Monthly Archives: February 2016


backstHAVANA, Feb. 29 (Xinhua) Cigar enthusiasts from around the globe will gather in Havana this week for the 18th Habanos Festival.

The trade fair is expected to attract more U.S. buyers and aficionados than ever before, since Washington has relaxed travel and trade restrictions as part of a year-long bilateral push to normalize ties.

Renowned among the world’s cigar sellers and consumers, the annual festival attracts about 1,500 visitors from some 50 countries.

Highlights of the five-day festival usually include tours to award-winning tobacco plantations, visits to cigar factories, a cigar rolling class, a sommelier contest, and an auction of choice humidors containing limited edition cigars.

This year’s festival will bring together the winning sommeliers of the past to compete for the title of “Master of Masters” in pairing Habanos with fine liquors and cocktails.

It will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Cohiba, a premium brand that had been popular in the United States before an expanded trade embargo banned the importation of Cuban cigars in 1962.Logo-XVIII-Festival

At last year’s festival, the co-president of Cuban cigar producer Habanos S.C., Luis Sanchez-Harguindey, said the company was ready to meet additional demand from the United States.

U.S. travelers can now bring home a limited number of cigars, but it is the eventual lifting of the trade embargo that the company is eyeing.

Sanchez-Harguindey said that as soon as the embargo is repealed, the company can begin to supply the U.S. market with 170 million premium cigars.

Hoyo de Monterrey, another premium brand, will feature significantly this year, with its 2012 Harvest Reserve.

The Cuaba, a brand sold exclusively at La Casa del Habano’s more than 140 locations worldwide, will also be highlighted during the event. The brand will also unveil a special edition to mark its 20th anniversary.


Havana-Club-Tributo-Collection-WEB-350x350HAVANA, Feb. 29th The 2016 edition is led by rums aged in 80-year-old casks, which have been blended with other rums to give an “aromatic and intense” taste. The liquid is deep amber in colour and is said to offer notes of dried tropical fruit.

“Creating the Havana Club Tributo Collection is a fascinating process, as each release will provide a new and unique taste experience, achieved through experimentation with rum bases from our reserves,” said Asbel Morales, maestro ronero for Havana Club.

“By blending rums using very old and rare casks, we have been able to create an expression for 2016 with a luxurious amber glow, full-bodied fruit flavours and a long finish.”

Further expressions in the Havana Club Tributo Collection will be unveiled annually at the Cuban Habanos Festival.

Packaging for the 2016 edition was designed by London-based agency Nude Brand Creation.

“The packaging was inspired by the wide variety of architectural styles in Cuba, in particular the Spanish baroque and the neoclassical, which complement each other so perfectly, just like the blend of different rums selected to make the product,” said Nude Brand Creation co-founder, Bernard Gormley.

“The filigree and detailing intrigued us and influenced the graphics, along with the colour blue – the national colour of Cuba – and gold that enhance the luxury cues and on-shelf standout.

“The background pattern on the bottle label and gift pack was inspired by the ceramic tiles found in walkways, walls and floors of Havana. The signature of Maestro Ronero Asbel Morales and the individual number of each bottle is displayed on the intricate premium label.”

Havana Club rum hopes to be 1st Cuban product sold in U.S.

haVANa-live-havana clubHAVANA, Feb. 27th (EFE) After winning the court case for rights to the Havana Club brand in the United States, the maker aims to have its rum become the first Cuban product to be sold in the U.S. when the long-standing embargo is lifted, because the North American country is a market with enormous potential and almost half the worldwide sales of premium rum.

“We’re sure Havana Club rum will be the top Cuban product that is soonest to enter the U.S. market, which represents 40 percent of worldwide rum sales, so the challenge and the potential are enormous,” the director of market development for Havana Club, Sergio Valdes, told EFE.

Valdes said that with a market like the U.S. still off limits, Havana Club is already the third best-selling rum in the world, a position the brand could easily surpass once Cuban companies are allowed unrestricted exports to the neighboring country, eager as it is to buy “emblematic products” from the island that have been banned there for the last 50 years like rum and tobacco.

Without yet having full access to that rich market, the mixed Cuban-French company that markets Havana Club – made up of France’s Pernod Ricard and Cuba’s Cuba Ron – nonetheless took a giant step forward several weeks ago by finally winning the 20-year legal battle with Bacardi for rights to the brand in the United States.

From that legal tug-of-war arose an irregular situation: Bacardi marketed the brand in the U.S. while Pernod Ricard sold it in the rest of the world after 1993 when the mixed company was founded.

The rum conflict goes back to the Cuban Revolution’s 1959 victory, when Fidel Castro confiscated the Havana Club company, founded in 1935 by the Arechabala family from Spain, and the new government began to market the brand. In the 1990s, the family sold the rights to Bacardi in the United States.

In all the world’s markets and including all lines of rum, Havana Club in 2015 sold some 4 million cases, or 36 million liters of rum, a product that for the company’s management is more than just a drink, it is “a little bit of Cuban life and culture that we are bringing to the world.”

Cuban Lefont for New Guinness Record

le-font-HAVANA, Feb 27th (Prensa Latina) Cuban Johen Lefont will seek today to set a new mark in the Guinness Book, in the form of more consecutive touches with his head to a soccer ball in the water.

The young former aquatic polo and special sports player will try the world record at the pool of Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana, with the presence of judges accredited by the International Swimming Federation and other specialist.

The team also includes operators of underwater cameras to certify the validity of the registration and then send the images to London, the British capital, home of the awards, quoted the website of the local weekly Giron.

Lefónt, Graduated in Physical Culture and born in this city, 100km east of Havana, will try to beat his own mark of 1.503 touches achieved on October 13, 2013 at the pool of the Nacional hotel in the Cuban capital.

Along with his coach, Jorge del Valle, The athlete will be accompanied by his family and sports personalities, particularly his friend Javier Sotomayor, also from Matanzas and world record owner in high jump with 2.45 meters, informed the source.

Havana outsider art: Riera Studio

2016-02-23-1456245189-7268265-IMG_5553A-thumbHAVANA, Feb. 26th The Entrepreneurship column of the New York Times Business Section featured a story on Liz Powers, a Harvard sociology graduate who, along with her brother Spencer, founded ArtLifting, a for-profit, Boston-based start-up. Its mission: to enable “disenfranchised artists to sell their work, enhance self-esteem, and change their lives.”

The story reminded me of my January 2016 interview with Cuban artist Samuel Riera whose Havana based home-studio focuses on art outside the mainstream, Art Brut and Outsider Art. Strongly influenced by Jean Dubuffet’s concept of Art Brut–art made by outsiders with no formal training–Riera began to research the artwork of people with mental disabilities. “In Cuba, that meant people living in institutions but also people living with their families, at home in society.”

“Most psychiatrists in Cuba see the artwork of people with mental disabilities as a kind of art therapy,” Riera said. “But we don’t! We don’t modify their art. We don’t change their way of thinking. These people have the capacity to grow,” he said. “They have an ability, not a disability.”

Riera works with the families, creating bank accounts for the artists, and providing them with workshops and with materials. Often, he brings them to the studio where they receive lunch and free transport back and forth. Over the past three years, they have worked with 40 to 50 artists. The studio takes 20 percent of all sales but uses the money to buy materials for the artists.

Riera, who once taught at the San Alejandro School of Art, also sells his own paintings in the gallery. Included in works on display were several paintings from a series called Obedientes, where there are no faces on the children. “Children here–in the educational system,” he said critically, “have to swear in some ceremony, when they are about eight years old, that they will be like Che.” Groupings of Riera’s painted, faceless wooden children, about three inches high, are displayed on a nearby ledge.

Riera speaks passionately about the work of his several of his artists: Damian Valdes Dilla, a schizophrenic who lives at home. There’s a video of Valdes at work with an English translation. In a side gallery, there are several of Valdes’ extraordinary fold-out books which sell for $500 and his city-like constructions made out of found objects.

Nearby, is the work of another artist, Boris Santamaria, who once was homeless and who lived on the street for years. Santamaria paints people with blood streaming down their faces. Crowded on a shelf in the gallery, are his dolls, blood running down their heads. There are landscapes where the twisted tree trunks and roots are menacing. The work is powerful and, definitely, unsettling.

