Monthly Archives: October 2015

There Is a Bar at Ernest Hemingway’s Home in Havana

havana-live-finca_vigiaHAVANA, Oct.31th  (By Alexander Britell) There should be a bar here.Here at Finca Vigia, the hillside farm where Ernest Hemingway spent three decades of his life, nothing has changed.havana-live-finca-figia

Hemingway’s house became a museum just about a month after he left the country in 1961, and even the bottles of his bar remain on his living room table, Bacardi, Wild Turkey, the ones he drank when he wasn’t in town at El Floridita eing daiquiris.

So this is a place that needs a bar.

And there is one. And it is very good.havana-live-finca-figia

There is no name on the bar counter or the tent, just a sign that says “Coctel Vigia,” and the ingredients of the cocktail meant to honor the Finca’s famous resident, the pride of the town of San Francisco de Paula.

The ingredients are simple, like all of the cocktails Hemingway loved: a few slices of lime; a wedge of pineapple; freshly-pressed guarapo (the kind of fresh where you’re there when they press the sugar cane) and Cuba’s most famous exported rum, Havana Club 7 Anos.havana-live-finca-figia

The ingredients are all local, as much from this place as the old men playing dominos at the table near the counter or the kids playing baseball down the hill, like they used to in the old days.

It is the cocktail that is so good you take it with you to sit on Hemingway’s front porch, imagining that Papa is a few steps by, ready to take a break from typing to join you. Or to tell Pedrito to tell you to move from his porch.

It is so good it reminds you why Hemingway loved this country, why this country loves him, and why he loved the people of this island.

It is the cocktail that is so good it makes you drive back to Finca Vigia a second time on a four-day trip.hemsignAnd the barman, Rodolfo, keeps making them, as the wheel of the sugar cane press keeps turning, each time filling them with a bit more Havana Club 7 as the hours go by and you wonder if you’ll run out of guarapo.

There should be a bar in this place. And so there is one. And it is very good.

Read more about the Finca Vigia and Hemingway at:

Cuba and DR to develop joint multi-destination tourism project

UnbenanntHAVANA, Oct. 31th  (eTurboNews) Dominican Republic´s Tourism minister Francisco Javier said in the capital Santo Domingo that his country will jointly develop with Cuba a multi-destination project to bring a larger number of Chinese tourists.

The official made the announcement during the first China-Dominican Republic Cooperation Forum, underway in Punta Cana, a tourist center in the eastern Dominican province of La Altagracia.

Minister Javier said that Cuban authorities are interested in jointly operating a multi-destination with his country for the Chinese market and they also want all Chinese tourists that visit Cuba also tour the Dominican Republic.

Air China announced the opening of the Beijing-Havana route for late December with three weekly flights and this is good news for the joint multi-destination project, said the official.

Chinese tourists are eager to visit new places as estimates say that more than 100 million of them tour different destinations around the world, according to the Dominican Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development, one of the organizers of the forum.

Pensacola to Havana race starts today

havana-live-sail race

The New Orleans-based crew of Lesson #1, a J/130 sailboat, head to Pensacola on Friday to the start an ocean regatta to Cuba. The race begins Oct. 31 and will cover more than 500 miles. Boats will arrive into Marina Hemingway, about seven miles west of Havana. (Photo courtesy of Troy Gilbert)

HAVANA, Oct. 31th (By Susan Langenhenning)  A fleet of sleek racing sailboats and cruisers will line up in the waters just off Pensacola, Fla., early this Halloween morning, to launch the rebirth of a Gulf Coast tradition long stifled by international politics and diplomatic relations.

Twenty-two boats are participating in the first Pensacola to Cuba regatta, with nearly a quarter of those boats coming from New Orleans. After the start just off the Florida coast, they’ll travel more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, skip past Rebecca Shoal and the Dry Tortugas to arrive next week at Hemingway Marina, about eight miles west of Havana.

The race is billed as one of the first legal regattas from the United States to Cuba since Fidel Castro seized power of the island nation in 1959. But the lure of Havana has long been an irresistible siren song for Gulf Coast sailors — even during the U.S. embargo when some American yacht clubs and organizations risked legal wrangling and angry protesters to continue hosting regattas to Cuba.

That all changed this year, when President Barack Obama eased restrictions and resumed diplomatic relations with the island. The water is now officially open, if boats are willing to apply for permits and deal with all the legal red tape.

New Orleans sailor Tim Cerniglia signed up as soon as the Pensacola Yacht Club posted notice of the race. For him, it’s a chance to satisfy a lifelong fascination with Cuba and reconnect with his family’s history.

His mother, Elise Cerniglia, was born in New Orleans but spent her childhood, from age 5 to 16, on the island. Her father was a chemical engineer at a sugar cane plantation there. After moving back to the Crescent City, she would eventually become an advocate for immigrants, helping to resettle thousands of Cubans who fled Castro’s communism.

“I can still remember people coming over to our house, and my mother rounding up clothes and furniture and other things they needed,” Cerniglia said. “And growing up, we had family talks about her time in Cuba. It’s always had a mystique for me.”

Cerniglia, an attorney who’s participated in ocean regattas to Mexico several times, will sail his red-hulled boat, Radio Flyer, a Valiant 40, with a crew of five. When he arrives in Cuba, he hopes to hire a driver and visit the sugar plantation where his now-deceased mother once lived.

Asked if he thought she would approve of him participating in a race to communist Cuba, Cerniglia paused. “She didn’t like Castro,” he said. “But I think she would come to realize that the best way to influence the country is not to try to impose sanctions and muscle but through example — example of what it is like to live in a free society. My opinion: I don’t think the sanctions and the embargo have done anything but entrench Castro and his brother; I think this is a better way.”

Joining Cerniglia’s crew is Malvern Burnett, an experienced sailor and immigration lawyer. For him, too, the race is a chance to connect with his past. When he was about 5, two Cuban refugees moved into his family’s home on a horse farm in Marrero. The men were among a wave of immigrants who landed in Louisiana after Castro seized power of the island.

Burnett recalls playing baseball with the house guests, who lived with his family for nearly a year as they acclimated to American life. “One cracked a bat, hitting the ball so hard it disappeared from sight,” he said.

“I attribute my interest in the field (of immigration law) to my family’s early days helping those two young Cuban men,” Burnett said.

For Guy Williams, skipper of Lesson #1, a J/130 sailboat, the race will be the second time he’s visited Cuba this year. As president and chief executive officer of Gulf Coast Bank, he went to Havana last spring with a delegation of New Orleans business people.

“This is a chance to be part of something historic,” he said of the race. “It’s sort of like when the Saints won the Super Bowl. You can’t replicate that first Super Bowl.”

For more than 80 years, Cuba has enticed American sailors. One of the first races from the U.S. to the island took place on March 30, 1930, when 11 boats from around the Gulf Coast, including three from New Orleans, took off from St. Petersburg, Fla.

After more than 42 hours and 300 nautical miles, the Windjammer, a 57-foot schooner skippered by New Orleans sailor Garner Tullis, edged out its competition, winning the race — a feat heralded on the front page of the sports section of the Times-Picayune, next to a story about Gretna native Mel Ott playing with the New York Giants.

Troy Gilbert, a New Orleans journalist and one of the crew members on Lesson #1, has been chronicling the history of these Cuba regattas for boating magazines and his website, He will be live-blogging and tweeting the race from the boat thanks to a shipboard Wi-Fi and satellite phone system provided by communications company Globalstar.

“As these historic races come back online, they will be followed by many more,” Gilbert said on his blog. “The floodgates have opened, and the most exotic destination within a day’s sail from America’s shores is poised to become familiar to a new generation of sailors, and may have the side effect of revitalizing an interest in distance racing.”
For those who want to follow the race, each of the boats will be equipped with a position transponderbroadcasting its locations. To access the system, click here.

Insider Guide: What to do in Havana

IMG_0481HAVANA, Oct. 30th (CNN)  Exotic, mysterious, vibrant, Havana is steeped in time-worn splendor.
But with President Barack Obama announcing a historic overhaul in relations between the United States and Cuba, the largest island in the Caribbean and its capital of Havana stand on the precipice of dramatic change.

Home to two million, Cuba’s beguiling capital city resembles a Hollywood stage set, once glamorous, now patina’d by age, but still with plenty of action for travelers wondering what to do in Havana. Old Havana overflows with colonial castles, convents and cobbled plazas.
Detroit dowagers with fins sharp enough to draw blood rattle along the Malecón seafront boulevard.

And the Tropicana cabaret — a sensual salsa-charged extravaganza — recalls the pre-revolutionary heyday of sin. Welcome to communism, Caribbean style. Socialism and sensuality.
Havana’s gritty, faintly louche authenticity is unique — an enthralling amalgam of colonialism, capitalism and communism.

It’s also uniquely charming. You won’t want to sleep for missing a vital experience as you explore streets haunted by Ernest Hemingway’s ghost. But even before Obama’s December phone call with Cuban President Raul Castro that reflected the first communication at the presidential level with Cuba since the Cuban revolution, Havana was in dramatic flux.

Private restaurants (called “paladares”) in private homes have been improving the dining scene for years.
Sophisticated boutique hotels exuding colonial-tinged Miami chic have already been filled with U.S. visitors (thanks to a recent “people-to-people” license provision), who now outnumber Canadian and European tourists.

Here’s what to do in Havana
Hotels – Luxury

hotel-saratoga-habana-large-facadeHotel Saratoga
Savvy European investors are behind the glam Saratoga, Havana’s primo hotel.
Its colonial facade is just that — within are cavernous rooms boasting chic styling and 21st-century amenities.
It’s the only Havana hotel with free Wi-Fi.
The rooftop pool has a sundeck for lounging and tanning, perfect when planning what to do in Havana.
At the Moorish-themed Anacaona restaurant, you can puff a cigar and have a cocktail in the neon-lit mezzanine bar.

havana-live-hotel-nacionalHotel Nacional
Cigars, rum and Hotel Nacional. Beautiful traditions.
Rising over the seafront Malecón, this landmark grand dame is touted as the city’s top hotel.
Through the decades, a parade of A-listers — from Al Capone to Naomi Campbell — has slept here.
Accommodations are a bit worn. Executive-level rooms fare better and are worth the splurge.
The Moorish-themed lobby offers a great architectural photo op.
Stogies and mojitos on the patio bar are a good precursor to the titillation at the hotel’s Parisien Cabaret.

Hotel_Los_Frailes_oHostal Los Frailes
Don’t be frightened off by the unlikely welcoming party.
Steps from Plaza Vieja in the heart of Habana Vieja (Old Havana), this boutique charmer plays on a monastic theme, including staff dressed in monks’ habits.
No medieval austerity here, however — guest rooms have all modern amenities.
A lively quartet performs expertly in the lobby bar.
Historic sites surround the hotel.
The nearby plaza has art galleries, museums and a tavern.

