Monthly Archives: September 2015

Getting to Cuba for $40,000 on a private jet

MW-DV445_petson_20150930093253_ZHHAVANA, Sept. 30  If you and seven friends can scrap together $40,000, getting to Cuba just got easier.

Private jet booking service Victor will begin offering direct private flights on Monday from 19 cities in the U.S. to Havana, Cuba. The company’s service allows users to enter a destination, see price quotes and then book a private flight.

Travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens is still limited as travelers have to be approved to visit under 12 visa categories. Victor has partnered with Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes travel to Cuba under educational visas, so that its fliers are approved to visit the country and have a set itinerary while there.

The itinerary could include cigar and rum tastings with country experts, riding in 1950s American cars and dinners with prominent cultural figures and historians, the company said. For a group of eight staying four nights, prices start at $40,000.

David Young, senior vice president at Victor, said the company is adding the service because of growing demand for travel to Cuba. “It’s the hottest travel destination,” said Young.

The U.S. has recently moved to normalize relations with Cuba after more than 50 years. Restrictions on trade and travel have been eased, and the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened in August.

Victor acknowledges that the private flights aren’t cheap, and says it is aimed at a high net worth clientele. Many of the company’s members are involved in entertainment or sports, he said.

Being a member is free, and Victor has more than 40,000. The company takes a fee from each booking and partners with different jet operators. The company, which has raised $26 million in private equity, operates national and international flights with offices in London, New York and Santa Monica, Calif.

U.S. hotel chains are eager to put their foot in to Cuba

havana-live-tropical_beach The race for Cuba’s beach-front is on.

HAVANA, Sept. 30 (Reuters) Executives from major U.S. hotel chains have stepped up their interest in the Communist island in recent months, holding informal talks with Cuban officials as Washington loosens restrictions on U.S. firms operating there.

Executives from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Carlson Hospitality Group, which runs the Radisson chain, are among those who have held talks with Cuban officials in recent months, they told Reuters.

“We’re all very interested.” said Ted Middleton, Hilton’s senior vice president of development in Latin America. “When legally we’re allowed to do so we all want to be at the start-line ready to go.”

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July after decades of hostility. Washington chipped away further at the half-century-old trade embargo this month, allowing certain companies to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures in Cuba as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba.

The United States wants to strike a deal that lets U.S. airlines schedule Cuba flights as soon as possible, a State Department official said last week, amid speculation that a U.S. ban on its tourists visiting Cuba could be eased.

U.S. hoteliers are not currently allowed to invest in Cuba, and the Caribbean island officially remains off-limits for U.S. tourists unless they meet special criteria such as being Cuban-Americans or join special cultural or educational tours.

Foreign companies have to partner with a Cuban entity to do business and U.S. hoteliers expect they will have to do likewise if and when U.S. restrictions are lifted.

While they wait for the politicians to iron out their differences, U.S. hotel bosses are conducting fact-finding missions in Havana and holding getting-to-know-you meetings with government officials in Cuba and various European cities.

This week, Middleton, along with executives from Carlson and Wyndham Worldwide Corp., which runs the Ramada chain, are meeting with Cuba’s Deputy Tourism Minister Luis Miguel Diaz at an industry conference in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

In the 1950s Cuba was an exotic playground for U.S. celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener, as well as ordinary tourists, who travel led there en masse on cheap flights and ships from Miami.

A recent relaxation of some of the restrictions on U.S. travelers has encouraged over 106,000 Americans to visit Cuba so far this year, more than the 91,254 who arrived in all of 2014, according to data compiled by tourism professor José Luís Perelló of the University of Havana.

Overall, tourist arrivals are up nearly 18 percent this year after a record 3 million visitors in 2014, making Cuba the second-most popular holiday destination in the Caribbean behind the much-smaller Dominican Republic.

U.S. hoteliers expect the number of U.S. visitors to balloon if all travel restrictions are axed.

“If and when the travel ban is lifted. We estimate there will be over 1.5 million U.S. travelers on a yearly basis,” said Laurent de Kousemaeker, chief development officer for the Caribbean & Latin American region for Marriott.

De Kousemaeker accompanied other Marriott executives, including chief executive Arne Sorensen, to Havana in July to meet with representatives of management companies and government officials.

Even if sanctions were lifted soon, Cuba traditionally has been slow to approve foreign investment projects, making it unlikely that U.S. hotels would be popping up immediately.

Rivals from Canada and Europe have seized the opportunity, operating and investing in Cuban hotels and resorts, alongside Cuban government partners, for years.

Spanish hotel operator Meliá Hotels International SA, is aiming to have 15,000 rooms in Cuba by 2018. It currently has 13,000 rooms via 27 joint ventures.

London + Regional Properties Ltd, a U.K. hotel and real estate development firm, agreed a deal this summer for an 18-hole golf course, hotel and condominium project with state tourism enterprise, Palmares SA, which has a 51 percent stake in the project.

But even with government plans to add 4,000 new hotel rooms every year for the next 15, the island is not ready for a significant surge in tourism.

The island’s tourism infrastructure went into decline in the decades following the 1959 revolution. Five-star hotel rooms, good restaurants and cheap Internet access are all in short supply.

When and if they get a green light from both governments, executives said U.S. hotel chains will likely offer branding and management partnerships to Cuban government partners such as Palmares and Tourism Group Gaviota, the largest Cuban government tourism entity.

The ultimate goal would be to secure long-term leases on resort developments, which is how Cuban authorities have generally operated with foreign hotels.

But right now, U.S. hoteliers can’t even refer to tourism when they meet Cuban counterparts, let alone talk about actual deals. Instead the buzz word is “hospitality.”

Marriott’s de Kousemaeker likes to use an analogy from baseball, a sport loved both in Cuba and in the United States, to describe the situation.

Castro, Obama join in calls to end US embargo against Cuba

0,,18747244_303,00At the UN General Assembly, Cuban President Raul Castro has called for the normalization of relations with the United States. But he added that this would only be possible if Washington ended its trade embargo.

HAVANA,  Sept. 9 In his first speech as president before the annual United Nations General Assembly , Cuban President Raul Castro noted the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as a positive development. But he added that it was only the beginning of a “long and complex process” towards normalization of relations.

Castro stuck closely to Cuba’s standard foreign policy, demanding that the United States end its economic embargo and close its naval base at Guantanamo Bay as well as cease radio and television broadcasts into Cuba.
In addition, Castro repeated long-standing demands for compensation for financial losses for the half-century-plus economic blockade. Castro received sustained applause for his speech.

In the past, Cuban officials had put a $116-billion (103.2-billion-euro) price tag on such retributions, but the Cuban president did not attach a dollar amount to the demands in his speech on Monday.

Hopeful moves on embargo
While US President Barack Obama and Castro initiated the re-establishment of diplomatic relations earlier this year, the economic and financial embargo of Cuba – which only the US Congress can lift – continues.

Obama also called for an end to the US embargo on Havana at the United Nations, saying that he was confident that the US Congress would “inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.”

The embargo, in place since 1960, remains a bone of contention in the United States, as the Republican-held Congress has refrained from supporting the administration’s move to re-establish diplomatic ties between the two nations.

UN support
The General Assembly was set to discuss a new draft resolution condemning the ongoing US embargo against Cuba at a session next month.

The assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo.

Castro also highlighted other issues in his speech, including what he referred to as the “militarization of cyberspace,” meaning the covert use of information technologies to gather intelligence on and attack other states.

His speech also focused on climate change, decrying the trend as a result of consumerism.

ss/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

Cuba expects to have world’s 9th-oldest population in 2050

 havana-live-old population cubaHAVANA, Sept. 29  (EFE) Cuba by 2050 will have the ninth-oldest population in the world, according to official projections released over the weekend, which also give the first hint that this trend toward aging will go hand in hand with a decline in the island’s labor force.

By that time, some 35 years from now, Cuba will have an estimated 3,598,782 inhabitants 60 years old or over – about 33.2 percent of the total population – according to calculations of the Population and Development Studies Center, or CEPDE, of the National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, cited in an article published in the official daily Juventud Rebelde.

Demography experts predict that the island’s population will continue to fluctuate by “more or less” stable degrees, with years when it increases alternating with years when it decreases, but “always very little,” until around 2025, when a “sustained” decline in the number of inhabitants is expected.

The article recalls that since 1978 Cuban child-bearing has fallen below the replacement level for each woman of reproductive age, while at the same time CEPDE specialists predict “slight” increases in the global fertility rate, from 1.71 children per woman at the end of 2015 to 1.96 halfway through this century.

They also believe that the introduction of new economic measures on the island are likely to stimulate child-bearing, so that by the year 2025 Cuba will have its most numerous population with 11,309,665 inhabitants compared with the 11,223,948 registered now.

But by 2050 that trend will have turned around once again and will have lost 3.6 percent of the current population, the study says.

Meanwhile, with the aging of the island’s population, one of the greatest concerns is the number of active people left in the labor force, which will decline in proportion to the number that will no longer be of an age or physically able to work, and will consequently stop contributing to the nation’s economy.

In that regard, at the end of this year the number of active Cubans is estimate to stand at 7.2 million between the ages of 15 and 59, but by 2040 the deficit of workers could be more than 815,000.

The government understands that the aging population is one of the main challenges facing the nation, and President Raul Castro himself has called for an “urgent” search to find solutions to the problems that stem from that trend, including changes in welfare services.

