Monthly Archives: November 2015

Olga Tañon & Earth, Wind and Fire to Play in Havana

havana-live-olga-tanon-HAVANA, Nov. 30th. Puerto Rican pop singer Olga Tañon is set to perform two shows in Cuba in December. It will be a return engagement: Tañón joined Juanesand other artists for the “Peace Without Borders” concert in Havana in 2009.

“The love, caring respect and brotherhood that the Cuban people have shown me for many, many years is immense,” Tañon said in a statement to press. “We are forming the introduction to the book that others want to write.” She is presumably referring to other artists’ interest in performing on the island spurred by the thaw in relations with the United States.

Mick Jagger Visits Havana — Are The Rolling Stones Playing Cuba?

While the Rolling Stones’ rumored Havana show has not been announced, Earth, Wind & Fire has set a Cuba concert for the last week of March, part of the Havana World Music Festival.

The upcoming show by the Earth, Wind and Fire Experience featuring Al Mckay was announced on Cuba’s national nightly news by Cuban Music Institute President Orlando Vistel and reported in the online Cuban music magazine Vistar.

 “Tierra, Viento y Fuego” as they are known in Spanish, was an influence on Havana musicians in the 1970s, when bands like Los Van Van began to combine the groove of American r&b and funk with Cuban music.

Tañon will play in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 5, and will perform on Havana’s outdoor Antimperialist Stage outside the christened U.S. Embassy (formerly the U.S. Interests Section) on Dec. 12. She will be joined by Descemer Bueno and other Cuban artists.

Iberia increases its Madrid-Havana flights

havana-live-iberiaHAVANA, Nov. 30 th Six months after launching the route, Iberia will offer one additional frequency to Havana, Cuba, up to six weekly flights on Tuesdays, starting from tomorrow December 1, 2015. Iberia flies from Madrid to Havana with its newest aircraft, the Airbus A330-300, twin-engine planes, which can accommodate 278 passengers.

Business travelers can unfold their seats into 2-metre-long flat beds, all with direct access to the aisle. Economy class seats are wider and ergonomic. All passengers can enjoy touch-screen-based a on demand entertainment system with 50 films in different languages, 80 TV series and documentaries, 400 music options and video games. The seats have also power and connection ports for their electronic devices, plus access to Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity.

Iberia flights to/from Havana are scheduled to offer good connections in Madrid from/to Iberia’s 90 destinations in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Among them are Barcelona, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Bilbao, Majorca, Vigo, A Coruña and Asturias in Spain, London, Paris Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich in Europe, favouring both holiday and business travel in both directions.

Legal Migration Travel Talks Resume After Delays

havana-live-us immigrationHAVANA, Nov. 30th The U.S. and Cuba will hold another round of migration talks on Monday to discuss the “legal migration” of Cubans.

According to a statement from the U.S. Department of State, the migration discussion is part of the U.S. and Cuba’s biannual Migration Talks. Set for Nov. 30, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee will lead the talks on behalf of the U.S., while Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ U.S. Division’s Director General Josefina Vidal will lead the Cuban delegation.

Vidal has been instrumental in the renewed diplomatic relations talks since earlier this year. She has engaged the U.S. on topics ranging from the reopening of respective embassies, traffic of persons, migration fraud, civil aviation, maritime protected areas and human rights.

“The delegations will discuss continuing implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which provide for the safe, orderly, and legal migration of Cubans to the United States,” said the State Department, noting the latest round of talks were originally scheduled for July but was delayed due to the re-opening of the U.S. and Cuban embassies last summer.

“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the re-opening of embassies, and the much longer process of normalizing relations with Cuba have not changed U.S. policy on Cuban migration,” the State Department later added.

Monday’s talks will kickoff the first of discussions between U.S. and Cuban officials. On Dec. 1, respective government officials will gather for the “Counter-Narcotics Dialogue” in Washington, D.C. The talks on narcotics will include representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Representatives from the State Department, Coast Guard, DEA and ICE will meet Cuban government representatives to discuss methods to stop illegal flows of narcotics traveling between the countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro announced the renewal of diplomatic relations on Dec. 17, last year. Since the renewed talks, the U.S. has removed Cuba as the State Sponsor of Terrorism, which only leaves Iran, Sudan and Syria on the list.

The Obama administration has also enabled the U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Treasury to amend regulatory rules. On July 20, small ceremonies in Washington, D.C. and Havana observed the official re-opening of respective embassies.

Time to Bring Cuba Online

havana-live-internetcubaHAVANA, Nov. 30th  Millions of Cuban citizens could have affordable access to the Internet in a matter of months. The only thing keeping the island in the digital Dark Ages is a lack of political will.

Cuban officials have long blamed the American embargo for their nation’s obsolete telecommunications systems. They no longer have that excuse.
Regulatory changes the Obama administration put in place this year provide Havana with a number of options to expand Internet coverage quickly and sharply. If the government took advantage of that, the island’s anemic economy could get a much-needed jolt, and young Cubans who are determined to emigrate, a powerful reason to reconsider.

Cuba was among the last in the region to go online in the 1990s. Over the years, the authoritarian government has moved haltingly in expanding access to the Internet, which remains tightly controlled and censored. The American government sought to establish clandestine connections, but relatively few people benefited from those initiatives, and those who did risked being branded as traitors.

Since 2013, Cuba has been plugged into the global cable network that enables high-speed connections, but the Internet is still largely out of reach and prohibitively expensive for those who don’t have government-sanctioned access through workplaces and universities.

Young Cubans, eager to connect with the world,have built ingenious ways around the government’s controls. In the past two years, a black market data sharing system known as el paquete, or the packet, has enabled Cubans to gain access to a menu of news sites, television shows, movies and snapshots of websites that are bundled weekly and disseminated door to door through hard drives and memory sticks. They also have used wireless routers to create neighborhood networks that are not connected to the Internet but that enable users to chat and share media.

Earlier this year, the government, responding to popular pressure, established 35 wireless centers where Cubans can use smartphones and laptops to go online for about $2 an hour. Although that amounts to roughly 10 percent of the median monthly salary on the island, the centers have been mobbed.

Norges Rodríguez, an engineer and prominent blogger in Havana, said that Cuban officials were wrestling with a quandary. “They are aware that for the economy to advance, the economy must be online,” he said in a phone interview. “But our society, by design, is like the one the Soviets had: a closed society.”
Within Cuba’s opaque power structure there is a split between hard-liners who are worried that broader Internet access could fuel dissent and more progressive leaders who see the embrace of technology as a matter of economic survival. Google, which has recently made it a priority to expand online access in some of the world’s least plugged-in societies, has invigorated that debate in recent months by offering to rapidly upgrade the island’s Internet infrastructure.

Partnering with Google, which has enormous lobbying clout in Washington, could advance Havana’s goal of building enough political support in Congress to repeal the embargo and would make it harder for a future president to dial back the restoration of diplomatic ties that Mr. Obama set in motion last year. Leading Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio, have been critical of broader engagement with the Cuban government.

