fear that the rapprochement with Washington will soon change that.

“It’s amazing not seeing any McDonald’s, Starbucks or other American chains,” 32-year-old Brazilian Carla Regina Boratto told the newspaper. “It’s almost as if the country had been frozen in time.” Another Brazilian tourist, Priscilla Campos, suggests the trend will likely continue until Cuba is no longer Cuba. “Four friends of mine had planned to go to Cancún in Mexico,” she says.

“But instead, they decided to change their plans to visit the whole island from Varadero to Havana and Santiago de Cuba.” Carlos Pacheco, a 36-year-old lawyer on vacation, predicts change. “When the Americans arrive, Havana as we know it, with its old cars and decaying buildings, will end up losing its charm and will disappear. How much do you want to bet that by the end of the year, there’ll be a McDonald’s somewhere around here?”

Fidel Castro appears to lend support to Cuba talks with U.S.

havana-live- Fidel Castro HAVANA, 27 January (Reuters BY DANIEL TROTTA)  Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Monday appeared to lend his support to talks with the United States in his first comments about his longtime adversary since both countries agreed last month to restore diplomatic ties.

But Castro stopped short of an enthusiastic endorsement of the rapprochement, announced on Dec. 17 by his younger brother and Cuba’s current president, Raul Castro, and U.S. President Barack Obama. “I don’t trust the policy of the United States nor have I had an exchange with them, but this does not mean … a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts or the dangers of war,” Fidel Castro, 88, said in a statement published on the website of Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma.

The United States and Cuba held historic high-level talks last week in Havana that are expected to lead to the re-establishment of diplomatic ties severed by Washington in 1961. “Any peaceful or negotiated solution to the problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America that doesn’t imply force or the use of force should be treated in accordance with international norms and principles,” Fidel Castro said. “We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries.”

He took power in a 1959 revolution and spent much of his 49 years in power railing against the United States, which never succeeded in many attempts to oust him. He was finally forced into retirement in 2008 by poor health and was succeeded by his brother Raul, who is now 83. “The president of Cuba has taken the pertinent steps in accordance with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly the Communist Party of Cuba,” Fidel Castro said of his brother in the statement.
His silence on the issue had led to speculation over his health and whether he supported his brother’s rapprochement with the United States. On Jan. 12, he sent a letter to friend and retired Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona that squelched rumors he had died.

Havana triathlon brings Americans and Cubans together

 havana-live-=triathlon-2015HAVANA, Jan 26   Seizing on US-Cuba detente, Americans swam, biked and ran in a triathlon in Havana for the first time, and even heard their national anthem on the island.

Jim Donaldson and Robert Plant wore “USA” logos on their clothes as they stood in the capital’s “anti-imperialist” esplanade, built by Fidel Castro in 2000 to hold rallies in front of the US Interests Section. But yesterday, the venue along Havana’s picturesque seafront was used for friendlier purposes, as the site of the finish line for the middle and long distance races.
“It’s a historic race, being the first time Americans have been over here to do this,” Donaldson, a 70-year-old retired business products manager from Ohio, said as he waited for the arrival of the middle- and long-distance racers. The day before, Donaldson and Plant, 71, participated in the shorter sprint race at the Hemingway Marina, where they both finished in about an hour and a half.“At the awards ceremony, a couple of Americans had won the juniors (race), and they played the American national anthem.
 havana-live-=trithlon2015

It was pretty exhilarating to hear the US national anthem played in Cuba,” said Donaldson, who like others in the US team donated triathlon gear to Cuban athletes. By coincidence, the competition occurred just days after the highest-level US official to visit Cuba in three decades held historic talks Thursday aimed at restoring ties broken off in 1961.  havana-live-triathlon2015

‘Floodgates are open’
These 25 Americans triathletes travelled to Cuba after securing a special license from the US government. But as part of the rapprochement, US President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions this month that will allow Americans in 12 categories, including athletes, to visit Cuba without asking for permission first.
This has raised hope among Cubans that more US visitors, and their dollars, will come and help improve their lives, while American tour companies have seen a surge in demand for trips to the island. The sports world could also be shaken up in two countries that share a passion for competitions, like boxing but especially baseball.

“We are living through a special moment, which is the normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, and sports are also a way to bring people together,” Alejandro Puerto Torres, president of the Cuban Triathlon Federation, told AFP. The Americans were among 372 triathletes from 29 countries who participated in races on Saturday and yesterday. Plant and Donaldson already plan to return for next year’s competition. “The floodgates are open. It’s going to be big here,” said Plant, a fit 71-year-old dentist from San Francisco.

Some 100,000 Americans already visit Cuba each year, according to Cuban government statistics. Cuba’s chief negotiator in the normalization talks, Josefina Vidal, told MSNBC that she expects an increase in American visitors “at some point this year.” But regular tourism remains forbidden and depends on the US Congress’s willingness to accept Obama’s demand to lift the US embargo against Cuba.

