Monthly Archives: July 2016

Eleven Cuban People Sentenced because of Drug Trafficking

Havana, Jul 30 (PL) Cuban judicial authorities sentenced 11 people to penal sentences going from 15 to 30 years of prison, because of drug trafficking, linked with international purchasers, said Cuban newspaper GRANMA here Friday.

Granma said that according to the National Antidrug Direction Office (DNA in Spanish) actions were made in the Continue reading

Cuban Dance Company Premieres Two New Pieces

danza-contemporanea3Havana, Jul 30 (PL) The Cuban dance company ”Danza Contemporanea de Cuba” – one of the major companies in this island – will premiere two new pieces by local choreographers Julio Cesar Iglesias and Norge Cedeno.

Elements associated with freedom, lack of inhibition and attaining goals are the essence of ‘La paredes se Continue reading

JetBlue launches $99 flights to Santa Clara

havana-live_jetblueHAVANA,July 29th Low-cost airline JetBlue Airways announced Thursday that it will start its commercial flights to Cuba next month.

As long as the Cuban government approves, JetBlue will become the first U.S. commercial airline to fly to Cuba in more than half a century on Aug. 31.

JetBlue will send a plane from Fort Lauderdale Continue reading

Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Havana looking to U.S.

venezuela-cuba-petroleo-685x342-685x342HAVANA, July 28th   Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity.

Cuba, has alienated itself from the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba to distance itself from the South American country.

So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by 19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top provider almost overnight.

Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive Havana closer to the U.S.

“Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle to Fox News Latino.

“Cuba’s opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don’t have another option if you consider Venezuela’s grim situation,” said Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.

Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.

Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential terms. In exchange, starting 2003 Cuba started providing human resources to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which focused on reducing analphabetism.

According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.

This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefitted both Castro’s and Chavez’s agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.

After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three years ago.

“The new economic scenario doesn’t mean that political relations between Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour,” according to foreign analyst Edgar Otalvora. “Ideologically, they will remain close,” he said, pointing at Raul Castro’s cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.

However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions that Venezuela’s deepening crisis is having on Cuba.

He said Cuba’s economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to “a certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill them.”

“Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy,” Castro told the National Assembly.

Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.

“Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil, Canada and China,” Arellano told FNL. “The down part for the Castro brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future.”

As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November’s election outcome.

“American investors are betting big on Cuba, which will probably result in the ease of the U.S. embargo [over the island] in the near future,” De Michelle said.

“This will improve the wellbeing of the Cuban people and will make Venezuela’s aid less necessary,” the expert added.

Another scenario is that Venezuela’s opposition keeps gaining ground and, if and when in power, brings to a halt the financial aid it has publicly condemned more than once — many say Cuba is benefitting way more than Venezuela with the current arrangement.

“The loss of the Cuban doctors wouldn’t be such a big problem for Venezuela, given the fact that some of them just work as spies and they can be replaced with our own doctors,” Arellano said.

On top of this, it is no that secret many of these social workers have used their appointment to Venezuela as an opportunity to flee the island’s regime.

According to Colombian authorities, in 2015 as many as 720 Cuban medical doctors entered to their territory from Venezuela. Hundreds of them then requested U.S. visas.

Cuba honors Fidel Castro on National Rebellion Day

AFP_007478115-620x441HAVANA,July 27th (EFE) Cuba celebrates Tuesday its National Rebellion Day, one of the most important events on the country’s revolutionary calendar, with massive festivities in the central Cuban city of Sancti Spiritus honoring the ex-president and “historic leader of the revolution,” Fidel Continue reading

Virtual Reality Takes You To Cuban Raves

fifer_vrHAVANA, July 26th  Fifer Garbesi is creating a virtual Cuban rave.

She’s making a virtual reality film about the Cuban electronic music scene which so impressed her when she studied filmmaking on the island in the Spring of 2015, because she thinks there’s something special about electronic music concerts in Cuba.

