Monthly Archives: May 2016

Bacardi, Pernod spar over rights to Havana Club name

BN-OF857_RUMWAR_M_20160529164048HAVANA, may 31th (WJS) The distillery that converts Cuban molasses to Havana Club rum beneath palm trees here is about to undergo a major expansion.

A multimillion-dollar expansion of warehouses and bottling lines anticipates a reopening of the American market to the Cuban brand, said Asbel Morales, rum master at Havana Club International, a joint venture between the Cuban government and Paris-based distiller Pernod Ricard SA. “We just need to know when we can enter.”

But that very prospect has inflamed a decades-old battle between Pernod Ricard, the world’s second-largest spirits producer behind Diageo PLC, and Bacardi Ltd. over ownership of the Havana Club name.

Pernod says a 1993 deal with the Cuban government gives it rights to sell the Cuban-made rum around the world, including the U.S., where sales of the brand currently are blocked by the 1962 trade embargo.

Bacardi, started in 1862 by one of Cuba’s oldest families, says it owns rights to the brand after buying it from Havana Club’s founding family, the Arechabalas, who, like the Bacardis, fled Cuba when Fidel Castro’s government nationalized the island’s distilleries in 1960. The distiller has sold rum under the brand name and made it in Puerto Rico off and on since 2016-05-31 12-54-36

As Pernod charges ahead with its distillery expansion in Cuba, Bacardi is ramping up its U.S. distribution and offerings of its Puerto-Rican-made Havana Club rum. Both have designs on the U.S. rum market, which accounts for about 40% of international sales.

“It is going to be an interesting battle,” said Fabio Di Giammarco, vice president of rum at closely held and family-controlled Bacardi.

Pernod spokesman Olivier Cavil said, “At the end of the day, if the embargo is lifted, the final judge will be the American consumer. What does he prefer: a Havana Club brand produced in Cuban tradition with pure Cuban sugar cane or a me-too rum produced in Puerto Rico?”

The trademark row, now in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is just one of the challenges Cuba faces in the U.S. There are some 6,000 U.S. property claims worth more than $2 billion filed against the Cuban government, according to the U.S. State Department.

The Havana Club clash is one of the most highly charged Cuban trademark disputes, involving two big-name and well-financed distillers with broad U.S. distribution. Bacardi’s namesake rum dominates the U.S. market with a 30% market share, according to industry tracker Impact Databank. Outside the U.S., Bacardi faces tough competition from Pernod. Its Havana Club brand last year accounted for 4 million nine-liter case sales, up from 400,000 cases in 1994.

The conflict is commercial and personal: Bacardi family members lost their homes, and the company lost its distillery to Castro’s government after the revolution. Its rum once was synonymous with Havana nights and Ernest Hemingway’s daiquiris.

Now, “very few Cubans even know about Bacardi,” said Guillermo Maestre Busto, a Havana resident surveying the company’s old Havana office building last month. “They just disappeared.”

The Pernod-Bacardi feud began in 1994. Before that, the family-led companies were partners. Pernod says it distributed Bacardi rum in several markets, including France. The relationship ended after Bacardi gained its own distribution system to compete against Pernod in 1992.

A year later, Pernod and the Cuban government struck their Havana Club partnership.Patrick Ricard, then the French company’s chairman, was transforming the company and needed a big-name rum like Havana Club.

Before completing the deal, Pernod determined Cuba held Havana Club trademarks in key markets, including the U.S., where the Arechabala family had let its trademark lapse in 1973, said Pernod’s Mr. Cavil.P1-BX550_CATDOO_M_20160530205158

The Pernod-Cuba partnership rattled the Arechabalas which, unlike the Bacardi family, had lost their rum business and livelihood. The Bacardis survived, having built distilleries in Puerto Rico and Mexico before Cuba’s revolution.

When Ramón Arechabala learned that Pernod had joined with Cuba, he protested in a letter, telling Mr. Ricard the trademark was “owned, as it has been for 60 years, by [him] and members of [his] family,” according to a copy of the 1993 letter. Mr. Ricard replied, saying the partnership was legal and his position prevented him “from adopting management decisions purely based on political considerations.”

Unable to afford a fight, the Arechabalas sold the brand to Bacardi. It soon manufactured a version of Havana Club for the U.S. using the Arechabala recipe. Pernod and Cuba’s Havana Club International sued Bacardi in the U.S. for trademark infringement in 1996, losing the suit. Later, in a separate matter, Havana Club International’s affiliate, Cubaexport, lost its U.S. trademark for the rum.

In January, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reinstated the Cuban government’s trademark for Havana Club. The U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., is now weighing a case brought by Bacardi that seeks to have Cuba’s trademark canceled.

Rick Wilson, a Bacardi executive who married into the Bacardi family, says the Arechabalas and Bacardis have common-law rights to the Havana Club trademark. Earlier this year, Bacardi filed a Freedom of Information request for all U.S. records related to the mark’s registration to the Cuban government. But Pernod’s Mr. Cavil says the Arechabala family let the trademark lapse and Cuba now is its rightful owner.

As the court deliberates, Bacardi expects new styles of Puerto-Rican-made Havana Club to score with U.S. consumers while the embargo blocks Cuban-made Havana Club from entering the U.S. The embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress. If that happens, Bacardi plans to deliver the message that “rum is made in other interesting places that can play to origin as well,” said Bacardi’s Mr. Di Giammarco.

Pernod is taking a different stance. “The only Havana Club Rum I know comes from Cuba,” Mr. Cavil said.

Hair is layered with art and a Havana street is transformed

IMG_Cuba_Changing_Societ_4_1_R68B0L5UGilberto “Papito” Valladares opened a barber shop that spawned a community/cultural project and gave rise to private businesses that employ nearly 100 people. The Callejón de los Peluqueros boasts four private restaurants, three art galleries and more.

HAVANA, may 30th When Gilberto “Papito” Valladares Reina, a private Havana barber, attended President Barack Obama’s entrepreneurship meeting in March, the president told him that if he hadn’t just had a haircut, he would have stopped by his shop.

But if the president had visited the Callejón de los Peluqueros (Alley of the Barbers), a one-block hive of entrepreneurship where Valladares’ shop is located, he could have gotten far more than a haircut. Following Papito’s lead as an entrepreneur, 97 people in the short, stoned-paved alley in Old Havana are now cuentapropistas, either the owners of small private businesses or their employees.

Along the alley there are also four private restaurants, three art galleries, Pedro’s — purveyor of linen guayaberas and other clothing inspired by the traditional pleated shirts, a photo studio, a crafts shop, several casas particulares — homes that offer rooms for rent to visitors, and a free hairdressing school.

An old-time red-and-blue barber pole spins outside Valladares’ walk-up shop Arte Corte, which started in the living room of his home with a single barber chair and a mirror. Back then, he also had a full head of hair — an Afro.havana-live-barberpole

I exchanged the hair for a dream

“I exchanged the hair for a dream,” jokes Valladares, who is now bald.

When he began in 1999, he was one of the first in the country to get a license as a private barber. Now, he said, about 95 percent of Cuban barbers work for themselves.

“Maybe you think it’s kind of crazy to open a hair salon where you have to come up 52 steps. But there was no choice. You had to use your own living room when he started,” said Camilo Condis, who works with Valladares on the Arte Corte community project that is an outgrowth of Valladares’ business.

When he first became an independent barber, Valladares traveled the country giving barbering demonstrations, taking part in fashion shows and even offering haircuts in public squares. But when the government began to allow cuentapropistas to hire employees, Valladares stayed home in Havana to expand his business.

He now has five employees, but Valladares, 46, still lives in the same house near the Malecón with his wife and daughters.

Customers sit in vintage, refurbished barber chairs surrounded by gilded mirrors and collections of antique barbering and hair-dressing tools. Barber-themed art crowds the walls of the salon, which has high ceilings and intricate old tile floors.

Condis refers to the shop as an interactive museum.

Now today, 17 years later, we have the only place in the world with an art collection devoted to barbers

“Now today, 17 years later, we have the only place in the world with an art collection devoted to barbers,” he said. All the pieces in the collection, which is known as “To the Last Hair,” were presented to Valladares as gifts.

“He wants this to remain as a barber museum after he passes away,” Condis said. “He wants it be his legacy.”

His legacy also will be the Arte Corte project, which has helped transform the neighborhood. In 2009, the Arte Corte hairdressing school opened on the alley. It trains young hairdressers and barbers and offers free cuts to neighbors. In partnership with the Cuban National Association of the Deaf, which has sent interpreters, the school is currently training 10 deaf students.

There’s also an Arte Corte bartending school that is preparing young adults for jobs in the restaurant business.

And for elementary and middle-school-age children, Arte Corte offers painting, archaeology and hairdressing classes and sponsors a soccer team. In partnership with the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana, it has created one of the world’s most unique playgrounds in front of the nearby Museum of the Revolution.

The barber-themed play area, Barbeparque, includes a seesaw that looks like a pair of scissors, a slide that resembles a straight razor and a curving climbing apparatus in the shape of an old blow dryer.

“It’s important to give back to the community,” said Valladares, pausing as he finished up a haircut.

Now the alley, located at Aguiar between Peña Pobre and Misiones Avenue, and its restaurants, art galleries and the museum/barber shop have become something of a tourist attraction.

“It’s tourism, but tourism from another perspective, because it shows our daily lives,” said Valladares. “As a tourism product, the most important thing we have is our people.”havana-live- ArteCorte hair studio

As a tourism product, the most important thing we have is our people

Just three years ago, Valladares said he was the only self-employed person on his alley. But through private investment, Vallardares’ example, the encouragement of Arte Corte, and partnerships with the government, El Callejón de los Peluqueros has begun to bloom.