Valencia-Hostal-HavanaHostal Valencia
Take the former home of a Spanish count, then turn the ground floor into a paella restaurant and bistro bar and the upper level into antique-filled bedrooms with cool marble floors.
The result?
A bargain-priced beauty in the thick of the colonial quarter.
Every room is distinct.
Many have balconies overlooking the street, although some lack air-conditioning, and hot water is never guaranteed.

havana-live-La guaridaLa Guarida

Beloved by Havana’s diplomats, gourmand expats and visiting VIPs, Cuba’s trendiest restaurant is booked solid every night of the week.
Its setting — the third floor of a near-derelict yet photogenic building in the gritty Cerro district — belongs in a Fellini movie.
The cozy setting is enhanced by original artwork and posters festooning the walls.
Owner Enrique Nuñez has lived in Spain and brings a European savoir-faire to the menu, such as the signature honey-mustard chicken and pork medallions in mango sauce.
You might recognize La Guardia as the setting for the hit-movie “Fresa y Chocolate.”
After you’ve settled on what to do in Havana, this is where to settle on what eat.
La Guarida, Calle Concordia 418, Centro Habana; +53 7 866 9047

havana-live-cafe-laurentCafé Laurent
This recently opened paladar (“paladares” are private restaurants, often located inside proprietors’ homes) occupies a rooftop penthouse suite in the Vedado district.
It dishes out some of the best food in town on a changing menu.
The chocolate brownie is exceptional.
There’s a lovely cocktail terrace with dramatic views of the Focsa building.
The retro-stylish decor would fit well in Miami’s South Beach — reason enough to throw on dressier clothes.
The prices are an absolute bargain, and the service is spot on.

havana-live-La ChanconiereLe Chansonnier
The jaded exterior of a Beaux Arts mansion belies the colonial-meets-contemporary beauty of this lavishly decorated private restaurant — it’s the impeccable conception of owner Hector Higueras.
French influences fuse with Cuban ingredients on the changing menu.
Octopus in squid ink followed by chicken breast with tamarind sauce is memorable when available.
The music is happening and, rare for Cuba, the main dining room is non-smoking.
Smokers get their own private space, while romantics can request the canopied table on the terrace.

A trio of siblings conjured an idiosyncratic centenary mansion into this cosmopolitan paladar atop a five-story apartment building. Expats flock here — your best thumbs-up indicator in Havana.
The chefs aren’t afraid to experiment, from candied duck to a delicious sirloin steak with shrimp and celery mousse.
Daily menus are scribbled on Cuban ration cards.
The portions, however, will not leave you wanting.
You can hang out on a spacious balcony with plump cushioned, poured concrete sofas.

Restaurant El Aljibe © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

Restaurant El Aljibe © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

El Aljibe
Recently forsaken by the expat community and now a staple of tour groups, “The Well” still serves perhaps the best roast chicken (in orange sauce) in Havana.
Sure, the à la carte menu has something for every palate, but the all-you-can-eat house chicken dish with all the trimmings is the best bet for those with big appetites.
This thatched, open-air restaurant in the tony Miramar district has a huge wine list, plus a cigar shop.
Service can be slow when the groups invade.

los-nardosLos Nardos
The long line to enter this restaurant says it all.
Up a set of crumbling stairs in an equally tumbledown building opposite the Capitolio, this hidden spot delivers heaping portions of Cuban staples.
Favorites include garlic shrimp, and lobster in Catalan sauce.
The house sangria is good and served for groups in pitchers.
The semi-private restaurant is run by the Spanish Asturian Association, so service is on the ball.
The best place to sit is the main room on the second floor, with its hand-crafted wooden furniture.

Want to get a taste of local passion? Stop by an ice cream shop.
Cubans love ice cream and worship at this shrine, which takes up an entire block in the heart of Vedado, handily close to key hotels.
Alas, foreigners are relegated to their own tiny section and charged CUC1 per scoop.
Savvy visitors will befriend Cubans in line and join them in one of the leafy park sections or, on rainy days, in a 1950s-era spaceship-like building.
Here, a mere five pesos will buy a bowl-full of delicious ice cream.


You’ve just experienced a Cuban rite of passage in true habanero style.

Highly social socialists.
Sure, the Revolution shuttered the strip clubs, but stiletto-heeled paganism still rules at Havana’s sauciest (and largest) Las Vegas-style cabaret.
More than 200 performers shake, shimmy and croon in this open-air paean to retro redux titillation.
Even female patrons love it, not least for the over-the-top decor and the show’s Adonis-like acrobats.
It’ll burn a hole in your wallet, but a cigar and a bottle of rum (plus cola) are thrown in to ensure your enjoyment.

casa-de-la-musicaCasa de la Música
Havana’s hottest dance club draws aficionados who really know how to burn up the floor, and they’re not shy about inviting foreign newbies to dance.
Cuba’s hottest bands often perform here.
Headliners often don’t crank up until well beyond midnight, good justification for an afternoon siesta.

Taberna de la Muralla
At this Old Havana brewpub, seating spills onto Plaza Vieja.
Dedicated sudsters may be heartened to know that the operation was set up and is co-managed by Austrians. It serves a refreshing pilsner and a heartier dark brew.
Serious drinkers (or groups) can order a three-liter dispensa — a tall glass cylinder with a tap and an ice-filled center tube to keep the beer cold.

foto-btik-gato-tuerto-cubaCafé Concierto Gato Tuerto
You half-expect Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack to show up at this classy 1950s-style dive, steps from the Hotel Nacional.
Any night is potluck for live music — acts can span from sultry bolero to funk to reggaeton.
It makes a great date spot, although it lacks space for dancing and can get smoky.
Still, it’s a great place to put on the list when thinking about what to do in Havana.

There’s an upstairs restaurant, but the club gets packed, so you’ll have to eat early if you want a prime seat for the show.

Shopping / Attractions
habana-bus-tourHabana BusTour
For an overview of the city and what to do in Havana, there’s no better option than jumping on an open-top, double-decker anywhere along the HabanaBusTour circuit.
The fare (CUC5) is good for 24 hours, and you can jump on and off at any of 44 stops.
If you want rays at the beach, board a single decker at Parque Central and head to Playas del Este.

Image78Plaza Vieja
Old Europe meets Old Cuba.
The most magical of the colonial quarter’s four major squares recently emerged from a decade-long restoration.
Centuries-old buildings on each side now gleam like confections of stone.
The checklist of “musts” includes the Museo de Naipes (Playing Cards Museum) and Planetario (planetarium).
An elevator climbs to the rooftop of Edificio Gómez, where you can enjoy a 360-degree look at real-time life viewed through a Cámara Oscura.

Now you’ve earned a cold one at the Taberna de la Muralla.

Museo_Nacional_de_Bellas_Artes_de_Cuba-Havana-Cuba1Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Housed in an impressive 1950s Modernist structure, the three-story Fine Arts Museum (Cuban section) mesmerizes with its best-of paintings, lithographs and sculptures spanning four centuries.
The highlight is the 20th-century collection exhibiting such hallowed names as Armando Menocal, Wifredo Lam and René Portocarrero.
For insight, you’ll need to hire an English-speaking guide (CUC2).

11 Cuba - Havana Vedado - Plaza de la Revolucion - Ministerio del Interior Che Guevara muralPlaza de la Revolución
Where do we go from here? Havana’s May Day Parade.
Gone are the days when Fidel bewitched crowds here with his obfuscating oratory, but this vast plaza will cause gasps of appreciation.
Wow-inducing sights include the 18-meter-tall marble statue of national hero José Martí fronting the government palace (where the Castro brothers hatch state policy).
Keeping an eye on things is a five-story-tall iconic visage of Che Guevara affixed, appropriately, to the facade of the spooky Ministry of the Interior.
If possible, time your visit for the May Day Parade (May 1).

090105-Finca-Vigia-hmed-5p.grid-6x2Museo Ernest Hemingway
The ultimate shrine for fans of “Papa” is the Nobel Prize-winning author’s former home, Finca Vigía, on the southeast outskirts of town, a 30-minute drive.
The hilltop estate is maintained just as Hemingway left it, with his priceless possessions in situ.
You can’t actually go inside, however. You peer through open doors and windows.
See also:

Historic race to Havana sets sail Saturday

Monohulls take the start of the prologue of the solo Solitaire du Figaro sailing race on July 28, 2009 off Lorient harbor, western of France. Fifty-two monuhulls will take the start the race on July 30, 2009, from Lorient. AFP PHOTO MARCEL MOCHET (Photo credit should read MARCEL MOCHET/AFP/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Oct. 30th   After 54 years of diplomacy stalemate between the U.S. and Cuba, the channels of communication began opening earlier this year.

With the Pensacola Yacht Club’s board of directors’ approval in April and title funding through a donation to the PYC Satori Foundation, which supports sailing and educational activities, a committee of Pensacola Yacht Club members seized the opportunity to organize the Andrews Institute 2015 Pensacola a la Habana Regatta.

The first “fully permitted” major offshore regatta from the U.S. mainland to Cuba will set sail at 8 a.m. Saturday in Pensacola Bay near the entrance of Bayou Chico. Twenty-two vessels will make this international, historic 584-nautical mile passage.

“Given the enormous amount of regulatory hurdles boat owners had to contend with, and the short time frame in which to organize this race,” said regatta chair and veteran racer, PYC member Bob Kriegel, “we are extremely pleased with the turnout.”

Five PYC boats are competing in the regatta, which was structured to favor cruising vessels, although competitive boats such as PYC Mike Patterson’s Corsair 31 “Bella Fonte” — a high-tech Trimaran — is expected to cross the finish line first.

Eight other Florida homeports ranging from Destin (with a three-generation crew aboard, including a son and 14-year-old grandson from Oregon) to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area are competing. Alabama and Louisiana are also represented in the regatta.

Larry and Sue Hamilton and their cat, Endicott, sailed their Formosa Peterson 46-foot “Serengeti” up from Marathon in the Florida Keys.

“We sailed 500 miles in order to sail 500 more miles to end up at a port just 118 miles away from our home port,” said Sue. “That’s how much we wanted to sail to Cuba.”

Florida sailors have a unique connection with Cuba.

An inaugural 284 nautical mile race from St. Petersburg to Cuba was held March 11, 1930 with 11 boats participating. PYC members A.D. “Dick” Pace Jr. and Thomas M. Pace (96 and 90 years old, respectively) sailed in the 1947 and ‘48 regattas to Cuba.

The multigenerational family’s involvement with PYC is well-known; the Pace brothers’ stories of those Cuba races are legendary and the opportunity to support this new chapter in sailboat racing, while promoting Pensacola as a venue for international sailing events is wholeheartedly endorsed by the Pace family.

A generous donation by the family in support of the inaugural Pensacola a la Habana Regatta resulted in the decision to honor the family’s history by establishing a trophy in their name.

The Pace Perpetual Trophy will be presented to the first overall monohull who finishes first on corrected time. Among those congratulating and handing out trophies in Cuba will be Hemingway International Yacht Club of Cuba commodore Jose M. Diaz Eschrich.

