Monthly Archives: April 2015

Cuba and UK sign 400 million dollar accords (update)

cuba-reino-unidoHAVANA Apr 30  The signing of accords calculated at some 400 million dollars was a major result of a Cuba-UK business forum held in Havana since Tuesday in an effort to identify areas of mutual commercial interest.
The announcement was made by Lord John Hutton, co-president of the Cuba Initiative, a British-Cuban project promoting bilateral exchange.
Hutton said that the accords signed included the construction of a new gulf court, investment in agriculture and other projects in the area of energy.
The British official described the forum as successful and that they are satisfied, though there is still much to be done. The large number of business persons with the British mission in Havana confirms their interest in coming to Cuba, Hutton added. (ACN)

Unseen Cuba stunning aerial views

havana-live-unseen-cubaHAVANA, April 30  (Raul Reyes)  Photographer Marius Jovaisa has seen Cuba like no one else. After spending five years on his latest project, he has released his large-format book, “Unseen Cuba.” Jovaisa is the first and only photographer granted access by the Cuban government to take aerial pictures of the communist island, from the valleys of Pinar del Río in the west to the ancient city of Baracoa in the east. In the forward to “Unseen Cuba,” he calls it a look at Cuba “through the eyes of the angels.”

Jovaisa, 44, is a publisher, photographer, and entrepreneur who grew up in Lithuania. He is the author of several photo books, including “Unseen Lithuania” (2008), “Heavenly Belize” (2010), and “Magic Cancun and Riviera Maya” (2011).  havana-live-unseen-cuba  A picture of Valle de los Indígenos, one of Cuba’s most prominent centers of sugar production during the 18th and 19th centuries, one of the photographs in the book “Unseen Cuba,” by Marius Jovaisa.

“After my other books, I was looking to expand my horizons further and engage in something bigger than before,” he said. “As an artist, you want to reach higher and higher, to discover something hasn’t been done before.”

Despite Jovaisa’s enthusiasm, his project proved daunting. Doing business in Cuba was immensely challenging; it was two years before he was allowed to take a single flight over the island. “It was so difficult, so complicated,” he explained. “I was financing this entire project by myself. I visited various ministries, foundations, had so many meetings. I had many long meetings and then nothing would happen. Things that would take an hour in other countries took weeks in Cuba.”

Unseen-Cuba-Marius-Jovaisa_CYMIMA20150123_0006_7Jovaisa, who works independently, says it was “daunting” to get permission from the Cuban government to shoot his pictures. But he says he wanted to show the world “something that no one has seen.”

They were probably waiting for me to give up or go home,” Jovaisa said of his long struggle with the Cuban bureaucracy. “But they saw that I was very persistent. I spent a lot of time practicing patience because otherwise I would have gone crazy.” In pursuit of his goal of photographing Cuba from the air, Jovaisa made over 30 trips to the country, learned Spanish, and did countless presentations for officials.

Meanwhile, Jovaisa was told that no project could be started in Cuba with the knowledge of the highest authorities. “Wherever I went,” he writes in “Unseen Cuba,” “everybody seemed to be waiting for permission from a mysterious higher power.” havana-live-unseen-cuba A view of the colonial city of Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998.

Once Jovaisa received permission to begin his work, it came with restrictions. All major cities, at first, were off limits. While Jovaisa had previously used hot-air balloons, helicopters, or local pilots to fly while he took pictures, none of these options were available in Cuba. So he had to find an ultra-light flying device that would be acceptable to Cuban airspace controllers. “Civil aviation in Cuba is strict,” Jovaisa notes, “because there is no civil air space. Everything is controlled by the military.”

As it turned out, there were no Cuban pilots trained in the low-level flying that Jovaisa’s photography required, so he recruited a pilot from Lithuania. Importing the custom-made aircraft he planned to use from Australia proved problematic because the device was not allowed to pass through the United States on its way to Cuba. Ultimately, the Ministry of Culture helped Jovaisa win permission to begin flying and shooting photographs. He later obtained permission to take pictures of major cities, including Havana.  havana-live-unseen-cuba View overlooking the Yucatan Strait, Roncali lighthouse was built in 1850 on Cabo de San Antonio.

Even then, Jovaisa’s work was still complicated by red tape. He was required to file daily, detailed flight plans with various government officials. Once, he was interrogated after being reported as a foreign spy. “I learned not to despair,” Jovaisa said. “I had a lot of down time, waiting for approvals, so I went running, I did triathlon training, I went swimming in the sea. My children came to visit me sometimes.”

Though he has traveled to all corners of Cuba, Jovaisa’s favorite places include Baracoa and the former Spanish colonial settlement of Trinidad. He also enjoyed the natural beauty of Viñyales, which has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Center.

At a recent book signing at Miami’s historic Freedom Tower, Jovaisa reported that he received a positive response from the Cuban-American community. “So many people came to my signing who had a personal connection to Cuba,” he said. “I was afraid that my book might be seen as some sort of advertisement for Castro, but people were very welcoming, very encouraging. People pointed to pictures in my book and told me that this was where they grew up, or spent their childhood. I heard so many emotional stories, and people thanked me for my work and investment.”  havana-live-unseen-cuba Known as the Athens of Cuba, Matanzas is also the birthplace of Cuban rhythms like danzón and rumba.

Any profits from the sale of his book, Jovaisa pointed out, do not go to supporting the Cuban government.
So far, the photographs from “Unseen Cuba” have not been exhibited in Cuba. “With an average salary of $26 a month, most people there cannot buy it,” Jovaisa said. “The logistics in Cuba are so terrible that just organizing an exhibition in Havana would take ages.” Still, he hopes that someday more Cubans will be able to see the views of their country that he has.  havana-live-unseen-cuba Unspoiled cays off the northeastern shores of Cayo Santa Maria.

With “Unseen Cuba,” Jovaisa feels that he has accomplished his artistic goals. “I wanted to show the world something that no one has seen,” he said. “And I was longing to complete this book, because Cuba is so evocative. As a country, everyone knows it, yet it is still secretive and mysterious and amazing. It ignited my imagination, and I hope my photographs reflect that.”http://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/unseen-cuba-photographers-stunning-aerial-views-island-n349276

 

Cuban and American musicians team up to recreate incredible moment in music history

 havana-live-.Arturo_OFarrillHAVANA, April 30  (By Roque Planas)  As diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Cuban governments thawed this winter, pianist and composer Arturo O’Farrill was in Havana recording an album with some Cuban colleagues.
“I saw people break out into tears of joy,” O’Farrill told The Huffington Post. “And I think that moment made its way on to the tracks.” The New York-raised son of legendary Cuban bandleader Chico O’Farrill has long looked to the island for inspiration. He first visited in 2002 at the invitation of Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés to play the Jazz Plaza Festival in Havana.

He has returned in recent years to develop a project that symbolizes the long-awaited relaxing of Cold War hostilities that have defined the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba for half a century. For his forthcoming album, “Cuba: The Conversation Continues,” O’Farrill teamed up with a group of six Cuban musicians to reimagine the 1940s encounter between U.S. jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie and Cuban percussionist Chano Pozo.
The greats recorded classics like “Manteca” that fused Afro-Cuban rhythms with the emerging bebop style. Many view those collaborations as a pioneering step toward the creation of the now well-defined genre of Latin jazz.

For O’Farrill, the fusion between Afro-Cuban music and the American jazz tradition is one that has helped define both his personal and professional lives. “It’s based on a project that’s been cooking in my mind forever,” O’Farrill told The HuffPost. “You see, Diz and Chano understood the African roots of our music are universal…

They realized that they were playing the same music, but that it came from different places.’” The new work will debut on Friday in New York’s Symphony Space venue.
O’Farrill’s Afro Latin Orchestra will be joined by three musicians traveling from the island — trumpeter Yasek Manzano, pianist Alexis Bosch and Juan de la Cruz Antomarchi, a.k.a. “Cotó,” who plays a traditional double-stringed guitar called the “tres.” U.S. composers Michele Rosewoman and two of the bandleader’s sons, composer Zack O’Farrill and trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, will also make appearances.

O’Farrill says he hopes his musical collaborations with artists on the island will help encourage elected officials and policymakers working to mend the fractures U.S.-Cuba relationship. “There’s a lot of suffering and poverty [in Cuba],” O’Farrill said.
“But I gotta tell you that there’s a lot of brilliant joy and beauty. I don’t know how they do that. So I said, this is something we’ve got to keep studying, keep working on.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/29/arturo-ofarrill-cuba_n_7165536.html

British company’s want to invest in Cuba

 havana-live-cuba-initiativeeHAVANA ,April 29   (HT- by Pilar Montes)  Over 30 British businessmen don’t want to be left behind by other Europeans who have visited Cuba in recent weeks, including from Spain, Hungary and the Netherlands, to see for themselves the trade and investment opportunities offered by the Cuban government.

Cuba Initiative, a Cuban-British project created in 1995 with the support of the Chambers of Commerce of Cuba and London, prepared the business seminar at the Hotel Cohiba. The delegation was the largest and most representative of its kind in a decade, noted UK ambassador Tim Cole.

Among the fields of interest for the business executives are the potential in the sectors of energy, mining, tourism, biotechnology, agriculture, and transportation.

The three-day seminar concludes on Thursday with bilateral appointments and a visit the Mariel Special Development Zone, where 25 of the 246 foreign investment projects offered by the Cuban government are found.

The plenary session on Tuesday was led by the President of the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba, Orlando Hernandez, who welcomed the entrepreneurs and highlighted the historical moment of greater rapprochement and growth in bilateral relations.

The presidents of the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba and London, Orlando Hernandez and Colin Stanbridge, respectively, signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation between the two entities. Present for the signing were the co-chairs of Cuba Initiative, Lord Hutton of Furness and Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca,

The program included presentations on the Foreign Investment Law and the projects open to foreign capital, as well as the steps for doing business in Cuba by officials of the Cuban Chamber.

The visitors listened to an assessment of the performance of the Cuban economy in 2014 and the prospects for 2015 and beyond, by Dr. Juan Triana Cordoví, and also a conference on the taxation system and financial situation by Dr. Everleny Perez.

