Monthly Archives: January 2016

Cuba Welcomes Military Cooperation with US in the Caribbean

CUBHAVANA, Jan. 31th A Cuban military delegation participated in a historic three-day long security conference sponsored by the United States military’s Southern Command, according to reports by the Associated Press news agency.

During the meeting, the first in over 50 years between Cuban and U.S. military officials, Havana welcomed plans for cooperation with Washington in regional security to safeguard peace,combat drug trafficking and terrorism.

“I think we’ve already seen Cuba’s active involvement in some of the regional challenges and healthcare and disaster response. We talked at some length about humanitarian assistance and disaster response exercises. Those sorts of activities. We share challenges with all of the countries across this region. Cuba is one of those countries in this region. And so I believe in the future we’ll have opportunities to find ways that we can work together,” said Kurt Tidd, new Admiral of the U.S. Southern Command.

Tidd also welcomed Cuba’s role in regional security and pledged cooperation between the two countries.

During the event, the participants addressed a range of issues, from counternarcotics and counterterrorism cooperation to aviation and maritime security, disaster relief, human trafficking and migration.

In Depth: Cuba’s Revolution Enters New Phase
The Cuban government’s decision to accept an invitation to the Caribbean Nations Security Conference in Jamaica represents a symbolic shift U.S-Cuban relations that normalized ties in December 2014.

The initial steps proposed for restoring ties included the re-establishment of the embassies in Havana and Washington; exchange of high-level officials’ visits; cooperation in areas such as health, migration, and disasters response.

The conference ended on Friday in Kingston of Jamaica, with the participation of over 70 representatives from various countries and organizations.

In a press conference following the event, Maj. Gen. Antony Bertram Anderson of the Jamaica Defense Force thanked the Cuban government for sending a delegation. He noted, however, that their presence was not a focus of attention.–20160130-0025.html

Contemporary Dance of Cuba presents “Cenit” in Havana

havana-live-danza-contemporanea-cubanaHAVANA, Jan 30 (Prensa Latina) The Contemporary Dance of Cuba company is performing over the weekend at the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana the piece “Cenit” by local choreographer Laura Domingo.

“The work deals with the issue of isolation in three aspects: body isolation, emotional isolation and physical-spacial isolation,” Domingo told Prensa Latina.

According to Domingo, also a writer and audiovisual maker, the seven-minute and a half piece constitutes a common view of interpersonal relations, frustration and anguish.

“I workerd only with three dancers because I was interested in showing their technical, expressive virtuosity, as choreographies are usually massive,” commented Domingo.

Graduated from the National School of Ballet in Cuba, Domingo has developed choreographic projects with groups of classic dance in Colombia and Mexico, as well as in several European countries.

She announced that this year she plans to premier with Viengsay Valdes, a first figure of the Cuban National Ballet, a solo dance inspired by the British writer Virginia Woolf.

Raul Castro to France for historic state visit

File Photo

HAVANA, Jan. 30th  — Raul Castro is coming to France for the first-ever state visit of a Cuban president to the land of wine and gastronomy, a trip that could boost French investments and promote stronger economic, cultural and tourist ties between Paris and Havana.

Castro is to arrive Saturday for the private part of his trip ahead of his official visit on Monday and Tuesday, landing only eight months after French Socialist President Francois Hollande’s one-day stop in Havana. The two leaders are to have dinner at the Elysee palace on Monday night.

“This visit marks a new step in the development of a stronger relationship between the two countries,” the French presidency said.

Castro’s visit also comes two months after the Paris Club of creditor countries forgave $8.5 billion of overdue Cuban interest payments in exchange for Cuba’s promise to pay off $2.6 billion in loans from developed countries over the next year and a half.

France, to which Cuba owed $4 billion in overdue loans, led the creditors’ negotiations. The deal was hailed by both sides as an essential step in clearing the path for Cuba to regain access to international credit that had been long unavailable due to the overdue loans.

The U.S. maintains an economic embargo against Cuba and is not among the creditor nations.

France hopes to see some business partnerships flourish in Cuba in tourism, transport and environmental industries in the wake of the normalization of the country’s ties with the U.S.

“The agreement at the Paris Club is paving the way for a bilateral agreement with France” to be signed Monday, a top French official said Friday.

Cuba’s remaining debt to France amounts to $390 million (360 million euros). With this new bilateral deal, part of the money would be reinvested in development projects on the island, another French diplomat said.

The two countries are expected to announce the opening of the French Agency of Development’s office in Havana. The agency is a specialized financial institution that can make loans to public and private actors to support bilateral development projects.

The two French officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose any details ahead of the visit.

Cuba’s debt to France has not been honored since the 1980s, when Socialist President Francois Mitterrand and his wife Danielle openly supported the Cuban government.

France has called for the lifting of the U.S. embargo since 1991. Former Cuba President Fidel Castro, brother of Raul, came to Paris on private visit in 1995 and met with Mitterrand at the Elysee palace.

Some commercial deals are expected to be signed on the sidelines of Raul Castro’s visit.

French companies already working with Cuba — such as Pernod Ricard beverages, the hotel company Accor, the Bouygues construction group and the shipping group CMA CGM — could get new development opportunities.

Castro’s trip to Paris comes only few days after the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — another effort by French government to boost investments in an economy crippled by decades of sanctions until the Tehran nuclear deal last year.

After unusual weather, Cuba struggles to save prized tobacco crop

Farmer Elpidio Vento, 72, picks tobacco leaves at a tobacco farm in Cuba's western province of Pinar del Rio, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Farmer Elpidio Vento, 72, picks tobacco leaves at a tobacco farm in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA, Jan. 30th. (REUTERS) Highly unusual weather has damaged Cuba’s tobacco crop, raising concerns among farmers and cigar-lovers that the island’s supply of its famous cigars might suffer at a time of increased demand resulting from detente with the United States.

The weather phenomena El Niño led to Cuba’s worst drought in a century in 2015, followed by heavy rain during the northern winter, which is normally a dry period in Cuba.

While all Cuban crops have suffered, delicate tobacco plants are especially vulnerable. Rains have wiped out production at some plantations and severely damaged others. In response, tobacco farmers are replanting now, out of season, in hopes of salvaging the 2015-2016 harvest.

In western Pinar del Rio province, where most of Cuba’s tobacco is grown, farmers are slogging through rain and mud to replant destroyed crops. The best Cuban tobacco is cultivated from late October into early January and then harvested into March.

“This has been a disaster, not just for us, but everyone,” Juan Hernandez said as he steered his oxen-pulled plow through rain and a field of mud where tobacco plants once stood. “We are trying to see if we can still have a harvest.”

Down the road, 60-year-old farmer Andres Chirino picked damaged leaves from plants and scowled.

“I have been growing tobacco since I was born and this is the worst harvest in my experience,” he said. “Look at those stains and rot on the leaves. The quality is bad so we will earn much less.”

The impact on cigar supply has yet to be determined, as tobacco normally requires at least two or three years of curing, fermenting and aging. Farmers and cigar experts say there have been several weak harvests in recent years, inconveniently occurring just as tourism in Cuba is booming.

The cigar monopoly Habanos S.A., a joint venture between the Cuban state and Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, has adequate stock to manage a dip in supply, said Carlos Ferran, an executive who was surveying western farms. Other Habanos officials referred questions to holding company Tabacuba, which did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Farmers Andre Alvares, 60, and Javier Sancho (L), 47, load a cart with fresh tobacco leaves to be taken to a curing barn at a tobacco farm in Cuba's western province of Pinar del Rio January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Farmers Andre Alvares, 60, and Javier Sancho (L), 47, load a cart with fresh tobacco leaves to be taken to a curing barn at a tobacco farm in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

David Savona, editor of Cigar Aficionado magazine, said Habanos reported three substandard harvests in a row before this year, but so far cigar quality has been maintained.

“Cuban cigars have been doing superbly in our ratings for the past several years,” Savona said. “They’ve admittedly had some weak harvests at a time when people are thinking more and more about Cuban cigars. That can hurt you down the road.”

In the short-term, meteorologists forecast more soggy weather in February and March.

“The normal is a little rain every once in a while, but it has been raining day after day with tremendous intensity,” said Ivan Rodriguez, spokesman for the famed Alejandro Robaina Tobacco Plantation.

An outlier, the Robaina plantation has been largely unaffected by the weather due to its elevated ground and resistant seeds.

Pedro Jesus Alonso, western regional director of the Agriculture Ministry’s export company CATEC, insisted others could also save the harvest.

“Everything depends on a little improvement in the weather,” he said. “If it does not rain too much the harvest can get back on track.”