Artwork dots the faces of old buildings with elaborate iron grill work and thick wooden doors, planters have been placed along the street, and outdoor tables offer al fresco dining options. The crowing of a resident rooster punctuates the music drifting from one of the cafes.

Some of the private businesses also pick up on the barbering theme. At El Fígaro restaurant, down the street from the barber shop, the decorations include old chrome hair dryers, Old Spice containers and other beauty items. The sign for the restaurant jokes: “No hair in your food.”

Among its specialties are squash soup, butterflied lobster, fried malanga and Copa Lolita — an ice cream/flan combo.

Diners are sometimes handed a marker to sign the walls at El Fígaro, which has room for about 100 customers — including outdoor seating. Joan Blanco, a former state-restaurant worker who now fills many roles at El Fígaro, proudly shows off one recent signature: that of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri.

The Food Network host was recently in Cuba, and El Fígaro will be featured in an upcoming episode of Fieri’s show, said Blanco.

During the president’s entrepreneurship conference at an old tobacco and wood warehouse on the Havana waterfront that has been converted to a craft beer pub, Obama extolled the virtues of running a small business: “You can earn a little more money for your family. You can provide more for your children. And then there’s the pride that comes from creating something new and improving the lives of those around you.

It’s about self-determination — the opportunity to forge your own future

“It’s about self-determination — the opportunity to forge your own future,” Obama said.

Those are themes echoed by Valladares and his colleagues on the alley.

“Now that we have the opportunity to open our own businesses and make more money, we have more opportunity to enjoy things in life,” said Blanco. “This kind of business survives because we have vision. We treat customers like family rather than commodities.”

Valladares told President Obama that what’s happening in his community is not only creating a “chain of economic benefits but also a chain of social benefits. I am convinced social benefits make economic benefits even greater. In the end, I won’t be able to fix the world but I can fix the little piece of land where I live.”

Cuba to expand Internet access in public areas, private businesses

Cuba Cellphone CrashHAVANA, May 29 (Xinhua) Cuba seeks to expand Internet access throughout the island, particularly with public Wi-Fi spots and selected private businesses.

“We have taken important steps to expand Internet access with significant investments to have a favorable penetration rate in our country and making these services accessible to the majority of the Cuban population,” Tania Velasquez, business and marketing director of the island’s telecommunication company ETECSA told Xinhua.

Last year, ETECSA implemented 65 public Wi-Fi areas all over the Caribbean nation, mainly in parks and popular areas, along with 118 cybercafes that met the increasing demands of the population to have greater access to the web.

Since then it has become a popular sight in streets and parks to see Cubans of all ages with their cellphones, laptops and tablets searching the web, talking to their relatives abroad and interacting over different social networks.

“I think these areas are a positive first step but we need more access to the Internet. Today in Cuba young people are eager for information and greater knowledge,” said Jesus Vivero, a 20-year-old college student.

In one of the most popular Wi-Fi areas in Havana, Vivero along with other university friends use their Internet time to video chat with family members or make new friends over Facebook.

Cubans must buy cards worth 1 hour or recharge their permanent Internet accounts at a cost of 2 CUC an hour (2 U.S. dollars) to connect to the web, an amount that for many is considerably high because the average salary for a state worker is around 24 U.S. dollars per month.

“The service has to be provided in better places and the cost must decrease taking into consideration how expensive it is for the average Cuban,” added Alejandro Torres, a recently graduated journalist who works for state media.

According to ETECSA, this year 80 new Wi-Fi spots will be implemented not only in public spaces but also in recreational and sporting areas with more comfort for those who wish to connect, nonetheless the rate will remain the same.

“In the coming months there’s an opportunity to diversify the services to access Internet in our country taking into consideration of people’s demands and our economic possibilities,” added Velasquez.

The senior official at ETECSA said the most urgent demands are to have an Internet connection on cellphones and at home, projects in which the Cuban company works along with other international telecommunication providers.

“We’ve publicly committed to work in these two areas to provide Cubans with services similar to what many countries currently offer but we must make changes to our connectivity platforms and replace old technologies to progressively increase our Internet penetration rates which are actually still very low,” she said.

For many Cubans access to an affordable and comfortable Internet connection in the future should be a reachable life goal.

“We would like to have service at home and at reasonable prices according to our economic reality because the Internet is something necessary today for everyday life,” said Andres Perez, a 30-year-old computer scientist.

Official data provided by ETECSA showed that in 2012 around 5 percent of the population had access to the Internet, however that figure has increased since the Wi-Fi areas, public cybercafes and hotel connections opened over the last two years.

Cuba’s Internet connection until 2013 was through satellite leading to high costs but a joint fiber optic cable with Venezuela and Jamaica started providing higher connectivity speeds and new development possibilities.

Another initiative the Cuban telecom monopoly will implement in the coming months is to set up Wi-Fi areas along with private business owners as a way to diversify the service to different segments of the population.

“We started providing the service in public places to reach as many people as possible but in the short term and in a gradual form the private sector along with ETECSA will have the possibility to set up Wi-Fi spots at their businesses,” added Velasquez.

Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States many Cuban state companies have held talks with their counterparts and ETECSA hasn’ t been the exception.

The Obama administration loosened certain trade restrictions in the telecommunications sector but according to ETECSA these are very “limited” and “unsafe” for both parts.

“The U.S. blockade on Cuba is still in place and that represents the main obstacle towards a normal relation in any economic field, thus so far we have signed agreements with telecommunication companies only to provide services in the island,” said the executive.

Velasquez acknowledged that ETECSA has held various meetings with U.S. telecom companies and is looking forward to establishing cooperation agreements in several areas regarding Internet connectivity.

“These companies are very interested in jointly working with ETECSA and we’re assessing the exchange mechanisms we can put into action according to what U.S. and Cuba regulations allow,” she noted.

In the coming months Wi-Fi and broadband Internet access should increase in this nation, meeting the widespread demands of Cubans and raising the island’s connectivity rates.

havana-live-air-berlin-planeHAVANA, May 27th (PL) The German airline Air Berlin will shortly begin flights to Havana, adding two flights a week from Dusseldorf to the Cuban capital city, said the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) in Cuba.

The new flights will start on May 28th, offering “excellent opportunities to continue strengthening ties between Cuba and Germany,” said Mintur.

Mintur said in a press conference that such actions confirm the preference of Germany for Cuban destinations.

According to Mintur, Air Berlin will operate twice a week, on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The new flights will have capacirty for more than 1,400 people each week, and the number of seats from Germany will increase to 4,700 after adding the flights of Condor and Eurowings, said Mintur.

According to Mintur, Germany is among the three main sources of tourists to Cuba. The number of German tourists in 2015 reached 175,264, for a 26-percent growth compared to 2014, said the source.

Havana – Moscow ties outstanding

havana-live-Miguel Diaz-Canel BermudezAccording to the first vice president of the Cuban Council of State and Council of Ministers, Cuban government highly appreciates the country’s economic and political relations with Russia.

HAVANA, may 27th (Sputnik) The Cuban government highly appreciates the country’s economic and political relations with Russia, Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, the first vice president of the Cuban Council of State and Council of Ministers, said Friday.

“These relations are outstanding both from a political and economic perspective. These relations are maintained by our governments. They are based on strong friendship and love between our people. It strengthens them further and allows for the development of ties of another nature than those which are usual today,” the official said at a meeting with the speaker of the lower house of Russian parliament, Sergei Naryshkin.

He added that Moscow had always supported Havana in its efforts to shut the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison camp, located on the island.

Cuba and Russia have enjoyed warm relations since Soviet times. Moscow has moved to boost ties with Havana in recent years in the spheres of transport, pharmaceutics, communications and technology.

Russian has written off most of Cuba’s Soviet-era debt, estimated at about $30 billion. Moscow has also expressed interest in investing some $1.35 billion in the construction of thermal power plants in Cuba.

The dog of Morro Castle

havana-live-aniplantHAVANA, may 26th  This is one of those stories that just made me cry. Not out of sadness but relief and happiness.

This is Macho’s story
Aniplant had recieved pleas to help a dog on Morro Castle. This is located across a canal from Havana. Not easy accessible if you do not drive then you have to take the boat across. A lovely lady named Ruth reached out to Aniplant about 8 mths ago wanting to know what we could do for Macho. She was one of a few people asking to help him. However Ruth wanted to donate to save him to ensure we could look after Macho.
Aniplant’s team would visit the castle every few days with food and water and apply medications. They also had a few artisans who work around the Fort watch out for Macho and do daily feedings in between their visits.

At this point it was difficult for many reasons to remove and take Macho off the Castle due to where he was and because of transportation. He was also no way having anything to do with getting inside of a crate. It was also a good hike to carry a crate with him in it.. down from the top of the Fort.

Macho’s Rescue:
Aniplants team went to the Castle on May 14th. Prepared to rescue him and take him to safety where he can finally recieve medical care. When they arrived they seen one of the Guards kick at Macho and they yelled at him “We are animal proctectors and we will report you” . He took off his badge. They were extremely upset however they carried forward to help Macho. It was a feat in itself to try and corner Macho enough to get him into a crate.
The Fort is very large area but they finally cornered Macho and to help him into the crate they covered his head with a towel and coaxed him into the Crate. Aniplants team then loaded him into the truck and finally brought him to safety at the Headquaters.
Please enjoy the photos and now you can see his cute lil face with hope in his eyes!
Muchas Gracias Aniplant Team!13244784_495004317353096_2987947967745657836_n 13174013_495004384019756_4543075341710943823_n12036489_495004417353086_7170997068168677688_nPhotos Aniplant

Inside the Race to Save Cuba’s Coral Reefs

1-uKBNRwphoxfqiVC9YIC-twHAVANA, may 26th For years, it was an open secret among divers and researchers alike that the coral reefs of Cuba were spectacular. The few who found a way to dive off the coast of the island came back with tales of the seagrass beds of the Gulf of Batabanó, of shipwrecks and caves along the Isla de la Juventud, and of the lush reefs and mangrove forests of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago.

