HAVANA, June 29th (Reuters) A large “Four Points by Sheraton” sign has gone up outside the Havana hotel that this week becomes the first in Cuba to operate under a U.S. brand since the 1959 revolution.
HAVANA, June 29th Add Grand Circle to the list of cruise lines touting voyages from the USA to Cuba.
The small-ship cruise operator on Tuesday announced plans for 11-night trips to the island nation out of Miami starting in January 2017. Continue reading
HAVANA,June 29th (Reuters) – Cuba has successfully held off the Zika epidemic and in the process all but eliminated Dengue fever and other mosquito-carried illnesses, state-run media reported on Tuesday.
Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told a Council of Ministers meeting that a series of measures taken this year to eliminate Continue reading
HAVANA,June 28th The Florida Aquarium made history in August when it partnered with the National Aquarium in Havana on coral reef research — the first-ever collaboration between marine centers from two countries that had Continue reading
HAVANA, June 28th (Reuters) MasterCards from Florida-based Stonegate Bank (SGBK.O) are the first U.S.-issued credit cards that can be used to withdraw cash at automatic teller machines in Cuba, the first vice president of the country’s central bank said on Monday.
Irma Margarita Martinez, speaking to media on the sidelines of a financial Continue reading
HAVANA,June 26th More than a dozen Cuban bikers wearing black leather vests gather at an open-air bar in Havana. They chat and drink near the Malecón along the coast as the sun drops over the ocean. Continue reading
HAVANA, June 24th Southwest CEO Gary Kelly spoke Wednesday about his airline’s flights to Cuba. Though 90 slots have already been awarded, the Dallas-based low cost carrier is still waiting for news on the 20 slots for Havana, about which the DOT has still not yet made a decision.
The importance of Havana
“We’re ready to go. The other cities that we’ve bid for, the slots are all awarded at this point. But Havana is key, and hopefully we’ll hear something in July and we can get flights launched this year,” Kelly saidduring an appearance on CBS on Wednesday.
Southwest is still competing with all three legacy carriers and rival JetBlue, among others, for the Havana slots. Both United and Delta have not even bothered to apply for slots at the nine other airports on the island, focusing all their efforts on Havana.
Already awarded two Cuba destinations
Southwest has applied for a total of nine slot for Havana’s José Martí International Airport. It wants to fly to Cuba’s capital from Fort Lauderdale (six slots), Tampa (two slots) and Orlando (one slot).
Southwest has already been approved for daily flights to Santa Clara and twice-daily flights to Matanzas, the airport that serves the resort destination of Varadero. These flights will originate in Fort Lauderdale.
The best option for the DOT?
Southwest has always been confident about its ability to succeed in the U.S.-Cuba market. In its application for Cuba slots, it claimed that it was better positioned than its rivals. “Southwest will almost certainly have the lowest South Florida-Havana fares of any applicant in this case. More than any other airline in this case, Southwest will successfully develop the new Havana markets, operate at high load factors, and bring the greatest air travel value to the U.S. consumer.”
This argument speaks directly to the DOT’s statement that it will choose airlines based on which ones provide the most “public benefit.” Thus far, it seems like the DOT has been intent on spreading the slots evenly between airlines. Smaller airlines like Silver Air and Sun Country, for example, have been given slots to some of the nine other cities with international airports in Cuba.
Havana might prove different. Two major airlines, Delta and United, ignored the nine other airports and only applied for flights to Havana. The stakes will be much higher here than for any of the other slots. That is why the DOT is taking its time making its decision.
Who provides more “public benefit?”
In the bigger picture, the Havana decision will force the DOT to weigh in on low-cost carriers. Will they think that lower fares like those offered by Southwest and JetBlue provide more “public benefit” than full service carriers? Will full service airlines prevail because of their larger size and lobbying clout? Or will the Department avoid taking a stance on the issue by dividing the slots evenly between legacies and low cost carriers?
Kelly said that he hopes to get a decision on the Havana slots sometime in July, which would allow flights to take off in the late fall.
HAVANA, June 24th Rocker Jon Bon Jovi fueled speculation that he was interested in touring Cuba with his band Bon Jovi when the rocker recently visited the country. He has since confirmed rumors he is indeed planning a stop there.
Alongside his wife Dorothea Hurley, the rocker visited the country and admitted to that he was disappointed “The Rolling Stones got here ahead of me!”
The musician was referring to the legendary rock band’s March 25 show at the Ciudad Deportiva in Havana.
According to Granma, Bon Jovi visited the Cuban Art Factory in Havana.
He reportedly met with film producer Inti Herrera, David and Ernesto Blanco and Alfonso X, a hip-hop and invited them to listen to some new tracks from “This House Is Not For Sale”.
HAVANA, june 23th (ACN) — Cuba will sign a contract for the creation of a joint venture this year directed at the development of a golf complex in the province of Pinar del Rio that will be upon completion one of the largest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Yuslenia Saumell, business specialist at the tourism ministry, said that before the end of the year they will iron out the proposal with the Spanish company that will execute the works alongside its Cuban counterpart in the Punta Colorada project.
She also said that a similar project in El Salado, which is part of the Mariel Special Development Zone, is also in its final approval stage.
Created with the Chinese Beijing Enterprises Holdings Limited company and the British Essence Hotels and Resorts, there are currently two joint firms for the construction of the site associated with golf courses in Bello Monte in Havana and in Varadero resort.
During the International Seminar of Tourism Journalists underway in Havana, with the participation of reporters from 12 countries, the Cuban specialist explained that until now there are over 60 foreign investment projects under negotiation.
Saumell added that new hotel management contracts are expected to be signed his month with Spain and Canada.
She added that there are talks underway with other markets like the United Arab Emirates and China that are interested in exploring investment opportunities in Cuba’s tourism industry.
Among the recent events, she highlighted the signing of two contracts with the US Starwood group belonging to the Marriott hotel chain for the management of the Inglaterra and Quinta Avenida Hotels, both in Havana.
The Cuban tourism ministry has a portfolio that includes 127 projects, of which 25 are for the construction of hotels, 97 for hotel management, with or without foreign financing, and five dedicated to marinas.
There is a program for the construction of 108,000 new rooms, of which 30,000 will be financed with foreign capital from now to 2030.
The foreign investment law was reformed and the business opportunities for tourism were expanded. Tourism is one of the most dynamic sectors in the country and the second source of hard currency for the economy.
The seminar, which concludes on Friday, promotes exchanges among over 50 professionals from Cuba, United States, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Uruguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and, for the first time, Russia.
HAVANA, June 23th Cuban and foreign choirs will offer over twenty concerts from June 28 to July 2 in stages of Havana, during the 12th edition of the International Festival Corhabana 2016.
The Festival will include the participation of choirs from countries like the United States, Mexico and Colombia, plus 10 professional Cuban groups and 19 children choirs to which the Festival is dedicated, said on Tuesday at a press conference director Digna Guerra, president of the Organizing Committee.
The US choirs Coral Cantigas and Chicago Children’s Choir, Vocal Arte Ensemble of Colombia, and Coral of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, are the foreign groups that have so far confirmed their attendance.
Cuba will be represented by the groups Orfeon Santiago, Euterpe, Schola Cantorum Coralina, Camerata Vocale Sine Nomine and Emsemble Vocal Luna, among others.
Premieres and special performances will characterize the Festival, which is sponsored by the National Center of Concert Music of the Cuban Music Institute. The opening concert will take place at the Saint Francis of Assisi Minor Basilica, and the closing concert at the Avellaneda Hall of the National Theater.
Corhabana 2016 will have the Chamber of the National Museum of Fine Arts, the San Felipe Neri Oratorio, the Spanish-American Culture Center, the Victor Hugo Center and Ernesto Lecuona Hall of the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro de La Habana as venues.
HAVANA, June 23th Millions displaced. Tens of thousands maimed by landmines. More than 220,000 killed.
The war waged between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla and Colombia officially ends Thursday, in Havana, Cuba, with a binding and immediate bilateral ceasefire.