“I really want to show that this music adopted these different sounds from around the world,” said Garbesi. “But also incorporated this incredible Cuban tradition of amazing percussion.”DJoyDJ Joyvan Guevara spins at the recent VR Festival in Havana. CREDIT COURTESY OF JOYCE LANXIN ZHAO

Take the song “Arroz con Pollo” by DJ Joyvan Guevara, or DJoy de Cuba. The production techniques he uses were developed in nightclubs in cities like Berlin and Chicago. But the rhythms, and the food references, are distinctly Cuban. You can listen below.

Guevara got his start after German producers visited Cuba and left behind some of their music. He became a pioneer in Cuban electronic music, throwing big beach parties in the early 2000s. Gabresi calls him “the Godfather of Cuban electronic music.”

The concert experience on the island is different too.
“These people know how to party, and I love that nobody’s on their phones,” she told me. “Everybody’s jamming out together.”

There are a number of conditions of life in Cuba today that make the concert experience different. Lack of access to technology means people aren’t Snapchatting the concert, but it also means that it’s harder for DJs to get their hands on nice equipment.

I lived in Cuba this spring, and I went to some of these independent electronic music shows. Most went along the lines of one I went to at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), an exclusive Cuban arts university: An aspiring DJ set up two big speakers, strobe lights, and projected an art film that he made on the ceiling.

His eyes lit up as classmates walked across the school grounds to dance and he tried to adjust his equipment.

This is a video that a friend took of the concert.

The setting made this concert stand out in my mind. ISA was built after the revolution and is an architectural landmark. Long, low, open brick buildings curve around on an old golf course. Most of the buildings are now abandoned and decaying and this background brought to mind the ambitions and failures of the Cuban revolution, even as I jumped higher and higher to the music or shielded my eyes from strobe lights.

It is this experience that Fifer Garbesi wants to recreate  with virtual reality for others to see and feel back in the U.S. The technology allows the viewer to look around, and be part of a scene in a way conventional film can’t.

“Just like electronic music,  it is technology completely blowing your mind,” Garbesi said of virtual reality technology, or VR.

She isn’t the first person to bring Cuban stories to the U.S. through VR. In 2014,  two Miami filmmakers shot a film on an earlier version of VR called Oculus Rift.

USA Today also went to Cuba and shot a film in VR last fall. They were using it to promote new virtual reality content at a recent jazz festival in Upstate New York. Participants could choose downhill skiing, flying with the Blue Angels, Indy car racing, or a trip to Cuba.

Screen shot of USA Today’s Cuba 360

 Jeremy Caulkins, 19, ran the booth. He said the Cuba experience was one of the most popular.

“Everybody likes it because it’s immersive,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re about to see and for eight minutes they’re totally somewhere else.”

The tour allows the viewer to look around in a few notable Cuban scenes, like a famous restaurant or a cruise on Havana’s seaside road. Caulkins tried it and he talks about it in a way similar to American tourists when they see the island.

“I’d always heard that Cubans take really good care of their cars and to see that was really cool,” he said. “You know that it [the film] was shot only 8 months ago and you look around and it looks like it was shot in the seventies.”

But this isn’t the kind of virtual reality work on Cuba that Fifer Garbesi is excited about. She thinks the images are cliché and reinforce American stereotypes. She  hopes to instead tell the island’s authentic story.

“Frankly, it would have been better if a Cuban made the film that I made,” Garbesi said. “But I try to work very closely with these Cuban producers to not slant their story in any way.”

Participants of the recent VR Film Festival in Havana. CREDIT COURTESY OF JOYCE LANXIN ZHAO
As part of her efforts to make it easier for Cuban filmmakers to make films in virtual reality, she held a small film festival this Spring, showing sample films and walking participants through how the films were made.

Virtual reality technology is advancing quickly but many Cuban filmmakers already have what they need: a wide-lens digital camera and timer and software they can download from the internet. Right now, the lowest price most Cubans can get for internet access is two dollars an hour, unless they have access through a government job. That’s cheaper than it used to be, which is important for virtual reality because filmmakers need software that they can download from the internet.

Fifer said participants at the VR festival were especially interested in seeing New York City. They also want to use the technology to see the things they can’t yet because of travel restrictions or because they don’t have the money.

Pedro Martin, a Havana-based filmmaker, said that seeing VR was a big deal for his Cuban friends.

Participants of recent VR Film Festival in Havana.