Riera is trying to sustain the project and to make it grow. So far, there has been no money from the government and sales are irregular. There’s hope, though. With President Barak Obama’s impending visit, with Americans flooding Havana, and with growing global interest in Cuban art, perhaps this is the moment when those on the margin can be included; when their art can be understood for what it is, talent, not just therapeutic release. 2016-02-23-1456243571-6656549-IMG_5546A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243604-4484232-IMG_5543A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243464-4589417-IMG_5568A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243539-6341058-IMG_5562A-thumbAll photos: Shael Shapiro

Wines by Freixenet to Be Present in Havano Cigar Festival

havana-live-freixenetHAVANA, Feb 25 (PL) The Spanish company of frothy wines Freixenet will be present with its wines in the 18th Havano Cigar Festival of the Havana cigar that will be held at the end of this month in the Palace of Conventions of this capital.

Spokesmen of this Catalan company stated this Thursday that some of its products are hired for several of the meetings of the Festival (from February 29 to March 4), especially in the opening, in the Store of the Madeira and the Tobacco (brewery), of the port of Havana.

The comercializing official of this firm Niurka López told Prensa Latina that the wines that they bring to the island will come to this meeting by means of the local distributor ITH Havana.

For this moment there appear Frothy Dubois, Trivento Mixtus, Shiraz Malbec and Trivento Mixtus Chenim Chardonnay, included in the inaugural ceremony due to its high quality.

Freixenet takes more than 30 years operating in Cuba, and its representation, in hands of Luis Ortega Mateo, also it includes the Central American area with successful results.

This commercial connection began with the arrival to Cuba of the businesswoman of this country Juanita Mateo, dedicated to the sale of products of cosmetics and fashion, with which Freixenet has strong links.

This producing group and comercializador of wine-cellars or frothy wines, in 2014 triumphed with most of the awards granted by XV International Fair of the Wine of the National Hotel of Cuba, what he says much of its bet for the tourism in this country.

The Spanish company has other proposals, such the wines of the wine by Gloria Ferrer, of Sonoma, California, the United States sold by the group, and My mark.

Precisely, there were praised in several occasions the wines of high scale of the Argentine wine Trivento, with the recognition of the public and of the tasters’ jury and sommeliers (presenters of wine lists), it departs from the Freixenet distribution folder.

This group chose its connection with Cuba even in the middle of commercial pressures come from the measurements of Washington against Havana implanted for more than 50 years, and that still persist despite the current dealings between the parts.

The firm exports to more than 140 countries, and she is a producer of the famous Wine-cellar Freixenet, in its diverse variants, of high quality and that is distributed in Cuba.

Also, it promotes and commercializes in this island other marks of wines of Argentine, Spanish, French and Chilean wine vaults, which enrich the quality culinary one.

The company brought to Cuba fame drinks like Count of Caralt, Henri Abelé, Vineyard Maipo, Marquess of Caceres, Trivento, Roura, Rives and Baron Phillippe de Rothschild, who outline the searches of this destination as a stage of gastronomy of high flight.

Corker sees no lifting of Cuba embargo under Obama

havana-live-corkerHAVANA, Feb. 25th Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said Wednesday that there is political momentum in Congress for lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba but that any action would not come while President Barack Obama was still in office.

“It’s not going to happen this year,” the Tennessee Republican told reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s something that could happen as we move into a new president.”

Corker underlined that there are “still tremendous human rights abuses that take place in Cuba” and that these make it impossible for many lawmakers to move forward with lifting the embargo. Still, he said, “If Cuba were to evolve its behavior” on that front, then “it’s possible” Congress could act.

Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro shocked the world in December 2014 by disclosing that they had held secret negotiations and were prepared to usher in a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, starting with the resumption of full diplomatic ties. Embassies reopened in Havana and Washington, the United States removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and the two sides have taken steps to increase travel and business opportunities.

Obama has brought about many changes using his executive powers, but he needs Congress to roll back the centerpiece of America’s Cold War-era pressure on Cuba — the punishing trade embargo in place since 1960. White House officials say they think it would be possible to cobble together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who either lean libertarian or face pressure from business leaders in their districts or home states to ease access to Cuba’s markets. Republican congressional aides have all but ruled out taking legislative action on the proposal in 2016.

Obama, who clearly sees improved relations as a legacy-defining issue, recently announced that he would travel to Cuba in late March, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to go there in roughly 80 years. At the same time, it’s not clear how much political capital the president is prepared to spend on pressuring Congress to lift the embargo, especially as he gets set to face substantial opposition in the Senate to confirming a new Supreme Court justice.

Corker, who disclosed that he recently had dinner with a Republican senator who favors lifting the embargo and an investor eyeing expanded business opportunities in Cuba, said he sees U.S.-Cuba relations “gradually moving along this year.”

“It seems to me that this year is going to be a year when those things take hold,” he said, referring to expanded air travel and other Obama-championed steps.

Havana designer showcases pieces at Latino Fashion Week

havana-live-caridadCaridad is an haute couture designer from Vedado in Havana Cuba and made his U.S. debut on Friday during Latino Fashion Week.

HAVANA, Feb. 25th Ismael de la Caridad started his fashion career in modeling at 15. By the time he was 18 he made a shift behind the scenes and tried his hand at stitching and designing, a trade he learned from his mother.

When the opportunity to dress Rosita Fornes – the Cuban Beyoncé of his time – came up, he didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge; a move that would essentially catapult him into a fashion career with a span of more than 30 years.

Caridad is an haute couture designer from Vedado in Havana Cuba and made his U.S. debut on Friday during Latino Fashion Week.

During the last two months, he created a complete collection of 40 dresses with a pre-selection of 25 all stitched by hand. He said it happened in record time and he relied on past colleagues from all over the island to make it happen.logo

“I’m bringing traditional Cuban inspired dresses and re-imagining them for modern times. It has very authentic styles of stitching created in Cuba. For a long time I’ve been rescuing and archiving traditional sewing techniques from Cuba and including them in my collections.
I’ve traveled to Matanzas, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Trinidad and all over the island to find them, and this collection is a display of all of those techniques,” Caridad said.

The designer prefers to be involved in the whole process of giving care to small details, like curating his own playlist for the show and singing in the beginning and the end of the opening songs. He also helps with hair and makeup of the models.  Recently he traveled to Mexico to obtain special feathers he could not find in Cuba for a dress entitled Peacock Woman.

Caridad is continuing his U.S. tour in other cities but said this event has been the most important in his career now.

“This was a commitment and a responsibility I could not afford to take lightly. I was so honored that I was invited to participate in this event. It’s like a new career started for me. It’s been highly accepted in Cuba and I hope the American audience loves it as well. ”

Cuba eases travel restrictions on well-known dissidents

Martha Beatriz Roque is one of the dissidents who has been granted a trip abroad. She says she will go and visit the US to see family

Martha Beatriz Roque is one of the dissidents who has been granted a trip abroad. She says she will go and visit the US to see family

HAVANA, Feb. 25th The Cuban government has eased travel restrictions for some of the country’s best-known dissidents.
Activists said seven members of a group known as the Black Spring were told they would be allowed to make one journey abroad for good behaviour.

One of the seven, Marta Beatriz Roque, said she believed the move was a concession ahead of next month’s visit to Cuba by President Obama.

The US government has been pressing for more freedom for Cuban dissidents.

“It appears to be some kind of gift they want to present to Obama, but in reality it is nothing concrete because when we come back we will return to legal limbo,” said Martha Beatriz Roque.

The decision to grant seven of the most high profile dissidents the right to travel, albeit for a single trip, serves several purposes.

First it gives the Cuban government a recent example of fairer treatment of dissident leaders on the island. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly to the Castro government, the dissidents may choose to stay in the United States, removing them from the debate inside Cuba altogether.

While human rights organisations generally welcome any easing of the restrictions on the group, some of the dissidents themselves have voiced scepticism at the move.