Decades of limited development and tourism took a toll on the Cuban economy, but they also helped the island’s major reef chains to escape much of the destruction that affected reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean. In many of Cuba’s gulfs, the corals quietly thrived.

Today, with the relationship between the United States and Cuba improving, more collaboration is possible on scientific topics than ever before. That means that researchers and conservationists are now scrambling to collect data on the coral reefs — before climate change destroys their preserved state.

“For decades, Cuba was a black hole. It’s the largest island in the Caribbean and there’s almost no data on things like fish distribution.”

Fernando Bretos, the director of the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program (CubaMar) of the Ocean Foundation, is one such conservationist. Bretos first visited Cuba in 1999. At that time, he had taken a position focusing on the Caribbean at the Ocean Conservancy. “I was selected because I spoke Spanish and knew Latin America,” he says. “The position involved considerable work in Cuba, and, at the time, there were very few U.S. organizations on the island.”

While with the Ocean Conservancy, Bretos traveled to Cuba regularly, building partnerships with researchers at the Centro de Investigaciones Marinas (Center for Marine Research) at the University of Havana. His efforts culminated in the Three Gulfs Project, an ambitious, collaborative attempt to study the coral reefs.


Throughout the 1990s, Cuba made environmental protection an area of increasing political focus, setting the CubaMar team up for support, if not success. (Photo: CubaMar)

The project has a few main research goals. The first is simply to determine the overall health of Cuba’s reefs by conducting Rapid Ecological Assessments.

The team hopes that the REAs will shed light on why Cuban coral reefs are healthier than many others. One of the Three Gulfs Project’s working hypotheses is that the preservation of Cuba’s coral reefs is partly due to the abrupt collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Prior to that time, the USSR had heavily subsidized sugar production in Cuba, but, after its collapse, agricultural policies on the island shifted radically. In particular, the use of synthetic fertilizer dropped. In other parts of the world, fertilizer runoff has been a major contributor to reef decline.

“We’re 50 years late in gathering this data,” says Daria Siciliano, the lead scientist for CubaMar. “For decades, Cuba was a black hole. It’s the largest island in the Caribbean, and there’s almost no data on things like fish distribution.”

The second focus is on the microbial health of the reef system. That’s the specialty of Amy Apprill, a microbiologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This is a recent field of study: It’s only over the last 10 years or so that researchers have developed the tools to analyze reef microbiomes, which might be able to indicate the overall health of a reef system, according to Apprill.

The last focus is a search for large, dense coral colonies from which to take core samples. Corals store a lot of information about what the ocean environment has been like throughout their lifetimes, and these samples are the key to unlocking that data.

“Corals are fantastic archives of climate records,” says Konrad Hughen, a marine chemist at Woods Hole. “They sit still, they don’t move around, they don’t go up and down in the water column.”

As a coral grows, it incorporates trace elements from the surrounding seawater into its structure, such as strontium and iron. The ratio of these elements can show what the ocean environment was like at that moment. But it can be challenging to find a suitable colony from which to extract a core. Many species, especially in the Caribbean, have structures that aren’t dense enough to get fine-grained data from. Beyond that, the coral has to survive disease and other dangers to build up a long data history.

That’s why it was so exciting when, on a cruise in February of 2015, the researchers came across a massive coral on a protected shelf. The extracted core is nearly five feet long and contains data going back nearly 230 years. It’s a tremendous archive of data in a region where these records are rare; Hughen says there have only been four other usable cores taken from the Caribbean so far. From the core, the researchers will be able to build a nearly month-by-month picture of the ocean environment since the late 1700s.

While the Three Gulfs Project has had three successful research cruises so far, that doesn’t mean that the partnership has been an easy one. Bureaucratic challenges have dogged the researchers on both sides of the Florida Straits.

From the American side, the embargo puts serious strain on logistics. On the Cuban side, resource limitations put a serious strain on conducting such expensive and complicated research. “Marine science is the hardest science to do,” Bretos says. “You need boats, permits, fuel, tanks — you’re working underwater.”

There are signs that those bureaucratic challenges might become easier in the future. On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced dramatic policy changes, including the loosening of travel restrictions to and from Cuba and the re-opening of embassies. These steps toward the normalization of diplomatic relations could dramatically re-shape the political landscape of working in the country. In fact, last November, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on marine research and conservation.

Still, the diplomatic thaw is a double-edged sword. The possibility of an unencumbered relationship between the U.S. and Cuba has many researchers worried about whether the state of the reefs can be sustained. Overfishing and development have already damaged many of the coral reefs close to urban areas.

“No one knows how Cuba will cope with an increase in tourism,” Bretos says. “Right now, they get three million a year. Florida gets 100 million. How does Cuba deal with four, five, 12 million tourists?”

Beyond the danger posed by increased tourism and development, climate change looms large. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last fall that a widespread bleaching event was taking place across the globe — and that Caribbean reefs were at particular risk of die-offs from temperature changes that increase susceptibility to disease. “The Cuban reefs are in very good shape, but the truth is that there haven’t been pristine coral reefs on the planet for a long time,” Hughen says. “Bleaching events — those are global.”

With that in mind, the Three Gulfs Project team isn’t wasting any time getting back to work. They will conduct another cruise in September. After that, they’ll shift focus to putting together policy recommendations in an attempt to help the Cuban and American sides understand how better to protect their reefs — before they’re gone forever.

Cuba will legalize private businesses

Cuban entrepreneurs like Ruben Valladares, whose Havana company Adorgraf makes decorative paper bags, can finally make their private businesses legal entities.

HAVANA,may 24th (AP) Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small and medium-sized private businesses, a move that could significantly expand the space allowed for private enterprise in one of the world’s last communist countries.

Until now, the government has allowed private enterprise only by self-employed workers in several hundred established categories like restaurant owner or hairdresser. Many of those workers have become de-facto small business owners employing other Cubans. But there are widespread complaints about the difficulties of running a business in a system that does not officially recognize them. Low-level officials often engage in crackdowns on successful businesses for supposed violations of the arcane rules on self-employment.

Communist Party documents published Tuesday said a category of small, mid-sized and “micro” private business is being added to the party’s master plan for social and economic development, which was approved by last month’s Cuban Communist Party Congress. The twice-a-decade meeting sets the direction for the single-party state for the coming five years.

The documents say that the three categories of business will be recognized as legal entities separate from their owners, implying a degree of protection that hasn’t so far existed for self-employed workers.

“Private property in certain means of production contributes to employment, economic efficiency and well-being, in a context in which socialist property relationships predominate,” reads one section of the “Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development.”

“This is a tremendously important step,” said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. “They’re creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They’re making that sector official.”

He said that about 6,000 de facto small and medium sized businesses now operate under self-employed workers’ licenses. This bars them from most dealings with the Cuban state, which maintains inefficient monopolies on imports and exports. As a result, most private businesses are forced to buy scarce supplies from state retail stores or on the black market, driving up prices for ordinary Cubans. Others pay networks of “mules” to import goods in checked airline baggage, adding huge costs and delays.

Larrea said he believed that legally recognized private business would be able to deal officially with state importers and exporters, allowing them to obtain wholesale goods more cheaply and efficiently.

“It’s a necessary step,” he said.

Reforms initiated by President Raul Castro after he became president in 2008 have allowed about half a million Cubans to transition to work in the private sector despite the extensive limits on self-employment. New categories of small and mid-sized businesses create the potential for many more jobs in the private sector, although Castro’s reforms have been slow and marked by periodic reversals of many reforms.

Reversals and crackdowns have been particularly marked in reforms that allow private businesses to flourish and compete with state monopolies, leading entrepreneurs to complain of constantly changing signals about the government’s desire for reform.

The 32-page party document is the first comprehensive accounting of the decisions taken by the party congress, which was closed to the public and international press. State media reported few details of the debate or decisions taken at the meeting but featured harsh rhetoric from leading officials about the continuing threat from U.S. imperialism and the dangers of international capitalism.

That tough talk, it now appears, was accompanied by what could be a major step in Cuba’s ongoing reform of its centrally planned economy.

Any such change will take months to go into effect. Major reforms like allowing new forms of business almost certainly must be formally approved by the country’s National Assembly, which is expected to hold one of its biannual meetings by August.

‘Bourgeois’ cult of beautiful bodys grows in Cuba


Des Cubains s’entraînent dans une salle de gym à La Havane le 17 mai 2016 ROQUE

HAVANA, may 24th (AFP) Inside Armando Yera’s gym, toned Cubans in tight spandex are pumping iron in front of mirrored walls and pedaling furiously on stationary bikes, a scene that looks more Miami than Havana.

Yera is one of Cuba’s first competitive bodybuilders and part of its budding class of entrepreneurs. Both activities were long frowned on by the communist regime but are slowly gaining space on a changing island.

Visitors to Yera’s two-story establishment, Mandy’s Gym, in central Havana, are greeted by a brightly colored sign that says: “This will increase your opportunity to be a success.”

In the entryway, there are before-and-after photos of clients whose sagging bodies Yera has helped turn into chiseled statues. Those changes are just about as gradual, painstaking and yet transformative as the ones taking place in Cuba itself, as the island opens up to the world.

The bodybuilding craze started to grow after President Raul Castro launched tentative free-market reforms when he took over in 2008. Last year he reestablished Cuba’s diplomatic relations with its old Cold War enemy, the United States-a bodybuilding haven.
Sian Chiong, a 21-year-old pop singer, is a regular at Mandy’s Gym, and gives it credit for his success with the teenage girls who swoon for him and his boy band, Angeles.

