Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Lebanese entrepreneurs interested in investing in Cuba

 havana-live-lebanon-flagHAVANA,  Mar 31 (acn) Lebanese entrepreneurs in 10 economic sectors set up the Lebanon-Cuba Businessmen Council focusing on the investment and trade opportunities being offered by the island.
During a meeting at Beirut´s Chamber of Commerce, over 20 entrepreneurs, particularly young people, expressed their interest in exploring the Cuban market hoping to open fruitful bilateral business relations.

“We believe in Cuba and we are observing its potential; at present there are 30 thousand Lebanese migrants or Lebanese descendants there and this means that we share deep relations, said Council president Ali Kazma in the presence of Cuban ambassador to Beirut Rene Ceballo.
The Lebanese business community has big interest in investing in different Cuban sectors particularly tourism, the pharmaceutical industry, health, construction and trade. In May, a Lebanese delegation will travel to the island for exchange with Cuban entrepreneurs, the official said.

Cuba to promote oil drilling at Americas summit

havana-live-oil-drilling-at-sunsetHAVANA, 31 Mar. (argusmedia) Cuba is seeking to revive an offshore drilling campaign through a roadshow to be held during a high-level western hemisphere conference in Panama on 10-11 April.
The move coincides with a thaw in diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington, and the prospect of an end to a longstanding US economic embargo on Cuba that has forestalled US investment.

Havana´s bid to rekindle interest in offshore acreage also runs parallel to the opening of Mexico´s oil sector. A first-ever licensing round featuring Gulf of Mexico blocks in Mexican waters kicked off in December 2014.The Summit of the Americas will be attended by US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Leaders of several major firms will attend the summit’s business session when the roadshow will be held.

“We will explain our results in deepwater exploration in recent years,” says Rafael Tenreyro, exploration director of Cuba´s state-run Cupet. “We will also explain our onshore and shallow water hydrocarbon potential, and new incentives for foreign investors.”Cuba previously offered 59 Gulf of Mexico blocks, but exploration stalled in 2012 after several foreign companies encountered dry holes.

Among the firms that failed to find commercial deposits in earlier exploration efforts were Spain’s Repsol in a consortium with India’s state-controlled ONGC and Norway’s Statoil; Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas and Venezuela’s state-owned PdV.Cuba’s national assembly approved a new investment code for the energy sector in March 2014 that allows foreign investors to negotiate tax rates with state agencies, with a levy of up to 22.5pc on profits, compared with a previous 25-50pc.

Oil companies from Russia, Canada and Australia are currently exploring and producing oil and gas from onshore and shallow water blocks.Cuba produces around 50,000 b/d of liquids and 20,000 boe/d of gas from onshore and shallow water reservoirs, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).
A 2004 USGS assessment of the North Cuba basin and its three sub-basins estimated the total amount of undiscovered technically recoverable resources at 9.8 trillion ft3 of undiscovered gas, 4.6bn bl of crude oil, and 0.9bn bl of NGLs.

The island imports around 77,000 b/d of oil from close ally Venezuela on preferential terms.

CubaKat, hopes to sail from Marathon to Havana

  havana-live-CubaKatHAVANA, 30 Mar. Brian Hall can still remember his grandmother’s stories of the ferry to Cuba. “She would tell stories of how wonderful it was,” Hall said. His grandmother would vacation in Havana.

“I would hear stories and see pictures. And just knowing it was 90 miles away, it didn’t make sense why we couldn’t go there.” Hall, a Jacksonville businessman, is now using that nostalgia — his and hopefully the public’s — to fuel his dream: Reinstating a ferry to Cuba.

The plan goes like this: Hall and his business partners have launched CubaKat, a passenger ferry service that would run from Marathon Key to Havana. (Leaving from Marathon rather than Key West only adds 15 minutes to the ferry trip, but cuts in half the driving time it would take to get from Miami to Key West, the common starting point for ferries.)

Hall said the company already has a used 200-passenger ferry under contract from a seller in the Bahamas, the Sea Wind. Once the first ferry sets sail, Hall said within six months he hopes to add a second boat.
After that, Hall — who is also part of Fort Lauderdale-based catamaran manufacturers KonaCat — said the plan is to introduce 100-passenger, high-speed catamarans between the islands. “Our plan is to get the speed below three hours,” Hall said.

“We hope to see in the next five years having 10 boats going back and forth.” There would be many benefits to having a ferry to Cuba again. One benefit is the ferries could carry about 28 cars each.
(Although bringing cars won’t happen initially, as they’re not legal luggage yet.) Using a ferry would also be more affordable than a flight. A round-trip charter flight can cost between $429 and $499.

A high-speed ferry costs closer to $300, which takes about 4.5 hours to make the trip. But the real kicker for flights is the luggage costs: Some companies charge $2 for every pound over 44 pounds, plus fees for additional baggage, a problem for travelers trying to bring goods to family and friends in Cuba.

12 young Cubans reveal what they really think of the U.S.

havana-live-young-cuban 4HAVANA, 30 Mar. (By Travis Mannon)  In December 2014, President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro agreed that both governments should begin taking steps to ease the 53-year-old strained relationship between the neighboring countries.

Though Obama and Castro still stand far apart on many issues, good faith measures have signaled that both sides are serious about opening up diplomatic relations.
In addition to proposing a plan to open an embassy in Havana, the Obama administration announced that it will allow Americans to travel to Cuba for non-tourism-related reasons in 12 categories, including journalism, educational and professional research, humanitarian aid and official government business. Previously, this type of travel required case-by-case approval.

The U.S. also announced it will open up telecommunications access to the isolated island. In a country where only about 5% of the population can access the global Internet, expanded interaction with the outside world could mean big changes for Cuba. For a country that has been held back for more than half a century, many Cubans are eagerly awaiting the change

. The shift will be felt most acutely by young Cubans. How will they feel about Americans suddenly showing up at their doorsteps? Do they think the changes in diplomatic relations will have an effect on their day-to-day lives? And if so, what do they imagine those changes will look like? We asked young Cubans in Havana these very questions.

Their answers were illuminating and show a side of Cuba that most Americans have never had the chance to see. Some people were too embarrassed to speak to us. A surprising number seemed afraid of the consequences if they did.
Not that it’s necessarily illegal to discuss sensitive topics with a journalist or an American — they just weren’t sure what would happen to them.
More than a few said they were afraid of being arrested if they talked or had their picture taken — one man pretended to put handcuffs on himself when asked why he didn’t want his picture taken.

Arian, 20, professional dancer from Santa Clara havana-live-young-cuban“I have a lot of family that are American citizens. A lot of my family that got citizenship have been there for a number of years. But I have not visited. It’s an impressive country, but I will stay in my country.
“I think that the changes are great for Cuba and the U.S. Both will benefit, but only up to a certain point. I don’t think either of us should change our thinking or our politics just because of this simple [economic] change.

I think we can reach an arrangement where we can make our economy better while maintaining our thinking and our political views. “Everything can change from tourists coming to Cuba. We’re going to have more direct communication with them. We don’t know the Internet. We don’t know many things that will help us work a little better, to get more information.

But to change our culture? We are an intelligent people, so I don’t think we should change our culture. Our culture is beautiful. I don’t think that we have to change that.”

Amanda, 20, psychology and education student at the University of Education in Havanahavana-live-young-cuban“I think that the opening of the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba will benefit us a lot.
I think there should be some type of relationship between our countries that nourishes each. We can enrich ourselves from your culture and you can enrich yourselves from our culture.Having the U.S. as an economic partner will benefit us a lot, since the U.S. is a huge world power. And we are country that is, well, a little small. We need that type of relationship.”

Benni, 32, a parking attendant, and Zaili, 19, unemployed, both from Havana Viejahavana-live-young-cuban1Zaili: “Well, my friend, I can tell you something — I think we are better than you!”
 Benni: “We are better!”
Zaili: “We are thinking about these changes. Cuban lives are beginning to change. We think things are going to change for the better.” Benni: “I hope so. I hope they’re for good. I don’t know, I don’t know.”

Leandro, 20, math student at the University of Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 2jpg“I don’t dislike Americans. I cannot tell you much more because I haven’t had any contact with them. … I hope the changes are for good. I hope the situation gets better. That’s my hope. Cultures will mix. It’s always good to meet new people, so I don’t know why there is anything wrong with that.”

Greta, philosophy student at the University of Havana and Ernel, computer technician from Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 3Ernel: “Various sectors of U.S. society and government are interested in the improving relationships. And from [the Cuban side], the leaders in our society are interested as well, without undermining principles and important ethical points. But yeah, there is a lot of willingness to collaborate and improve economic relationships.”

Greta: “We have also been very influenced by U.S. culture, even if people don’t think so. The shows that you see on TV and movies, maybe not all of them, but a huge majority of them are American. And we listen to a lot of American music. American culture has strong foundations here in Cuba.”
Ernel: “There are a lot of Cubans that follow the American way of doing things.”