According to figures provided at the meeting, Cuba conducts 27 percent of its foreign trade with Europe. The UK is fifth after Spain, Holland, Italy and France.

U.S. lawmakers seek to bar new travel to Cuba

630x355HAVANA, April 29  Republican Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart introduced a bill to Congress on Tuesday that would block new flights and cruise ship travel to Cuba, according to AP.

The proposal, which comes just months after President Obama introduced eased restrictions on travel to the Caribbean destination, has been attached to a critical transportation spending bill that will be reviewed by the House of Representatives in May.

Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American representing Florida’s 25th district, said allowing flights and cruises to Cuba would violate law:

“The expansion of regularly scheduled flights to Cuba is an obvious attempt to circumvent the tourism ban,” said Diaz-Balart in a statement via the AP. “Similarly, allowing cruises to dock in Cuba would violate both the spirit and the letter of U.S. law. Increased travel to Cuba directly funds the individuals and institutions that oppress the Cuban people.”

Diaz-Balart urged his colleagues to support his provision, stating that “Congress cannot look away as the president implements policies that channel dollars to an anti-American dictatorship.”

While Diaz-Balart is likely to gain support among House Republicans, the proposal is a controversial one nonetheless.

Late last year, the Obama administration announced plans to ease restrictions on travel to Cuba, unveiling a new policy in January. While the policy didn’t lift the U.S.’s half-century embargo on the island nation, it has made travel to Cuba far less burdensome.

American travelers no longer need a special license from the government and can get clearance so long as they qualify for any one of a dozen different categories, including family visits, journalistic activity and humanitarian projects.

In addition to having to pass through the Appropriations Committee and the House, the bill would have to get past President Obama, who could squash it with a veto.
http://www.travelpulse.com/news/destinations/house-republicans-propose-bill-to-prevent-tourist-travel-to-cuba.html
(Photo by David Cogswell)

Historical Heat Wave Records Registered in Cuba

 havana-live-heat-waveHavana, April 29   Temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius have been reported for several days in Cuba, with several absolute maximum heat peaks, today said Dr. Jose Rubiera, head of the Center for Weather Forecasts Institute.

The sharp rise of temperatures in the Caribbean country is due to the predominance of clear skies, favoring intense solar radiation, and the presence of a flow of weak southern winds, the specialist said.
Last Sunday went to weather statistics as one of the hottest days of the last five decades in Cuba, breaking three absolute maximum temperature records, and reporting values above 35 degrees Celsius in 23 meteorological stations, Prensa Latina News Agency reported.

The new heat records were registered in the city of Holguin and the town of Velasco, located in the namesake eastern province, where thermometers hit 38.7 degrees, only one tenth of the national heat record of 38.8 degrees, established in 1999. This could be the second highest value reported in Cuba officially.

In the Casablanca station in Havana, there were maximum temperatures of 37.0, the highest measured in Cuba’s capital since 1909,  which left behind the previous 36.3-record of October 2009.

According to Masters in Sciences Armando Caymares and specialist Yiganis Cedeño of the Center for Weather Forecasts Institute, other remarkable peaks occurred in Guaro, Mayari, with 38.0; La Jíquima, 37.8; and Sagua la Grande, 37.0 (records for the month of April).

According to experts, the intense heat experienced this month does not mean a prelude to what will happen in July and August, when summer is at its peak, because the behavior of the weather depends on the specific weather conditions affecting each period.

Fidel Castro ‘betrayed’ Che Guevara, ‘abandoned’ him in Bolivia, Cuban journalist says

fidel-castro_che-guevaraHAVANA, April 29 (EFE) “No contact with Manila,” Ernesto “Che” Guevara wrote several times in his diary as he marched to his death in Bolivia and, behind the phrase, is Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s betrayal and abandonment of the legendary guerrilla fighter, Cuban journalist Alberto Müller said.

“Manila” was the codeword for Cuba, Müller told Efe in an interview ahead of the presentation at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair of his book “Che Guevara. Valgo más vivo que muerto,” or “Che Guevara: Valued more alive than dead.”

The title comes from a phrase attributed to Che when he was found in the Bolivian village of La Higuera and contrasts the guerrilla’s desire to live with Castro’s order to avoid being captured alive, highlighting the “great differences” existing in 1967 between the two revolutionaries, Müller said.

Müller said there was a guerrilla unit in Havana ready to deploy and rescue Guevara, but “Fidel never authorized the mission,” abandoning the guerrilla leader to his fate.

Che was shot dead on Oct. 9, 1967, in La Higuera.

“He died in a pitiful manner. Without medications for his asthma, without boots and only rags wrapped around his feet, without water, without food and without allies,” Müller said.

To understand why Castro withdrew his support from Guevara, the author takes the reader back to what he considers a turning point in the relationship between them, the 1965 Afro-Asian Conference in Algiers.

Guevara’s address to the assembly meant “a break up with the Soviet Union that harmed Che’s relationship with Fidel,” the author said.

Guevara criticized Moscow, accusing the USSR, without mentioning it by name, of being “accomplices of U.S. imperialist exploitation,” just when the Cuban leader was about to conclude agreements on military cooperation with the Kremlin.

The estrangement between Guevara and Castro increased over time, and deepened when the Cuban leader, without consulting the Argentine-born guerrilla, decided to withdraw Cuban fighters from the Congo, leading to the mission in Bolivia that Müller describes as an “induced suicide.”

“Why Bolivia?” Müller would ask Castro if he were to interview him.

“Che’s posture ran against Fidel’s interests,” the author said. “Che became a pest, an inconvenience for the Cuban Revolution, a pebble in the shoe.”

Müller said several historians and Che biographers that helped in his research agreed with him that “Guevara wanted to go to Argentina, his homeland, to liberate it, and in Havana they invented the Bolivia campaign for him.”

The author said he found out that two years before Guevara’s final mission, Castro had acknowledged that Bolivia “didn’t have conditions for a guerrilla movement” and the peasants there did not need a revolution because agrarian reform in the 1950s had given them ownership of the land.

Even so, the Cuban leader sent Guevara to Bolivia and months later cut off the link with supporters in La Paz, increasing the guerrillas’ isolation and worsening their situation.

“I think Che must have died being very aware of his betrayal,” Müller said.

 

White House is expected to take steps to return Guantánamo

 havana-live-Guantanamo...HAVANA, April 29  Former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega says he thinks the United States will renew diplomatic relations with Cuba soon and that the president will take steps to end the lease on the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay before the end of his term.

But that doesn’t mean he agrees with President Barack Obama’s new policy of engagement with Cuba. “I sincerely pray that President Obama is right in this risky venture. I don’t think he is,” said Noriega, now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

During a panel Tuesday on the new Cuba policy at the University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy’s 10th Latin America Conference, attitudes ranged from Noriega’s doubtful support for engagement to outright condemnation.

The new policy announced Dec. 17 by Cuba and the United States includes renewing diplomatic relations and opening respective embassies. The embargo remains in effect but the United States has allowed more Americans to travel to the island and has proposed a limited commercial and financial opening to Cuba.

“Engagement and activity are the only way to have a semblance of influence in the future of Cuba,” said South Florida executive Carlos Saladrigas, chairman of the Cuban Study Group. “Openness continues to be and has always been the best antidote to totalitarianism that has ever existed. Isolation is absolutely the wrong prescription.”

However, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart introduced legislation Tuesday to undercut the new Cuba travel policy. A provision attached to a transportation spending bill would block regularly scheduled flights and potential cruise ship travel to Cuba.

José Azel, a senior research associate at UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, said the idea that economic engagement can lead to political change in Cuba is “demonstrably false.” The impact of the White House’s new Cuba policy, he said, will be “fundamentally nothing.”

While proponents of the new policy say that supporting Cuba’s fledgling private sector by allowing U.S. trade with cuentapropistas, Cuba’s self-employed, will make them less dependent on the Cuban government and perhaps more likely to demand change, Azel disagreed, saying, “Now they have something to lose.”

The new policy, said Saladrigas, “unleashes a revolution of expectations.” Now, he said, if the Cuban government doesn’t deliver, the Cuban people will be looking at their own officials rather than Washington to blame. Far from offering concessions to Havana, the new policy “challenges the Cuban government,” Saladrigas said.

Dan Restrepo, who served as senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National Security Council from 2009 to 2012, said now the challenge is how to use the instability created by departure from the status quo — more than half a century of isolationist policy — to create real opportunity for the the Cuban people and the Cuban diaspora.

However, Noriega said Obama is so intent to renew relations and open embassies that “he will agree to anything,” so he expects Cuba and the United States will reach an agreement on embassies soon. He also said he expected steps would be taken to end the Guantánamo lease before the end of the president’s term.
But under the Helms-Burton Act, the United States can only enter into negotiations to return Guantánamo or to renegotiate the current lease with a a democratically elected government in Cuba.
The White House has said the prison at Guantánamo should be shut down, but not the naval base.
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article19831533.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

HAVANA: How much opportunity ?

havana-live-Manzana-de-Gómez-en-restauraciónHAVANA, April 28   In the midst of historic old Havana, the Manzana de Gomez bestrides an entire city block. The 105-year-old landmark was one of the first shopping malls in Cuba, a five-story, European-style shopping arcade with two pedestrian avenues intersecting within.

Like so many other once-elegant buildings around the Cuban capital, it decayed to a husk, its façade embroidered with broken windows and peeling paint. Today, however, the building is surrounded by scaffolding. Construction crews, working on behalf of a joint venture between the Cuban government and Bouygues Batiment International, a French contractor, are restoring the historic mall and remaking it as a luxury hotel.
Kempinski Hotels, a Swiss chain, has signed on to operate the hotel, which is expected to open next year.

By world standards, the Hotel Manzana is not a huge project, but it’s significant within Cuba, which is trying to evolve a new approach from within a single-party, socialist government that has for decades maintained a tight grip on the country’s economy.