“For them it was like traveling to another dimension,” he said. “making wider the access to have better opportunities as filmmakers, as artists.” Martin said he knows of a couple VR setups being used by Cubans and he’s working hard to show VR films at the Havana International Film Festival in December and he hopes to show Garbesi’s film there.

Arriving at Jose Marti, be prepared to wait

havana-live-aeropuerto-cuba-caosHAVANA,July 25th (HT Fernando Ravsberg) The tourist arriving in Cuba these days receives a warm welcome; the waiting area for luggage is without air conditioning. In any other airport you could say it is not such a big deal but Havana is a different story as we spent 90 minutes until the first bag appeared.

The chaos on Monday was much greater than in the past. It took 2 hours for the health inspectors to appear. People who brought food had to wait patiently because customs would not let them leave without their corresponding dried fruits passing inspection.

When we go through immigration, the only thing that seems to work at a normal speed, there was no information posted as which carousel our bags were to appear on. After a while our flight number was put on above one of the bands and after waiting there 45 minutes we were changed to another carousel without notice.

In fact there weren’t that many passengers, just about 4 flights. Seeing the chaos I was wondering what will happen in the future when US tourism is no longer prohibited and booms? What will happen when they receive 10 aircraft at the same time? How long with the tourists have to wait?

Is the energy crisis so serious that they leave the airport without air conditioning when it is crowded with tourists? This is the face of Cuba, the first a tourist sees. Leaving them in a fish bowl, dripping with sweat and waiting three hours for their luggage does not seem the best incentive to return.

Japanese fantasy world fever grips young Cubans

Participants wear costumes during the Cuban Otaku festival at a cinema in Havana, Cuba, July 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Participants wear costumes during the Cuban Otaku festival at a cinema in Havana, Cuba, July 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA,July 25th (Reuters) Cuba may be one of the world’s least connected countries but that is not stopping the Japanese subculture of animated movies, manga comics and video games from spreading feverishly among its youth.

More than a thousand “Otakus,” or fans of such Continue reading

French luxury footwear designer uniforms Cuban Olympic Team


Cuban Athletics Team Members at Estadio Panamericano beneath Cuban National flag in Havana, Cuba. Photo: Rene Habermacher

HAVANA, July 23th  On Saturday, Cuba’s Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel bid farewell to the country’s Olympic delegation — 120 athletes are heading to Rio de Janeiro, and with more than their typical flag-emblazoned uniforms.

French luxury footwear designer Christian Louboutin and Henry Tai, a former professional handball player and founder of French online retail shop, joined forces to design formal looks for the athletes to wear at the Closing Ceremony — an event that in many ways doubles as a global fashion runway.

The pieces were designed and fitted in consultation with current and former Cuban Olympic athletes — one of several reasons why this Cuban-inspired collection stands apart from the many others that have popped up in the last year.

Even before President Obama announced the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba last July, the fashion industry has pounced on the country in 2015 and 2016 as a source of inspiration and marketing magic, hoping to capitalize on Americans’ and Europeans’ curiosity about the country and how it might change after over 50 years of isolation from the U.S.

Gymnast Dovelis Elena Torres Herrero and Cuban Team athlete Manuel Alejandro Gonzales Conde. Photo: Rene Habermacher

But most designers aren’t interested in Cuba’s future, choosing to glorify a prerevolutionary, sugar-coated Cuba instead of making a significant effort to engage with the country’s culture in a realistic or modern way.Louboutin and Tai explain in a video about the Olympic project (see below) that they both were struck with the idea to design looks for the Cuban team while in the country doing a photo shoot two years ago. (Louboutin said in an interview that he’s been visiting the country for 15 years.)

The fashion worn by athletes in the opening and closing ceremonies are points of great pride for many countries — and an opportunity to showcase domestic design talent — so it’s interesting that the Cuban government would authorize the French men’s proposal. (The French ambassador to Cuba also reportedly helped make this happen.)
Any information about the team’s uniform design has not been heavily publicized in the past. Similarly, another communist country, China, enlisted a well-known designer for the first time to create its team’s ceremonial looks this year.