Musicians in today’s Cuba have to please a public that “has become a consumer of image as well as music,” said the muscular, immaculately coiffed young star. It’s a thought that could make Che Guevara turn over in his grave. The late revolutionary dreamed of a Cuba of “new men” who would toss aside individualism and materialistic cares to be selfless communist citizens.

The regime disdained the image-conscious culture of places like Yera’s gym, which it derided as “bourgeois.”But like many things in Cuba, that is slowly starting to change. “The trend of wanting to look good arrived here a little late, because they never let you see the reality of what working out in a gym is all about,” said Yera. He started bodybuilding when he was 18 and retired from competitions in 2008, but still has bulging muscles at age 56.

Suspicious muscles
For years, the regime was suspicious of bodybuilders like Yera. His sport was seen as narcissistic and steroid-fueled, he said. A former customs official, he got into bodybuilding back when the only way to do it was with rudimentary equipment and a protein-rich diet-not an easy formula to follow in cash-strapped Cuba.

He is a four-time national champion, but his titles are not recognized by the state, which oversees all formal sport in Cuba and only grudgingly allowed privately organized bodybuilding contests. “A lot of times they would try to pressure theater management not to hold tournaments,” he said.

But working out at the gym is increasingly becoming not just acceptable, but trendy. Yera had 20 clients when he started his business 16 years ago. Now he has quadrupled that number. Most of his clients pay $30 a month to be members-more than the average monthly salary on the island.

Ironically, he owes much of his success to state TV, which invited him to speak about health on one of its programs. He brought along a woman he helped to “transform” her body, plus his before-and-after pictures.

‘Infected by the world’

After that, famous Cubans started showing up. “I train most of the TV show hosts. They feel pressure to be in shape,” Yera said. And state TV has continued to invite him back to speak about health. Despite its much-vaunted state health care system, Cuba is not immune to the international obesity epidemic: nearly 45 percent of its 11 million people are overweight or obese.

But gyms tend to draw mostly healthy young people looking to meet a set “standard” of beauty, said Dayron Delgado, a 30-year-old bodybuilder who works with Yera. Delgado compensates for the lack of state funding for his sport by working as a personal trainer.

“People are more worried about going to the gym for aesthetic reasons than for their health,” he said. Pop idol Chiong agreed. “Cuba has been infected by the way the whole world thinks,” he said, on the way back from working out his abs.

Even if “that’s hard for the higher-ups” to accept, he added.

Cuba’s Slow Economy and Homegrown Opportunity

HAVANA, May 23th( Huffintonpost)President Obama’s visit to Havana in March shined a spotlight on Cuba—a country that, one’s political views aside, is regarded warmly by people around the world. Over the last two years, a new foreign investment law has sparked the interest of many companies (especially European ones) and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States has also made the possibility of trade and investment deals with U.S. companies seem closer.

In this context, a number of corporate leaders are wondering how they should view the Cuban opportunity while avenues to move beyond the embargo are pursued in Washington. In a new article on, we address the question of what the evolution of the Cuban economy means for multinationals.

The country clearly has great economic potential and there were high hopes that the recently concluded VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba would take further steps to create a more hospitable environment in which private enterprise can make greater contributions to accelerated economic growth and job creation.

Such steps—which the government officially refers to as aiming to “perfect” or “update” the Cuban economic model—could, for instance, be modeled on what the Cuban president in his main speech referred to as the processes of “reform” in China and “renewal” in Vietnam. But these market liberalization measures have not yet been adopted.

They remain works in progress. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy is lacking a growth dynamo, and its slow “brewing” runs the risk of stagnating. Without stronger economic growth, the country will lack the resources needed to maintain the social achievements of recent decades.

Foreign investors have an important role to play in a number of industries (beer included) and in the sorely needed development of all kinds of infrastructure. In areas such as information and telecommunication services, their impact (especially in a competitive market environment) could be quick, positive and pervasive.

But for the right kind of investor to be attracted—those who will contribute to adding value and jobs in Cuba—they will need more than tax holidays, incentives and special zones. They will need regulatory transparency, reliability in the implementation of policies and flexibility in the operating environment for businesses.

The experience of many countries shows that sustainable economic success cannot be built on a combination of only foreign investors and state-owned enterprises. Cuba is fortunate to have a well-educated and creative population—fertile ground for entrepreneurship, provided that an appropriate legal framework is established to facilitate private enterprise.

In addition, there is another untapped homegrown asset: a large population of professionally experienced Cubans living outside the country, many of whom might be keen to return home and contribute to its prosperity with their skills, savings and connections.

Creating an environment in which returning is an attractive possibility could produce a great growth boost and reassure potential foreign investors that Cuba is a place where business can thrive. Few, if any, countries have ever had such an opportunity. Cuba is well placed to pursue it if decisive, transparent steps are taken soon to make it possible.


Cuban Commercial and Business Mission Visits Dominican Republic

10001421708183jpg-700x466HAVANA,May 23th  (PL) A Cuban trade mission composed of representatives from 33 major companies interested in importing, exporting and establish business relations, today began a visit to the Dominican Republic.

The agenda starts with a seminar organized by the Center for Export and Investment of the Dominican Republic (CEI-RD) which involves entrepreneurs and representatives of the domestic production, economic groups and potential investors.

The visit�s program includes business rounds scheduled for tomorrow, while on Wednesday activities will move to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros, where entrepreneurs of the Dominican north will also have the opportunity to participate.

The director of CEI-RD, Jean Rodriguez, explained that the initiative is part of the agreements signed bilateral cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba last year and is supported by the Agency for Development Caribberan Export and Cuban embassy.

The director of CEI-RD, Jean Rodriguez, explained that the initiative is part of the bilateral cooperation agreements signed with the Chamber of Commerce of Cuba last year and is supported by the Agency for Development Caribbean Export and the Cuban embassy.

Among the 33 Cuban companies visiting the country are some linked to the sectors of industry, construction, agriculture and services, as well as companies related to the areas of health, pharmaceutical and biotechnology.

The arrival of representatives of Cuban companies to Dominican Republic was preceded by the trip last April of a Dominican business mission of 43 members to Havana for exploring the opportunities offered by the Cuban economy.

Fidel Castro, Evo Morales discuss ‘imperialist efforts’ in Latin America


Photo August 2015

HAVANA, May 22th (Reuters) Retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Bolivian President Evo Morales discussed “imperialist efforts” to undo leftist progress in Latin America during Morales’ two-day visit to the Communist-ruled island, Cuban state television reported on Saturday.

Two major powers in the region have moved to the right in recent months. Argentina’s Peronists were voted out of office late last year while in Brazil, Dilma Rousseff of the Workers Party was suspended as president earlier this month due to impeachment.

Leftist countries such as Cuba have called Rousseff’s suspension a “coup” while the president of El Salvador went as far as to say he would not recognize the centrist interim government.

Morales and Castro spoke “of the events happening in Latin America and the imperialist efforts to revert the political and social movement in our region,” state television reported. No images of the encounter were shown.

One of Cuba’s closest allies is Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is under fire over a deepening economic crisis and facing protests in favor of a recall referendum.

Morales faced a setback earlier this year when he was defeated in a referendum that would have cleared the way for him to run for a fourth term in 2019.

The Bolivian president met with Cuban President Raul Castro, younger brother of Fidel, on Friday and attended a ceremony during which government officials of both countries signed bilateral agreements on health, education, culture and the economy.

XIX French Film Festival in Cuba Concludes

havana-live-cine-francesHAVANA, May 21 (PL) Thrillers, police, biographies, comedies and dramas XIX projected the French Film Festival in Cuba, which concluded here today after ratification as a favorite appointment for moviegoers of this island.

A total of 28 films were exhibited from April 29 on behalf of the seventh art in the European nation, distinguished by its deep content and exquisite sense of humor.

Some of the films shown here arrived with credentials obtained in international competitions, such was the case of the law of the market, awarded the Audience Award at the European Film Festival in Brussels.

Other films like Connection Marseille (Cédric Jimenez) and Professor of History (Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar), touched on viewers to move away from fiction to reflect actual events.

For almost a month, Havana�s cinemas Charles Chaplin, La Rampa, Yara and room one of the Multicine Infanta welcomed the varied program of the festival, which also reserved a space for French classics.

Captain Conan and Life and Nothing but Bertrand Tavernier, and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, directed by Jacques Demy, among others, returned to the big screen with their attractive and romantic stories.

The Outsider releases, Christophe Barratier and filmmaker Hurricane documentary, directed by Cyril Barbançan, Andy Byatt and Jacqueline Farmer, also captured the applause of Havana moviegoers for the duration of their frames and the excellent performance of the actors.

The film festival preceded the Month of French Culture in Cuba, an initiative of President Francois Hollande that will evidence until 31 this month extent of cultivated arts in the European nation.

Is Cuba’s Cigar Industry Ready for Its American Moment

View-over-the-Vinales-Valley-RomtomtomCuba is trying to boost cigar production in anticipation of the end of the U.S. trade embargo, but tobacco fields lie fallow, and the country won’t likely be ready for the demand boom

HAVANA, may 21th (WSJ) The fertile soil here in the Pinar del Río valley has long produced a richly flavored, slow-burning tobacco that is, without exaggeration, the envy of the world.

Some of Cuba’s best-paid workers roll the cured leaves by hand into cigars carrying the names Cohiba and Montecristo and Partagás, luxury brands as coveted by aficionados as the sparkling wines of Champagne or the single malt whiskies of Scotland.

For more than 50 years, Cuba hasn’t been able to sell its cigars to its giant neighbor to the north, the world’s largest cigar market. Now, with the U.S. moving to restore trade with Cuba, excitement is building that a great opportunity is at hand.

If the trade embargo is lifted anytime soon, however, Cuba is unlikely to be ready.

