Monthly Archives: September 2016

Republican senators oppose nomination of DeLaurentis as ambassador to Cuba

DeLaurantis

DeLaurantis

HAVANA, September 28th In an effort to open new diplomatic relationships with Cuba before he leaves office, President Obama has nominated the first US ambassador to Cuba in more than 50 years.

However, this announcement could simply go to waste as two Republican senators are planning to block the nomination as soon as it reaches the opposition-controlled Senate.

Chief diplomat to Havana picked
President Obama chose Jeffry DeLaurentis to be the country’s ambassador to Cuba. DeLaurentis is already the chief diplomat in Havana since 2014 and Obama said that his was the main reason why he chose him for the position.

Republican senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas have openly announced that they would oppose anyone nominated by Obama as Cuban ambassador. The two senators tried to reduce funding for the US embassy in Havana in an effort to stop any possible strengthening of relations between the two countries.

Senator Rubio reiterated that Havana has to make several political reforms first before they are awarded an ambassador. He also cited improvement with human rights policies, the return of US fugitives that are located in Cuba and the compensation of US properties that have been seized during Castro’s regime.

Senators can hold a nomination process even if an ambassador only needs a majority vote to be confirmed. DeLaurentis’ nomination and Obama’s plans to improve Cuba and the US’s relationship could also be put on hold as well.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, said that DeLaurentis is the best man for the job considering that he is respected by both the US and Cuba. He also stated that as Cuba has an ambassador in Washington, the US should also have theirs in Havana.
http://mstarsnews.musictimes.com/articles/114559/20160928/ambassador-cuba-nominated-obama-republican-senators-oppose-nomination.htm

Alaska Airlines will fly to Havana beginning Jan. 5, 2017

og-new-brandHAVANA, Sept. 27 PRNewswire Alaska Airlines will launch historic new flying to Havana, Cuba on Jan. 5, 2017.

The daily nonstop flight from Los Angeles is among the first regularly scheduled commercial flights to the island country in more than 50 years, and is the only nonstop flight to Cuba from the West Coast.

“This is a historic year for U.S. travelers, who can now fly to Cuba from the U.S. on scheduled commercial service for the first time in more than 50 years,” said Andrew Harrison, Alaska’s chief commercial officer.

The flights were awarded by the DOT in August, and remain subject to approval by the Cuban aviation authorities.

With the addition of flights to Cuba, customers traveling from Los Angeles can reach 22 destinations on Alaska Airlines’ more than 275 weekly flights, and 84 nonstop destinations worldwide via Alaska’s expansive global partner network.

“With the addition of nonstop flights to and from two cities in Costa Rica last fall, and now Havana, we’ll offer up to 87 peak season weekly departures from Southern California to Latin America.”

Schedule of new service:

Start date

City pair

Departs

Arrives

Frequency

Jan. 5

Los Angeles-Havana

8:50 a.m.

4:55 p.m.

Daily

Jan. 5

Havana-Los Angeles

5:55 p.m.

8:45 p.m.

Daily

All times based on local time zones

Customers flying from Seattle and Anchorage, Alaska will also enjoy convenient connections to the new route.

To aid customers interested in visiting Cuba, Alaska is working with Cuba Travel Services, the leading travel company serving the destination with more than 17 years of experience.

Customers are encouraged to contact Cuba Travel Services for assistance securing travel visas, hotel lodging, and ground transportation and creating itineraries, among other things.

“We are proud to build a new partnership with Alaska Airlines and excited to contribute in their efforts,” said Michael Zuccato, General Manager at Cuba Travel Services.

Alaska Airlines blog: So you want to go to Cuba: Here’s how

Tickets for the new routes will go on sale today with fares starting from $229. To purchase tickets, visit www.alaskaair.com

3-D images to get virtual view of Havana streets

hvanaHAVANA, Sept. 27th Mapping experts and local volunteers fanned out across Havana recently, recording ground-level images of cobbled streets, major thoroughfares, bus routes and plazas in the Cuban capital to create navigable, street-level 3-D photo maps.