This has been the official announcement 48 million Colombians received early Wednesday, after President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed that he would be in Cuba alongside international dignitaries, representatives of the guarantor nations, the United Nation’s Secretary General Ban-Ki moon and FARC’s maximum commander, alias “Timochenko” – Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri.
After five decades of internal conflict with FARC, the bilateral ceasefire marks the end of all hostilities with the oldest guerrilla group in the world and effectively closes a drawn-out, bloody chapter in Colombian history.
Among the state dignitaries who will participate in the official announcement from Havana Thursday are: Cuba’s Raúl Castro, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the Dominican Republic’s Danilo Medina, San Salvador’s Salvador Sánchez, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende and Venezuela’s embattled Nicolás Maduro.
Representing the U.S is Bernie Aronson, Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process.
During four years of peace negotiations with FARC and which began with exploratory talks in Oslo back in 2012, the bilateral ceasefire ends one of the world’s oldest conflicts with the 12,000-strong guerrilla.
From the very start of the talks, FARC’s decision not to demand a demilitarized zone as a pre-condition for negotiating marked a fundamental change in their position and a departure from the talks in the Caguán between Conservative President Andrés Pastrana and the then maximum commander of FARC, alias “Tirofijo” – Manuel Marulanda Vélez.
From their first encounter at the peace table in Havana, Cuba, both sides took the bold step to negotiate in “good will” and without the presence of the media.
FARC and the Colombian Government agreed to “disagree,” yet kept to the objective that the end of the half-century long conflict would entail a “laying down of arms.” The parties also set out to “build a stable and lasting peace” with “uninterrupted direct talks.” These early objectives have now been met, despite difficult moments which strained the viability of the talks, such as when FARC attacked a military garrison in Cauca, in April 2015, killing 11 soldiers and the Colombian Army quickly retaliated with a strategic air strike.
One issue which was very clear and non-negotiable in both sides of the peace camps: the conflict would continue until the final point of a six-point Agenda was reached – “Cessation of hostilities and abandonment of arms.”
Even though FARC announced the indefinite extension of a Christmas 2014 truce which became a unilateral ceasefire, Colombia’s state security forces have been war with FARC until the Executive ordered otherwise. Most Colombians never imagined this to be possible. Most Colombians have never lived in their country at peace with FARC.
But the Executive order to stop all confrontation and “silence all rifles” is now official and to be sealed Thursday June 23 at 12 noon in Havana.
The final peace accord will be signed in a protocol ceremony on Colombia’s 206th Independence Day, July 20th.
HAVANA, June 22th The continuing thaw in Cuba-US relations has sparked many changes on both sides of the Florida Strait—among them, a re-energized focus on design on the island.
So says Roberto M. Torres Barbán, coordinator of the first Bienal de Diseño La Habana, which took place in the capital last month, with additional programs in Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey.
In a presentation earlier this month at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Torres Barbán spoke about efforts to bring contemporary design into the spotlight alongside contemporary art.
Although a Design Week had been presented annually over the previous eight years, it was a relatively low-profile event. The Cuban design community, including the Oficina Nacional de Diseño (ONDi), believed that more could be done.
“The name was very easy,” said Torres Barbán, noting the parallel with Havana’s internationally recognized fine arts biennial, which presents its 13th edition in 2018.
But the concept behind the first Bienal de Diseño—or BDHabana’16—is slightly different, as reflected in its slogan, diseño y presperidad. “We wanted to promote the idea, within the island and internationally, that Cuban design could contribute to the prosperity of the economy dentro la Isla,” he explained.
As a result, along with a broad range of museums and cultural institutions, the Bienal’s 22 exhibition venues included entrepreneurial establishments such as Conga: Arte y Diseño, an interior design firm and retail store, and the architectural firm Laboratorio 26.
Exhibitions focused on such themes as contemporary jewelry design (at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes), architecture (at Laboratorio 26, Malecón 663, and the Galería Taller Gorría, and other venues), and furnishings, housewares, and accessories (Estudio Galería Los Oficios, Galería Collage Habana, Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales, and other locations).
Book and graphic design were featured at the Casa de la Poesía de la Oficina del Historiador de la Ciudad, among other locations, and in the international student workshops presented by the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, with students from the University of Art and Design in Halle, Germany.
The Biennial’s meetings, lectures, and workshops included international design professionals such as Birgit Lohmann, editor in chief of Designboom, Christopher Turner, director of the London Design Biennale, Sir Martin Sorrell, executive director of the advertising firm WPP, and Spanish architect and industrial designer Alberto Lievore.
The Fábrica de Arte Cubano (FAC) was a hub for Biennial activities, including exhibitions, screenings, and the popular Exposición colectiva de vestuario experimental, a show of futuristic fashion design.
Another adventurous fashion show, Wake Up! Cuba Trashion, featured designs made from reclaimed and recycled materials. Presented at the Galería Raúl Oliva at the Centro Cultural Bertolt Brecht, the show was an eye-catching success.
Other notable events included the Premio ONDi Diseño 2016 awards and exhibition at the Centro Hispano-Americano de Cultura. Among the winners: acclaimed veteran graphic designer Rafael Morante, with a retrospective exhibition at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba.
An exhibition on the acclaimed furniture and interior designer Clara Porset (1895–1981) was presented at Factoría Habana, where it remains on view through August 31. (For more on Porset, see our profile from July 2014. For more on the Factoría Habana exhibition, see the current article on the DesignBoom website.)
For the event’s organizers, one of the basic principles was that, even though the biennial has “Havana” in its title, its activities would not take place in that city alone. As a result, the program in the capital was followed by exhibitions and events in the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey.
The first Bienal de Diseño La Habana was organized by ONDi, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Culture, the Caguayo Foundation, the Asociación cubana de comunicadores sociales, the Instituto Superior de Diseño, and other organizations.
For more images of the Bienal, see the photo album on the Cuban Art News Facebook page.
And now, a competition
One of the speakers at the Bienal was Pino Fortunato, an Italian design professional who gave a well-attended workshop about ecological design. Based on the interest he saw at the Bienal, Fortunato and his New York-based nonprofit organization, EcoArt, have partnered with ONDi and other organizations to create Design Havana, “the first eco-sustainable furniture and lighting design competition in Cuba.”
Open to architects and designers at any stage in their careers who reside in Cuba, the competition invites entrants to submit sustainable designs for seating, lighting, and flat-plane items (beds, coffee tables, desks, etc.).
A jury will select five projects to be developed as prototypes. Entrants for the selected projects will receive US$1,000 to create a prototype of the piece. The prototypes will be shown in an exhibition in Havana this fall.
The winner, chosen from the five finalists, will be awarded a fully subsidized, custom-tailored design residency program in Italy.
In his presentation at the Bronx Museum, Fortunato stressed eco-sustainability as a primary consideration in the competition. He pointed out that in the submissions, entrants must describe their materials in detail.
“Where is it from? Is it from Cuba or imported?” he said, adding that a project using wood from the island would have a competitive advantage over one using wood imported from Brazil or elsewhere. “What chemicals are involved? How are you handling them?”
The rules for the competition are available on the Design Havana website. They are also available at the ONDi offices, which is also accepting the submissions.
The deadline for submissions is September 4.
Organizations collaborating in the Design Havana competition include EcoArt, ONDi, the Bienal de Diseño La Habana, the Cuban Artists Fund, Art for Promotion, and the Italian Embassy in Cuba.
HAVANA,June 22 th View from a Drone (DJI Phantom 3 model) of the northern part of the Hicacos Peninsula, where naturewanted it to be the most beautiful beach in Cuba: Varadero.
In the video, in addition to the paradisiacal beach of clear waters and the spectacular landscape, you can see from the air the following hotels:
Iberostar Laguna Azul
Ocean Varadero El Patriarca
Melia Las Antillas
Be Live Turquesa
Coralia Club Playa de Oro Varadero
Brisas del Caribe
Occidental Allegro Varadero
HAVANA, June 21th (PL) The Argentinean singer Fito Páez yesterday offert at the Havana’s theater Karl Marx a great concert for the 30 years of its CD “Giros” as a closure of a Latin American tour.,
The relationship with the Caribbean nation started with his first visit to the country, to the point that from that moment nothing stopped exciting him, “even when in the 90’s Cubans called skinny chickens Fito Páez”.