Ariadne, 25, accountant from Havana Viejahavana-live-young-cuban 4“[Americans] are people like us. At work, their home life, they’re the same. There’s no difference. If they live in one country or the other, it’s the same. They’re the same people. Whether or not they are good or bad, I cannot tell you, because I don’t know many Americans.”

Maielis, 25, Literature professor at the University of Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 5“The relationship of Cubans with Americans, at least in my experience, is mostly through the movies and TV shows.
It is a culture that does not seem too distant. Actually, it seems to me that a lot of phrases are mixing lately in the language and the ways young people in Cuba are communicating.

Sometimes I even catch myself, and it makes me feel guilty to use American phrases to say things that I cannot find a way to say in Spanish. I think that is mostly an influence from TV shows.
I watch a lot of shows in English, sometimes without even knowing what they’re saying. “There are going to be a lot of changes and I hope for good. I think they’re going to be positive, the changes.

We’re going to start participating in a more active way in this globalized world. We were experiencing it and consuming in a very unique way. We were not completely isolated from the world.”

Adonis, 26, studying Chinese at University of Havana, from La Lisa, Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 6“As far as I know, Cuban people have very good opinions about Americans. There have been problems between governments, you know, but Cuban people are very friendly and sociable, as are Americans
. I think that President Obama is trying to make the relationship closer. I think it has to be done, and it should have been done a long time ago. I see the progress in this.”

Pedro, 34, math professor at the University of Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 7“My prediction is that things are going to get better, but slowly. I think that many people think that there are going to be immediate changes with relation to the U.S. and I think that there are going to be some, but little by little. Slowly. That’s what I see.”

Name withheld, from Havanahavana-live-young-cuban 8

“What do I think? I have American friends. It’s good that they come and get close to us, that they come to Cuba. We are two people divided by one policy.
And the people of the U.S., even the government of the U.S., have been friends with the people and the government of Cuba. It’s a fight that has no meaning. The U.S. even helped us in our independence struggle against Spain in the war of 1895. “The Cuban economy feels more secure being in a partnership with the American economy. It has always been this way.

Even in the tourism sector as well. For us, it has always been a benefit to be close to the U.S., not only geographically, but also spiritually as good friends. Nevertheless, this issue with the negotiations, people still do not trust them. I think, at least, that the U.S. has good intentions with Cuba.”
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity. Translation help from Eric French.

Iberia confirms return of Madrid-Habana flights in June

havana-live-Iberia2_1HAVANA, Mar 30 (acn) Spain´s Iberia airlines ratified the reopening of its Madrid-Havana route on June 1 describing it as the star on its long operational range.

A communiqué by the airline company on Monday reads that flights to Montevideo, Uruguay and to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic are also part of its agenda for the season. Iberia´s long operational range will open three destinations: Havana on June 1 following a two-year recess, Cali and Medellin, in Colombia, starting June 3 and adding to the agenda for the first time.
In Europe, Iberia Express will inaugurate flights to five destinations in Italy and to Hamburg, while it will increase the number of flights to Berlin, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf.

Tonight the final curtain falls on RENT

havana-live-rent-logoHAVANA, 30 Mar. Tonight, in Havana, Cuba, an exciting piece of history comes to an end. The final curtain will fall on RENT, the first musical to be performed in the country, in 50 years.

It opened on December 24, 2014 and played an entire sold-out run, which ends tonight. Andy Senor, Jr. directed the production, presented by Nederlander Worldwide Entertainment.
Andy made his professional debut in the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Jonathan Larsen and served as Associate Director to Michael Greif on the Off-Broadway revival and re-staged the production in Tokyo.

Tonight In Havana, The Final Curtain Falls on RENT; Richard Jay-Alexander Spends Time With Andy Senor, Jr.Being of Cuban heritage, he was born and raised in Miami, Florida and, this Wednesday, April 1st and Friday, April 3rd, be sure to check out BroadwayWorld’s EXCLUSIVE Special Two-Part ALL EYES ON feature with Andy Senor, Jr. Richard Jay-Alexander spent a number of days with him during these past few weeks talking about Cuba, RENT and LOTS MORE!

Jay-Alexander’s Mother was from Havana and he has returned to visit, since spending early childhood years there. He and Andy met on Miami Beach’s famous Lincoln Road, again in New York City and at his home in Miami Beach. will also be there when 7 principals from the Havana Cast will first step foot on U.S. soil, this coming week. Andy was honored last night, by FIU, his Alma Mater, at the 14th Annual Torch Awards, held in Miami Beach’s legendary Fontainebleau Hotel.

This morning, he is on a plane, headed directly to Havana’s Jose Marti Airport to join his cast for tonight’s historic closing. You won’t want to miss this upcoming special edition (two-parter) of ALL EYES ON later this week, with exclusive photos and footage.

Interest in Cuban bonds has its qualifiers

Malcolm BerkoHAVANA, 29 Mar. (By Malcolm Berko, Columbian business columnist)
Dear Mr. Berko: What do you think of buying the Cuban 4.5 percent bonds issued in 1937, which came due in 1977 and sell for about 10 cents on the dollar? Now that President Barack Obama has begun to normalize relations with Cuba, I think those bonds could pay off, especially if the embargo were to be lifted. Seeing as they sell for 10 cents on the dollar, for $10,000 I could buy bonds with a face value of $100,000. What do you think?

While the U.S. was imposing sanctions on Iraq, Iraq’s sovereign bonds traded between 10 cents and 11 cents on the dollar. After the U.S. invasion, a settlement was negotiated by the Paris Club at 32 cents on the dollar. The Paris Club, an informal group of international officials, assists debtor nations in coordinating their debt solutions with creditor nations, helping them settle their sovereign debt. And the London Club helps nations settle loans that were extended to debtor nations by private banks and corporations.

Liberian debt, which was selling at 3 cents on the dollar in 1991, was settled at 21 cents when a new president who had worked for the World Bank was elected to lead that country. Before 1993, Vietnamese debt was selling at 10 cents on the dollar, and after the embargo was lifted, that debt was settled at 30 cents. havana-live-cuban-bondsThe list of settlements during the past 50 years is impressive. Since 1956, the Paris Club has brokered 430 debt agreements with 91 nations, totaling nearly $600 billion. In July, Russia agreed to write off Cuba’s $32 billion of Soviet-era debt, reducing Cuba’s foreign debt (bonds and loans) to $19 billion.

Last December, Obama decided to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. Resultantly, some of Cuba’s debt, particularly the 4.5 percent Batista bonds you mentioned, became attractive. Fidel Castro defaulted on the bonds in 1960. Now some speculators suggest they’re attractive.
These bonds, called 77s because of their 1977 maturity date, may, in the future, be settled between 26 cents and 48 cents on the dollar, giving speculators a potential return of 180 to 490 percent. And yes, the 77s could be an excellent speculation, though too rank for my blood.mf_cubabonds03__970But you can’t buy those bonds, because a silly 18-year-old statute prevents U.S. citizens from investing in or owning Cuban assets. (Americans can own assets in Syria, Somalia and Iran, but they can’t own Cuban assets.) The ban can be lifted by Congress, but Miami’s ridiculously bombastic and sadly confused Cuban community continues to define U.S. policy regarding Cuba and won’t allow it.

A legitimate way to own the 77s is to purchase the unimpressive Herzfeld Caribbean Basin Fund (CUBA-$9.27), a $27 million closed-end fund that owns, among other Latin investments, Cuban bonds with a $1.6 million face value. A reader whose family lives in Canada told me that his brother purchased the 77s in his Canadian brokerage account.

Canadians have been allowed to travel to Cuba for years. Fortunately, Canada’s policy regarding Cuba is not determined by a warren of rabid expatriates residing in Miami who live in their memories of the past 56 years.  havana-live-cuban-bonds
If you have a relative in Canada, he can purchase the 77s for you, but be mindful that family members are often the worst people with whom to conduct a business transaction. And recognize that this transaction would also involve currency risk as you convert U.S. dollars into Canadian dollars to buy the 77s.
There would be additional currency risks when selling the 77s, because you would need to convert Canadian dollars back into U.S. dollars.

Ballet academies encounter kicks off in Havana this weekend

havana-live-ballet-shoesHAVANA, Mar 28  (RHC) Ballet academies from 15 countries will gather in Havana from March 29th through April 11 at the 21st International Ballet Academies Encounter.

This year’s international ballet event will welcome students, teachers and dance experts from Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, France, Panama, Argentina, Costa Rica, the United States, Bolivia, Italy, Ecuador, and El Salvador.
For two weeks participants will be taught different classes, including ballet, point, physical training, repertoire, choreographic composition, character dance, pas de deux and other subjects.

Dedicated to the centennial of the birth of the so called Father of Cuban Ballet, maestro Fernando Alonso, the encounter is set to include lectures and optional workshops on the physical training of dancers, dance reviewing, acting, makeup, choreography, contemporary dance, folklore, nutrition, Spanish dance and others.