Cuba could also decide to do business with non-American technology companies, as Myanmar did after it began opening its political system in 2013. Industry experts say there would be no shortage of bidders eager to establish a foothold in a populous Caribbean nation with one of the world’s highest literacy rates — despite Havana’s cumbersome foreign investment laws and its inability to obtain credit to purchase American equipment because of sanctions that remain in place.

Cuban officials pledged last December to expand Internet access “without haste, but without pause.” But that hasn’t happened, and Cubans are rightly demanding more. “The government had claimed the problem was the inability to do business with American companies,” Mr. Rodríguez, the blogger, said. “That argument has disappeared.”

IMO, “Person” of the Year in Cuba

havana-live-Imo-messenger-1HAVANA, Nov. 28th (14ymedio) December will soon be here and numerous lists of this year’s protagonists will be published in Cuba.

A difficult task in a country that over the last 12 months was visited by a pope, a secretary of state and even by Mick Jagger. However, the person who takes all the palms is not a politician, a religious leader or a rocker. It is a mobile application with a short name and a profound impact on our reality: IMO.

With over 150 million accounts worldwide, this video-call tool burst into our daily lives mid-year to shorten distances and reunite families. With its simple interface and capacity to adapt itself to the low speeds of our internet connection, IMO has achieved what insularity and politics has limited for so long: contact with the world.

Headquartered in Palo Alto, the startup responsible for this tool for text chats, voice and video, was founded by one of the first ten Google employees, who says that he likes working “on challenging projects.”
A maxim that has been extensively tested in Cuba, where despite the technological obstacles the app has spread virally through smartphones and tablets.

Anyone who says that technology distances us and locks us in solitude, can wander through the wifi zone on Havana’s La Rampa and see the tears and smiles this utility gives rise to when Cubans connect between here and there.
The emotions are very much as if they were face to face. There is no coldness on the screen, nothing dehumanizing on the keyboard, when they are the only chance of encountering the people we love.

The corner of Infanta and 23rd, any Saturday. A lady enjoys the son she hasn’t seen for two decades, checks out his latest hair dye, while the emigrant’s sister has brought the dog who also participates in the moment.

Even prostitution with foreigners has become more technological through the new utility. Now “the merchandise” is evaluated before the customer arrives in the country. The other day a young girl swept a tablet with a camera over her whole body while, on the other side, someone with a German accent asked if it was true that she was over 18.

However, IMO deserves the title of Person of the Year above all because of the key role it has played in the migratory crisis facing close to 4,000 Cubans on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Havana Club launches flavours to enhance aged rum

havana-live-havana club bitterHAVANA, Nov. 28th New drink flavourings have been launched in a collaboration between Havana Club rum and bitters producers The Bitter Truth.

The Essence of Cuba range is inspired by Havana Club Añejo 7 Años, offering bartenders a new way to serve and enjoy the aged Cuban rum. The four flavours are Aromatic Leaf, Honey, Island Fruit and Coffee.

Produced like cocktail bitters, although not bitter to taste, they have been made by The Bitter Truth, founded by German bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck.

The Essence of Cuba range has been designed to highlight the natural flavours and aromas of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años, the first Cuban rum crafted to be sipped.

To launch The Essence of Cuba range within the on-trade, distributor Pernod Ricard UK has selected 15 “hero” venues from key UK cities including London, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, that will promote the new bitters in different ways, from table serves to food pairings.

The activations will then be rolled out nationwide, with promotions that centre on sharing occasions, digital amplification and heightened in-bar visibility.

Liam Murphy, senior brand managerHavana-Club-Essence-of-Cuba for Pernod Ricard UK, said: “To support the launch of Havana Club Essences of Cuba we entrusted our sales team to select bars across the UK, which were then treated to a brand immersion day by our brand ambassadors Meimi Sanchez and Mike Foster.

“Both introduced the outlets to The Essences of Cuba and advised those taking part how to promote them to customers within the on-trade.

“This is an extremely exciting launch for the brand as it opens up an entirely new drinks category within the on-trade, with the essences enhancing the rum’s natural flavours, making it more accessible to a wider audience.”

To celebrate the launch, Havana Club has teamed up with Andy Loudon, the Havana Club Grand Prix 2014 competition winner, to produce a range of cocktail serves using each of the flavours.

The recommended serve for The Essence of Cuba range is to add three dashes of flavouring to 40ml of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años and ice to easily create a drink that is complex in flavour. Recipes include twists on an Old Fashioned and a Tom & Jerry (pictured).

Hundreds gather in Havana in frustration at Ecuador visa rule

Screen-Shot-2015-08-07-at-4.52.14-PMHAVANA, Nov. 27 (AP) Hundreds of angry Cubans gathered in front of Ecuador’s embassy in Havana on Friday in an unusual public display of discontent. They said they were frustrated by Ecuador’s new rule that Cubans need a visa to visit — a move that complicates both legitimate travel and efforts to reach the United States.

The lack of a visa requirement for Cubans made Ecuador a favored destination for those seeking a vacation or job abroad, as well as those who leave the island and make the 3,400-mile (5,500-kilometer) overland route to the United States, where they can receive automatic legal residency.

Many people lined up early in hope of getting a visa, which will be required for travel as of Tuesday. But diplomats told the crowd by loudspeaker that they would have to apply for a visa via a government website. Most Cubans have almost no internet access.

A sort of impromptu protest broke out, with many in the crowd chanting “Visa! Visa!”

Police blocked off the area around the embassy in Havana’s Miramar district and by late morning, the crowd began to dwindle to at most about 200.

Ecuador announced the visa requirement on Thursday as part of an effort to stem a flow of migrants using Ecuador as a transit country to reach other nations without permission.

“We do not close the door to Cuba,” but Ecuador is committed to efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorization, Deputy Foreign Minister Xavier Lasso said in making the announcement.

Latin American officials held a weekend meeting in El Salvador to discuss the plight of 3,000 U.S.-bound Cuban migrants who are stranded at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which has balked at allowing them to cross its territory.

Many Cubans fear that the normalization of relations with the U.S. will bring an end to Cold War-era special immigration privileges that give U.S. residency to any Cuban who sets foot on U.S. soil

Should You Ditch Your Puerto Rico & Dominican Republic Vacation & Go To Cuba Instead?

11011300_10204679387677844_9036447984397426693_nHAVANA, Nov. 27th Have you started feeling the pressure yet? If you’re a fan of Latin America travel, you know what I’m talking about: that sometimes-overwhelming feeling that you absolutely must go to Cuba. Right this very minute. Before everything changes.

The island nation has been making an awful lot of news lately, as the relationship thaws between the U.S. and Cuban governments — so more people are talking about Cuba vacations. There are more companies offering Cuba tours and cruises. I’ve written about the phenomenon for various travel publications, and also for my travel blog,

And some travelers seem in a hurry to get to the largest island in the Caribbean before it changes too much — in other words, before relations are so normalized that McDonald’s and Starbucks invade the island. So does that mean you should ditch your Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic vacation plans and go to Cuba instead?