“A series of obstacles have to be removed and allow tourists to come, which would be very good for the Cuban economy,” said Ricardo Vardez Gonzalez, a 49-year-old mechanical engineer, who took his nine-year-old nephew to watch the race.

‘All coming together’
 
While the new rules will make it easier for authorised Americans to visit Cuba, they will still need to justify their trip to US authorities when they return home. “They can travel but they have to be very careful that they can explain they travelled to Cuba using one of the exceptions,” Peter Quinter, a lawyer in Florida and chairman of the Customs and International Trade Law Group, said in a telephone interview.

USA Triathlon, the sport’s governing body in the United States, received the license for the trip around the time Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the rapprochement in December. As the sun set and the Iron Man winner from Argentina crossed the finishing line, Plant looked over at the six-story US Interests Section, not knowing what it was and that it will be the site of the US embassy one day. “How ironic that it’s going to be here. It all comes together,” he said.
“This embassy being here is a great symbol of our cooperation with the Cubans.”(AFP)

Cuban tour operators jumping to meet new US demand

 havana-live-capitolHAVANA, 26 January  Cuban tour operators are gearing up for an explosion of US travellers — adding a spate of tours focused on everything from architecture to art to gourmet food — following the recent detente between the two long-time Cold War rivals.

Travel company InsightCuba, one of the top agencies specializing in visits to the Communist-run island, now offers a six-day jaunt to Havana and Matanzas to listen to jazz and meet the musicians. Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez, lives in Miami, meanwhile, has 20 spots available for travelers who want to be immersed “in Cuba’s contemporary art and culinary scene” in Havana and elsewhere on the island, with “interactions and discussions with artists and chefs.”

Washington last week announced it was lifting a series of commercial and travel restrictions as part of the historic rapprochement with Cuba after a half-century embargo and diplomatic relations ruptured since 1961. But although travellers will no longer be required to seek authorization before embarking for Havana, the trips remain restricted — so tourists can’t just hop on a plane hoping to sip mojitos on the beach. Instead, travel to the island must fit into one of 12 categories, including family visits, research, journalism, education, religion, or cultural exchange. Travel agents say they are already seeing a strong increase in demand for the Cuba tours.

“The phone has not stopped ringing,” said Collin Laverty, director of Cuba Educational Travel, speaking by phone from Cuba. Since the company started operating three years ago, it has brought 5,000 people to Cuba. Laverty said they hope to match that number this year alone. “We are getting all these emails from people saying ‘I want to get there before McDonald’s’,” he said, noting that two US groups were expected this week. “We added 70 tour dates after Obama’s announcement … in response to the demand,” added Tom Popper, of Insight Cuba.

‘Throw away stereotypes’ 
Any rise in tourism on the island will be hampered by a lack of infrastructure, which is already at maximum capacity, tour operators. However, the travel agents say this actually provides an opportunity — motivating them to approach residents to help fill the gaps. “These tours, what they do, is to get people of both countries together, and they learn about each others culture, history and way of living, and that leads to respect,” said Silvia Wilhelm, president of CubaPuentes, a Texas travel agency specializing in cultural and architectural tours in Cuba.
“You throw away all these stereotypes that both people have been hearing from each other for 50 plus years,” she said. But not everyone is happy to see travel between the United States and Cuba increase. Some say that injecting fresh capital into the island’s economy will only help the Castro government hold on to power.

“This is a windfall for the Castro regime that will be used to fund its repression against Cubans, as well as its activities against U.S. national interests in Latin America and beyond,” said Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio, shortly after the new rules were announced.
http://www.canoe.ca/Travel/News/2015/01/21/22199741-relaxnews.html

U.S.-Cuba diplomatic thaw puts Mariel port back in spotlight

 havana-live-CUBA-MARIELPORT HAVANA, 25 January ,(By Tim Johnson) The deepwater port of Mariel, once the site of a massive exodus of refugees to the United States, may soon be the stage for a new chapter in Cuba’s history, one that flirts gently with global trade and free markets.

A $1 billion project to modernize the port and create a special economic zone will add Mariel as a stop on a global maritime highway that stretches from Asia to Europe. And the outlook for Mariel’s natural harbor might grow brighter, if the United States and Cuba mend a diplomatic rupture that started more than half a century ago. That’s why the talks that began Wednesday in Havana have sent ripples as far away as Brazil, which is financing most of the Mariel port project, as well as China and Vietnam, whose similar experiments in free-trade zones four decades ago led to a trade boom.

The U.S. trade embargo remains the major stumbling block to the Mariel project. As long as the embargo, imposed in 1962, remains in effect, any ship that docks in Cuba cannot enter the United States for six months unless it has a U.S. waiver. But there are several factors that befog the outlook for the deepwater port and free-trade zone. Cuba faces competition as a maritime transshipment hub. Moreover, Cuba faces new risks. For the second time in a generation, Cubans are watching with trepidation as a major patron stumbles. Before, it was the Soviet Union, whose collapse sent the socialist island into a tailspin in the early 1990s.