France to offer Cuba more debt relief during Castro visit

07052011_Debt_Ceiling_elephant_articleHAVANA, Jan. 29th (Reuters)  France is to sign a deal with Cuba next week to ease the Caribbean island nation’s bilateral debt to Paris during a visit by the Cuban president to the French capital, a diplomatic source said on Friday.

Raul Castro is due to arrive on Saturday in Paris for a five day stay, in what will be the first official visit to France by a Cuban president since the country’s independence.

With ties between Washington and Havana warming, France is eager to further improve relations with Cuba starting with a visit by French President Francois Hollande to the island last year.

As Havana’s biggest creditor, France played a key role in December in a debt relief deal between Cuba and the foreign governments it owes money to.

Its Paris Club creditors agreed to forgive $8.5 billion in late interest payments of Cuba’s $11.9 billion in debt, including $4 billion in late payments due to France.

The bilateral agreement to be signed next week will allow for part of the principal that Cuba still owes France to be converted into financing for development projects, the source said.

“It’s an additional gesture on France’s part after forgiving the late interest payments,” the source said, adding that France’s development agency would set up an outpost in the country.

Several commercial and development agreements are due to be signed during Castro’s visit, the source said.

(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; writing by Leigh Thomas)

Vistar Magazine’s 5 most popular Havana bars

HAVANA, Jan. 29th Who can doubt that 2015 was a memorable year in Cuba with regard to visits by famous personalities and the holding of events of all kinds? The truth is that many bars and nightclubs have already earned a place among Cubans. Vistar Magazine has compiled a list of the five most popular bars in Havana.

The usual place of singer Leoni Torres on Tuesdays has turned the club into a well-known place. It alternates between private parties and events. Most popular artists have become regular visitors.sangrila_top10_2016_copia
This space is between Vedado and Miramar and you can find anyone, even famous artists. In one way or another they all end up here. Good service and great food. It’s always an option to share with friends the best nights of Havana.espacios_top10_2016_copia
One of the favorite places of the showbiz and usual place of Gente de Zona. This place is for everyone.mioytuyo_top10_2016_copiaSarao’s
Celebrities who visited Havana in 2015 made this place more than a nightclub. Owners and customers assure that it has the most completed bar in Havana. The Sarao’s Bar has become a lifestyle.maxresdefault-1Bolabana
Everyone talks about this place with a “Miami” decoration. In the reserved space you can meet any famous. It became in 2015 one of the most popular bars in Havana.bolabana_top10_2016_copiaPhotos Vistar Magazine

8th Edition of the (CRC) Conch Republic Cup Key West Cuba Race Week

havana-live-key-west-cuba-race-weekHAVANA, Jan. 28th Just 90 miles from the coast of Key West is Havana. It has been and elusive sailing destination since 1961 when the US imposed an economic embargo against Cuba. Now for the first time the United States has begun to allow limited boat travel to Cuba.

This will not be the first time the CRC has raced to Cuba but it will be the first time with government approval. Our goal is to provide a world class format for racers to have a challenging race across the Gulf Stream to Cuba.

Key West and Havana have shared a long maritime connection. It has been a unique relationship not shared with  the the rest of the US. We are positioning this race on the Jan 2016 calendar hoping to attract racers who have just completed Key West Race Week (KWRW) and racers on their way to the Caribbean racing season. It is an opportunity not to be missed!

Schedule of Events

Race Headquarters will be at Dante’s 951 Caroline St., Key West

January 27th
4:30-6:30 check in at Dante’s
5:30 Skippers Meeting
6-8 Welcome Party

January 28th
10:30-12:30 check in at Dante’s
5pm Race Start
Key West Harbor – Michele Geslin Memorial Cup – Key West to Varadero

January 29th
Arrival in Varadero at Marina Gaviota

January 30th
5pm – Skippers meeting (For both Varadero Cup and Cuba Coast Challenge)
6pm – Welcome party at Marina Gaviota

January 31st
10am – Race Start – Varadero Cup – Buoy Races
6pm – Awards Party for Michele Geslin Memorial Cup and Varadero Cup

February 1st
10am – Race Start – Cuba Coast Challenge- Varadero to Havana
Arrival in Marina Hemingway

February 2nd
5 pm – Skippers meeting (for both Castillo Del Morro Cup and Havana to Key West Cup)
6pm – Welcome Party at Marina Hemingway

February 3rd
10 am – Race Start – Castillo Del Morro Cup – Buoy Races
6 pm – Awards Party for Cuba Coast Challenge and Castillo Del Morro at Marina Hemingway

February 4th – Lay Day

February 5th
5pm – Race Start – Havana to Key West Cup

February 6th
Arrival in Key West and customs check in
6 pm – Awards Banquet at Dante’s for Havana to Key West Cup and Overall Trophy for Conch Republic Cup

JetSuite Introduces Havana Service

havana-live-JetSuiteEditionCJ3HAVANA, Jan. 28th JetSuite has expanded service to include flights to and from Havana (HAV), Cuba. Travelers to Cuba can now visit the formerly off-limits Caribbean destination on an ARGUS Platinum-rated charter provider.

Passengers may charter a six-passenger JetSuite Edition CJ3, or four-passenger Phenom 100, non-stop to Havana from any of the Cuba gateway airports listed below.  JetSuite serves more than 2,000 U.S. airports but all flights to Havana must depart from one of these Cuba gateway airports.

“Our mission continues to revolve around making private air travel accessible to more people than ever before, and offering an unprecedented level of transparency,” explains JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox. “We are thrilled to expand our service to Cuba, a destination I know our clients will be eager to explore.”

JetSuite prides itself in pricing transparency and always provides guaranteed quotes on Due to the restrictions surrounding US citizen travel to Cuba, pricing listed above is estimated at our June 2015 50K Member rate.

The United States Government limits travel to Cuba. JetSuite passengers traveling to and from Cuba are responsible for securing their own permissions and must declare that they are authorized to travel or send remittances to Cuba under the following general license as set forth in 31 CFR § 515.560:

  • Family visit (§ 515.561);
  • Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations (§ 515.562);
  • Journalistic activity (§ 515.563);
  • Professional research and professional meetings (§ 515.564);
  • Educational activities (§ 515.565);
  • Religious activities (§ 515.566);
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions (§ 515.567);
  • Support for the Cuban people (§ 515.574);
  • Humanitarian projects (§ 515.575);
  • Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes (§ 515.576);
  • Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials (§ 515.545)
  • Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or-controlled foreign firms (§ 515.533 and § 515.559).

China to shoot first film in Cuba

3FCA5C4D-8FC9-45DB-9BC7-2C7C1FA09982_w640_r1_sHAVANA, Jan. 28 (Xinhua)  Cuba and China will begin shooting their first-ever film in collaboration in March on the Caribbean island, the Cuban News Agency reported Wednesday.

A co-production of China’s Moshan film company and Cuba’s RTV Commercial, the film “Amores en la Habana” or “Loves in Havana” revolves around a young Chinese student’s love story in Cuba. It explores trials and tribulations of relationships between people of different cultural backgrounds.

The film, to be on shooting from March 10, marks the first project to emerge from an agreement between the production houses to jointly create movies that touch on social and cultural aspects of the two countries, said RTV General Director Joel Ortega.

“Most importantly, this project will bring together Chinese and Cuban talent to make a movie that unites us,” said Ortega.

Jorge Gomez, director of the Cuban musical group Moncada, musical director Roberto Perez and choreographer Juan Gomez will be arranging the film’s music and dance numbers.

California Winery participate in Havana Wine Symposium

havana-live-californian wineryHAVANA, Jan. 28th The Wine Institute and California Wine Export Program have invited Paso Robles’ Peachy Canyon Winery to participate in the first-ever California Wine Symposium in Havana, Cuba, taking place from January 31st – February 3rd, 2016.

Peachy Canyon Winery will be participating in this educational wine forum focused on introducing American wines to the Cuban market. Founding vintner Doug Beckett will be speaking at a pre-tasting wine seminar in Havana as part of the event, where he has also been asked to introduce Peachy Canyon’s multi-award winning Bordeaux-style wine, Para Siempre, to Cuban sommeliers, restauranteurs, chefs and hotel managers.

The Cuba wine tasting event is the result of 10-months of planning with local Cuban distributors, wine experts, and restaurant and resort managers assessing the market potential for California wines by Sonoma-based US Cava Exports.
Excitement surrounding President Obama’s recent modifications to the US-Cuba trade and travel embargo has led to increased American, Canadian and European interest and tourism in Cuba.

The Beckett’s are honored by the opportunity to officially introduce Paso Robles’ wines to Cuba.