Cuban doctors pull off an HIV medical marvel

AN-HIV-IN-CUBA-3HAVANA, Sept. 28  The World Health Organization calls it one of the greatest feats in medicine today. Doctors in Cuba have discovered a way to prevent pregnant women with HIV from transmitting the virus to their children.

W-H-O estimates close to a million and a half HIV-positive women conceive each year and without proper medical care there’s a high risk of passing the infections on to their babies.
The organization says Cuba is the first country to eliminate the transmission of HIV during pregnancy.  Cuba is known around the world for its healthcare diplomacy.  For more than 50 years, it’s sent thousands of its doctors and nurses to dozens of countries.

It also does extensive medical research – working on new vaccines and treatments. The number of babies born with HIV around the world has been almost cut in half since 2009 from 400,000 to 240,000 just four years later.  Now, with Cuba’s latest advancement, that number should be reduced even further.
Correspondent Michael Voss reports from Havana on this major breakthrough in protecting the unborn interviewing both victims of the virus and players behind the scenes.

Obama expands room for U.S. business in Cuba

Home Depot in Havana? New U.S. rules allow the sale of construction material to Cubans

HAVANA, Sept. 20  ( Cubastandard)  Taking another significant sanctions-easing step, the Obama Administration now allows U.S. businesses to open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba, hire Cubans, open bank accounts on the island, enter joint ventures with state telecom ETECSA, and lease their goods to Cuban consumers.

Cuba has not made any official statement yet, but if the process of selecting ferry providers is an indicator, the government will react at a slow but deliberate pace, making its own choices. Depending on the Cuban reaction, the easing measures have the potential of triggering a flow of millions of dollars in U.S. investments to Cuba.

Under the amended regulations, U.S. agricultural goods and medical exporters, telecom and Internet service providers, construction material suppliers, shipping and mail service providers, travel service providers, news media, universities, and religious organizations can now “establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse, in Cuba.”

“These individuals and entities will also be authorized to employ Cuban nationals, open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and employ persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Cuba,” a joint statement by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury says.

This means that UPS or FedEx could open drop-off locations in Cuba, U.S. food and medical distributors could open warehouses or sales offices at the Mariel Special Development Zone, U.S. airlines could open ticket offices in Havana, Home Depot could sell its goods at a store, Verizon or Google would be able to offer devices, and John Deere or Caterpillar could have showrooms, says Kavulich.

The revised Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) — administered by Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — and to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) — overseen by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) — will take effect Sept. 21, senior officials told reporters during a background briefing Sept. 18.

The same day, President Obama called President Raúl Castro by phone “to discuss the process of normalization between the two countries in advance of Pope Francis’s upcoming visits to Cuba and the United States”, a White House statement said.   The leaders also “discussed steps the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation, even as we will continue to have differences on important issues and will address those differences candidly,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, Obama urged business executives during a meeting in Washington to press Congress to lift the embargo, mentioning “significant economic opportunities.”

Telecom and Internet services

The new regulations expand the telecommunications and Internet general license to allow a physical presence in Cuba, such as “subsidiaries or joint ventures,” the press release said. In a background briefing session, a senior administration official told reporters that the joint venture clause was introduced because of the recognition that state company ETECSA is the only player in the Cuban telecom sector.

“Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to establish a business presence in Cuba, including through joint ventures with Cuban entities, to provide certain telecommunications and internet-based services, as well as to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services,” the press release said. Under the changes, leasing or loaning of consumer communications devices to end-users is now also allowed.

The regulations also permit the import of Cuban-made mobile applications, and the hiring of Cubans to develop apps.

Third countries, vessels and aircraft, recreational boats, legal services and more

The new rules also allow U.S. businesses to:

•sell goods and services to Cuban nationals outside of Cuba, as long as it doesn’t involve exports to or from Cuba. Banks can now open accounts for Cuban nationals in third countries.

•take cargo ships, ferries, cruise ships and aircraft to Cuba under an application-free general license. Aircraft are allowed to remain in Cuba for up to seven days, vessels up to 14 days.

•travel on ships and boats that don’t stop in third countries under an application-free general license, including lodging aboard vessels.

•U.S. lawyers may now provide for-pay services to Cubans and entities in Cuba. However, there still are “certain limitations” on providing for-pay legal counseling to government or Communist Party entities. Also, U.S. citizens and businesses are now allowed to contract and pay Cuban lawyers.

Individuals can now:

•open bank accounts in Cuba, as long as they are authorized travelers.

•take recreational boats used in connection with authorized travel to Cuba under a general license.

•send unlimited remittances. With the idea of “empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment,” the U.S. government lifted all restrictions; currently up to $2,000 can be sent per quarter and person.

Finally, OFAC clarified that current sanctions in place “allow most transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to a licensed transaction. For example, certain payments made using online payment platforms are permitted for authorized transactions.”

JetBlue is adding flights to Cuba service ahead of an expected opening in travel

havana-live-JetBlue_CloudsHAVANA, Sept. 28   (Reuters)   U.S. airline JetBlue will add a second charter flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to Havana, expanding charter service ahead of an expected opening of commercial air travel between the two countries, the company said on Monday.

The new round-trip, non-stop flight will operate every Tuesday starting Dec. 1 in partnership with Cuba Travel Services, a travel provider licensed by the U.S. government to arrange flights to Cuba.

The two companies currently operate one of two other JFK-to-Havana charter flights. Several other charter flights take passengers to Cuba from Florida.

Under new rules initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in January a month after he announced detente with the former Cold War adversary, U.S. airlines are permitted to fly to Cuba without the need for special permission from the Treasury Department.

However, U.S. and Cuban officials first need to negotiate a new civil aviation agreement.

Representatives of both countries are scheduled to hold aviation talks on Monday and Tuesday in Havana.

Normal airline service was interrupted by the U.S. trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962.

U.S. tourism to Cuba is still banned but certain U.S. citizens and Cuban-Americans are allowed to go on specially sanctioned travel, which has been further relaxed by Obama, creating a larger market for U.S. travel to the Communist-governed island.

The Cuba travel market is expected to grow further should the United States lift either the tourism ban or the embargo. Legislation proposing both is pending in the U.S. Congres

Obama to meet Cuba’s Raul Castro Tuesday

 havana-live-obama-castroHAVANA, Sept 27 (AFP) US President Barack Obama will hold talks with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the White House said Sunday.

It will be the second meeting between the two leaders, after a first historic encounter in Panama in April.

Washington and Havana reestablished diplomatic relations in July after more than half a century of enmity.

The Cuban leader, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, will make his first-ever address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, only several hours after Obama takes the podium.

In an address to a UN development summit on Saturday, Castro took aim at the US embargo against Cuba, describing it as the “main obstacle” to his country’s economic development.

“Such a policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member-states that demand its removal,” he said, referring to a UN resolution calling for the end of the decades-old embargo.

The 193-nation assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1960.

Castro hailed the re-establishment of relations with Washington as a “major progress,” but stressed that the embargo was unfinished business.

“The economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba persists, as it has been for half a century, bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people,” said Castro.

Since the rapprochement with Cuba, the Obama administration has expressed support for lifting the embargo, but the decision rests with Congress, where a Republican majority opposes the move.

The General Assembly is set to discuss a new draft resolution condemning the embargo at a session next month.

I choose to help rebuild my old Cuba

 havana-live-cuba-cloudsHAVANA, Sept. 26  (BY MIKE FERNANDEZ Miami Herald)  Just a few years ago I — and so many others — would have expected mass protests at the thought of the Cuban and American flags being raised at each other’s embassies. Then, weeks ago, just that came to pass, and not a mouse was seen banging a cooking pan with a wooden spoon in our own Little Havana.

How time has changed us. I see real maturation on the U.S.-Cuba issue, but also know that so many have taken a wait-and-see attitude, with arms crossed. I urge Cuban Americans on the sidelines to take charge of their destiny and not allow others to define destiny for us.
We can (1) hang on to the chapter that has already been written, or (2) accept it for what it is, and become a relevant contributor to the future.

My God, we have so much to give!As the pope spoke in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, I could not help but reflect on our need to adjust to today’s realities. Many of us have become better persons, better contributors to society by virtue of the opportunities given and what we have learned from our experience.
Today, all — on the island and here — could help rebuild a new and stronger Cuba: a Cuba of tolerance, a Cuba of choice, a Cuba of tomorrow, a Cuba with a better future with the United States.

I do not underestimate the pain suffered by mothers and fathers when a son or a daughter disappeared after taking to the sea, dreaming of a better and freer life. How can any of us forget the mass executions and the imprisonment of thousands because they disagreed on a policy?

How can any of us forget being branded as “worms”? How can children forget the day they were separated from their families, placed in the hands of strangers in a foreign land, not knowing if they would see their parents again? Nonetheless, we have a choice, albeit not a painless one.

A story reminds me of our own experience: Eva Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from their parents (never to be seen again) at a Nazi concentration camp. These beautiful girls were among thousands of children who became the subject of deadly experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death.

These children saw friends awaken in the morning, and never return to bed. They saw horror that no human being should witness. Eva and Miriam ultimately gained refuge in the United States, as have millions of us from all over the world. Eva became a business leader in real estate, raised a family and outgrew anger and bitterness. As years passed, she wanted to be free — really free.

She forgave her long-ago enemies — the guards, the abusers, the torturer. She simply decided that those people would no longer be permitted to enter her mind and control her feelings. She became free when she chose to move on.