The amount of tobacco under cultivation in Cuba declined 65% between 2009 and 2014, to 21,733 acres, and annual tobacco production declined 21%, to about 20,000 tons, according to the most recent data from Cuba’s national statistics office. Cuba exported 91 million cigars in 2014, down 58% from 2006.

On a recent sun-soaked afternoon, tobacco grower Frank Robaina grimaced as he surveyed a 50-acre stretch of mostly fallow farmland down the road from his own fields. It used to be one of Cuba’s finest tobacco plantations. Now thorny 8-foot bushes known as marabú choke the rich, red soil. A hulking German irrigation pump that once watered crops sits idle and rusting.

Mr. Robaina, a member of one of the country’s leading tobacco-growing families, says two problems loom large: “resources and getting paid.” Farmers don’t always get what they need from government-supported cooperatives that supply them with fertilizer, fuel and other necessities. And the government, which buys all the tobacco farmers grow, is paying too little in relation to other crops, he says.

The result, he says, is that many farmers, including the owner of the weed-covered fields, have decided it isn’t worth planting tobacco.

The U.S. trade embargo can only be lifted by an act of Congress, but the Cuban government and its state-owned cigar-production company, Tabacuba, want to be ready. They are taking steps to boost production, including paying more for cured tobacco leaves and training more workers to roll cigars by hand. 2016-05-21 09-23-48The goal is to increase production about 20% annually over the next five years, says Inocente Nùñez Blanco, co-president of Corporación Habanos SA, a joint venture between the Cuban government and British tobacco company Imperial Brands PLC to exclusively market Cuban cigars world-wide. He said the company is working hard to meet the expected surge in demand.

Tabacuba executives couldn’t be reached for comment.

It is a pivotal moment not just for Cuba’s cigar industry, but for its tourism and rum industries as well. Both stand to benefit from the world’s largest market restoring economic ties with Cuba. Companies from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. to Paris-based liquor producer Pernod Ricard SA are making investments designed to capitalize on renewed commerce between Cuba and the U.S.

Each faces its own challenges. Cuba’s hotels are aging, and Havana’s harbor can only accommodate two cruise ships a day. Ownership of Cuba’s signature rum brand, Havana Club, is contested in the U.S.because assets were seized years ago by the Cuban government without compensation. And Cuban law prevents foreign firms from widespread, direct hiring of Cuban workers.

Any growth in Cuba’s cigar industry would be a welcome boost for its economy. Cuba has a gross domestic product of just $77.2 billion, and the median income is only about $25 a month.BN-OC404_0519ci_M_20160519145510 (1)BN-OC403_0519ci_M_20160519145510

Cigar lovers credit the country’s soil and climate for its richly flavored, slow-burning tobacco. Cuban brands account for about one-fifth of the roughly 500 million handmade cigars sold world-wide each year.

The U.S., the world’s largest cigar market with $4 billion in sales, has been officially off limits since 1962, when President John F. Kennedy signed a trade embargo after the Bay of Pigs invasion failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist government. Americans still can get their hands on Cuban cigars by ordering them online from foreign vendors, which is technically illegal, or from visitors to the island, who are allowed to bring back $100 worth.

Still, only about 3% of premium cigars consumed in the U.S. are Cuban, industry experts estimate. Habanos, Cuba’s cigar-sales joint venture with Imperial, has projected that the embargo’s end would enable it to capture as much as 30% of the American premium-cigar market, boosting its annual revenue by up to 60%, or $680 million.

Just how much Cuba would be able to boost production—and how quickly—is difficult to predict. Most land is farmed either with oxen or tractors built in the 1940s. Farmers say fertilizer must be imported from Venezuela. Often cigar shipments are held up because cigar boxes don’t show up in time, workers say.

The Cuban government has a hand in every aspect of production. It funnels the supplies needed by tobacco growers through the farming cooperatives, which farmers say set tobacco quotas for members and retain 2% of farm revenue. Farmers say they must apply to the government to buy tractors, irrigation systems or other expensive equipment, and Tabacuba, the government cigar-production company, decides who gets what.

The government buys all the harvested tobacco and sends it to 40-plus factories to be rolled into cigars for export. Habanos, the joint venture with Imperial, sells the finished product world-wide. In 2000, Imperial signed a 100-year agreement to be Cuba’s exclusive partner, says Fernando Domínguez, director of Imperial’s premium-cigar business.

That deal could hamstring the government’s ability to secure additional foreign help to boost production.

Oettinger Davidoff AG, a Switzerland-based cigar maker and luxury-goods company that once had a cigar-making partnership with the Cuban government, has had discussions with Cuban officials about growing tobacco and making cigars in Cuba, according to Chief Executive Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard. He says the company has no interest in producing cigars there and being forced to sell them to a rival, Imperial, only to later buy them back for resale to its customers.

“A lot of things have to change before the rest of us come back there,” he says. “In the race to join the world economy, these [Cuban] monopolies at some point have to be more dissolved or become more flexible. It’s a long run ahead.”

At the moment, Cuba’s farmers aren’t especially eager to grow tobacco. Miguel Veloz, who leases farmland near Frank Robaina’s, says he grows cucumbers, not tobacco, because they grow twice as fast and he can make 40% more money. Vegetable growers like him are eligible to increase their income by exceeding cultivation quotas—a bonus designed to boost production on an island that imports more than 60% of its food. Tobacco growers aren’t eligible for any such payments, he says.BN-OC385_0519ci_M_20160519143337

The Robaina family has stuck with tobacco. Its tobacco farms are among many in the Pinar del Río valley that remain family-owned. After Mr. Castro came to power, large farms were nationalized. Some of the families that had owned them started growing tobacco in Nicaragua and Honduras. Small farmers such as the Robainas were allowed to keep their land and farm as part of cooperatives.

Frank Robaina’s uncle, the late Alejandro Robaina, brought the family renown for growing some of the world’s finest “capa”—the smooth, wrapper leaves that become the outer layer of every cigar.

Toward the end of each year, workers on the Robaina farm erect a canopy of white cheesecloth over the young tobacco shoots to shield them from the sun, which helps produce wrapper leaves that are thin, mild and unblemished. The leaves are plucked by hand, one by one as they mature, from the bottom to top of the plant, over a span of about 30 days.

Frank Robaina says his cooperative, which has more than 100 farmers, isn’t always dependable and often is bureaucratic. Last December, he says, when it was time to plow his land so he could plant this year’s crop, the cooperative couldn’t provide fuel for his tractor because it owed money to the state-owned petroleum company.

“For one week, we couldn’t plant tobacco, and one week is important in tobacco,” he says. Because the seedlings were ready and “would die if I didn’t plant them,” he says, he found a truck driver who sold him fuel at an inflated price.

“Because of our country’s repeated economic problems, which take a toll on agriculture, these things happen,” says his cousin, Hirochi Robaina, who farms next door.

Picking tobacco is grueling, so finding workers is difficult. Hirochi Robaina pays pickers 1,680 pesos a month, or about $70, nearly triple the median monthly income. He offers a bonus of about 125 pesos, or about $5, to workers who come every workday for a month. Even with the bonus, some workers don’t return.

He still uses a 1949 Ferguson tractor once owned by his grandfather. He replaced the engine long ago with a Russian one, and he repairs it with parts he buys from the government or from friends.

The family doesn’t own a truck, so he often uses the tractor to make the nearly 2-mile trip to retrieve fertilizer from the cooperative. Sometimes, when the tractor is being used in the field, a worker fetches supplies by bicycle.

What the Robainas worry about most—the real weak link in Cuba’s tobacco industry, says Hirochi Robaina—is production.

High-quality cigars are rolled by hand, and cigar rolling is an art that takes years to get right. Roll a cigar too loosely or too tightly and it doesn’t smoke properly. That is exactly what happened when Tabacuba hired inexperienced cigar rollers, known as torcedores, as part of an effort to boost production by 60% in the 1990s.

“It wasn’t uncommon to have customers open a box of 25 cigars and find six or seven that were bad,” says Roberto Pelayo Duran, president of Miami-based Duran Cigars, who worked for a Habanos distributor in Asia at the time.

The reputation of the Cuban cigar worsened. After the government scaled back production, quality gradually improved.

Now, rollers go through a nine-month training program that is challenging enough that only 35% finish. Habanos says the program will help maintain quality when Tabacuba increases production. It plans to increase the number of rollers at its El Laguito factory in Havana to 150, from the current 90, by 2020.BN-OC390_0519ci_M_20160519143349

On the third floor of the four-story La Corona factory in central Havana, more than 300 cigar rollers sit at wooden tables bundling tobacco inside delicate wrapper leaves. Each roller produces about 100 cigars a day.

Mercedes Lores, a 51-year-old roller at La Corona, earns $75 to $100 a month, which, she and other workers say, is about twice as much as a Cuban medical professional or professor. In fact, many nurses and professors, she says, become rollers because of the pay.

After the cigars are rolled, they are sorted by color, labeled by hand and boxed for delivery to Habanos. The company sells many of the cigars in its 140 official Casa del Habano stores around the world. Habanos co-president Luis Sánchez-Harguindey says once the U.S. embargo is lifted, the company plans to open stores in major U.S. cities.

The future of U.S.-Cuba trade relations depends partly on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Already, there are concerns that increasing American demand will outstrip Cuba’s ability to produce cigars.

Reynaldo González Jiménez, who manages the Casa del Habano cigar shop in Old Havana, says international clients, worried about a potential supply pinch or another quality crisis, are buying in bulk.

Reid Bechtle, an American Cuban cigar aficionado who lives near Washington, is worried about quality problems. “As soon as the floodgates open, we’re going to get three to four years of absolute garbage,” he says.