Now You Can Buy Wood in Cuba

havana-live -WoodHAVANA, Jan. 27th  (Fernando Ravsberg) After decades of absence from the market, Cubans can now buy lumber. Thanks to a resolution of the Ministry of Domestic Commerce, published in the Official Gazette on January 15, 2016, the retail market of building materials can now offer wood to the population.

The announcement comes with a long list of types of wood with their prices.

This is a necessary step because several years ago they legalized self-employed carpenters, and designated a store for them to purchase tools. However, the most essential element, the wood, could only be bought on the black market.

Golf In Cuba

havana-live-Varadero-Golf-Club-18-Cuba-staffIt’s not impossible to get to Cuba, even if you’re an American. All you need to do is cite one of the 12 accepted reasons (essentially anything other than straight toes-in-the-sand tourism) to get a visa. Officially, I was there to visit family but also planned on playing Varadero Golf Club, the only 18-hole course on the island.

I was born and raised in the United States, but I traveled with two Cubans—my mom, Anna Marie, and her cousin, Abraham. We booked our flights through, which is one of the more popular organizations arranging charter flights between the United States and Cuba. The rest is cake: It takes just 41 minutes to fly from Miami to Havana.

I didn’t bring my clubs, which was smart. Baggage claim at José Martí International Airport took twice as long as the flight, because it can be a real process to unload each passenger’s 80ish-pound cellophane-wrapped behemoth of clothes, food and electronics. American goods do much to augment the quality of life for Cubans whose average salary is $20 a month. The shoes and Oreo cookies I gave my cousins were huge hits.

This was my mom’s fourth visit since fleeing the country as a 12-year-old. She was one of 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors who sought freedom in the United States from 1960-’62 in Operation Peter Pan, which was organized by the Catholic Church. My mom first went to an orphanage in Paterson, N.J., and would live in four foster homes before setting out on her own.

One of her cousins, Jose, drives a taxi and fetched us at the air-port in his ’54 Chevy.

In a one-story concrete house, Jose lives with his wife, their two kids, his mom and dad, his sister and her two kids, with lots of noisy pigs and chickens outside. So my mom and I could have his bed, Jose’s dad slept on the floor.

The building where my mom grew up is abandoned. Walking around her neighborhood, she pointed out where she used to roller skate and which crumbling structures used to be stores. Kids begged us for money.

To satisfy my golf itch, eight of us piled into two cars and drove the two hours east to Varadero. Many Canadian and European vacationers are drawn to this 12-mile strip of beach. There are more than 50 resorts—mostly the all-inclusive variety. None of my family members who live in Cuba had ever visited them.

My cousins couldn’t quite understand my passion for the game. Nor had they ever heard the name Tiger Woods.

Rolling up to Varadero Golf Club was easy. The staff members were multilingual, and I used my credit card for the $120 green fee, which included a cart and a nice rental set.

Varadero churns out more than 30,000 rounds during peak season (October through April). Originally, it was a nine-hole course owned by the wealthy American du Pont family. The present 18-hole layout opened in 1998 and was designed by the Canadian architect Les Furber. The eighth and 18th holes run right along the ocean. In general, the course plays similar to one you’d find in Miami—flat, peppered with palm trees and water hazards.

Pedro Klein, the course’s operations manager, says the Cuban government has plans to support the construction of 13 new courses to attract tourists. Though he guesses there are no more than 300 Cubans who play golf. Many are his employees.

Golf Digest Architecture Editor Ron Whitten has written that Cuba, with its topography and abundance of oceanfront, is golf’s last frontier. (Its lost courses used to attract stars like Ben Hogan and Sam Snead.) But golf’s revival as an authentic part of the culture is a ways off. As the eight of us drove back to Havana, we shared a strange sense of relief. The glitz in Varadero was nice, but the simplicity of Havana felt like home.

Kiarostami offering workshop in Havana for young filmmakers

havana-live-abbas-kiarostamiHAVANA, Jan. 27th Committed to helping develop aspiring filmmakers and attracted by the nostalgic feel of Cuba, Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has inaugurated a workshop at Havana’s International School of Film and Television, where he stressed the benefits of being forced to create amid a lack of resources.

“For me personally, the limitations helped me,” said Kiarostami, who has forged a 37-year career in a country that, like the Communist-ruled island, has been the target of a U.S. sanctions regime.

The Iranian filmmaker, who has spent much of the past 20 years giving workshops all over the world, hailed the quality of the graduates of Havana’s International School of Film and Television, founded 30 years ago by the late Colombian Nobel literature laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, yet he also stressed that instructors’ role was not to impart knowledge to students.

“Cinema can’t be taught or learned. Like all art, it’s the result of curiosity or an inquiry. All I do in the workshops is guide the students to find answers to their questions,” said the director, whose “Taste of Cherry” was awarded the Palme d’Or prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

Asked about the warmer relations that the United States has pursued with both Iran and Cuba under the Obama administration, Kiarostami said these processes were still very recent and needed time to be analyzed before they could be brought to the big screen.

Though now in the latter stages of his illustrious career, the 75-year-old said he was now returning to experimental short films like those he made as a young director in the early 1970s, summoning up the energy that he had then and which he hopes will inspire his students.

During the workshop, which starts on Tuesday and will run until Feb. 5, the 45 participants from 25 countries will be able to make a short film under the guidance of Kiarostami, known as a “poet of the cinema” for images that show the influence of his studies of Persian verse.

“If I teach you to make films, you’ll limit yourself to repeating what I do, and then where’s your personality? I’m only going to guide you,” Kiarostami told his students.

The director will help the young people find locations for shooting and draw upon local acting talent to cast their films, the best of which will be presented at international film festivals, where the Iranian director’s works are always well-received.

“Kiarostami is a point of reference for many of us. He’s a poet of cinema. This is a workshop that’s going to transform the way in which we confront audiovisual narrative,” the Dominican Republic’s Pablo Lozano, one of the aspiring filmmakers selected to participate in the workshop, told EFE.

Lozano, who graduated from the International School of Film and Television with a specialization in documentary cinema, said Kiarostami’s workshop would help channel his efforts to complete his first feature-length picture, in terms of “narrating the story from the viewpoint of the character as opposed to my own.”

Although cinema heavyweights including Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Costa-Gavras and Spike Lee have visited that Havana film school, Kiarostami’s workshop is the first of its kind to be held at the prestigious academy.

Kiarostami on Monday in Havana received the Tomas Gutierrez Alea International Film Prize, which is awarded by the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. EFE

Obama eases more restrictions on Cuban travel and trade


El secretario de Estado norteamericano, John Kerry (centro), recorrió un sector de La Habana el 14 de agosto del 2015, luego de asistir a la reapertura de la embajada de su país. ARCHIVO (AP)

HAVANA, Jan. 26th The Obama administration announced regulatory changes Tuesday to further ease travel and trade restrictions in Cuba.

Starting Wednesday, the Treasury and Commerce departments said U.S. airlines will be authorized to engage with Cuban ones to facilitate trade; restrictions on payment and financing terms for authorized exports and re-exports to Cuba will be removed; a case-by-case licensing policy for exports and re-exports will be established; and certain types of travel will be added to existing authorized travel categories.

Tourist activities, however, remain prohibited, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday.

The changes to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations and Export Administration Regulations aim to further the president’s 2014 call for more normalized relations with Havana.

Under the new regulations, professional media or artistic productions will be allowed to travel to to Cuba to film or produce, a movie, television show, music video or other informational material and certain personnel operating or servicing a vessel or aircraft will be allowed to stay in Cuba to continue their work.

Travel will also be authorized to those organizing a professional meeting, conference, public performance, clinic, workshop, or athletic competition, and the list of authorized humanitarian projects will be expanded to include disaster preparedness and response.

In removing financing restrictions for authorized exports and re-exports, except agricultural commodities and agricultural items, the administration said U.S. depository institutions will be authorized to provide financing. Financing terms now are restricted to cash-in-advance or third-country financing.

As for exports and re-exports, the agencies said license applications will be approved for commodities and software going to human rights organizations and U.S. news bureaus in Cuba.

Telecommunication items to improve communications to, from and among the Cuban people; agricultural items like insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides; and items necessary to ensure the safety of civil aviation and commercial aircrafts engaged in international transports will also be approved.

The administration said a case-by-case licensing policy will be created for exports and re-exports of items needed to meet the needs of the Cuban people.

“Today’s amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations build on successive actions over the last year and send a clear message to the world: the United States is committed to empowering and enabling economic advancements for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a news release.

“We have been working to enable the free flow of information between Cubans and Americans and will continue to take the steps necessary to help the Cuban people achieve the political and economic freedom that they deserve.”