The short answer: No.

The reason? Because a Cuba vacation is still a completely different experience from a vacation in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic (if you’re a U.S. citizen, that is). That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider a trip to Cuba — after all, it’s a fascinating destination that has been mostly off limits to most U.S. travelers for a long time.
But you need to know what to expect in Cuba, and realize how it’s different from every other vacation destination in the Caribbean (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter).

How Travel to Cuba is Different from Travel to Puerto Rico and the DR
The main thing that makes travel to Cuba different for U.S. travelers is regulation. The U.S. government only allows U.S. citizens to spend money legally in Cuba when their visit falls into one of 12 categories:

• Family visits
• Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, or intergovernmental organizations
• Journalistic activity
• Professional research and/or meetings
• Educational activities
• Religious activities
• Public performance (as a performer — are you Beyoncé? Piece of cake!)
• Clinics, workshops, athletics, or other competitions and exhibitions
• Support for the Cuban people or humanitarian projects
• Activities of private foundations or institutes
• Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
• Authorized export transactions

Basically, that means that if you want to go to Cuba, you need to go through an authorized travel agent and/or tour operator, and need to adhere to the U.S. guidelines.

That also means that, if you’re a “normal” U.S. citizen, you can’t legally travel to Cuba for a relaxed beach vacation, or to wander around much on your own. You’ll be kept busy with tours, activities and other approved “people to people” programs designed to connect visitors with Cuban culture and people, but also to stay in line with U.S. government restrictions.

In addition, Cuba isn’t up to speed like other destinations when it comes to WiFi and Internet connectivity — so be prepared to be less connected than in other Caribbean vacation destinations.

In a recent report I wrote for Travel Weekly about travel to Cuba, a variety of industry insiders weighed in on what makes the island different. “Cuba is a unique Caribbean destination, and we feel that managing clients’ expectations is key,” said Bryan Murray, marketing manager for Vacation Express.

“For example, the star rating system for hotels in Cuba is not the same as in Cancun or the rest of the Caribbean. Menus at even the best hotels change based on food availability, so people with very strict dietary needs may want to wait to visit Cuba. Travelers should also have realistic expectations about internet access and cell phone service, as internet access is limited, and cell phones will not work on the island.

Some suggest that creature comforts like your favorite snack or personal hygiene items are best brought with you, because they may not be available.”

If you go to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, on the other hand, you can do whatever you want. Fly when you want. Stay where you want, visit where you want and spend what you want. You’ll find plentiful WiFi and Internet connectivity, too. You can also go to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and do nothing more than stretch out on the beach and sip cocktails for a few days.

The Dominican Republic has the advantage of offering lots of all-inclusive resorts as well, while Puerto Rico offers the advantage of being a U.S. territory, so you don’t even need a passport to visit if you’re a U.S. citizen.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to consider a trip to Cuba and also a vacation in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. But the experiences you’ll have in Cuba, if you’re a U.S. citizen, are likely very different from what you’ll have on the other two islands. Go to Cuba for the amazing culture, history, music and people — and full itineraries of U.S. government-approved activities.

But go to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for everything else: culture and history and people, of course, and full itineraries, if you want them, too — but also flexibility, freedom and plenty of time to kick back and enjoy some rest and relaxation.

In a perfect world, with plenty of vacation time and a healthy travel budget, my personal preference would be to go to all three islands.

Penn State drops 2nd game in Cuba

KELSIE NETZER/SPECIAL PHOTO Penn State catcher Ryan Sloniger (11) catches a throw to tag out Ciego De Avila shortstop Yorbis Borroto during the Nittany Lions’ 2-0 loss Wednesday in Havana.

KELSIE NETZER/SPECIAL PHOTO Penn State catcher Ryan Sloniger (11) catches a throw to tag out Ciego De Avila shortstop Yorbis Borroto during the Nittany Lions’ 2-0 loss Wednesday in Havana.

HAVANA,  Nov. 26th  Penn State’s baseball team lost 2-0 on Wednesday to the defending Cuban league champion, Ciego de Ávila, as the Nittany Lion bats were again stifled by some of the best pitchers Cuba has to offer.

HAVANA, Nov. 26 The game was the second of a four-game tour for Penn State in Cuba, a rare opportunity for a U.S. college team.

The Nittany Lions lost 2-1 Monday to the nation’s most famous club, the Industriales, but that squad was largely made up of subs and young prospects.

This time, Penn State faced the starters on a team that is the defending league champion and holds the best record in Cuba at 30-12.

Much like Monday’s matchup against the Industriales, Penn State fell behind in the first inning before shutting down Ciego de Ávila’s bats for long stretches.

Penn State starter Sal Biasi effectively settled into a rhythm on the mound.

“I thought the first inning I was rushing a little bit, but I was able to get ahead in the count following that,” Biasi said.

Raul Gonzalez’s one-out double gave the Tigers an early scoring opportunity. He advanced to third on Biasi’s wild pitch. then crossed the plate on a RBI groundout from Jose Garcia.

It proved to be the only run the Tigers needed.

Frustration set in following the first inning for Ciego de Ávila, as Biasi went on to retire seven straight batters. Tiger players seemed upset, swinging early in the count and shaking their heads at the female home

plate umpire when a call did not go their way.

The tour has served so far as a snapshot of the relative abilities of players from a U.S. college baseball and Cuba’s top league. While Penn State — which started four freshmen Wednesday — has been competitive, the Nittany Lions can’t seem to buy a run when it counts.

“Cuba is renovating its game,” said Evyan Guerra, a sports broadcaster for a Cuban television network. “We are trying to better prepare our players and increase the level of our game.”

Tigers pitcher Vladimir Garcia, who is the ace of the staff with a 1.94 ERA on the season, dominated through five frames of work. He finished with nine strikeouts, including five in a row between the second and third innings.

“He’s not just one of the best in Cuba. He’s one of the best in the world,” said Penn State head coach Rob Cooper. “Our guys showed no fear and I am proud of that.”

The Nittany Lions best scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning. Penn State got its leadoff man on with a broken-bat infield single from Greg Guers. Two batters later, Tyler Kendall was hit in the arm by Garcia’s fastball.

A two-out double steal by Guers and Kendall caught the Tigers by surprise, putting two runners in scoring position, but freshman Austin Riggins whiffed on a 3-2 fastball.

Luis Robert, whose emotion was running high after two strikeouts to start the game, added an RBI double in the seventh to give the Tigers an insurance run.

In the eighth, Bowersox’s single set up Penn State’s best power hitter with a chance to tie the game, but Guers’ drive to right got snagged on the warning track.

“Off the bat, I thought it was a tie ball game,” Guers said, adding. “It’s a great experience overall. But it’s an even better baseball experience.”

US to Cuba wire transfer hassles cause big problems

HAVANA, Nov.26 One of those challenges involves wire transfers of money to Cuba that fund passenger charter flights to the island.

U.S. banks sometimes hold up the process, which seldom happened before normalization, ironically.Air charter companies say they are suffering the consequences.
The Cuban government used to be more patient with the hassle, but now if it doesn’t get its landing and passenger fees ahead of time, landing rights are canceled.