Students from participating academies will share the stage of the National Theater in seven galas whose main pieces will be a suite of the Act II of Swan Lake, a suite of La Bayadere and Graduation Ball.
The 13th International Ballet Students Competition will run parallel to the encounter from April 7 through 11at the National and América Theaters.
Presided over by National Ballet School Director, Ramona de Sáa, the jury is made up of Cuban National Ballet Company prima ballerina, Viengsay Valdés, and teachers and critics from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, the United States and Cuba.

Americans cling to claims for seized property

confiscated-by-castro.jpeg-620x412HAVANA, 28 Mar. The smell of Cuban coffee drifts from the kitchen as Carolyn Chester digs through faded photos that fill boxes spread across the dining table.

Friends linked arm-in-arm on a Cuban beach. Men in suits and women in evening gowns at a Havana nightclub. And in almost every frame, an American man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a raven-haired woman — Chester’s parents — smiling at good fortune that, they could not know, would soon be snatched away.

“I always heard about Cuba … and all this money that we lost and ‘Maybe one day,’ but I didn’t understand it,” Chester says. Six decades later, that day may finally be nearing for Chester and others like her.
To reach it, though, diplomacy will have to settle very old scores. After Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cuba confiscated property belonging to thousands of American citizens and companies.

Edmund and Enna Chester lost an 80-acre farm, thousands of dollars’ worth of stock, and a Buick that, who knows, may still be plying Havana’s streets. In 1996, Congress passed a law insisting Cuba pay for confiscated property, valued today at $7 billion, before lifting the U.S. embargo.
That went unmentioned in President Barack Obama’s December announcement that the countries would resume diplomatic ties. Given Cuba’s frail economy, experts say companies whose property was taken might settle for rights to do business there and move on.

But corporations don’t cling to memories like families can. That’s clear inside Chester’s 832-square-foot bungalow, where her mother’s gold-framed portrait watches over the yellowing property deed and worthless stock certificates — reminders that Cuba before Castro is history. But bitterness over what came after lingers on.

Inside a little-known federal agency, 5,900 claims files tally property that once belonged to Americans in Cuba. But really, the claims are stories of lives left behind. Edmund Chester’s story began when he returned to Louisville, Kentucky, from the Army and found work as a newspaper reporter.
He taught himself Spanish and in 1929 was hired by The Associated Press, which dispatched him to Havana. Chester spent a decade reporting from the Caribbean and Latin America, time that seeded two crucial relationships. The first came after covering a 1933 revolt that put a former sergeant, Fulgencio Batista, in charge of Cuba’s military. In the 1950s, when Batista was Cuba’s dictator, he trusted Chester — by then a confidante and no longer a journalist — to write his biography.

The second began when Chester covered a 1939 earthquake in Chile and spotted Enna at a hotel swimming pool. In 1940, CBS hired Chester as chief of radio broadcasting for Latin America.
Eventually, he became the network’s director of news in New York. Chester returned to Cuba in 1952, buying a chain of radio stations on an island that was a U.S. economic outpost and a hedonistic getaway for Americans, including celebrities like Frank Sinatra.havana-live-seized-propertyChester eventually sold the stations, but the family continued splitting time between Havana and Florida. He opened a public relations agency in Cuba and bought an 80-acre farm there.

In 1957, the Chesters acquired $250,000 worth of Cuban Telephone Co shares. But Edmund Chester, then Batista’s speechwriter, grew uneasy as Castro gained ground. “I agree that we ought to make (a) complete break with Cuba at the earliest possible moment,” he wrote Enna in 1958.

Cuba still has no U.S. bank

havana-live-cuba-interssection-usHAVANA, 28 Mar. The Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C., the diplomatic entity that represents Cuba in the U.S., issued a statement saying that in spite of moves toward normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, it has still been unable to secure banking services in the U.S.

It has been a year since Cuba lost its banking services in the U.S. when M&T Bank terminated its account as of March 1, 2014. It has historically been hard for Cuba to find a bank willing to provide banking services because the regulations on doing business with sanctioned countries have been extremely complicated and consequences for errors can be costly.

But since Obama’s speech last December announcing the beginning of normalization of relations with Cuba, regulations have eased. For now, however, they have apparently not eased enough to make any banks wish to take on Cuba as a customer.
As a result of its failure to secure banking services, the Cuban consular office has extended its consular services until June 30. It will continue to operate as it has for the last year.

For U.S. tourists traveling to Cuba during the year when Cuba could not get banking services, the banking issue has not had much effect on their ability to travel. According to a statement from the Cuban Interests Section:
“The Interests Section will continue working towards a solution that allow for normalization of the work of its Consular Office, while it reiterates that services related to humanitarian situations will continue to be expedited.”

US, Cuba to start talks on human rights next Tuesday in Washington

havana-live-Human Right HAVANA,27 Mar. AFP — The United States and Cuba will hold talks on human rights, one of the most delicate issues pending in their historic rapprochement, on Tuesday in Washington, Havana said.

The “bilateral dialogue on human rights…demonstrates Cuba’s readiness to address any issue despite our differences,” the deputy director of the Cuban foreign ministry, Pedro Luis Pedroso Cuesta, told journalists Thursday.
The communist island nation had proposed the meeting, he said. Cuba, he said, “hopes this dialogue will unfold in a constructive tone, on the basis of reciprocity, without conditions or discriminatory treatment and in full respect of sovereignty, independence and non-interference in the countries’ internal affairs.”

The talks will include “the concerns we have about human rights in the United States and other areas.” “We are aware that we have profound differences with the government of the United States in the areas of political systems, democracy and human rights, and international law,” he said.
Read all of The Tico Times’ Cuba coverage Since President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart Raúl Castro announced on December 17 that their countries would resume relations after more than five decades of enmity, the two sides have held three rounds of talks.

But they have not yet broached the sensitive issue of human rights, an area where Washington has called for sweeping reforms from the communist island. Cuba counters that the United States’ own record on human rights is lacking, pointing especially to the prison at Guantánamo Bay set up to hold terror suspects in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

The countries have so far focused on reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies, which Obama is keen to see happen before the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10 and 11.Cuba has insisted it first be removed from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terror.

The two sides also have to iron out a number of other issues, such as compensation for American property nationalized after the Cuban Revolution, freedom of movement for diplomats and the embargo the United States has imposed on Cuba since 1962, which Obama would need the blessing of the Republican-controlled Congress to lift.

US telecommunications delegation in Havana

us-mobile-providersHAVANA, 28 Mar.  (AP)   A delegation of U.S. telecommunication officials is in Havana to meet with their Cuban counterparts as part of talks to restore full diplomatic relations between the countries.

A Cuban government statement says Daniel Sepulveda, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy, will leave Cuba on Thursday. He has been accompanied by officials from the U.S. State Department, the Federal Communications Commission and Commerce Department.

Wednesday’s statement says that “the Cuban side offered the U.S. visitors information about the country’s information and cybersecurity policy.”
The statement also says the two sides discussed new regulations in Washington for implementing modifications to the U.S. trade embargo with respect to communications. The U.S. and Cuba are in the middle of talks aimed at restoring diplomatic relations and reopening embassies.

Une délégation de télécommunications américaine à La Havane

LA HAVANE, 26 Mar. (AFP) Une haute délégation américaine effectue jusqu’à jeudi une mission à Cuba pour définir les contours de la future collaboration entre les deux pays en matière de télécommunications et d’internet, a rapporté mercredi soir le ministère cubain des Communications.

Menée par Daniel Sepulveda, secrétaire général adjoint du bureau des affaires économiques du DépartemDanielSepulvedav15x7_200_1ent d’état américain, cette délégation a rencontré des hauts responsables cubains qui leur ont notamment exposé “la politique d’informatisation et de +cyberrsécurité+” de Cuba, a indiqué le ministère dans un communiqué lu sur l’antenne de la télévision d’Etat.

Avec le vice-ministre des Communications Jorge Luis Perdomo, cette délégation a “échangé sur la portée des nouvelles règlementations décidées par le gouvernement des Etats-Unis” en la matière, dans le cadre d’une série d’assouplissements des restrictions de l’embargo économique contre l’île, en vigueur depuis 1962.

Prises dans la foulée de l’annonce historique du rapprochement entre les deux pays mi-décembre, ces mesures autorisent désormais les entreprises de télécommunications américaines à offrir leurs services sur le territoire cubain.
Les autorités américaines ont indiqué que cet assouplissement des exportations vers l’île concernait notamment internet, que ce soit au niveau des infrastructures, des logiciels ou des terminaux grand public, alors que l’embargo reste toujours en place.

En février dernier, la compagnie américaine de télécommunications IDT Domestic Telecom et le monopole d’Etat cubain Etecsa ont ainsi conclu un accord pour l’établissement de connexions téléphoniques directes entre les deux pays.
Interrompues à plusieurs reprises depuis l’arrivée au pouvoir des castristes en 1959, les lignes directes étaient coupées depuis 1999 et les appels entre les deux territoires s’opéraient depuis via d’autres pays.