To some – those who want to see the U.S. end the nearly 60-year-old trade embargo – it is also a symbol of the type of opportunities that American investors and businesses are currently missing. “There are a lot of American interests that could be accomplished with Cuba,” a representative of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations – “Minrex,” for short – told me over an informal lunch in Havana. “It’s not just about politics. It’s about business.”

Cuba’s interest in American money is obvious. The small communist country is in desperate need of foreign capital as it tries to modernize a creaky economy and rebuild decaying infrastructure across the island. But investors from countries who already trade there say Cuba is making progress.

A few miles away from the Manzana de Gomez, in a part of Havana filled with embassies and old mansions, a large pocket of vacant land sits between a tall hotel run by a Spanish company and Cuba’s national aquarium; the Russian embassy – an imposing and featureless tower built by the former Soviet Union – looms behind it. There is a solitary palm tree and a wide, unobstructed view of the Straits of Florida.

Dundee Corp., a Canadian developer, plans to build a hotel on the land, which it bills as the last significant piece of oceanfront property in Havana’s Miramar district. Guy Chartier, a Dundee executive, told me by phone that the “Monte Barreto Hotel,” a 50/50 joint venture with the Cuban government, will include 716 all-suite rooms and be built to match the hurricane-hardened building code in Florida.

Dundee hopes to break ground by the end of this year and complete construction in about 32 months. Chartier told me they plan to flag the hotel with a Western brand.

“We’re presently negotiating with European operators because Americans today cannot do it,” he said.
http://www.floridatrend.com/article/18434/cuba-how-much-opportunity

5 challenges to doing business in Cuba

-1x-1 (1)HAVANA,  April 28  (By Michael Muckian) The emergence of cooperatives in Cuba and President Obama’sreestablishment of relations with the country has attracted the attention of U.S. cooperatives and credit unions. About the size of California and home to 11.3 million people, the Caribbean island nation could become the next great success for the global cooperative movement.

But establishing a credit union beachhead in Cuba won’t be as easy as it may seem, according to Dr. Sandra Torres, an international management consultant, assistant professor at the Miami Dade College School of Business and former auto programs manager at the $550 million Tropical Financial Credit Union in Pembroke Pines, Fla.

Lack of a private sector, the virtual absence of Internet connectivity and knowledge that a totalitarian regime, however relaxed, is still looking over everyone’s shoulder should give would-be business developers pause. What’s more, since control of financial services still rests squarely in the hands of government authorities, the development of credit unions – either homegrown or as part of U.S. outreach efforts – will be a long, slow process.

Torres, the New York City-born daughter of a Cuban national who emigrated to the U.S. in 1942, outlined five distinct hurdles credit unions and other financial institutions could face trying to do business in Cuba.

1. There are one too many Cuban currencies.
havana-live-cuba-pesosFirst and foremost, Cuba needs to stabilize its currency situation, Torres said. U.S. visitors to Cuba exchange their American dollars upon arrival for Cuban convertible pesos, known locally as “chavito” or CUCs, Torres said. The exchange rate is generally one-to-one, so visitors know exactly what they are getting.

Cuban residents are paid in regular Cuban pesos, which currently have an exchange rate of 26.5 to one. Whereas, one Cuban CUC is worth one American dollar, one Cuban peso currently is worth 3.77 American cents.

The average Cuban’s monthly salary is 471 pesos, or about $20. By comparison, the average minimum wage throughout U.S. federal and state prison systems is $0.93 per day, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Prison Policy Initiative. Based on a 40-hour workweek, Cubans make 7 cents per day more than U.S. prisoners.

But while pesos do have an international exchange rate, CUCs do not and the Cuban government will not exchange what visitors don’t spend for American dollars. Leave Cuba with a pocketful of unspent CUCs, Torres said, and you could wind up with some expensive souvenir paper.

“Cuba needs currency reform and then salary reform,” Torres said. “You can’t set up a financial institution in a country with a dual currency going on.”

2. Cooperatives are not a new concept in Cuba, but credit cards are.
Credit_Card_Logo
The Cuban government has learned to balance its own books over the past decade by offloading business enterprises onto the workers who operate them, turning them intoworker-owned cooperatives that then pay taxes back to the government. The agricultural sector has paved the way, but service industries also have led to the formation of cooperatives.

The cooperatives operate as private enterprises and even have their own bank accounts. The workers make deposits that earn interest and even take out small loans. But that’s where the financial sophistication ends, Torres said.

“Cubans do not have credit cards,” said Torres, who has traveled to Cuba a dozen or more times in her life to visit family members and bring them goods from the U.S. “They also have to learn about the concept of credit and that loans have to be paid back. That’s not part of their cultural understanding.”

3. Debit cards do exist, but there’s need for greater financial sophistication. Many Cubans, especially those who are retired, are paid using a targeta magnetica– literally a “magnetic card” – that operates like a debit card and allows Cubans to pay for goods and services with a familiar card swipe.

But that’s where the 21st century ends for Cuban financial services, Torres said. Existing financial institutions do not issue monthly statements to depositors, who must go to the teller window with their savings passbook to get their account information manually updated.  Some employers do issue paper checks, but much of the funds transaction is done through magnetic cards.

“For most Cubans, everything is done with the state and the amounts in question are really very small,” Torres said. “There is going to be a lot of consumer education that needs to go on.”

4. Most Cubans don’t understand the demands of a business culture.
havana-live-corporate-culture1
After a half-century of communist rule, most Cubans operate at much the same income levels and personal ethos. Physicians, like laborers, often take the bus to work and very few can afford to own any of the fabled classic American cars for which the island nation has become known, Torres said.

“You buy a 1955 Buick with a rebuilt Russian diesel engine, but very few Cubans can afford to pay the 200,000 pesos that they cost,” Torres said.

With little disposable income and a lack of earning opportunities, many Cubans pay little attention to absenteeism and being late for work. With the exception of foreign hotels that cater to tourists, there is little concern for customer service and literally no opportunity to return shoddy merchandise for a refund.

“The very people whom credit unions might want to attract don’t understand business concepts as we know them,” Torres said. “Employees working for foreign entities may be up to it, but that’s a small minority.”

People will have be trained not only in how credit unions do business, but in how business is done in general if credit unions want to succeed, she added.

5. Then there are the regulations and bureaucracy.bur
Any country with a centralized economy often has a top-heavy bureaucracy that makes getting things done difficult at best, and Cuba is no different, Torres said. In operational terms, that means that no one is willing to make a decision and everyone is going to have to ask his or her superior what can be done to address an issue.

In a centralized economy, regulations abound and in Cuba’s case credit unions may also face a crisis of misunderstanding and mistrust, if only because of the population’s unfamiliarity with financial cooperatives, Torres said.

“They’re likely to say, ‘Who are these people?’ when talking about the credit unions,” Torres said. “They will say, “My government is my government, but what do you mean I own this bank?’”

Coupled with the sheer challenges of teaching the population the ways and means of business culture, no enterprise is simply going to land in Havana and open its doors to a waiting public. There will be a lot of education necessary, Torres said.

“That’s not to say that credit unions don’t have an in because we are doing this for the people,” Torres said. “But no matter who you are, you will have to in some way deal with the Cuban government, because they’re still there.”

What Not to Do When You Visit Cuba

Cuba is a beautiful Caribbean country with culture, tradition and history, not to mention hand-rolled cigars, fiery rum and beautiful beaches. But there are things you must not do when you visit Cuba, according to Dr. Sandra Torres.

• Stay away from anyone who offers you anything on the street that you can’t buy in state-owned stores. This includes any form of contraband, as well as young women or young men for obvious reasons, Torres said.  In fact, just to be safe, don’t even buy any cigars or rum, she added.

• Do not exchange money with people on the street. The better rate they promise you usually isn’t better, Torres said, and you never want to show your money in public.

• Stay away from talking politics in all its forms. You might not like the reaction you get no matter what you say, and you never want to give anyone from the government any reason to pay special attention to you.

• Always travel with a guide. Cuba has beautiful mountains, beaches and jungles that are there to be enjoyed, but traveling with a guide, especially in a country with such low income levels, is simply safer, Torres said.

“In the end, a gringo does not need to go down there just to see the sights unless there is a purpose for your visit,” Torres added. “Don’t expect what you see in Puerto Rico.”

http://www.cutimes.com/2015/04/27/5-challenges-to-doing-business-in-cuba?page=5

Classic Cuban films to be restored

banner2_35mmfilmHAVANA, April 27 (Xinhua) — Luciano Castillo, director of Cuba’s Cinemateca, announced on Sunday that the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will help restore the negatives of two films from the outstanding Cuban filmmaker Tomas “Titon” Gutierrez Alea.

Castillo told local newspaper Rebel Youth that the two films, “A Cuban Fight Against Demons” (1971) and “The Survivors” (1979), will be re-released once the restoration work is completed, which is expected to be during the Havana Festival in December.

“Titon” Gutierrez Alea (1928-1996) directed works such as the well-known “Strawberry and Chocolate” (1993), the comedies “Guantanamera” (1995) and the “Death of a Bureaucrat” (1966), and the world-famous “Memories of Underdevelopment” (1968), among others.

Castillo also mentioned another restoration project.

“We held talks with the Department of Film at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). They have launched a great project which encompasses the age of classic cinema between 1932 and 1960 from Argentina, Mexico and Cuba,” said Castillo.

For Cuba, UCLA will help restore the negatives of five films, including the “Chaste of Oak” (1954) directed by Manuel Alonso and “Cuba Dances” (1960) directed by Julio Garcia Espinosa.

Espinosa’s film was the first production after the Cuban Revolution and a copy of the film on 35 mm tape disappeared.

“We are looking into working with France on “The Other Christopher” (1963) by Armand Gatti. This was the first Cuban-French co-production,” mentioned Castillo about other plans in the pipeline.

Several years ago, Cuba’s Cinemateca asked for international help to recover the archives that were lost or damaged in Cuba’s turbulent past. However, it was not possible to save all the important tapes.

 

Plattsburgh-Havana flights are coming soon

New York’s North Country travelers might be able to hop on a plane in Plattsburgh, N.Y., and get off in Havana, sometime soon, according to Garry Douglas, one of the region’s top economic development leaders. “It will happen,” Douglas said.