Surge of Americans tests limits of Cuba’s tourism industry

cuban-tourists-old-havana_onr4yhHAVANA, Jan. 26th  (REUTERS) Cuba’s tourism industry is under unprecedented strain and struggling to meet demand with record numbers of visitors arriving a year after detente with the United States renewed interest in the Caribbean island.

Its tropical weather, rich musical traditions, famed cigars and classic cars were for decades off limits to most Americans under Cold War-era sanctions, but those restrictions are fading.

Once a rare sight, Americans are now swarming Old Havana’s colonial squares and narrow streets along with Europeans and Canadians.

Entrepreneurs and hustlers have responded by upping prices on taxi rides, meals, and trinkets. Cuban women who pose for pictures in colorful dresses and headwraps while chomping cigars are now charging $5 instead of $1.

Cuba received a record 3.52 million visitors last year, up 17.4 percent from 2014. American visits rose 77 percent to 161,000, not counting hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans.

Industry experts worry the island will be unable to absorb an even greater expected surge when scheduled U.S. commercial airline and ferry services are due to start this year.

As it is, foreigners face extreme difficulties booking hotels and rental cars, and those who hoped to discover Cuba before the hordes arrive realize they are too late.

“Cuba is over the top with tourists right now. I’ve seen so many Americans, it’s not even funny,” said Ana Fernandez, 44, of Nashville, Tennessee.

Gisela Hoiman, 46, a schoolbook editor from Berlin, hoped to see Cuba “before it changes” but was disappointed to find long airport lines, ubiquitous hucksters and masses of tourists. She was stranded in Havana when she was unable to get a spot on the bus leaving for the eastern city of Santiago.”It was too much to handle, too many other tourists. We stood in line and were sent back and forth to different counters,” she said from an Old Havana cafe with her large backpack parked on the floor. “I don’t think Cuba is prepared.”

The United States and Cuba agreed in December 2014 to end five decades of animosity and have since restored diplomatic ties, igniting international buzz about Cuba.

The opening has benefited Cuba’s small private sector, which offers restaurants and rooms for rent in family homes.

But the tourism infrastructure, with just 63,000 hotel rooms nationwide, is still largely a function of the state and has languished under decades of U.S. economic sanctions and underdevelopment.

“From offloading at the airport to restaurant availability, infrastructure is maxed out,” said Collin Laverty, founder of Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes tours for legally permitted travel for Americans.

A select number of foreign-run hotels, such as those of Spain’s Melia Hotels International SA (MEL.MC), fill up fast, leaving many visitors with little option but tired state-run motels or rooms in private homes.

Some have been priced out or bumped from hotels, especially in Havana, where high-end U.S. groups reserve blocks months in advance and pay higher prices.

“It is kind of a slap in the face as it has been the Canadian and European tourists who have helped keep the Cuban economy afloat for the past 25 years,” said Keri Montgomery, owner of Vancouver-based Finisterra travel.

The government is seeking more foreign investment and has plans to reach 85,000 hotel rooms nationwide by 2020, but the pace is slow and development has mostly favored beach destinations rather than Cuba’s cultural centers.

Cuban officials did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

American tourism is still banned under the U.S. trade embargo but U.S. citizens and residents are allowed to visit under 12 categories including for religious, sporting and educational exchanges.

In one of his first moves after rapprochement, Obama made it easier for those 12 categories of travelers to go to Cuba.

The increased presence of Americans is especially noticeable in Havana, and because there has been little enforcement of the tourism ban, some are also enjoying Cuba’s beaches and bars with little effort to disguise their intentions.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has not fined any Americans for visiting Cuba since Obama took office in January 2009, its database shows.

Under President George W. Bush, OFAC fined hundreds of individuals for embargo violations, mostly for travel. More than 800 people received penalties including nearly $1.1 million in fines in 2004 and 2005 alone, according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service.

California native Tony Pandola, 33, who has been leading Americans around Cuba for three years, said once-intimate experiences are now plagued by crowds.

“On this really beautiful, quiet farm there were six giant tour buses with their diesel engines running and a couple of minivans and taxis all waiting to have the same experience with the tobacco farmer,” he said from Viñales, a picturesque valley west of Havana.

While many budget travelers can usually find accommodations even without booking, some are left stranded.

“I talked to a cab driver in Viñales who said they were offering tourists to sleep in the back of their car for $10,” Pandola said.

Leonardo Diaz, 34, who has been working in tourism in his hometown of Viñales since he was a teen, said every room was booked in December.

“A lot of tourists have stayed in the park. That had never been seen before,” he said.

Havana’s international airport lacks sufficient infrastructure such as luggage trucks and passenger stairs to handle the influx, causing bottlenecks.

“It’s total madness,” said Roniel Hernandez, who works at the terminal receiving U.S. flights. “The airport employees are doing everything possible to satisfy visitors, but the equipment is very old and needs to be replaced.”

Retired teacher Joanna Sarff finally came to Cuba after dreaming about it for 50 years, so she refused to let the inconveniences spoil her trip, saying she was more focused on plans to dance on the tables at a Buena Vista Social Club concert than the crowds.

“For me, this is a great way to experience the culture, the people, the food, the mojitos, and the cigars!”

(Reporting by Jaime Hamre; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

A Chinese Look at Havana’s Barrio Chino

Havana-live--chinatownHAVANA, Jan.25th  By Robin Fall (South China Morning Post) Cuba’s Barrio Chino in Havana is one of the oldest Chinatowns in Latin America. Yet this once vibrant neighborhood has been in decline for decades. Many Cubans of Chinese descent fled the island soon after Fidel Castro¹s 1959 revolution.

Louis Chan, 61, is a painter and designer in Havana. His parents emigrated from Guangdong, China, to escape hardship and seek their fortune.

“What would one like?” asks Chan. “The return of those old prosperous times with the aromas of foods, with the natural fragrances of an Asian place, and with the customs, but to get all that back we need a new wave of Chinese coming to Havana.”

Cuba and France live a historic moment

havana-live-hollande-castroLA HAVANE, Jan 25.  France´s State Secretary for Foreign Trade, Tourism and The French Overseas, Matthias Fekl, said that Cuba and France are now living a historic moment as he addressed the annual gala of the Cuba-Cooperation Association in Paris.

A new stage opens today in part due to the diplomatic advancement between Cuba and the United States and also due to the long-time friendship between the Caribbean Island and France, said Fekl.

The French government official said that companies from his country are present in many sectors in Cuba, including tourism, construction and energy, PL news agency reported.

He closed his statements with a phrase by Cuban National Hero Jose Marti saying that “We must balance trade to guarantee freedom. The excessive flow from a country in another nation´s commerce turns into political influence.”

Meanwhile, Jean Pierre Bel, personal advisor to the French President for Latin American and Caribbean Affairs, stressed the visit paid to Havana by Francois Hollande in May 2015 and the upcoming visit to Paris by Cuban President Raul Castro. (acn)

Israel takes centre stage in Havana

Havana-Grand-Prix-2016-CubaHAVANA, Jan. 24th (Pedro Lasuén, euronews) “Day 2 of the Havana Grand Prix here in Cuba and with two athletes on top of the podium, Israel looks in control and has clearly signalled its intention to take part in the Olympic Games.”

Israel sends clear message to rivals
Israel’s Yarden Gerbi produced a stunning performance to clinch the women’s under 63 kilo category. The 2013 World Champion, who was up against local hope Maricet Espinosa in the showpiece match, triumphed thanks to this impressive waza-ari.

Gerbi’s compatriot Linda Bolder handed Israel its second gold medal of the day after downing Hungarian sensation Szabina Gercsak in the under 70 kilo final. The 27-year-old was made to battle hard throughout the contest and triumphed by yuko while Azerbaijan’s Rustam Orujov also had to dig deep in the men’s under 73 kilo category.

The World number One, a big favourite going into the Havana Grand Prix, faced the 2013 World bronze medallist Victor Scvortov, who showed the Cuban crowd his fighting spirit.

Orujov got off to a slow start and conceded an early yuko before stepping it up a gear with a devastating counter-attack for a waza-ari, enough to seal the win.

In the under 81 kilo class, World number eight, Khasan Khalmurzaev kept his composure to defeat America’s Travis Stevens in the final. The Russian looked in great shape and clinched the title with an early waza-ari.

The bronze medals were won by Hungary’s Laszlo Csoknyai and Roman Moustopoulos of Greece.

Future Champion?
The second day of competition was marked by Szabina Gerscsak’s courage in the under 70 kilo class. The current Junior World Champion reached the final bout and although she lost against Bolder, judo fans are now aware of the fact that she has the potential to clinch a world title.

Nadia Comaneci praises Cuban gymnastics school

CUBA GIMNASIAHAVANA, Jan. 24  Romanian former gymnast Nadia Comaneci, the first in her discipline to be awarded a perfect score in the Olympics, visited Cuba’s national school of gymnastics on Friday, and praised the sport’s development in the Caribbean country.