En février également, le site américain de vidéo en ligne Netflix a ouvert son service à Cuba, malgré le faible nombre de Cubains connectés à internet chez eux (seulement 3,4% des foyers équipés sur l’île, selon l’Union internationale des télécommunications).
A Cuba l’accès à internet reste strictement règlementé et contrôlé. Seules certaines catégories professionnelles sont autorisées à être connectées à domicile, alors que les tarifs des salles publiques de navigation demeurent prohibitifs pour la majeure partie de la population.

Arrivée mardi sur l’île, la délégation américaine doit quitter La Havane jeudi après avoir rencontré des responsables de plusieurs ministères et de la compagnie Etecsa, ainsi que des universitaires cubains.

US lifts sanctions on Cuba-linked shippers

 havana-live-ship-harbour-havanaHAVANA, 26, Mar. – Sanctions have been removed on nearly five dozen shipping companies, trading firms and individuals that had been blacklisted for links to Cuba.

The sweeping delisting came as Washington and Havana progress in negotiations to restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility. Most of the companies removed from the U.S. Treasury sanctions list were based in Panama.
Also included were several ships registered elsewhere, and two firms in Florida. The U.S. Treasury gave no details on why the companies had been on its sanctions list, but according to the Cuba-based news agency Prensa Latina, they are Cuban-controlled or have links to Cuba.

Last week Washington and Havana wrapped up a third round of talks on normalizing relations, which were focused on the path towards reestablishing formal relations and reopening embassies. President Barack Obama is keen for the two countries to reopen embassies ahead of the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 10-11.

But the communist island has insisted it first be removed from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terror. The two sides remain at odds on several other thorny issues, such as compensation for American property nationalized after the Cuban Revolution and freedom of movement for diplomats.
And lifting the trade and financial embargo the United States slapped on Cuba in 1962 would require approval from Congress — a difficult political battle with both houses currently under Republican control.

The two sides are next due to meet in late March, when they will address the delicate issue of human rights for the first time.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

Radio and TV Martí facing uncertain future

havana-live-radio-martiHAVANA – MIAMI, 25 Mar.— The rat-a-tat Cuban-inflected Spanish of the two Radio Martí hosts ricocheted back and forth during “Revoltillo,” a show laced with humor that airs classified ads posted in Cuba on a Craigslist-style website called Revolico.

Recorded here but aimed at an audience in Cuba, where Internet access is severely limited and the local news media is tightly controlled, the show presents news unfiltered by Cuban censors and snippets of life on the island, like examples of the recently unleashed zeal for private enterprise.
So one of the hosts, as part of an effort to bolster Cuba’s fledgling independent businesses, recently promoted “Hilda in Havana,” who is offering desserts and decorations for events and restaurants.

But three decades after becoming a Cold War staple — regularly criticized for anti-Castro, one-dimensional slant and advocacy — Radio and TV Martí are at a crossroads, scrambling to stay relevant as the relationship between Cuba and the United States inches toward a thaw.

At their headquarters in Miami, the Martís try to keep pace with changing technology and habits on the island, greater competition and the longstanding concerns of federal watchdogs.
For instance, down the hall from the broadcasting studio, employees burned DVDs with news and features, 15,000 of which are distributed monthly in Cuba and circulated through flash drives as an end run around Cuba’s knack for jamming Martí television and radio signals.

Often reported by journalists in Cuba, the coverage includes stories about housing travails, the latest small-business ventures (public bathrooms in private homes, 25 cents for a quick stop, 50 cents for longer visits), dissident detentions, how to find the rare Wi-Fi hot spots. The biggest challenge, as always, remains being seen and heard in Cuba, where Radio and TV Martí are illegal and mostly blocked.
But no less problematic is the need to entice Cubans with better programming, particularly at a time when there is more competition — Cubans now obtain flash drives that are loaded with television shows and movies from satellite dishes and sold on the black market.

“The decision about what to do should not be based on diplomatic relations but on the lack of a free flow of information into Cuba — and that has not changed,” said Carlos A. García-Pérez, the director of the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which is part of an independent federal agency that oversees Radio and TV Martí.
“Our work is even more important now.” No one disputes the success of the Martís in one respect: angering the Castro brothers, who have long viewed the transmissions as violations of international norms.

In January, President Raúl Castro called for an end to the Martís as a condition for normalizing relations with the United States. “The one thing that has kept it alive with policy makers is the absolute antagonism of the Cuban regime for this broadcasting venture,” said Helle C. Dale, who has studied the Martís for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

But the Martís, with a budget of $27 million, have critics that include former American diplomats in Cuba. Opponents have long considered them taxpayer-funded relics controlled by Cuban exiles that too often slide into propaganda, which has damaged their credibility in the past.
The Cuban American National Foundation, a once-monolithic lobbying group of Cuban exiles, helped persuade the Reagan administration to establish Radio Martí in 1983. It started broadcasting in 1985, and TV Martí began in 1990. The foundation’s influence over the Martís remains strong, experts said.

Through the years, reports by congressional staff members and federal agencies, like the Inspector General for the State Department, have delivered stinging assessments; the most recent report came last summer. They have accused the Martís of “a lack of balance, fairness and objectivity,” of cronyism, malfeasance and, most recently, low employee morale.
A frequent source of displeasure was the millions spent until recently on an aerostat balloon and a plane to try to transmit TV signals to Cuba. The project was a failure. havana-live-radio-marti

“There have only been costs, and zero benefits,” said John S. Nichols, a specialist in international communications at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the Martís. “And it became a flash point that caused some serious problems in the U.S.-Cuba relationship.” In Congress, where the Martís have champions and detractors, Representative Betty McCollum, Democrat of Minnesota, reintroduced legislation this year to eliminate them.

While Obama administration officials support the Martís, they are eager to cut the Office of Cuba Broadcasting loose from the federal mantle. In its budget for next year, the administration proposed consolidating the Office of Cuba Broadcasting and Voice of America’s Spanish-language programs, turning them into a nonprofit. The organization would be funded by federal grants, with federal oversight, but would not be part of the government.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which gained prominence during the Soviet era and served as the model for the Martís, has long operated this way, as a “grantee.” Supporters said the change would make the Martís more flexible. But Cuban-American lawmakers in Congress say the shift would weaken the government’s commitment to the broadcasts.
“Its mission must remain true to its principles from when it was founded by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 and to its aim at promoting freedom and democracy,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican. Still, there is little danger that the Martís will lose funding altogether.

“It is more important now than ever, especially as you get to this openness stage,” said Michael P. Meehan, a Democrat who until recently served as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the federal agency that oversees the Martís. At the Martí headquarters, Mr. García-Pérez, who took over in 2010, said he had focused on diversifying coverage of Cuba and ramping up a Martí website.
Most important, he said, is that the Martís are bringing more Cubans into the conversation through video, articles, texts, blogs and social media.

Last year, Martí’s website drew 3.9 million visits, almost half from outside the United States. Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story Another goal was to lift journalistic standards, he said, particularly an attempt to offer more diverse views of Cuban life and United States foreign policy.

Reporters now call the Cuban government to get its response for certain stories. There are still slips. In a 2012 Martí editorial, Mr. García-Pérez, speaking for the American government, called the cardinal in Cuba, Jaime Ortega, a “government lackey.” Mr. García-Pérez said he did not regret the word choice, which drew sharp criticism from some members of Congress.
The Martís also have expanded their cadre of journalists in Cuba who file videos and articles, with their names made public at great risk. Some of those interviewed by the reporters are also identified, a sign of diminishing fear.

Citizens can post their own blogs and news items through features like “Reporta Cuba,” which often spreads news of detentions. And Piramideo, a separate social network created by the Martís, allows Cubans to use cellphones or email accounts to gain access to a site that circumvents government restrictions. From there, they can send messages to hundreds of Cubans in Cuba about nearly anything.
How many people can receive or choose to pay attention to the Martís is unclear. Satellite dishes have made the Martís more available to Cubans, Mr. García-Pérez said.

Past surveys have indicated that the overall audience is tiny — as low as 2 percent of the island’s population, although measuring audience size in Cuba is nearly impossible. Mr. García-Pérez said he knows that Cubans look and listen because they send email, text and call in to the programs and reporters. In Miami, where gothic power struggles among exiles over the Martís still play out, there is some skepticism about the rush into digital communications at the expense of broadcast radio.

Radio can evade jams more readily, and it is the most effective way to reach Cubans. Too much emphasis on digital media may doom the Martís, some say, because the vast majority of Cubans lack Internet access at home.
“In Cuba, there are no new platforms because in Cuba there is practically no Internet; that is not the way to penetrate,” said Roberto Rodríguez Tejera, director of Radio Martí during the Clinton administration.
“It’s not the present; it’s not even the near future.