Habanos co-president Mr. Núñez Blanco says the factories have eliminated the problems of the 1990s by introducing new quality-control processes and suction machines that test how a cigar will smoke. “We’re never going to sacrifice the quality of the product for higher volume,” he says. BN-OC393_0519ci_M_20160519143351BN-OC394_0519ci_M_20160519143352BN-OC392_0519ci_M_20160519143349

The Robainas hope that the end of the embargo will transform the family business. Frank and Hirochi Robaina plan to seek government approval for a new cooperative with only themselves as members. It would operate like a small business, allowing them to replace their old tractors with John Deeres, buy their own truck, secure fertilizer tailored for their soil and even sue suppliers who are late with deliveries.

Their adjacent farms would become a destination like the Robert Mondavi Winery in California’s Napa Valley. American tourists arriving on cruise ships in Havana would climb into 1956 Chevrolet Bel Airs and 1957 Mercury Montclairs and make the two-hour trip west to Pinar del Río. They would tour the tobacco fields, as musician Jimmy Buffett did recently, see the curing barns and then buy and smoke the Vegas Robaina cigars—currently sold only by Habanos and the Cuban government.

Hirochi Robaina says his grandfather began dreaming of that decades ago. Now, it finally seems possible.

“If we get started,” he says, “there wouldn’t be any stopping it.”

By TRIPP MICKLE | Photographs by Lisette Poole for The Wall Street Journal

Cuba Confirms Twelfth Imported Case of Zika Virus

havana-live-zika-virus-webTo date, Cuba has reported 13 cases of Zika: one of them arising within Cuba. 

HAVANA, May 20th (EFE) Cuba reported its 12th imported case of the Zika virus, on Thursday, confirmed in a 41-year-old Cuban citizen who arrived in the country on May 10 from Guyana, where she had traveled on personal business, the Public Health Ministry, or Minsap, reported.

The patient, a resident of the western town of Güira de Melena, began showing symptoms on May 12, including “generalized rash, accompanied by muscular pain without fever,” the official announcement said.

Upon undegoing numerous medical examinations at the Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute, on the outskirts of Havana, it was confirmed that she had tested “positive for the Zika virus.”

Minsap said that the patient “is in good general condition, (with a) favorable prognosis and remains admitted.”

To date, Cuba has reported 13 cases of Zika: one of them arising within Cuba and diagnosed in a young Havana woman who had not traveled abroad and 12 imported cases, including two pregnant Cuban health care workers and a female Venezuelan doctor who had traveled to Cuba to do postgraduate work.

Since February, the island’s public health authorities have stepped up a program of fumigation, testing people with fever symptoms, hygiene and prevention measures to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which transmits Zika, dengue and Chikungunya.

Cuban embassy officials to hold roundtable with American companys

havana-live-united-parcel-service-ups-boeing-747-44af_PlanespottersNet_240565HAVANA, May 20th (Agencias) Cuba’s newly restored embassy in the United States is wasting no time in preparing American capitalists to tap opportunities in the market of 11 million people. 

Its head of economic affairs will meet with a group of influential Atlanta companies including Delta Air Lines Inc., United Parcel Service Inc., Georgia Power Co. and others Monday, May 22, to describe current opportunities stemming from the new climate of openness between the countries. 

In an all-day roundtable hosted by law firm Taylor English Duma LLPRubén Ramos Arrieta, minister counselor responsible for the embassy’s economic and trade office, will describe Cuba’s investment needs and explain procedures by which companies can operate there legally. 

Since normalization of relations earlier this year, both sides have relaxed some travel restrictions. Cruise lines from the U.S. began arriving in Cuba in earlier this month, and Delta and other American carriers have applied to start commercial air service there from a variety of American cities including Atlanta

Some are predicting than an influx of travelers will lead to a hotel room shortage this year, showing the need for investment in hotels, infrastructure like airports and ports, as well as other sectors. 

I think the appetite is ripe. It is ripe and it is rich. I believe from just my interactions that they are poised and ready to embrace cross-investment opportunities,” said Deitra Crawley, a partner at Taylor English. 

She said the idea for this forum came after the World Affairs Council of Atlanta’s detailed “Cuba: Myths and Realities” conference last year, where experts including Mr. Ramos helped companies untangle the web of conflicting information about Cuban market entry. 

But as former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez noted at the event, Americans should avoid being overzealous: A more than 50-year-old trade embargo remains in effect that requires congressional action to overturn. The exchange in goods is now largely confined to exempted sectors: medical devices, agricultural goods and telecommunications equipment — or those items travelers can bring back from their trips. 

“The only thing that that session did not provide (and was not designed to provide) was one-on-one with the minister,” Ms. Crawley told Global Atlanta.

She kept in touch with Mr. Ramos and was later asked to put together the roundtable, which will also draw Joel Lago Olivia, first secretary of the Cuban embassy in Washington. 

She noted that the event should help “remove the mystery” around a regulatory environment that can confound even the most sophisticated firms. 

“This forum will give companies, whether they’re large or small, the opportunity to ask those questions that you wouldn’t be able to get from reading,” she said. 

The event is by invitation only. 

Confirmed companies include: Delta Air Lines,UPS,Arby’s,TME Enterprises,Diaz Foods,AJC Internationa,lHJ Russell,Rosser International,Mirasco,Georgia Power Company,The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta,SkyMedicus


Cuba reports wider 2015 trade deficit in goods

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

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

HAVANA, May 20th  – Cuba’s chronic goods trade deficit widened by $1.5 billion in 2015 as exports fell 24 percent and imports rose 3 percent, the government said on Wednesday, in the first data showing a commodity crash has hurt the economy.

The information, released on the National Statistics Office web page ( did not cover Cuba’s large service exports.

Prices for key Cuban exports such as sugar, nickel and refined oil products all tumbled last year.

The country began cutting back on its 2016 import orders last year and has been slow in making some payments to creditors and suppliers. Cuba orders much of its imports a year in advance.

Cuban President Raul Castro told a year-end session of the National Assembly in December that economic growth would slow from 4 percent in 2015 to 2 percent in 2016 due to falling export revenues.

Cuba’s trade deficit in goods has traditionally been compensated by the export of medical and other professionals, tourism and telecommunications, amounting to $12.7 billion in 2014, the latest figure available.

The report said goods exports were valued at $3.9 billion, compared with $5.1 billion in 2014, and imports were $13.5 billion, compared with $13.1 billion the previous year.

While no statistics are available, revenues from the sale of professional services to oil producing nations such as Venezuela and Angola, are also thought to have suffered.

Castro said in December that lower oil prices had reduced the cost of a number of imports such as food but also hurt “mutually advantageous cooperation relations with various (oil-producing) countries, in particular the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

The collapse of oil prices punishes Cuba under the terms of its oil deal with Venezuela. Cuba receives 90,000 barrels of oil per day as part of an exchange that sends Cuban professionals to Venezuela. Some 30,000 doctors and nurses, plus another 10,000 professionals, are posted in Venezuela.

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

Cuba refines and resells some of the oil in a joint venture with its socialist ally. Prices for refined products were down in tandem with crude. The new trade date did not give a breakdown of the value of oil products or other exports.

Fira de Barcelona arrives in Havana with the first edition of HostelCuba

fira2HAVANA, May 18th  – Fira de Barcelona begins its expansion in Cuba with the organisation of HostelCuba, the International Restaurant, Hotel and Equipment Exhibition which brings together over 50 international exhibitors, mainly from Spain but also from other countries such as Italy, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Panama. In addition, some 60 government bodies and institutions which are the main buyers on the island given the particular trade conditions of the Cuban market, are also taking part.

The launch of HostelCuba, jointly organised by Fira and its Cuban government partner Pabexpo, takes place within the context of Cuba’s opening up to foreign investors and companies to supply different industries – in this particular case, equipment and services for the hospitality and tourism sector – making it an excellent business opportunity for exhibitors to establish themselves as new suppliers.

In addition to the trade show area, the event will have a programme of business meetings to promote contacts between local trade professionals and government buyers and foreign companies interested in accessing the Cuban market. At this first event, more than 200 meetings with 118 buyers have been scheduled.

HostelCuba, which will be held in the Pabexpo trade fair complex in Havana, is the first of four new trade fairs that Fira de Barcelona is organising in Cuba in 2016 and 2017 with Pabexpo, part of the Palco Business Group. The next events will be Feria de Alimentos Cuba, the International Food and Beverages Exhibition; Securtec, the International Security and Emergency Services Exhibition; and PacGraf, the International Printing, Packaging and Graphic Arts Exhibition.

Fira de Barcelona is the first foreign trade fair institution to have a presence in Cuba, strengthening its international strategy to generate new business opportunities for the companies that take part in its events. In this respect, the institution is also jointly organising trade fairs in other countries such as Qatar, Japan, Mexico, Portugal and Morocco, as well as providing consultancy services.

Fira de Barcelona is one of the biggest trade fair organisations in Europe, the leader in the Spanish market and a renowned international event organiser. Every year it hosts more than 120 trade shows, congresses and corporate events and welcomes 30,000 direct and represented companies and more than two million visitors in its two exhibition centres, which between them offer 400,000 square metres of gross exhibition space.

Cuban suspected of major art theft in Havana to be extradited to Cuba

museo-nacional-arte-cubano-g-685x342LA HAVANA, May 18th A Cuban man arrested near Athens last November is to be extradited to his homeland after a Greek appeals court rejected his claim that the charges of art theft against him were unfounded and that he was being sought by authorities in Havana because of his political connections.

Julio Cesar Serrano Barreiro, 37, was arrested in Koropi, eastern Attica, on suspicion of stealing 71 pieces from the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana.

At the time, Barreiro was working at the warehouse of a bakery chain and living with his sister.

The 71 items in question were stolen from the museum’s storage area between August and November 2013. The paintings have been valued at a total of 575 million dollars.