During the visit she met with Manrique Larduet, the island’s two-time medalist at the last World Championship, and looked very interested in how Cuban athletes are preparing and aiming for the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.

“I am very happy to be here, I wanted to see where the world number two trains (Larduet). I could not pass up the opportunity of seeing this place (the school) while in Cuba. You have given a great deal of joy and pride to your people”, Comaneci said.

“Having a champion in a small country lets everyone know that you don’t have to come from a certain place to be a champion, but that anyone can get there”, she added.

Comaneci, 54, considered what Larduet has done to be an inspiration for gymnasts all over the world.

“Already having stars in this sport could motivate younger generations,” commented Comaneci who even said the sporting facilities at the Cuban school were similar to the ones she had growing up in Romania. “It is wonderful. I’m so impressed,” added the former gymnast.

“I am very happy to talk about the importance of sport; people should practice it for their own health, no one knows how far they can go unless they test themselves”, she said.

Larduet and his trainer Carlos Gil confessed being excited because they never thought they would be able to meet the great gymnast one day.

Gil explained to Comaneci the skills and training planned for Larduet in the coming months.

Manrique Larduet recorded the best performance ever by a Cuban in a World Championship when he won two medals in Glasgow, Scotland in 2015. The performance allowed the Cuban to directly qualify for the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016.

This visit is Nadia Comaneci’s second time on the Caribbean island. This time, she was invited to Cuba by the president of the International Judo Federation, Marius Vizer, to attend the second Judo Grand Prix to be held in Havana. The tournament got underway on Friday and will end on Sunday.

Comaneci, who has been based in the United States since 1989, announced her desire to invite Cuban teams to the tournament she traditionally organizes in Oklahoma, U.S..

Nadia Comaneci became a gymnastics legend during her Olympic debut at the early age of 14 in Montreal 1976, when she became the first gymnast to receive a perfect score of 10 at an Olympics.

At the time, media described the “perfect 10 girl” as “a bird in flight” after her performance on the uneven bars.

“She was brilliant, and because of her youth a great sense of hope and history was instantly attached to her. There was at once the chance to see greatness,” wrote Frank Deford in the prestigious US magazine Sports Illustrated.

Comaneci received the Olympic Order, the highest award given by the International Olympic Committee in 1984 and 2004. She is the only person to have received this honor twice and was also the youngest recipient. The Romanian athlete has also been inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

Comaneci currently lives in the United States with her American husband Bart Connor, also a former gold medalist. She is the Honorary President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, and the Vice President of the Board for the Special Olympics.

Heavy rains have not relieved drought

 HAVANA, Jan 23  Although Cuba has been bathed by heavy rains since the beginning of the year favoring reservoirs in the western and central sections of the country, the severe drought continues to have strong impact in eastern provinces.

At present 48 out of all 168 Cuban municipalities are facing rainfall deficits, although water accumulates throughout the country increased to 53 percent of the total capacity, which is over the levels reported last December.

Water Resources Institute specialist Argelio Fernandez told reporters that the reported accumulates have not yet reached the historic average for January; while the reservoirs that guarantee drinking water for the people are at 57 percent of their capacity.

The current trend of water levels in Cuban reservoirs will still face the impact of the drought that hit 130 municipalities last year, said the expert and explained that there are 234 water sources affected, which are main supply to over 974 thousand citizens in eastern Santiago de Cuba province.

In the eastern territory of Santiago, which is considered the most critical, authorities have taken measures to supply the people with water by using cistern trucks and other initiatives. (acn) 

“Havana will be the most beautiful city of all”

HAVANA,Jan. 23th  By Fernando Ravsberg (HAVANA TIMES) Eusebio Leal is officially the Havana City historian, but, in fact, he is much more than that – a kind of magician that turns ruins into palaces and abandoned tenements into housing.

Cubans know him simply as “Eusebio,” a man they see in Old Havana every day, walking about in his work clothes. Through his efforts, Old Havana is slowly transformed into a “beautiful city,” a process that benefits the locals most of all. He received us Monday morning, the only time he puts aside for interviews.

The work of Eusebio and his team is in plain sight. He reminds us that “on the 1st, we reopened Havana’s Gran Teatro. The Gomez commercial center is being restored. The Capitolio building is being restored. We are working on a beautiful building that will be the venue of the Alliance Francaise, their largest such venue in the world, with 10,000 students.

REY cuba-pictures

REY cuba-pictures

The Marti Theater was restored. In 2015, we managed to build a number of houses. We’ve kept pedestrian streets open. We’re working to protect the environment in the port area.”

Despite the US blockade, “which places restrictions on what we can purchase and triples the price of things because of transportation distances, Old Havana is self-financed. The State has protected it as much as it can because it considers it a great, inhabited heritage site. It is also the place that visitors from around the world prefer.”

Part of any self-financing process consists in cutting down costs as much as possible. “I visited the US Capitol Hill, because I was interested to see the restoration work they are doing there. I was at a meeting with the architects, project managers and financial team and asked them: ‘how much is the repair of the copula costing you?’

They said that US $ 100,000,000. When they asked me how much ours costed, I said US $ 1 million and they replied in unison: ‘that’s impossible.’ So, the impossible is possible, we’re making it so through huge effort. It’s almost like a construction process in ancient Rome, I don’t even have a crane to get up there. We have to go back to the ingenuity with which great works were built.”

The Social Aspects of Havana’s Restoration Process

In 1967, the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales was restored. In 1969, they reopened the Templete site and thus began the physical transformation of Old Havana. During this process, they found that “the entire area was full of shanties. That’s where certain concerns that would steer future plans first emerged, based on the notion that one cannot undertake material restorations of form without addressing the content, the social question, that is.”

The issue of housing is one of the most delicate in Cuba, owing to severe shortages. Old Havana reports the largest population density of the entire island. Leal explains that, “if a palace in Plaza Vieja is inhabited by 64 families, those 64 families cannot continue to live there.havana-live-court_yard

One has to create a housing complex and base efforts on the data provided by the census we conduct every 5 years, asking what people want. These people aspire to have a decorous home and every person that leaves Old Havana because of a project undertaken by the Office of the Historian is given a home.”

Apartments were built in different neighborhoods around the capital to relocate families that cannot be accommodated by the restored building. “If you go to Cojimar, for instance, you’ll see a series of decorous homes, with water and other services included. With a few, painful exceptions, we stuck to the following principle: if it’ll kill you to move, you stay, if it’ll kill you to stay, you move.”

At the beginning, Fidel Castro gave the restoration office US $1 million, “which was the only thing the country could give us at the time. An equitable and proportionate part of the resources at our disposal had to be devoted to housing and to creating a community network to support locals.

Thus, when we built 19 small hotels that would operate in Old Havana, we also built workshops to teach young people forgotten trades, set up a maternity home, a center for disabled children and homes for the elderly.”
havana-live-house_of_flora_1They also set up classrooms in museums where children receive classes for 2 months, surrounded by the nation’s history. “We based our efforts on the notion that any development initiative that didn’t include the cultural dimension would be decadent. Our work in Old Havana is but an example of a much larger project, a development proposal.”

“A total of 1,426 young people have obtained diplomas in all the different trades. They are all the freer for it today because they can put their hands to good use, to build beautiful things like those we saw in the Gran Teatro.
We trained a team of professionals who, to my regret, have been hired by the UN as project managers for the UNDP and other organizations. We gave jobs to more than 14,000 people. We created our own communications network and gave homes to more than 11,000 families.”

havana-live-plaza vieja

Havana, Reforms and the United States

Eusebio states that the economic liberalization process “has benefited us. I believe people should do in Old Havana what they are doing, within the law. Today, you walk down O’Reilly street, you head down to the neighborhood of Angel, and you see legitimate initiatives by Cubans flourishing, and families setting up businesses. I think this is ideal, people with their own, restored homes.”

“I want for this to be done properly. I don’t want a mundane and ridiculous concept of prosperity to prevail. I also don’t want us to be crushed by the need to open up spaces for those who visit us from around the world. That’s why the Office of the Historian should always be consulted and why its opinion is essential. It’s not a question of preventing but of steering development.”

Eusebio also believes the rapprochement with the United States will prove beneficial and claims he is not worried about the cultural repercussions of this.

I had the honor of being in Washington when the Cuban flag was slowly raised before the new embassy and had the honor seeing the American flag raised here. When Rome defeated a people, the vanquished king was brought to Rome in an iron cage. Cuba wasn’t placed in an iron cage, Cuba arrived on its feet and continues to be on its feet.”