During a press conference upon his arrival in Havana, the author of “El amor después del amor” he declared to Prensa Latina that Cuba is his home, a place where he feels loved, challenged, protected, and therefore he is sure ” the concert here will be a bomb”.
Authorities from the company PM Records, responsible for producing the show, assured this reporter that two days ago the more than 5,500 seats of the Karl Marx were sold.
At the headquarters of PM Records, the rock singer explained he will perform all tracks on the CD “Giros” and after that he will sing hits of other moments of his musical career which started in 1979 when he founded the group Neolalia with school friends.
The musician thanked the Cuban musician Pablo Milanés, to whom he owed his first visit to the island and this return, and who is also expected to appear on stage together with Páez tonight.
Páez has won five Latin Grammy Awards, and he also was recognized in 1995 with the Konex Platinum Award as the best rock songwriter of the decade in Argentina.
Recently, he has ventured into filmmaking, but without hurry, he added, before ending the meeting with the press, because in the meantime he prepares the edition of two new books (one with Editorial Planeta) and another CD.
HAVANA, June 20th (CNN) Cuba’s capital, Havana, boasts one of the world’s most significant but frequently overlooked treasure troves of Art Deco architecture.
Successfully integrating architecture, interior design, fashion and visual arts, this decorative trend had a wide-reaching influence on the Caribbean island.
Spanning the Roaring ’20s and extending into the Depression-ridden 1930s, Art Deco came to epitomize all the glamor, opulence, freedom and hedonism of the post-World War I Jazz Age. Art Deco’s aesthetic is defined by smooth lines, geometric shapes, new materials and bright, sometimes gaudy colours.
In Cuba, the rule of twice-elected president Gen. Gerardo Machado (1925-1933) witnessed the greatest flowering of the movement. Influenced by overseas trends, Cuban architects assimilated Art Deco’s features in a range of buildings across Havana, frequently using tropical elements such as palms and pineapples, as well as African iconography.
Cuba’s Communist era has seen much of Havana’s iconic Art Deco architecture spared from the wrecking ball, although it has also meant that today many buildings are in a sorry state of neglect.
Times are slowly changing, however; the 2013 Art Deco Congress was held in Cuba for the first time, and organizations such as Habana Deco are now working hard to promote and protect the country’s Art Deco heritage.
Tours of Art Deco architecture in Havana can be organized through UK travel company Cuba Direct.
HAVANA, June 19th The heirs of Meyer Lansky, the impresario of the North American Mafia gambling colony in Cuba (1933-1958) are betting on a big payback from the negotiations between the United States and Cuba to normalize relations between the two countries. Compensation claims by U.S. citizens or businesses for properties nationalized by the Cuban revolution are among the issues under discussion.
Lansky’s daughter Sandi, her son Gary Rapoport, and her brother Paul have filed a compensation claim against Cuba for the Riviera Hotel and Casino with the U.S. Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The Cuban revolution confiscated the Riviera and other Mafia-owned properties after it toppled the gangster-linked regime of General Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
“It was through my grandfather’s hard work that the hotel was built,” Rapoport told the U. K. Daily Mail Online on December 23, 2015. “We are his natural relations . . . . By right, it should be our property.” He says the Riviera is valued at $70 million. The Tampa Bay Tribune, Reuters, and Haaretz have also covered the story.
The Riviera, which overlooks the Straights of Florida, was the crown jewel of Lansky’s casinos, hotels, and nightclubs in Havana. When the Riviera opened in December 1957, it was the largest Mafia-owned hotel-casino outside Las Vegas. The hotel’s 440 double rooms were booked solid for the winter season of 1957-1958.
However, the narrative that the success of the Riviera was the product of Meyer Lansky’s “hard work” is undercut by Lansky’s own assessment of his arrangement with Batista.
Lansky talked candidly about his years in Cuba with Israeli national security writers Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan, and Eli Landau for their admiring biography Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob (Paddington Press, 1979). (Lansky lived in Israel in 1970-1971 to avoid tax evasion charges in the United States.)
Lansky pitched his plan to Batista to open Mafia owned casinos and nightclubs in Cuba in 1933. Lansky promised to make Batista, who had just come to power in a coup d’etat, a partner. Batista and his inner circle would get regular payments from the Mafia gamblers. In return, the gangsters would be allowed to operate without interference from Cuban authorities. With a handshake and an abrazo, Lansky and Batista laid the foundations of the Cuban gangster state.
“Working on the well-known principle that it’s better to use other people’s money than your own, Lansky persuaded Batista to have the Cuban government help finance the venture,” Eisenberg, Dan, and Landau wrote.
“The [Cuban] government agreed to back every dollar invested on the island by foreigners with a dollar of its own and to give every hotel that cost more than one million dollars the precious prize of a gambling license . . . and the casino hotels would not have to pay Cuban taxes.”
The Riviera was one of four new hotels with casinos, which opened in Havana between 1955 and 1958. Cuban development banks subsidized 50 percent of Lansky’s $14 million Riviera project; Lansky-linked investors provided the rest. Senator Eduardo Suarez Rivas, brother of Batista’s Minister of Labor Jose Suarez Rivas, was secretary of the Compania de Hotels La Riviera de Cuba, which operated the Riviera.
The Mafia gambling colony was the cornerstone of the Cuban gangster state. The gangsters’ graft bound Batista, his inner circle, senior security officers, and the Mafia together in the defense of one of the most repressive regimes in Latin America. As a CIA report put it, “In return for the loyalty they gave him, Batista always backed his security services. In times of crisis, he often suspended civil guarantees . . . and gave the services a free hand.”
The days of the North American gangsters in Cuba were numbered when Batista fled into exile on January 1, 1959. In 1958, Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement had denounced the Mafia radio broadcasts from its guerrilla redoubt in the Sierra Maestra for turning Havana into a center of commercialized vice – gambling, prostitution, and drugs.
When Castro arrived in Havana on January 8, he vowed to “clean out all the gamblers.” The Riviera and other gangster-owned properties were nationalized, and the Mafia gamblers returned to the United States.
To regain control of its casinos, hotels, and nightclubs in post-Castro Cuba, the Mafia waged a covert war on the Cuban revolution. The gangsters regrouped with their Cuban political allies, now in exile in the United States. The Mafia subsidized Cuban exile leaders and supplied arms to Cuban exile commando groups for attacks on Cuban targets from speedy boats and small aircraft. The gangsters also plotted with the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro.
In 1959, Lansky volunteered to arrange the assassination of Castro in a meeting with the CIA, according to Doc Stacher, a life-long Lansky associate. “He [Lansky] indicated to the CIA that some of his people who were still on the island, or those who were just going back, might assassinate Castro,” Stacher told his Israeli biographers.
“Meyer Lansky thought that if Castro would be eliminated there was a good chance for Batista to make a comeback . . . He told them [CIA officers] he was quite prepared to finance the operation himself.” From 1960 to 1963, the CIA and the Mafia plotted covertly to assassinate Castro.
To portray Lansky as an aggrieved victim of Cuba is to stand history on its head. There should be no compensation for the heirs of the former Mafia gamblers in Cuba.
– See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/162856#sthash.8gmS3hYA.dpuf
HAVANA, June 19th “House of Lies” made history last Sunday night as the series finale — and the first scripted American TV episode to shoot entirely in Cuba since the embargo began more than 50 years ago — aired on Showtime.
Back in January, the show’s cast and crew spent an entire week in Havana working on the finale. Among the challenges of filming in Cuba was the government’s censorship of most media, making the episode’s title, “No es Facil” (“It’s Not Easy”) all the more fitting. “You don’t just come to Cuba and shoot whatever you want.
They’re very protective of the culture that they have here and a system that they have, so in order to be here today, we submitted a script and an outline months ago,” said Jessica Borsiczky, the show’s executive producer.
The Cuban government reviewed the script and did give approval several months before they began filming the finale. Despite the restrictions, American productions are clamoring to shoot in Cuba. The next “Fast & Furious” and “Transformers” both filmed in Havana this year, too.