Barreiro denied stealing the artworks, which have not been found in Greece, and claimed that he had worked in Cuba as a double agent on behalf of the CIA.

He claimed that his life would be put in danger if he is sent back to Havana but the Greek judges rejected this claim.

Cuba’s Biotechnology Sector a Global Leader

E3DC947C-1DE3-4671-9347-88BEB748A715_cx0_cy2_cw0_mw1024_mh1024_sAbout 900 delegates from 17 countries attended the international event in Havana, where Cuba’s development model was showcased.

HAVANA, May 18th (Telesur) Cuban biotechnology products are exported to more than 50 countries around the globe, according to an expert interviewed Tuesday during the Second International Congress about Economic Management and Development that took place in Havana.

A genuine collaboration between state institutions and the technology sector has allowed the development of the industry to gain international notoriety, said the director of Cuba’s Center of Molecular Immunology Agustin Lage during his presentation.

Science and the economy are both connected, with new companies emerging from public-funded scientific units. In Lage’s opinion, this economic model should be extended to other economic sectors in Cuba.

“The more our economy will develop technology, the more it will be socialist,” added Lage, also representative in Cuba’s National Assembly.

The sector accounts so far with 32 companies, with 78 production units that employ about 21,700 workers, according to Lage.

“For a small country like Cuba, the real market lies in exports, not in domestic demand, at least in our case,” he added.

Cuba has been attracting foreign attention in recent years in innovative sectors like health and agriculture, especially after the normalization of relations with the United States.

“The more our economy will develop technology, the more it will be socialist.”

For instance, Cuba became a world leader in the search of new cancer drugs, like lung and prostate cancers. No less than 28 biopharmaceuticals, mostly therapeutic vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, are already registered or in various stages of testing.

As for agriculture, as it has been able to develop cheap and eco-friendly technologies that have helped the country to reach a certain level of food security without damaging the environment.

With the environmental and financial challenges the world is now facing, the Cuban model – built in a time of crisis after the USSR collapsed – is seen as offering potential solutions to many countries in the world.

Spanish industry giants to pitch in to Cuba

290510c20242b295460d3c2a56944b7fHAVANA, May 18th (euroweekly) IT has been reported that Spanish electricity providers, such as Gamesa, Acciona and Gas Natural, sent emissaries to Cuba in order to establish trade opportunities and connections for business development now that the US has removed its long-standing sanctions and trading embargo with the neighbouring country.

The Cuban government has apparently decided to concentrate on finding new methods of obtaining and maintaining renewable energy sources in order to minimise external influence generated from importing electro-power, preferring to produce their own.

The emphasis on finding energy production sources that can be generated from wind or sun is linked to the supposition that Cuban fuel is considered to be of rather low quality, as well as in short supply.

A further 55 enterprises from Spain are visiting Cuba during this official trip, organised by the Spanish Chamber of Commerce. The Cuban market, now open after the removal of the American trade and commerce blockade, has attracted massive international interest and many companies headed there in order to cement their position on this emerging economical podium.

Amongst the first US companies travelling to conquer new territory were Marriott, Google and AT&T, after US leader Barack Obama’s historical visit to Havana, closely followed by a state visit from French president, Francois Hollande; the first European leader to make the step.

The exciting opportunities come with Cuban president Raul Castro’s policies for liberalisation and modernisation of the previously isolated state.

Modesto Pineiro, who is the Vice President of the Spanish Chamber of Commerce as well as the chairman of the Bilateral Business Committee, has stated that: “Spain has a very competitive position in Cuba – it is the third largest presence on the island – and must move to maintain its weight and amongst increased competition and interest from other countries.”

He believes that Cuba is a fast growing market and that Spain and its companies should take a leading role in Cuba’s development process. Considering that export to the island grew 38 per cent in 2015, reaching a record €964 million, it is not surprising that many countries are interested in sharing Cuba’s expanding commercial platform.

Business opportunities for Spanish companies are not just limited to renewable energy products, but also to the Island’s plans to develop their shipping industry and trade ports, warranting a visit from Urbas and other real-estate firms, who develop ports such as Ineco and Port of Barcelona.

Furthermore, companies such as Productos La Constancia, Roser and Germina, who specialise in the installation of equipment for the food industry, are aiming to improve Cuba’s food tourism sector.

The Pineapple Cup Returns in 2017!

havana-live-pinapple-cup-2017HAVANA, May 18th (Scuttlebutt) The Montego Bay Yacht Club, the Storm Trysail Club, and the Hemingway Yacht Club announced today the 2017 Western Caribbean Series. The Western Caribbean Series will include the 33rd edition of the Pineapple Cup – Montego Bay Race and the Cuba Cup, a new race from Montego Bay to Havana following the conclusion of the Pineapple Cup.

The Pineapple Cup is set to start in Miami, Florida, on February 3, 2017 and send competitors on a 811 nautical mile course to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Following a brief stop-over and Awards Ceremony in Montego Bay, boats may elect to sail in the newly formed Cuba Cup, a 640 nautical mile race from Montego Bay to Havana set to start on February 17th.

The two events will include divisions for IRC, PHRF, double-handed and multi-hulls. Both races may be registered for and raced independently, however, there will be an overall series trophy awarded in Havana to the boat with the best combined corrected time.

The Pineapple Cup will award the Robert McNeil Mobay Course Challenge Trophy to the first monohull to break the Montego Bay Race Record of 2 days, 10 hours, 24 minutes and 42 seconds set in 2005 by Titan 12. In addition, the Silver Rose Bowl (1st monohull to finish), Silver Pineapple Cup (1st overall corrected time IRC), Silver Seahorse (1st overall correct time PHRF), Arawak (1st overall corrected time multihull) perpetual trophies will be awarded at the prize giving. The Jamaica Tourist Board Log Award will be awarded to the team with the most interesting log.

The Pineapple Cup-Montego Bay race first started in 1961 and has been run either annually or biannually ever since.

“The Pineapple Cup has long been central to Storm Trysail Club’s mission, ‘to encourage the sport of ocean racing’,” noted Storm Trysail Club Commodore Lee Reichart. “We are excited to be again partnering with the Montego Bay Yacht club to reinvigorate this classic race. We think there is great potential in the new Cuba Cup, applaud Montego Bay for expanding its offerings and look forward to the series becoming a staple in the offshore calendar for years to come.”havana-live-pinapple-cup-2017

For more information:

Powerboats from Miami arrive in Havana

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Havana, May 17 (Prensa Latina) A total of 20 power boats arrived in Havana from Miami as part of a rally, organized by the Florida Powerboat Club of the United States and the Ernest Hemingway International Club, of Cuba.

The boats, with 90 crew members, started arriving at the 10:30 local time, and later, they made a small parade inside the Bay of Havana, towards the Marina Hemingway.

These fast boats constitute the first departure from Miami to Havana in more than 50 years, being part of a large recreation plan.

Jose Miguel Diaz, Commodore of the Hemingway Club of Cuba, stated these boats are reediting a competition made in Cuba for the first time in 1922, and later, in 1958.

Diaz sais that is the reason why US Commodore Robert Hervey, from the Key West Yatch Club, and also yatching expert and commodore George Bellenguer, among other yatching figures.

These high speed boats sailed from Miami at 8:00 Miami local time, and after different meetings and the signing of a brotherhood agreement with the Hemingway Club, will stay in Cuba until May 19.

A total of 18 competitions are scheduled for the rest of 2016.

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Photos:YANIEL TOLENTINO Exclusiv Havana live

Cuba’s oldest beer, La Tropical, brought back to life in Miami

La_Tropical_1HAVANA, May 17th (El Nuevo Herald) His liver-spotted hands carefully remove relics he never imagined would become so nostalgic for him when he was a boy in Cuba. A label from the original La Tropical beer.

A certificate for stock in Cerveceria La Tropical brewery, signed by the president, his grandfather, in 1954. A picture of an ancestor’s statue standing over the expansive tropical beer gardens of the brewery his family founded in 1888, Cuba’s first.

Read more here:

Cuba and United States draw up roadmap for talks to deepen detente

 HAVANA, May (Reuters) 17th Cuba and the United States aim to reach new agreements on cooperation in law enforcement, health and agriculture over the coming months, a senior Cuban official said on Monday, as part of the former Cold War foes’ drive to normalize ties.

The Communist-ruled island and its northern neighbor reestablished diplomatic relations a year ago after decades of hostility and have since signed deals on the environment, postal services and direct flights.

A bilateral commission met on Monday in Havana to establish a roadmap for talks over the rest of this year, which would include more high-ranking official visits, said Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation.

In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba.

“The agenda is quite ambitious,” Vidal told a news conference, adding that talks about intellectual property rights were also in the cards.

The two sides had discussed holding dialogues on human rights and claims, the U.S. embassy in Cuba said in a statement.

They already outlined their respective claims late last year, with the U.S. seeking upwards of $10 billion in compensation for nationalized properties and Cuba demanding at least $121 billion in reparations for the U.S. trade embargo and other acts it described as aggression.

“The United States looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future,” the embassy said. “Tomorrow (we) will discuss specific steps related to bilateral security during the law enforcement dialogue.”

Vidal, who is the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs, said the island was hopeful that whomever became next the U.S. president would continue to deepen the detente. The United States will hold a general election on Nov.8.

“When you look at the polls, the majority of the American population and the Cuban American community are in favor of the normalization of relations,” she said. “So I expect their opinion will be taken into account.”