The thorny question of human rights in Cuba will inevitably be back in the spotlight of the world’s media soon during President Obama’s trip. 75 people were arrested in the Spring of 2003 during a crackdown on opposition activists. Most were freed about five years ago on the condition that they moved abroad.

But eleven dissidents refused the terms of the amnesty and have remained in Cuba, though they have be allowed to serve their sentences outside of prison.

President Obama has said his trip to Havana on 21 and 22 March is aimed at pushing the Cuban government to improve conditions for its people.

In Washington, a White House spokesman welcomed the decision to let the dissidents travel outside Cuba.

When the thaw began in Cuba and the US’s relations in December 2014, the Cuban government released 53 people considered by Washington as political prisoners.

But, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (an independent human rights organisation considered illegal by the Cuban government), Cuba has resumed detentions.

The Commission says on average more than 700 people were detained temporarily each month in 2015.

U.S. softens ban on boats going to Cuba


Roger Kluh in his orange Apache Star speedboat after arriving in Havana from Key West

HAVANA, Feb. 24th In the latest effort to remove barriers with Cuba, the Obama administration is softening a Clinton-era emergency decree that bans U.S. boats from entering Cuban territorial waters.

The order, which will be sent to Congress Wednesday, modifies conditions imposed in 1996 after a Cuban jet shot down a plane affiliated with Brothers to the Rescue, killing four Miami-based anti-Castro activists. That finding was expanded in 2004 when President George W. Bush declared Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.

Gone is the draconian language about violence, threats and dangers that Cuba poses. It’s been replaced by a revealing acknowledgment that U.S. policies failed to promote positive change in Cuba and new steps under President Barack Obama being taken to normalize relations.

The tempered decree is just the latest move by the Obama administration to improve ties with the communist nation since Dec. 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced that they would take steps to normalize relations.

“I would say it was readily apparent to everyone involved that something needed to change here,” said a U.S. Coast Guard official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the new proclamation.

In the past year, the United States has removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, reestablished diplomatic relations and opened an embassy in Havana. Last week, Obama announced he will be the first American president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years as the two sides attempt to end decades of Cold War hostility.

As that visit was announced, administration officials told business leaders at a forum in Washington that the embargo against trade with Cuba would likely not be lifted by the end of his term, but that the administration would continue to break down what trade barriers it could so that it would be more difficult for any future administration to reverse the changes.

The administration has already taken several steps to encourage trade, including allowing American companies to sell to Cuba on credit, relaxing travel restrictions, eliminating limits on remittances and restoring direct mail.

Cuban air force fighters shot down two Miami-based Brothers to the Rescue planes, killing four. U.S. Congress quickly passes the Helms-Burton Act tightening the embargo.

President Clinton issued the emergency order in 1996 to prevent Cuban-American protesters from provoking an international incident after the shooting down of two Cuban exile planes by the Cuban air force. President Bush sought to stop recreational boaters from sailing to Cuba and spending money in violation of the U.S. embargo.

Obama signed the same proclamation for years, including last year, after reaching an agreement with Cuba to normalize relations. But federal officials recognized that changes were likely necessary considering some of the existing language included Cuba had not refrained from the use of excessive force against U.S. vessels or aircraft that may engage in memorial activities or peaceful protest north of Cuba.”

Federal officials emphasize that the legal restrictions in the proclamation that prevent unauthorized travel into Cuban waters remain.

Obama extended authorization granted by Bush to the Department of Homeland Security to issue whatever rules and regulations were needed to prevent U.S. boats from provoking another international incident.

“I would submit that it reflects importance of ensuring the normalization process is not disrupted do to illicit maritime migration. That is an ongoing concern for us is a migration of mass migration, illegal migration might upset that normalization process,” said the Coast Guard official.

But he added that the background conditions under which the first two proclamations were written no longer reflect the two countries relations.

“The United States has committed to work with the Government of Cuba on matters of mutual concern that advance U.S. national interests, such as migration, human rights, counter-narcotics, environmental protection, and trafficking in persons,” Obama writes in the new decree.

Critics including Presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Forida, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have criticized Obama for giving up to many concessions without getting anything in return from the Cuban government.

Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said it was “absolutely shameful” that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba.

Ramon Castro, older brother of Cuba’s Fidel and Raul,died

Ramon Castro, elder brother of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro, talks to Reuters in Havana, in this file picture taken August 22, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files

Ramon Castro, elder brother of Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro, talks to Reuters in Havana, in this file picture taken August 22, 2006. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files

HAVANA, Feb. 24th (Reuters) Ramon Castro, the older brother of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and current President Raul Castro, died on Tuesday at age 91, Cuban official media reported.

Castro, who kept a low profile in recent years, died in Havana and his cremated remains were to be taken to Biran, the rural town in eastern Cuba where the Castro brothers were born, the official website Cubadebate said.

Although aiding the guerrilla movement led by his brothers that seized power in 1959, Castro did not take up arms. He later served as an agricultural adviser, never wielding the same authority as Fidel, 89, and Raul, 84.

But like his brothers, he was jailed by the former government of strongman Fulgencio Batista in 1953, years before Fidel Castro led the revolution that toppled Batista on Jan. 1, 1959. Nicknamed Mongo, Ramon Castro organized several of the guerrillas’ supply networks.

During the insurrection, he also helped his parents take care of the large family land holdings in Biran. After the rebels seized power, Castro worked in the sugar and cattle industries.

Born on Oct. 14, 1924, Castro studied agricultural engineering at the University of Havana.

He was married to Aurora Castillo and had five children. In recent years, he lived on a farm near Havana.

Fidel Castro resigned because of illness, at first provisionally in 2006 and definitively in 2008. Raul Castro, his longtime defense chief and designated successor, has since led the Cuban government and has vowed to step down in 2018.

Cuba’s Groundbreaking Lung Cancer Vaccine Is Now Closer Than Ever to Its American Debut

havana-live-lung-cancerHAVANA, Feb. 24th The far-reaching impact of the United States’ decision to pursue a renewed relationship with Cuba, only hinted at with President Barack Obama’s recent approval of the first American factory in the country in decades, also includes the potentially revolutionary arrival of a lung cancer vaccine known as CimaVax. CimaVax, as reported by the Huffington Post, works as both a treatment and vaccine for lung cancer and has been available for free to Cuban citizens since 2011.

“We’re still at the very early stages of assessing the promise of this vaccine,” Dr. Kelvin Lee tells the Post, “but the evidence so far from clinical trials in Cuba and Europe has been striking.” Lee, who is the co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York, is working with his team to study CimaVax for a potential release here in the States.

The drug has undergone extensive testing and research in Cuba for more than two decades, but didn’t receive even the slightest chance of American adoption until 2015, when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an agreement during a “trade mission” to the country.

Though CimaVax shots—which generally cost the Cuban government just a dollar each—are receiving the bulk of anticipation from medical experts in America, others are looking at a variety of equally promising cancer-battling developments from Cuba. The Roswell Park team is also looking closely at Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology for developments in treating and possibly preventing future instances of brain, pancreas, and blood cancers.

CimaVax, though not a full-blown cure, has reportedly proven remarkably successful for 5,000 patients worldwide with “no significant side effects.” Though the road to swift American adoption may still seem long, with researchers currently working to garner FDA approval for trials, CimaVax is closer than ever to reaching thousands of Americans in need.

“You never know how long these things would take,” Roswell Park CEO Candace Johnson tells the Huffington Post. “We would have loved to have had this already started because we’ve been working on this for quite a while but we’re persistent and we’ll get it done.”

As previously reported, President Barack Obama will become the first president to visit Cuba in more than 80 years next month. “14 months ago, I announced that we would begin normalizing relations with Cuba,” @POTUS tweeted shortly after the announcement earlier this month. “We’ve already made significant progress. Our flag flies over our Embassy in Havana once again. More Americans are traveling to Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years.”

Obama Sends Guantánamo Closing Plan to Congress

HAVANA, Feb. 23th President Obama on Tuesday sent Congress a long-awaited plan for closing the Guantánamo Bay prison, beginning a final push to fulfill a campaign promise and one of his earliest national security policy goals in the face of deep skepticism from many Republican lawmakers.