Today, approaching 65, I am leaving a time of traditional productivity to enter the age of playing with the grandchildren, enjoying the beach and reading a book. But as a Cuban American, grateful to my country of birth and truly in love with my adopted country, I have made a choice: I will forgive. I will help rebuild. I will contribute. We want to do the best we can by those who follow us.

Most of us want nothing in return for our contributions. There is no ulterior motive. We will close the chapter behind us; we will not be the stereotypical angry old people. We will contribute ideas and experience.
We won’t be ashamed to tell others that capitalism works. Indeed, capital is needed for growth, improved healthcare, better housing, the updating of infrastructure, communication at the speed of lightning — and, yes, the liberation of the mind so as to focus on a greater good.

May God bless the future of Cuba. May God bless our great United States.

11 facts about Havana’s lung cancer vaccine

havana-live-Cuba-Has-a-Lung-Cancer HAVANA, Sept. 26  Cuba, known for its smoking cigars, has a large problem with lung cancer, it being the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. Since 2011, however, Cuba has made a vaccine that could prevent the disease available to the public for free.

Reviews of the impact of the injection in Cuba and Europe are in the beginning stages, but early evidence has shown success, Dr. Kelvin Lee, co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told The Huffington Post.

It is a treatment for lung cancer, not a cure. The same method has shown to work in treating colon cancer and gives hope that it will also be able to treat other cancers.

Here are some facts about the shot, according to The Huffington Post, ABC News and USA Today.

1. The vaccination is known as CimaVax. It is approved for use in Cuba and Peru.

2. CimaVax increased tumor-reducing antibody production in half of its cases.

3. The vaccine works best for younger people, having an increased effectiveness in those younger than 60.

4. So far, 5,000 individuals have been given the injection.

5. The preventative measure is affordable – Cuba pays one dollar for each shot.

6. No significant side effects have been found as of yet.

7. Researchers in the United States have been looking to create similar vaccinations for lung cancer known as GVAX and BLP 25, but not as many studies have been performed on them.

8. ClimaVax creates a protein that spurs the immune system to attack a lung cancer-growing hormone, preventing the tumor from enlarging,according to ABC News.

9. Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, has an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to conduct clinical trials of ClimaVax in the United States.

10. In Cuba, family physicians are able to administer the vaccination.

11. With innovations such as this, many have come to question if the U.S. embargo has hurt medical research, according to USA Today.

French Nautech shipyard announce new facility in Havana

 havana-live-nautechHAVANA, Sept.26  French refit shipyard Nautech, which specialises in the refit, repair and maintenance of yachts from 25m to 95m, has announced a new facility in Cuba, joining its existing European facilities in Marseille and Villefranche-sur-Mer, France.

“The whole thing came about roughly a year ago because we wanted to have representation in the west,” explained Pascal Voisin, general manager at Nautech.

Voisin’s search led to an agreement with the Cuban government, which owns and operates the shipyard. The new facility is located east of Cuba’s Bay of Havana and 100 miles south of the US coast.
With a share in the facility, Voisin plans to make full use of the shipyard’s existing 600-strong workforce together with contractors from Europe to offer a new service that could be up to 30 per cent cheaper compared to its European counterparts.

“I would like to start with a massive refit project here and we are targeting vessels between 40m and 130m,” said Voisin. “It is a good mechanical and classical shipyard.”

Nautech Cuba offers six dockside berths with a combined length of 1,100m and a dry dock of 151m long and 24m wide. Voisin explained that it was early days and that there is work to be done before they start work on any projects, but Nautech is actively looking for a client.

“You cannot go and start making changes in a new place without understanding the mentality and culture of the country. Cubans are very nice people who are ready to work hard.”

When questioned about other key benefits of this announcement, Voisin was keen to point out that he wanted to provide new and more convenient refit options to the American market – especially clients in the Caribbean.
This, combined with the financial benefits, make the facility an interesting proposal for those looking to refit their yacht.

Colombian Airline Opens Parcel Service to Cuba

aereoHAVANA, Sep 26  (PL) Colombian airline Aviatur and its cargo department Avia Express opened here a parcel service that will be provided by the company to various airports in Cuba with the collaboration of the company Aerovaradero.

The parcel service, in which the Cuban airline Cubana de Aviacion will also participate with its cargo offers, was launched at the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in Bogota, and the ceremony was attended by various personalities from the aviation and tourism sector. The ceremony was chaired by Aviatur president Jean Claude Bessudo and Cuban Ambassador Ivan Mora, while it was attended by Senator Ivan Cepeda and Pierre-Yves Calloc’h, manager in Colombia of the French brand Pernod Ricard, distributor of the Havana Club rum.

According to the information provided by the directors of Aviatur and representatives of Cubana de Aviacion in Colombia, the parcel service will cover airports in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas (Varadero), Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

Take 6 in Havana: world cultures will only advance with unity

 havana-live-take6HAVANA, Sep 25 (acn) World cultures will advance only when we are together, said today in Havana Alvin Chea, one member of the prestigious American band Take 6, invited to Cuba to participate in the Festival Les Voix Humaines.

This event, organized by the Office of Maestro Leo Brouwer, directed by musicologist Isabelle Hernandez, schedules for Saturday a big concert with the American group, which will celebrate on the island 25 years of artistic career.
It is an honor to be in Cuba, a country we did not know and want to love as much as its people, said Claude V. McKnight III, tenor of this vocal band since 1980.

The repertoire we will play for the Cubans comes from one place; spirituality and what God represents for us, that’s what we want to share with you, said the veteran singer that integrates the payroll of one of the greatest bands of jazz, gospel and R & B music.
Alvin Achea, Take 6bass voice since 1985, stated that the opportunity to know each other is essential for both countries.
We love Cuba, yesterday was our first day in Havana, but we felt as if we had been here before, he added.
Our hearts and spirits were immediately connected with its people, the food, the beautiful beach and the sun; all them spoke to our soul, he noted excitedly.

SC Line adds shipping service from Port Everglades to Havana

havana-live-SC-Line-strait-of-gibraltarHAVANA, Sept. 25 In another sign of growing U.S. links with Cuba, shipping company SC Line has started up service between Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Cuba.

SC Line can serve the Cuban seaports of Mariel and Santiago every two weeks on a route that circles between Florida, Cuba, Panama and Colombia. It made its first stop in Cuba on Sunday with its Caroline Russ vessel, which can carry shipping containers, vehicles, breakbulk and other varied cargo.

“We’re ready to respond to customer volume. We could add bigger ships, more ships or weekly service if needed,” said Jose Pardo, chief marketing officer from company offices in Panama.

Port Everglades already has shipping service to Cuba from Crowley Maritime, the Jacksonville-based line authorized since 2001 to ship food, humanitarian supplies and other approved items to the island. Crowley typically serves Cuba’s new container port at Mariel weekly.

Shipments to Cuba have been limited under the 5-decades-old U.S. embargo against the island. But trade now is poised to grow, as the Obama administration since Dec. 17 has adopted a new policy of engagement to Cuba that punches more holes in the embargo.

Washington has eased U.S. rules to sell telecom products on the island and also eased trade with Cuba’s growing private sector, which includes more than half a million people deemed “self-employed.”

The administration also has streamlined rules for U.S. travel to Cuba, spurring a surge in arrivals of Americans with no family there. New reports show the number of those Americans visiting through Sept. 2 topped 100,000, similar to the total who visited in all of last year before Obama’s new policy.

Still, many U.S. companies are awaiting authorization from Cuba to start up on the island, including cruise companies and ferry companies that could operate from PortMiami and Port Everglades.

SC Line this winter switched to the bigger, faster and more modern Caroline Russ ship on its route from Port Everglades. The 10,488-gross-ton vessel can carry up to 190 trucks, 470 cars and 120 shipping containers on chassis. It departs every other Friday from the Broward County seaport.

The shipping line has been calling on Port Everglades since 2012. Founded by Spain’s Sola family in 2006, SC Line operates from Panama and aims to expand in the Caribbean Basin region.

HBO Latino to air ‘The Poet of Havana’ story based on Carlos Varela’s life

 havana-live-varelaHBO Latino is set to air the award-winning music film “The Poet of Havana” based on renowned Cuban musician Carlos Varela’s life.

HAVANA, Sept. 24   The special commemorates Varela’s 30th anniversary as an artist and features exclusive access and backstage moments from his concerts. It also showcases interviews with Jackson Browne, Benicio del Toro, Ivan Lins, Luis Enrique, and more as they discuss Varela. Aside from these, the film will show his “emotionally-charged performances and songs,”Broadway world” reported.

Varela, 52, has released eight albums: “Jalisco Park” (1989), “Carlos Varela en vivo” (1991), “Monedas al aire” (1991), “Como los peces” (1995), “Nubes” (2000), “Siete” (2004), “Los hijos de Guillermo Tell Vol.1” (2005), and “No es el fin” (2009), Havana Cultura listed.

The documentary was filmed in Havana and reveals how the singer was influenced by politics, his country, and the people, and how he touched them in return, Broadway World reported.

“Having endured many censorship battles with the Cuban government, Varela’s music is personal, poignant, and poetic; he has even been called ‘Cuba’s Bob Dylan’ and a voice of his generation. That voice has loudly struggled for the individual freedoms of his homeland and has gone through great effort to build bridges between Cuba, the US, disenfranchised Cubans and the people of the world,” Broadway World added.

Varela’s music, which gained fame in Cuba in the 1980s, was often viewed as too controversial for Cuban radio, Havana Cultura wrote. There weren’t any offers made for the artist, until Silvia Rodriguez stepped in and brought him on a tour in Spain in 1986.