Letting these American productions into the country might be the best way to market Cuba’s many assets to American tourists. As Tourism New Zealand points out, having high profile productions film in the country not only exposes millions of people to the culture, it also provides access to high profile celebrities who will inevitably be asked to describe their time filming in the locale.
“House of Lies” star Don Cheadle said the “people (of Cuba) were wonderful, there was a lot of great stuff, the music was amazing, and the food and everything like that.” A nice endorsement, from a big star.
The HOL series finale finds Marty Kann (played by Cheadle) and the rest of his “Pod” (played by Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson) putting their personal lives ahead of their consulting business for the first time as they turn away from a deal that could potentially put a “five-star resort on every beach and a Starbucks on every corner” in Cuba, and ultimately choosing the country’s integrity over their own bank accounts.
The Pod’s change of heart doesn’t come as a huge surprise, considering the Cuban government had final script approval. What is surprising is how perfectly the finale captures the authenticity Kaan and Associates were hoping to preserve. The colors, music, food, dance, cobblestone streets and classic cars of Havana are all showcased throughout the episode.
Viewers are taken on a virtual tour of the island during a montage of driving shots and the Pod makes a point of visiting several Havana landmarks before the series comes to a close.
As the episode opens, Kann and company are making their way through Plaza de la Catedral — one of Old Havana’s original main squares, known for its 18th-century Cuban baroque — on their way to their hotel, the iconic Hotel Inglaterra.
The luxury hotel will join Starwood Hotels’ Luxury Collection after undergoing renovations later this year.
And, no trip to Cuba would be complete without a mojito at Bodeguita del Medio, a tradition Earnest Hemingway made famous more than 75 years ago. “House of Lies” surely won’t be the last American series to shoot in Cuba, and Hotel Inglaterra certainly won’t be the last hotel to be taken over by a large corporation, leaving us to wonder if the real life Marty Kaans of the world will show the same respect for Cuba’s culture and history that he did.
HAVANA, June 18th FedEx Corp. won’t be flying a big cargo plane into Havana anytime soon.
The express delivery giant dropped its bid to operate to Cuba’s capital and is now requesting U.S. regulatory clearance to fly five times a week between Miami and the smaller resort town of Varadero in the province of Matanzas.
In a downsizing of its near-term ambitions, the company also said it would use a Cessna 208 aircraft, which is far smaller than the Boeing 757 it initially proposed for the Miami-Havana route.
Using Varadero as the base for FedEx’s initial operations “would be the more optimal use of its resources under current Cuba marketplace conditions,” it added in the amended application.
A company spokeswoman declined Friday to elaborate on those market conditions or the reason behind the changes. The company reiterated its “strong interest’’ in providing all-cargo transportation service between the countries.
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The decision comes amid heated competition for U.S. passenger flight routes to Havana. The Transportation Department last week awarded six U.S. airlines rights to secondary Cuban airports but said it would wait until the summer to apportion flights to the capital after receiving three times more requests than the 20 available daily slots.
FedEx said Friday it plans to provide trucking service from Varadero to Havana, the special development zone in Mariel and Santiago de Cuba. Veradero’s Juan Gualberto Gomez International Airport is roughly 70 miles east of Havana.
The company requested a start date of Jan. 15, 2017 in Thursday’s amended application, citing “the complexities of setting up operations in Cuba with ground and customs clearance capabilities.”
That is later than U.S. passenger airlines plan to arrive on the island nation. American Airlines Group Inc., the largest U.S. airline by traffic, said this week its first Cuban-bound flights will depart Sept. 7 to Cienfuegos and Holguin.
FedEx noted in the amended application that it remains the only all-cargo applicant for U.S.-Cuba scheduled air services. The shift in planned operations, however, suggests tourism, not trade, will take off sooner as the U.S. loosens decades-long travel restrictions to Cuba.
FedEx delivery rival United Parcel Service Inc. confirmed Friday it hasn’t filed an application yet.
“UPS continues to assess the opportunity to provide services to and from Cuba. As trade lanes open and demand for delivery services increases, UPS will take appropriate action to meet the needs of our global customers,” it added in a statement.
HAVANA, June 17th As the sun sinks over Old Havana, a row of ramshackle apartment buildings fades from sherbet bright to creamy hues of pale pink, yellow and green. Storm clouds hover above the twisty streets bustling with bike taxis, grocery-carting pedestrians and classic cars. Couples linger at outdoor cafés, stray dogs crisscross the cracked, uneven sidewalks.
Then the lights come on.
First, it’s the golden neon sign atop the 1950s-era Payret Theater by Central Park. Then, in the shadow of the National Capitol Building, the ice-blue marquee fronting the now-dormant Cine El Mégano comes alive.
“¡Es magia!,” squeals a little boy, grasping his mother’s hand.
It’s been decades since Havana’s neon signs have infused the city with so much light. But with the public art and urban restoration project Havana Light, neon is glowing again in Cuba.
The initiative is the brainchild of Cuban contemporary artist Kadir López Nieves and Cuban-born Angeleno Adolfo Nodal, who was general manager of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs for 12 years, starting in the late 1980s. Nodal now lives half the year in Havana. During his tenure at the L.A. agency, he had more than 150 vintage neon signs restored in Hollywood, downtown and along the Wilshire corridor, including the Bendix and Knickerbocker hotel signs.
Inspired by that project, Nodal and López Nieves, who met in Cuba’s art scene a decade ago, are now immersed in a self-funded effort to illuminate Havana, one sign at a time.
The neon logos topping hotels, theaters and restaurants — both artfully repaired vintage signs and new commercial ones — are part of the historic preservation of Old Havana during a moment of profound change. They are emblematic of, and meant to inspire, the budding entrepreneurship taking place in Cuba now that citizens may open small businesses and the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations makes travel to the island easier.
“It marks a new era, a return of the light, of hope,” Nodal says on a walking tour of the signs in Havana.
In the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, Nodal says, thousands of commercial neon signs, then thought of as a symbol of modernism and prosperity, crowded Havana’s streets. The city boasted as much neon as Paris and New York. The blur of candy-colored lights lent a moody, noir chic to the island’s vibrant jazz scene, sparking the nickname “the Paris of Latin America.”
But after the rise of Fidel Castro’s socialist government in the 1960s, the signs were seen as grossly commercial. They were also expensive to maintain due to decay from humidity and harsh sunlight. Slowly, they were taken down or turned off. After the fall of communism in the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba faced a so-called special period of dire economic conditions and daily power shortages; nearly all the remaining neon signs went dark. Many were used as scrap metal.
“We want to spark an interest in neon, a resurgence, so that new businesses coming in will opt for it,” Nodal says. “They serve the city in such a beautiful way — they’re public sculptures.”
The signs at the Payret and Mégano theaters were the first two that Nodal and López Nieves restored, working with one of Cuba’s only neon glassblowers, Guido Hernandez, and his proteges. The signs debuted atop their original locations along with eight others around the city as part of López Nieves’ art installation “Alumbrando el Barrio” (Lighting Up the Neighborhood) in conjunction with the May 2015 Havana Biennial.
With a third partner, L.A. businessman William Merriken, they have completed 42 signs so far, mostly concentrated along Paseo del Prado in Old Havana, the Malecón waterfront and 23rd street — “the route of the light,” as they call it. Some signs are attached to still-operating establishments, such as the Hotel Inglaterra and the Hotel Deauville; others,like the Mégano sign, sit atop abandoned businesses.
The goal, says Nodal, is to light 150 signs in the next two years. The two hope to eventually reach 500 signs and are also exploring the possibility of solar-powered neon.
“It’s been a long season of darkness,” López Nieves says. “But Cuba is finally open socially, open to the world. And the world is just opening to Cuba. Whenever we display one sign, there’s an immediate impact. People start looking at their environment in a different way.”