Unveiling the plan from the Roosevelt Room at the White House, the president made clear his frustration at how what was once a bipartisan goal shared by both his predecessor, President George W. Bush, and his 2008 Republican opponent, Senator John McCain, had become a partisan dispute. He urged Congress to give his plan a “fair hearing,” saying the prison wasted money, raised tensions with allies and fueled anti-American sentiments abroad.

Congress required Mr. Obama to present a plan as part of the most recent defense authorization bill, and its basic approach echoed the strategy the administration has already been pursuing for seven years. It centers on bringing between 30 and 60 detainees who are deemed too dangerous to release to a prison on domestic soil, while transferring the remaining 91 detainees to other countries.

The plan offered few specifics, and did not identify any of the potential replacement facilities. Pentagon officials visited military prisons at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Charleston, S.C., as well as several civilian prisons in Colorado — where many terrorists are already held in the “supermax” wing of the complex at Florence — in preparing the study.

But the proposal did provide some new cost estimates. It said upgrading an existing prison would require between $290 and $475 million in one-time construction expenses, but cost $65 to $85 million less annually to operate than keeping detainees at Guantánamo does. If the detainees do stay at the American naval base in Cuba, it said, the Defense Department will need to spend about $225 million to replace or upgrade aging structures there.

The president’s plan faces steep obstacles, however. Congress has enacted a statute that bars the military from transferring detainees from Guantánamo onto domestic soil for any purpose, and Congressional Republicans have shown little interest in lifting that restriction.

Many Republicans have argued that there is nothing wrong with continuing to operate the Guantánamo prison and that bringing wartime detainees into the United States would create security risks. Lawmakers in the three states where the Pentagon studied sites have voiced strong objections to the notion.

Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the detainees should stay abroad for security reasons. “Enemy combatants should remain outside of the United States, where they can be detained away from our communities and without needlessly jeopardizing the safety and security of the American people,” he said.

Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, said that he supported closing the prison but that he thought the detainees should be moved to a military prison, not to one of the civilian facilities in his state.

Recognizing the political hurdles to persuading the Republican-controlled Congress to revoke the transfer ban, some of Mr. Obama’s former senior aides and legal advisers have floated the proposition that the Constitution gives him the power, as commander-in-chief, to move the detainees, despite the statute.

The White House will not say whether the president would consider taking executive action to close the prison if negotiations with Congress fail. In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Obama framed his latest efforts as asking Congress for cooperation, and he ignored a shouted question afterward about whether he would consider acting unilaterally

Kerry to Visit Havana for Human Rights Dialogue

havana-livew-kerry-havanaHAVANA, Feb. 23th  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday he plans to travel to Cuba “in the next week or two” for talks on human rights. Kerry made the statement before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“I may be down there in the next week or two to have a human rights dialogue, specifically,” he said.

Kerry, who went to Cuba last August to raise the U.S. flag over the American Embassy in Havana, told the committee that concerns about the human rights situation in Cuba still remain.

The secretary’s trip comes ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to the nation next month, when he will become the first sitting U.S. leader to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years.

“The president hopes to press forward on the agenda of speaking to the people of Cuba about the future and obviously he is anxious to press on the rights of people to be able to demonstrate, to have democracy, to be free, to be able to speak and hang a sign in their window without being put in jail for several years,” Kerry said.

Normalization of relations
In December 2014, Obama announced the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and begin the process of normalizing relations more than 50 years after they severed ties.

French CGC oil services company settles Cuba sanctions case

havana-live-cuba-bloqueo-cggHAVANA, Feb. 23th  CGG Services SA, a French company that provides services and spare parts for oil and gas exploration and seismic surveys, agreed to pay $614,250 to settle alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

According to an enforcement notice posted by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, CGG and its local affiliates exported U.S.-origin items to ships while those vessels operated in Cuban waters. CGG owns the M/V Veritas Vantage, a seismic research vessel to which it exported some of the items cited in the OFAC enforcement notice, OFAC alleged.

In addition, the U.S. alleged that a Venezuelan subsidiary engaged in five transactions, at the request of the French parent company, involving the processing of data from seismic surveys in Cuba that benefited a Cuban company.

A representative from CGG in the U.S. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company didn’t voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, the notice said. It “acted with reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements,” the notice said, by exporting U.S.-origin goods to Cuban waters, “especially after its U.S. affiliate informed it that such exports could be a violation of U.S. sanctions.”

However, the notice said CGG “substantially cooperated” with the investigation, adjusted its supply procedures to minimize the risk of future sanctions violations and took some steps to avoid OFAC violations as part of its compliance program.

Rápido y Furioso realiza primer casting de “almendrones” en La Habana

havana-live-almendronesLA HABANA, 23 Feb. (Cibercuba) Fords, Chevrolets y otros autos clásicos se dieron cita este miércoles en La Habana para participar en el casting de la prometedora película Rápido y Furioso 8, que tendrá como escenario principal las peculiares calles de Cuba.

Sin dudas, uno de los filmes más esperados de este año luego de que se anunciara su filmación en la isla, Rápido y Furioso 8 tomará por asalto la singular dinámica urbana de la mayor de Las Antillas y la traducirá en un espectáculo de adrenalina pura, esta vez, complaciendo a los amantes de lo vintage.

Al casting, realizado a un costado del Hotel Nacional de Cuba, asistieron los mejores y más activos ejemplares de los llamados “almendrones”, todos meticulosamente cuidados y preparados para la acción a cualquier velocidad.havana-live-almendrones

Según las redes sociales del Club de Autos Clásicos y Antiguos “A lo cubano”, al encuentro asistieron no sólo una importante cantidad de hermosos automóviles de finales de los 50, sino que también participaron motos y hubo una gran afluencia de público.

Algunos de los autos que asistieron al encuentro, legitimados por “A lo cubano”, fueron protagonistas también del documental estadounidense Cuban Chrome, primera serie de Discovery Channel filmada en Cuba, y quizá la razón de peso que tuvo en cuenta el staff de Rápido y Furioso para filmar en la isla.havana-live-almendrones


Cuban boy to get heart surgery at Le Bonheur in Memphis

0223_malo_cuban_surgeryHAVANA, Feb. 23th Patrons at the Children’s Museum of Memphis on Sunday likely didn’t glance twice at the brown-haired, green-eyed 3-year-old sliding down the chute of the FedEx display plane and “milking” the mechanical cow.

But Manuel Alejandro Martinez has a special distinction among youngsters.

He’s the first Cuban child since that nation’s revolution in the 1950s to come to the U.S. for cardiovascular surgery, said Bill Pickens, founder of Gift of Life Mid-South. His group worked with another Memphis-based nonprofit organization, the International Children’s Heart Foundation, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, to arrange for Manuel’s treatment at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

On Thursday, Manuel will undergo lifesaving surgery at Le Bonheur to have a heart valve replaced. The operation is needed because he was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital condition characterized by a series of heart defects that cause oxygen-poor blood to be pumped throughout the body.

The boy’s need for surgery was discovered during a medical mission by the ICHF, which was working to conduct operations in Cuba in partnership with surgeons from that country. Although Cuba is recognized for its strong health care system and large number of specialists, doctors determined that the operation should be done in the U.S.

“The equipment and stuff they need to do the operation weren’t available,” Pickens said.

Le Bonheur, one of the nation’s leading children’s hospitals, was an obvious choice, he said. “Le Bonheur does this kind of procedure on a regular basis.”

The visit was approved after six months of negotiations between American and Cuban officials. It follows President Barack Obama’s initiative to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, a move symbolized by the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana last August.

“If we hadn’t had that, it would’ve made this a much more difficult task, if not impossible,” Pickens said.

Upon hearing of the foundation’s efforts to bring Manuel to Memphis, Cohen wrote Le Bonheur in support of the transfer. In a prepared statement, the congressman praised Cuban Ambassador José Ramon Cabañas Rodríguez for his assistance in Manuel’s trip, which Cohen said would help “advance medical diplomacy between Memphis and Cuba.”