Three years later, Varela’s debut album, “Jalisco Park,” came out through a small Spanish label. “Guillermo Tell,” one of the tracks from the record, is as a message from Cuba’s young generation to the country’s leaders, the news outlet added.

The censorship of Varela’s music was still felt throughout the ’90s, but he always made it a point to acquire inspiration from Cuba.

“In Cuba, musicians and artists don’t ride in limousines, that doesn’t happen,” Varela said, as quoted by Havana Cultura. “People can always come up to you and they feel they have the right to tell you, ‘Hey, I didn’t much like such-and-such song, I didn’t like what you said.’ And you feel like you always have your feet on the ground. That really helps you grow, to be better, and to feel part of something. Your work helps you know people a bit more.”

“The Poet of Havana,” which was directed and produced by Ron Chapman, airs on Oct. 23, 2015 at 8PM ET/7PM CT on HBO Latino, Broadway World noted. Viewers can also watch the special on HBO on Demand, HBO GO, and HBO Now


Colombia’s president, rebels announce breakthrough in talks to end region’s longest conflict

230-OyWvz.AuSt.55HAVANA, Sept. 24  (AP)  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the country’s largest rebel group announced on Wednesday an important breakthrough in peace talks that sets the stage to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.

In a joint statement from Cuba, Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said they have overcome the last significant obstacle to a peace deal by settling on a formula to punish belligerents for human rights abuses committed during a half century of bloody, drug-fueled fighting.

“We are on different sides but today we advance in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is toward peace,” said Santos, minutes before a historic, cold-faced handshake with the military commander of the FARC guerrillas, known by his alias Timochenko.

Rebels that confess abuses to special peace tribunals, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive a maximum 8 years of labor under unspecified conditions but not prisons. War crimes committed by Colombia’s military will also be judged by the tribunals and combatants caught lying will face penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

Santos flew earlier in the day to Havana, where talks with the rebel group have been going on for three years. Negotiators said the surprise advance came as rebels rushed to demonstrate progress ahead of a visit this week to Cuba by Pope Francis, who during his stay on the communist-led island warned the two sides that they didn’t have the option of failing in their best chance at peace in decades.

Santos said the FARC vowed to demobilize within 60 days of a definitive agreement, which he said would be signed within six months.

Negotiators must still come up with a mechanism for rebels to demobilize, hand over their weapons and provide reparations to their victims. Santos has also promised he’ll give Colombians the chance to voice their opinion in a referendum and any deal must also clear Congress.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he called Santos to congratulate him and his negotiating team.

“Peace is now ever closer for the Colombian people and millions of conflict victims,” Kerry said in a statement.

As part of talks in Cuba, both sides had already agreed on plans for land reform, political participation for guerrillas who lay down their weapons and how to jointly combat drug trafficking. Further cementing expectations of a deal, the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in July, a move that ushered in most peaceful period in Colombia since 1975, according to CERAC, a Bogota think tank that monitors the conflict.

But amid the slow but steady progress, one issue had seemed almost insurmountable: How to compensate victims and punish FARC commanders for human rights abuses in light of international conventions Colombia has signed and almost unanimous public rejection of the rebels.

The FARC, whose troops have thinned to an estimated 6,400 from a peak of 21,000 in 2002, have long insisted they haven’t committed any crimes and aren’t abandoning the battlefield only to end up behind bars.
They say that they would only consent to jail time if leaders of Colombia’s military, which has a litany of war crimes to its name, and the nation’s political elite are locked up as well.

“It’s satisfying to us that this special jurisdiction for the peace has been designed for everyone involved in the conflict, combatants and non-combatants, and not just one of the parties,” Timochenko, whose real names is Rodrigo Londono, said in a brief statement sitting alongside Santos and Cuban President Raul Castro, all three men in white shirts. “It opens the door to a full truth.”

The breakthrough was hatched far from the klieg lights of Havana by a group of six lawyers in a 20-hour negotiating session last Thursday at the Bogota apartment of a former president of Colombia’s constitutional court, negotiators told The Associated Press.

Fort Myers – Havana flights begin Nov. 2

havana-live-choiceairHAVANA, Sept. 24 Southwest Florida International Airport, which had zero nonstop to Latin America six months ago, will boast three distinct routes before Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, Miami-based Choice Aire and Lee County Port Authority confirmed Choice Aire would launch twice-weekly flights between Fort Myers and Havana, on Nov. 2.

On the upcoming Havana service, Choice Aire Charters President & CEO Danny Looney said:
-It will be year-round, and initially scheduled for Mondays and Fridays.

– It will use 126-seat jetliners and crews leased from the charter company, Swift Air.
– Introductory fares will be in the neighborhood of $450 round-trip.
– Choice Aire already provides service from Baltimore, Orlando and Miami to Havana.
– Besides Swift Air, key players in the venture include travel agencies, Por Cuba Viajo Express in Naples and Island Travel & Tours in Tampa.
– People may book flights from these agencies or directly at

“I’ve been doing the Cuba flights for 12, 13 years,” said Danny Looney, Choice Aire president & CEO.

The new service comes as rules for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba are rapidly changing.

On Friday, The Associated Press reported that as of Monday, simplified procedures  for tourism, telephone and Internet investments, and money transfers to Cuba would go into effect.

Details were sketchy, however. And the report noted, “Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips.”

Yanay Puente with the Siteseeing CUBA LLC travel agency in Naples, hadn’t heard about the Choice Aire service as of Tuesday afternoon, but added it had the potential to be “very good for us.”

Leonardo Garcia, president & CEO of the Southwest Florida-based Hispanic American Business Alliance, was delighted to hear about the latest service.

Battle for authenticity shows results

havana-live-havana_clubHAVANA, Sept. 23  (FT) “Would the ‘real’ brand please stand up?” That is a complicated question at the best of times. But when the brand is Cuban, it gets more complex still.

Cuba produced the most charismatic revolution of the 20th century. But, with the socialist island slowly re-embracing capitalism and seeking rapprochement with its arch-enemy, the US, the “real Cuba” is in a state of transition.

That transition, in turn, sets the stage for one of the most colourful marketing clashes of modern times, the battle for the “soul” of true Cuban rum, a contest that pits Bacardi, the Bermuda-based company, against Pernod Ricard, the French distiller.

Battle lines: Bacardi and Havana Club are fighting for the ‘soul’ of true Cuban rum

Both drinks groups claim to purvey the “real” thing. But both, perforce, have taken different routes to buttress that claim.

Bacardi, which has its roots in 19th century Cuba and is owned by an exiled family, extols its heritage and Cuba’s pre-revolutionary days.

“Bacardi — untameable since 1862” runs the company slogan, a true enough comment. Bacardi was Cuba’s best-selling rum before the 1959 revolution and, in exile, has become the world’s largest privately owned drinks company.

“Nobody markets the revolution any more,” says Enrique Fernandez, a cultural critic and author of a forthcoming book on Cuban food, The cortadito: my journey through Cuba’s mutilated but resilient cuisine. He says: “Cuba’s marketing pull lies more in old music, old Havana and its old ways. Its charm is in nostalgia — so Bacardi probably has the upper hand there.”

Pernod Ricard, by contrast, is a relative newcomer. For two decades, it has produced Havana Club rum with its joint venture partner, state-owned Cuba Ron, and sold it around the world, except in the US. It calls Havana Club “the genuine, iconic Cuban rum”.

“The brand is an icon,” says Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, chief executive of Pernod’s Havana Club. “It is an expression of Cuban culture.”

That is half true. Before the revolution, Havana Club was only a minor brand. But as it is now actually produced in Cuba, while Bacardi’s rums are largely produced in Puerto Rico, the claim to authenticity is credible.

“In our experience, consumers are attracted to authentic brands,” says Charlie Rudd, chief operating officer of BBH London, the advertising and creative agency. “That is why advertisers invest time and energy to demonstrate where they came from and what makes them special. With this in mind, it looks as though Pernod Ricard has a trump card.”

But what is Cuban culture — given that some 2m Cubans live outside the island — which has a population of 11m?

Bacardi’s campaign locates it in the eternal Cuba of yesteryear. Pernod, on the other hand, leans towards today’s post-ideological Cuba.

To project that image, as well as its rum, Pernod has invested in promoting Cuban music. It has made stylish CDs produced by jazz maestro Gilles Peterson and co-financed a feature film, scripted by Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, called Seven Days in Havana, an often poignant series of contemporary vignettes, only some of which have the feel of an advert.

“The old Cuba of vintage cars has its charm,” says Mr Cottin-Bizonne. “But in the film we wanted to look to the future.”

Cuba’s marketing pull lies more in old music, old Havana and its old ways
– Enrique Fernandez, cultural critic and author

A further complication lies in the companies’ battle over the “Havana Club” marque — which Pernod owns, except in the US, where Bacardi has the rights. The contest will surely escalate should the US embargo finally end, and Pernod can then sell its “Havana Club” in the US, in competition with Bacardi rum and its own “Havana Club”.

The brand battle for “authenticity” goes on, although there is no correct final answer — just as there is no “real Scotch” — and in the end it boils down to questions of personal taste and market access.

Still, the clash is a measure of changing times. A revolution that once won international followers with its global image has now partly resolved down to the rival marketing strategies of two very capitalist companies.


U.S., Cuba to hold talks on normalizing airline service

12003336_414862585373229_5481962962040675172_nHAVANA, Sept. 23  (Reuters) The United States and Cuba plan to hold talks in Havana next week on normalizing airline service, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, a step that could benefit U.S. carriers if the island becomes open to American tourism.