Earlier this year, Florida-based Stonegate Bank became the first U.S. bank to establish a corresponding banking relationship directly with Cuba, under terms of the two governments’ new relationship.
The hope now is that other banks will follow suit, in order to make wire transfers to the island easier.


Cuban arrested in Greece in connection with Havana art heist

police_2623764bHAVANA, Nov. 25th (REUTERS) A 36-year-old Cuban man has been arrested in Greece in connection with the theft of dozens of modernist art works from Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts, Greek police said on Wednesday.

The heist, believed to be the largest ever at the museum, was confirmed in February last year by Cuban officials. Most works were by Cuban artists and several by acclaimed Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach.Jorge-ArchePrimavera-o-Descanso

Greek police said the man, who was arrested in the Koropi district east of Athens on Monday, was thought to be the main suspect of the theft of 71 pieces.

“He was probably in Athens looking for buyers,” a police source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The man, against whom Cuba had issued an international search warrant, will appear before the prosecutor in Athens on Thursday before he is extradited, the police official said.

IATA to install ticket financial system in Cuba

havana-live-IATAHAVANA, Nov. 25th IATA plans to start operating a Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP) banking system in Cuba in 2016, helping to facilitate ticket transactions between airlines and travel agents.

The BSP system would be an important step in the gradual opening up of Cuba’s travel and tourism business as relations between Cuba and the US thaw. Ultimately, a bilateral air agreement is expected to be formed, enabling direct scheduled air links between the two countries.

Although no timing has been set for a bilateral, IATA DG Tony Tyler announced last week during a visit to Havana the plan to operate a BSP system in Cuba next year. He also pledged the association’s support and expertise as the country adapts its aviation infrastructure to cope with the anticipated large increase in air traffic and passengers.

Tyler’s visit also marked the 70th anniversary of IATA, which was created in Havana at a meeting in the Hotel Nacional, where he hosted a celebratory dinner with the CEO of Cubana, the US and Canadian ambassadors to Cuba and the head of Cuba’s civil aviation authority.

IATA’s BSP system is a critical enabler for airlines, facilitating financial transactions through travel agents via a standardized agreement and settlement mechanism.

Cuba we has four accredited agents with over 100 branches across the country, but no BSP system.

“Direct scheduled air links are a much anticipated outcome of the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba. That will certainly create opportunities for growth. Establishing an IATA BSP in Cuba will be an important facilitator for growth in outbound ticket sales,” Tyler said at a press conference in the Hotel Nacional.

“Cuba’s air transport industry has tremendous potential. Even in my brief visit, I have come to realize that aviation could be contributing much more to Cuba. Look at tourism. Cuba welcomed a record 3 million tourists in 2014.
But the Dominican Republic attracted 5 million. They are both amazing countries, but even just looking at Cuba’s size compared to the Dominican Republic indicates that it should be able to accommodate a much larger tourism industry than it does today.”

Tyler said that IATA estimates there were about 300,000 departures from Cuba in 2014—outbound travel—a relatively small number for a country with over 11 million people.

“We did a projection to 2034 and conservatively see the potential for one in four Cubans to be traveling by air at that time. Even if the population were steady—an obviously unrealistic expectation—that would see a market of 10 times the size of today in less than two decades,” Tyler said.

Tyler also pledged that IATA will assist Cuba as it tackles the major airport terminal and airfield upgrades that will be needed to cope with the increase in air and passenger traffic.

“IATA is not in the business of building or upgrading airports. But we do help airports and governments plan infrastructure developments. By bringing deep knowledge of airline and passenger needs we can ensure that the infrastructure investments deliver maximum benefit,” Tyler noted.

“Cuba has the potential to leapfrog to become a model in the region for modern air transport infrastructure.”

Smugglers of digital ‘paquetes’ make a living in Havana

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HAVANA ,Nov. 25th   Without ample access to the Internet, some Cubans satisfy their hunger for media through a black market of digital “paquetes,” packages of content that bypass government censorship.

The content ranges from pornography to soap operas, foreign news and movies. Telemundo’s Spanish language Al Rojo Vivo, Univision’s Primer Impacto and The Deadliest Catch are some of the most popular requests.

“I only distribute it, I don’t produce it,” a man who sells content said. “I buy it and resell it and like me there are thousand who live of off this. What aired last week, we will get this week.

The unidentified man said he makes about $32 a month and spends about $2 to buy content. He uses his earnings to supplement the government food rations, he said. To run his business, he needs a computer, hard drives and connections.

Customers can order a download of a terabyte of data, which can last a viewer about a week or a month. Some share memory cards, much in the same way teens in South Florida rent video games to their friends.

Some use SIM cards, a portable memory chip used to hold data. Others use Flash USB drives and .Zip files on CDs. A “paquete semanal” can cost between $1 to $3.

The data traffickers have a network and they specialize on different types of content. Some only focus on distributing the content.

The traffickers must be meticulously organized and fast. The older the content the worst the resell value is.  He or she also has to be familiar with antivirus software, so clients keep coming back for more.

Some use illegal satellite to have access to the content that can be digitized. They get Vampire Diaries, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. And as long as the Internet remains slow, the lucrative “paquetes” will continue to have demand.

ZZ Tops Billy Gibbons readies Perfectamundo solo tour through US, Cuba

havana-live-Billy-GibbonsHAVANA, Nov. 25th (AP)  For those who have not heard his Latin-infused solo debut “Perfectamundo,” Billy Gibbons offers this warning, “For the uninitiated I’ll leave it with one word: Beware.”

Gibbons’ musical departure from rock band ZZ Top mixes Cuban rhythms with hip-hop and blues, congas, bongos and the Hammond organ.
“You can mosh to it or mambo to it,” the 65-year-old guitarist and vocalist said in a recent interview.
It all began with a phone call asking Gibbons to play at the Havana Jazz Festival in 2014. The gig fell through, but inspired the new album and Afro-Cuban sound.

“We have about five or six additional — call them records — in the can, however, they were so predictably ZZ Top-like, ZZ Top-esque,” said Gibbons. “This was so off-the-wall, so weird and out of the ordinary that it just kind of took precedent.”

The gravel-voiced singer is preparing to hit the road with his new band, The BFG’s. They start Friday in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Gibbons recently took a break from rehearsals at his studio in Los Angeles to chat about making “Perfectamundo,” released earlier this month, the staying power of ZZ Top and finally getting to Cuba.

AP: What was the recording process like for ‘Perfectamundo?’
Gibbons: It was basically gathering a bunch a very talented guys and gals in the studio to make a lot of loud noise. We are surfing the Web in the meantime, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine — basically a private club with no time clock running and no real thought of, ‘Let’s make a record.’ We were just making experiments in music that just happen to have an Afro-Cuban twist.