Eschrich expressed their enthusiasm for the upcoming regatta in a letter to Kriegel.

“It pleases me to greet you on behalf of HIYC, and all activities related to the event that will strengthen ties of friendship between the cities of Pensacola and Havana and between our two yacht clubs,” Eschrich wrote. “All participants in the Pensacola-Havana Regatta will never forget the hospitality they will enjoy during their stay in Cuba.”

Those excited about this history-making event won’t have to wait long to learn results.

Each boat will be equipped with a transponder that will broadcast its location to electronic devices from computers to smart phones. Called “Kattack,” it can be viewed online at (choose watch races at top, then click on distance races, find Pensacola to Cuba).

Cuba’s trains offer fine-grained look at country

havana-live-trainHAVANA, Oct. 30th (AP)  From east to the west, trains offer a fine-grained, slow-moving view of Cuba that few foreigners ever see.

Goats graze alongside tracks in the countryside, forcing trains to brake to avoid hitting them. Old American sedans line up at a crossing while locomotives pass. Horse-drawn carts cross the rails after a train has gone by.

A boy hitches a ride home from school with a train’s engineer. A man on horseback rides alongside tracks that used to carry tons of sugar from Cuba’s now withered sugar industry. A young man boards with goats to sell in Havana.

While the island is slowly modernizing its rail system, mistreatment and theft of railway property by the people it was built to serve ensure it remains the slowest way to get around already slow-moving Cuba.

The trip from Havana to Santiago, 475 miles (765 kilometers) to the east, takes an average of 15 hours, if the train doesn’t break down. A slightly more reliable train with air conditioning currently is not running while it undergoes repairs.

On the way from one end of the country to the other, families chat and try to catch a few minutes of sleep stretched out between rattling seats. The train’s rocking lulls children to sleep under the eye of adult relatives. Men stand next to an open train door, chatting.

At their peak, Cuban trains featured dining cars and other high-end services. Today, refreshment comes from the vendors who board at many stations offering cold sandwiches and soft drinks. Snacks are also sold outside.

Cuba became the first Latin American country with a train system in the mid-19th century when colonial Spain began connecting Havana with the sugar-growing regions outside the capital. The network grew to 5,600 miles of rails crisscrossing the island before the system fell into disrepair. It suffered along with much of the country’s infrastructure when the Soviet Union’s collapse cut Cuba off from the subsidies that Moscow had pumped into its economy. The longstanding U.S. trade embargo made it hard to get parts.

Trains connecting Cuba’s capital with the former chocolate company town of Hershey in Matanzas province are filled with tourists who pay less than 50 cents for the trip as the island floods with visitors after the declaration of detente with the United States.
Time table:

As for the route between Santiago and Havana, Cubans pay a little more than $1 to shuttle goods or visit faraway family. Visiting foreigners are charged $30 for the same trip. trensssstrensstrenssstrenn_0trens

Cuba, an abundance of love but a lack of babies


A pregnant woman waiting outside a hospital in Havana. In an effort to spur birthrates, the government has begun encouraging young couples to have children. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

HAVANA, Oct. 30th (NY Times)  A magnetic energy courses between Claudia Rodriguez and Alejandro Padilla, binding the couple in clichés of intimacy: the tendency to finish each other’s sentences; hands that naturally gravitate toward one another; a shared laughter that forms the soundtrack of their romance.

What their love will not bear, for the moment, is a family. Though they plan to marry and have children, they will wait — until they are no longer sharing a small apartment with a half-dozen others, or perhaps until obtaining diapers and formula is no longer a gamble.

In short, they will be waiting a long time.

“You have to take into consideration the world we live in,” said Ms. Rodriguez, 24, who says she has had two abortions to avoid having children too soon. Clutching Mr. Padilla’s hand, she said, “It would be so much harder with a child.”


Claudia Rodriguez and Alejandro Padilla are planning to marry, but they are not certain when they will be able to afford to raise a child. Ms. Rodriguez, 24, said she has had two abortions to avoid having children too soon. Credit Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

By almost any metric, Cuba’s demographics are in dire straits. Since the 1970s, the birthrate has been in free fall, tilting population figures into decline, a problem much more common in rich, industrialized nations, not poor ones.

Cuba already has the oldest population in all of Latin America. Experts predict that 50 years from now, Cuba’s population will have fallen by a third. More than 40 percent of the country will be older than 60.

The demographic crisis is both an economic and a political one. The aging population will require a vast health care system, the likes of which the state cannot afford. And without a viable work force, the cycle of flight and wariness about Cuba’s future is even harder to break, despite the country’s halting steps to open itself up to the outside world.

“We are all so excited about the trade and travel that we have overlooked the demographics problem,” said Hazel Denton, a former World Bank economist who has studied Cuban demographics. “This is a significant issue.”

Young people are fleeing the island in big numbers, fearful that warming relations with America will signal the end of a policy that allows Cubans who make it to the United States to naturalize. Until recently, a law prohibited Cubans from taking children out of the country, further discouraging many from having children to avoid the painful choice of leaving them behind.

Those who remain in Cuba say they are also reluctant to have children, citing the strain of raising an infant in a country where the average state salary is just $20 a month.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to make things more difficult for ourselves,” said Laura Rivera Gonzalez, an architecture student, standing with her husband in central Havana. “Just graduating doesn’t mean that things are resolved. That won’t sustain us.”

Ms. Gonzalez embodies a common feature of the Cuban demographic crisis: As the government educated its people after the revolution, achieving one of the highest literacy rates in the world, its citizens became more cautious about bearing children. Scant job opportunities, a shortage of available goods and a dearth of sufficient housing encouraged Cubans to wait to start a family, sometimes indefinitely.

“Education for women is the button you press when you want to change fertility preferences in developing countries,” said Dr. Denton, who now teaches at Georgetown University. “You educate the woman, then she has choices — she stays longer in school, marries at an older age, has the number of children she wants and uses contraception in a more healthy manner.”

There is another factor that alters the equation in Cuba: Abortion is legal, free and commonly practiced. There is no stigma attached to the procedure, helping to make Cuba’s reported abortion rates among the highest in the world. In many respects, abortion is viewed as another manner of birth control.

In Cuba, women are free to choose as they wish, another legacy of the revolution, which prioritized women’s rights. They speak openly about abortions, and lines at clinics often wrap around the building.

By the numbers, the country exhibits a rate of nearly 30 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to 2010 data compiled by the United Nations. Among countries that permit abortion, only Russia had a higher rate. In the United States, 2011 figures show a rate of about 17.

But experts caution that the liberal abortion policy is not responsible for the declining population. Rather, it is a symptom of a larger issue. Generally speaking, many Cubans simply believe they cannot afford a child.

“I’ve had two abortions, one of them with Jorge,” said Claudia Aguilar San Juan, a 27-year-old restaurant worker, referring to her boyfriend of two years, Jorge Antonio Nazco. “At the time, we didn’t think we were ready to have kids, and we continue to think that it’s still not the time.”

Mr. Nazco added: “We need to be able to afford basic things for ourselves, and we’re also not going to be living three people in one room. I just want to give my kids a comfortable life, a better life than what I had.”

That is the case with Elisabeth Dominguez and Eddy Marrero. Together, the couple earn about $70 a month for her work as a psychologist and his as a pediatric nurse, a relatively high income by Cuban standards.

The standard, however, is the problem. “It’s barely enough for the two of us,” said Ms. Dominguez, 29, shaking her head. “How could we afford a kid?”

Recognizing the problem, the government has begun to circulate pro-pregnancy pamphlets and fliers to encourage young couples to keep their children. Some women said that in recent months, government doctors had discouraged them from having abortions, while others have noticed sudden shortages of condoms and birth control pills.

While those assertions could not be verified, most experts say it hardly matters. Cuba will not be able to procreate its way out of the current crisis anytime soon.

Few tactics work to increase a nation’s fertility rate, despite efforts in countries like Japan to pay families to have children.

What some suggest could help is if the government could manage to encourage the vast Cuban expatriate population to come home. There, too, the government has shown some willingness to adjust its stance, including easing the return of islanders living or traveling abroad.

But surmounting the longstanding bitterness of many families toward the government, which still holds a tight grip on the country, poses challenges of its own. And the returning Cubans will need to be interested in more than an extended vacation or investment opportunity.

“Already there is more flow,” said Ted Piccone, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies Cuba, referring to the return of Cubans abroad in their 20s, 30s and 40s. “But is it going to be a matter of ‘I want my vacation home there,’ or will they put down roots?”

Separated families are a fact of life for most Cubans, another element straining the state of the Cuban family. With millions abroad, and a domestic population of just over 11 million, few families are left untouched by the schism that followed the country’s revolution.

Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Padilla both have relatives living in the United States, some of whom they have not seen for years. Some do not want to return, having disconnected from the rhythm of life on the island. Others return and appear changed, no longer the cousins and nephews from years before.

In many respects, their relationship represents the challenges facing the government as it confronts an industrialized world problem with a developing world economy.

In their minds, there is no doubt they will get married. As a jeweler, Mr. Padilla, 29, plans to design the ring himself and propose once he saves enough to buy a diamond.

Even then, they say, they are not certain they can afford the burden of a child. Earlier this year, the pair aborted a pregnancy, a decision for which they both express a degree of sadness. Still, it is not so uncommon in their families. Their mothers have had four abortions each, the two say, seated on the back porch of Ms. Rodriguez’s mother’s home, where the couple live.

Mr. Padilla, smirking, blurted out that Ms. Rodriguez’s aunt had undergone 10 procedures, prompting his partner to laugh.

“Quiet,” she whispered sharply, slapping his arm. “She has a degree in French and is inside right now.”

He giggled quietly and looped his arm through hers. Ultimately, he said, they do want a family. The when of the matter would come in the not-too-distant future, he hoped.

“We don’t want to pressure ourselves,” Mr. Padilla said. “We want to live our lives, day by day, each day in its own time.”

Italian prime minister urges nation’s businesses to invest in Cuba

havana-live-renziHAVANA, 0ct. 29th (EFE)  Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi urged his country’s business owners and executives to invest in Cuba and ratified his government’s “renewed” commitment to building “strong” trade and cultural relations with the Caribbean island.

“The Italian government maintains and will maintain this commitment with renewed confidence,” Renzi said in Havana at the inauguration of a bilateral business forum in which he made a “strong recommendation” to Italian businesses to invest in the island.

Renzi – on his first state visit to Cuba, the last stop on a Latin American tour that included Chile, Peru and Colombia – acknowledged the island’s welcoming atmosphere toward foreign investment, which President Raul Castro has helped create with some “politically historic and economically ambitious goals.”

The Italian prime minister said that his country plans “to accompany Cuba as a partner” in its efforts to reach 2030 producing 24 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and added that they have also identified “important” business opportunities in the agricultural, tourism and real estate sectors.