To restore the signs, neon benders re-shape the glass by hand, spiff up the rusty metal frames, add electrodes and fill the tubing with gas, in the same manner they were created in the 1930s. López Nieves sources old photos and newsreel footage for clues as to what the signs looked like in their heyday; he then sketches blueprints for the craftsmen. “I have to guess what color they were and what will work best,” López Nieves says, since he’s working mostly off black-and-white images.
Despite decades of urban decay and a lack of infrastructure development in Havana, Nodal says restoring that city’s signs has been easier than in L.A., where it took more than a decade to accomplish, due to what he calls “regular bureaucracy.” With Cubans now allowed to own property, a legislation change as of 2011, building ownership in the country is slowly shifting from state to private hands. In this murky, transitional landscape, the unlighted signs, Nodal says, are considered in the public realm.
He and López Nieves simply obtain permission from a building manager, if there is one, and neighbors. When the neon lights go on for the first time, Nodal says, residents typically cheer. “The government doesn’t really have a role; it’s happening on the neighborhood level. People are so eager for progress, there are very few naysayers.”
Funding is the primary challenge: restoration costs roughly $700 to $3,000 per sign, each of which takes one to three weeks of labor, López Nieves says. Where L.A.’s neon project was city-funded, Nodal and López Nieves are paying for Havana Light through online crowd funding, fundraising parties, their own money and paid tours of the signs around Havana.
They’re in the process of building an income-generating museum for neon signs and classic cars — “the old bones of Havana,” Nodal says. When it debuts in 2017, it will be one of Cuba’s only nongovernment, artist-run spaces. It will also include a garage workshop where the project’s restoration work can be done and new commercial neon signs can be made for Havana businesses willing to pay for the service. The glassblowers and electricians get paid for their work, but Nodal says he and López Nieves don’t take any money.
“One hundred percent of the profits go back into restoring the signs,” Nodal says. “It’s a labor of love.”
On a recent May evening, dozens of Dallas tourists visited López Nieves’ home in the Kohly area of Havana for a tour of his gallery works, followed by a backyard pig roast and concert by local indie pop artist Polito Ibáñez. Vintage signs dotted the yard, bathing the party in green, red and yellow neon. The raucous Dallas collectors, some in cowboy hats and faded jeans, mingled beneath leafy palms and mango trees as Ibáñez’s band rocked out on a small stage by the pool.
The evening was productive: López Nieves sold two large pieces, and in all, the event generated about $10,000 for the project.
“Havana was dead,” an electrician employed by the project, Osmany Fernandez, said over corn tamales and red wine. “And now Havana is living again, with the new lights.”
From a purely practical standpoint, Nodal says, the signs illuminate previously dark and dangerous nooks of the city.
“Guns aren’t easily accessible in Cuba, so you don’t see many murders, robberies,” Nodal says. “But there’s petty crime, there’s prostitution. Whenever you have light, that stuff goes away.”
Nodal makes his living as co-founder of Cuba Tours and Travel. “I’ve learned how tourism can fuel culture,” he says.
López Nieves earns a living by selling his smaller gallery works internationally. In 2014, he exhibited, painted and photo-collaged non-neon metal signs that he’d found around Havana — the focus of his art practice over the last decade — at Santa Monica’s William Turner Gallery. He’ll exhibit new work at L.A.’s Gallery 825 in August, as well as a neon installation, “Havana Noir,” at the Palos Verdes Art Center this fall.
“My work is based in memory and how layers of memory affect the future,” López Nieves says. “The whole spirit of Cuba today has a lot to do with that.”
Soon, the two will restore the sign on the Los Angeles, a vintage movie theater where Hollywood films premiered in Cuba in the ’40s and ’50s. The restoration is being funded by L.A.’s Project Restore; an L.A. delegation will fly to Havana in March to light the sign. “It’s the neon equivalent of planting a tree,” Nodal jokes. “It represents peace, a relationship.”
“The project, it’s breaking ground, it’s opening doors,” says Project Restore President Ed Avila. “And for us, it’s the beginning of a friendship.”
HAVANA,June 16th (AP) Just before noon outside Ernest Hemingway’s Havana estate, a metallic screech cut through the chirping of tropical birds and the sound of a live band entertaining tourists.
An American worker pulled open one door of a 40-foot shipping container. A Cuban worker pulled open the other. Out spilled treasure: box after box of U.S.-bought tools and hardware, from electric fuse boxes to hurricane-proof windows.
On an island where finding a handful of screws can be a days-long odyssey, the new era of U.S.-Cuban normalization has brought hundreds of thousands of dollars of supplies to build a simple but up-to-date conservation facility for Hemingway artifacts ranging from books and letters to fishing rods and African animal heads.
The opening of two containers on Wednesday was far from the most momentous event in the year and a half since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente. But there was a symbolic charge to the unpacking of American goods that will be used to preserve the memories of a man who’s become an icon of friendly U.S.-Cuban relations. Hemingway lived at the airy home known as the Finca Vigia in the 1940s and ’50s, and places where the Nobel literature laureate worked, fished and drank have become important Cuban cultural sites and draws for tourists from around the world.
The home fell into disrepair over a half century of Cold War between the U.S. and Cuba, which suffers under both a U.S. trade embargo and the self-imposed problems of an inefficient and unproductive centrally planned economy.
“Preserving Hemingway’s legacy brings honor and dignity to North Americans and Cubans alike,” said Ada Rosa Alfonso, head of the Finca Vigia museum.
The goods unpacked Wednesday will be used to complete the first stage of the conservation facility that should be finished in the spring of 2017, said Mary-Jo Adams, director of the Boston-based Finca Vigia Foundation, which raised nearly $900,000 for the project.
When he died in 1961, Hemingway left approximately 5,000 photos, 10,000 letters and hundreds, perhaps thousands of margin notes in the roughly 9,000 books at the Finca Vigia. Most are stored in the decaying, termite-infested basement of a guest house on the estate, but will be moved to the new facility as soon as possible, Adams said.
“This is where he kept the objects that he loved, and where they reside,” she said.
Alfonso said the Finca Vigia could become a model for other historic preservation projects in Cuba, which has struggled to find the resources to protect centuries of globally renowned architecture and art.
She said it was thrilling to see the containers unpacked after years of trying to preserve Hemingway’s home without state-of-the-art supplies or equipment.
“I really feel the fact of having the best materials, the tools, really having the best conditions to continue preserving the collection,” she said. “Material and tools coming from the United States isn’t something you see every day.”
HAVANA, June 15th (PL) Latin American bands and artists who sing and play different musical trends, will alternate together with Cuban musicians, to show the diverse sounds of the continent, beyond the commercial features.
Cuban Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a project by Cuban songwriter X Alfonso, will be heading the presentations of the 2nd edition of the AM-PM America Festival for Music, which will conclude on June 19.
On June 16, Chilean female singer Yael Meyer and Argentinean percusionaist and composer Vivi Pozzebon will make their respective presentations, together with Cuban Yissy Garcia and her group.
The following evening, it will be the turn for Argentinean female singer Sol Pereyra and Mexican-Brazilian ensemble Francisco El Hombre.
On June 18, Fabrica de Arte Cubano will receive Colombian groups La Mula and Los Pirañas, two groups that mix electronic music with traditional trends such as Colombian cumbia, and others.
On June 19, will be the turn for Cuban trobadour singer and composer Roly Berrio, tres star Pancho Amat (Cuba) and Chilean group Inti Illimani.
From June 16 to 18 there will be other activities, such as the “Meeting – Workshop of Musical Journalism”, given by members of the Network of Musical Journalists in Latin America and in the Galich Room of Casa de las Americas.
Professionals of the industry will be able to debate on musical journalism, the guardianship of contents and the communication on this matter. In the chats and panels there will be specialists and representatives from Latin America, Spain, the United States and Cuba.
This program thinks about how to reinforce the Latin-American identity and attract attention towards the sonorous creation of the continent.
Also there will be audio-visual cycles, a Musicians’ Forum for the Nonviolence against the Women and the Girls, and exhibitions of plastic arts, photo, cartels, serigraphies and caricatures.
A meeting of music lovers and collectors of discs of vinyl, launching of books, will end the Festival.