Pickens said the foundation considered having the operation done in Miami. But surgery there might have become “too political,” given the intense opposition to Cuba’s Communist government among that city’s large Cuban population, he said.

Manuel likely will need another heart valve-replacement operation before he’s an adult, Pickens said.

Although Manuel will be the first Cuban child since the 1950s to come to the U.S. for heart surgery, another renowned Memphis institution — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — has treated Cuban kids for cancer, according to Cohen’s office.–2c6514ca-3597-56e4-e053-01-369739101.html

Mayors of U.S.capitals hold historic meeting in Havana



Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. (ABC7 file photo

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser met Monday with Havana Mayor Marta Hernández Romero during an exploratory mission of a delegation of civic and business leaders from Washington, Maryland, and Virginia to Cuba.

The mayors of the national capitals of the United States and Cuba discussed a range of possible areas of cooperation, including trade, education, and the formation of public-private partnerships, according to a statement from Bowser’s office.

“It was an honor to meet with Mayor Hernández Romero as we build a relationship between our two capital cities,” Bowser said. “Cuba is eager to strengthen and grow and we are excited to be a part of that growth.

“As one of the first U.S. city delegations in decades to visit Havana, we have put ourselves in a position to form a positive working relationship that we hope will benefit our region in years to come.”

The exploratory mission, from February 20-25th, is led by the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and includes the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, as well as Bowser, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, and Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones.

Cuba deploys army in effort to avoid Zika virus

havana-live-zikaHAVANA, Feb.22th (Reuters) Cuban President Raul Castro called on the entire Cuban population to help eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus on Monday and ordered 9,000 army troops to help stave off the disease.

Cuba has yet to detect a case of Zika but the outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

“It’s necessary for every single Cuban to take up this battle as a personal matter,” Castro wrote in a national message sounding the alarm over Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans and which is suspected of causing birth defects after infecting pregnant women.

Cubans should clean up potential environments for the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, said Castro, who also is general of the armed forces.

“The Revolutionary Armed Forces will assign more than 9,000 troops, among them active duty officers and reserve officers … to the anti-vector and cleanup efforts, with the additional support of 200 officers of the National Revolutionary Police,” Castro said.

The ruling Communist Party and the government have adopted an action plan under the direction of the Health Ministry to deal with the Zika that will also help combat the mosquito-borne diseases dengue and chikungunya, Castro said.

One Health Ministry employee, who asked not to be identified as she was not authorized to talk with journalists, said the country’s vast network of neighborhood doctors and clinics were watching for Zika symptoms and suspected cases would be quarantined in hospital wards prepared for an eventual outbreak.

“There are no confirmed cases yet but there will be. To date there have been two suspected cases that turned out negative,” said the employee, who has real-time access to epidemiological data.

The government, which has fumigated neighborhoods and homes for decades to contain dengue, put doctors on alert for the virus weeks ago and ramped up mosquito eradication efforts.

Military officers could be seen over the weekend, clip boards instead of rifles in hand, directing fumigation in Havana.

The WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1, citing a “strongly suspected” relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size.

However, much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly.

‘Havana Club’ trademark confirmed

havana-live-havana-clubHAVANA,Feb.22th The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has accepted an application to renew a trademark for the term ‘Havana Club’ until 2026.

Drinks maker Pernod Ricard markets the spirit through a joint venture with the Cuban government’s export company Cubaexport.

In a statement on Friday, February 19, Pernod Ricard said it was “pleased to confirm” that the trademark had been renewed in the US for the next ten years.

In January, Cubaexport was granted an initial renewal until January 27. A further application to renew the trademark until 2026 was also submitted and has now been accepted.

“The renewal of the registration means that the dispute over ownership of the Havana Club brand in the US can be returned to the courts, where it can be decided on its merits,” Pernod Ricard said.

Cubaexport and drinks maker Bacardi have been in dispute over who owns the rights to market the spirit in the US, where Cubaexport does not currently sell its products.

Bacardi has sold Havana Club-branded rum in the US since 1994. It acquired the rights from Havana Club’s founding family, who fled Cuba around 1960. The rum is made in Puerto Rico due to the Cuban embargo.

Although plans are in place to lift the long-standing embargo, it is not known when that will be.

In 1976, Cubaexport was granted a US trademark but it was taken away by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2006.

Cubaexport pursued the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in 2012.

Earlier this month, WIPR reported that Bacardi had filed a freedom of information request with the US Department of the Treasury seeking information about Cubaexport and Pernod Ricard’s trademark renewal.

Bacardi said it wanted to see all documents, communications and files that were created, used or maintained in relation to the ‘Havana Club’ trademark registration.

Ian Fitzsimons, general counsel of Pernod Ricard, said: “We are confident that Cubaexport will prevail in defending its registration in the pending litigation.”

Cuba will not discriminate US companies


Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca (C) visiting the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC

HAVANA,21 Feb. (ACN) Cuba’s Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said on Tuesday in Washington that US companies will not be discriminated against in Cuba once the US restrictions imposed on their firms are lifted.

According to Prensa Latina news agency in Washington, US companies will be welcomed on the island and that Cuba’s relations with them will be the same as any other country, said Malmierca during a press conference at the US Chamber of Commerce where the Cuban government official was heading a delegation on a working visit.

“We need foreign investment, an important component for our development that is why we cannot place barriers or complicate the process,” he said.

Malmierca reiterated that the main obstacle facing US companies is Washington’s economic embargo against the island since the early 1960s.

According to Malmierca, once the embargo is lifted or Washington approves a licence for US companies to do business with Cuba, they can begin talks with local entities on the possibility of exchanges.

The minister added that there are US companies that have advanced in their negotiations with Cuba but the embargo is an obstacle for them to do business with the Caribbean island.

“There are those that are almost at the point of signing contracts,” he said.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the Americas at the US Chamber of Commerce, Jodi Bond, said that the US companies are at a disadvantage to other countries as a result of the economic embargo.

“The world competitors are approaching the Cuban market without a problem, but we know that we will also have the same possibilities,” she stressed.

Bond believes that the US government is doing all it can with such a complex scenario of regulations turned into law in 1996, which now requires Congressional action for its repeal.

Malmierca and Bond highlighted the signing on Tuesday in Havana of a memorandum of understanding to normalize direct flights between both countries.

In this regard, they celebrated the advantages for trade and flights represented by an agreement by US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox and his Cuban counterpart Adel Yzquierdo that will allow 20 daily flights from the US to Havana and ten each to other nine Cuban international airports.

“Today is a historic day but we have had several like these in the last 14 months,” said Bond regarding the simultaneous presence of two high level government officials – Fox in Cuba and Malmierca in Washington DC – which constituted an important event in many years.

United, Southwest will seek flights to Havana

havana-live-south-westHAVANA, Feb. 21th  Houston’s two dominant airlines are seeking approval to offer scheduled flights to Cuba.
On Tuesday, U.S. and Cuban officials signed an agreement previously announced in December that will restore scheduled air service between the countries.
United Airlines said in a statement that it will apply for flights between some of its global gateways and Havana.

Henry Harteveldt, founder of San Francisco-based Atmosphere Research Group, a travel industry research company, said it is possible that United will offer flights from Houston to Cuba, but the airline will ultimately choose airports based on the largest market opportunity.

Southwest Airlines will also contend for the coveted flights.

“Today’s signed agreement allows us to engage in a process to consider that service,” Southwest said in a statement. “We don’t have specific plans to share but are actively evaluating scenarios that work within our current growth plans.”

With the new agreement, each country can operate up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the U.S. and Havana. It also allows up to 10 daily round-trip flights to Cuba’s nine other international airports. In total, U.S. carriers can operate up to 110 daily round-trip flights to Cuba. Airlines must submit their applications by March 2.

The arrangement does not limit charter services, and these flights can continue as before.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email that there are 10 to 15 charter flights a day between the countries.

“We are excited to announce the availability of new scheduled air service opportunities to Cuba for U.S. carriers, shippers and the traveling public, and we will conduct this proceeding in a manner designed to maximize public benefits,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a news release.

Traveling to Cuba as a tourist is still prohibited.