Cuban Team Members Lidianny Echevarria Benitez and Javier Cortina Lacerra with Henri Tai and Christian Louboutin. Photo: Rene Habermacher

Louboutin and Tai, however, appear to have made efforts to both incorporate feedback from current and former Cuban athletes and inject the looks with distinctly Cuban elements — including bold graphic sneakers and kitten heels, Guayabera-inspired jackets and prominently placed flag patches.

Certainly, this design project is a fantastic marketing opportunity for both Louboutin and Tai, as the corresponding photo shoot and video released this week demonstrate. And the Cuban government, perhaps aware that more eyes than ever will be on their team in Rio this year as the world contemplates its future, ensures its athletes looks strong and modern in front of the cameras.

And while, in an ideal world, that design talent would come from within the country, fashion that helps the athletes look and feel their best on the world stage is more important than it may initially seem. As poverty and injustice still hold Cuba back from its greatest potential, something as simple as joyful, quality uniforms can be a powerful symbol of the future.

Cuba-USA to hold 5 baseball games

peloteros-cubanosHavana,22 julio (acn)  The national Cuban team and the national university squad from USA will hold the traditional friendly baseball match, agreed to five games from July 23 to 27, in several provinces in Cuba.

First they will play at Ciego de Avila´s José Ramón Cepero stadium (on the 23rd and 24 th), then at Havana´s Latinoamericano ballpark (25th) and finally at Pinar del Rio´s Captain San Luis field (26 and 27).

The American side recently lost three of five games against Japan, in match staged on that Asian country.

The Cuban-American baseball matches were continuously conducted between 1987 and 1996 until they were unilaterally suspended by US sports authorities.

A few years ago, in 2012, these events were resumed in Havana. Since then, the contests have been attended by first level players such as Kris Bryant, last season rookie of the year in the National League in the MLB.

That year, Cuba emerged victorious 3-2, however, the United States won 5-0 in 2013, a major blow for the Caribbean side, which competed with its elite team, similar to the one attending the Third World Baseball Classic.

In 2014, and eager for revenge, Cubans took resounding retribution and won 5-0; while in 2015, the United States returned to win, this time 3-2.

FedEx first U.S. cargo carrier to fly to Matanzas

Avions-de-Transport-R-FedEx-EI-FXC-_1074HAVANA, July 20th  As the thaw continues between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted FedEx the rights to operate a five-times-weekly freighter service between Miami and the city of Matanzas. While eight other airlines were granted rights to fly passenger routes between the U.S. and Cuba Continue reading

U.S. Soccer National Team to play historic game against Cuba

May 28, 2016; Kansas City, KS, USA; US Men’s National Team during the national Anthem before the game against Bolivia at Children’s Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

May 28, 2016; Kansas City, KS, USA; US Men’s National Team during the national Anthem before the game against Bolivia at Children’s Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary Rohman/MLS/USA TODAY Sports

HAVANA, July 17th The U.S. men’s national team will play a historic international friendly against Cuba October 7, 2016. The game will be historic because they haven’t played since 1947.

This is the second visit to Cuba by a U.S. team. In the first visit  they won 1- 0 September 6, 2008 for a qualifying Continue reading

Floridita hosts Daiquiri contest as it closes in on 200 years

CUBA-HAVANA-BARTENDERS-CONTESTHAVANA, July 16th (AP) Happy hour came early Thursday as 10 bartenders from six countries including Cuba, the United States and Canada vied to be crowned “king of the daiquiri” at the storied El Floridita where the drink was born.

Salsa music blared in the morning, blenders hummed and a few dozen spectators were on hand to applaud the mixologists when they presented their frothy cocktails, using tongs to finish them off by slipping in colorful straws.

Nick Detrich, a 31-year-old from New Orleans, intently eyeballed his whirring blender as he added splashes of rum, explaining afterward that his technique involves “watching it dance” and picking up cues from the texture.

“Watching the swirl to make sure that that’s uniform, as opposed to just doing one and a half ounces and calling it a day,” said Detrich, who runs Cane & Table and two other joints back home along with his partners. “You really learn that drink while you’re making it.

The rules called for contestants to prepare three traditional rum- and lime-based daiquiris, as well as two of a fruity variant chosen by lots — strawberry, mango, pineapple, a greenish mint-infused take known as a “rebelde,” or “rebel.” Three veteran El Floridita bartenders in bright red blazers and ties sat at the bar as judges, with tasters at a nearby table.