The talks will take place Sept. 28-29, the official said, as Washington and Havana inch toward normal relations after more than half a century of hostility that followed Cuba’s 1959 revolution. The two nations restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies this summer.

Next week’s talks could be announced as early as Tuesday, the U.S. official said.

The United States unveiled new rules on Friday to ease trade, travel and investment restrictions with Cuba that will allow some U.S. companies to establish offices in Cuba, expand banking and Internet activities and eliminate limits on the amount of money that can be taken there, U.S. officials said.

The changes, while significant, stop short of allowing across-the-board investments by U.S. companies or general U.S. tourism, activities banned under the U.S. trade embargo that can only be formally removed by Congress. The majority Republicans are unlikely to do that anytime soon.

U.S. citizens can now visit the Communist-ruled island only for a dozen purposes, including cultural exchange, journalism and religious activities, but general vacations are barred. On Friday the Obama administration issued a new rule allowing authorized travelers to visit Cuba with their close relatives.

U.S. airlines cannot operate scheduled flights to Cuba. While the countries reached a formal air transport agreement in 1953, carriers have been limited to operating charter services for specialist tour groups since the 1959 revolution.

While major U.S. airlines have all expressed a desire to add Cuba to their route maps, American Airlines Group Inc and JetBlue Airways Corp might stand to benefit most. They have focused more on the Caribbean than their U.S. rivals, offering travelers many connecting opportunities.

The director of Galería Habana talks about the changing Cuban art scene

LuisMiret-LaJiribillaLuis Miret Courtesy La Jiribilla

HAVANA, Sept. 22  As Cuba-U.S. relations start to shift, how are things changing for art and artists on the island? The director of Havana’s most prestigious gallery reflects on collectors, art fairs, emerging artists, and Cuban art today in an email interview with Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber.

As a pioneer gallerist in Cuba, and director of Galería Habana, has your business changed since the thaw in Cuba-U.S. relations was announced last December? In what ways?

The changes until now have been more in the way of increased inquires. But there has definitely been a increase in sales too, and not only to the U.S. market.

You are continually promoting your artists at international fairs. With the increased awareness of contemporary Cuban art internationally, do you expect to participate in additional art fairs?

Due to the high costs involved, and our interest in participating in only the most important events of this kind, we are planning to repeat in Art Brussels (Belgium) and ARTBO (Colombia). In addition, and for the first time, for next year we’ve applied to Frieze London and the Armory Show in New York.

Jorge Otero, Lomo, from the series War Hero, 2013 Courtesy Galería Habana

Galería Habana opened 2015 with a solo show by Jorge Otero, a younger artist who is less well known. Are you starting to work more with emerging artists? How does that fit into the gallery’s overall program?

Installation view of Ariamna Contino: Atlas, solo show presented March-April 2015 at Galería Habana Courtesy Galería Habana

Our commitment to younger artists is permanent and ongoing. But before last year’s solo show by Ariamna Contino and this year’s by Jorge Otero, we included younger artists only in themed group shows. For the gallery to decide to present solo shows by younger artists, their work has to be of special interest to us. [Note: Otero and Contino are among the artists in the group show Nuevos Colores, which opened last week at Robert Miller Gallery in New York.]

What are you looking for in younger artists?

We look for the same qualities we promote in well-known artists: solid, personal, great art.

Installation view of Crack, the group show presented at Galería Habana in May-July 2015. In foreground, a work by Roberto Fabelo; background, left, a work by Los Carpinteros. Photo: Cuban Art News

Are you seeing many new buyers of contemporary Cuban art, either at Galería Habana or in the Havana art scene in general? How about local Cuban collectors?

More than the new collectors that are arriving—which is also important—I think it’s interesting to see the approach of major galleries from the U.S. and Europe, some of them with the collaboration of our gallery. That will definitely help spread the word about the best art made in Cuba.

Right now, local collectors are almost zero, but of course those numbers will grow. And that is one of our jobs as dealers, to help them build great collections.

You’re the grand statesman of Cuban gallerists—I feel as if you’ve been there forever. What are your thoughts on new galleries and art advisors who are starting to deal in Cuban art on the island?


Tonel, Just Follow the Money, one of the works in Crack Courtesy Galería Habana

Thank you for your complement. But I just see myself as one of the older dealers still working in Cuba. It’s related to my commitment to the great art made here—something that I hope will also be the interest of the new faces in Cuba involved in promoting the art from the island.

I’ve been hearing two concerns from collectors: sustaining the quality of the art, and for the pricing not to skyrocket. What are your thoughts on these issues?

In my opinion, that is correct. It is something that we try to bring up with the artists, especially the young ones.

Where do you see the art scene in Havana in 5 years? What part do you see Galería Habana playing in that scenario?

I already see a diverse and rich promotion of art on the island, which includes a wise and substantial effort by the National Council of Fine Arts and its promotional institutions. I hope the increased opening of the US market will encourage the organization of the market in Havana, where the majority of sales are now made from artists’ studios.

How would you characterize the art currently being produced in Cuba? What sets it apart from work created earlier?

I think every era has its own art, representing that moment, and involving new mediums, techniques, and materials to make it. I definitely believe in video art and the new sculpture.

Any final thoughts?

Thank you for your interest in our opinion in this issues.

Howard Farber

This is Cuba’s Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify – all without the internet

How media smugglers get Taylor Swift, Game of Thrones, and the New York Times to Cubans every week

HAVANA, Sept. 22  In Cuba there is barely any internet. Anything but the state-run TV channels is prohibited. Publications are limited to the state-approved newspapers and magazines. This is the law. But, in typical Cuban fashion, the law doesn’t stop a vast underground system of entertainment and news media distributors and consumers.

“El Paquete Semanal” (The Weekly Package) is a weekly trove of digital content—everything from American movies to PDFs of Spanish newspapers—that is gathered, organized and transferred by a human web of runners and dealers to the entire country. It is a prodigious and profitable operation.

I went behind the scenes in Havana to film how the Paquete works. Check out the video above to see how Cubans bypass censorship to access the media we take for granted.Paquete.0There are two Paquete king pins in Havana: Dany and Ali. These two compete to develop the best collection of weekly digital content and in the fastest turnaround time possible for their subscribers. It’s a competitive market playing out in the shadows of a tightly controlled communist economy.

Paquete subscribers pay between $1-$3 per week to receive the collection of media. It’s either delivered to their home or transferred at a pick up station, usually in the back of a cell phone repair shop, a natural cover for this type of operation.

Dany relies on data traffickers to deliver the files, but said he didn’t know how those sources obtained the content in the first place. I gathered that most of it is being digitized via illegal satellites that are hidden in water tanks on rooftops.
It’s unclear how they get a hold of the content sourced from the internet (digital news publications, YouTube videos, and pirated movies, for example).

Only 5 percent of Cubans can access the uncensored world wide web, and when they do, the connection is horrendously slow. It’s not the type of connection that would support downloading hundreds of gigs of content every week. Instead, some speculate that content is physically brought onto the island by incomers from Miami.Gifmap_final.0


I sat down with Dany in his pink-walled apartment in Havana. While I expected a mob-like character to be at the root of this extensive black market of pirated media, I found a 26 year-old guy who looked more like a stoned surf bum than the conductor of a giant black market operation.1151hi-res.0

Dany’s office shows off a lot more brawn than he does. It’s a simple room with two gigantic computers, their innards visible, tricked out lights arbitrarily flickering.
Hard drives are littered around the room, stacked and labeled. Two large screens are full of Windows file directories, and in the corner of one of the screens is a live feed from Telemundo, a popular Spanish-language station, with the words “Grabando” (recording) in the corner.1113hi-res.0

“Everybody has their responsibility,” Dany told me. “Everyone gathers a certain type of content and they bring it to me. I organize it, edit it, and get it ready for distribution. And then we send it through our messengers.”

This is hard work. “A lot of the time is spent finding and embedding subtitles” he laments. Much of the content is pirated from American TV and movies. He and his team have scour the internet for any existing subtitle files.1096hi-res.0


The government hasn’t tried to stamp out the Paquete, and Dany works to keep it that way. “We don’t put anything in that is anti-revolutionary, subversive, obscene, or pornographic. We want it to stay about entertainment and education,” he says, and I catch a glimpse of the shrewd business behind the baby face and board shorts.

It might as well be Netflix
A look into an edition of the Paquete reveals a vast array of content ranging from movies that are in US theaters right now to iPhone applications. Havana-based artist Junior showed me around.
He’s a pensive and gentle 34-year-old who is remarkably talented, judging by the stunning art pieces that hang from the wall. Junior paints and tattoos full time but he used to be a Paquete dealer.
He’s now just a consumer. He takes me through the 934GB of data he has recently transferred from his provider.1500hi-res.0

I’m immediately struck by how polished the Paquete system is. As Junior files through the meticulously organized files, I realize it mirrors the consumption of a typical internet user. He opens the movie folder, and we browse through dozens of movies, many still in US theaters. All of them come in HD and with subtitles and poster art as the thumbnail of the file.

The videos are high quality with accurate subtitles. I have to remind myself that we are not browsing Netflix, instead we are looking at an offline computer that is displaying content that has physically traveled to get here. The methods couldn’t be more different but the result is strangely similar.