The Houston Airport System said airlines will have to determine if service can be initiated between Houston and Cuba, but it is “excited about the opportunity to be a part of this historic expansion.”

“We have said from the beginning that we would support any of our carrier partners in this venture, and we are ready to do that now that the door to make it possible is open,” Saba Abashawl, chief external affairs officer for the Houston Airport System, said in an email.

Cuba’s New Unacknowledged Architecture


Entrance to Building at intersection of Prado and Malecón. Architect: José Antonio Choy

Critic Nelson Herrera Ysla on the state of contemporary architecture on the island
HAVANA,Feb. 18th   One of the first lessons every architecture student in Cuba receives has to do with the concepts the Romans established for the planning and construction of buildings. In 1 B.C., author Marcus Vitruvius set down architecture’s three basic elements: resistance, functionality, and beauty.

When these students come out of university, however, they soon run into a harsh reality: functional and beautiful works ceased to be important in Cuba a long time ago, and next to no architect is considered an artist in the country.Nelson-Herrera-Ysla-768x576

Renowned art critic Nelson Herrera Ysla reflects on this and other issues. An architecture graduate, Herrera became a graphic design teacher early in his career and has been working at Havana’s Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center for some years now. This institution is responsible for organizing Havana’s arts Biennale, an event where Cuban and international architecture has always been present in some form or another.

Why did architecture cease to be considered a form of art in Cuba?


The National Art Schools of Cuba (1961-65) / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi. Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms Why did ar

In the 60s, Cuban architecture had a moment of splendor, thanks to the building of a number of works that suggested a new approach. These included the Cubanacán art schools, the Cuba Pavilion, the Jose Antonio Echeverría University campus, a series of homes in Manicaragua (designed by historian and architect Walter Betancourt), the monument to the martyrs of Artemisa, and the Voisan Polytechnic Institute in Güines.

The modernist architecture movement in Cuba was extraordinary and left its marks everywhere, from Havana to Las Tunas, through Ciego de Avila, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth. Today, they are seriously considering demolishing one of the gems of Cuban architecture, the Varadero International Hotel, to build a new architectural complex there.

When the building of the Cubanacán art schools was suspended halfway through the construction process, there was a very strong reaction from the Ministry of Construction, which spoke out against all of these architectural works that were advancing new languages and codes.

I believe this was a very difficult moment for Cuban architecture. I think the University Martyrs Park, located at the intersection of Infanta and San Lazaro, was the last, great expression of revolutionary architecture.

Park with big stone shapes © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

Park with big stone shapes © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

As of 1966, architecture ceased to be a part of Cuban culture, and construction work became the guiding myth. The Architects Association ceased operations around that time also. Later came the National Architects and Construction Engineers Association.

In the 1970s, prefab buildings entered the Cuban scene, with large Soviet-styled panels and the Girón system [a flexible system of prefabricated concrete modules], which was invented in Cuba. All secondary schools in the countryside were built using this process. All of the large district and microdistrict projects, such as Alamar, in Havana, and Jose Martí, in Santiago de Cuba, began to be built. Farming communities, hospitals, and polyclinics were also built this way. Quantity was more important than quality.


El Instituto Superior Politécnico “José Antonio Echeverría”

They changed the name of the architecture school, which came to be called the Faculty of Construction Work. The word “architecture” began to be used at school again only a few years ago. We still haven’t recovered from the 1970s. We’re still paying the consequences.

The field of architecture critique, which existed before the revolution, also disappeared.

I published my first architecture critique piece when I was 19, while still a third-year student, in El caimán barbudo, a magazine which published a number of renowned Cuban poets, essayists, and writers in its first years.

Roberto Segre had done serious work as a professor, critic, and historian, as had Fernando Salinas. Mario Coyula was beginning to publish his first articles at the time. There was a group of architects who were also publishing works as critics.

In the 1960s, the journal Arquitectura de Cuba (“Cuban Architecture”) was relaunched. This was a very important publication that set down standards for architecture critique. In addition, architecture-related articles were published by Bohemia, Cuba Internacional, Union, and La Gaceta de Cuba, but, in much the same way architecture disappeared, all related critiques also ceased to exist.

Arquitectura de Cuba continues to be published on a bi-yearly basis, edited by architect Eduardo Luis Rodríguez, who I believe is Cuba’s most important architecture historian. The magazine is in need of financing. He puts together the issues and waits for someone to finance the publication. Two or three years can go by before a single issue is published. The magazine doesn’t have much circulation and isn’t sold at kiosks or bookstores.

In your opinion, why aren’t the projects conceived at the Faculty of Architecture every year more widely divulged?

The scant socialization of architecture also affects our universities in general. Recently, through the TV Round Table program, people found out there is a new generation of industrial and marketing designers. I believe people are unaware of what’s happening in the field of architecture.

A new generation of formally trained architects, who are trying to change the order of things and divulge what they’re doing, has emerged, but this is a difficult task because architecture has been all but forsaken in Cuba.

There are no spaces devoted to the field in any printed or televised media. The National Architecture Exhibitions are only promoted within architectural associations. Architects have won extraordinary awards during these exhibitions and people don’t know about these, just as they are unable to name Cuba’s architectural wonders.

If the media were to report on the projects carried out by new and established architects, this would greatly contribute to eliminating the negative image that surrounds contemporary Cuban architecture.

At the Faculty of Architecture, led by architect Augusto Rivera, students have put together environmental design projects for the Cuatro Caminos intersection and market, for the town of Casablanca, to embellish the unappealing entrance to Alamar at the intersection of Los Cocos and Via Blanca. There are very good projects for the Havana Bay, and the beginning of a series of works to complete the ports of Regla and Casablanca.

On the other hand, the city is over-saturated with promotions for the architecture of the colonial and republican eras, with which I’m already fed up. We speak only of the past, about the great monuments, from the Real Fuerza castle to the Capitolio building, but people know nothing about new projects.


Building at intersection of Prado and Malecón. Architect: José Antonio Choy

The 150 great works of Cuba’s modernist movement, which were collected in a book, have never been covered on television. Cuba has an interesting architectural legacy. We must rescue it. Knowledge of architecture can be encouraged by divulging information on good pieces.

What television and the press report on are insignificant projects and architecturally poor works built around the country. One of the spots aired on television, highlighting Cuba’s beauty, focuses only on 20th-century eclecticism in the countryside.

What are independent groups of architects?

These are groups of architects who sometimes offer services in their free time, outside working hours. Some don’t work for the State and are directly hired by foreign firms for certain projects.


La Abadía coffee shop. Architect: Vilma Bartolomé

Since designing the Hotel Santiago and the Che Guevara Studies Center, José Antonio Choy has had the fortune of being commissioned for large projects, such as the expansion of the Hotel Parque Central in Old Havana, the La Puntilla commercial center in Miramar, and the remodeling of the International Financial Bank on the intersection of 5th and 92nd, in Miramar. Currently, he is working on the expansion of the Casa de las Americas library, which he also designed.

Architect Vilma Bartolomé was hired to design El Terral, a small hotel located on Havana’s Malecón ocean drive. She also designed a coffee shop named La Abadía and other small works in the area.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Tourism, which is responsible for most construction work at the moment, has turned its back on Cuban architects and practically all hotels, spas, resorts, bungalows, and motels around the country are designed by foreign architects.

It’s curious that neither young nor established Cuban architects are ever approached or offered an opportunity to develop their work, not even at a hospital, a polyclinic, a school, a research center, or a university.

Since they have to make a living, they approach the owners of private restaurants and new Cuban property owners, who commission them for projects, homes, coffee shops, motels, hostels, whatever.

These groups of independent architects, which emerged in recent years, are responsible for the best architecture we see in Cuba today. They have a lot of creativity, imagination, and talent, and they are fighting tooth and nail, as official Cuban institutions do not hire them for anything. A new architectural movement is taking giant leaps in Cuba, and it is not being covered or acknowledged by the media.
This article appeared first in Havana Times.

President Barack Obama to visit Cuba march 21-22

HAVANA, Feb. 18th As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island March 21-22, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.

The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.

The White House will make the official announcement at a briefing Thursday. Obama, sources say, will stop in Cuba on his way to Argentina.