Mohawks travel to Cuba for cutting-edge diabetes treatment


Chief Eric Thompson and Chief Beverly Cook, of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, after meeting with Cuban biotech company that developed Heberprot-P. “Accessing this treatment requires an act of political will,” said Chief Thompson. “We would be derelict in our duties if we didn’t research how to access this medicine. We need to do this.” said Chief Cook. Photo courtesy St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

HAVANA, May 17th According to federal data, 17 percent of Native Americans living in the United States have diabetes. That’s more than double the rate of the white population. On the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation near Massena, half of the people over 65 have diabetes.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has taken an unusual step to try to deal with the disease. Last month, Mohawk chiefs led a delegation to Cuba where doctors have pioneered a new way to treat a very dangerous symptom of diabetes.

People with diabetes can get foot ulcers. They’re painful sores, and when they go untreated, they get so bad, toes or the whole foot have to be amputated. Chief Beverly Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe said that can devastate diabetics and their families, causing “loss of productivity in the community, and just personal shock and trauma.”

The tribe already has a diabetes wound care unit in Akwesasne. But the chiefs heard about a new treatment for the ulcers developed by scientists in Cuba, called Heberprot-P. So they led a delegation to Havana to learn more. Cook was impressed by what she saw. “This treatment definitely would help. We saw evidence of severe grade 4 and 5 diabetic foot ulcers that were healed within 45 days,” she said.

The problem is the medicine isn’t legally available yet in the United States, even though it is being used in more than two dozen countries worldwide. The medicine is currently undergoing trials in the United States.

Cook hopes the visit will put pressure on the federal government to approve the medicine and provide funding for tribes to buy it. She said, “We don’t want Indian people to be left in the dark about it and to be not able to access it due to the budget constraints of Indian health service,”

This connection between Mohawks and Cubans might seem strange, but Chief Eric Thompson said there is an interesting chapter of history in the relationship. An Iroquois delegation, led by “a Tuscaroran individual by the name of Mad Bear Anderson,” said Thompson, traveled to Havana just after Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution to recognize the new government.

“The Cuban officials asked at that time what they could do for our people. They were told that we would be in need of their assistance on an international level with regards to recognition.”

According to Thompson, that visit laid early groundwork for Cuba to become a supporter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was ratified in 2007.

Chief Cook said native tribes can identify with people in Cuba, that their efforts to survive and innovate in the face of the U.S. embargo is similar to what native people have endured. “I think it’s very enlightening, in light of all of that hardship, that they are that resilient and quite brilliant,” she said.

First powerboat race from Florida to Havana

R-P1Corporate19375Pages2HAVANA,May 16th The first rally in 58 years of speedboats from Florida to Cuba will arrive tomorrow to the Bay of Havana, which will symbolize the revival of this nautical activity between the two countries.

About 90 American crews will star in an event that had its beginnings in 1922 and its last edition nearly six decades ago, told at a press conference José Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the Hemingway International Nautical Club, in Havana.

That day, at approximately 8:00 am, 20 speedboats will leave from Key West, and they are expected to arrive between 10:30 and 11:00 am at the Bay of Havana, where they will make exhibitions along the seawall promenade (Malecon) up to the mouth of Almendares River.

Hosted by the Yacht Club of Key West, the meeting will be conducive to the signing of a friendship agreement between the Florida Powerboat Club and the Hemingway International Yacht Club, which will open the doors to new meetings, emphasized Diaz Escrich.

It was also announced the holding tomorrow of the Regatta Friendship Cup in front of the Malecon, with the participation of a fleet of nine Hobie Cats and three Snipes, crewed by American athletes and from the Cuban Sailing Federation.

Buena Vista Social Club Return Home for Historic Show in Havana


The 85-year-old Omara Portuondo, a member of the original Buena Vista Social Club, performed Saturday as part of the group’s bittersweet Havana farewell. Carlos Pericás

HAVANA, May 16th (Rolling Stone) It’s been 20 years since Ry Cooder, British producer Nick Gold and Cuban musical director Juan de Marcos Gonzalez assembled a group of veteran Cuban musicians, christened them Buena Vista Social Club and recorded an album that would become a global phenomenon and sell more than 12 million copies worldwide.

(And earn a spot on Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Albums of the Nineties.) Since then, the name – taken from a pre-revolution members-only club – has become as much brand as band, spawning an Oscar-nominated film, renewed interest in Cuban music and spinoff group Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club.

It’s the latter – comprised of four original members alongside family members of the original group and other players – that has kept the name active despite the deaths of multiple legends like Ibrahim Ferrer, Compay Segundo and Ruben Gonzalez. After an extensive “Adios Tour” around the world, the group returned to Havana’s Teatro Karl Marx Saturday night for a rapturous first of two shows.

Saturday’s concert was many things: a joyous victory lap; a mournful group eulogy; an act of historical preservation (a new documentary on the group is set for release next year); a nostalgia trip of traditional Cuban styles like son, mambo, guajira and bolero. But above all, it was a showcase and testament to the virtuosic skill of the current original players: laud player Barbarito Torres, guitarist Eliades Ochoa, trumpeter Manuel Mirabel and the incomparable vocalist Omara Portuondo.

Pianist Rolando Luna opened the show with a tribute to Gonzalez as video of the revered pianist, who died in 2003, played onscreen. It would be the first of six tributes to deceased members: an elegiac if painful reminder that 20 years ago, many of the album’s musicians were already playing with gray hairs and laugh lines. Perhaps due to the lack of surviving members, only six of the 20 songs on the set list were from the group’s debut, with the rest taken from last year’s Lost and Found compilation, members’ individual work, and Cuban and other standards (“Besame Mucho,”Quizas Quizas Quizas”).

As in past concerts, Torres and Mirabel played the entire show, with Ochoa and Portuondo making extended guest appearances. While Mirabel mostly played the background, Torres has always been one of the group’s flashiest members, shredding on the laud and, later, effortlessly playing behind his back in deft showmanship. Ochoa’s playing, as on “El Carretero,” was more mournful and romantic, in line with the Cuban country and blues he helped popularize.

But it was the 85-year-old Portuondo that remains the most charismatic and commanding. Like Aretha Franklin, Portuondo is all things to all people: a crooning, cooing chanteuse; a confident diva; a rousing master of ceremonies. For her five-song set, the singer commanded the crowd to clap, stand up and dance on “No Me Llores Mas” before segueing into a gorgeous version of her romantic ballad “Veinte Anos” with just piano accompaniment. “Besame Mucho” became a crowd sing-along, with Portuondo both leading and playfully teasing the audience.

Her appearance was the first time the Havana crowd got on their feet, with the audience more subdued than the frenetic New York one that welcomed them to the Beacon Theatre last year. Buena Vista Social Club are still a household name in Havana, but have always been more popular outside of Cuba. The band is comprised of some of the country’s best musicians, but hardly the only ones.

Cuba is teeming with skilled players, with music, both live and recorded, heard throughout Havana and abroad day and night. Still, after global touring, the group seemed comfortable at home, gliding between songs and exhibiting a genial camaraderie between the older and newer members.

While Cuba-U.S. relations are drastically different than when the group first formed, the band remains a throwback to an earlier time. As restrictions under the embargo continue to soften, multinational corporations like Google and Starwood have already begun plotting their takeover of the country.

With direct flights to Havana from the United States now a “when, not if” proposition, the country seems poised in the coming years for one of the biggest changes in its history. But Buena Vista Social Club has always remained apolitical and tonight was no different, as the group focused solely on the music. Speaking to Rolling Stone on Saturday, Ochoa jokingly had other things on his mind. “The documentary will hopefully come out in December,” he says. “And I look forward to picking up my Oscar in January.”


Washington and Havana to consider new ways for cooperation

comision_bilateral_1_2_0HAVANA, May 16th Following last week´s talks on ways to fight and prevent money laundering, Cuba and the United States hold on Monday the third session of their bilateral commission in an effort to keep expanding areas of cooperation down the road towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

Today´s session is being headed by the general director for the United States at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal and the counselor for the US Secretary of State Kristie Kenney.

The two sides meet to pave the way for new mutually beneficial accords, technical meetings in areas of common interest, and other exchange on bilateral and multilateral issues.

The session is expected to reach accord on high-level visits to take place soon and to keep advancing towards a real normalization of relations, according to sources with the Foreign Ministry.

Since its first session, the bilateral commission, which was set up in August 2015, has favored cooperation in air security, the fight on narcotics and migration fraud, and new scenarios related to the protection of the environment, law enforcement and agriculture.

Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations last July, Cuba and the U.S. have signed nine accords including the areas of environment, postal services, direct commercial flights, maritime navigation security, agriculture, trade and telecommunications.

Despite this advancement, the over-50-year US economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba still is the main obstacle to bilateral relations, since the unilateral US policy hinders the development of the Cuban people and has direct impact on companies and citizens not only from the United States but also from around the world. (acn)

Cuban Foreign Minister holds talks with his Spanish counterpart

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, ministro cubano de Relaciones Exteriores (I) sostuvo conversaciones con su homólogo español, José Manuel García-Margallo (D), en la sede de la cancillería cubana, en La Habana, Cuba, el 25 de noviembre de 2014. AIN FOTO/Abel ERNESTO/app

HAVANA, May 16th  Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez will meet on Monday with his Spanish counterpart Jose Manuel García-Margallo, who is paying his second official visit to Cuba.

The Spanish foreign affairs and cooperation minister, who arrived Friday in Havana after visiting Ecuador, is also scheduled to meet with Cuban government vice-president Ricardo Cabrisas as part of his agenda, which concludes on Monday.

The top government Spanish official´s visit here aims at boosting bilateral links between Madrid and Havana and addressing his country´s 28-year cooperation with Cuba along with the role and operations of Spanish companies accredited on the island.

The Spanish diplomat reportedly intends to address with Cuban authorities how to use some 375 million Euros, a portion of the debt condoned by Spain to Cuba, to fund local agricultural production.

Foreign minister Margallo previously visited Cuba in 2014 to consider prospects for bilateral relations, particularly trade and other issues related to the international agenda and the challenges posed by the global economic crisis.(acn)