He moves onto TV shows. “So do you think they have—” I start but am interrupted “they have everything” Junior says emphatically. Sure enough the show I was thinking of, Suits, was there, with the latest episodes ready to watch.El_Paquete.00_03_03_22.Still002.0


We continue to browse and look into some of the more boring but most interesting part of the Paquete: There are folders dedicated to antivirus software that can be updated weekly to the latest versions.
“But there’s no internet, so there can’t be viruses” I say. “Most of this stuff has touched the internet in some way. This software protects against anything that has snuck its way on into the content.”

Junior clicks over to the “Apps” folder and shows me a smorgasbord of iOS and Android apps. Many are gaming apps with updates that can be loaded in every week.
But there is another called “A la mesa” a Yelp-type app that helps connect clients to restaurants in Cuba using maps, reviews, and in-app menus. Then there’s the PDF folder which holds newspapers, magazines, and screenshot material from dozens of online publications, everything from tech news to sports. It’s the internet in a box.

In addition to the subscription fees, revenue for the Paquete comes from a classifieds section called “Revolico.” Within the Paquete, you click a file that opens Revolico in your browser. But it’s an offline version that runs from a file structure on your local computer. There, you can click around as if you were browsing craigslist, looking and thousands of listings of everything from house rentals to big screen TVs to car tires.

Sellers pay to list their items and you can get a premium listing if you pay more. Revolico is the cash cow of the Paquete. It also happens to be one of the first semblances of an advertising market for Cubans who have lived in a world of central planning and price control.El_Paquete.00_03_22_00.Still003.0

The depth and breadth of the Paquete is astounding, so much so that I, an American who lives and works on the uncensored internet, feel a twinge of envy that I don’t have the Paquete delivered to my house every week for $2.

When I asked Dany if he is afraid that the internet will wipe out his operation, without missing a beat, he replied, “Nah. We offer a product that is like one giant webpage where you can see all the content you want for a very low price. The internet might take over some clients, but we offer something different and very effective.”

“Speed is key to beating the competition,” Dany said. When asked how quickly he can get a movie or TV show after it airs in the US he says “the next day.” Last year, Dany started sending a hard drive on a plane to the far corners of the island.

After spending a week in Cuba, it was refreshing to talk to someone with the appetite to grow an enterprise. Most people I spoke to in Cuba work for the state and have zero incentive to deliver anything above the bare minimum. They get paid the same either way. Even the private restaurants lack the fervor of a competitive business since the economic environment they work in is still completely controlled even if they themselves are private.

But in Dany’s office, I felt the thrill of cunning innovation and strategy at work. I got the sense that something big is happening. And indeed, I wasn’t just standing in some dingy apartment, but rather what may be largest media distribution company in the history of Cuba.

U.S. may abstain on U.N. Cuba resolution

havana-live-united nationU.S. weighs unprecedented abstention on U.N. vote condemning Cuba embargo.

HAVANA, 22 Sept.  (AP)  For the first time, the United States may accept a United Nations condemnation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba without a fight, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials tell the AP that the Obama administration is weighing abstaining from the annual U.N. General Assembly vote on a Cuban-backed resolution demanding that the embargo be lifted. The vote could come next month.

No decision has yet been made, said four administration officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity. But merely considering an abstention is unprecedented. Following through on the idea would send shock waves through both the United Nations and Congress.

It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws.

By not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against Congress, which has refused to repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so.

Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, said that by abstaining, Obama would be “putting international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” The embargo, he said, denies money to a dictatorship that can be used to further oppression.

General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable. But the annual exercise has given Cuba a stage to demonstrate America’s isolation on the embargo, and it has underscored the sense internationally that the U.S. restrictions are illegitimate.

The United States has lost each vote by increasingly overwhelming and embarrassing margins. Last year’s tally was 188-2 in favor of Cuba with only Israel siding with the U.S. This year’s vote will be the first since the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba. Israel would be expected to vote whichever way the U.S. decides.

The American officials said that at the moment the U.S. is still more likely to vote against the resolution than abstain. However, they said the U.S. will consider abstaining if the wording of the resolution is significantly different from previous years. The administration is open to discussing revisions with the Cubans and others, they added, something American diplomats have never done before.

Obama has urged Congress to scrap the 54-year-old embargo since December, when he announced that Washington and Havana would normalize diplomatic relations. The two countries re-opened embassies last month, and Obama has chipped away at U.S. restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, using executive authorities. But the embargo stands.

The latest U.S. easing of sanctions occurred Friday and was followed by a rare phone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Pope Francis, who has played a key role in the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, arrived in Havana a day later. He travels to the U.S. this week.

The White House said Obama and Castro discussed “steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation.” The Cuban government said Castro “emphasized the need to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade policy for the benefit of both peoples.”

Neither statement mentioned the U.N. vote. Yet, as it has for the last 23 years, Cuba will introduce a resolution at the upcoming General Assembly criticizing the embargo and demanding its end.

Cuba’s government had no immediate reaction to the report of the administration’s new consideration.

An abstention could have political ramifications in the United States, beyond the presidential race.

In Congress, where top GOP lawmakers have refused to entertain legislation to end the embargo, any action perceived as endorsing U.N. criticism of the United States could provoke anger — even among supporters of the administration’s position.

As White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted last week, the embargo remains the law of the land. “We still want Congress to take action to remove the embargo,” he said.

The U.S. officials, however, said the administration believes an abstention could send a powerful signal to Congress and the world of Obama’s commitment to end the embargo. Obama says the policy failed over more than five decades to spur democratic change and left the U.S. isolated among its Latin American neighbors.

It’s unclear what changes would be necessary to prompt a U.S. abstention.


HAVANA, Sept. 21 (AP) Pope Francis met with Fidel Castro today after urging thousands of Cubans to serve one another and not an ideology during a Mass celebrated in Havana’s iconic Revolution Plaza. The Vatican described the 40-minute meeting at Castro’s residence as informal.

Francis is hailing detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urges Presidents Barack Obama and Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities.”

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”

Francis presided over a vespers service in Havana’s 18th century Immaculate Conception and San Cristobal cathedral on Sunday.

Bells rang out and a few hundred excited and sweaty priests and sisters clapped and shouted “Francisco!” as the pope arrived. An organ broke into a celebratory hymn.

The cathedral was first started by priests of Francis’ Jesuit order and the facade was designed by the Italian architect Borromini. It boasts a large bronze statue of St. John Paul II, who became the first pope to visit Cuba in 1998, as well as a replica of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

300 000 in Revolution Square Havana with Pope Francisco

HAVANA, Sept. 20  ( Havana Times – dpa)  Pope Francis will celebrate mass on Sunday in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana, one of the most anticipated events of his four-day visit to Cuba.

Tens of thousands of the faithful and supporters of the government of Raul Castro began arriving in the early morning hours to the Plaza in the central district of Vedado, converted for decades into a symbol of the Cuban revolution.

Following the open-air mass the Argentine pope is scheduled to hold an official meeting on Sunday afternoon with Cuban president Raul Castro.

Francisco’s predecessors, John Paul II (1998) and Benedict XVI (2012), also officiated mass in the Plaza of the Revolution, known for its huge relief image of the Argentine-Cuban guerrilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara placed on a nearby building.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will also be in the square for the mass as a special guest of her Cuban counterpart Raul Castro.

Political opposition groups announced in advance that they also want to go to attend the mass. However, many fear that the authorities would not allow them to reach the square.

The situation of the Church has improved considerably since the 90s in Cuba, which clamped down on the church hierarchy after the triumph of the 1959 revolution.

Numerous Catholic priests had to leave the country in the years following the arrival of Fidel Castro to power.

Especially the visit of John Paul II in 1998 prompted the revival of the Catholic faith in the Caribbean island. The Catholic Church claims that 60 percent of Cubans are baptized, although only two percent regularly go to church, according to figures of the Cuban Episcopal Conference.

Francisco’s visit to Cuba has a high political profile do to his role of mediator in the rapprochement between the governments of Havana and Washington.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio will travel Tuesday September 22 directly from Santiago de Cuba to the United States as part of a nine-day itinerary symbolic linking both countries.

Pope Francis waves to crowds of thousands as popemobile moves through Havana

havana-live-pope francisHAVANA, 19 Sept.  (AP)   The latest developments in Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States. All times local:

5:21 p.m.

Francis is traveling through the streets of Havana, waving to excited crowds from the latest version of the iconic popemobile.

Thousands of Cubans are along the route from the Jose Marti International Airport to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba, where the pontiff is to spend the night.Download

Many are waving Cuban and Vatican flags. Near the residence, a group of nuns is singing the Lord’s Prayer to the rhythm of traditional Cuban “son” music. One woman holds a sign that reads: “Francis, you bring us hope.”

There’s also a near-continuous line of security agents forming a human barricade.

4:50 p.m.

Pope Francis has been given a red-carpet welcome in Havana complete with a military honor guard and a handshake from a dark-suited Raul Castro.

Smiling children handed him flowers, and a band played the Cuban national anthem before Castro and then the pope took turns speaking.

Island church leaders were also on hand to greet the pontiff.

4:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is hailing detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urges Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities.”

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”

At an airport arrival ceremony headed by President Raul Castro, Francis says he wants his greeting “to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet” — a possible nod to political dissidents as well as average Cubans.

4:30 p.m.

Cuban President Raul Castro is praising Pope Francis’ critiques of the global economic system, saying it has “globalized capital and turned money into its idol.”

In a lengthy speech welcoming the pope at Havana’s international airport, Castro says Cuba’s communist government has “founded an equitable society with social justice.” He thanks the pope for mediating negotiations on detente between the United States and Cuba.