Critics of Obama’s Cuba policy were quick to condemn the visit.

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”

A flurry of U.S.-Cuba events this week, plus Cuba’s recent return of a U.S. Hellfire missile that it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014, gave impetus to the possibility that an Obama trip to Cuba was in the works. On Tuesday, the United States and Cuba signed what they’re calling an arrangement that would allow commercial flights between the two countries to resume for the first time in more than 50 years.

That same day, Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and foreign investment, spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was accompanied by a large Cuban trade delegation. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Malmierca on Thursday afternoon.

The first of two days of U.S.-Cuba talks to discuss the regulatory environment in the United States and Cuba began Wednesday. Under discussion are possible changes so that businesses in both Cuba and the United States can better take advantage of a commercial opening that began when the two countries announced they were normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014. The two countries hadn’t had diplomatic relations in more than five decades.

The president said in December that he would like to visit Cuba before the end of his term but that the visit depended on more progress in his priorities for Cuba, such as a bigger role for private enterprise, improvement in Cuba’s human rights record and more access to information and the Internet for Cubans.

Between now and the visit, sources said a number of business deals that are in the works could come to fruition.

The Cuban trade delegation’s “visit along with the restoration of the first U.S. commercial flights to Cuba in more than 50 years are important steps forward in our policy of engagement and show what can be accomplished when there is meaningful, constructive dialogue between our two countries instead of the decades of isolationist policies that preceded it,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a public policy group that supports normalization.

The last sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in January 1928. Former President Jimmy Carter made two trips to the island after leaving office.

Cuba’s trade minister calls for end of embargo

havana-live-embargoHAVANA, Feb. 17th The Cuban government has begun a full-court press urging U.S. and American companies to step up economic investment in the island nation.

In one of the first public comments in the U.S. by a top Cuban government official since President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuban minister of foreign trade and investment, on Tuesday urged Congress to lift the decades-old economic embargo and promised that U.S. companies eyeing the Caribbean market would not be discriminated against.

“I believe the roads we have started to walk on is the right one,” Malmierca Díaz said at a press conference after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “No matter what, we’re going to maintain the disposition to normalize our relations with the U.S.”

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was imposed in the early 1960s, remains in place, as only an act of Congress can lift it. But the Obama administration’s overtures have triggered loosening of business and investment restrictions on the island and have raised hopes for expansion-minded U.S. companies tempted by an untapped market with a reputation for quality education and advanced medical and engineering training.

The Treasury and Commerce departments have introduced a series of rule changes in recent months to encourage U.S. companies to consider investing in Cuba. And Malmierca Díaz said he plans to hold further talks with government officials for other rule changes that would accelerate economic investment and to meet with American business executives.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Tuesday in Havana with Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo to resume scheduled airline flights to the island for the first time in 53 years. Airlines will compete to provide up to 110 daily flights to Havana and nine other cities starting this fall, as long as travelers are visiting for one of 12 reasons other than tourism, officials said.

Still, the American re-engagement with Cuba, one of the last remaining communist governments, is a hot-button topic, particularly in the swing state of Florida. Several influential lawmakers, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban Americans, as well as former Florida governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

During his speech in downtown Washington, D.C., Malmierca Díaz rattled off factoids aimed at wooing foreign investors. Cuba’s GDP grew 4% last year, with the sugar, manufacturing, construction and tourism industries leading the way. The island nation maintains trade relations with 75 countries, and some foreign debts have been renegotiated with creditors, he said. “We don’t want to be dependent on one market,” he said, referring to Cuba’s past ties with Russia.

Three cruise terminals are being built as is a new “special development zone” with tax incentives. Foreign companies’ net incomes on the island are generally taxed at 35%. But tax on income from new investment will be waived for eight years and taxed at 15% thereafter, he said.

Cuba needs about $2 billion annually in direct foreign investment to maintain its goal of raising its GDP by 5%, he said. Reflecting Cuba’s eagerness to interconnect further with the global economy, Malmierca Díaz said its view of foreign investment has shifted from a few years ago when it was merely considered a “complement” to domestic spending and “not important.”

Responding to a question about whether Cuba was moving quickly enough to adapt to the rule changes in the U.S., Malmierca Díaz said some delays may occur as American companies negotiate with their Cuban partners, but he affirmed that the Cuban government “was not creating more barriers.”

“It’d be stupid for us to delay,” he said.

From aviation to trade, a busy week ahead for U.S.-Cuba relations

havana-live-flightaware1HAVANA, Feb. 16th This will be a big week in the evolving U.S.-Cuba relationship with the signing of a new civil aviation agreement, a Cuban foreign trade minister visiting Washington and another round of U.S.-Cuba talks.

It begins with the signing of an agreement in Havana that will allow regularly scheduled airline service between Cuba and the United States for the first time in more than five decades.

The milestone agreement takes effect upon signing Tuesday morning at Havana’s historic Hotel Nacional. That means U.S. airlines can begin submitting applications for routes serving Havana and nine other Cuban cities with international airports from any U.S. city. The pact allows for up to 20 flights from the United States to Havana daily and up to 10 each for the nine other cities.

After the Department of Transportation receives applications, it will decide flight frequencies and which airlines will get which routes based on market considerations. The Havana route is expected to attract the most competition.

Since President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that the United States and Cuba had begun the process of normalizing relations, “U.S. carriers have been very intrigued and interested about this potential opportunity,” said Brandon Belford, deputy assistant for aviation and international affairs at the Department of Transportation.

Decisions may be made on less competitive routes sooner, but U.S. officials said the process should be completed by this summer with commercial aviation service between the two countries beginning by fall.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Charles Rivkin, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs, headed the U.S. delegation to Cuba. Cuba’s delegation is led by Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez and Alfredo Cordero, president of Cuba’s Institute of Civil Aviation.

While Foxx is in Havana, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca will be in Washington. He arrived Sunday and is leading the largest delegation of Cuban officials to the nation’s capital in decades. It includes officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Cuba’s Central Bank, the trade ministry, the Chamber of Commerce and executives from Cuban companies.

On Tuesday, Malmierca will speak at the U.S.-Cuba Business Council and then lead the second round of regulatory talks between the United States and Cuba, which is scheduled Wednesday and Thursday. Malmierca also plans an official visit with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who recently led a business mission from his state to Cuba.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who visited Cuba last year, and Malmierca will open the second round of the U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue. During the two days of talks, the U.S. delegation will go over the latest set of U.S. regulatory changes announced in January and the challenges facing U.S. companies who want to do business in Cuba. Among the highlights of the changes were allowing financing of exports of goods and services authorized for Cuba.

The Cuban delegation is expected to discuss its economic system and rules for financial transactions and importing goods and services.

“Our second U.S.-Cuba Regulatory Dialogue is another opportunity to work directly with our Cuban counterparts to better understand the way our two governments and economies can work together in support of the Cuban people,” said Pritzker.

American business people and policy makers will have a chance to mingle with Malmierca and the Cuban trade delegation Tuesday at a meeting of the U.S.-Cuba Business Council in Washington. The Council, which was created last year, is affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and advocates for reforms both in the United States and Cuba to enhance the economic relationship between the two countries.

“Minister Malmierca’s upcoming visit, together with the U.S. regulatory changes announced a few weeks ago, create unparalleled opportunities for the United States and Cuba, particularly in the areas of travel and small business growth,” said former U.S. Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, who earlier this month was elected chairman of the Council.

Malmierca and Gutierrez, who served as commerce secretary from 2005 to 2009 in the George W. Bush administration, will hold a news conference at the conclusion of the Council event.

The week’s U.S.-Cuba events, plus Cuba’s recent return of a U.S. Hellfire missile that it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014, give impetus to the possibility that Obama may visit Cuba during the first quarter of the year. The president has said he would like to visit Cuba before the end of his term. In December, he said such a visit was conditioned on more progress in his priorities for Cuba such as a bigger role for private enterprise, improvement in Cuba’s human rights record and more access to information and the Internet for Cubans.