“If we were an island of maracas and frivolity, I would be a bit concerned, but we’re a cultured and educated people. There would be cause for concern if Alicia Alonzo hadn’t been Prima Ballerina at the New York Ballet Company, if Chano Pozo hadn’t been a sensation in the Bronx, if Chucho Valdes hadn’t won so many awards, if our baseball players hadn’t been champions, if Teofilo Stevenson hadn’t brought down some of the best boxing champions, if the island weren’t a hornet’s nest where everyone was willing to put up a fight, if our medical doctors hadn’t combatted Ebola, if Cuban teachers hadn’t taught so many to read and write.”

“Havana will be the most beautiful city of all. When you place your hand over a building, no matter where you do this, this building comes alive. Decay vanishes, the veil is lifted and the beauty of the city is revealed. I cry when something collapses, it pains me to see something lost, I am hurt by carelessness, I will always fight for beauty. Justice and beauty are essential.”


Why the Coming Avalanche of Cuban Art Is Good News for the Art World


Luis Martínez Pedro, Aguas territoriales (Territorial Waters) (1963) Photo: © 2016 Luis Martínez Pedro; courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

HAVANA, Jan. 22th. Starting with Barack Obama’s announcement last December that relations between the US and Cuba would be normalized, more Americans traveled to Cuba than at any time since the revolution took place in 1959.

Since then, there has been a flood of announcements stateside for upcoming Cuba-related events, panels and exhibitions. The fact is that 2016 is shaping up to be the year more Cuban art travels to US shores since Fidel Castro donned green fatigues and grew out his hipster artist beard.

It’s only January, and already in New York this new art-forward bilateralism can be seen in a pair of excellent shows at blue-chip galleries: David Zwirner and Sean Kelly. Though the exhibitions are of entirely different vintages—one gathers works by a little known group of 1950s abstract painters, the other features the New York debut of a sparky conceptualist—both provide glimpses of a parallel art world.


Installation view, Concrete Cuba, David Zwirner, New York (2016) Photo: Courtesy David Zwirner, New York/London

At times, this alternate universe runs on a similar track to US developments; at others, it peels off into retrofuturist fireworks. Jointly, these exhibitions suggest the existence of what quantum physicists call a “multiverse”—a region, located possibly in the Caribbean, where familiar problems beget other conceivable outcomes, be these cosmological or artistic.

One place in Manhattan to get that twitchy Twilight Zone feeling is at David Zwirner’s 20th Street gallery, home presently to the exhibition “Concrete Cuba.” The show features more than three-dozen paintings, drawings, and sculptures by a group of postwar Cubans who, between 1959 and 1961, styled themselves Los Diez Pintores Concretos (Ten Concrete Painters)—in English, the Latin counterparts of Piet Mondrianand Josef Albers.

Mostly, the display fleshes out a largely forgotten chapter in the history of the global avant-garde, while providing a peep at a radically different modernity (in Cuba concretism coincided with political tumult and rapid urbanization). Fittingly the show also channels vintage Rod Serling: an exhibition by the same name was staged at Zwirner’s London digs last September, so this do-over features different artworks by the very same artists.

A museum-quality show, “Concrete Cuba” celebrates the movement’s connections to better-known figures, like the Dutchman Theo van Doesburg and the Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García, while promoting the modest advances made by Los Diez (the group managed to exhibit together only three times).


Diana Fonseca Quiñones El Capital (2015) (detail) intervention in three volumes of Das Capital by Karl Marx Photo: © Diana Fonseca Quiñones Photography: Jason Wyche, New York Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Where European, and later American, hard-edged abstraction was pared down and stripped of symbolic content, these Cuban artists adapted non-objectivism—often despite their own theoretical premises—to their particular circumstances. On the evidence,Los Diez snuck some son into Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie—especially as seen in their use of curved lines, circular shapes and pastel colors.

At Zwirner, the island’s different swing makes key appearances in several of the exhibition’s best works. Note, for example, the untitled bronze and metal stabiles by the group’s lone female artist, Loló Soldevilla, which approximate pregnant forms. Then there are the circular and semicircular lines employed by Luís Martinez Pedro in a pair of paintings that share the title Aguas Territoriales (Territorial Waters)—they resemble oceanic ripple motifs.

And then there is Mario Carreño’s Sin título, composición (Untitled, Composition), a brightly hued arrangement of geometric forms that, on the one hand, presents a composition of harmonious planes and colors, but also suggests palm trees and hourglass figures.


Diana Fonseca Quiñones Untitled, from the Degradaciones series (2015) Photo: © Diana Fonseca Quiñones Photography: Jason Wyche, New York Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Though separated by half-century of volatile history, Diana Fonseca Quiñones’s show of paintings, sculptures, and videos at Sean Kelly espouses a similar if less buttoned-up self-reliance.

The recent winner of the 2015 Artnexus Latin American Art Award, Fonseca Quiñones’s work is a rare combination of DIY economy—of the sort made ubiquitous by LES galleries—and profound metaphor making. Among her videos is the highly economical Pasa Tiempo (Pastime), which shows the artist stitching an airplane on her hand.

Elsewhere, a series of three paintings titled Degradación (Degradation) mobilize chunks of paint recovered from Old Havana’s rundown buildings into hand-piled palimpsests. Staring at them evokes Havana as Pompeii—the mother of all archeological digs.

Despite the similarities of Fonseca Quiñones’s pieces to that of other contemporary artists, her art comes off as virtuosically original. Her usual medium is everyday objects, which she marshals into unexpected combinations that cover themes from romantic love to social protest.

Consider, for instance, the pair of matches she videotapes being fired together to enact a wavering death dance. In another multimedia piece, titled Simulación y simulacro (Simulacra and Simulation), a real-life rotating fan appears to turn the videotaped pages of Jean Baudrillard’s book by the same name. The effect of these spare works is stunning. The idea that such familiar stuff can contain fulsome poetry blows the mind.

Which brings me back to why the coming avalanche of Cuban art is good news for the art world in New York and elsewhere. Among the scheduled shows of Cuban art in the next few months are painter Alejandro Campins at Sean Kelly in February, Carmen Herrera’s fall retrospective at the Whitney, and the Bronx Museum’s upcoming survey of work from Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes—but more are sure to come.

Whether these and other offerings arrive in the form of historical exhibitions or as shows by unknown artists, they’re bound to make the familiar look new and weird again.

Havana may become a new Hollywood location


In this Jan. 15, 2016 photo, “House of Lies” actors Don Cheadle and Josh Lawson, right, sit at the bar counter in Bodeguita Del Medio during the filming of an episode, in Havana, Cuba. The producers of Showtime’s dark comedy “House of Lies” had $3 million and a mission: shoot the first episode of scripted American television in Cuba in more than half a century. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

HAVANA, Jan. 22th. (AP) The producers of Showtime’s dark comedy “House of Lies” had $3 million and a mission: shoot the first episode of scripted American television in Cuba in more than half a century.

With less than a week to shoot the entire fifth-season finale on the chaotic streets of central Havana, director Matthew Carnahan told his just-hired Cuban crew that they’d be skipping their full lunch break to make up time the first two days.

“You know what? That’s not going to work,'” the assistant director responded. “You don’t do a walking lunch here.”

The full lunch breaks got taken. And the shoot starring Don Cheadle and Kristen Bell wrapped up last week as part of a once-unimaginable surge of interest that could transform communist Cuba into a regular Hollywood location or fade rapidly due to the difficulty of working on the island.

A year after Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama declared detente, the mega-franchise “Fast and Furious” is awaiting U.S. and Cuban permission to shoot its eighth installment in Havana. There’s talk of a major U.S. car commercial shooting here. Actor Ethan Hawke said he wants to make a film in Cuba. “Papa,” an Ernest Hemingway biopic approved before detente was announced, premiered in Havana in December.

Until recently, Hollywood shooting in Cuba would have likely set off outrage among anti-Castro Cuban-Americans who say trade with Cuba feeds repression on the island.

The productions coming to Havana this year say White House staff have explicitly encouraged them as part of Obama’s new warming with Cuba. Preparing for anger in Miami was never part of the planning.

“It just didn’t factor into it,” Showtime president David Nevins said as he watched the shooting in Old Havana last week. “We’re slowly renewing relations and I think this show and the attitude that you’ll see within the show towards what’s going on with Cuba I think reflects where mainstream America is right now.”

Producers of “House of Lies” and other productions shot in Cuba said the 55-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba posed the primary obstacle to U.S. entertainment companies’ hopes to turn the island into a tropical backdrop. But particularly Cuban difficulties could also prevent U.S. productions from regularly working on the island.

“There’s a lot of stuff coming here,” Carnahan said. “Whether Cuba becomes a viable location on a regular ongoing basis rather than a novelty is up to both countries.”