Douglas is co-chair of the North Country’s Regional Economic Development Council and heads the North Country Chamber of Commerce. He was one of several officials who joined Andrew Cuomo last week, when he became the first state governor to visit Cuba in years. “It matters to be first. Economic development, international relationships are always in part a race. We won that race,” Douglas said.

Douglas helped create the Plattsburgh International Airport. He represented the air travel industry on the trip, along with Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways. Douglas said flights to Cuba could become a reality because there’s a high demand in Montreal. He said the demand could spill over the border. “More than 600,000 people fly from Trudeau airport every year now to Cuba. That’s a huge number. It’s almost half of the total for all of Canada going to Cuba,” he said. “That makes it an instant success when — not if, but when — somebody first opens up Cuba service from Montreal’s United States airport.”

It is early. The U.S. embargo still forbids regular tourism to Cuba, and the Plattsburgh International Airport is a tiny facility. The airport cannot send planes to Cuba until it finishes an ongoing expansion project that is expected to wrap up by 2017.

Douglas said he met the Cuban Director of International Air Travel, who supported the idea of a Plattsburgh-Cuba service. Douglas said she used to live in Montreal and was familiar with Plattsburgh. “When we need a contact in Havana, at whatever point we need that to help facilitate air service between here and there, we have one,” he said.
http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/

Cuban leaders are prepared to show Pope Francis their ‘warmest hospitality’

 havana-live-pope-francisHAVANA, April 27 (BY ALBOR RUI)Z One thing is certain about Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba in September: He is going to be welcomed with open arms.

“He will receive the warmest hospitality of the Cuban people,” the island’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, said on Wednesday.

It couldn’t be any other way. After all, Francis played a pivotal role in creating the conditions for a new relationship between Cuba and the United States, after more than half a century of enmity and distrust.

His visit to the island before heading for the U.S will come at a time of unprecedented change and hope for the Cuban people and is sure to give a boost to the conversations between the two nations. As Rodríguez Parrilla said, Francis’ visit will be “memorable.”

“This Pope has worked to make reconciliation possible. The fact that he is going to Cuba before traveling to the U.S. is significant,” said Julio Ruiz, a Cuban-American geriatric psychiatrist and a proponent of a more rational U.S.-Cuba policy.

Francis will be the third pope to visit Cuba in less than 20 years, something that Ruiz, who defines himself as non-religious, says is “almost a miracle.”

In 1998 John Paul II became the first pontiff to travel to the island, and in 2012 Benedict XVI also made the journey.

“John Paul’s visit happened during a very difficult period and he gave us Catholics much hope,” said Romy Arangüiz, a Cuban-American doctor who lived in Cuba until 2002 and travels often to the island. “It brought many positive changes for the church.”

Yet, Arangüiz believes that Francis’ visit will be even more significant, not only because he is Latin-American and understands Cuba and the problems and aspirations of its people in a way that neither the Polish John Paul or the German Benedict were able to, but also because he is a different kind of leader for the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

“I admire him very much, he is much more humble than any other pope, he is closer to the poor and the powerless,” said Arangüiz, who says she wants to be in Cuba for Francis’ visit.

Sixteen years have gone by since the first papal visit to the island and Francisco will find a much different Cuba from the one John Paul said good-bye to with a ringing condemnation of the embargo.

Although the embargo is still in place, Havana and Washington are finally making strides toward normalizing relations.

“Francis will address Congress and it will be a great opportunity for him to advocate for the embargo to be lifted,” Ruiz said.

And if it happens, that would be a real miracle.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/cuba-ready-pope-francis-open-arms-article-1.2197882

Small worlds

 havana-live-sunsetHAVANA, April 27  (Travel weekly) A friend in the U.K. told me she’s seen a number of articles recently in London newspapers on the topic “Get to Cuba quick, before the Americans arrive.”

I told her it was too late. When I was there last month, four other American friends, none traveling together, were also in Cuba. I met one for dinner in Havana.

Between the rush of Canadians and Europeans who want to get there before Americans and the Americans who want to get there before other Americans, the destination is super-heated.

If the Brits are worried that Americans arriving in great numbers are going to have an impact, they’re right, but it’s also true that Havana has changed dramatically since I first visited 22 years ago, thanks to the arrival of great numbers of Europeans and Canadians in the interim.

It’s an old story, one that has resonated with travelers as long as there have been tourists: Get to a country (or a less-visited part of a country) before its character is tainted by other visitors. The sentiment far predates current trends focused on “authenticity.” Guidebooks more than a century old complain that visits to the Pyramids are aggravated by aggressive souvenir vendors.

But I’ve discovered that despite globalization shrinking our already small world, the concern is frequently misplaced.

Certain places I first visited decades ago — Ko Samui, Thailand; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; Bagan, Myanmar — are undoubtedly more heavily developed for tourism now. Although something has been lost, a first-time visitor today will still find plenty to marvel at. Wherever I’ve gone, no matter how fabulous the experience, I’m likely to meet someone who will tell me, in essence, “You should have been here 10 years ago.”

And I often enjoy seeing how places have changed during a second or third visit. It’s almost a bonus, as though I’m adding a new destination. Shanghai today is very different from when I first visited in 1984, but it is in some ways more thrilling today. The Maoist overlay on traditional Chinese culture 30 years ago was no more or less authentic than the current overlay of architectural modernity.

Based on my recent visit to Cuba, I don’t think there’s any reason for great concern that “authentic” Cuba will be overwhelmed by American influence anytime soon. Most people don’t realize what a large country Cuba is; it’s bigger than Austria or Switzerland and a third again larger than the Republic of Ireland.
Most visitors likely won’t stray far beyond the Havana city limits or the beaches of Varadero, so those who really want to explore Cuban culture will likely have plenty of time — and room –to spread out.

As for Havana, there are already double-decker city tour buses. Coaches unload visitors who stand four deep at the bar in the old Hemingway haunt, Floridita (“the cradle of the daiquiri”). Walking down the street, visitors will be approached several times by touts offering discount cigars.

Certain streets in Old Havana have been spiffed up for visitors, and Western brands such as Benetton and Paul & Shark have already opened stores.

But “authenticity” is never more than a few blocks away, and life under present economic challenges manifests in strange and newly authentic ways.

In a neglected part of Old Havana, I saw boys playing baseball in a creative variant connected to both poverty and space restraints. Each corner of the intersection was a base, the bat was a stick, and the “ball” was the twist-off cap from a soda bottle. The pitcher floated it to the batter, who got only one swing to connect (and struck out more often than not).

The theme of “small world” kept coming back to me. One morning, I found myself thinking about my mother’s approaching 85th birthday. She lives independently, and I wondered what her life would be like in a socialist society like Cuba.
Not long afterward, I heard live music coming from a building; the door was ajar, so I poked my head in. It appeared to be a community center for senior citizens, and a lively performance was underway, with the audience clapping along to some seriously good singers and dancers.

In the end, I believe music — more than old cars, more than daiquiris, more than socialism — is the enduring legacy of Cuba. It had made the strongest impact on me during my first visit, and it seems even more ubiquitous today.
During this recent visit, I noticed posters aimed at tourists that promoted tribute shows to the Buena Vista Social Club, a 1950s music hall whose memory was revived in the 1990s by a popular album of older Cuban musicians, and subsequently, a documentary film. But it isn’t necessary to visit one of those shows to be touched by Cuban music.

For me, the musical highlight on my recent trip occurred unexpectedly on a visit to Hemingway’s home, about 30 minutes by taxi outside Havana. When I had visited Cuba before, I bought a tape by Trio Matamoros, a band that had been hugely popular in Cuba from the late 1920s through the 1960s. I love that tape, and as I was leaving the Hemingway house, I heard a band near a souvenir shop whose singer sounded remarkably like lead singer Miguel Matamoros.

Pausides Suarez Macias has dedicated his career to ”rescuing” the music of the classic Cuban musicians Trio Matamoros – and his voice has an uncanny resemblance to band lead singer Miguel Matamoros. In this video, they had set up outside Ernest Hemingway’s home outside of Havana.

I went over to listen, and when the song was over, I spoke to the percussionist. It turned out the singer, Pausides Suarez Macias, was dedicated to “rescuing” the music of Trio Matamoros, and he had toured for years with Miguel’s daughter, Seve.

Again, small world.

 

Havana Motor Club – the fast & furious, Cuban style

 havana-live-havana-motor-clubHAVANA, April 26  Cuba is both paradise and purgatory for a car enthusiast. The streets are flush with mid-century automobiles, beautiful American cars that pre-date the embargo.

“Cubans are inventive,” says one of the drivers, which is the understatement ofHavana Motor Club. Cars and the things the owners do to their cars exemplify the Cuban experience. Parts arrive intermittently, and if something’s needed, often times, the only solution is to build, or alter.
No 3-D printers or CNC machines here, and no dyno machines to find the horsepower. Validation of craftsmanship comes in the form of illegal straight-line races on civilian streets.

The Kickstarter-funded documentary Havana Motor Club shows several drivers with different approaches to their machines. There’s Carlos, who drives a Porsche 944 (calling it “El Por-CHA”), The car is owned by Saul, a dual citizen from Miami who brings parts over from the United States.
As you’d expect that advantage draws ire from other enthusiasts who are forced to operate with in their country’s narrow parts availability. The car, however, is typically Cuban: it’s registered as a Mitsubishi, and the engine is a Chevrolet V-8.

There’s Rey, born into a lineage of mechanics, who has a 1955 Chevrolet. He works on the car with his dad, Tito, which, too, is an amalgamation of found parts. Piti is a cancer survivor, thanks to the Cuban healthcare system, and has a 1956 Ford he calls Bucephalus, after Alexander the Great’s horse.

The most bonkers assembly belongs to Jote, who has attempted to flee to Florida multiple times. He outfitted his 1951 Ford, the “Black Widow,” with a boat motor, recovered from the ocean floor. It was originally fitted to a vessel that was used to smuggle Cubans to Miami.