HAVANA, June 15th At the fishing port once used by Ernest Hemingway, fisherman Luis Abad and five other men lugged a 12-foot tiger shark onto the dock so that Havana University scientists could measure and weigh the nocturnal hunter.
Then, after the weigh-in, the fishermen stripped the predator of its parts – fins, skin and meat – until all that was left in the afternoon sun was the shark’s liver.
Luis Abad, 57, cuts up the liver from a 10-foot tiger shark at the Ernest Hemingway fishing base in Cojimar, Cuba, on March 24, 2016. He will bake slices of the liver in the Cuban sun until it turns to oil, a folk remedy that’s supposed to help with respiratory problems. Brittany Peterson McClatchy
That Abad, 57, cut up into hundreds of pungent, inch-sized chunks and tossed into a bucket. He let the hot Cuban sun melt the cubes into oil, which he’d give to his asthmatic aunt. She had been pressing him for more of the folk remedy.
“It helps her breathe,” Abad said, lifting his gaze from his work with the knife. “I take it every day. I never get sick.”
Cuba is home to about one-fifth of the world’s 500 shark species. Many sharks and other fish found off the shores of Florida have traveled north from Cuba, following their prey.
Cuba – or at least Cuban fishermen – figure as one of the greatest threats to some of those same species, many of which find themselves in danger because of the animal’s popularity as both a staple food and a source of folk remedies like the liver oil Abad sun-brews in buckets.
That has made protecting sharks odd common ground for the United States and Cuba as the two countries warily circle one another in the search for ways to end more than a half-century of enmity.
In a rocky relationship that’s still finding its way among political crackdowns and blocked business growth, protecting sharks and other marine life is a spot where the two sides have come together. Of the eight agreements reached by the United States and Cuba since relations were restored in December 2014, three involve the environment.
“The environment was the lowest hanging fruit in these bilateral discussions,” says Dan Whittle, the Cuba program director at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group.
In October, Cuba announced an action plan developed with the help of the Environmental Defense Fund aimed at identifying and documenting the largely undocumented shark populations. It calls for eventually imposing fishing restrictions to protect shark nurseries.
A month after the action plan, Cuba and the United States signed their first accord, which called for the protection of fish and coral reefs around the Florida Keys and Cuba’s Guanahacabibes marine preserve, home to more than 200 species of fish, 40 species of corals and 1,000 species of mollusks. The second, signed a week later, was a joint statement on how the two countries would work together to fight climate change and protect against hurricanes and oil spills.
The highest predator in many marine food chains, sharks have been vanquished by overfishing across the world. Their numbers are sharply dwindling because of the high demand for shark fins. In the Gulf of Mexico, some populations have dropped by more than 90 percent.
Cuba has already banned harvesting sharks for their fins, but the restrictions contemplated in the new shark action plan, which includes limits on the number of sharks that can be caught, are likely to affect Cojimar fisherman like Abad and Geori Lopez Ybarra, for whom shark fishing is a way of life.
Their boats typically leave the Cojimar fishing pier after 8 p.m. They fish overnight using baited hooks attached to floating lights. When the bright lights – typically blue or white for sharks – disappear into the water, they know they’ve caught something.
“It’s like Las Vegas,” Lopez said. “Sometimes you win. And many times you lose.”
The absence of regulations and management has put the predators at risk. U.S. and Cuban biologists cite reports that millions of sharks are caught every year with hundreds of tons then thrown back into the sea after the fins have been cut off with no records kept.
Both Lopez and Abad take great pride in using almost every part of the shark. The meat – sold fresh or salted – is eaten. The fins are exported to Asia. The liver can be turned to oil.
They understand that restrictions are needed to protect the sharks and fish they depend on, but there is also a sense of uncertainty across the fishing community on how new restrictions will affect livelihoods.
“This is what we do for a living,” said Lopez. “It’s not that we cut the tail and throw it away. We eat sharks. We know we must protect them, but this is what we do for a living.”
Like Cuba’s lush mangrove forests and pristine corral reefs, its shark habitat remains healthier because of its climate and undeveloped coastline.
The U.S. trade embargo, which the Cuban government has blamed for many of its economic challenges, has helped insulate Cuba’s ecosystem from the type of tourism and development that has challenged other nations
Cuba also was an early proponent of environmental protection, with Fidel Castro as long ago as the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro calling on world leaders to “fight the ecological destruction threatening the planet.” Cuba imposed a number of restrictions to protect marine habitats.
But those measures haven’t stopped poor Cubans from overfishing.
Later this month, the ambassador for oceans and fisheries at the U.S. State Department, Dave Balton, is expected to lead a group of U.S. scientists to Havana to meet with their Cuban counterparts and discuss how best to implement efforts to address climate change and protect against natural disasters and oil spills.
In July, a group of Cuban officials and scientists is expected to come to South Florida to meet with U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration scientists to study reefs around the Florida Keys and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northwest Gulf of Mexico.
“We want to be able to continue opening more doors and learn more about our colleagues,” said Billy Causey, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries regional director, who helped broker the first accord. “Havana is 40 miles closer to my office than I am to the Miami airport. It’s amazing that we know so little about one another and we’re so close together.”
Environmentalists such as Whittle are pressing the administration to keep the momentum going so that any inroads survive into the next presidential administration.
The pent up demand from both sides is so high that Balton says it seems that little can stop the progress.
“This is one of the easier things,” Balton said. “If I had any concern at all about this it is that some of the other harder things like human rights and some of the economic issues are not fully sorted out.”
The role the environment plays in the new relations is not free from controversy either.
While most scientists in both countries appear to support improved relations with the United States, some also fear the potential impact of an influx of American tourists on the island. The U.S. government just approved 155 weekly flights to nine Cuban cities, and while tourism per se is not allowed under U.S. law, the expected influx of Americans is likely to be great.
“Tourism can have a large environmental impact,” said Cary Cruz, director for local sustainable development programs at the Antonio Nunez Jimenez Foundation of Man and Nature in Havana. “For this reason, we feel we need tourism that is responsible, different in my opinion.”
Sharks are expected to be part of the attraction for new visitors drawn to the island’s spectacular diving and snorkeling sites.
Tour buses already take tourists to Cojimar, the setting for Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the 1952 novella about a Cuban fisherman who catches a giant fish and then has to battle sharks for it.
For tourists, fishermen pulling out their daily catch of sharks, rays and other fish offer another glimpse at daily Cuban life.
For Lopez, there is much symbolism involved. If there are no sharks or fish to catch, there will be no old fishermen.
“It’s very important that U.S. and Cuba scientists collaborate because we’re fishing in the same ocean, Lopez said. “If we kill all that we can kill here, there will be nothing left.”
HAVANA, June 15th (PL) The German film “No System is Safe” is premiering today on the third day of the first European Film Festival in Cuba.
The 106-minute film, directed by Bahan Bo Odar, tells the story of shy Benjamin. His life changes when he meets Max, with whom he shares a love for hacking.
“We are including this film because it deals with an interesting topic, and it will be seen by a wider audience,” Petra Rohled, of the cultural section at the German embassy, told Prensa Latina.
Winner in the Bavarian Film Awards Prize 2015 for Best Director, the film will be screened at 20:00 local time at La Rampa theater movie in Havana the main venue of the event.
Ana Guallarte, cultural and cooperation attache of the European Union embassy in Havana, stressed the interest of the members of the regional bloc in making this event an reality.
The Festival, which will be held from June 11th to 18th, will propose to Cuban film goers about 20 films from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Slovakia, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Portugal and Romania.
The usual German Film Week will take place here in late June. It is co-sponsored by the German embassy in Havana and the Cuban Film Library.
HAVANA ,June 15th (AP) A small Florida bank will issue the first U.S. credit card intended for use in Cuba and make it easier for Americans to travel and work on an island largely cut off from the U.S. financial system, the bank announced Tuesday.
Pompano Beach-based Stonegate Bank said its Mastercard, available Wednesday, will let U.S. travelers charge purchases at state-run businesses and a handful of private ones, mostly high-end private restaurants equipped with point-of-sale devices. Until now, Americans have generally had to bring cash to Cuba and change it either at state institutions that impose a 10 percent penalty on the dollar or in informal exchanges with locals.