The Cuban trade delegation’s “visit along with the restoration of the first U.S. commercial flights to Cuban in more than 50 years are important steps forwards in our policy of engagement and show what can be accomplished when there is meaningful, constructive dialogue between our two countries instead of the decades of isolationist policies that preceded it,” said James Williams, President of Engage Cuba, a public policy group that supports normalization.

Havana’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral, an Exotic Jewel in Cuba

havana-live-ortodox-havanaHAVANA ,Feb.15th  Catapulted into the news by the visit of the Russian Orthodox Church’s patriarch, Kirill, to Cuba, the faith’s cathedral in Havana breaks the colonial architectural monotony of the Old City, where it is recognized as one of the Caribbean island’s rare and exotic jewels.

Standing on the shore of Havana Bay, the Byzantine-style structure stands out amid Spanish fortresses, convents, Catholic churches, cobblestoned streets and old mansions.

Six ornate cupolas crown the edifice, the first stone of which was laid on Feb. 14, 2006, by then-Metropolitan Kirill himself, who 32 months later consecrated the Orthodox cathedral to Our Lady of Kazan, venerated as the patron saint of the Russian people.

An image of Our Lady of Kazan welcomes the faithful and curious at the entrance to the church, built of more than a million Cuban-made bricks and containing furniture, lamps, bells and crosses brought from Russia and costing more than two million euros (about $2.25 million).

Another feature of this cathedral is that it is the largest, but not the only, Russian Orthodox church in the Cuban capital, with a small Greek Orthodox church consecrated in 2004 standing on the grounds of the nearby San Francisco Catholic convent.

Construction of the church was a long-standing dream of the many Russian Orthodox faithful living in Cuba, one of the Latin American nations with the largest Russian-speaking population.

The construction of the church coincided with the renewal of Cuban-Russian relations, which had undergone severe strain after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s strong supporter in the decades following the Cuban Revolution.

Recognized by the Cuban government as a “cultural bridge” and “symbol of Cuban-Russian friendship,” the cathedral was built by a joint team of designers and workers from the two nations.

Kirill’s first patriarchal visit to Havana has been marked by the historic meeting he held with Pope Francis at the city’s airport, the first between the two leaders of the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches in almost 1,000 years.

U.S. Approves First Factory in Cuba Since Revolution

havana-live-tractor-HAVANA, Feb. )AP) 15th The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than 50 years, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017.

“It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries,” said Clemmons.

The $5 million to $10 million plant would be the first significant U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. That confiscation provoked a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited virtually all forms of commerce and fined non-U.S. companies millions of dollars for doing business with the island.

Letting an American tractor company operate inside a Cuban government facility would have been unimaginable before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade, travel and other aspects of the long-broken bilateral relationship.

Since then, Obama has been carving exceptions into the embargo through a series of executive actions, and his administration now says they allow U.S. manufacturing at the Mariel port and special economic zone about 30 miles west of Havana. One exception allows U.S. companies to export products that benefit private and cooperative farmers in Cuba. Berenthal and Clemmons say they will sell only to the private sector.

The Oggun tractor plant, named after a god in Cuba’s syncretic Santeria religion, will assemble commercially available components into a durable and easy-to-maintain 25-horsepower tractor selling for less than $10,000, Clemmons and Berenthal said. The men believe they can sell hundreds of the tractors a year to Cuban farmers with financing from relatives outside the country and to non-government organizations seeking to help improve Cuban agriculture, which suffers from low productivity due mostly to excessive control of both basic supplies and prices by an inefficient, centrally planned state bureaucracy.

“I have two countries that for 60 years have been in the worst of terms, anything I can do to bring to the two countries and the two people together is tremendously satisfying,” said Berenthal, a Cuban-born semi-retired software engineer who left the country at age 16.

Berenthal said they are optimistic that they will also be able to export Oggun tractors to other Latin American countries, which have low or no tariffs on Cuba products, making them competitive on price. The men expect a 10-20 percent profit on each tractor.

For the project’s first three years, Clemmons and Berenthal say they will export components from the United States for assembly in Cuba. They hope to eventually begin manufacturing many of the parts themselves on the island. They said they expect to start with 30 Cuban employees and, if things go as planned, grow within five years to as many as 300.

Clemmons and Berenthal will publish all the schematics of their tractors online in order to allow Cubans and other clients to more easily repair their equipment and come up with designs for other heavy equipment based on the same frame and motor that Cleber can then produce at their Mariel factory.

The men already have plans to produce excavators, backhoes, trench-diggers and forklifts, equipment that’s badly needed across Cuba, where virtually all the infrastructure is crumbling after years of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of cash that the government blames on the embargo.

“I think it’ll have a tremendous impact on their ability not only to help their economy but to set an example across the Caribbean and Latin America,” Berenthal said.

Over 400 Athletes from 32 Nations Competing in Havana’s Triathlon

Argentinian Juan Manuel Asconape celebrates at the finish line as he wins the first place in the Ibero-American Triathlon Championship in Havana, on Jan. 25, 2015 | Photo: AFP This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: "". If you intend to use it, please cite the source and provide a link to the original article.

Argentinian Juan Manuel Asconape celebrates at the finish line as he wins the first place in the Ibero-American Triathlon Championship in Havana, on Jan. 25, 2015 | Photo: AF

HAVANA, Feb. 14th The stature of the triathlon continues to grow with more athletes and nations competing in this year’s race.

Nearly 410 athletes from 32 nations are competing in the Latin American Triathlon Championships in Havana, Cuba, according to to the vice presidents of the Cuban Sports Institute, Jorge Polo and Gladys Becquer. The games run through the weekend.

Alejandro Puerto, the president of Cuba’s sports federation, told the Prensa Latina last week that sportsmen will tour 7 municipalities of the island’s capital, starting at the Hemingway Marina and finishing the two-day event at Plaza de las Banderas in Malecon.

Cuba is pinning its slim hopes of victory on Leslie Amat, 23, who is ranked number 151 in the world in the women’s rankings, and Michel Gonzalez, 30, ranked 260 in the world among men.

The competition is comprised of races over three different distances, including a sprint (750m swim, 20km bike ride, 5km run), medium (1.9km swim, 90km bike ride, 21.1km run) and long course (3.8km swim, 180km bike ride, 42.2km run).

The number of athletes partaking in this year’s race show that the contest is growing in stature. Last year, in the first Havana triathlon, 372 athletes took part from 29 countries, with Argentine Juan Manuel Asconape scooping first place in the men’s race and American Renee Tomlin triumphing in the women’s contest.

Puerto confirmed earlier in January that athletes from Mexico, the United States, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Venezuela and as far afield as Kazakhstan will be in Cuba for this year’s competition.

U.S. recovers Hellfire air-to-ground missile from Cuba

havana-live-helllfireHAVANA, Feb. 14th (Reuters) The United States has recovered an inert Hellfire air-to-ground missile that had mistakenly ended up in Cuba, U.S. and Cuban officials said on Saturday.

The laser-guided AGM 114 Hellfire mistakenly arrived in Cuba in June 2014 and was retrieved on Saturday by U.S. officials and representatives of Lockheed Martin Corp, the missile’s owner, the Cuban foreign ministry said in a statement.

“We can say, without speaking to specifics, that the inert training missile has been returned with the cooperation of the Cuban government,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Bill Phelps declined comment.

The missile had been sent to Europe for a training exercise in 2014 but somehow ended up in Cuba in an embarrassing loss of military technology, the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

“The department is restricted under federal law and regulations from commenting on specific defense trade licensing cases and compliance matters, so we cannot provide further details,” Toner said.

But he said reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries have helped the U.S. “engage with the Cuban government on issues of mutual interest.”

Cuba said the missile arrived by mistake or mishandling on a commercial flight from Paris and was not listed on the cargo manifest, and that it was discovered by customs inspectors.

“Once the U.S. government officially informed the Cuban government that a training missile belonging to the company Lockheed Martin was mistakenly sent to our country and expressed its interest in recovering it, Cuba communicated the decision to hand it over and started arrangements for its return,” the Cuban statement said, without revealing when the United States made the request.

A team of U.S. government and Lockheed Martin experts took the missile back to the United States on Saturday, Cuba said.