Now it’s Venezuela that totters as the price of oil, its major source of income, plummets. Still, experts hail the Port of Mariel expansion and free-trade zone as an important step toward open markets, if not a break from the country’s one-party socialist system. “It’s an intermediate step,” said Omar Everleny Perez, a researcher at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana. Perez noted the range of benefits for investors in the 180-square-mile special economic zone abutting the port, such as 50-year contracts, 100 percent ownership of assets and tax reductions, largely unprecedented in Cuba.

“There are a lot of incentives for the foreign investor, such as operating tax-free for 10 years and paying no tariffs on machinery,” Perez said. Advocates say the Mariel special economic zone, 30 miles west of Havana, will be like the Colon Free Zone operated by Panama and has the potential to be a cheap alternative for companies looking to manufacture and ship products into the United States from an offshore location, in this case only 120 miles from Florida.
Cuba is finishing up the dredging of Mariel Bay to a depth of 58 feet, allowing new mega-ships to dock with an eye toward events in Panama and Nicaragua.

In early 2016, Panama will complete a third set of locks on its canal, permitting much larger vessels to transit the isthmus, carrying up to 13,000 containers each. Nicaragua, for its part, has granted a 50-year concession to a Hong Kong-based company to dig a massive canal across Central America that would allow still larger ships, including supertankers, a shortcut passage. “When these two canals are done, the one in Panama and Nicaragua, the Port of Mariel will be on the axis between Asia and Europe,” Perez said.

Mariel will largely replace the port of Havana, which couldn’t be deepened. A vehicle tunnel under the mouth of Havana Bay bars dredging there, and the port will eventually be left for cruise ships and tourists. Brazil financed $682 million of the $1 billion price tag on the Mariel port, container terminal and free-trade zone, and President Dilma Rousseff faced criticism during her re-election campaign last fall for helping Cuba improve Mariel while leaving some Brazilian ports in disrepair. Rousseff sounded triumphant with news of the U.S.-Cuban diplomatic thaw. “It clearly shows that Brazil was right to finance the Port of Mariel,” she said.

Cuban officials voice optimism that even if the U.S. embargo stays in place, the special economic zone will attract Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Brazilian and European companies in food products, biotech, photovoltaic panels, logistics, packaging and glass manufacture, and telecommunications. Four huge gantry cranes tower over the container terminal, which can handle 1 million containers a year. Huge refrigerated chambers, necessary for meat shipments, were installed in the economic zone this month. Last summer, Cuba completed its first new rail line in two decades, connecting the port with Havana, the capital. Hundreds of projects are under consideration, Perez said, and the first will be approved in the first half of this year.

When completed, the special economic zone is expected to generate some 3,000 direct jobs and 5,000 indirect ones. In some ways, the project smells and looks like an experiment in capitalism, but Cuban officials blanch at any description tainted with the “C” word. “It’s difficult for a government official to talk about market reforms,” said Cuban economist Arturo Lopez-Levy, who resides in the New York City area. “They talk about ‘actualization’ or ‘updating’ the idea of a socialist economy.”

“They want to make absolutely sure that this won’t get out of hand,” added Diego Moya-Ocampos, a London-based senior Latin America analyst for IHS Country Risk, a consultancy, noting that party leaders resist demands for political reform. Yet to be seen is how many multinational companies will come into the special economic zone. Moya-Ocampos noted that investors won’t be able to hire workers directly. Instead, they must pay the Cuban government in hard currency to provide workers, who’d earn salaries in nonconvertible Cuban pesos. “There is no international investment arbitration process in place,” Moya-Ocampos added.

It’s still unclear how much cash the Port of Mariel project will inject into the feeble Cuban economy or whether it can surpass Kingston, Jamaica, and Freeport in the Bahamas as the largest industrial port in the Caribbean in terms of size and volume of activity. “The dynamics of the shipping industry are such that when you come out of the (Panama) Canal, you don’t want to stop in Cuba. You want to get to the East Coast of the United States,” said Rafael Romeu, former president of the nonprofit Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy in Washington and a onetime economist at the International Monetary Fund.

Cartes de crédit américaines bientôt à Cuba

 havana-live-visa-or-mastercard LA HAVANE, 24 Janvier  Les cartes de crédit MasterCard émises aux Etats-Unis seront utilisables à Cuba à partir du mois de mars dans le cadre du rapprochement diplomatique entre la Havane et Washington, a annoncé le groupe américain.

Dans un communiqué MasterCard a annoncé la levée prochaine du blocage des transactions réglées avec une carte de crédit américaine à Cuba. Ouvrant une nouvelle ère de ses relations avec Cuba, les États-Unis avaient annoncé à la mi-décembre une série de mesures allégeant les restrictions commerciales frappant l’île communiste.

Washington a notamment étendu les possibilités pour les Américains de se rendre sur l’île et leur permet désormais d’utiliser leurs cartes de crédit une fois sur place. Premier groupe à profiter de cet allègement, MasterCard précise avoir pris cette décision «en accord avec les lignes directrices» fixées par le Trésor américain et publiées à la mi-janvier. Les différentes mesures annoncées par Washington ne mettent toutefois pas fin à l’embargo économique imposé à Cuba depuis 1961, que seul le Congrès américain peut lever.