The participation of 120 Italian companies in the upcoming Havana Fair, the island’s chief trade showcase, shows their interest in doing business with Cubans, not only in the economic sphere but also in cultural endeavors, the Italian deputy minister of economic development, Carlo Calenda, said.

As part of this interaction, Calenda mentioned an ambitious project that will make Old Havana a “center of culture and conservation of the past,” which includes its restoration and the promotion of architecture and design.

For his part, Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca confirmed the “political will” of his government to develop ties with Italy, which ranks among Cuba’s 10 leading trade partners and No. 2 in Europe.

Malmierca also said that economic relations with the European nation will continue to diversify in the “new scenario” on the island, which last July reestablished diplomatic ties with the United States after more than half a century of enmity.

The Cuban minister said the economic embargo that the United States maintains on his country “also affects the world” because of its “extraterritorial nature,” and ratified his government’s intention to continue a “stable and open” relationship with Italy even if “the embargo is lifted.”

The inauguration of this business forum was the first public event on Renzi’s official agenda in Havana, where he will meet with President Raul Castro this afternoon.

This will be their second meeting after the one in Rome last May 10 when Raul Castro visited Pope Francis in the Vatican.

Insel Air increases filghts to Havana

havana-live-insel-airHAVANA, Oct. 29th  (PL) Insel Air International B.V, an airline based in Curacao, will increase its operations in Cuba since November 4.

This was confirmed in an exclusive interview to Prensa Latina by the sales manager of that company, Lisandro Cecilia, who explained that since last July, two direct Curacao-Havana weekly flights (on Mondays and Fridays) are scheduled, but that it is going to be one more arrival on the capital’s international airport.

The executive said that despite the short time of operations on the Caribbean island, everything is ready to add a third weekly flight.

‘Until these flights were scheduled, the route to reach Havana was through the Copa airline, via Panama’, the official said.

Also, he added that Insel plans to expand its destinations and settle in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, where a few months ago a test with charter flights was carried out with a positive outcome.

‘We hope to be inserted in the flight plan from the international airport of that city soon’, he said.

The airline, based in the Curacao Hato International Airport, was founded in 1993, but started to operate in 2006 with a flight to the neighboring island of Aruba. Then, the Bonaire and Las Pederast (Venezuela) routes were incorporated.

As Cecilia explained, the company currently is covering 23 destinations in 15 countries, including Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Georgetown (Guyana), Port of Spain (Trinidad and Tobago), Paramaribo (Suriname), Bogota ( Colombia), Quito (Ecuador), Manaus (Brazil) and Miami (United States).

Insel is one of companies that confirmed its attendance to the 33rd Havana International Fair (FIHAV 2015), as part of the delegation of Curacao, a nation that will participate for the first time in the Cuban trade event that took place in 1983 for the first time.

‘At the fair we want to make ourselves visible, to make contacts with tourism companies and other companies. Insel wants to grow’, said Cecilia.

About 50 businessmen, representing 30 companies, are part of the mission of Curacao, which will participate in FIHAV 2015 led by the Economy Minister Stanley Palm.

The princess of Monaco Carolina is visiting Havana

havana-live-carolina-de-monacoHAVANA, Oct 29th  Princess of Monaco, Grimaldi Carolina, is in Havana to mark the debut on the island on Friday the Monte Carlo Ballet, who will present his version of Cinderella part, reports EFE.

The director of the company in the Principality of Monaco, the French choreographer and exbailarín Jean-Christophe Maillot said that “being in Cuba is a dream come true,” according to local media reports.

The Monte Carlo Ballet, consisting of 50 dancers, is one of the companies invited to the XVI International Festival of Theater of Havana, where it will offer three functions in the Avellaneda Hall of the National Theatre.

Maillot explained that his group brings a performance of the ballet Cinderella, inspired by the traditional tale of the Brothers Grimm, has an “austere and contemporary” set that will guide the public towards the familiar story without losing the element of surprise, but in a “simple “and symbolic”.

The roles of the two main characters will be played by the Spanish dancers and Alvaro Prieto Ballesteros Anjara, dancers, exdiscípulos Nacho Duato.

The Monte Carlo Ballet, known in French as Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, is a group of ballet founded in 1936, which was revived in 1985 by the will of Princess Caroline Grimaldi, who is in Cuba to attend the debut of the company the Principality of Monaco, an independent state in Western Europe, according to Prensa Latina.

According to EFE they said sources close to the National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), is scheduled a meeting between the director general of the Cuban company, ex-ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso and Princess of Monaco, although they did not specify the date.

This is the first visit of the eldest of the Princes Rainier III and actress Grace Kelly, to Cuba, where he was and his brother, Prince Albert II, in 1989.

In addition to appearances, a performance of the Ballet of Monte Carlo and its director said on Wednesday Maillot exchanges with teachers and dancers of the National Ballet of Cuba.

Maillot said that the meeting will allow them to know the Cuban school of ballet and dance traditions on the island, “highly valued in the world” and also expressed interest in the company receiving guiding Cuban students.

Cuba hits 2.6 million tourist arrivals 2 months earlier than in 2014

DSC00066HAVANA, Oct. 26th  Tourist arrivals in Cuba totaled more than 2.6 million as of Sept. 30, with the island hitting the figure two months earlier than in 2014, the National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, said.

Tourist arrivals during the first nine months of this year totaled 2.62 million, up by some 400,000, or 18 percent, from the same period in 2014.

Canada was the top source of visitors, with more than 1 million, the ONEI said.

In September alone, historically one of the slowest months for arrivals, the island welcomed nearly 200,000 tourists, a figure that was up 27.4 percent from the same month last year.

Germany, Britain, France, Spain and Mexico were the other top sources of visitors, while Haiti, Costa Rica, Japan, Israel, Ireland, Poland, Australia and Venezuela posted strong gains, the ONEI said.

The government has implemented a plan to build several hotels and renovate existing properties to meet growing demand for lodging in Havana and other cities, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told the press.

The plan calls for adding more than 13,600 rooms in “sun and beach destinations” in 2016, the official Agencia Prensa Latina reported.

The tourism boom coincides with the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States on July 20 after more than a half century of hostilities.

In the first seven months after President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions, about 88,900 Americans arrived in Cuba, a figure that was up 54 percent from 2014 and is expected to grow further by the end of the year.

Tourism is the second-largest source of income for the island, trailing only professional services and generating $1.7 billion in revenues in the first half of 2015.

Cuba exceeded 3 million tourists for the first time in 2014, welcoming 3,002,745 visitors.

Officials expect to break the 2014 arrivals record this year, as well as the $2.7 billion revenue mark.

First ever UAE Cuba investment forum opens in Dubai

havana-live-invubaiestment-dHAVANA 24th October The first ever bilateral UAE-Cuba Investment Forum was attended by over 50 delegates highlighting the opportunities for investment in the Cuban economy.

It was the culmination of a week-long programme for a group of senior Cuban Government officials and businessmen led by HE Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment who also visited a number of businesses and organisations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Director of Economic Affairs and International Cooperation Department at MoFA Fahad Al Taffaq said: “The recent visit of UAE Foreign Minister H.H. Sheikh Abdulla bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Cuba during which was the official opening of the UAE Embassy in Havana marked a historical milestone for both countries”.

“We stress the importance of a sound legal framework for the relationship to grow. In that regard we hope to see an agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Investment Protection Agreement between the UAE and Cuba in the future” he said.

“Cuba is a prominent country in the Caribbean region and we look forward to promoting Cuba as a hub for UAE investments in the region. We note the Potential for the UAE & Cuba to invest together in the Caribbean region” he added.

“Our bilateral relations have developed over the past few years in all areas of cooperation and we look forward to the continuation of such visits in order to develop and strengthen our bilateral relations. It brings me great pleasure to bear witness to this vital juncture of our bilateral history and I look forward to the positive impact of this Forum on both countries.” H.E said.

DP World Chairman Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem said: “The UAE is a trading hub and Cuba provides another market for businesses here to explore and develop their interests. In partnership with MoFA we are working to provide this platform to network and make contact with senior Cuban officials who can help create the environment for business to flourish.

“DP World has extensive experience in the global supply chain across ports logistics free zones as well as trade generally thanks to the vision of our leaders to explore new growth strategies that is being realised by our continued focus on developing and emerging markets.

In particular Latin America continues to be a key part of our operations and we have made a major impact on economies and communities as an employer in the region for the long term. With our understanding of regional and global trade issues we are delighted to contribute to these discussions and the business opportunities that may well arise.”

DP World Chief Executive Officer Mohammed Sharaf said: “Firm partnerships form the foundations of trade and global business transactions and these relationships need to be forged over time in new markets in order for agreements to develop.

Events such as this create the conditions for those relationships to be nurtured and the opportunity to build bilateral trading ties between our two countries will bring benefits for all parties for the future.”

Topics under discussion at the Forum included the current investment climate in Cuba special development zones in the country opportunities in the Cuban genetic engineering biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors and investment opportunities for Cuban businesses in the UAE.

Havana seeks investment partners in medical equipment sector

havana-live-medical equipmentHAVANA, Oct. 24  Cuba is seeking to encourage foreign investment and joint ventures in the manufacture of medical equipment, Lazaro Diaz, director of state-owned Industria Cubana de Equipos Medicos, or Icem, told reporters.

Companies from a number of countries, including Italy and Russia, are starting to see the potential for this business in the Caribbean country “not just at the level of investment, but also with the possible establishment of joint ventures,” he said.

The official said that Icem will have a presence at the Havana Trade Fair, the island’s main commercial event.

Diaz told EFE that the company will seek to promote investment opportunities among its lines of medical and hospital equipment, kitchen fixtures and equipment for stores and exhibitors.

“The company has more than 30 years of experience, and we offer versatility, competitiveness and reliability for investments in lines such as furniture, lighting, medical equipment, project services and production staging,” he said.

Icem also provides vertical screens for doors and windows, metal structures for hanging ceilings and light panels and solutions for solar and environmental protection, for clients in Cuba and the Americas.

Pawa Dominicana Announces Flights to Havana

havana-live-pawaHAVANA, Oct 24 (PL)  Pawa Dominicana (Pan Am World Airways Dominicana) announced today that it will begin soon direct flights to Havana, Cuba, and to the island of Antigua, with a stopover in Saint Marteen.

The aviation company has made own efforts with Cuban and Antigua authorities, and hopes to start those operations in the coming 45 days, the corporate director, Alexander Barrios, said.

The new Dominican airline began operations almost more than two months ago with a fleet of four DC9 and MD aircrafts, and has achieved an arrival rate of 95.8 percent, he said.

Since August 14, 2015, this aviation company has flied from Santo Domingo to Aruba, Curacao and Saint Maarten, and it thinks completing five destinations with Antigua and Havana by late 2015, it was reported.

Cuba 2030, le nouvel eldorado du business

havana-live-la-havane-2030_bloc_article_grande_imageLA HAVANE, 23 Oct.  Et si, dopée par le retour du yankee dollar, la capitale cubaine profitait de sa lune de miel avec les Etats-Unis pour redevenir l’une des plus belles villes du monde ? Nous avons imaginé son nouveau visage dans quinze ans.