AP: How do your ZZ Top bandmates feel about your solo effort?
Gibbons: ZZ Top is three guys and two of those three guys are sitting back smiling. They’re going, ‘Yeah, you go out on the road! You take a new band out there. We’re gonna have a nice holiday.’ …By the time we have some breathing room (from the solo album), I’ll be able to go back into the studio with Frank Beard, the man with no beard, Dusty Hill.

Emir of Quatar visit to Cuba opens a new era in relations

havana-live-emir of quatarHAVANA, Nov. 25th  HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s visit to Cuba opens a new era in the Qatari-Cuban relations with wide and promising prospects.

The official talks between the Emir and the President of Cuba Raul Castro on Monday covered several topics that would contribute to further strengthening bilateral relations and mutual co-operation in various fields, to fulfill the aspiration of both countries.

Remarkably, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two countries for the investment in Cuba, which allows Qatar to invest $2bn over five years, in addition to the agreement on the abolition of visa requirement for holders of diplomatic, special and service passports of both countries, a MoU on air services; and a co-operation agreement in the field of sports.

The importance of speeding up the necessary procedures and transactions to open a representative office of Qatar National Bank in Havana was also discussed during the talks.

In politics, mainly the Palestinian issue, the Emir and the president of Cuba affirmed both sides’ determination to continue efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and stressed the need to support the Palestinian people in the international arena.

A New way to fly to Cuba, from Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

havana-live-inter cariebeanHAVANA, Nov.25  This December sees the launch of a new Gateway to Cuba from Providenciales (PLS), Turks & Caicos Islands. Services to Santiago de Cuba (SCU) commence on December 10th, 2015.

With this new service to Santiago from Providenciales, visitors to the Turks & Caicos Islands will be able enjoy easy access to Eastern Cuba with the initial twice weekly flights.

Providenciales to (PLS) Santiago de Cuba (SCU)
Flight No:  JY310
Effective Date:10-Dec-15 12-Mar-16
Days: Thu, Sat
Depart :4:00pm
Arrive :4:10pm* (*1hr difference)

Santiago de Cuba (SCU) to Providenciales (PLS)
Flight N0: JY 311
Effective Date: 11-Dec-15 12-Mar-16
Days: Mon, Fri
Arrival: 11:20am* (*1hr difference)

InterCaribbean Airways, the official airline of the Turks and Caicos Islands, announced its new route to Santiago de Cuba, with services to Havana, Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), Cuba, slated to start in early 2016.
These new flights expands the airline’s total list of destinations to 18 cities throughout the Caribbean, making interCaribbean the best choice for “connecting you and the Caribbean”.

With increased air services from USA and Canada and the recent addition of a second London frequency by British Airways to Providenciales, this service provides timely international connections to this new service and allowing additional island choices for the vacation traveler to combine several Islands. It is Ideal for People to People travelers ready to visit the culture of Cuba.

Diver places satellite transmitter on sharks

Great white shark with satellite research tag attached to base of dorsal fin. (Internet)

Great white shark with satellite research tag attached to base of dorsal fin. (Internet)

HAVANA, Nov. 24th  (PL) According to the online version of the local newspaper Invasor, Fernandez took the shark by the tail and in its belly he placed the device that emits signals when the animal surfaces, which is an unusual action that happened for the first time in the keys Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo.

The action occurred during an expedition led by Cuban and US specialists to study and control sharks that inhabit the northern and southern coasts of Cuba.

Organized by the Marlin S.A. Nautical and Marinas Business Group, the Research Centers on Coastal Ecosystems of Cayo Coco and Marinas of the University of Havana, the action surprised the crew for the courage of Fernandez.

Fernandez, who is also a cameraman at Mundo Latino Studios in Cuba, performed a similar action offshore Havana, said the newspaper.

To accomplish the two actions, Fernandez was supported by the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Florida, in the United States, which fostered the placement of satellite transmitters in sharks and the development of the first experiment to transplant corals in Cuban reefs.

Festival of culinary influences in Havana

havana-livemouth with fruitHavana, Nov 24 (PL) In order to review the matches of the Cuban cuisine with foreign influences, Gourmet festival named Sabores de Cuba y el mundo (Flavors of Cuba and the world) is being organized in Old Havana for this weekend.

The director of the initiative, Alicia Garcia, reported Monday that from November 26 to 28 there will be an inquiry of the Cuban cuisine from the audiovisual, visual arts, literature and tourism, located appointment in the House of Mexico in Havana.

The fourth edition of the festival, which will take place at the House of Mexico, is a meeting to see how the people feed from the angle of culture, especially film and literature.

The IV Festival Gourmet Flavors of Cuba and the world will go deep in the culinary arts and traditions in this island, spokesmen insisted.

The organizer of the meeting said that the festival is a cultural project that aims to deepen in the cuisine as an art.

She noted that the event, a mixture of several trends, is an added value to tourism in the archipelago and a special attraction for travelers from around the world.

The meeting includes debates and tastings.

This event is organized by the House of Mexico and the Office of the Historian of Havana (Eusebio Leal Spengler), with support from various food and drinks and tourist firms, and the presence of diplomatic missions of Latin American countries.

Septeto Santiaguero wins Latin Grammy Award

havana-live-Septeto SantiagueroHAVANA, 24 Nov. (ACN) — The album Tributo a Los Compadres. No quiero llanto, by Cuban band Septeto Santiaguero and Dominican singer José Alberto ‘El Canario’, last week won the 2015 Latin Grammy Award in Best Traditional Tropical Album.

The award was given by the Latin Recording Academy in a ceremony in Las Vegas.

The CD is a tribute to one of the most important duets in the history of Cuban popular music: Los Compadres.

“This award is the end of many months of work and we are very happy,” said Fernando Dewar, director of the Santiaguero Septet.

“I must thank José Alberto ‘El Canario’, a humble man, for his love for Cuban music roots and his talent and for everything he contributed to this project. At the same time, I thank the musicians of the group and all the persons in Santiago de Cuba who cooperated with this project,” he added.

The leader of this traditional music group dedicated the award to his native city in the year of its 500th anniversary and to the great maestros who agreed to participate in the album.

“Cuban traditional music has won, and now that the Buena Vista Social Club is no longer in the international arena, replacement is guaranteed,” he concluded.

Cuban-Canadian Alex Cuba won in the category of Best Singer-Songwriter Album, with the CD Healer, while Calle 13 and Silvio Rodriguez walked away with the Latin Grammy Award for the audiovisual Ojos color sol, in Best Music Video, short version.

Other artistes mentioned at the official gala were Juan Luis Guerra, Natalia Lafourcade, Gilberto Santa Rosa, Alejandro Sanz, Ruben Blades and Maná.

Cuba to further broaden Wi-Fi access

HAVANA, Nov. 23th  (XINHUA)  Etecsa announced Friday that it will open 20 more public Wi-Fi areas throughout the country.

Half of the areas will be in Havana, said Darline Perez, an official from Etecsa.

In July, Etecsa opened 35 public Wi-Fi spots and, despite being a step forward for connectivity, locals have criticized the spots for bad conditions and the lack of top-up coupons.