Cuba et Bruxelles vont accélérer le rythme de leurs discussions

havana-live-afp-mogheriniLa HAVANE, 25 mars (Reuters) – L’Union européenne et Cuba ont décidé d’accélérer le rythme de leurs discussions visant à améliorer leurs relations bilatérales et espèrent aboutir pour la fin 2015, a déclaré mardi la chef de la diplomatie européenne, Federica Mogherini.

L’UE et Cuba ont commencé à renégocier leur accord politique bilatéral en avril 2014 dans le cadre de l’amélioration des relations entre les Vingt-huit et l’île communiste après la levée des sanctions diplomatiques en 2008.
Mais trois réunions seulement ont eu lieu en 11 mois. C’est pourquoi les deux parties veulent accélérer le rythme, a déclaré la Haute Représentante de l’Union européenne pour les affaires étrangères et la politique de sécurité, à l’issue d’une réunion avec le président cubain Raul Castro et d’autres responsables cubains.

“Nous avons décidé aujourd’hui d’accélérer le rythme de nos négociations, dans l’espoir de parvenir à finaliser le cadre de notre dialogue et d’un accord d’ici la fin de l’année”, a déclaré à la presse Federica Mogherini. En dehors des réunions au calendrier officiel, les deux parties auront l’occasion de se rencontrer plusieurs fois cette année.
Le 22 avril, le ministre cubain des Affaires étrangères Bruno Rodriguez doit rendre visite à la Haute représentante à Bruxelles. Les deux chefs de la diplomatie se verront aussi au Sommet des Amériques prévu les 10 et11 avril au Panama, auquel Cuba et l’UE sont invités pour la première fois.

Enfin, les responsables cubains assisteront à un sommet des chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement de l’EU et d’Amérique latine qui doit se tenir à Bruxelles en juin. Plusieurs facteurs expliquent le retard pris dans les négociations et notamment le souhait des Etats-Unis et de Cuba, annoncé en décembre, de renouer leurs relations diplomatiques.
De fait, les Etats-Unis et Cuba ont réussi à organiser rapidement des réunions de haut niveau à La Havane et à Washington, tandis que des discussions entre l’UE et Cuba étaient reportées par deux fois.

Russia, Cuba prepare large-scale joint projects in energy, civil aviation

 havana-live-power-plantRussian Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia and Cuba will prepare large-scale projects in the energy, transportation and civil infrastructure sectors, as well as in the areas of biotechnology, pharmaceutics, healthcare and civil aviation.

HAVANA, 25 Mar.  (Sputnik) — Russia and Cuba are preparing large-scale joint projects in energy and civil aviation sectors, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday after meeting with Cuba’s President of the State Council Raul Castro and his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

“In line with instructions given by the heads of our states, our government agencies will most certainly prepare rather large, serious, and promising projects in the energy, transportation and civil infrastructure sectors, as well as in the areas of biotechnology, pharmaceutics, healthcare and civil aviation,” Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister is on a one-day visit to Cuba as part of his current Latin American tour, which also includes Nicaragua, Columbia and Guatemala.
Russian authorities previously announced that Russia and Cuba, together with the United Arab Emirates, were discussing the possibility of jointly creating a major international transport hub in the Caribbean country.

The hub would be built on the grounds of a former military base, and help boost other infrastructure projects in the region, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Latin American department, Alexander Schetinin, said earlier in March.
Russia and Cuba are also considering the launch of a “very serious” program to modernize Cuba’s power plants, according to the Russian official.

Washington lève des sanctions contre des entreprises commerçant avec Cuba

 havana-live-cuba-flagLA HAVANE, 25 Mar. (AFP) Le département américain du Trésor a levé mardi ses sanctions contre une soixantaine d’entreprises et d’individus commerçant avec Cuba, à l’heure d’un rapprochement diplomatique entre les Etats-Unis et  Cuba.

La plus grande partie de ces entreprises sont installées hors de Cuba, notamment à Panama, où opèrent des navires battant pavillon de complaisance, notamment chypriote, selon la liste publiée par le Trésor.
Elles opèrent entre autres dans les secteurs du tourisme, de l’agriculture et de la pêche. Cette liste a été publié par l’OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) chargé de sanctionner les entreprises faisant commerce avec des pays placés sous embargo américain.

Cuba est placé sous embargo total par les Etats-Unis depuis 1962. Traditionnellement, les entreprises américaines ne sont pas autorisées à entrer en affaires avec les individus et entités sanctionnées par le Trésor.
Cette annonce intervient en plein réchauffement diplomatique américano-cubain. Des diplomates des deux pays se sont rencontrés pour une troisième réunion il y a une dizaine de jours à La Havane et ont convenu à cette occasion de “maintenir leur communication à l’avenir”, selon un communiqué du ministère cubain des Affaires étrangères.

Cette troisième réunion faisait suite à deux sessions de pourparlers tenues en janvier à La Havane et en février à Washington, dans la foulée de l’annonce historique le 17 décembre du rapprochement entre Cuba et les Etats-Unis.
Le président américain Barack Obama souhaite la réouverture d’ambassades dans les deux capitales avant le Sommet des Amériques à Panama les 10 et 11 avril.

Cuba experiences boom in tourism before US corporations diminish authenticity

havana-live-starbucks-logo-670x503Havana, 24 Mars. – Bookings to Cuba jumped 57 percent for one New York tour operator in the weeks after Washington said it would renew ties with Havana.

In February, they were up 187 percent; and so far this month, nearly 250 percent. The boom is just one sign that the rush is on to see Cuba now — before, as many predict, McDonald’s claims a spot in Old Havana and Starbucks moves in on Cubita, the island’s premium coffee brand.

The sense that detente will unleash an invasion of Yankee tourists and change the unique character of one of the world’s last remaining bastions of communism is shared by many travelers flocking here.
“Cuba has a very authentic atmosphere which you see nowhere else in the world,” Gay Ben Aharon of Israel said while walking through Revolution Square. “I wanted to see it before the American world … but also the modern Western world comes here.”

Outsiders may romanticize the “time-capsule” nation, but many on the island are ready for change. Where foreigners see charming, historic architecture, bright 1950s-era American cars and vast stretches of white-sand beaches, locals see decaying buildings in need of repair, new vehicles priced beyond their reach and a lack of economic opportunity.

For many Cubans living in dilapidated, multigenerational tenements, change could be good. It may expand access to the Internet and the outside world, creating engagement that could bring brighter economic days and, practically speaking, make it easier to fix a leaky roof.

“We’re very excited,” said Yadiel Carmenate, a 26-year-old English major at the University of Matanzas who moonlights as a tour guide. It’s unlikely Cuba will see major changes overnight.
Talks to take the first steps toward normalized relations are just beginning and there is stiff opposition in the U.S. Congress to lifting the 53-year-old embargo that bars most trade with and travel to the island.

Dozens of Cuban companies are off a U.S. blacklist

havana-live-la_habana_de_noche_desde_el_mar_1_copia_0HAVANA, 24 Mar. Dozens of Cuban companies are no longer blacklisted by the United States.

The Treasury Department has announced Tuesday that, in an effort to improve diplomatic relations with the communist island nation, dozens of Cuban companies have been removed from a U.S. blacklist that demarcates supporters of terror as well as narcotics traffickers.

According an Associated Press article, several of the firms that will now be free to engage in open commerce with the U.S. are connected to Cuba’s tourism industry. Some of the Cuban companies include cruise lines and tour operators.
Several of the companies are located in Panama. Two of them are actually located in the United States, and some sail with the Greek Cypriots flag. As reported in the Associated Press article, companies and individuals on the department’s “specially designated nationals” list are banned from doing any business in the United States.

Once the Cuban government is removed from a separate terrorism list, the U.S. and Cuba will likely start negotiations over re-establishing embassies in each other’s respective capitals. President Obama has ordered a restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, which have been severed since 1961.

In January, Obama asked Congress to begin to lift the embargo against Cuba during the State of the Union address. As reported by ABC News, Obama said: “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.
When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.” “Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.
And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo,” stated the president.

The Havana Club

1019900535Federica Mogherini arrived right after US Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson has left Cuba. The world leaders seek to improve relations with Cuba after a half a century break. Why are they all trying so hard? 

HAVANA, 23 Mar. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini will visit Cuban capital Havana on 23 and 24 March. This is the first visit of a European Union High Representative to Cuba and comes at a crucial time for the negotiations between the EU and Cuba.
“Cuba is facing a very interesting period and the European Union is keen to see how we can take the relationship forward with strong momentum.

The EU has been closely following the developments in Cuba and its relations with key international players, which create new dynamics in the region and in Cuba itself, and provide new opportunities for all” said Mogherini upon announcement of her visit.
During her visit, Mogherini will have institutional meetings, including with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, and other Cuban government interlocutors.
She will also meet the Archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Ortega, and representatives of civil society, the European Commission said Monday.