Hôtels se défiant en verticalité, plages de rêve et boîtes de nuit à gogo : l’agglomération de Varadero confirme la place qu’elle tenait déjà avant l’ouverture de Cuba, celle d’une ville ultra touristique et luxueuse.

Depuis 2015 et la fin de l’embargo, elle a servi de vitrine et de banc d’essai pour des projets de construction ambitieux, sinon délirants, signés Pei, Foster ou Nouvel, et soutenus par Bouygues Bâtiment, Eiffage ou Vinci Construction, avec le partenariat d’Accor pour l’hôtellerie.

Cuba s’est aussi dotée d’un métro aérien, un shinkansen, accroché par le toit à un rail : il relie La Havane à Santiago, desservant au passage toute la côte septentrionale.

Plus besoin, désormais, de héler un taxi collectif surbondé pour circuler dans l’île. Simultanément, on a construit, et beaucoup, sur la corniche. Une succession de quartiers inimaginables il y a encore dix ans est venue prolonger la “ville américaine”, alignant restaurants et terrasses le long des avenues.

Ghettos de superriches, terres artificielles gagnées sur l’océan… Toute la baie, jusqu’aux zones industrielles, a été redessinée, évoquant une promenade des anglais qui se prolongerait à perte de vue.

Nous voilà face à un délire urbain surgi ex nihilo, ou plutôt face au laboratoire d’un nouveau monde artificiel et idéal. Extravagant, mais beau d’abord : on est à La Havane ! Ou, plutôt, dans ce que pourrait être La Havane dans quinze ans, en 2030.

Capitaux étrangers et prêts du FMI affluent sur l’île

Imaginons. Fidel Castro est mort, son frère Raúl a rendu les rênes du pouvoir en 2018, à 87 ans. Lui a succédé Miguel Díaz-Canel, l’un des huit vice-présidents du Conseil des ministres, accompagné d’un exécutif de militaires.
Avec la “normalisation des relations” diplomatiques entre Washington et La Havane, signée le 17 décembre 2014, et la levée consécutive de l’embargo et des sanctions économiques, la perle des Caraïbes a vu les capitaux affluer en même temps que les prêts tant attendus du FMI.

Selon les déclarations faites à l’époque par le vice-président Marino Murillo, l’un des principaux responsables de l'”actualisation”, Cuba avait “besoin de 2.000 à 2.500 millions de dollars annuels d’investissements étrangers directs” afin d’amorcer l’envol de son économie.
Mais l’ouverture ne s’est pas faite sans difficultés. Elle a été discutée âprement au sein des instances gouvernementales et de l’exécutif des généraux.

Un port XXL idéalement situé face au canal de Panama

Les Français, en tout cas, ne se sont pas fait prier. Dès 2015, 60 entreprises tricolores commerçaient déjà avec Cuba, à hauteur de 180 millions d’euros par an, faisant de la France le dixième partenaire de l’île.

En mai 2015, François Hollande s’était rendu à La Havane, accompagné de sept ministres. Commentaire, à l’époque, de Jean Lamore, historien, spécialiste de la Caraïbe hispanique : “Miser sur le devenir de Cuba est une stratégie intelligente pour la France. Les Cubains veulent diversifier leurs partenaires commerciaux.”

Au cœur du commerce sur l’île : le port de Mariel, à 45 kilomètres de La Havane. Construit avec les Brésiliens et inauguré début 2014, il est devenu en 2030 le premier port de la mer des Caraïbes, devant Miami, accueillant des cargos venus de toute l’Amérique latine.

Central et stratégique, ce hub est en mesure de recevoir les fameux porte-conteneurs géants post-Panamax qui empruntent le canal de Panama depuis son élargissement en 2016.

Bien sûr, avec l’ouverture, certains Cubains redoutent une “miamisation” de l’île, et en particulier du front de mer. Déjà en 2015, la romancière contestataire Wendy Guerra, interrogée par Libération, avait déclaré : “Je veux que Cuba ne soit plus le Cuba qu’on a connu depuis la révolution.

Mais je ne veux pas que Cuba devienne la succursale des Etats-Unis.” Dans un ouvrage au titre éloquent, Havana Beyond the Ruins (La Havane au-delà des ruines), l’architecte et urbaniste Nicolás Quintana, mort en exil en 2011, avait dénoncé la prise en otage de la ville par Castro dès son arrivée au pouvoir en 1959 : tout développement y avait été gelé, les bâtiments laissés à l’abandon.

Les vieux palaces et les villas andalo-mauresques à colonnades et véranda, les édifices datant de la colonisation, comme la cathédrale ou les fortifications, s’étaient certes abîmés, victimes du temps et des intempéries.
En 2030, pourtant, la survivance de ce patrimoine reste un atout inestimable sur le plan touristique.

Car La Havane est demeurée en l’état, authentique. Les régimes auront eu ceci de bon : en figeant les cultures dans lesquelles ils prenaient racine, ils ont, au fond, contribué à les conserver.

Historien de la ville et archéologue, Eusebio Leal s’était consacré, sans grands moyens, à la défense de ce patrimoine, du vivant de Fidel, dont il était proche.
Les entrepôts de San José, sur le port, avaient été réaménagés, avec des restaurants, une brasserie et un espace conçu pour accueillir des centaines d’artisans, qui était vite devenu “le marché”. Un marché où, étonnamment, on trouvait déjà beaucoup de produits bio.

Bobos, les Cubains ? Non, mais convertis à l’écologie depuis l’effondrement de l’union soviétique. La raison ? La pénurie de pièces de rechange pour les tracteurs et engins agricoles, tous made in USSR, mais aussi d’engrais et d’OGM, a obligé les agriculteurs à cultiver les champs de façon naturelle dès les années 1990.

La canne à sucre, dont on fait le rhum, occupe toujours un tiers des surfaces cultivées, mais on trouve aussi désormais toutes sortes de fruits et de légumes.
Depuis la fin des exportations vers le bloc de l’est après la chute du mur de Berlin, les Cubains avaient vu leurs revenus chuter brutalement et avaient dû se résoudre à cultiver leurs propres produits, y compris en ville.

Aujourd’hui, le pays dispose d’une relative autonomie alimentaire. En 2015 déjà, plus de 70% des fruits et légumes consommés sur l’île étaient produits sur place. Et le pays pouvait se vanter, selon l’ONU, de laisser une faible empreinte écologique sur la planète.

Dollars, narcos , mulatas … Au secours, Batista revient !

En définitive, on peut imaginer qu’en 2030, avec l’arrivée des capitaux, Cuba s’est mise à souffler et à respirer. D’un coup, on a cessé de parler de la lucha, la lutte quotidienne pour trouver de quoi se nourrir, soi et sa famille.

Quant au tourisme, comme on pouvait s’y attendre, il a fait un bond spectaculaire : on est passé de 3 millions de visiteurs en 2014 à 15 millions aujourd’hui. Lancement d’Airbnb sur l’île en 2015, réhabilitation par Accor d’un hôtel de luxe au cœur de La Havane… En quinze ans, la capacité hôtelière de Cuba a crû de 40%.

Ironie de l’histoire, les Cubains renouent peu à peu avec ce qu’était la ville des plaisirs du temps de la dictature de Batista, quand hôtels, casinos et night-clubs du quartier de Vedado étaient contrôlés par les mafias de Meyer Lansky et de Lucky Luciano.

Un revirement paradoxal, puisque Castro avait fait vœu, entre autres, de libérer les prostituées, ces mulatas achetées quelques dollars par les gringos. En 2030, pour les autorités, le quartier prohibé a désormais une fonction : il permet de circonscrire et de contrôler la débauche.

Et de garder un œil sur les narcotrafiquants mexicains qui œuvrent dans la ville, la nuit. Quant aux jineteras, les occasionnelles envoyées autrefois en camps de rééducation, elles ont pignon sur rue. Et elles ont bien évidemment augmenté leurs tarifs, inflation capitaliste oblige !

Jaime Suchlicki, Directeur de recherche au Cuba Transition Project, Université de Miami
“On va voir affluer les retraités du monde entier”Download

Management : Comment voyez-vous évoluer La Havane d’ici à 2030 ?

Jaime Suchlicki : La Havane est et restera belle… mais pas pour tout le monde. Aujourd’hui, la majorité des habitants s’entasse encore dans des logements insalubres. L’évolution dépendra d’abord du système politique de l’île. Soit elle reste sous contrôle d’une dictature communiste militaire, et les seuls à bénéficier du changement seront les touristes.

Soit elle opte pour la voie démocratique, et elle aura alors à accomplir un nombre incommensurable de tâches pour se remettre à neuf : construction de nouveaux logements, rénovation des vieux immeubles, changement complet du système de distribution de l’eau, réfection du réseau routier, etc.

Management : Concrètement, à quoi ressemblera cette nouvelle Havane ?

Jaime Suchlicki : On verra de nouveaux immeubles remplacer ceux qui s’effondrent. Certains seront réparés. Les rues seront repavées. Et, bien sûr, de grands hôtels apparaîtront. Mais cela demandera un investissement financier extraordinaire.

On devra notamment poursuivre la construction de résidences pour les gens aisés et la classe moyenne – un effort déjà entamé avec le concours d’architectes italiens et français. Mais il faudra aussi penser aux déshérités. Et se préparer à voir affluer des retraités du monde entier.

Management : On ne vous sent pas très optimiste…

Jaime Suchlicki : Je suis juste réaliste ! Quand on sait que le fils de Raúl Castro, Alejandro Castro Espín, par ailleurs colonel dans les services de renseignement, se prépare à prendre sa succession et que neuf des quinze membres du politburo sont des militaires, il y a de quoi s’inquiéter. Mais, déjà, si ces militaires regagnaient leurs baraquements, on pourrait respirer !

De 50 à 70 milliards de dollars de PIB annuel (difficile d’obtenir des statistiques fiables sur Cuba).
11 millions d’habitants.
25 dollars de salaire mensuel moyen.
70% des Cubains sont fonctionnaires.

Cuba-South Africa Business Forum Running in Havana

sudafrica-cubaHAVANA, Oct 22 (PL) Cuban business people devoted to telecommunications, health care, tourism, mining and other industries are meet yesterday with their Cuban counterparts to identify business opportunities.

According to the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, the visitors are part of the entourage of South African Vice President, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is on a state visit here.

The group also includes executives from biopharmaceutical, engineering, construction, sugar cane and the production of items for children, as well as househols appliances and items for personal hygiene, said the report.

The text adds that the visiting delegation is interested in investment projects in Cuba and want to develop contacts with Cuban firms and bank institutions.

High ranking Cuban officials and the South African vice president will attend the forum, set to be held at the headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (Mincex), in thiscapital.

South Africa and Cuba established diplomatic relations on May 11, 1994, in the wake of the elimination of the apartheid regime and the establishment of the first multiracial government in that African country.