Currently there are 118 places with fixed dial-up connections on the Caribbean island. But a total of 300 places are planned to be up and running by the end of the year, according to official projections.

With the opening of Wi-Fi areas, the tariff for Internet use has almost halved to around 1 U.S. dollar per hour.

“It is obvious that there is now better access to the Internet but the ideal situation would be to have access from home,” Yasmani Hernandez, a student looking for online coursebooks via her cellphone, told Xinhua.

Hernandez complained about the conditions in the Wi-Fi spots, which are almost always outside in avenues and parks.

Rebeca Mendez, an actress, agreed. “It would be great to connect to the Internet from home, in comfort and without having to go out onto the street and put up with the heat,” she said while using Wi-Fi to communicate with her family members in the United States.

In 2013, only 3.4 percent of Cuban homes had Internet connections, one of the lowest figures in the world, according to the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union.

Havana’s National Hotel in December 85 years old

havana-live-hotel-nacionalHAVANA, Nov 22 (PL)  A wide program will be carried out in December this year in order to commemorate the 85 years of the National Hotel of Cuba, the most emblematic hotel in this archipelago, a symbol of Cuban tourism, as told by its general director Antonio Martinez here in this capital Friday.

There will be a meeting of young painters, an exhibit with unique bottles of rum and perfumes, a new version on a book about the history of the National Hotel, a photo contest and editions of postcards, among other activities.

The National Hotel, opened on December 30, 1930 with a very great party at the Ball Room (Parisien Cabaret), has now meetings, concerts and exchanges scheduled for the anniversary.

“Even a system of trenches brought to the hotel when the October Crisis was produced in the 60’s, is highly visited by travellers from all over the world,” said Martinez.

The National Hotel’s Hall of Fame, its gardens and the beautiful view constitue a privilege, which gives this hotel the first place among the best hotels in the country.

Martinez added that the company CubaRon will present for the occasion a spirit, dubbed Ron 1930, referring to the opening year, and also a perfume will be one of the surprises.

While the meeting itself will occur on December 30, several weeks before, they have planned activities and exchanges, in addition to inform foreign tourists on the date.

The book Revelaciones de Una Leyenda (Reliefs of a Legend), by authors Luis Baez (now deceased) and Pedro de la Hoz, will be the introduction of its new version, and a Commemorative Plate will be given to 85 personalities and institutions of the tourism system, for the anniversary.

Also, they are working for the redesign of the evening show of Cabaret Parisien, a simultaneous visual arts exhibit and a photo contest, with the distinction of admitting works by professionals and amateur photographers of any age, from anywhere in the world, and both from the present and the past.

Listed as a National Monument of Cuba, has a wonderful view of much of the capital, symbol of Cuban inns, five stars, the National Hotel is operated by Gran Caribe hotel group.

It has been drafted in the drawings of architects McKim Mead and the White New York Architects, and its construction was carried by Purdy Henderson Company, which guaranteed the opening ceremony.

Its lineage is ratified by those who were its guests, including Johnny Weissmuller, Ava Gardner, Buster Keaton, Errol Flynn, Frank Sinatra, politicians and celebrities of all kinds (a long list).

With its 426 rooms, most with ocean view, now has a rescue plan that will take 90 names of the celebrities who stayed in it.

Qatar emir set for Cuba visit

&MaxW=640&imageVersion=default&AR-151129859Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani is going to hold ‘official talks’ with Cuban President Raul Castro

HAVANA, Nov. 21th  (AFP) Qatar’s ruler will meet Cuban President Raul Castro on a visit Cuba starting on Sunday, state-run media said.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani will hold “official talks” with Castro and “carry out other activities,” the Granma newspaper said Saturday, November 21, offering few concrete details.

Cuba and Qatar established diplomatic ties in 1989 and maintain relations in a number of fields, notably health care and tourism.

A hospital run by Cuban doctors and other medical professionals has been operating in Qatar since 2012.

Doha has shown an interest in expanding cooperation in health care with Cuba and is exploring investment opportunities on the island, media said.

It was unclear how long the Qatari emir would be in Cuba.

Havana Club luxury rum for pairing with Cohiba cigars

havana-live-havana-club-unionHAVANA, Nov. 21th One of the latest products of Havana Club, rum “Union”, won in the past FIHAV 2015 Visual Communication Design Award for being the first Cuban rum designed to pair with cigars, another icon of the island.

Havana Club Union was born from collaboration between rum masters of that company and sommeliers of Habanos SA, another prestigious Cuban company.
The rum is created using bases of rum naturally aged in barrels and specifically selected to pair with Cohiba cigars.

‘Havana Club Unión and Cohiba Cigars represent distinguished expressions from the same soil and authentic tradition; their shared origins and rich heritage make them natural partners. It was an honour to collaborate with Cigar Sommelier Fernando Fernandez to create this prestige rum, which presents notes of sweet vanilla, chocolate and dried fruit flavours’.

The novelty of the drink, worthy of the prize for best design for its packaging, sobriety and elegance lies in the presence of sweet notes of vanilla, chocolate and nuts.


Cuba, New Member of the UNESCO World heritage Committee

UNESCO-LOGOHAVANA, Nov 21  (PL) Cuba was elected today as a member of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, which analyzes the state of preservation of the sites in the list of World Heritage.

With a total of 128 votes in favor, the island was the country that reached the largest number of votes for the freely-contested posts.

Cuba will occupy, until 2019, one of the 21 seats of that committee, which is in charge of deciding to register or not new sites and the registration of the threatened assets in the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Together with Peru and Jamaica, members elected in 2013, Cuba will represent Latin America and the Caribbean.

With nine sites declared World Heritage, Cuba is the country that has more registrations in the Caribbean region and the fifth in Latin America.

The voting was held in the context of the 20th Assembly of Member States of the UNESCO World Heritage Conference, which will be on until November 20.

Interview: Cuba’s Ivan Giroud, President of the Havana Film Festival

havana-live-ivan-giroudHAVANA, Noiv. 20th Ivan Giroud is a part of that Festival world and actually is now its most important part (aside from the films and filmmakers that is). Starting from zero, he is now considered one of the most qualified specialists in Latin American Cinema

I have been visiting Cuba since 2000 when I went there to perfect my Spanish. My Spanish is still far from perfect but I have grown to love Cuba. Since I went there to learn and happened upon the Havana Film Festival which is held this year December 3rd to 13th, I have returned to the Festival every year and have found a world of great talent which increasingly is raring to get out into the world.

Ivan Giroud is a part of that Festival world and actually is now its most important part (aside from the films and filmmakers that is). Starting from zero, he is now considered one of the most qualified specialists in Latin American Cinema.

Read on to see who he is and how he sees Cuban and Latin American Cinema.

How did you get into film?

I was born in Havana in 1957.

I have loved cinema since I was very young. However I did not study film as there was no cinema school in Cuba until 1986.

I had a general education and graduated in Civil

Engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Havana in 1981.

I am self-taught in film – what’s that called?

You are an autodidact.

Yes, an autodidact.