The Cuban government demands script approval, only accepting productions that put the country in a good light. Charter flights from the U.S. remain unreliable, although regularly scheduled flights are slated to start soon.

There are so few international-quality hotel rooms that Cuba-based producers regularly cancel shoots due to lack of beds for cast and crew. “House of Lies” stars good-naturedly described missing sheets and paper-thin pillows at the hotel where they stayed, and shooting in the streets of Old Havana without the usual amenities.

“We don’t have trailers, which I really enjoy, because it strips down the production to just its bare necessities,” said Bell, the star of the teen detective series “Veronica Mars” and the voice of princess Anna in the mega-hit “Frozen.” “Our green room, per se, is usually someone’s house, someone’s home … We just walk. We go into shops and sit with people. You just sit down with people and talk to them.”

Weighed against that are actors and production staff that “House of Lies” producers described as impressively trained and well-prepared. The Americans are also thrilled at the backdrop of thousands of colonial and Art Deco buildings, most dilapidated from years of neglect, although Old Havana’s core is being painstakingly restored.

“Everywhere you point the camera is the most photogenic place you’ve ever seen,” Carnahan said.

“House of Lies” is about a team of ruthless management consultants who zip around the world making fortunes at the expense of their greedy, hapless clients who run major corporations.

Last summer, as its writers plotted out its fifth season, they realized that the wave of post-detente U.S. business interest in Cuba make it a natural subject for the show.160121121824-cuba-us-tv-location-2-exlarge-169

“They come down thinking that if they can be the pioneers to land the business deal that they see Cuba as, that it will be this unparalleled victory,” executive producer Jessika Borsiczky said. “They come down to really take over how Cuba’s going to run its business.”

In the script, which was reviewed and approved by the Cuban government, head consultant Marty Kaan and his team end up realizing the error of their hyper-capitalist ways.

“As they’re here their assumptions get stripped away and they realize there’s a lot more to the change in Cuba than just taking advantage of it,” Borsiczky said.

A “Fast and Furious” shoot would dwarf the “House of Lies” single episode, and could prove more ideologically tricky for Cuba. One of the most successful movie franchises in history, it has grossed billions worldwide with films that pay tribute to souped-up street-racing cars and carefully planned multi-million dollar heists.

Cuban officials did not respond to requests for comment. But ordinary Cubans watching the “House of Lies” shoot said they were happy to see American entertainers at work in Havana.

“It’s strange but good,” said Hilga Jimenez, a 58-year-old health worker who works for a state campaign against disease-carrying mosquitos. “They want to get closer to us, we want to get closer to them, and this way we get to know each other’s culture.”

Havana, judo capital of the world

havana-live-grand-prix-judo2016HAVANA, Jan. 22th  (Xinhua)  The Judo Grand Prix tournament with 428 athletes from 69 countries attending got underway in Havana on Thursday.

The competition is important as it will count towards the qualifying list for the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio De Janeiro.

The draw for the 14 divisions (men and women) took place on Thursday at the Melia Habana hotel and the president of the International Judo Federation (IJF), Romania’s Marius Vizer, gave a news conference.

Vizer arrived in the Cuban capital on Wednesday and this visit marks his third stay on the Caribbean island after he visited in June 2014 to participate in a similar competition and in September 2015 where he evaluated the preparations for the current tournament.

The competition schedule will begin on Friday in the Sport City Coliseum with fights in the 48, 52 and 57 kilogram categories for women and 60 and 66 kilograms categories for men.

The fights will continue on Saturday with the 63 and 70 kilograms categories for women and 73, 81 and 90 kilograms categories for men.

The tournament will conclude on Sunday with the 78 and over 78 kilograms categories for women and 100 and over 100 kilograms categories for men.

As hosts, Cuba will compete with four teams for each gender. The Caribbean country is led by Idalis Ortiz, Olympic monarch and two-time world champion in the over 78 kilograms category, and Asley Gonzalez, silver medallist in the 90 kilograms category and former world champion.

Among the foreign teams Brazil, the United States, Azerbaijan, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Mongolia and China stand out as wall as individuals from other nations.

In the men’s competition, great things are expected from Azerbaijanis Rustam Orujov (73kg) and Elmar Gasimov (100kg), who come in top of the world ranking, as well as various other world and Olympic medallists.

The women’s competition will also feature some stars from the sport such as Argentinian world champion Paula Pareto (48kg), Brazilian Sarah Menezes (48kg) and American Kayla Harrison (78kg). Menezes and Harrison both won gold medals at the London Olympics 2012.

The main goal of all the Cuban competitors is to get the largest amount of points for the Olympic 2016 classification which will grant 22 direct places for men and 14 for women, according to Ortiz.

The tournament in Havana will give 300 points for gold medal winners, 180 for silver medallists and 120 for bronze medallists.

For Cuban judo, the aim is to end up with 10 representatives – five men and five women – in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

The IJF’s Sports Director, Czech Vladimir Barta, said he was confident that Havana would be a “very good tournament” due to the level of the competitors and the rivalry. This generates ambition to win points for the world ranking ahead of the summer games.

Barta also praised the increased number of athletes and countries compared to the first edition in 2014, when 297 judokas participated from 40 nations.

In the 2014 edition, Cuba came in second place with two gold, two silver and four bronze medals. The women’s team had the best results (2 gold, one silver and 3 bronze medals). Georgia won the competition overall with 3 golds and two bronze medals.

This event has the largest country representation out of all single sport tournaments to ever have been organized by Cuba, according to local officials.

This edition will have a superior level especially as it is an Olympic qualification event, said Vizer.

“We are very focused so that our sport can become one of the main attractions at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” concluded Vizer.

Cuba tries price controls to tame food inflation

A man sells garlic on a street in Havana January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

A man sells garlic on a street in Havana January 19, 2016. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa

HAVANA, Jan. 21th. (REUTERS) Cuba is backtracking on some key agricultural reforms and experimenting with restoring price controls in the face of public demands that the government tame rising food costs.

Prices are up because of limited production, poor weather and greater demand fueled in part by the market-oriented reforms championed by President Raul Castro.

Those reforms, which the government says will modernize its socialist economic model, have led to growing numbers of wealthier Cubans even as most workers have seen food prices grow far faster than their state salaries.

With new market rules in play, but limited food supplies, prices have floated toward what affluent Cubans can afford.

Aware of public sentiment and eager to contain inequalities, the government is now buying, distributing and selling more food at fixed prices.

It has ordered privately owned trucks to unload at wholesale markets instead of retail outlets, and some private street vendors have apparently been shut down to push more produce through controlled markets.

In central Ciego de Avila province, the government will resume “the old strategy” of buying and transporting all crops once it receives more vehicles from the central government to get the job done, the local Communist Party weekly Invasor reported.

Just west of Havana, in Artemisa province, the state this month opened outlets that sell basic foods at fixed prices, reversing a trend to get out of the retail food business. A similar plan was announced this week for the capital, creating at least one such market in each of its 105 districts, said Tribuna de La Habana, another official newspaper.

At a military-run market in the Vedado district of Havana this week, there were mounds of plantain and onions and nothing else. Nevertheless, hundreds gathered to buy at low prices.

“The government had to do something so I support this, even if there is less variety,” homemaker Graciela Costa said as she waited in line. “Hopefully they can force speculators to lower their prices.”


Raul Castro, who took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008, has pushed through market-style reforms to encourage more private enterprise, but he has vowed to move cautiously and maintain socialist policies.

Fidel Castro routinely rolled back reforms when they started to create problems for the Communist government. This would be the first reversal under Raul since the Communist Party approved sweeping reform five years ago.

In the National Assembly last month, some deputies called for a return to price controls and Castro himself said “a solution must be found” to bring prices in line with wages.

“At the end of December after Raul spoke, all the street vendors disappeared and they still haven’t returned,” said Rosalia Leon, a pensioner from Havana. “There used to be a produce kiosk across the street from where I live and it shut down and still hasn’t reopened. These days I have to look far and wide for what I need to eat.”

Cuban authorities have so far balked at imposing across-the-board price controls, but they have mounted a campaign against “unscrupulous middlemen and speculators” through state-run media, blaming those who buy directly from farmers, truck drivers and urban vendors for high prices.

Such rhetoric from the past, which had disappeared until recently, is driven by a clear divergence between food prices and salaries.

About 70 percent of Cuban workers are employed by the state with an average salary of $25 per month, but Cubans who receive remittances or work in growth businesses such as tourism are doing much better.

Economy Minister Marino Murillo said poor and low income Cubans spend 75 percent of their salary on food, though they also receive free social services and subsidized utilities and pay no rent or mortgage.