Lavrov to visit Havana on Tuesday

 havana-live-lavrovHAVANA, 23., Mar. (Sputnik) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to meet his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla during the former’s visit to the Caribbean island on Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “The visit will take place ahead of May 8 which will mark 55 years since diplomatic ties between our countries were reestablished,” the ministry’s statement said.
The two countries are preparing for the next session of an intergovernmental commission on economic and technological cooperation to be held in the Russian city of Kazan next month. Russia and Cuba are currently developing projects in energy production, biotechnology, civil aviation and space exploration, among other things, the foreign ministry added.

Cuba, Russia and the United Arab Emirates are also currently discussing the possibility of creating a major international airport in Cuba. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s press release also called on the United States to lift the trade embargo on Cuba first imposed in the 1960s. “Russia welcomes the beginning of the process of normalizing the Cuba-United States relations.

The steps that the United States and Cuba have taken, aimed at normalizing the bilateral dialogue, serve the interests of both countries and the international security in general,” the ministry’s statements read.
Last week, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the warming relations between Cuba and the United States did not affect Russia’s strategic partnership with the Caribbean nation.

Meanwhile, EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini will visit the Cuban capital of Havana March 23–24 to discuss EU-Cuba cooperation. Mogherini is the first EU top diplomat to visit Cuba after nearly a year of talks between the two sides. Cuba and the EU opened negotiations on a Political Dialogue and Cooperation agreement in April 2014.

How Obama outmaneuvered hardliners and cut a Cuba deal

havana-live-Obama speaks at George Tech about efforts to make college more affordableHAVANA, 23 Mar. (Reuters) – The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.
As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada.

Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents. Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.
Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.
“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser. Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy. Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga.

As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.
He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said. The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said. Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too.

Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment. The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back. “Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross. The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.
His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold. The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended. Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.
“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said. Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa. By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state.

The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation. With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.
That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral. But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal. Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.
And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people. Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster.
From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin. Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.” Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez. Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro. “What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?'” a congressional aide said. The deal was finalized in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together. Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners. Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said. Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. “We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

Charter flights brace for change as scheduled service to Cuba nears

 havana-live-view-havana-planeHAVANA, 22 Mar.For years, Vivian Mannerud has had an unusual message for young employees interested in working for her Cuba travel company, Airline Brokers Co. “I say go back to college.

There is no future in this business,” said Mannerud, CEO of the Hialeah-based agency. “Don’t think of this as a career because this could end tomorrow.” At the moment, Mannerud’s business — arranging trips to Cuba for VIP travelers and booking traditional passengers on flights with charter flight operators — is bustling since President Barack Obama announced a plan to normalize diplomatic relations and ease travel restrictions in December.

Tourism is still prohibited; Americans born outside Cuba who want to travel there individually are required to declare that they fit into one of 12 approved categories, such as scholarly research or people-to-people programs. Still, agencies that organize legal trips say demand has skyrocketed since January, when rules changed to allow travelers to visit on a general rather than specific license.

That boom may be short-lived for the eight companies, most Miami-based, that until now have been the only U.S. agents for booking flights to the island. In the not-too-distant future, the airways likely will include competition from carriers like American and JetBlue.
In preparation, some traditional suppliers are seeking to beef up other parts of their business, while others are looking at potential partnerships with major airlines or exploring destinations beyond Cuba.

No matter what, most experts agree the companies that have made Cuba travel their bread and butter will have to change course. “They’ll disappear. There will be no need for charters,” predicted attorney Peter Quinter, chair of the customs and international trade law group at GrayRobinson in Miami. “It’ll be a while before that happens.”

Quinter said his best guess is that a final agreement could be reached by the end of 2015 with service starting the following year. Before that scenario becomes reality, officials with the U.S. and Cuba must hammer out a bilateral agreement that will determine the amount of air service that both sides are prepared to allow.
Experts anticipate scheduled service would be eased in. “You wouldn’t suddenly get a situation where the floodgates would open and any airline could fly from the U.S. to Cuba and vice versa,” said John Grant, executive vice president for data and market intelligence at OAG, a provider of data and analysis to the aviation industry.

“I think it would be a controlled expansion of services between the two markets.” He said that other government agencies such as the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security would also need to make sure international airports in Cuba conformed to the appropriate standards, as would be required for any new destination.  havana-live-view-havana-planeSince Cuba already has service from Canada, Europe and other Caribbean destinations, Grant said he believes all those standards are likely met. “As to where the Cuba-U.S. air service agreement is at this moment in time, I have no idea because I can’t get into the White House,” Grant said. 

The work has started, but it’s far from over. A U.S. Department of Transportation spokesperson said the two countries held talks on civil aviation in Washington, D.C. on March 2 and 3 to “explore opportunities to expand our civil aviation relationship as the two countries move toward normalizing diplomatic relations.”

“The government-to-government discussions covered economic, safety, and security issues related to civil aviation,” the spokesperson said. “The next steps are still to be determined.”
Grant said he expects that airlines are already weighing in to let governments know the amount of service they want to offer and what kind of agreement they hope to see.

If a final agreement called for a limited number of flights, the two countries would have to decide which airlines would be allowed to fly. Some aviation experts have questioned why governments and airlines would rush to establish scheduled service when Cuba’s infrastructure is struggling to keep up with demand.

The island saw more than 3 million visitors in 2014, mostly Canadian tourists. But there are only about 63,000 rooms to accommodate visitors at hotels, motels, hostels and serviced apartments, according to statistics from Cuba. “In terms of it being ready for prime time, Cuba is 10 years away at best,” said Michael Boyd, president of aviation consultancy Boyd Group International in Evergreen, Colo.

Boyd said several factors make Cuba a likely dud for scheduled air service: the lack of business travel to Cuba, rules that still prohibit tourism for Americans, constraints on Cubans traveling outside the country and a weak economy on the island.
“There is no potential for regularly scheduled air service,” Boyd predicted. “You’ll fly empty. The problem is there’s no demand.” Still, major airlines, some of which already lease aircraft to charter companies for Cuba flights, have expressed their interest in operating their own service to the island.

United Airlines said in January that it plans to serve Cuba from hubs in Newark and Houston once it receives government approval. American Airlines and its regional carrier Envoy will offer almost 1,200 charter flights to Cuba this year through partnerships with charter companies, a spokeswoman said. compania-eeuu-reanuda-vuelos-cayo-hueso-la-habanaWith its large Miami hub and enormous presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, the airline is monitoring changes to the Cuba travel policy “and will follow the laws and policies of the U.S. government, and the host governments of the countries we serve,” according to spokeswoman Martha Pantín.

“When legally allowed to do so, we will offer our customers scheduled service to Havana and other destinations in Cuba,” Pantín said.

JetBlue, which operated 173 flights to Havana and Santa Clara last year through charter partnerships, also hopes to operate scheduled service when possible. “While we’re not selling our flights to the customer, we have customers coming back and forth to Cuba every week on JetBlue airplanes,” said Dave Clark, the airline’s vice president of network planning.

“They’re getting the whole JetBlue experience.” The airline has publicly said it is interested in serving Cuba once legally allowed.
“We believe there is demand for regular service, especially for JetBlue since we are the largest carrier to the Caribbean with focus cities in New York and Florida where there is a significant Cuban population,” spokesman Doug McGraw said in an email.

“It continues to be difficult for U.S. airlines to gauge specific demand levels since there is no scheduled service today and government regulations limit travel, but we anticipate that demand would ramp up over time as flights become available.”

With the existing agreement dormant for more than 50 years, only non-scheduled flights — or charters — have been allowed to operate, and just a handful of companies have provided the service. Many have operations in Miami, including Marazul Charters, ABC Charters, Xael Charters, Gulfstream Air Charter, Island Travel & Tours and Havana Air.

Mannerud’s company also operated charter flights until a couple years ago when her office was firebombed and Cuba suspended landing rights for the business in 2012. Grant, of OAG, said the emergence of scheduled service will disrupt that corner of the travel industry. “The customer will have a choice and the market price will be dictated by the price of the service,” he said.

“The one thing the charter carriers will have at their advantage, for at least an initial period of time, is that they will have developed relationships with the traveling communities and the groups of travel organizations who are flying from the U.S. to Cuba.
They’ll have a working relationship — but that’s not to say JetBlue and American can’t replicate that pretty quickly.” Some charter companies are refocusing their efforts.

Bill Hauf, president of Island Travel & Tours with offices in Tampa and Miami, said the company is now flying to Freeport in the Bahamas and plans to start offering flights to South America in mid-April. “We are diversifying,” he said.
The operator will also keep working with niche markets such as university groups that want to travel to Cuba as well as specialty tours. For now, Island Travel & Tours operates six roundtrip flights a week from Miami to Havana with plans to start service from Baltimore in June and another U.S. city later.