Dans son discours annuel sur l’état de l’Union mardi, le président Barack Obama a exhorté les parlementaires américains à «tendre la main» au peuple cubain en supprimant cet embargo.

Art from Habana Vieja to the Bronx

 havana-live-artmarketHAVANA, 24 January  (By Christopher Smith) When President Barack Obama made the startling announcement in December of last year that the United States would begin the process of normalizing relations with the island nation of Cuba after decades of animosity & strict embargoes, the ripple effect could be felt on a global scale.

With both nations looking to make the way to increase travel opportunities, the possibilities associated with such initiatives seemed boundless. For instance, many who had experienced only fleeting moments of appreciating the depth of Cuban art here in the United States and in other exhibits abroad wondered what this news meant back then.
Now an new art exchange looks to create a solid first step out of those possibilities. The Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York City, in conjunction with the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, Cuba have announced the formation of an official art exchange between the two institutions.

The exchange, which is the first extensive artistic collaboration of its nature since the embargo was put in place in 1960, will begin with 80 pieces from the Bronx Museum of The Arts’ permanent collection spanning from that year to the present day going to Havana for exhibition beginning on May 21st until August 16th of this year. This is to coincide with the celebration of the 12th Havana Biennial.

Subsequently, the National Museum will send over 100 pieces from their permanent collection north to the Bronx for display beginning in the fall of 2016. This monumental achievement was the result of talks that were underway long before the announcement in December and associated prisoner exchanges between Cuba and the U.S. Holly Block, the executive director of the Bronx Museum, has made numerous trips to Cuba and commiserated with artists there for years.

The museum itself has also fashioned their reputation on showcasing work from Cuban artists as well as artwork from Cuban-Americans, which solidifies ties to the area’s expansive Latino community and in turn has made it one of the nation’s rising artistic destinations. With this art exchange, travelers and natives of both nations will get to see how the cultural bond of art can truly overcome the walls that politics can often build.
http://clapway.com/2015/01/23/art-from-habana-vieja-to-the-bronx019/

MasterCard to lift restrictions on credit cards on March 1

havana-live-MasterCard HAVANA, 24 January  MasterCard announced Friday it will begin handling U.S. credit card transactions in Cuba on March 1, making the credit card company the first to adjust to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s plan to lift a ban on doing business in Cuba.

Allowing credit card transactions will make traveling in Cuba more convenient for visitors who have previously had to depend on cash. Traveling to Cuba has been getting easier for Americans since President Barack Obama announced last month historic changes to the U.S. approach to relations with the communist-run island.

The U.S. is working to restore normal diplomatic relations for the first time in more than 50 years and relax travel and trade restrictions between the two countries. The move affects Americans who travel to Cuba to visit relatives or for a handful of other authorized purposes, including educational visits. Americans traveling for one of the 12 approved reasons no longer have to apply for a license. General tourism to Cuba is still prohibited by the half-century old trade embargo, and it would take an act of Congress to lift the ban.

Even so, thousands of Americans have illegally visited the forbidden country. A spokeswoman for American Express said the card provider is evaluating the new regulations released by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control “to better understand what is permissible and how we would operate if we choose to do so.” Visa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
MasterCard cardholders should contact their bank before visiting Cuba to make sure their card will function on the island, the company, which is based in Purchase, New York, said in a statement.
http://mashable.com/2015/01/23/cuba-credit-cards/

Cuba-US take first step to normal relations

 havana-live-roberta-jacobsonHAVANA, 23 January   By Isaac Risco (dpa) The governments of Cuba and the United States will meet again in the coming weeks to continue working on details for resuming diplomatic relations, the negotiators said today after a first round of talks in Havana.

In their first encounter the diplomats were unable to establish a concrete roadmap for resuming the relations broken off in 1961. They hope a new round of negotiations, at a date yet to be determined, will lead to the reopening of embassies. “There is no deadline yet defined,” said the chief negotiator for Cuba, Josefina Vidal. “We should get together soon. We have to agree on a date,” she noted.

“In the coming weeks we will exchange proposed dates for the next meeting,” said Vidal after the first encounter with the high level US delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary for Latin American affairs at the State Department. Both Jacobson and Vidal, who heads the US Affairs desk at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, said they were unsure whether more encounters beyond a second round would be needed on the issue of opening embassies.

Both sides stressed that negotiations on Thursday took place in a “friendly” atmosphere. “The first round of talks was a positive and constructive dialogue,” Jacobson said in her first appearance before the press since she arrived in Havana on Wednesday. “We discussed real and concrete steps required for the restoration of diplomatic relations between our countries,” she added. Jacobson also stressed that diplomatic normalization will be a “long and complex” process beyond the reopening of embassies.