Castro is also calling for the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and the return of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

3:51 p.m.

Pope Francis has landed in Havana, launching a historic 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States after serving as secret mediator of the historic rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.

Cuban President Raul Castro is at the airport to welcome the pontiff, who will be offering a show of solidarity with Cubans and delivering a message in the United States that Hispanics are the bedrock of the American church.

2:45 p.m.

Hundreds of people are beginning to gather along the route where Pope Francis will travel when he arrives in Cuba.

They include five Salvadoran citizens waiting on a street closed to traffic in a leafy neighborhood of western Havana, where Francis is to overnight at the papal ambassador’s residence.

Sandra del Moreno traveled from San Salvador with four friends and was clutching the Central American nation’s flag.

The 51-year-old woman said “We love this pope, although we would have liked it if he had visited El Salvador.”

A block away three kids were playing with a ball made from rags.

Ten-year-old Kevin Duvergel and 9-year-old Marlos Duenas exclaimed in unison: “Pope Francis is going to pass by!”

1:55 p.m.

Not everyone in Havana is thrilled at being asked to turn out for the pope.

State-employed medical office worker Rafael Rivero says he’s not sure if he will come watch Francis’ motorcade, and many co-workers feel the same way.

U.S. Treasury details Cuba regulation changes

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HAVANA, Sept. 19 The U.S. Treasury and Department of Commerce announced changes in the United States’ relationship with Cuba Friday morning.

“Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said.
“These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.
A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.

By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

The changes are the following:
Facilitating authorized travel and commerce, increasing contact between Americans and Cubans, and supporting civil society in Cuba:

  • Transportation by vessel of authorized travelers – between the United States and Cuba only and without stops in third countries – will be authorized by general license. Certain related lodging services aboard vessels used for such travel will also be authorized.
  • License Exception Aircraft, Vessels, and Spacecraft (AVS) will authorize temporary sojourns to Cuba of certain categories of vessels. Eligible categories of vessels are cargo vessels for hire for use in the transportation of items; passenger vessels for hire for use in the transportation of passengers and/or items; and recreational vessels that are used in connection with travel authorized by the Treasury.
  • License Exception AVS will authorize aircraft on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 7 consecutive days and authorizes vessels on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 14 consecutive days.
  • Close relatives will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain additional activities. In the January changes, OFAC permitted close relatives to join visits related to official government business and certain educational activities, and to visit additional family members residing in Cuba. Close relatives now also will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for additional educational activities, journalistic activity, professional research, and religious activities, as well as activities related to humanitarian projects and activities of private foundations or certain research or educational institutes. For purposes of this provision, a close relative is defined as someone related to a person by blood, marriage, or adoption – and who is no more than three generations removed from that person or a common ancestor with that person.
  • All authorized travelers will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba in order to access funds for authorized transactions while in Cuba.

Telecommunications & Internet-Based Services —
Enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba:

  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to establish a business presence in Cuba, including through joint ventures with Cuban entities, to provide certain telecommunications and internet-based services, as well as to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services.
  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to import Cuban-origin mobile applications into the United States and to hire Cuban nationals to develop them.
  • An existing authorization for the provision of services related to certain consumer communications devices exported to Cuba will be expanded to authorize services related to additional types of items authorized by Commerce, and to add training related to the installation, repair, or replacement of those items.
  • License Exception Consumer Communications Devices (CCD) will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception CCD is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.

Commercial and Financial Transactions –

  • Refocusing sanctions so they do not prevent day-to-day transactions by Cuban individuals who are outside of Cuba.
  • All persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to provide goods and services to individual Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, provided there is no commercial exportation of goods or services to or from Cuba.
  • Banking institutions will be able to open and maintain accounts for Cuban individuals for use while the Cuban national is located outside of Cuba, and to close such accounts.

Physical Presence and Operations in Cuba –
Facilitating certain authorized activities involving Cuba:

  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction engaging in the following categories of authorized activities will be allowed to establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse, in Cuba: news bureaus; exporters of certain goods authorized for export or reexport to Cuba by Commerce and OFAC, such as agricultural products and materials for construction or renovation of privately-owned buildings; entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or certain cargo transportation services; providers of telecommunications or internet-based services; entities organizing or conducting educational activities; religious organizations; and providers of carrier and certain travel services. These individuals and entities will also be authorized to employ Cuban nationals, open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and employ persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Cuba.

Support for the Cuban People –
Improving living conditions, strengthening civil society, and supporting independent economic activity by the Cuban people:

  • License Exception Support for the Cuban People (SCP) will authorize certain exports and reexports of items to Cuba for use in establishing, maintaining, and operating a physical presence in Cuba. Eligible end-users of the items include certain persons providing telecommunications or internet-based services; establishing telecommunications facilities; providing travel or carrier services; organizing or conducting educational activities; or transporting authorized items between the United States and Cuba.
  • License Exception SCP will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception SCP is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.
  • Certain temporary reexports from a foreign country to Cuba will be authorized by License Exception SCP when the items are for use in scientific, archeological, cultural, ecological, educational, historic preservation, sporting activities, or in the traveler’s professional research and meetings. Previously, this provision was limited to temporary exports by persons departing the United States.
  • Certain commodities and software for use in software development may be exported or reexported to eligible end-users in Cuba pursuant to License Exception SCP.
  • License Exception SCP will authorize temporary exports and reexports to Cuba of additional categories of items, including certain tools of trade to install, service, or repair items; and certain commodities and software for exhibition or demonstration.

Remittances –
Empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment, and in turn strengthening independent civil society:

  • The limits on donative remittances to Cuban nationals other than prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials, currently set at $2,000 per quarter, will be removed entirely. The limits on authorized remittances that individuals may carry to Cuba, previously $10,000 for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and $3,000 for Cuban nationals, will also be removed entirely.
  • The unblocking and return of remittances that were previously blocked because they exceeded the then-applicable caps on periodic remittances, and of certain previously blocked funds transfers, will be allowed.
  • Depository institutions will be allowed to maintain accounts for certain Cuban nationals present in the United States in a non-immigrant status, and will no longer be required to block such accounts if not closed before the Cuban national’s departure. Access to such accounts will be limited to while the Cuban national is lawfully present in the United States, although the account may remain open while the Cuban national is not in the United States. The $250 monthly limit on payments from previously blocked accounts held in the name of such Cuban nationals will be removed to more adequately allow access to funds for living expenses.
  • Remittances from Cuba and from Cuban nationals in third countries to the United States will be authorized by general license, and financial institutions will be allowed to provide related services.
  • An expanded general license also will authorize additional remittances to Cuban nationals in connection with the administration of estates. This provision complements another general license authorizing all transactions incident to the administration and distribution of the assets of estates in which a Cuban national has an interest.

Legal Services –
Updating the legal services provisions:

  • OFAC’s existing general license authorizing the provision of certain legal services to Cuba and Cuban nationals will be expanded to allow the receipt of payment for such services. Certain limitations will apply, related to payments from prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials. Additionally, a new general license will authorize persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to receive, and make payment for, certain legal services from Cuba or Cuban nationals.

Civil Aviation Safety –
Supporting international aviation and passenger safety:

  • A case-by-case review policy will apply to license applications for exports and reexports to Cuba of items to help ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft. Items that are to be reviewed pursuant to this policy include aircraft parts and components; software and technology related to safety of flight; air traffic control, aviation communications, and aviation weather related equipment; airport safety equipment; and devices used for security screening of passengers and baggage.

Gift Imports –
Allowing certain gifts:

  • Imports of merchandise from Cuba or Cuban-origin merchandise from a third country intended as gifts, excluding alcohol and tobacco products, will be allowed to be sent to the United States provided that the merchandise is not carried by a traveler, the value of the merchandise is not more than $100, and the item is a type and in quantities normally given as a gift.

Educational Activities –
Increasing contact between American and Cubans and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people:

  • Under an expanded general license, additional educational activities involving Cuba and Cuban nationals, including the provision of standardized testing services and internet-based courses, will be authorized.
  • Academic exchanges and joint non-commercial academic research with universities or academic institutions in Cuba will also be authorized.
  • Travel-related transactions in connection with these activities will also be authorized.

Ordinarily Incident Transactions –
Clarifying the scope of authorized transactions:

  • OFAC is clarifying that the Cuba sanctions provisions that are already in place allow most transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to a licensed transaction. For example, certain payments made using online payment platforms are permitted for authorized transactions.

Air Ambulances and Emergency Medical Services –
Facilitating access to emergency medical services:

  • The provision of air ambulance and other related emergency medical services to travelers in Cuba will be authorized by general license, and a general license will clarify that the provision of nonscheduled emergency medical services to Cuban nationals in the United States is authorized.

Humanitarian Projects –
Facilitating aid to the Cuban people in times of need and preserving Cuban history:

  •  The general license authorizing transactions related to specified humanitarian projects will be expanded to include disaster relief and historical preservation.

Supporting Diplomatic Relations –
Supporting the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba in accordance with the President’s announcement:

  • OFAC is expanding the general license authorizing transactions with official missions of Cuba to the United States to include international funds transfers.

The changes will take effect on Monday.

White House preparing new rules to weaken Cuba embargo

havana-live-us embassyHAVANA, Sept. 18 (Reuters) – The White House is drafting sweeping regulations to further weaken the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba that would ease restrictions on U.S. companies and make it safer for Americans to travel there, U.S. government sources said on Thursday.

The regulations could be announced as soon as Friday.