In July, 2014, a Trade Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Cuba and the Government of the Republic of South Africa was put into force, aimed at broadening and strengthening reciprocal benefits.

DIY drone video captures unseen views of Havana

Havana, Oct. 22 (CNN) The tourists snapping photos of shiny classic American cars driving down Havana’s seafront boulevard were oblivious to the much rarer site flying just over their heads: a drone.

The Cubans who took notice though, not used to seeing such aircraft, waved and took out their cell phones to snap pictures as the drone buzzed over them.

Drones are virtually non-existent in Cuba, where the often-secretive government so far has all but banned the flying cameras.

Visitors have reported having their drones taken away at customs upon arrival on the island.

Journalists coming to cover Pope Frances’ visit to Cuba in September received a written warning from the Cuban government to leave their drones at home.

But this year a group of Cuban techies who for years had been building their own aircraft, were granted the first permission to fly drones throughout the island to help promote Cuba’s growing tourism industry.

Typical reaction: Wow!
“Everyone, Cuban or foreigner, as soon as they see the video their first reaction is always the same: Wow!” says photographer Fredy Landa, who became fascinated by aerial photography after watching bootleg versions of international movies available on the Cuban black market.

“When I saw movies, usually American movies,” he says, “you’d see the aerial photography, and I’d like the ‘making of ‘the film almost as much as the film itself.”

Inspired by Hollywood, Landa and a group of friends — all engineers from his neighborhood in Havana — began building their own aircraft.

First they made small wooden planes and mini-helicopters.

Then they attempted a drone.

Ingenious building methods
The U.S. trade embargo on the island made getting parts difficult so they asked friends visiting China to bring back the pieces they needed in their luggage.

Other components they invented or adapted from decidedly non-aerodynamic items, like printers.

Their ingenuity is commonplace on an island where people regularly fashion homemade replacement parts to keep old cars running or build satellite dishes to watch international TV channels.

The first drone the group proudly showed off was larger and heavier than a commercially made model and had a GoPro attached to it for a camera.

But it flew.

“We experimented with different types of propellers and motors,” says pilot Alejandro Perez de la Cruz. “It took us years.”

Footage catches eye of tourism officials
The payoff for all the hard work came when the group showed a video to tourism industry officials with images of a Cuba that had rarely been seen before.

“Finally, something new,'” Landa remembers the officials saying.

Since then, the group has flown their aircraft all over the island and captured stunning images from nearly every corner of Cuba.

Their video of hotels and beaches have been heavily featured in Cuban tourism advertisements and some of the island’s top bands have hired them to film their music videos.

Cuba’s drone pioneers say while they still face plenty of government red tape over where they can film, restrictions are slowly loosening as the island warms to new ways of doing things.

Landa says the group’s dream is to put together an exhibition to be shown in other countries so more people can see the Cuba their aircraft has photographed.

“Why should we have to wait for a foreigner to do it when we Cubans can show the truly beautiful Cuba that we have,” Landa said. “These are times to challenge ourselves and to try new things and that’s what we are doing.”
By Patrick Oppmann, CNN

Cuba eager to do business with US oil companies again

 HAVANA, 21 Oct. (AFP)  Cuba is eager to do business again with American oil companies, an official says, expressing hope that Havana’s opening with Washington will clear the way for their return after 55 years.

“Let them come. We’re waiting for them. We have all kinds of business for them,” Maria Yodalis Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Del Centro Petroleum Drilling and Extraction Company, an affiliate of state-owned Cupet, said Tuesday.

It’s a change in policy that harkens back to the beginnings of the Cold War-era conflict between the two countries.

In 1960, Cuba’s revolutionary leaders expropriated US refineries on the island without compensation after they refused to process Russian oil, prompting Washington to retaliate with a trade embargo.

The US embargo, which was expanded in 1962 and remains in place even though diplomatic relations were restored this year, still prohibits US oil companies from doing business in Cuba.

Hernandez said the Cuban government is hoping that the rapprochement begun between US President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro will help the Cuban oil industry.

The loss of access to resources and state-of-the-art technology due to the embargo has greatly damaged the island’s oil industry, she said.

Del Centro recovers just five percent of the oil reserves available to it, Hernandez said.

“We don’t have the technology to recover it,” she told foreign correspondents visiting Matanzas.

“We hope that now, with this new opening, we will be able to show them that Cuba has oil opportunities,” she said.

“And they know it,” she added. “They were here before 1959 and explored us completely.”

Cuba produces some 25 million barrels of oil a year, which accounts for nearly half of what the country consumes.

It imports the rest from Venezuela at a discount.

Cuban crude is extra-heavy, however, and can only be used to generate electricity and to make lubricants and asphalt.

The government is banking on its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico for its oil future, assigning 22 of 59 blocs to foreign oil companies under risk service contracts.

International experts say the area probably holds five to nine billion barrels, while the government estimates there are as many as 20 billion barrels in untapped reserves.

Planning new passenger ferry services from Miami to Havana

havana-live-baja-ferryRebecca Gibson from Cruise&Ferry spoke to Oscar Ruano Baqueiro, director general of Baja Ferries, to find out more about the line’s planned passenger ferry services between the US and Cuba as it waits to secure Cuban government approval

Why did Baja Ferries decide to apply to operate a ferry service between the US and Cuba?
We decided to explore the feasibility of this line in 2005 after one of Baja Ferries’ subsidiaries obtained a licence to operate cargo vessels between the US and Cuba. Although our initial application was rejected in 2010, we decided to try again once diplomatic relations between the two countries had been restored. In the past, the trade and passenger routes between the Florida peninsula and Cuba were very busy and we expect that to reactivate, although it may be a gradual process.

Baja Ferries has held discussions with both the Cuban and US authorities to showcase all the benefits of a US-Cuba ferry service and in May 2009, we even docked our Chihuahua Star ferry in Cuba to show our commitment to the market. We also attend the International Fair of Havana every year, while our team travels extensively in Cuba.

Why do you think the service will be popular with travellers?
There’s a natural ferry route between Florida and Havana, so we believe it will be very popular, particularly with travellers who are staying in Florida and want to visit Cuba as an extension of their holiday or vice versa. Similar ferry services are popular between mainland Europe and the Mediterranean islands, and these services transport high volumes of cargo and passengers annually. This market is much smaller than Cuba and the US, which offer a market of 11 million and 300 million potential passengers respectively, so it’s likely our services would be very popular, particularly because travel between the two countries has been prohibited for the past 50 years.

When do you hope to receive approval from the Cuban government?
Although we hoped to receive approval from the Cuban government immediately, the reality is different. As the re-opening of the embassies is a quite recent milestone, there are a lot of topics in the Cuban government’s agenda before the ferry, we understand it and we will be patient until all parties are ready and feel comfortable with the proposed operation of the service.

Where do you plan to homeport your ferries?
Initially our ferries will sail three weekly roundtrips from Miami, US to Havana, Cuba and we’ve been working with the ports to set up the necessary customs, security and immigration facilities. Our ferries will depart Miami on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and return on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. This will enable people travelling on Friday to spend the weekend in Cuba. We’re still evaluating how to expand the service and considering other potential homeports.

What onboard services can passengers expect?
All of the onboard services will be oriented towards helping passengers to enjoy their journey. Our ferries will offer restaurants, bars, a casino, a pool and plenty of other entertainment options. We aim to make sailing between the US and Cuba a fun and gratifying experience.


Italy and ICAIC Forge Closer Film Industry Ties

film-set2-780x398HAVANA, Oct. 22  Italy and Cuba are forging closer film industry ties through various initiatives and overtures that reflect the global entertainment industry’s growing interest in the Caribbean country following its detente with the U.S.

A Cuban delegation made the trek to Rome’s new MIA film and TV content mart for a Cuba country focus where they met Oct. 19 with top Italo industry honchos to finesse details of a co-development fund. Other initiatives include the launch of an Italian prize at the upcoming Havana Film Festival in December, and the digitalization of the fest’s main Cinemateca venue, courtesy of Italy’s culture ministry.

“Now is the time when Cuba can become an important co-production partner” said Rome Lazio Film Commission topper Luciano Sovena, who has just launched Italy’s top co-production fund.

Though Italy and Cuba have had a co-prod treaty in place for years, it’s never been used, even when Italians shot in Cuban locations, like Mediaset fantasy TV series “Fantaghiro” did in the ’90s.

The ice-breaker is expected to be Italian helmer Giovanni Veronesi’s comedy “It’s No Country for Young People,” produced by Arturo Paglia (“The Best Offer”), who is hammering out co-production details with Italian and Cuban film authorities.

Cuban film reps attending the Rome meet were Danilo Patricio Leon Alonso, head of Cuba’s national film center Icaic, and Luciano Castillo, topper of Cuba’s national film archive. Castillo pointed out that over the years Cuba has done co-prods with France, Germany and especially Spain.

U.S. producers started shooting in Cuba even before President Obama decided to restore diplomatic relations. The first American TV show entirely shot in Cuban locations is Discovery Channel’s docu-series “Cuban Chrome” (pictured), which premiered in July.

Russia to Build 4 Units at 2 Thermal Power Plants in Cuba

havana-live-power-plantHAVANA, Oct.22 Russia and Cuba are planning to sign an agreement to construct four units at two thermal power plants in Cuba, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s decree said Monday.

“Approve… a draft agreement between the Russian Government and the Government of Cuba on the construction of power units at Maximo Gomes and Este Habana thermal power plants,” the decree reads. “And after coming to terms, to sign the agreement on behalf of the Russian Government.”

Russia’s Inter RAO-Export and the Cuban company Union Electrica signed a memorandum of understanding on the prospective contract for the construction of four power units in Cuba with a capacity of 200 megawatts each during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Havana on July 11, 2014.

One of the units is to be constructed at Maximo Gomes in the Mariel municipality; the other three will be installed in Santa Cruz del Norte’s Este Habana.

The deal was previously estimated to cost $1.35 billion.

Both power stations, where the four generators are planned to be installed, were built by Soviet experts using domestic energy equipment.

Cuba and France cooperate on cinema and culture

 HAVANA, Oct.19  The Cuban Institute Cinematographic of Arts and Industry (ICAIC) signed Thursday a grant agreement aimed at funding digital cinema at Cine La Rampa, located in Havana.

ICAIC President Roberto Smith highlighted that the agreement will extend the already-existing collaboration between both countries in the areas of “co production, preservation of heritage, and the digitalization of the theater (La Rampa).”

The Cine Yara and Cine Charlie Chaplin were the first Cuban cinemas to have digital projection earlier this year.

About the past bilateral cooperation, Smith recalled that one of the major treasures of Cuban cinema – the ICAIC newsreel collection, has been digitalized in Paris with the support of the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA). For over ten years, Cuba has commemorated the French Film Festival.