Racing existed in Cuba, but a crash during the 1958 Grand Prix that killed seven people, many spectators, hurt the sport’s reputation. Following the completion of the Cuban Revolution a year later, the new order classified auto racing as elitist and capitalist. The Fidel’s forces kidnapping a star driverdidn’t help, either.

FOR DECADES MOTORSPORTS HAVE REMAINED UNDERGROUND PURSUITS
So for decades motorsports have remained underground pursuits, with drivers risking their cars and facing jail time to speed in a straight line on public roads with their machines. There’s no attention paid to turning, only going from a standstill to the finish line, an approach reminiscent of the American muscle car era.

The most bonkers assembly belongs to Jote, who has attempted to flee to Florida multiple times. He outfitted his 1951 Ford, the “Black Widow,” with a boat motor, recovered from the ocean floor. It was originally fitted to a vessel that was used to smuggle Cubans to Miami.

Racing existed in Cuba, but a crash during the 1958 Grand Prix that killed seven people, many spectators, hurt the sport’s reputation. Following the completion of the Cuban Revolution a year later, the new order classified auto racing as elitist and capitalist. The Fidel’s forces kidnapping a star driver didn’t help, either.

Scenes of improvised garages, guys getting their hands covered in oil, welding, all of that is there. But as the movie builds towards an attempt to have the first sanctioned race in decades, the racer’s attitude show.
The drivers emphatically deliver excuses for why they lost a race – tires were too slick, other guy started quickly. The head of the motoring organization finds ways to postpone the official race. It can get frustrating to watch, but it helps convey the desperation of being so passionate, but without the resources to fuel those passions. No YouTube for race footage, no Amazon to order parts.

But when Peugeot comes to Cuba to show off prohibitively expensive new cars, following relaxed embargo restrictions, Rey says, “Modern cars all look the same.” That comparison is at the heart of why Cuba, for automobiles, is a special place.
It’s hard to tell whether the drivers truly believe that American cars from the 1950s and 60s are the best ever, or if they don’t really have a choice.
Either way, the vehicles you see here are an aesthetic break from the interchangeable hatchbacks and computer-designed hypercars. Whatever happens when President Raul Castro kicks over, and if Obama makes more reform decisions, this subculture could shrink quickly. Good thing we have this movie.

The movie premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, but expect it to be streaming soon.
 havana-live-mercedesThis Lost 1950s Gullwing Mercedes Was Found in Cuba

http://www.popularmechanics.com/culture/movies/a15243/havana-motor-club-review/

Former NBA and WNBA greats put on clinic for Cuban basketball players

Former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo, center, and NBA Orlando Magic interim coach James Borrego, left, conduct their first NBA clinic for Cuban basketball players in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 23, 2015. Former Los Angeles Lakers' player Steve Nash and Mutumbo, a Hall of Fame inductee, were joined by ex-WNBA player Ticha Penicheiro and NBA coaches in teaching the more than 100 Cuban basketball athletes, hoping to boost the game's popularity on the island. (AP Photo/Desmond Boyland)

Former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo, center, and NBA Orlando Magic interim coach James Borrego, left, conduct their first NBA clinic for Cuban basketball players in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, April 23, 2015. Former Los Angeles Lakers’ player Steve Nash and Mutumbo, a Hall of Fame inductee, were joined by ex-WNBA player Ticha Penicheiro and NBA coaches in teaching the more than 100 Cuban basketball athletes, hoping to boost the game’s popularity on the island. (AP Photo/Desmond Boyland)

Basketball great Dikembe Mutombo sank baskets from seemingly every position on the court Thursday as a half-dozen Cuban players watched admiringly on the first day of an NBA training camp aimed at boosting the game’s popularity on the communist-run island following the declaration of detente between Washington and Havana.

The flags of Cuba and the United States flew at the Havana university where the four-day camp began Thursday. Steve Nash, a former MVP, and Mutombo, a Hall of Fame inductee, were joined by former WNBA player Ticha Penicheiro and NBA coaches in teaching the more than 100 athletes in attendance.

“As you know, basketball is a sport that can connect people, give them a bridge for cultural change,” Mutombo said. “I’m glad that we’re about to build this bridge that will help so many young men and women here in Cuba to develop the game of basketball.”

The NBA is the first U.S. professional league to visit Cuba since the detente announcement. Basketball is arguably fourth most-popular sport, after baseball, boxing and soccer.

Cuba’s men’s team finished third in the 1972 Olympics and its women’s teams dominate International Basketball Federation (FIBA) play in Latin America, but basketball has been one of the Cuban sports hardest-hit by players’ departures for other countries. It’s widely perceived to be at a historic low point on a national level.

That doesn’t deter thousands of young Cubans from taking to street courts and abandoned lots to race between improvised hoops mounted on posts or even trees. The NBA and FIBA plan to renovate three courts as part of the four-day event.

“Our job is to expand our game globally,” Mutombo said. “It’s a very historical trip.”

After he and Mutombo coached players on a series of skills, Nash lauded the Cubans as talented but lacking international experience.

Waiting his turn on the court, Cuban national player Esteban Martínez said he was fascinated by the NBA players’ shooting efficiency.

“That’s what I’m thinking about asking them about,” the 27-year-old said.

Felipe Chávez, a 16-year-old player from Havana, watched every one of the players’ movements, calling it “a great opportunity to develop, to work on technique and the mental aspect of the game.”

“I’d like to get to the top level of my sport and that’s the NBA,” he said.

All the Cuban players were hoping to be picked for a “Basketball without Borders” NBA and FIBA training camp to be held soon in the Dominican Republic.

As part of his move to engage Cuba, President Barack Obama this year did away with a requirement for athletes to request U.S. government permission before heading to Cuba for a sports event. Participants in competitions and exhibitions now have blanket permission to travel to Cuba, along with 11 other categories of travelers such as academics and people participating in religious activities.

U.S. detektive helps clients figure out if Cuban love is for real

 HAVANA-LIVE-couple-malecon HAVANA, April 25  (By Elizabeth Llorente)  The Canadian man fell in love with a beautiful Cuban woman on one of his trips to the island. He lavished her with gifts and plenty of cash – sending anywhere from $400 to $2,000 a month. One day, she shared exciting news. There was a bundle of joy on the way.He sent more money, enough for her to buy a home. Something, though, didn’t feel quite right.

A California-based private investigation agency with sleuths in Cuba confirmed the man’s suspicions. The Cuban woman lived with her real boyfriend – a Cuban man – in the home her Canadian paramour had financed, and the baby she was expecting was actually the Cuban man’s, not his.

“There are many people – men but also some women – who travel to Cuba, fall in love, but then they get suspicious,” said Fernando Alvarez, a licensed private investigator whose firm, Drakonx Investigations, gets plenty of requests from mainly Canadians, Americans and Spaniards to dig up information about the love interests they met while visiting Cuba who remained on the island.

“When I receive an infidelity case, 90 percent of the time the person [in Cuba] turns out to be cheating,” said Alvarez, who is 34 and came from Cuba about 10 years ago. “The reason they have a relationship with the foreigner is [either] immigration – they want to get out of Cuba – or money. They plan to stay in Cuba, but want to have a better life.”

Alvarez has sleuths working for him on the island, at their own peril, since private eye work is not legal in Cuba.

The investigators conduct surveillance of suspected cheaters and liars, following them and recording conversations when possible.

Canadians, whose nation has relations with Cuba and who long have accounted for a large chunk of tourists to the island – a million annually – are particularly vulnerable to the love trap.

The problem has reached such a critical point that Canada even launched a campaign in 2013 to warn its citizens about it, according to the Washington Post, which noted that a government study concluded that about 25 percent of the 700 fianceé visas issued each year to Cubans in Havana were based on scams.

The marriage fraud campaign featured a seven-minute video posted on the website of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada agency that shared the real-life stories of three Canadians who were dumped by foreign spouses – including a Cuban – after they obtained residence in Canada.

Privately run U.S. websites on travel to Cuba often also include warnings about untrue lovers.

Canada tightened immigration laws concerning marriages to foreigners “in part because of the high proportion of sham marriages emanating from Cuba, as well as the Dominican Republic,” noted the immigration guidelines website Immigroup.com.

The changes include requiring sponsored spouses to remain in a marriage for two years before they can acquire permanent resident status. If the couple breaks up before that, the migrant faces deportation. Canadians who have sponsored one spouse are prohibited from sponsoring a new one for five years.

Alvarez told Fox News Latino that other clients who seek a Cuba-related investigation include Cuban-Americans who send relatives money to start a business, and turn to Alvarez to make sure the funds are really being used for that purpose. There are also married people in Canada, the United States or Spain who want to know if a spouse traveling to Cuba for business or tourism is also partaking in extramarital activity.

“There was a Canadian male who went to Cuba, sometimes without his wife,” said Alvarez, whose firm was hired by the man’s wife. “We watched him and saw that he spent a week in a hotel with two Cuban females. He had a very good week.”

Alvarez stresses that desperation among Cubans is at the core of many of the scams.

“It doesn’t mean the people who do this are bad,” he said. “They’re hungry, they might make $20 a month, and they do what they can to survive.”

Alvarez cautions people traveling to the Caribbean nation to use common sense.

“There are many people who have met people in Cuba, fallen in love, gotten married and are very happy,” he said. “But you have to be very careful – not just in Cuba, but anywhere. Be very careful about requests to send money. If you want to help someone, that’s fine, but sending $100 a month is more than enough for a decent life [in Cuba]. Sending $500 means that person lives like a queen or king.”
(Foxnews)

The book lover’s guide in Havana

 havana-live-book-marketHAVANA, April 25  With the US recently lifting various trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, the Caribbean island is expected to see a boost in tourism. Most tourists will be excited by Cuba’s beaches, cigars, coffee, rum and colonial architecture.

But if you are a bibliophile, you may want to immerse yourself in the rich culture of reading that took root in the country after the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961.
Cuba’s claim of having gone from just over 75% literacy to almost 100% literacy in a year would sound like propaganda if the statistics had not been ratified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and other reputed international organizations.