Contestants from Argentina, Mexico and Panama also took part.

“We are coming together through the mixing of different cocktails,” said Mirtha de las Mercedes Gonzalez Salguero, a 21-year-old from Matanzas, Cuba, who was called upon to whip up banana daiquiris as part of her trial.

The daiquiri is “a word with deep Cuban roots,” she added.

El Floridita, which is celebrating its 199th anniversary, is famous as one of the watering holes favored by longtime Havana resident Ernest Hemingway. According to legend he once downed 13 sugarless doubledaiquiris in a single sitting.

Tourists are fond of having their picture taken with a life-size statue of the Nobel Prize-winning author resting its elbow on the bar; each day, employees place a cold one next to it in honor of El Floridita’s most famous customer.

“To experience any sort of place that’s been open for this long, it takes you out of your life in a way, you know?” Detrich said. “It gives you a lot of perspective on, like, for me not just what I do for a living but the passions that I have outside of bartending and literature and things like that.”

Five star Hotel to be built near Havana Airport

13686582_512743512251802_7728565048140105218_nHAVANA, July 14 (ACN) The construction of a five star hotel near the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana stands out among the new business proposals included in the portfolio of foreign investment of the Ministry of Tourism.

Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told ACN that this project responds to the growing demand for accommodation in Continue reading

Havana opens 1st bulk goods store

Shoppers walk through the aisles of a new bulk goods store in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 11, 2016. Called Zona +, the high-ceiling space has racks stacked with large tins of tomato sauce, toilet paper and cooking oil by the gallon. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Shoppers walk through the aisles of a new bulk goods store in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 11, 2016. Called Zona +, the high-ceiling space has racks stacked with large tins of tomato sauce, toilet paper and cooking oil by the gallon. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA,1July 12th  Cuba has quietly opened a first-of-its-kind store specializing in bulk goods in Havana: Zona +, a high-ceiling space with racks stacked with large tins of tomato sauce, toilet paper and cooking oil by the gallon.

It’s not quite Costco, and it falls short of satisfying longstanding calls for a wholesale market to support the growing class of small-restaurant and-cafeteria owners who have set up shop under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms begun six years ago.

But it could help relieve the pressure that those entrepreneurs have been putting on other retail stores by snapping up huge quantities of goods, leaving regular customers in the lurch.

On a recent afternoon, Naidi Carrazana pushed a shopping cart loaded with cases of beer, bottled water and soft drinks she needs to stock her small cafeteria nearby. She acknowledged that business owners like her who make big purchases have been emptying market shelves of things like flour, chicken and tomato paste, and said the new store can help with that.

“A place like this allows you to buy in bulk, and that’s a benefit for us and a benefit for the people,” Carrazana said.

Located in the upscale western suburb of Miramar, Zona + launched a little over a week ago with zero fanfare. Manager Javier Munoz said shoppers are allowed to buy unlimited quantities, but he declined to comment further because he was not authorized to do so by the store’s state-run parent company.

Employees said business has been good despite the lack of publicity, as word of the opening spread mouth-to-mouth. One customer showed up in a car and bought 50 3-kilogram (6.6-pound) cans of tomatoes to supply a restaurant.

Similar stores are being planned for other parts of the city, they added.

In Cuba, government entities are the only ones able to import and acquire goods at wholesale, and wholesale access has been a crucial demand of the 500,000 or so small-business owners and their employees, many of them working in the food-service sector.

The government has promised to set up wholesale markets for private entrepreneurs, but that has yet to materialize and their only option has been the same retail stores where the general population shops.

Although goods at Zona + are bulk, that doesn’t entail a price break. For example, a kilogram of high-end Serrano coffee costs $14.45 there, while the same kilo was $14.40 on the same day at a regular store elsewhere in Havana.

“The place is pretty, the service is good, but it’s still the same price as retail. In truth, it doesn’t resolve our problems,” Carrazana said. “I hope this is like a seed for a wholesale market where we entrepreneurs can buy at a different price.”…/cuba-opens-1st-bulk-goods-store-wholesale-still-180357817