During the ceremony, French ambassador Jean-Marie Bruno honored Smith with the medal of “Knight of Arts and Letters,” a distinction conferred by the French Ministry of Culture since 1957 to “persons who have distinguished themselves by their creativity in the field of art, culture and literature or for their contribution to the influence of arts in France and throughout the world.”

“We would not have deserved this distinction without the Cuban Revolution, without the ICAIC and without their founders Alfredo Guevara and Julio Garcia Espinosa,” Smith said, adding that “cultural diversity in cinema would not have been promoted as an essential condition for the education of creators and audiences.”

The ICAIC was founded less than three months after the Revolution’s victory in 1959, and since then has had a major role in supporting and promoting Cuban cinema, which has been internationally recognized.

New Flights from Cayman Brac to Holguin

havana-live-cayman-airwaysHAVANA, Oct. 18 Cayman Airways has announced plans to launch flights between Cayman Brac and Holguin. The flights will launch on Nov. 28, operating once weekly on Saturdays. Cayman Airways Express will provide connecting flights to and from Grand Cayman.

“This new service to eastern Cuba is designed to complement the airline’s existing flights between Havana and Grand Cayman, which is often capacity constrained,” said Cayman Airways President and CEO, Fabian Whorms.

“Holguin is Cuba’s fourth most populous city and was selected due to its close proximity to Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey, Cuba’s second and third most populous cities respectively.
It is also anticipated that many of the airline’s existing Havana passengers, many of whom are from Cuba’s eastern towns, will be able to utilize this direct service and avoid lengthy travel between the capital city and their hometowns.”

The international flights are the latest positive steps for Cayman Brac’s airport.

But there could be another benefit: multi-destination trips for Europeans and Canadians, offering the opportunity to travel to both Cuba and Cayman in one vacation.

“CAL’s new flights to Holguin will therefore provide connectivity as well as dual destination opportunities for Canadian and European travelers, which is excellent for Cayman,” said Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell.

Katy Perry,Mariela Castro meet in Havana

katy-perry-mariela-castro.jpgHAVANA,Oct. 17  Pop superstar Katy Perry met in Cuba this week with the daughter of President Raul Castro, becoming the latest U.S. celebrity to visit in Cuba  since its rapprochement with the US.

Mariela Castro, a renowned sexologist, posted photos of the encounter, which took place late Wednesday at a Havana bar, on her

Both women are outspoken defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

The manager of the establishment, Sarao’s Bar, in Havana’s popular Vedado neighborhood, told AFP that Perry and Castro “met at the bar and talked for over an hour.”

“They didn’t drink anything, just talked and took pictures,” the manager, who wanted to remain anonymous, told AFP.

Perry visited the children’s theater La Colmenita over the weekend, singing and dancing with the children, according to the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

She performed at a concert in Puerto Rico before returning to Cuba Wednesday.

The singer is the latest in a string of stars — including Mick Jagger and Rihanna — to visit Cuba since July, when diplomatic ties were restored between the island nation and the United States after a half-century freeze.

Cuba is looking for Lebanese investment

havana-live--lebanon-flagHAVANA,Oct, 17   (Zawya ) Cuba  offered a wide range of lucrative investments  to interested Lebanese businessmen and firms.

Addressing Lebanese officials and investors in Beirut, Cuban Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca Friday identified 246 business opportunities with a value of $8.7 billion available for foreign investment in covering 11 sectors.

“Investment opportunities cover sectors ranging from agriculture, agro-food, tourism, transportation, construction and many other industries which make of Cuba an attractive business destination,” he said.

Malmierca’s remarks came during the Cuban Lebanese Economic Forum (CLEF 2015) held at Le Bristol Hotel, bringing together Lebanese and Cuban businessmen to discuss potential opportunities of investment in Cuba.

Malmierca said Cuba was keen on establishing strong economic ties with nations all over the world, having already been able to maintain its relations with many states despite the previously imposed U.S. sanctions.

“Despite the sanctions that were imposed on us by the United States we were capable of maintaining good ties with many countries which helped us in doubling our trade figures enabling Cuba to register a positive growth rate in a variety of sectors namely tourism,” he said. “[The] Tourism sector in Cuba, for instance, attracted over 3 million tourists in 2014,” he added.

A recent agreement between the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties by the end of July has further bolstered interest among investors from all over the world who started scrutinizing business opportunities in Havana as soon as the country was crossed off the U.S. terrorism list almost a month ago.

“Cuba constitutes a very attractive investment destination due to the stability of its economic, social and political atmosphere in addition to the absence of corruption and high ranking on the country transparency index,” said Ali Kazma, president of the Lebanese Cuban Businessmen Council.

Kazma said that Cuba enjoys an international reputation of being one of the richest cultures in the world. “The country is well known for being advanced in producing pharmaceutical products, tobacco, minerals and agro food industries,” he said.

He added that authorities in Cuba formulated a strategy aimed at attracting foreign investments including the ratification of Law 118, which provides great facilities for potential investors.

A handout distributed during the forum explains that the new foreign investment law was adopted in Cuba in December 2014. It said that under the new law, investment is encouraged in all economic sectors, including utilities, administrative concessions, real estate, hotel management and professional services. It also provides for investment in stocks and other securities or bonds, public or private, which do not fit the definition of direct investment.

The new law also cuts tax on profits from 30 to 15 percent for most industries and eliminates the prior 25 percent tax on labor costs. Moreover, Law 118 allows 100 percent foreign ownership, which, though previously legal, was never allowed in practice.

In addition, investors in joint ventures get an eight-year exemption from all taxes on profits. It also recognizes the intellectual property rights and technological innovation of the foreign investor.

Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister Alain Hakim praised law 118 for its role in attracting investment in Cuba, saying that Lebanon also offers investment incentives through Law 360.

“We call upon businessmen and investors to explore the details of these laws in a bid to get acquainted with facilities offered by the governments in Lebanon and Cuba for attracting investments,” he said.

Hakim called upon authorities in the two countries to expedite cooperation in a bid to provide Lebanese and Cuban businessmen with support while facilitating their movement and activities. He also emphasized the need to work on increasing trade between the two countries.

Kazma told The Daily Star on the sidelines of the forum that trade is non-existent between the two countries for the time being. “We have started planning the export of Lebanese wine and canned food to Cuba and we will start doing so practically following the Havana Trade Fair 2015 which will take place during Nov 2-7,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Choucair, president of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said Cuba’s free economic system makes the island a promising market for Lebanese products.

Choucair added that Lebanese have great expertise in many sectors in the region and in the world. “Therefore, we encourage Cuban companies to establish partnerships with their Lebanese counterparts,” he added.

Cuba in cash crunch due to low commodity prices

Alfredo, 69, a technician of Cuba's state-run CUPET, poses for a picture near an oil pump in Mayabeque province, Cuba, October 15, 2015.   REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

Alfredo, 69, a technician of Cuba’s state-run CUPET, poses for a picture near an oil pump in Mayabeque province, Cuba, October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

HAVANA, Oct. 16 (Reuters) Low commodity prices, a drought at home and Venezuela’s economic crisis have created a cash shortage for Cuba’s government, restricting its ability to trade just as it could be taking advantage of an economic opening with the United States.

State companies have cut imports and are seeking longer payment terms from suppliers, diplomats and foreign business people say.

The cash crunch, combined with Cuba’s hesitancy to embrace a recent softening of the U.S. economic embargo, demonstrate some of the complications U.S. companies face in Cuba even though Washington is chipping away at the sanctions.

Cuba’s cash flow has been cut by low prices for nickel, one of its leading exports, as well as for oil.

Cuba receives oil on favorable terms from Venezuela and refines and resells some of it in a joint venture with its socialist ally. But prices for refined products are down in tandem with crude.

“There is no money,” said the foreign director of a manufacturing firm in a joint venture with Cuba. Like others interviewed for this story, the director wished to remain anonymous to avoid annoying the government.

Comments about the liquidity shortage are echoed by others doing business with Cuba even with tourism up 17 percent this year.

“Cuba is clearly feeling the squeeze,” said the commercial attache of one of the country’s top trading partners. “They are falling behind on some payments and asking suppliers for credit terms of 365 days or longer, compared with 90 days to 180 days.”

Economy Minister Marino Murillo, speaking to the National Assembly in July, said export revenue had been less than expected and “adjustments” would be made.

Identifying those adjustments is difficult as Cuba’s finances are opaque. It is not a member of any international lending organization and the local currency has no value abroad.

Cuba imports more than 60 percent of its food and more than 50 percent of its oil, but the benefits from lower international commodity prices have been offset by the need for more imports due to the worst drought in more than a century.

In addition, the collapse of oil prices punishes Cuba given the terms of its oil deal with Venezuela.

It receives more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day as part of an exchange that sends Cuban professionals to Venezuela. Some 30,000 doctors and nurses, plus another 10,000 professionals, are posted in Venezuela.

Cuba also receives cash for its professionals. Economists and oil market experts believe the amount is tied to oil prices, meaning Venezuela would pay less to Cuba when prices are down.

Venezuelan crude has fallen from $88 per barrel to less than $45 per barrel over the past year.

Global nickel prices CMNI3 are down about 50 percent since May 2014, forcing cuts in production and leaving Cuba’s industry barely profitable.

As a result, Cuba has had to cut back on U.S. purchases for its hard currency stores that sell imported goods, said an American trader who sells food to Cuba under an exception to the U.S. trade embargo.

President Barack Obama reversed a half century of hardline anti-Cuba policies late last year and since then has twice eased restrictions on doing trade with Cuba.

Among other changes, Cuba can now buy certain U.S. products such as badly needed consumer telecommunications devices, software and hardware in addition to building materials, tools and equipment for its nascent private sector.

That trade has yet to flow, in part because U.S. restrictions on offering credit remain in place.

“The Obama measures all require Cuba to pay cash for goods and services but they simply do not have much,” the trader said.

Cuba has experienced payment problems before, the last time in 2008-2009, when it temporarily froze debt payments and the bank accounts of foreign companies and forced a rescheduling of supplier debts.

The diplomats and business people doubt there will be a similar crisis this time because Cuba has increased its reserves under austerity measures introduced by President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008.

“Raul has made a point of improving Cuba’s financial credibility and he has run up trade and current account surpluses since 2010,” a western banker said. “He will cut imports and growth and turn to his reserves to meet any foreign exchange deficit before sacrificing that credibility.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray) introduces first direct flights from Los Angeles to Havana

havana-liv-cheap-airHAVANA, Oct. 16,  /PRNewswire/ today is the first online travel agency to book direct flights between Los Angeles and Havana. The first weekly flights are online and bookable for travel December 12, December 19 and December 26.

More flights will be added in the coming months.

In February 2015, became the first website to book flights between the U.S. and Cuba. Since then, demand for these flights has grown. In recent months, nearly 40 flights between Havana and Miami have sold out. West Coast residents, however, had no opportunity to fly non-stop to Cuba. Now, that has changed.