“The restoration of relations and opening of embassies is only part of a broader process of the normalization of relations,” said Jacobson the highest government official in Washington to visit the Caribbean island since 1980. In their appearance before the media, both parties also spoke on the sidelines of the “deep” differences between the two countries after decades of ideological rivalry. The situation of human rights is of central interest to my government, said Jacobson. In answering a question she noted: “Yes we have differences on this issue, profound differences.” According to the US diplomat, her delegation addressed the issue at talks today.

However Vidal denied it. The Cuban side, however, emphasized that it expects new diplomatic relations to respect the “sovereign equality” and “national self-determination”. “For Cuba this means reciprocal respect for the political, economic and social systems of both states and avoiding any form of interference in each other’s internal affairs,” Vidal said. “Nobody should expect that to improve relations, Cuba will relinquish its principles,” she added. The government of Raul Castro has ruled out on several occasions political reforms in the one-party system that has governed the island for over half a century.

Washington and Havana simultaneously announced on December 17, 2014, a historic agreement to restore diplomatic relations after more than half a century of rupture and confrontation. The high-ranking delegations from the two countries meet on Wednesday in a round of negotiations on migration issues, and then on Thursday to begin the process for establishing respective embassies. ( Havana Times)

Les conversations migratoires entre les États-Unis et Cuba se terminent à La Havane

Havana Before Castro, When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground

LA HAVANE, 22 Janvier (RHC/agences)  Josefina Vidal, directrice générale des États-Unis au ministère cubain des affaires étrangères et le sous-secrétaire adjoint du Bureau pour les Questions de l’Hémisphère Occidental du Département d’État des États-Unis, Edward Alex Lee, ont reconnu que des progrès ont été faits dans plusieurs thèmes migratoires.

Au cours d’une conférence de presse au terme des conversations entre nos deux pays, la délégation étasunienne a exprimé sa satisfaction pour la discussion « productive » sur des questions migratoires au cours de ce premier jour qui marque la reprise du dialogue de haut niveau entre nos deux pays interrompu depuis 1980.
»Le caractère productif et de collaboration de la discussion d’aujourd’hui prouve que, en dépit des claires différences qui persistent entre nos deux pays, les États-Unis et Cuba peuvent trouver des opportunités pour avancer dans nos intérêts mutuellement partagés » a déclaré à la presse Edward Alex Lee qui a conduit la délégation étasunienne au dialogue migratoire à La Havane, le premier après l’annonce, le 17 décembre, du rétablissement des relations entre nos deux pays.
www.radiohc.cu/fr/noticias/nacionales/44259-les-conversations-migratoires-entre-les-etats-unis-et-cuba-se-terminent-a-la-havane

Will Starbucks pop up all over Cuba ?

havana-live-starbucks-logoHAVANA, 22 January  Cuban officials sitting across the table from Americans in Havana this week are hoping to sort out the next steps in normalizing relations.

That’s on the heels of President Obama’s request for the US Congress to lift the embargo on trade with Cuba. But even if that momentous step is taken, progress on integrating the economies of the neighboring nations isn’t around the corner. “Turning off sanctions isn’t like turning on a spigot to foreign investment and trade,” says Jake Colvin, a vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council. “Everybody has to get out of their heads the scenes from “The Godfather Part II.”

Cuba is not going to turn into a mini-Las Vegas or a Reno.” Cuban officials are hanging tight to their managed economy and will do their best to control any transition. And Colvin says conditions on the ground in Cuba will dictate the speed of change. That’s likely to mean no shortage of red tape and bureaucracy. “What’s gonna matter at the end of the day is the reality on the ground in Cuba, the ability of Cubans to sustain foreign investments, for Cuba to pay for things it might want to trade for, and for the attitudes and policies of the Cuban government,” he says.

While the US imposed an economic embargo on Cuba in 1960, a handful of countries – most notably Venezuela, Canada and Brazil – carry on a robust trade with the island. Still, Cuba’s Communist Party closely manages trade and investment. “The challenge for American companies will be first of all understanding that there are some sanctions in place and navigating those, and making sure that they don’t get wrong-footed with US law,” Colvin says. US agricultural exporters are especially keen to get their foot in the door.

For instance, before the US embargo, Cuba was the top export destination for US-grown rice. Cubans consume an estimated one million metric tons of rice and more than half of that total is imported. Cuba’s trade relations have gone through major upheavals in recent decades. It was closely tied to the Soviet Union’s economy. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that relationship began to fray. “They transitioned from being dependent on Russia in the late 80s and early 90s to being dependent on Venezuela,” Colvin says.

“Now Venezuela is going through their own challenges economically and politically. My sense is part of the calculation for the Cuban government was we’re not going to be able to rely on Venezuela and we need to hedge our bets and that’s why I think in part they wanted this rapproachment with the United States.” But even as relations with Washington begin to warm, Colvin says major US brands won’t be setting up shop in Cuba anytime soon.