After Fidel Castro led a revolution to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he announced a literacy campaign that aimed to teach every Cuban to read and write.
Around 250,000 people—students, professional teachers, factory workers and other volunteers—helped in educating the illiterate. Many left cities and lived in the countryside, where illiteracy rates were much higher. More than 50 years on, Cuba has the best education system in Latin America, according to the World Bank, and a rich tradition of reading. These are five places all bibliophiles and history buffs should visit.

Havana International Book Fair
Cuba is a dictatorship, and while the Castro-run state may have helped people learn how to read, it also does its best to decide what they read. Most of the book stores are owned and run by the state and fill their shelves with tomes on socialism, Castro and Che Guevara.
Cuba’s official Book Institute oversees the country’s publishing industry. Because it tries to keep books cheap, it cannot afford to print many copies of books by popular fiction writers, so for many people the only chance to get their hands on the works of such popular writers as Leonardo Padura and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez is at the Havana International Book Fair, held every February.
The fair begins in Havana and travels across the country.

The National Literacy Museum
Located in Havana, Cuba’s capital, the museum documents the 1961 campaign. Old photographs show young students teaching their less privileged countrymen in rural areas.
There is plenty of memorabilia, including the uniforms volunteers were given. Several countries supported Cuba’s literacy campaign: The Soviet Union donated books and stationery, people from European countries travelled to Cuba to join the volunteers, and China sent thousands of oil lanterns to allow volunteers to teach after dark in areas that had no electricity.
Some of these lanterns have been preserved in the museum. While there, you can watch the documentary film Maestra (Teacher) made by US film-maker Catherine Murphy, which includes interviews with some of the young volunteers who made the campaign successful.

Plaza de Armas book market
The Plaza de Armas, in the centre of Old Havana, was once used for military events and government ceremonies but is now home to a peaceful street market for second-hand books. Most of the books available are in Spanish, but there are some English books on sale.
Street musicians add to the atmosphere. The most popular author at the Plaza de Armas market seems to be Ernest Hemingway, who lived in ilable at the old bookshops on Havana’s O’Reilly and Obispo streets, but it is worth visiting them just to learn about their history.
Many of the stores have been open since the beginning of the 20th century and are home to rare books on philosophy. There is even a bookshop dedicated to poetry, La Moderna Poesia (Modern Poetry).
http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/JNvHctXrOJWbLS6m8UjEjM/The-book-lovers-guide-to-Cuba.html

Havana Challenge, sailing race from Key West to Havana

 havana-live-havana-chalange HAVANA, April 25, – Imagine a dozen, 2-man, 16-foot Hobie catamarans sailing across 90 miles of treacherous seas to the land of the forbidden, Cuba. There the adventurous but experienced sailors from the eclectic island of Key West challenge the Cuban Olympic Sailing team, explore the Caribbean island from a local’s perspective, exchange cultural peculiarities, and return home on the final leg of the Havana Challenge.

The adventure sailing trip and Hobie Cat race between Key West and Havana has been resurrected, with a group of sailors set to make the  90 mile trek on May 16.

The race, called the Havana Challenge, has been in the works for the past year. Late last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued the necessary permits, called temporary export licenses, for at least 10 boats to participate in the regatta. The organizers have requested permits for at least 22 boats and are hoping to receive the remaining permits by May 16, event organizers said.

In addition to racing across the Florida Straits to Marina Hemingway in Cuba, the sailing crews will be racing against the Cuban national team in front of the historic Malecon roadway and seawall in downtown Havana. Also, organizers will host youth sailing trips with Cubans.

The event is the brainchild of Key West-based Capt. George Bellenger and is organized by him, his wife Capt. Carla Bellenger and Capt. Joe Weatherby. The three captains started making the trek via Hobie catamarans in the late 1990s as part of their personal adventure sailing trips. The last trip made by any of the crew was in 2001, after which the annual event was put on hold.

The event is being sponsored by the nonprofit Key West Community Sailing Center. A portion of the proceeds from the event will go to youth sailing scholarships at the sailing center, organizers said.

The Bellengers, who run kayak, sail and ecotours in Key West, decided to resurrect the trip last year, and along with Weatherby, have been working with the U.S. State Department, Coast Guard, Department of Commerce and other federal agencies to obtain the proper licenses and permits. The commerce permit was the last major hurdle they had to clear.

Key West Community Sailing Center hosted the commodore of the Marina Hemingway while he was visiting South Florida for the annual Miami boat show earlier this year. The commodore has been very supportive of the event, organizers said.

The Bellengers and Weatherby also have been holding regular meetings with a group of captains and sailors who want to participate in the event. They met Wednesday night at the Key West Community Sailing Center to hammer out some of the details and logistics.

Weatherby and the Bellengers also have been working with Key Westers Tom and Nancy Coward, who organized a youth soccer trip that took Key West youngsters to Cuba.

The Havana Challenge falls under the sport and culture categories of the 12 allowable “people to people” exchanges, the Bellengers and Weatherby said.

“We are bridging cultures through traditional maritime heritage,” George Bellenger said. “We just want to sail and have a cool trip. We want to race the Cuban Oylmpic team in a beautiful place.”

“There are cultural and personal relationships between Key West and Havana that date back more than 100 years,” added Weatherby, an organizer of the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg artificial reef project off Key West. “We are just trying to re-establish that relationship.”

The group’s earlier treks were much different and much more of an adventure than what is planned for the May trip. The early trips were just a small group sailing with primitive GPS equipment, which often didn’t work and required the crews to use small hand-held compasses to navigate the treacherous Florida Straits.

On one trip in 1997, the Bellengers’ Hobie Cat began sinking six miles offshore. They had to navigate around Cuba’s coral reef to beach the boat on land. Also, Carla Bellenger had to tie a bandana around one of the riggings to help them navigate to shore. Despite the perils, they have successfully made the crossing each time and have had amazing experiences, which included watching a humpback whale give birth to a calf, they said.

“We have had all kinds of adventures,” Carla Bellenger said. For the May race, there will be chase boats carrying emergency medical equipment. Other boats will be fitted with salvage equipment so in the event one of the Hobie Cats breaks down, it can be towed or lifted out of the water and repaired, organizers said. The organizers are hoping to make the Havana Challenge an annual event.
http://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/

Ferry operators eye Florida to Havana service

 havana-live-ferry-key-west-havanaThe City of Havana car ferry in its slip while waiting to take Americans from Havana to Key West, Fla., on Jan. 4, 1959. The ferry service used to be popular with American tourists who were keen to visit Havana’s legendary night clubs and casinos. Photo: AP

HAVANA,  April 24,  (By COSTAS PARIS)  Ferry operators are racing to be the first to tie up pier-side in Havana.

At least five shipping companies have applied for special licenses from the U.S. State Department to relaunch overnight ferry service from ports in Florida, according to shipping executives familiar with the matter. The routes were popular with American tourists and weekend revelers before sea links were closed off more than 50 years ago.

The Obama administration has eased sanctions and promises to normalize relations with Havana. As part of that move, Washington has lifted some travel restrictions that have long made Cuba practically off limits for most American visitors.

The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls now allows visits for a variety of things that once required special approval. Those include trips by Americans to see family, professional and educational travel, and travel related to humanitarian projects and sporting events.

Tourism is still prohibited, but shipping executives are betting that those restrictions will fall away soon, too. Since the Obama administration first started easing travel restrictions to Cuba several years ago, approved travelers have been able to use several Washington-sanctioned charter flights to the island. There are some private ferry charters for humanitarian cargo and other approved shipments, too, but passengers aren’t typically allowed aboard.

Alexander Panagopoulos, owner of Athens-based dry-bulk operator Arista Shipping, whose family has managed for years a string of ferry companies operating in Europe, has teamed up with American cruise-industry veteran Bruce Nierenberg, to form Miami-based United Caribbean Lines. The company has applied to Washington and Cuban authorities for approval of a ferry-link license, Mr. Panagopoulos.

The State Department issues the license on the U.S. side because the route is an international one. A State Department spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company hopes to launch a three-times-a-week, overnight service from Miami to Havana. A one-way journey would be about 220-nautical-miles, or roughly 253 miles. The company plans for a 6 p.m. departure from Miami, and an arrival in Havana at 7 a.m.

At least three more Florida-based shipping companies and an affiliate of a European ferry operator in Mexico have also applied to the State Department for licenses, according to shipping executives with knowledge of the matter. One of them, Florida-based CubaKat, says on its website it hopes to start service as early as December.

UCL hopes to add a second vessel eventually, enabling the company to offer a daily, round-trip service. Depending on the conditions of the license, plans also include an alternative journey from Tampa, and a shorter hop from Key West, 90 nautical miles from Havana.

“The growth opportunities are tremendous,” Mr. Panagoloupos said. “There are 10 million people in Cuba and thousands of Americans that will be offered a long-forgotten travel experience at about half the cost of an air ticket.”

State Department approval could limit what type of passengers any service would be allowed to take, and Mr. Panagoloupos said UCL will be flexible, and may not be able to carry tourists right away.

“The license will specify who and what can travel,” said Mr. Panagopoulos. “In the beginning we expect to move passengers and cargo including personal effects, household goods and humanitarian aid. Later cars and trucks could also be allowed.”

Ferry travel to Cuba was popular during the 1940s and 1950s—before Fidel Castro took over in a coup in 1959. Dozens of weekly sailings from Florida brought in tourists and weekend revelers—often bringing their own cars—to Havana’s legendary night clubs and casinos.
http://www.wsj.com/articles/destination-cuba-ferry-operators-eye-florida-to-havana-service-1429885712

“Nosotros La Música” Tours Cuban Musical History

havana-live-NosotrosNosotros la Música

HAVANA, April 23  Music permeates Cuban culture. That fact was tunefully demonstrated in the documentaries presented during the 16th Havana Film Festival New York last week. Curated by film critic, historian, and researcher Luciano Castillo, director of the Cinemateca Cubana, the series “Celebrating Nosotros la Música” offered a varied glimpse of some of the outstanding musicians and groups of the past 50 years.