“We’re trying to do some different things and fly from different locations,” Hauf said. Havana Air Co. added a flight from Key West to its schedule earlier this month; president and chief operating officer Mark Elias said the company has seen a “substantial” increase in passengers for services that include 14 flights a week on a Boeing 737-400 to three Cuban cities.

The company uses a Havana Air-branded aircraft operated by Las Vegas-based Vision Airlines. In an email, Elias said Havana Air will continue to use wide-body aircraft and is open to reaching interline agreements with major carriers in the future and possibly adding more destinations with the potential of those agreements.

“We will continue to run our operation as we do today, and as charter companies around the world do alongside of scheduled service,” Elias wrote.
Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, said he expects charter flights to still be needed once scheduled service begins. “Even with regularly scheduled flights, which we’re looking forward to, there will still be a need for groups that want their own schedule,” he said. “And then it could supplement the regularly scheduled flights during high season.”

But the company, which has operations in Miami and New Jersey, is also making plans for all of its divisions, which include charter flights as well as sending people to Cuba as part of legally allowed programs.
“We have big discussions on how we’re going to rebrand ourselves within this new world of Cuba travel reflecting our strengths and history and contacts that we have so that we can provide the best programs as possible compared to anyone in the country for people-to-people groups, academic groups, professional research, events,” Guild said.

“And that’s where we see our niche.” As for Mannerud, she said her VIP customers will still want her to arrange for travel on private planes. She expects to continue to book day-to-day customers on other operators, and might eventually make it possible for people to book flights through her web page.

Mannerud said she has been approached by three major carriers to be their booking agent once scheduled service is allowed to make sure they are in compliance with current rules on who can travel.
But she sees the real future potential not in the air but at sea: She recently applied for a ferry permit with an eye toward the cargo potential. She said she expects other companies in her line of work to also be thinking about their next steps.

“I think that any charter company that is doing the day-to-day charters and is not prepared has done so out of ignorance, because everybody knew this day was coming,” she said. “Sooner or later, this day was coming.”REY cuba-picturesPhoto:Rey-Cuba-pictures

Most U.S. travelers fly to Cuba on charter air carriers, but aviation industry data and analysis provider OAG breaks down the data on alternate routes: 18,021 passengers traveled between the U.S. and Cuba via points outside the country in 2014.

77 percent of those travelers started or ended their trip in Miami, followed by much smaller numbers in John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and others To get to Cuba, 53 percent of passengers went through Nassau on Bahamasair, followed by 24 percent through Grand Cayman on Cayman Airways.

Other entry points included Tocumen International Airport in Panama, Toronto Pearson International Airport and airports in Mexico City and Cancun.

There were 7.2 million airline seats to and from Cuba in 2014 globally, a 6 percent increase compared to 2013. Scheduled seat capacity grew by 14 percent in 2013 and 26 percent in 2012. Last year, one in three seats was heading to or from Canada, a market that grew by 253 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Cuba Travel Services:
Gulfstream Air Charter:
Havana Air Co.:
Island Travel & Tours:
Marazul Charters:
Wilson International Services:
Xael Charters:

The World Food Program donates millions to Cuba

wfp_logo_darkHAVANA, 22 Mar. The World Food Program (WFP) of UN donated to Cuba $ 16.4 million to improve the nutrition of nearly a million people on the island.

The agreement between WFP and the Cuban government was signed on Wednesday in Havana by Laura Melo, representative of the UN agency in Cuba, and the Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (MINCEX), Ileana Nuñez. Dubbed “Country Programme”, the WFP project is aimed at promoting food and nutrition security of vulnerable groups in Cuba.

More than 908,000 Cubans, including pregnant women, infants, children under five, farmers and adults over 65 years will be favored with the implementation of this program which will run for four years in five, Pinar del Río eastern provinces Matanzas.
The deputy minister said MINCEX WFP assistance “consolidate the social feeding programs in kindergartens, schools, boarding schools, institutions caring for the elderly and Systems Family Support and the production of beans and preventing risks of drought and hurricanes” (Marti Noticias)

Has D.R. wary about losing U.S. tourists to next-door neighbor Cuba

DR Cuba BeachAmerican tourists at the Casa de Campo resort in La Romana, 70 miles east of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

HAVANA, 21 Mar. Both have miles of white sand beaches surrounded by crystal-clear blue seas and are gently rocked by calming Caribbean breezes.

One, however, has been a major vacation destination for tourists from the United States for decades, while the other has been closed to anyone holding an American passport for over 50 years and is just starting to open up to U.S. travelers.
As the U.S. moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba – a change that has many adventurous Americans salivating at the opportunity to travel to the so-called pearl of the Antilles – hotel owners and tourism officials on the nearby Dominican Republic are warily watching the events to see how it will affect the travel industry in their country.

“We are closely monitoring the process,” Simón Suárez, the president of the Dominican Hotel and Restaurant Association told Fox News Latino.
“We can already see that there will be an effect on the Dominican Republic because of the demand by Americans who want to go to Cuba.” With the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana creeping forward, U.S. citizens actually freely traveling to Cuba for vacation purposes may be a long way away, but that doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t trying to get down there.

We run head to head in the sun and sand departments with Cuba…But the Cuban charm that is something we have to compete with.
– Simón Suárez, the president of the Dominican Hotel and Restaurant Association

When became the first major booking site to offer flights to Cuba (albeit with some caveats) the company received 10,000 search requests for flights to Cuba in the first two hours they were offered., another search site, also saw a spike in interest in Cuba immediately after Obama announced an easing of travel and trade restrictions, with the island jumping to fourth on the list of most searched Caribbean destinations, behind Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

Michael Zuccato, of California-based Cuba Travel Services, told Fortune Magazine recently that he expects his business to increase 50 percent to 200 percent over the next several years and Michael Sykes, founder of Cuba Cultural Travel, has already made moves to sure up around 10,000 rooms in anticipation of increased visits from the U.S.

While there may not be an easy route yet for Americans to get to Havana, some U.S. citizens could get there by using one of the 12 legal reasons – including visiting family, professional research, attending educational or religious activities or participating in performances, exhibitions or competitions – and then enjoy some R&R on the side. “There’s an ongoing and growing interest in Cuba,” said Emily Fisher, the head of North American Communications for, to Fox News Latino earlier this month.

“The people who are interested in going are interested in getting a snapshot of Cuba before it changes.” This idea of Cuba – the beat-up 1950s Chevrolets, crumbling post-colonial architecture and anti-imperialist propaganda – poses a bigger threat to the Dominican tourism industry trying to attract U.S. visitors than its neighbor’s beaches and weather.
For decades, U.S. travelers have been denied these iconic, Cold War-era relics and now many want to see them for themselves before outside investment turns the island into a more traditional tourist destination like the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the slew of other islands dotting the Caribbean basin.

“We run head to head in the sun and sand departments with Cuba,” Suárez said. “But the Cuban charm that is something we have to compete with.” Cuban charm – or Cuban decay, depending on who you ask – may be a major attraction to some American travelers, but Dominican hoteliers and travel businesses are betting that in the long run their well-founded tourism sector, value and easy access to a number of major U.S. metropolitan areas will win out over the exoticism that Cuba offers.

Dominican destinations like Punta Cana, La Romana and Samana – home to some of the country’s most well-known all-inclusive resorts – all offer the modern amenities and luxuries lacking in many parts of Cuba. Even with the opening up of Cuban to foreign investors from countries like Spain and Russia – and soon possibly the U.S. – experts in the Dominican Republic say it will take years for Cuba to catch up with their country in terms of these luxury amenities.

“The Dominican Republic today has better suited infrastructure for the U.S. market, particularly related to five-star resorts,” Alex Zozaya, the CEO of Apple Leisure Group, the largest U.S. tour operator in the Caribbean.
“It will take a few years for Cuba to catch up with the infrastructure, but it will happen as the opportunity is there.” Still, Zozaya admitted that “Cuba has all the ingredients to be a great destination for Americans as it has been for years for the European, Canadian and Latin American market.”

The opening of Cuba to U.S. tourists – whenever that happens – is certainly on the minds of the Dominican tourism sector, but until that actually occurs most local travel experts seem secure in their country’s place as the leader of tourism in the Caribbean. Cuba in 2014, with only the U.S. restricting travel to the island, saw 3 million foreigners visit the island, while the Dominican Republic recorded more than 5 million visitors, which helped the $61 billion country’s economy expand 7.1 percent last year — compared to Cuba’s 0.8 economic expansion.

“We are not concerned that there is something in Cuba that we cannot compete with, either in the short term or in the long term,” Suárez said. “The Dominican Republic exceeds Cuba’s performance in almost every aspect of the market.”

Buena Vista Social Club announced final tour in US

havana-live-buenavista HAVANA, 21 Mar. The final North American tour for Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club has been announced.