“There’s this concern among those that have a nostalgia for what Cuba is, or was, or the old cars, and the architecture that is in old Havana right now,” Colvin notes. “The Cuban government is mindful of that they don’t want a Starbucks on every corner or a Walmart on every corner … There’s still going to be a reluctance on the part of the Cubans to just open the floodgates.”
http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-01-21/dont-expect-mcdonalds-and-walmart-streets-havana-anytime-soon

Discussions constructives” entre responsables cubains et américains à La Havane

LA HAVANE, 22 Janvier (Euronews)  Des responsables américains et cubains se sont réunis à La Havane ce mercredi.
Une première depuis 35 ans. Ces discussions concrétisent le rapprochement historique entre les Etats-Unis et l‘île communiste annoncé en décembre. Des discussions qualifiées de productives et constructives. Elles reprendront ce jeudi sur la question du rétablissement des relations diplomatiques rompues en 1961.

Ce mercredi, c’est la question épineuse des flux migratoires, qui a été abordée. “La politique des “pieds secs, pieds mouillés” et la loi d’ajustement continuent de constituer le principal stimulus de l’immigration illégale, du trafic d‘émigrants”, a déploré la responsable cubaine Josefina Vidal.
La politique des “pieds secs, pieds mouillés” prévoit des facilités d’installation aux Etats-Unis pour les illégaux cubains qui touchent terre et le rapatriement des migrants interceptés en mer. La loi d’ajustement offre des avantages d’installation aux émigrés cubains.

Havana talks start with promises by Obama

cuba-havana-sunsetHAVANA, 21 January (AP) The highest-level U.S. delegation to Cuba in decades begins two days of negotiations with grand promises by President Barack Obama about change on the island and a somber warning from Cuba to abandon hopes of reforming the government.

U.S. moves to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and loosen the five-decade trade embargo have “the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere” and have “added up to new hope for the future in Cuba,” Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. A senior Cuban official cautioned, however, that restoring diplomatic ties with the U.S. wouldn’t immediately lead to a full relationship between the Cold War foes after a half-century of enmity.

The message appeared designed to lower expectations before the arrival Wednesday of the U.S. delegation and just before Obama spoke to a Capitol crowd that included Alan Gross, whose release from Cuba in a prisoner exchange last month cleared the way for a new relationship. Last month’s announcement of detente has spawned high optimism on both sides of the Florida Straits, but the high-ranking Cuban diplomat said: “Cuba isn’t normalizing relations with the United States. Cuba is re-establishing diplomatic relations with the U.S. The process of normalization is much longer and deeper.”

Reporters were briefed on condition that the official not be quoted by name. Republican leaders in the House and Senate are opposed to rapidly rebuilding relations as long as President Raul Castro remains firmly in control of Cuba. Other obstacles include billions of dollars in economic claims against Cuba’s government, American fugitives living freely in Cuba and the opposition of many Cuban-Americans. Still, the biggest potential challenge is Castro’s government itself, which needs cash for its stagnant economy but fears Obama’s new policy merely repackages the longstanding U.S. goal to push him from power.

The U.S. has taken “steps in the right direction but there’s still far to go,” the Cuban official noted. He expressed optimism about the long-term prospects for U.S.-Cuban relations as long as Washington does not try to change Cuba’s single-party government and centrally planned economy — tenets of Cuba’s system the U.S. has long opposed. Re-establishing relations “must be based in principals of international law,” the official said. “What do these principles mean for Cuba? Reciprocal respect for each country’s political and economic systems, avoiding any form of interference.”

American officials have repeatedly said they hope their new path of engagement will empower Cubans and soften the government’s control over the country. Leading the U.S. delegation to Havana is Roberta Jacobson, the most senior American official to visit Cuba in 35 years. The rosters on both sides include officials well-known to one another from years of cautious efforts to improve cooperation.

Wednesday’s conversations are expected to start with a continuation of efforts by the two sides in recent years to promote what the State Department calls “safe, legal and orderly migration,” covering everything from the security of charter flights that travel regularly between Miami and Havana to rooting out fraudulent passports and partnering on potential search-and-rescue missions. Thursday’s talks are trickier, scheduled to deal with the mechanics of re-establishing a U.S. Embassy in Havana headed by an ambassador, and a Cuban Embassy in Washington.

The Latest on Travel to Cuba

 havana-live-obamaHAVANA, 21 January   Following the publication of new regulations for travel to Cuba on Jan. 16, Americans may travel there more easily than at any time in the past half-century. Travelers cannot just hop on a plane and go, though. As Michael Sykes, founder of Cuba Cultural Travel, put it, while there is now less red tape, “the average Joe who wants to go to Cuba still has some hurdles to get over.”

Q. Can any American citizen visit Cuba now?
A. Yes, and no. Any American wishing to visit Cuba for one of 12 purposes may now do so without having to apply for a license on a case-by-case basis. Tourism is still banned by the embargo, so beach holidays are off the cards. The 12 categories of legal travel to Cuba include visits to close relatives, academic programs for which students receive credits, professional research, journalistic or religious activities, and participation in public performances or sports competitions.

What has changed?
In the past, people wishing to visit Cuba under some of the 12 categories had to apply for a license. The process was daunting to many and could take months. Under the new regulations, travelers will have to mark a box to denote the purpose of their trip and are required to keep receipts of their travel transactions for five years after they return. In most cases, they are also expected to have a full-time schedule of activities related to their category of travel.