To fly non-stop from Los Angeles to Havana, Cuba, travelers select one of 12 government-approved reasons to visit the country. On, “Educational activities” is the most popular reason for travel to Cuba and year-to-date has been selected by 27 percent of travelers. “Professional research and professional meetings” (23 percent) takes a close second place followed by “Family visits” (14 percent).

“People are eager to visit Cuba before the sweeping change in U.S.-Cuban relations transforms the country,” said Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir. “It’s still one of the few places in the world that is, relatively, untouched by American culture and businesses. Cuba is now a short flight away but it’s a different world. We continue adding flights to Cuba so that everyone who is permitted to travel there can quickly, easily, and affordably arrange flights.”

Like all CheapAir flights, flying to Cuba comes with the perks that fans of have come to expect. CheapAir mines over 25 million fares each day and helps travelers mix-and-match flights™ to create the most cost-efficient itineraries from any location. Travelers see which flights have amenities like WiFi and Live TV, book flights and hotels with bitcoin, and even mix in Amtrak railway fares.

After buying airline tickets, CheapAir’s Price Drop Payback™ provides up to $100 in travel credits if fares drop so travelers don’t have to worry about booking at the perfect moment.

About CheapAir ®Headquartered in Calabasas, CA, CheapAir and its team of 90 travel enthusiasts use cutting edge technology, a boatload of airfare data, and superior customer service to make it easier and less stressful to buy affordable airline tickets. Our proprietary airfare shopping engine uses a patented algorithm that scours the web for the lowest prices on the planet.

We show fares and flight options in a simple, easy to navigate display that includes which flights have which inflight amenities. For expert travel advice, deals and inspiration connect with CheapAir on Facebook , CheapAir on Google+ and CheapAir on Twitter.

CEO Jeff Klee started CheapAir in 1989 from his college dorm room after getting a crash course in the airline industry trying to plan a backpacking trip through Europe on a student’s budget. still takes a creative approach to fare finding and, along with its sister company, Amtrav for Business Travelers, has helped over three million people buy plane tickets with confidence.

Buena Vista Social Club put on historic gig for Obama

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club performs at a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, for Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Based in Cuba from the 1940s to the early 1960s, the band is on its farewell tour in the United States ™ and their performance tonight marks the first time a Cuban musical act has played at the White House in more than 50 years. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)/DCSW115/867399535700/1510160002

Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club performs at a reception in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, for Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. Based in Cuba from the 1940s to the early 1960s, the band is on its farewell tour in the United States ™ and their performance tonight marks the first time a Cuban musical act has played at the White House in more than 50 years. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)/DCSW115/867399535700/1510160002

HAVANA, Oct. 16 The Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club has become the first Cuba-based band to play in the White House for the first time in more than 50 years.

The band performed at a White House reception on Thursday to mark Hispanic Heritage Month and the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

“It is wonderful to have you here. I was explaining to them that when the documentary about the Buena Vista Social Club came out, I was told it was around 1998, I bought a CD,” said Barack Obama, who asked the audience to “give it up” for the group.

After 16 years of touring the ensemble went out with its signature mix of nostalgia and celebration of the next generation of Cuban musicians.

The White House said they were the first Cuba-based musical act to perform under its roof in more than five decades.
The appearance came amid warming relations between the US and Cuba – cold war foes whose leaders surprised the world nearly a year ago with the announcement that they were restoring diplomatic relations after more than half a century of animosity.

Obama and the Cuban president, Raul Castro, have met twice and have spoken by telephone since their stunning December announcement.

The Buena Vista Social Club started as a members’ only venue in the Marianao neighbourhood of the Cuban capital of Havana for musicians and performers based on the island nation between the 1940s and early 1960s. In its heyday the club encouraged and continued the development of traditional Afro-Cuban musical styles such as “son”, which is the root of salsa.

In the 1990s, after the club had closed, it inspired a recording made by the Cuban musician Juan de Marcos Gonzalez and American guitarist Ry Cooder with traditional Cuban musicians.

After the death of some key members, Cuban singer and dancer Omara Portuondo; guitarist and vocalist Eliades Ochoa; Barbarito Torres, who plays the laud; trumpeter Manuel “Guajiro” Mirabal; and trombonist Jesus “Aguaje” Ramos began spreading Cuban music internationally as The Buena Vista Social Club.

The recording became an international success as the biggest-selling Cuban album in history. The group is on a worldwide farewell tour.

Katy Perry Makes Her Second Trip to Cuba in Three Days

havana-live-katy-perry-regresa-cuba-visita-colmenita-L-E0wUKvHAVANA, Oct. 15 (HT)  Pop singer Katy Perry made her second trip to Cuba in three days on Tuesday and visited the headquarters of the La Colmenita theater company in Havana, informed

The singer, guitarist, songwriter and actress, who grew up listening to and singing gospel music, shared an hour with the children’s group, singing and dancing with them, said Tin Cremata, director of the company.

The famous singer said: “The Colmenita was the best she had seen in a long time and what had impressed her most of Cuba.” She then joked: “When we do together tour.”

Perry returned to Cuba on Tuesday after offering on Monday night a concert in Puerto Rico.

Perry is the only artist who has so far spent more than 52 consecutive weeks in the top ten of Billboard’s Hot 100, and has since increased this figure to 69 non-consecutive weeks.In hours of the afternoon she is expected to visit the National Art School.

In 2011, MTV named her Artist of the Year. Since 2012, she has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards. Perry has sold over 48 million digital tracks in the United States and more than 11 million albums worldwide.
(Photo: Tim Cremata/

Celebrities party in Havana and entrepreneurs look to make millions

salsa-havana-vivo-8HAVANA, Oct.15   By midnight, the basement of one of Havana’s hottest clubs is packed wall-to-wall for a private concert by one of Cuba’s biggest pop stars.

Squeezed among the usual crowd of sleek young Cubans and paunchy, prowling European tourists, the owner of one of New York’s hippest restaurants discusses his new Havana boutique hotel project.
At the bar, a Swiss venture capitalist describes meeting with Communist Party officials about partnering on a marina complex.
An Ohio woman who runs a bespoke guide service for wealthy Americans shows her clients iPhone photos of the private villa where they’ll have a waterfront paella dinner the next day.

The foreigners visiting Havana used to be Canadians and Europeans on cheap beach package tours and left-leaning Americans on dutiful rounds of organic farms and neighbourhood health clinics. Ten months after the U.S. and Cuba declared the end of a half-century of official hostility, the mood in Havana has changed.

The city is filled with celebrities coming to party and hedge-fund managers sizing up their chances to make millions in one of the last bastions of communism. As an influx of American cash starts feeling imminent and inevitable, there’s a giddy, frothy feeling in the air, at least the air breathed by Havana’s privileged.

While most Cubans remain on the outside looking in, Havana’s high society has a gold-rush, centre-of-the-universe pulse that hasn’t existed here since Fidel Castro stormed down from the mountains in 1959 and threw out the last group of foreigners who saw Havana as their tropical playground.

“The next big bubble is going to be nightlife. That’s what happened to Cancun,” said Ziad Chamoun, a Boston-area restaurant and club owner turned wine importer who was drinking champagne in a waterfront villa on Saturday afternoon with five friends, including the head of one of the world’s largest emerging-market investment funds.

“We’re talking about doing a nightclub here, a high-energy Euro-house nightclub with DJs, VJs, laser shows, music, dancing,” Chamoun said. “We want to be ahead of the curve, not behind it.”

In 2013, a quick jaunt to Cuba by Jay-Z and Beyonce outraged Republican lawmakers and set off a federal investigation.

In recent weeks, the only reaction to visits by the rich and famous has been the sound of Cubans rushing to grab selfies with celebrities.

Mick Jagger and Katy Perry partied (separately) here over the last week. This month’s Vanity Fair has Rihanna on the cover, shot by celebrity photographer Annie Leibowitz in Havana. Mexico City’s hottest chef is scoping out sites for a Havana restaurant. Usher and Ludacris have shown up. Jimmy Buffet played a private backyard concert for friends.

The tour companies showing the Americans around Cuba have sprouted investment consulting arms. And Cubans with money and foreign backers are furiously rehabbing old homes into micro-hotels complete with high-end restaurants and conference rooms for business meetings.

“New Years is the day all of Havana commemorates the Cuban Revolution,” one North Palm Beach yacht charter broker wrote to clients last week in an emailed pitch for trips to Cuba. “Call today so you don’t get stuck having to go to St Bart’s (again), or Aspen (again).”

Hannah Berkeley Cohen first came to Cuba to study Marxism and Leninism on a study abroad program for the University of Pittsburgh. After working as a freelance journalist and guide for clients she describes as “lefty, self-identifying socialist Democrats from New England,” she now spends at least three weeks a month taking groups of moneyed Americans on rounds of Havana’s clubs by night and crumbling housing stock in search of real-estate investment opportunities by day.

“The clientele now have the best new idea that will make millions in Cuba,” Cohen said. “Everyone wants to get here before everyone else gets here.”

The sprouting of high-end clubs and bars around Havana is unsettling to many in Cuba who grew up believing in equality as a tenet of the revolution, and now see foreigners and wealthy Cubans spending many times in one night the roughly $30 monthly salary of the average Cuban state worker.

“This change is proving dramatic for a great majority, who had the mentality that everyone should have access to everything,” said Octavio Borges Perez, a longtime cultural critic for the Cuban state news agency. “It’s shocking for many people that you can now only get into certain places if you have spending power.”

Among the small world of academics and travel guides who focused on Cuba in the years before the declaration of detente, inside knowledge about the island’s complexities was an obscure and not particularly profitable asset. Now America’s experts on Cuba are rebranding themselves as blue-chip business consultants.

Collin Laverty heads one of the best-known U.S. companies organizing the educational trips to Cuba permitted under U.S. rules barring pure tourism. In July, he created a new business called Havana Strategies to handle the growing demand for his investment consulting services.

Laverty said he’s been flooded with calls from “everyone from folks that sell pipes to people that sell tractors to these cruise ship companies to folks that develop hotels, folks that develop triathlons and concerts. It’s incredible, the interest across sectors.”

Former Council on Foreign Relations Cuba expert Julia Sweig and Phil Peters, head of the Virginia-based Cuba Research Center, have founded D17 Strategies, a consulting firm named for the date on which Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente last December.

“People who do Cuba, it was always an academic exercise,” said Ted Henken, a Cuba expert at Baruch College who travelled to the island recently with a former Goldman Sachs managing director looking for technology investment opportunities. “Now there’s a possibility to turn your knowledge and your network into something that has a practical economic value and, selfishly, a payoff.”

The Cuban government has not announced any big deals with American companies since Dec. 17, and Tom Popper, the head of Cuban travel company insightCuba, said a recent conversation with Cuban President Raul Castro indicated the country will not be welcoming of newcomers.

The two men met briefly at a reception during Castro’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and Castro said that “Cuba continues to place its trust in U.S. companies that have a long history of working in Cuba,” Popper said.

“He explained that friendship and trust is built over time and isn’t a privilege. He said we are off to a good start in this new world, but we have a long way to go.”