U.S. companies would be allowed to establish offices in Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, according to a draft of the new rules seen by Reuters.

The regulations make it easier for airlines and cruise ships to import parts and technology to improve safety in Cuba; loosen restrictions on software exports; and allow authorized companies to establish subsidiaries with Cuba, possibly via joint ventures with Cuban firms such as state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa.

However, they do not authorise private financing of trade nor change current rules on who can travel to Cuba, though it is possible regulations could still be modified by other agencies or updated later in the year, according to people familiar with the White House’s thinking on Cuba policy.

There was no immediate comment from President Barack Obama‘s administration.

“These are the most comprehensive expansion in U.S. trade and investment regulations with Cuba in decades,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, who is familiar with the new rules.

“The result will be an exponential increase in interest towards Cuba by U.S. companies and pressure upon Cuba by those same companies to permit access to the marketplace,” Kavulich said.

The regulations expand on others that Obama announced in January to ease the 53-year-old embargo of the Communist-ruled island.

Those rules were an initial gesture after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would move toward normal relations between the former Cold War foes for the first time in more than half a century.

Although legislation seeking to promote commercial ties between the two countries has support from Democrats and some Republicans, efforts to pass bills that would ease trade and travel restrictions have been stymied by opposition from Republican congressional leaders.

Given the resistance from Congress, Obama is using executive powers to ease the trade barriers.

The administration was preparing the new regulations as Jose Cabanas, a veteran diplomat, on Thursday became Cuba’s first ambassador to the United States in 54 years.

Washington has yet to name an ambassador to Cuba.

Cuba is also preparing for a three-night visit from Pope Francis starting on Saturday.

One advocate of U.S. engagement with Cuba who has been briefed on the matter said administration officials first discussed the regulations with supporters of Obama’s Cuba policy in July.

“The focus is on ease of doing business, and (the regulations) have been in hopper to be released for a couple of weeks. Interesting that they’re choosing it to coincide with the pope’s visit,” said Felice Gorordo, co-founder of the Cuban-American group Roots of Hope.

Verizon is going to start offering cellphone roaming in Cuba

havana-live-.verizonHAVANA, Sept. 18 (Reuters) Verizon Communications Inc announced on Thursday it would become the first U.S. company to offer roaming wireless service in Cuba next week.
The announcement by the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier follows the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in July, after a break of 54 years.
The United States has set connectivity as a priority in its new relationship with the Communist-run island.

Telecommunications equipment, technology and services were among the first exemptions to a U.S. economic embargo of the island after Washington and Havana announced plans to restore diplomatic relations in December.

Verizon will charge $2.99 per minute for voice calls and $2.05 per megabyte for data, making the option an expensive one. Currently, visiting Americans must purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone through state telephone company Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA) to have cellular service on the island, or have a cellphone account in a third country. ETECSA does not offer data.

Boost Mobile, part of Sprint Corp, in April launched a prepaid plan for U.S. consumers calling and texting Cuba. In March, U.S.-based IDT Corp reached an agreement with ETECSA to provide direct international long-distance service. Previously phone communication between the two countries had to pass through third countries.

Scarcely 2 million people out of Cuba’s population of 11 million have cell phones. Cuban officials cite the U.S. embargo as the reason for its weak development and say they hope to reach 60 percent mobile-phone access by 2020.

US, Cuba to resume mail service this year; agreement on commercial flights, other steps near

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Cartons of mail ready to be sorted sit on a shelf at the U.S. Post Office sort center on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. Postal Service is proposing to lay off 120,000 workers in order to deal with an $8.5 billion loss this year that has the agency close to insolvency. The layoffs, if approved by Congress, would take place over the next three years. In addition to layoffs, the Postal Service also wants to eliminate 100,000 jobs through attrition. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Sept. 18 (AP) — The United States and Cuba should be able to transform their new diplomatic relationship into a deeper commercial partnership before the end of the year, with direct postal service to begin and an agreement on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, an American official said.

Washington also plans to publish new regulations soon making it easier for U.S. citizens to visit the island and do business with its growing ranks of independent entrepreneurs.

The official, who is familiar with the diplomacy, described significant progress in U.S.-Cuban discussions since the former Cold War foes reopened embassies in their respective countries in July. At a meeting in Havana last week, delegations from each side established a plan to settle a half-century of economic and legal disputes within the next 15 months.

While difficult questions related to human rights and compensation claims won’t be resolved immediately, the official said first steps toward a broader normalization of ties would come quickly.

First, the Obama administration intends to move on its own in the coming days by releasing a new set of rules designed to loosen the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to publicly lay out the process and demanded anonymity.

The goal is to pick up where President Barack Obama left off in January, when he eased economic restrictions on Cuba in potentially the most dramatic manner since relations between the countries broke down after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 and the subsequent Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis. The action sought to cut red tape for U.S. travel to Cuba, permit American companies to export telephones, computers and Internet technology, and allow U.S. firms to send supplies to private Cuban enterprises.

But efforts to expand business, tourism and other exchanges have run into an overlapping thicket of U.S. laws and hindrances, not to mention an uneven response from Cuba’s political leaders, the U.S. official said.

Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips. Routine airline service hasn’t satisfied various federal conditions. Cruise ships and ferries are still trying to finalize regular maritime routes with Cuban authorities. Credit card and other companies still can’t transfer payments to Cuba. Telecommunications companies haven’t been able to set up shop and get equipment to the island 90 miles south of Florida. And Cuba’s government isn’t even running its Internet connections anywhere near capacity levels.

The new U.S. rules should help cut through some of these bureaucratic hurdles, the official said, though he declined to describe all the legal changes in concrete terms. Only Congress can end the embargo, and much of the foreseen expansion of U.S.-Cuban economic ties rests on the cooperation of the island’s communist government.

The U.S.-Cuban political track moved ahead Thursday as new ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez presented his credentials to Obama at a White House ceremony. The pair briefly spoke, according to a Cuban embassy statement.

When Obama laid out his vision of improved relations eight months ago, he said his objectives were twofold: ease economic hardship in Cuba and spur its development of a private market outside of state control.

Some breakthroughs can be expected by the end of the year, according to the official.

Washington and Havana are slated to begin a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another, the official said. The governments have been speaking about re-establishing a postal link since Obama entered office, but the talks stalled when Cuba imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Direct mail service was halted in 1963, though letters and packages travel back and forth through countries like Canada and Mexico.

The postal program will use the Miami and Havana airports, the official said.

US-Cuba relations could bring important gains for cancer research

(Image: Peter Turnley for Harper’s/Corbis)

(Image: Peter Turnley for Harper’s/Corbis)

HAVANA, Sept.16  CUBA has a unique relationship with tobacco. Cigars are the country’s national product and tobacco generates an annual income of between $400 and $500 million. If you’ve ever walked down the Malecón of an evening, Havana’s iconic waterfront promenade, you can’t fail to have noticed the scores of young people pulling on cheap cigarettes in the sea breeze.

It still strikes me as odd when I see people smoking inside public buildings, and it isn’t frowned upon to light up at your desk in most Cuban workplaces.

And therein lies the problem.Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in Cuba, after cardiovascular disease, andlung cancer rates are among the highest in the region, according to the World Heath Organization.

But Cuban researchers are helping lead the fight against the disease. They recently added a new weapon to the arsenal against lung cancer: Cimavax. This vaccine – designed to be given to people with cancer – encourages the immune system to attack a protein that fuels tumour growth, slowing the disease’s spread.

“The basic idea is to mobilise the immune system so the components which typically defend you are able to fight the cancer cells growing inside the body,” says Kaleb Leon, director of investigation and research at the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Havana, where the drug was developed.

There is one key reason why Cuba punches above its weight in the medical research arena: research and treatment are tightly connected in the Cuban healthcare system. Writing in the journal PNAS earlier this year, a group of US neuroscientists including Mark Cohen of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted the benefits of this “two-way communication between the lay public and research scientists in the cause of public health” ( They cited large-scale population studies which “routinely achieve more than 95 per cent enrolment success”.

Partly because of this connection, the team at CIM has made significant progress with clinical trials of Cimavax.Pooled results from phase I and II clinical trials showed that those vaccinated survived for 11 months on average, while the survival rate in a control group was four to five months (Human Vaccines,

And the work has attracted international interest. On his recent trade visit to the island, Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, brought representatives from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. They have now signed an agreement with CIM to further test and develop Cimavax in the US.

“An agreement has been signed to further test and develop Cuba’s cancer vaccine in the US”

Leon is clearly proud of his team’s achievements as he guides me around the national immunology lab, housed in a modernist building on the outskirts of Havana.

“Roswell Park has been in touch with us for about three years now,” he says. “The plan is to start a phase I clinical trial there at the end of this year.”

But he admits it hasn’t been easy. For over five decades, the US government has maintained an economic and diplomatic embargo on communist-run Cuba, which has made it almost impossible for researchers in the two nations to work together.

This year’s PNAS article emphasised the benefits to the US of closer cooperation. Scientists in Havana, too, are aware that they would benefit from further detente.

“In many different senses this weird relationship we have with the US has caused problems for us,” says Leon. The US forbids third nations from selling equipment containing US-made components to Cuba, for example.

But 2015 has seen quite a turnaround for these cold war enemies, including a face-to-face meeting between presidents Obama and Castro, diplomatic ties re-established and embassies reopened.

If the thaw is to last, however, it must take hold in arenas beyond diplomacy. Cancer patients on both sides of the Straits of Florida will hope biomedical research can benefit from this new-found spirit of cooperation.