What are people-to-people trips?
People-to-people trips are educational programs that fall into one of the 12 categories of general-license travel. They’re one of the most popular ways to go to Cuba because anybody can join a trip and your itinerary is worked out for you. Because they are organized trips with full schedules of meetings, lectures and visits to artists’ studios or small businesses or community projects, they are not cheap – about $2,500 to $4,000 per week including accommodation and flights.

Who will keep track of what I do in Cuba?
Good question. Until now authorized travel agents who book visitors’ flights and hotels were required to hold a special license from the Treasury Department and expected to make sure that their travelers complied with Treasury requirements. That is no longer the case and many travel experts are wondering whether the Obama administration is going to monitor people’s travel itineraries. However, if you sign an affidavit saying you are going to Cuba for a particular purpose and in fact spend a week at the beach, you would be breaking the law. Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story

How do I buy a ticket?
Currently, flights to Cuba have been run by licensed charter operations. Most people fly to Miami and connect to a flight there, though there is talk of reopening a direct flight from New York. Under the new regulations, any commercial airline can operate flights to Cuba, and American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are among those that have expressed interest. However, airlines have warned that it could take a year or more to negotiate air service agreements between the countries’ aviation authorities. Of course, non-American commercial airlines fly to Cuba from many destinations. Americans who meet Treasury requirements can fly through a third country, such as Mexico, Panama, Grand Cayman or Canada — an option that may even work out to be less expensive than taking charter flights.

Where would I stay?
Cuba has a shortage of high-end hotels, and that will become more acute if the number of American visitors rises significantly. About 100,000 visits were made last year by Americans, and an estimated 400,000 by Cubans and Cuban-Americans visiting family on the island. Some tour operators are already block-booking rooms through 2016. There are about 61,000 hotel rooms in Cuba, according to the tourism ministry, of which 65 percent are in the four- and five-star category. Eddie Lubbers, chief executive of the Havana-based Cuba Travel Network, which handled 74,000 visitors to Cuba last year, said he thinks that about 15 to 20 percent of hotel rooms are out of commission at any one time because they need maintenance. He estimated that about 125,000 to 150,000 rooms need to be added over the next few years to meet demand. Work has begun on the Manzana de Gomez, a 250-room property on Parque Central in Old Havana, which already boasts some of the best hotels. Bed-and-breakfasts are an attractive alternative to hotels as they include the chance to make contact with Cuban families and often provide good meals. There are hundreds of bed-and-breakfasts, known as casas particulares, in Havana and popular tourist towns like Trinidad, Viñales and Cienfuegos. Searching for casas on the Internet is not an easy experience, but you can book them through travel agents like Cubania Travel or look on TripAdvisor.

Can I use credit cards?
Under the new regulations, American travelers to Cuba will be able to pay for expenses with an American credit card. It is not clear how long it will take for banks to begin offering the service, however. In addition, there are few ATMs in Cuba, and many establishments do not have the means to process credit card payments, so cash will be king for some time to come. It may be a good idea to take pounds and euros, which get a better exchange rate in Cuba than the United States dollar.

What can American citizens bring back?
Americans can now bring back up to $400 worth of souvenirs, including $100 worth of cigars. If you have ever bought good Cuban cigars, though, you’ll know that $100 will not fill your humidor.
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/travel/the-latest-on-travel-to-cuba.html

 

 

 

Un navire espion russe s’amarre à La Havane

havana-live-CCB175ViktorLeonovLe «Viktor Leonov», de la flotte du Nord, est arrivé mardi à La Havane à la veille d’une rencontre diplomatique historique entre Cubains et Américains.

LA HAVANE, 20 Janvier  (AFP) Le navire espion russe SSV-175, de classe Vishnya, de 91,5 mètres de long et 14,5 de large, est arrivé au port de la capitale cubaine dans la matinée et était amarré au quai habituellement réservé aux bateaux de croisière face à la vieille ville, ont constaté des journalistes de l’AFP.

Comme pour ses précédentes visites en février et mars 2014, l’arrivée du navire n’a fait l’objet d’aucune annonce préalable des autorités cubaines, à l’inverse de ce qui se fait d’habitude pour les escales de navires de guerre étrangers. Avec son équipage de 200 membres, le «Viktor Leonov», lancé en 1988, est spécialisé dans la collecte d’informations électroniques.

Son arrivée intrigue au moment où de hauts responsables des États-Unis et de Cuba doivent se réunir mercredi et jeudi pour poser les bases de la reprise de leurs relations diplomatiques et tourner la page de la Guerre froide. Moscou et La Havane ont été des alliés très étroits pendant trois décennies avant la chute de l’Union soviétique au début des années 90. Après une période de froid, les relations entre la Russie et Cuba ont été relancées à la fin des années 2000.

Russian spy ship in Havana on eve of US-Cuba talks

havana-live-175ViktorLeonovA Russian intelligence warship docked in Havana on Tuesday, the eve of historic US-Cuba talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations.