The cost of a family’s basket of basic foods rose 15 percent in both 2012 and 2013 and 28 percent in 2014, according to the Union of Young Communists’ newspaper, Juventud Rebelde.

Government data showed average state wages rose just 13 percent in 2014 after barely increasing the two previous years.

By restoring some price controls, the government hopes to push down market prices and signal it will not leave the least fortunate behind.

Still, one Cuban agricultural expert, who asked for anonymity due to restrictions on talking with journalists, said the measures taken this year are futile except as short-term tactics.

Despite reforms in agriculture under Castro, central planners had continued to assign scarce inputs and tell farmers what to plant rather than let the market decide, he said.

“The problem is that the reforms are being implemented in a piecemeal and contradictory fashion,” he said. “They decentralized distribution, but not production. Food production through to consumption is a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link.”

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

Eusebio Leal Spengler recieved the 2016 Driehaus Prize

Dr Eusebio Leal SpenglerHAVANA, Jan. 20th. Eusebio Leal Spengler, city historian of Havana,has been named the recipient of the 2016 Richard H. Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame.He will receive the $50,000 Henry Hope Reed Award, given annually to an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its architecture and art.

The Richard H. Driehaus Prize at the University of Notre Dame was established in 2003 to honor lifetime contributions to traditional, classical and sustainable architecture and urbanism in the modern world. The prize is awarded annually to a living architect whose work has had positive cultural, environmental and artistic impact in keeping with the highest ideals of classical architecture in contemporary society.

The award ceremony on March 19 will also honor the Henry Hope Reed Award laureate, Eusebio Leal Spengler, whose innovative leadership saved the historic center of Old Havana. Leal transformed the Office of the Historian from a conventional cultural agency to a financially autonomous model of management that not only generates the funds needed to undertake complex restoration projects but also provides support for the local community.

“I applaud the selection of Dr. Leal as the recipient of the 2016 Henry Hope Reed Award,” said Driehaus. “His tireless and strategic efforts to protect the cultural heritage of the Cuban people are an inspiration to all of us with a passion for historic preservation. His work has ensured that Havana will be a source of inspiration for all of us in perpetuity.”

Leal is the Havana City Historian as well as the director of the restoration program of Old Havana and its historic center, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, he serves as deputy to the National Assembly in Cuba, as president of the Commission of Monuments in the City of Havana and as a United Nations goodwill ambassador. Leal is a specialist in archaeological sciences and received a master’s degree in Latin American, Caribbean and Cuban studies from the University of Havana as well as a doctorate in historical sciences.

“Eusebio Leal’s work in Havana has not only helped save what is one of the most stunningly beautiful cities in the world, and in particular the western hemisphere, but also by example, it has highlighted the importance of an architectural and urban culture that maintains a spirit of conservation and investment as opposed to consumption and waste,” said Lykoudis.

Cuba is the Top “Luxury Travel” Up-and-Coming Destination

Hotel-Saratoga  Havana

Hotel-Saratoga Havana

HAVANA, Jan. 20th. Travel Leaders Group released its top luxury travel trends for 2016 including the top up-and-coming destinations led by Cuba; the list also includes the United Arab Emirates, African Safaris, Iceland and Antarctica.

In addition, more than 86% of those surveyed state that luxury travel bookings are higher than or on par with 2015, and the top international luxury travel destinations outside of North America are European river cruises, Italy, Mediterranean cruises, Australia, and England. Conducted November 17-December 8, 2015, these luxury travel trends are based on responses from 964 Travel Leaders Group’s luxury travel agent experts.

“Today’s luxury traveler is someone who seeks incredible, authentic and memorable experiences – not merely 5-star hotels and Michelin star restaurants. So it makes perfect sense that Cuba, Antarctica, and African safaris are among the top ‘up-and-coming’ luxury travel destinations according to our luxury travel agents throughout the United States,” stated Travel Leaders Group CEO Ninan Chacko.

“Nobody books more luxury travel than Travel Leaders Group agents and their expertise is second to none. Our travel agents take pride in their ongoing efforts to specialize in and experience destinations, firsthand, that appeal particularly to their affluent clientele. That’s how they’re able to confidently consult with and advise their clients – making sure each client’s luxury vacation expectations are exceeded.”

Luxury Travel Up-and-Coming Destinations:
The top responses when asked, “What would you say is the top up-and-coming destination for your luxury travel clients?” were remarkable destinations such as: Cuba, United Arab Emirates, African Safaris, Iceland and Antarctica.

“Because Cuba will undoubtedly change rapidly in the coming years due to the influx of American tourists and business influences, a growing number of Protravel International’s affluent clientele want to experience its captivating time-stands-still charm now,” stated Patrick Fragale, President of Protravel International.

“The proximity, the people and the culture are all part of the appeal. When Americans can freely travel to Cuba for any type of vacation – not just a cultural exchange – and more luxury accommodations become available, I see Cuba moving from our up-and-coming list to join our overall list of top international destinations for luxury travelers.”

Havana’s plus-size ballerinas feel like dancing

havana-live-king-size-ballerinasHAVANA, Jan. 20th  (AFP) With wide waists in white tutus, their figures are far from those of typical ballerinas — but these plus-size Cuban dancers are determined to defy stereotypes.

In a land with a fiercely demanding dance tradition, the women have turned their large physique into an artistic virtue, proudly taking to the stage to perform Swan Lake.

“You don’t come here to lose weight. You come here to feel like a ballerina,” says Juan Miguel Mas, founder of the Danza Voluminosa troupe. “You are fat and you have the desire and the need to express yourself through movement.”

Cuba is world renowned for its slim, rigorously trained dancers. But 44 per cent of its population is overweight, according to 2012 figures from state nutrition body SISVAN.
Members of Danza Voluminosa typically weigh between 100 and 120 kilos, but there is no limit. Mas, 50, a trained dancer with a rotund figure himself, founded the group in 1996. It once had 20 members, but only seven remain. Some left and two have died from obesity-related illnesses. “It has not been easy,” says one of the members of the troupe, Maylin Daza, a 36-year-old housewife.

“We have lost companions to obesity. And here we are, still fighting.” Mas set out to use his own professional dance experience to train people “with bodies like mine, softer and wider.”havana-live-king-size-ballerinas

“I had the idea of creating a space where those people could train and develop, and of creating dances using these bodies,” he said.

“It helps obese people to develop not only artistically, but also socially.” The ballerinas, all women, practice twice a week in Mas’s small apartment in Havana’s working class Marianao neighbourhood.

Mas has spent 20 years exploring ways of making an overweight body move “aesthetically better” — developing elegant moves adapted to bigger figures. “Our dances will not be the same as thin people’s dances,” he says. The group recently put on a series of shows for the public.havana-live-king-size-ballerinas

“The first few times we performed, there was this deathly silence. Some people got up and left. Some laughed,” Mas recalls. “But when people saw how developed our work was and how impressive, with so much work behind it and such aesthetic meaning, in the end they applauded. We won over the audience.”

Then one night in early January, three dancers from the troupe found themselves stepping out in front of an audience at the elite National Theatre in Havana. In white tutus, leggings and headdresses, they stepped along in tight formation to Tchaikovsky’s score.

There are no jumps and few bends. In rehearsal, the ballerinas groan when made to hold a move for several seconds. But in the dressing room, excitement reigns. “I’ve always liked classical dance,” said Daza. “But everyone knows fat women don’t dance ballet. And in my family no one helped me to lose weight.”havana-live-king-size-ballerinas

The National Theatre show was part of a cultural exchange between the University of Massachusetts and the Cuban writers’ and artists’ union UNEAC. For the dancers, it is a measure of how far they have come.

Pulling on her long white gloves, Rubi Amaro recalls her first performances with the group. “It wasn’t easy at first,” the 34-year-old said. “At the start people laughed. They didn’t like it. But others did.” “Now they pay more attention to the choreography. No one laughs at us now,” she added.havana-live-king-size-ballerinas


Circuba to Celebrate 35th Anniversary

Circo-del-Sol-1Havana, Jan 19 (Prensa Latina) The International Circus Festival in Cuba (Circuba), the third oldest of its kind in the world, will celebrate in 2016 its 35 anniversary, said organizers today.

Following the festivals of Monte-Carlo (1974) and Circus for Tomorrow (1977), the worldwide renowned festival Circuba (1981) will be held here from July 12th to 17th, with the participation of foreign and local artists, businesspeople, journalists, photographers and lovers of the circus.

The jury will award a Grand Prix, three first prizes and others awards, taking into account reviews and the image, while the audience will assess the performance of the artists and award the prize of popularity.

Until April 1 the call for participating in the 15th festival will be open at the venue of the event, the Trompoloco big top, in Havana.