In the 70s, Cuba had the best cinema in the world and the best posters as well. These posters remained the finest posters in the world throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Yes, they are silk-screened and on display and for sale. I myself treasure the poster of one o my favorite fims, “Suite Habana” by Fernando Pérez .

“Suite Habana”
“Suite Habana”

In my last year working as a civil engineer I contacted ICAIC seeking employment. In 1981 friends in film, like Daisy Granados, the star of “Cecilia” gave me work on her film. I met her husband, Pastor Vega, a filmmaker who was also the first Director of the Festival from 1979 to 1990, a post he took after finishing “Portrait of Teresa” Pastor said ‘Come work with me’ and so in 1988 I entered the industry at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), as a senior specialist and organizer of Cuban and Latin American cinema destined for Europe and North America. The job was like a programming job.

The International Festival of the New Latin American Film in Havana (akaHavana Film Festival) had sections for auteurs, socialist countries, American films and docs. It had the best films, was the preeminent film festival for Latin American cinema and was the only market where all of Latin America gathered to consider the films. It still remains a gathering place for the cineastes throughout Latin America and includes a well-respected coterie of the pioneers of Latin American cinema who created the films that best defined Latin America Cinema in the 60s and then were silenced by the dictatorships which prevailed until the 90s….like Raúl Ruiz, Aldo Francia, Patricio Guzmán and Miguel Littin from Chile, Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos from Brazil Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino from Argentina.

At the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991 (known in Cuba as “The Special Period”), I entered the Directorate of the Festival and Vega left and returned to filmmaking. There were other Directors, and in 1994 I became the Director. Alfredo Guevera, the public face of the festival for many years came back to Cuba and became President; we worked together from 1994 to 2010, my first term as the Festival Director.

The Special Period was very, very difficult, the worst of times for everyone and for all Latin American cinema. Brazilian cinema nearly disappeared. The state film organization Embrafilme had been producing 800 films a year and that disappeared for a long time.

Argentina declined in the 90s. Mexico remained active but also declined in the quality of its films. When I began as Director, Cuba was very poor, both economically and creatively. But there was also a generational change and I learned that every decline gives birth to a new generation and new creativity, and so it was.

Schools of films began training new talent. EICTV, the International Film School, funded by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel Prize money opened its doors in 1987. New schools opened in Argentina and Brazil as well. The Havana Film Festival stood as a testimony to this growing generation as it showed the first works and shorts of the likes of Trapero and others in whom you could see new Latam talent developing.

The Havana Film Festival catalogs are a history of cinema as it was the biggest programmer of films. It still gives the best view of Latam cinema today. It is still important as it gives a full picture of Latam cinema and the people in Latam cinema. EICTV is producing the most interesting film makers in the world.

For 37 years the Festival was the best, though today there are not many Latam fests. This one was different. You could get to know the whole cineaste community. It never lost a generation; the older members still make movies and the festival helps them to be seen and known.

In 2010 I went to Madrid where I spent five years. In 2002 I began working on a Dictionary of Iberoamerican Cinema. This 1,000 page book was finished in 2008. From 2008 to 2010 I was the director of the festival from Spain. I also ran an arthouse theater in Madrid, the Sala Berlanga, named after a very important Spanish director a little younger than Bunuel.

In 2012 I wanted to return to Cuba where I worked on the Cuban Dictionary of Film. In April Guevera died and ICAIC pulled me back to be President and Director.

Since May 2013 I have been Director of the Casa del Festival and President of the International Festival of New Cinema in Havana.

What about the filmmaker Pavel Giroud? Is he your brother?

No, he’s my nephew. He came into the business a different way, through design. He began producing music clips and then went to EICTV. From a painter he evolved into a moviemaker. He has made three films. His newest, “El Acompañante” (“The Companion”) won the best project award at San Sebastian’s 2nd Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum in 2013.

This is Giroud’s third solo film after “The Silly Age” and “Omerta”. The producers: Luis Pacheco’s Jaguar Films is Panama’s best-known production/services company. The Cuban producer is Lia Rodriguez who also runs the industry section of the Havana Film Festival.

It is also produced by the Cuba/ Panama-based Arete Audiovisual, Panama’s Jaguar Films, Venezuela’s Trampolin Impulso Creativo and France’s Tu Vas Voir (Edgard Tenembaum) who produced Walter Salles’ “The Motorcycle Diaries”.

Set in 1988 Cuba, “The Companion” is about a friendship between a disgraced boxer forced to serve as a warden – in Cuban government jingo-speak, a “companion” – for an HIV victim.

“El Acompañante”
“El Acompañante”

What is different about the current state of your festival?

Now there are many Latin American Film Festivals, but ours was and still is different because it allows you to know the whole cineaste community. We never lost a generation. The older generation still is making movies and the younger generation is very present. The Festival helps make them known.

What about the new developments between USA and Cuba?

That is the most asked question today.

We have always had U.S. films and U.S. citizens have always visited in cultural exchanges. We’ve had Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon in the earliest years. We’ve invited Arthur Penn, Sean Penn, John Sayles, the Coen Brothers. Danny Glover and Benecio del Toro are frequent visitors. Annette Benning and Koch Hawk of the Academy were guests. We were always well connected to the U.S. independents so that is nothing new.

The change is that It will be easier for Americans to visit and to learn.

When I went to Cuba the first time, I was actually surprised to see so many Afro-Cubans. For some reason I assumed USA was the only nation with former slaves. I should have realized the Spanish also traded in slaves but only when I was in Cuba did I “get” it. Now I see the world so differently.

In Cuba black and white races mixed and the mixture (the mulatto) is what is a Cuban today. U.S. has segregation by and large. Latinos live together, Asian, African-Americans are all separated and that creates a totally different mentality.ellos-son-nosotros“Ellos son nosotros”

I am very interested in African Diaspora films and Cuba has a lot. I have always enjoyed the documentaries. You can’t see them anywhere else.

This year there is a great documentary, “They are We” (“Ellos son nosotros”). It is anthropological about the Cuban town Matanza. Matanza has some of the best music in Cuba. It investigates their African roots in Sierra Leone and identifies ancestors and where they were from. Determined to find the exact origin of songs coming from there, the Australian filmmaker – researcher spent two years showing images throughout the region in Sierra Leonie until he confirmed that the Cubans were singing songs similar to the language of an ethnic group made extinct because of the slave trade.

Nautica email service has mysteriously shut down service


HAVANA, Nov. 20th The Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA) announced in an official note Wednesday that it has had to “completely stop email services” in the country.

As is often the case in Cuba, the government hasn’t given an official reason for the shutdown. Service on the island has been spotty for more than a week, according to Jose Luis Martinez, communications director at the Miami-based Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, who is in regular communication with people on the island.
Earlier this week, ETECSA said that the “infrastructure that supports the accounts has had a technical failure that affects the sending and receiving of emails.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of things in Cuba are very obsolete and outdated and clunky”

While there’s no law that stops Cubans from using Gmail or any other email service provider, the shutdown of all official email accounts, which are called Nauta accounts, will have huge ramifications for how people communicate on the island.