The documentary that inspired this retrospective was produced 50 years ago. Nosotros La Música / We, the Music (66 min., 1964), directed by Rogelio Paris, serves up a rich panorama of popular Cuban music of the post-WWII era, featuring Bola de Nieve, Celeste Mendoza, Ana Gloria, Elena Burke, Charanga a la francesa, Ignacio Piñeiro’s septet, dance couple Silvio and Ada, Quinteto Instrumental de Música Moderna, Chapotín Orchestra, and the street troupes Cocuyé and Orile.
It’s an exhilarating celebration of island talent and an excellent overview of the musical culture of the period. You can see the complete film here:

An early goal of ICAIC (the Cuban National Film Institute, founded in 1959) was to celebrate Cuban culture—by, for, and with all Cubans. One of the first music shorts produced by ICAIC was directed by Spanish-born Néstor Almendros, who became a world-famous cinematographer. Ritmo de Cuba (19 min., 1960) opens with a dance rehearsal and performance to a traditional Cuban son, then segues to an Afro-Cuban number in praise of the Yoruba goddess Oshun.

Ritmo de Cuba

Another early documentary, Las Parrandas / The Bash (27 min., 1977), by Constante Diego,  focuses on traditional celebrations held In the towns of Camajuaní and Remedios, in the center of the island, where local groups create elaborate floats and compete in friendly rivalry for top honors in the annual festivities—much like the New Orleans’ krewes that participate in the Mardi Gras parades. During the parrandas, parades, music, and fireworks continue late into the evening.

José Limeres directed a number of musical shorts that are considered precursors of the video clip of today. He filmed some of Cuba’s most popular singers, such as Celeste Mendoza (10 min., 1968), the Queen of Guanguancó, here performing “Como se llama usted”:

Limeres also filmed the girl group Las d’Aida, a quartet that initially included Elena Burke, Moraima Secada, and the sisters Omara and Haydée Portuondo. Founded and directed by the pianist Aida Diestro (hence, “las de Aida”), the group toured widely in the post-WWII era, performing boleros, jazz-influenced songs (filin/feeling), and pop pieces. In this link, they perform a very 1960s version of “Guantanamera”—complete with go-go boots and twist-inspired movements.

Las d’Aida: Omara, Haydee, Moraima, Elena

Omara Portuondo (b. 1930), one of most beloved Cuban singers, is still performing today, appearing with the Buena Vista Social Club. She was also the subject of a new feature-length documentary presented in competition at the Havana Film Festival New York. Omara: Cuba (90 min., 2015), directed by Lester Hamlet, could have benefited from some serious editing to include more performances and fewer repetitive accolades from colleagues and admirers.
But it does include lengthy interview sequences where Omara herself talks about her career trajectory.

Sara Gómez, one of the few women filmmakers in the early days of ICAIC, directed Y…Tenemos Sabor / And…We Have Flavor (1967). Musician and instrument maker Alberto Zayas demonstrates the basic instruments of Cuban music and their development.
Featuring Changüí, Típico Habanero, Clave y Guaguancó y Conga from Santiago of Cuba, trios Los Decanos and Virgil Almenares, orchestra Estrellas Cubanas, and Chucho Valdés and his combo, and Guapachá. Watch it here.

Rita Montaner

Singer and actress Rita Montaner (1900–1958) achieved mythic status during her career. A classically trained pianist and singer, and a natural actress, she became a star of theater, film, radio, and television, and toured internationally.
Rita was often referred to as “La Única (the one and only).” Rebecca Chávez traces the life and work of this superstar in her award-winning documentary Con todo mi amor, Rita (59 min., 2000), hosted by Montaner’s granddaughter, actress Antonia Fernández.
Rita was a light-skinned mulata, of mixed race, but in some of her films she appeared with darkened skin to accentuate her African heritage. In 1931 she appeared on Broadway in an Al Jolson musical, Wonder Bar. Click here to see the complete documentary.

Another famous singer is the subject of Yo soy la canción que canto / I Am the Song I Sing (27 min., 1985), directed by Mayra Vilasis. Bola de Nieve (1911–1971) was born Ignacio Jacinto Villa Fernández in Guanabacoa (also the birthplace of his friends Rita Montaner and composer Ernesto Lecuona).

His round, black face earned him the nickname Bola de Nieve (Snowball), by which he was known professionally throughout his international career as singer, pianist, and composer. He performed in Europe, Latin America (especially Mexico), the Soviet Union, and Chine, and sang in five languages. Among his frequently performed numbers was “El Manicero.”:

Leo Brouwer
Two other short films focused on musicians who were part of ICAIC’s legendary Grupo de Experimentación Sonora. Las Manos y el Ángel(27 min., 2002), by Esteban Insausti, explores the legacy of pianist Emiliano Salvador (1951–1992).  Leo-Irakere (24 min., 1979), by José Padrón, documents a 1978 concert at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, featuring guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer (b. 1939) with Chucho Valdés and the group, Irakere, here performing “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo.

Manuel Galbán Photo Manuel Pérez

The series wrapped up with Bluechacha (35 min., 2012), by Ernesto Daranas, who also directedConducta (2014), which garnered the award for Best Feature at last year’s Havana Film Festival New York.
This visually rich and imaginative production takes us behind the scenes of “Bluechacha,” the last album recorded by guitarist, composer, and director Manuel Galbán (1931–2011), who also founded the quartet Los Zafiros.

Produced in collaboration with Galbán’s daughter, composer Magda Rosa Galbán, and her husband, musician Juan Antonio Leyva, the film shows the three of them at work on the album, interspersed with dramatic sequences that tell a love story related to the music.Luciano Castillo noted that there is such a wealth of films documenting Cuban music that it was a challenge selecting representative productions for this series.
He views this as a sampling of what could become a much broader and deeper history of Cuban music on film.
http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/nosotros-la-musica/4467
Nadine Covert

Cuban foreign minister highlights new stage with the EU

havana-live-Rodriguez is welcomed by Mogherini in BrusselsHAVANA, Cuba, Apr 23 (acn) A round of political talks between Cuba and the European Union (EU) – that will mark the beginning of other meetings that could conclude by the end of the year- will start in June, with the purpose of strengthening relations between the two parties.

This was announced by the head of European diplomacy, Federica Mogherini, at a press conference after the meeting she held in Brussels with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez as part of the process to reach an agreement of political dialogue and cooperation with the regional bloc, the Granma newspaper reported.

Mogherini also announced that it was agreed “to establish a structured dialogue on human rights,” the first session of which could also take place in June in Brussels.
She also argued that “these days are interesting for Latin America and Cuba, so it is important to strengthen ties of friendship and try to overcome the challenges we face.”
For his part, the Cuban Foreign Minister pointed out that “the announcements just confirm progress achieved” in relations with the European Union.
He thanked the countries of the bloc for their support of the UN Resolution on the blockade imposed by the United States on Cuba for over half a century now, and called for renewed support for the one to be presented this fall at the General Assembly.

The Foreign Minister said he has carried out “excellent bilateral visits” to France and Belgium on Tuesday and hopes to continue in that line in the ones scheduled for Luxembourg and the Netherlands before returning to Havana.

Tourists to Cuba jump 15 pct in Q1

 havana-live-tourist-jumpHAVANA, April 23  — Tourists to Cuba jumped by 15 percent in the first quarter of 2015, and the trend is expected to hold for the rest of the year, the country’s Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.

Speaking at the opening of the 7th International Gourmet Festival of Varadero, the island’s leading seaside resort, Marrero did not offer specific figures, but indicated visitor arrivals in the first four months of the year “have been magnificent,” communist youth daily Juventud Rebelde reported on Thursday.

Cuba and the United States announced an agreement in December to resume diplomatic ties and normalize relations, sparking a surge of interest in travel to the Caribbean country, which has been largely off limits to non-Cuban U.S. travelers for five decades.

A day after the Dec. 17 announcement, TripAdvisor, a travel planning and booking website, reported that interest in travel to Cuba spiked by nearly 300 percent in one day.

Marrero called on the country’s tourism industry to strive for excellence, saying there was a lot of global competition for tourism dollars.

In 2014, Cuba drew some 3 million visitors, but tourism officials are preparing for an expected wave of U.S. tourists once travel restrictions imposed by Washington are lifted as ties with Cuba improve.

Tourism is Cuba’s second-largest source of foreign revenue, after the export of technical and medical services.

US trade mission to Cuba reaches unprecedented accords

 havana-live-us-trade-missionHavana, Cuba, Apr 22. (ACN) The recent visit to Cuba by  a trade mission from the US State of New York, headed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, yielded two bilateral accords in the area of health and opened doors for further collaboration.

The accords include the commercialization in the United States of a Cuban lung cancer vaccine and the introduction of US software programs in the Cuban medical industry.

Shortly before returning to the US on Tuesday, the director of the US Roswell Park Cancer Institute of New York Candance Johnson said that they had signed a memo of understanding with Havana´s Molecular Immunology Center.

Johnson said she was happy to take the Cuban vaccine to her country and start treating patients, for which they will immediately start with clinical tests.

The other accord was signed between the US Infor High-Tech company and a Cuban enterprise to introduce specialized software programs in the Cuban health sector.

Chales Phillips, an official with the US company, announced that he found a Cuban partner interested in the commercialization of the products and that they will start efforts to train students in the use of the new technology.

We are surprised at the high level and expertise that exist in Cuba in the area of health technology, said Phillips.

The New York governor organized the trade mission to Cuba  as part of his initiative known Global New York aimed at expanding trade and investment by the business community in that US state.

Spain’s Hotelsa 1st firm to build factory in Mariel spezial zone

havana-live-Fábrica-HotelsaHAVANA, April 22  (EFE) Spain’s Hotelsa, a maker of food and beverage products for hotels, will become the first foreign company to build a factory in Cuba’s Mariel special development zone, sources with the multinational told Efe Wednesday.

Hotelsa recently obtained authorization from the Cuban government to create a fully owned subsidiary for the production of food and beverage products for hotels, as well as dispensing machines for those same products.

“We’ll begin building (the factory) in June,” and the construction phase is scheduled to be completed in early 2016, the head of the company’s Caribbean area, Carlos Palao, told Efe in a phone interview.