“This is going to be huge for American companies trying to do business down here,” Stonegate president David Seleski said.
The card’s utility will be limited for the moment, however. Cuba is preventing cardholders from using them for cash advances. And while the bank says there are 10,000 point-of-sale devices across the island, cashiers in state-owned stores often say they are out of service.
The 54-year-old U.S. trade embargo has barred nearly all U.S. financial transactions with Cuba, including direct bank transfers and the use of American debit and credit cards on the island.
A series of exemptions carved out by President Barack Obama after the declaration of detente with Cuba in Dec. 2014 allows American companies to unblock debit and credit card use and open direct links to Cuban banks that permit financial transfers between the two countries.
Stonegate opened an account for the Cuban government and last year became the first institution to issue a U.S. debit card for use in Cuba. The bank says the debit card allows point-of-sale purchases and was briefly authorized for ATM withdrawals before Cuba shut down that capability in order to implement new security measures.
About 100 American individuals and businesses have opened Stonegate accounts with debit cards approved for Cuba, nearly half of them education institutions and travel companies that organize hundreds of trips a year to the island.
The Cuban government is exempting the cards from the 10 percent government penalty on dollar transactions, making them the cheapest legal way for travelers to move dollars to the island.
Cubans receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in remittances from relatives living in the United States and other countries.
Havana has said it will eliminate the 10 percent penalty altogether once international banks allow the country to carry out international transactions in dollars. The Obama administration has lifted a block on Cuban government dollar transactions, but banks are still declining to process them due to liability fears generated by the trade embargo, which can only be lifted by Congress. Similar fears have stopped other banks from authorizing the use of their credit cards in Cuba.
Cubans can open Stonegate accounts in the United States but are barred from accessing them from Cuba.
Despite the thicket of regulations, Seleski said he is heartened by the fact that his bank is now issuing both credit and debit cards authorized for Cuba.
“It puts pressure on other financial institutions to come to the table,” he said. “If you really look at the last 14 months, a lot has happened.”
HAVANA, june 14th American Airlines’ first commercial flight to Cuba is scheduled to take off from Miami International Airport on the morning of Sept. 7 — pending Cuban government approval.
American and five other U.S. airlines received U.S. Department of Transportation approvalFriday for the first regularly scheduled flights to Cuba in more than half a century. The airlines plan to fly to nine Cuban cities outside the capital of Havana that have international airports. DOT said it expects to award the competitive Havana routes some time this summer.
American plans to begin scheduled daily service to both Cienfuegos, a city of Cuba’s southern coast, and Holguín on Sept. 7, but the Cienfuegos flight gets honors as the historic trip because it leaves earlier in the day than the Holguín flight. American says it plans to begin selling tickets for its new Cuba flights at the end of June.
It will be the first-ever scheduled service to Cuba for American. But it has leased its planes to Cuba charter air companies for the past 25 years and last year 1,200 charter flights to Cuba operated using American planes.
DOT also approved American’s request to operate regularly scheduled service from Miami International Airport to Camagüey, Santa Clara and Matanzas where Varadero Beach is located. These flights are also subject to Cuban government approval.
JetBlue, Southwest, and Silver Airways plan to fly from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
JetBlue, for example, plans to offer three daily round-trips, beginning this fall, to Camagüey, Holguín , and Santa Clara and will begin selling tickets this summer.
“While the Department of Transportation is still considering applications for routes to Havana, the three cities announced today cover diverse regions of Cuba — ‘the authentic island’ — and offer travelers access to a variety of destinations and activities,” JetBlue said in its blog, Out of the Blue.
HAVANA, June 13 The “Germinal” frigate from the French National Navy arrived in Havana’s port on Sunday for a four-day friendly visit.
The French F-735 light monitoring vessel, with a crew of around 100 sailors, was welcomed by Sea Captain Jose Luis Souto Galindo, second in command of Cuba’s Department of the Navy, and French ambassador Jean Marie Bruno.
The commander of the “Germinal,” navy captain Michel Vaxelaire, said this has been their third visit to Cuba since 2012. They hope the visits will boost ties between the two countries and also help them learn about Cuba’s culture.
Based in the French port of Fort-de-France in Martinique, the “Germinal” is a Floreal class vessel measuring 93 meters in length and weighing 3,000 displacement tons.
It is armed with a multi-purpose 100-millimeter cannon, two Exocet missile launchers, a decoy Dagie launcher system, two 20-millimeter cannons and a full range of electronic detection and countermeasure systems.
HAVANA ,June 12th (HAVANA TIMES) Havana’s port-transport-domestic economy chain has been interrupted once again and, at the end of the day, it’s the majority of the Cuban population who suffer the consequences.
Cuba relies heavily upon international trade, importing many of the basic products we buy. If port activity doesn’t hum along as it should or suffers delays, between transportation to transfer these goods to markets and then to the final customer, the State ends up paying $7,000 dollars per day in demurrage charges for vessels which aren’t discharged within the time limit established by the contracts.
This time, the Gordian knot involves 20,000 tons of rice, many of which are now useless as they’ve already been attacked by pests, plus the thousands of bags of fertilizer which our national agricultural sector is so in desperately need of.
The pests are having a whale of a time whilst the real insects are frantically looking for excuses where they don’t exist. The stevedores eagerly want to get to work, however the transport they need to unload these vessels doesn’t arrive.
At least now we’ve been informed about this disaster on a TV news report, which was in turn alerted about this situation by an article published in the Trabajadores newspaper. For a long time now, we Cubans only knew, if anything, the excuses why rice hadn’t yet been delivered to stores.
On our TV screens, the journalist took a risk and interviewed both sides of the fence. Standing on one side, the haulage company says that their teams weren’t contracted for the job and that train storage containers weren’t suitable for the job because they leak.
Warehouse managers contend that they had solicited transportation services, but they weren’t forthcoming. However, all of the administrative personnel involved in this dilemma continue to get paid for their work, a little, not nearly enough, but they still continue to receive their paychecks.
Nevertheless, the stevedores count on their day’s worth of work to be able to feed their families. What should be done? Well, if the Cuban state spends $7,000 dollars a day to pay for demurrage charges, half of this amount would be enough to pay all of the workers involved. They wouldn’t only be able to discharge the ships immediately, but they’d be able to find their own modes of transport to take these goods to their final destination.
What sanctions are made against those who work inefficiently? Maybe just a demotion to a more inferior role or an administrative sanction, but they could just as well be sent to the courts on corruption charges.
According to those responsible
With warehouses jam-packed with goods, mainly food products, the Andres Gonzalez Lines and Haiphong terminals in Havana’s port, face a critical situation as the current level of transport operating isn’t enough for what they have right now, much less for what’s also bout to come in.
“Today we have three ships, one with rice, one with beans and another with corn and over the next three days, two more will come in with soy beans and rice,” says Leandro Martinez, director of a Western Port Services Company.
Martinez should be made aware that crises should be tackled with resolutions of the same dimension, be taken to the corresponding Ministry, to the district attorney’s office, as the issue is directly related to feeding the population and the government’s budget.
With regard to transport services, by not having been contracted to supply the vehicles necessary, they should also have experience in how things work, that is to say, they should know what goods are entering the port and why they haven’t been asked to transport them.
Regarding the stevedores, their manager is being bombarded by their own questions. He points out to theTrabajadores journalist, “we have 26 units, but right now we only have one for the day. This clearly has a negative impact as 90% of the stevedores here can’t work. They don’t want the State to lose money and, of course, they need their paychecks,” he emphasized.
He also commented that workers were demanding an explanation from the company’s management, from the labor union and from the Party. “But we still haven’t received a response. Ships keep coming in and the same thing keeps happening: there are no trucks.”
If we were living in times of war, or if a Category 5 hurricane had struck or an earthquake, then maybe those responsible would excuse themselves using human or natural disasters as a legitimate excuse, but that’s not the case here.
HAVANA, june 12th (AP) – Two American fugitives who fled to Cuba after they were accused of killing police officers said Friday that Cuban officials have assured them that detente with the United States will not lead to their extradition.