There is very little wifi access in Cuba and no mobile internet service for Cubans whatsoever, but standard cell phone service is pretty widespread. The Cuban government allows its citizens to send and receive text-based emails on mobile phones using standard cell signal and Nauta accounts.

As a result, Nauta emails are how a lot of business gets done on the island, and it’s how a lot of people communicate with those overseas while they’re on the go.

The message that’s bouncing back if you try to email a Nauta email account.
“It’s the only email you’re allowed to have on your phone,” Martinez told me.

Martinez says he’s been trying to email people on the island and has had the emails bounced back to him with this message: “This message has not yet been delivered. It will will keep trying to be delivered.”

“There’s no way to understand what’s going on—if it’s a hack, if it’s a technical issue because ETECSA is a very opaque organization,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, a lot of things in Cuba are very obsolete and outdated and clunky.”

It’s entirely possible the shutdown only lasts a couple days, but even if that’s the case, it underscores the country’s extremely shaky telecommunications infrastructure. Cuban leader Raul Castro says he wants to open the island up, but it has been very slow to get widespread internet service.

At the moment, the country relies on a handful of wireless hotspots that are expensive, slow, and surveilled. Companies such as Verizon have launched wireless data service for American travelers to the island, but there’s no indication from the government that the Cuban people are going to have better internet access anytime soon.

U.S. continues Cuba sanctions cleanup

Banco Metropolitano, in Havana

Banco Metropolitano, in Havana

HAVANA, Nov. 19th The U.S. removed more people from its sanctions list, lifting measures from, among others, executives of banks serving Cuba and an Italian firm that provided goods to Iran’s petrochemical sector.

Among those no longer under U.S. sanctions, according to a notice posted on the U.S. Department of Treasury’s website, are Miguel Lopez and Jose Julio Rodriguez, both of whom were listed as chairmen of Havana International Bank.
Now known as Havin Bank Ltd., the London-based financial institution provides wholesale banking services for the Cuban market, according to its website. Several other Havana International Bank executive and managing directors also were removed Thursday from the U.S. blacklist.

All of the Cuba sanctions removals made Thursday came as part of an ongoing internal review by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control of older Cuban sanctions cases, a Treasury spokeswoman said while noting they had all been targeted prior to 1995.

“OFAC hopes to reduce the compliance burden on the public by removing out-of-date names from the [blacklist] where appropriate, which will in turn reduce the number of potential false name matches and expedite processing of lawful transactions at financial institutions,” she said.

The U.S. also lifted sanctions from Dettin SpA, an Italian firm targeted in August 2014by the U.S. Department of State for allegedly providing Iran’s petrochemical industrywith goods and services worth more than $250,000. A spokesman for the State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update: A State Department spokesman said the company applied for removal on the basis that it’s no longer engaging in the activity that led to its designation. “This is a routine step taken in response to a petition by the company,” he said.

Stonegate Bank offering debit card’s for travelers to Cuba

havana-live-stonegate1 bank lnew cmg (1)HAVANA ,Nov. 19th (AP)  American travelers who’ve had to carry wads of cash while visiting Cuba will now have a debit card option.

Stonegate Bank of Pompano, Florida, announced Thursday it is offering a debit MasterCard that U.S. travelers will be able to use at many hotels, restaurants and other sites in Cuba.

The card will not work at any of the island’s ATMs, though the bank said it hopes to make that service available in 2016.

“This is the first step in relieving the burden of U.S. travelers carrying cash when traveling to Cuba and another step in normalizing commercial relations between the two countries,” Stonegate president and CEO Dave Seleski said.

MasterCard announced in January it would begin handling U.S. card transactions in Cuba, but most credit-card issuers still prohibited transactions on the island, making the move largely symbolic.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced plans to restore relations between the former Cold War foes nearly a year ago. The U.S. lifted a ban on U.S. banks and credit card companies from doing business in Cuba as part of the normalization.

The number of U.S. travelers to the island surged by more than 50 percent in the first six months of 2015, according to statistics compiled by the University of Havana. U.S. tourism to Cuba is still prohibited, though Americans can travel under one of 12 authorized categories including humanitarian, religious and professional purposes.

New charter flights are now offered to the island from cities including New York and New Orleans, though travel to Cuba is still filled with inconveniences, not least among them being unable to use credit cards.

Jeff Wilson, president of the Geo Central Division for MasterCard, called the new debit option through Stonegate a “milestone.”

Penn State baseball team heads to Havana for exhibition tour

team-2015 HAVANA, Nov. 19   A baseball field in Havana will become the stage for the next step in the warming relations between Cuba and the United States, and this time, the Americans will be wearing the blue and white.

The Penn State baseball team starts a four-game tour in Cuba on Sunday, with its first contest against the Industriales, a team many proclaim to be the New York Yankees of Cuba. But the trip is less about the wins and more about the cultural experience, coach Rob Cooper said.

“I’m excited about the baseball part, and that is the vehicle that is definitely taking us down there, but it’s honestly the last thing that is the most important in this trip,” he said.

Penn State’s first two games will be televised throughout Cuba on the country’s premier sports network, Telerebelde.

Last winter, Cooper met with fundraisers to brainstorm improvements and projects for the team. When conversations arose about an international journey, Kirk Diehl, director of the Varsity ‘S’ Club, suggested Cuba.

“At first, I thought he was kidding,” Cooper said.

The NCAA allows Penn State 10 additional practices in preparation for the trip. However, many of the players said they aren’t doing anything different to prepare. In addition to beginning practices last week, the Nittany Lions have been playing with wood bats as opposed to college standard aluminum.

Baltimore Orioles international scout and former major league pitcher Calvin Maduro said Cuban players are some of the most polished in the game. “The thing about Cuba is there is so much talent for such a small island,” Maduro said.

Penn State departs for Newark, N.J., early Saturday, then catches a flight to Miami and another to Havana.

The players take the field Sunday and will fill out a busy week with academic lectures and cultural activities. Penn State returns to the diamond Nov. 25 against Ciego de Avila, the defending champs of Cuba’s top league. The Nittany Lions then travel to Pinar Del Rio on Nov. 27 to play Mayabeque and finish the trip the next day against the Matanzas in Victoria de Girón Stadium.

“I want to compete, but I really want to have an exchange with a player,” junior catcher Alex Malinsky said. “It serves as a symbol between us and Cuba.”

Moscow, Havana in talks over Russian Il-96 aircraft deliveries

havana-live-IL 96HAVANA, Nov. 19th (Sputnik)  Moscow is currently discussing with Havana the possibility of selling the country its Il-96 passenger aircraft, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said Thursday.

“Cuba has been a regular purchaser of our aviation equipment, we are currently negotiating on large planes, I mean Il-96 assembled in Voronezh specifically for Cuba,” Rogozin told Rossiya-24 television.

He added that commercial cooperation with Cuba is being conducted using loans linked to the supply of equipment from Russia.

The Ilyushin Il-96 is a long-haul wide-body aircraft powered by four PS-90 two-shaft turbofan jet engines.