HAVANA, 20 January  The Viktor Leonov CCB-175 was moored to a pier in Old Havana where cruise ships often dock, but its arrival was not announced by Cuban authorities. The Vishnya or Meridian-class intelligence ship, which has a crew of around 200, went into service in the Black Sea in 1988 before it was transferred seven years later to the northern fleet, according to Russian media.

The vessel previously docked in Havana in February and March last year, staying there for a few days. Those visits were also unannounced. The highest-level US delegation to visit Havana since 1980 arrives Wednesday for two days of talks aimed at normalizing diplomatic and immigration relations between the former Cold War foes. The former Soviet Union was Cuba`s main patron during the Cold War. AFP

US officials in Cuba to discuss embassies

 havana-live-americ.carLA HABANA, 20 January  (WASHINGTON POST) The first scheduled meeting between U.S. and Cuban officials to reestablish diplomatic relations may not lead immediately to the opening of embassies here and in the United States, a senior State Department official said Monday.

State Department officials said those talks, to be held here Thursday, would focus largely on the terms for reopening embassies in Havana and Washington, including how many diplomats can staff each diplomatic mission and the level of freedom they will have to travel outside the respective capitals. The Obama administration’s agenda for the meeting also includes lifting restrictions on diplomatic movement in both countries, unimpeded shipments of diplomatic goods and free access to the U.S. Embassy by Cuban citizens.

The United States is also seeking assurances that security forces that are ubiquitous around the current diplomatic mission here will be decreased and that visiting Cubans will not harassed. Officials acknowledged that some of those questions may not be settled in a single meeting. “It’s hard to know exactly how the conversation will go,” said a senior State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity in advance of the talks. “Assuming those things are agreed to by the Cuban government, we may not have a huge number of conversations before we’re able to move toward embassies.

“But it’s hard to know exactly what issues the Cuban government may come to the table with,” the official said. “We’re not going with expectation of closing all of those issues in this conversation.” In the so-called Interests Sections that both countries have operated for the past 38 years under the Swiss flag, Cuba has been limited to 26 diplomats in Washington who were prohibited from traveling outside the Beltway without approval. In Havana, the 51 permitted U.S. diplomats are similarly restricted to the province of Havana.

In addition to State Department diplomats, the administration said it hopes to populate its embassy here with officials representing other parts of the government to deal with expanded trade, law enforcement and other areas of mutual interest. Diplomats at the Interests Section deal only with Cuba’s foreign ministry or through the Swiss government.
In advance of the talks, a group of U.S. lawmakers — the first to visit Cuba since President Barack Obama announced plans to normalize relations — said here Monday that they were met largely with enthusiasm by both government officials and dissidents.

Members of the U.S. delegation who were here barely a month ago to pick up imprisoned U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, whose release from a Cuban prison allowed Obama to move ahead with the opening to Cuba, said they were amazed at the change in atmosphere. “We were frozen with the same foreign policy with Cuba for over 50 years,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill. “Now we’re moving to a new era. We’re opening up a relationship, and the exchange of ideas.”

The delegation, led by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., also included Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. The lawmakers split up for some of their meetings with separate Cuban ministries to discuss possible future trade, if and when an ongoing embargo that restricts trade with Cuba is lifted by the U.S. Congress. “I was out on the street, talking to a cab driver with a very old Chevy,” said Stabenow, who said she told him she would be “happy to replace it” with a new vehicle from Detroit. The delegation also met with about 12 leaders of Cuban dissident organizations.

About 10 of them expressed support for the new opening, Leahy said, while two objected to providing any opening that would bring perceived benefit to the government of President Raúl Castro. Miriam Leiva, a human rights activist who was expelled from Cuba’s Foreign Ministry in 1992 for what she described as “expressing my ideas,” said in an email that she told the lawmakers that she considered the opening positive. It is up to the Cuban government to put into place the openings Obama described last month, Leiva said.

Cuba’s failure to do so, she said, would demonstrate that Havana only wants to pursue its own interests, with “no intention of contributing to bringing Cuba and its people out of its prolonged and unsustainable economic, political and social crisis. In that case, it will continue losing credibility within its own population, no longer able to blame its misfortunes, inefficiencies and repression on the United States.”

US, Cuba set for historic talks in Havana to normalise ties

havana-live-cuba-usa-FLAGHAVANA,19 Jan (AFP) The United States and Cuba will hold their highest-level talks in decades on Wednesday, ditching decades of Cold War-era hostility to pave the way to reopen embassies and normalise ties.

Senior US and Cuban officials will meet over two days in Havana to discuss immigration issues and a roadmap to return ambassadors to each other’s nation, more than half a century after full diplomatic relations broke off in 1961.
The talks in the Cuban capital come five weeks after US President Barack Obama and Cuban counterpart Raul Castro simultaneously made the momentous announcement that their countries would seek to normalize ties. Ms Roberta Jacobson, the US assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, will head the American delegation, while the Cubans will be represented by the Foreign Ministry’s director for US affairs Josefina Vidal