The United States and Cuba held a second round of law-enforcement talks last month dedicated partly to resolving the fate of scores of fugitives after more than a half century with almost no cooperation. The talks are part of a series of U.S.-Cuba negotiations aimed at normalizing relations after the two countries declared an official end to Cold War hostilities on Dec. 17, 2014.
The discussions have raised U.S. law enforcement hopes that fugitives living in Cuba for decades will return to the United States to face trial or serve prison under plea deals.
Charles Hill, a black militant wanted in the 1971 slaying of a New Mexico state policeman, told The Associated Press that Cuban government contacts had recently reassured him he was at no risk of extradition. Nehanda Abiodun, another black militant wanted in a 1981 armored car robbery that left two police offers and a security guard dead, told the AP she had recently received a similar promise.
Cuba is home to dozens of people wanted in the United States on charges ranging from Medicare fraud to killings committed in the name of black and Puerto Rican revolution movements in the 1970s and ’80s. Cuba has asked the United States to return a smaller number of people, including Luis Posada Carriles, the alleged mastermind of a series of terror attacks against Cuba, including the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people on board.
Cuba’s head of U.S. affairs told the AP shortly after the declaration of detente that Cuba was entitled to grant asylum to U.S. fugitives, a sign that people the country once saw as fellow revolutionary fighters will remain safe. The most prominent is Assata Shakur, who is on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists. She broke out of a prison where she was serving a conviction for murdering a New Jersey state trooper. She was regularly spotted in Havana after fleeing to Cuba but has not been seen here in public in recent years.
Hill said he had contacted his Cuban government handlers about three weeks ago after seeing reports that progress was being made in negotiations that could lead to his extradition.
“My people assured me that no, that’s not going to take place,” Hill said. “I said what’s the status and they said there’s no problem.
“The future is very difficult,” he said. “I don’t know, but I think the Cuban government is going to maintain their position. I feel very tranquil.”
Abiodun said Cuban agents recently told her she’s still safe on the island.
“I feel good,” she said. “I have been assured that my safety is secure.
“I am very, very thankful for their generosity, not only for me but for other comrades that have unfortunately had to leave the United States because of political oppression.”
New Mexico State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said the thaw of U.S. relations with Cuba has increased his hope that Cuba will facilitate the transfer home of Americans accused of violent crimes, including Hill.
He called fleeing the country a cowardly act on Hill’s part and said that “if any country can afford him a fair trial, it is the United States.”
Kassetas said he would expect Hill to face federal charges in connection with a 1971 hijacking of a plane that brought him to Cuba, along with murder charges at the state level. Hill denies killing State Police Officer Robert Rosenbloom during a traffic stop.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said Thursday that he wants to “leverage the re-opening of relations with Cuba to finally bring Charlie Hill to justice.”
The Democratic senator for New Mexico traveled to Cuba in March with President Barack Obama and said he met with Cuban officials to discuss the possibility of returning Hill to the United States. He said the case was brought up during two past dialogues on law enforcement issues.
“I have heard reports that Charlie Hill wants to return to the United States,” Udall said in an email. “And I would encourage him and his attorney to work with law enforcement and the United States government to facilitate the transfer.”
Hill’s lawyer, Jason Flores-Williams, said Hill was confident about his client’s ability to stay in Cuba but the new era of U.S.-Cuba normalization had created some uncertainty.
“With the normalization of relations we have concerns that the U.S. may be, as they have in the past in Latin America, using monetary leverage to try to get in so that they can appease the law-and-order forces in America currently via the extradition of Mr. Hill,” he said.
A spokesman for the FBI in Albuquerque declined to comment on Hill and prospects for his return.
HAVANA, june 11th The U.S. Department of Commerce gave the green light Friday to six U.S. airlines to begin scheduled service to Cuba from five American cities, including Miami and Fort Lauderdale, as early as this fall.
Allowing commercial service between the two countries for the first time in more than half a century is part of the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations with Cuba. The United States and Cuba have agreed in principle to the resumption of scheduled flights, but the airlines still must seek Cuban permission for the slots.
The airlines — American, Frontier, JetBlue Airways, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines — received approvals to travel to nine Cuban cities with international airports.
But the big prizes — routes to the capital Havana — have yet to be awarded. At stake are up to 20 daily round-trip flights between the United States and Havana. DOT said it expects to reach a final decision on Havana routes this summer. U.S. air carriers have requested more than 300 weekly flights to Havana, far exceeding the 140 flights that will be allowed.
The DOT approvals open up new Cuban cities to the U.S. market and include service to at least three resort areas in Cuba: Cayo Coco, Cayo Largo and Matanzas, which serves Varadero Beach. The other Cuban cities that DOT has authorized for commercial service from the United States include: Camagüey, Cienfuegos, Holguín, Manzanillo, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba.
But U.S. travelers are not supposed to take beach vacations in Cuba and still must fall within the 12 categories the U.S. government allows for travel to the island. The categories range from family visits and educational and humanitarian trips to people-to-people travel designed to foster more engagement with the Cuban people.
“Last year, President [Barack] Obama announced that it was time to ‘begin a new journey’ with the Cuban people,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today, we are delivering on his promise by re-launching scheduled air service to Cuba after more than half a century.”
Miami and Fort Lauderdale will figure heavily in the new commercial service to Cuba. The other U.S. cities that have been awarded Cuba routes at this point are Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
American Airlines has been approved for eight daily flights from Miami International Airport to Cuba. It has been authorized for twice-a-day service, using 160-seat planes, from MIA to both Santa Clara and Holguín, two flights daily to Matanzas using a 144-seat aircraft, and daily service to Camagüey and Cienfuegos.
The airline hopes to begin service on all these routes by early September and plans to begin selling tickets by the end of June. American hasn’t revealed ticket prices but said they will be competitive.
“The resumption of scheduled air service to Cuba is a historic achievement and we commend Secretary Foxx and his team for making it a reality,” said Steve Johnson, American’s executive vice president of corporate affairs. “We look forward to giving our customers direct access to Cuba and eagerly await the department’s decision on flights to Havana.”
American has asked for 10 daily flights from Miami to Havana as well as service to Havana from Charlotte, Dallas, Fort Worth, Chicago and Los Angeles.
JetBlue, Silver Airways and Southwest Airways all have been authorized to fly from Fort Lauderdale to various Cuban cities.
JetBlue was approved for daily flights, using 162-seat aircraft, from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Camagüey, Holguín and Santa Clara, and Southwest has been awarded twice daily service to Matanzas and one flight a day to Santa Clara. The airline is authorized to use 143-seat planes.
Silver Airways has been granted various frequencies to all nine Cuban cities, and it will be using 34-seat planes.
Frontier Airlines has been authorized for service from Chicago and Philadelphia, and Sun Country has been given authority for weekly flights from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Santa Clara and Matanzas.
All the airlines, with the exception of Eastern Airlines, got the non-Havana routes they applied for. DOT said Eastern has not completed the licensing procedures needed to offer scheduled passenger services and it deferred action on its request.
If the airlines get the go-ahead from the Cuban government, DOT said most of the carriers plan to begin their new service to Cuba this fall and winter. The airlines must begin their new service within 90 days of the dates they proposed in their applications, said DOT.
Until Havana route authority is granted, charter services will continue to handle flights to the Cuban capital as they have for decades. But if they can’t compete on price with the new scheduled service to the other Cuban cities, the Cuba charter companies’ days might be numbered.
“The question is whether the scheduled carriers will be offering cheaper prices than the charters. The bottom line will be cost,” said Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers, a Miami company that sells Cuba travel services.
“Obviously the overhead for the major carriers will be less,” said Mannerud, who used to operate a Cuba charter company that was the first to lease planes from major U.S. carriers, including JetBlue and American, for charter service to Cuba.
“This is where the rubber meets the runway in the process of normalizing relations,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy in the Americas. “It’s good for American travelers, good for U.S. airlines, good for increasing contact and economic opportunity for the Cuban people, and good for diplomats from both countries who took courageous steps leading to this day.”