The Adios Tour will be the final run of concerts for the band that includes some of the original contributors to the 1998 landmark Grammy Award winning self-titled album.
The tour comes in support of a new album, Lost and Found, set for release March 23 via World Circuit Records, and distributed in North America by Nonesuch Records.Lost and Found includes previously unreleased tracks, several of which were recorded by Ry Cooder during the original 1996 sessions at Egrem studio in Havana.

Live recordings are among the other previously unreleased tracks, including a live version of “Bruca Manigua,” featuring Ibrahim Ferrer on vocals, The performance, which leads off the album, was taped in Paris in 2000, watch it below.

“Over the years we were often asked what unreleased material was left in the vaults,” said World Circuit Records’ Nick Gold. “We knew of some gems, favorites amongst the musicians, but we were always too busy working on the next project to go back and see what else we had. When we eventually found the time, we were astonished at how much wonderful music there was.”

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club Adios Tour
8/12 — Highland Park,IL @ Ravinia Festival Pavilion
8/15 — Saratoga, CA @ Mountain Winery
8/16 — Rohnert Park, CA @ Green Music Center
8/19 — Los Angeles, CA @ Hollywood Bowl
8/20 — San Diego, CA @ Humphreys Concert by the Bay
8/22 — Denver, CO @ Denver Botanic Gardens
8/24 — Salt Lake City, UT @ Red Butte Garden Amphitheatre
8/27 — Grand Rapids, MI @ Meijer Gardens
8/29 — Vienna, VA @ Filene Center at Wolf Trap
8/30 — Kennet Square, PA @ Longwood Gardens
9/27 — Toronto, ON @ Koerner Hall
9/29 — Calgary, AB @ Jack Singer Concert Hall
10/1 — Vancouver, BC @ Chan Centre for the Performing Arts
10/2 — Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre
10/4 — Portland, OR @ Schnitzer Hall
10/7 — Davis, CA @ Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
10/9 — Berkeley, CA @ Zellerbach Auditorium
10/11 — Costa Mesa, CA @ Segerstrom Center for the Arts
10/13 — Santa Barbara, CA @ The Granada
10/15 — Mesa, AZ @ Ikeda Theatre
10/17 — San Antonio, TX @ Laurie Auditorium
10/18 — Austin, TX @ Long Center for the Performing Arts}
10/22 — Miami, FL @ Knight Concert Hall
10/24 — Atlanta, GA @ Rialto Center for the Arts
10/26 — Durham, NC @ Durham Performing Arts Center
10/29 — Northampton, MA @ Calvin Theater
10/30 — Kingston, NY @ Ulster Performing Arts Center
11/1 — Boston, MA @ Symphony Hall
11/3 — New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
11/4 — New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
11/7 — San Juan, PR @ Roberto Clemente Coliseum

Cuban rum under pressure amid embargo lift

havana-live-havana_clubHAVANA, March 19 With business relations between Cuba and the U.S. improving after decades, Cuba’s signature Havana Club rum is one potential export, but there’s a catch.

Bacardi holds the Havana Club trademark in the U.S. Cuba’s Havana Club rum is one of the island’s major exports. It’s a joint venture between a state owned Cuban rum company and a French multinational: Pernod Ricard.
According to the company, Havana Club is the world’s number three rum brand with annual sales of 4 million cases a year. Before the Cuban revolution, Bacardi was the island’s major rum maker, but its business was expropriated and the family left after Fidel Castro came to power.

The legal battles continue, but the Cuban connection to the company has now registered another name in the United States. Havana Club will sell as Havanista rum once the trade embargo between the US and Cuba is lifted.

Economist Maricruz MaGowan discusses Havana Rum controversy
CCTV America interviewed Vice President of the National Economists Club, Maricruz MaGowan, on pending intellectual property issues between Havana Club Rum and Puerto Rico based Bacardi Rum.

Cruise ship company launches Cuba itinerary

havana-live-cuba-cruiseHavana,19 Mar. The Canadia Cuba-Cruise Company, which organizes trips to the island, announced on Tuesday a new itinerary for the 2015-2016 season with a two-day stay in Havana.

Starting December 18 and up to March 21, 2016, the trips to Cuba will also include a stop-overs at the Maria la Gorda beach in western Pinar del Rio province, in south-central Cienfuegos province and in eastern Santiago de Cuba, according to the announcement.
As attractions to admire during those stop-overs, the company referred to heritage sites in Cienfuegos and Trinidad cities, scuba-diving in Pinar del Rio all accompanied with Cuban traditions, PL news agency reported.

Cruise line leaders have sights on Cuba

havana-live-port-miam Cuba-Cruise president Dugald Wells said that since they launched their entity in 2013 their clients have had outstanding experience on the island and that now they expect another exciting and successful season with visits to new destinations.

Cruise line leaders have sights on Cuba Cruise lines are looking to send their ships to Cuba as soon as general tourism is allowed, executives said Tuesday at the industry’s biggest annual convention in Miami Beach, Fla.
Travel to Cuba has been loosened under new U.S. regulations, but it remains limited to 12 approved categories, such as educational and religious activities, family visits and to participate in humanitarian projects among other qualified activities.

Advocates hope the new rules will lead to a lifting of the nation’s trade embargo against the Communist island. Leaders of the top cruise lines, participating in a panel moderated by CNN international business correspondent Richard Quest, all said they see Cuba as a future cruise destination.

Question asked: Are cruise operators really prepared for when the island opens up legally? “Once the rules allow us to go legally, once the embargo is lifted, which is the main restriction … yes, we’re ready,” said Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., parent company of cruise lines Norwegian, Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

“And I would bet that all of us in this town are ready to move at a drop of a hat.” Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp. & PLC, which has nine cruise brands including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Seabourn, said, “Certainly we have plans, and when the embargo is lifted, we’ll be there.”

Street dogs find homes in venerable Cuban institutions

920x920 (1)HAVANA,19 Mar.  (AP)  Old Havana’s Museum of Metalwork is home to soaring colonial archways, floors of gleaming artworks and five of the world’s luckiest street dogs.

In the heat of the day, Vladimir, Canela, Aparicio, Leon and Carinoso sprawl in the grand entrance of the centuries-old stone building. At night, the animals patrol the streets with local police or sleep under the museum’s grand stairway.
Each wears a collar with a tattered card bearing its name, photo and the words “I live in the Museum of Metalwork.” More than a dozen state institutions ranging from Cuba’s Central Bank to a public toilet have taken street dogs under their wings in recent years, assigning them official IDs and housing and granting them year-round medical care and protection from the city dogcatcher, animal protection officials say. havana-live-street-dogs“I don’t like dogs but I’ve really developed a soft spot in my heart for them,” said Yarisbel Perez, a guard at a historic building overlooking Old Havana’s Plaza Vieja, where two sets of guards share custody of P9 and Nina, the former named after a city bus line. Despite the trappings of state protection, the roughly two dozen former street dogs enjoy, at most, a quasi-official status, conveyed by the frequently thin pretext that they are working security.

  havana-live-street-dogsCuban law banning animals from workplaces contains an exemption for guard dogs and this legal cover for the ex-strays was bolstered when a dog at a government office in eastern Havana awakened a guard one night by barking when she heard trying to remove air conditioners from the windows, said Nora Garcia, president of the Cuban Association for the Protection of Plants and Animals.

  havana-live-street-dogs“There was a public ceremony in which the dog received an award for saving the air conditioners,” Garcia told The Associated Press. The adoption of street dogs by some of Havana’s most illustrious institutions is driven mostly, however, by the guards’ love of animals and their desire for company on long shifts in a city with little crime.

  havana-live-street-dogsDogs in Old Havana benefit from the presence of dozens of state restaurants that donate leftovers to the animals, some of which have grown nearly obese. The dogs with Perez enjoyed an enormous dinner of half-eaten pork chops and leftover chicken and rice served on grease-soaked paper plates from a nearby restaurant.

“They don’t eat bones,” said Victoria Pacheco, a guard in the metalwork museum. “They eat cold cuts, mincemeat, hotdogs and liver.” The animal protection society maintains a list of 21 dogs living in state institutions, including a Communist Party gas station, offices of the Cuban Journalists’ Union and a mechanical workshop of the Ministry of Public Health.
“They stay here and nothing happens to them,” said Dalia Garcia, the caretaker of a public bathroom in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood that’s home to two former street dogs. “Everyone takes care of them, no one hits them.920x920They don’t bark and they don’t bite anyone.” Other dogs haven’t been so lucky, including a group snatched by the dogcatcher from Havana’s University of Arts while their student protectors were home on vacation, Garcia said. “They’re official for us but the state doesn’t always look so kindly on them,” she said.

“When they come and say there can’t be any dogs here, they have to go.” Similarly sad fates await street dogs who aren’t chosen for special treatment by state workers, including some of the dogs who wander, matted and skinny, through groups of quasi-official dogs on the streets of Old Havana. “Sometimes we feel bad and we give them something to eat,” Perez said.
“But if we start taking care of all of them, it would get to be a zoo around here.”
Photo: Ramon Espinosa, AP___