Hotelsa will build the factory on a 5,000-sq.-meter (53,750-sq.-foot) lot in the agrifoods section of the development zone, which is located some 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Havana and is Cuba’s flagship project for attracting foreign investment.

The Palma-based company will invest 6 million euros ($6.4 million) in the first phase, in which the new factory will employ some 50 people, all of them Cuban, Hotelsa said on its Web site.

Contracts will also be signed with Cuban companies for the purchase of local raw material such as fruit pulp and concentrate, coffee, sugar, molasses, flour and alcohol.

The Cuban government envisions the Mariel special development zone, which provides favorable tax conditions for foreign firms and is the first of its kind on the Communist-ruled island, as an engine for job and export growth and a magnet for foreign investment.

U.S. companys reach deals in Cuba

HAVANA, April 21 (Reuters) – A U.S. cancer research center and a software company reached agreements with Cuban partners during a two-day trade mission to Cuba led by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in the first trip of its kind since the rapprochement between the longtime adversaries.

The Roswell Park Cancer Institute of Buffalo, New York, on Tuesday signed an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine with a clinical trial in the United States, Roswell Chief Executive Officer Candace Johnson said.

In addition, New York City-based Infor Global Solutions Inc has found Cuban partners to resell its software in Cuba, CEO Charles Phillips said.

Both announcements were made at the airport just before Cuomo and a delegation of 18 business leaders and academics boarded their return flight to New York.

Cuomo, a Democrat, is the first governor to visit Cuba since a December announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that they would restore diplomatic relations and work to normalize trade and travel ties after more than a half century of hostility and confrontation.

Obama has used executive authority to relax some parts of the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba but would need the Republican-controlled Congress to lift it entirely and establish normal trade.

Among those on the trip were executives from JetBlue Airways Corp, Pfizer Inc and MasterCard Inc.

Cuomo had said the mission was meant to help New York companies be “first out of the gate” to make business deals under warming U.S.-Cuban relations.

Roswell was able to finalize the agreement for a clinical trial as a result of the trade mission, Johnson said.

“This agreement establishes a collaboration between our two institutions to develop a cancer vaccine in lung cancer,” she said of the vaccine developed by scientists at the Cuban center. “We’re very excited to take this to the United States to treat patients.”

Infor reached a preliminary deal with Cuban information technology companies deSoft, which has 2,500 employees, and Softel, primarily to integrate healthcare data, a company spokesman said.

Data integration is a specialty for Infor, which automates 72 percent of U.S. hospitals with more than 150 beds, spokesman Dan Barhardt said in a statement.

Infor also agreed to provide software and training at Cuba’s University of Information Sciences.

“We were surprised and impressed with the level of technology and expertise they have in healthcare technology,” Phillips said.

Cuban art awards to be presented in Havana

havana-live-Art gallery Wilfredo Lam in Old Havana© Cuba Absolutely, 2014Courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center Courtesy cubaabsolutely.com

HAVANA, April 21  The Farber Foundation, sponsor of Cuban Art News, announced its first international Cuban Art Awards to be presented at the Havana Biennial.

The event will be hosted by the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art, the 12th Havana Biennial, and the National Council on the Visual Arts (CNAP).

The invitation-only presentation and reception will take place at the Wifredo Lam Center—headquarters of the Havana Biennial—on Wednesday afternoon, May 20, at 4 p.m.havana-live-Cuban-Art-Awards_Black

“As the relationship between Cuba and the US has begins to thaw, we’ve seen the Cuban Art Awards transform from a project by one foundation into an international realm,” said Farber Foundation president Howard Farber. “I’m thrilled that Cuban contemporary art has become part of a cultural exchange unfolding in this new diplomatic environment.”

The awards are open to Cuban artists living both on the island and elsewhere. “Over the past several years, Cuban art has become increasingly international,” says Farber. “Our goal is twofold: to bring increased international recognition to outstanding artists, and to increase awareness of Cuban contemporary art as part of a global art conversation.”

Candidates for the awards were selected by anonymous nominators, and a shortlist of their highest-ranked finalists were submitted to an independent jury. Both nominators and jurors were chosen from a field of scholars, curators, collectors, and writers specializing in Cuban contemporary art, in Cuba and abroad.

The winner of the Artist of the Year Award will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

Finalists for Artist of the Year are: Alexandre Arrechea, Luis Cruz Azaceta, Teresita Fernández, Glexis Novoa, and Lázaro Saavedra.

The winner of the Young Artist Of The Year Award (under 35 years old) will receive a $3,000 cash prize.

Finalists for Young Artist of the Year are: Alejandro Campins; Celia and Yunior; Elizabet Cerviño; Rafael Domenech; and Carlos Martiel.

“The finalists in both categories are among the most dynamic and inventive artists working today,” said Farber. “To be singled out for this list is an achievement in itself.”

Limited capacity at the Lam Center requires that the event be invitation-only, but Farber looks forward to sharing the news of the awards throughout the Biennial.

“The Farber Foundation is very appreciative of this opportunity,” he said. “The primary goal of the Cuban Art Awards is to advance awareness of Cuban art in an international context. To present the awards as part of this Biennial, with a record number of art-world visitors present in Havana, increases the contribution toward that objective.”
Cuban Art News

5 facts explain the economic upsides of an opened Cuba

 havana-live-cuba-sunsetHAVANA, April 21 The Caribbean country could be the next frontier of global business
Taking Cuba off the list of nations that sponsor terrorism is the latest development that will attract foreign companies to the island. So who wants in? These five stats explain which industries present the most opportunities as Cuba opens for business.

1. Money flowing home
One of the immediate benefits of renewed relations with Cuba is the increase in permitted remittance flows. The most recent figures put annual cash remittances to Cuba at approximately $5.1 billion, a level greater than the four fastest growing sectors of the Cuban economy combined.

Now, permitted remittance levels from the U.S. will be raised fourfold, from $2,000 to $8,000 per year. This will help drive an increase in spending power in Cuba, which is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 4.6% through this decade.

For global companies seeking a foothold anywhere they can, more money in the pockets of Cubans means more fuel for expansion. Take Coca-Cola. With an open Cuba, Coke could be legally be sold in every country in the world save one: North Korea.

2. A lot more visitors
Just 110 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba should be a natural magnet for American travelers. Despite needing to meet special criteria to receive a visa from the State Department—allowable categories include educational and journalistic activities—170,000 Americans visited the country last year.
As the restrictions slacken, the sky is literally the limit. JetBlue already charters flights to Cuba from the U.S., but the budget airline wants to start running regular commercial flights.
American Airlines Group now flies to Cuba 20 times per week, a 33% increase in flights compared to just a year ago. More flights—and more competition—will make airfare more affordable, driving additional tourist traffic.

3. Communication breakthroughs
Only one in ten Cubans regularly use mobile phones and only one in twenty have uncensored access to the Internet. Even state-restricted Internet penetration currently stands at just 23.2%.
The telecom infrastructure is so underdeveloped that an hour of regulated Internet connectivity can cost up to 20% of the average Cuban’s monthly salary. There’s serious demand for the major infrastructure investments needed to improve these numbers.

Some start-ups are making waves in spite of shoddy internet. Airbnb, a website that lets people rent out lodging, announced that it has started booking rooms in Cuba with over 1,000 hosts. It gets around the lack of Internet by teaming with middlemen who have long worked to link tourists with bed and breakfasts.

4. A cure for Cuba
Cuba has the third highest number of physicians per capita, behind only Monaco and Qatar. They’re even used as an export: Venezuela pays $5.5 billion a year for the almost 40,000 Cuban medical professionals who now make up half of its health-care personnel.

Cuban doctors lack access to most American pharmaceutical products and, importantly, to third-generation antibiotics. For its part, Cuba’s surprisingly robust biotech industry makes a number of vaccines not currently available in the U.S. With the normalization of relations, Cuba can look to fully capitalize on its medical strengths.

5. Foreign investment
Cuba currently attracts around $500 million in foreign direct investment (FDI)—good for just 1% of GDP. Given its tumultuous political history and underdeveloped economy, it is difficult to accurately predict how quickly investors will flock once the embargo has been lifted. But a good comparison might be the Dominican Republic, another Caribbean nation with roughly the same size population as Cuba.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that Cuba could potentially attract as much foreign capital as the Dominican Republic, which currently receives $17 billion in FDI ($2 billion from the U.S). But this won’t happen overnight—in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Cuba ranks 177th out of 178, ahead only of North Korea.
http://time.com/3828156/ian-bremmer-business-cuba-economy-embargo-lift/

Entrepreneurs from USA landed in Havana

cuomoweb_t670x470HAVANA, April 20 New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to touch down in Havana, Cuba, late Monday morning, where he’ll lead an approximately 25-hour trade mission to the country.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, was set to board a chartered JetBlue flight to the island from John F. Kennedy International Airport, along with state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a variety of New York business executives (including JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes) and more than a dozen reporters.

Upon landing in Havana around 11:30 a.m., the governor is set to undertake a frenzied schedule, as has become common on his foreign excursions. The majority of his events will be conducted on terms dictated by the Cuban government, according to his aides, and as a result several are expected be closed to press.

The trip makes him the first sitting U.S. governor to visit the island since PresidentBarack Obama said in December that he would seek to normalize diplomatic relations to the country.

According to an itinerary distributed to reporters, Mr. Cuomo will first participate in a “working lunch” with Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, Cuba’s Minister of Trade and Foreign Investments. Later Monday afternoon, he will conduct a round-table discussion with the business executives in his delegation and their Cuban counterparts.

The governor is then expected to meet with Cuba’s First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Early Monday evening, the governor and legislative leaders are set to meet with Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino at the Archdiocese of Havana.

Mr. Cuomo’s trip is being staffed by about 10 government aides, including some from the governor’s office and several from the state’s economic-development agency. The state is paying for the cost of the trip for the governor and state staffers, according to aides, while the business executives are paying their own way.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-gov-andrew-cuomos-frenzied-cuba-schedules-includes-business-leaders-politicians-1429534437