From early Thursday until Sunday, the group walked, drove and bicycled around Havana, using selfie sticks, smartphones and action cameras to record as many images as possible of the city’s 280-square-mile area.

Among the landmarks that were mapped were the Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral of Havana, part of the Colon Cemetery, the Plaza of the Revolution, El Morro fortress and Estadio Latinoamericano.

Then using an application developed by Mapillary, a company based in Malmo, Sweden, the images were uploaded and stitched together by machine-vision technology to create 3-D ground-level maps that show the city in remarkable detail and are available to the public for free.

“We use a little bit of magic to transition nicely from image to image,” said Jan Erik Solem, Mapillary’s founder. He previously launched Polar Rose, a facial recognition software company that Apple acquired in 2010.

The mapping team, which included a Mexico-based Mapillary executive and 11 members of Cuba’s open street map community, recorded 140 gigabytes of data. Mapillary began uploading the Cuban images to its site Monday.

Solem said the photo maps will always be available to individuals for free. The company makes its money by selling the information to mapping companies and other commercial entities, which also are asked to contribute to the platform.

On foot and using a car and two motorcycles, the mappers covered more than 217 miles. During the four days, they managed to photograph about 60 percent of Cuban public transit routes, about 90 percent of Old Havana, parts of Miramar and Vedado, and the primer anillo — the highway around Havana.

They also ventured outside the city recording footage at the Church of San Lazaro in El Rincon and Ernest Hemingway’s home, Finca Vigia, which is about 10 miles east of Havana in the town of San Francisco de Paula.

THE MAPILLARY PLATFORM ALLOWS USERS TO SEE LANDSCAPES CHANGE IN REAL TIME
The Mapillary platform allows users to see landscapes change in real time. Because of Cuba’s spotty internet connectivity, the team took most of the photos that were captured in Cuba to Mexico to complete the process.

Some areas where Mapillary took pictures required permits and fees like El Morro, but for the most part, the volunteers captured images in public places that required no special permission, said Claudio Cossio, Mapillary’s Mexico-based head of Latin American user growth. He was part of the Havana mapping team.

The mappers were a bit apprehensive about how the project would be received. “Open data isn’t currently legislated in Cuba. It’s kind of a gray area,” Cossio said Monday after returning to Mexico.

“Crowd-sourcing is not well-known in Cuba, so we wanted to tread lightly because some government organizations might not be in favor of this type of initiative,” he said. “We didn’t run into any problems.”

Although some of the mappers were using 360-degree cameras, they tried not to call attention to themselves. Instead of mounting cameras on the roof of the car, for example, all the images were recorded from inside the vehicle. And the citizen mappers were told not to do anything illegal, not to take pictures in restricted national security areas and to respect people’s privacy.

Before images are released to the public, faces and any visible license plates are blurred.

Cossio said the last time the cartography of Havana was updated was 1955. “Or if it has been updated, citizens haven’t had access to it,” he said. The hope is the Havana project will kick-start mapping in Cuba and it will spread to cities throughout the island, Cossio said.

Mapillary left some of its equipment in Cuba so the volunteer mappers could continue capturing images; the company hopes to return to the island next year.

Cuba’s open street map community did some preliminary mapping near Havana’s Cerro neighborhood before the project began, although it didn’t use a 360-degree camera like those employed in mapping exercises in Sweden and for some of the recent Cuban mapping.

Mapillary hopes the maps it produces will be useful to the Havana government as well as to Cuban entrepreneurs and other individuals.

“The tech community in Cuba is centered on tourism and in tourism maps play a big role,” he said. There are already several tourism and dining apps that have been created by Cuban entrepreneurs.

“Mapillary is also free for this type of work,” Solem said.

The company says beginning to map is easy and anyone can do it. It requires little more than a smartphone, although some users prefer more sophisticated cameras.

Users download the app, create an account on mapillary.com and begin taking photos. Users can take pictures themselves or use an automatic mode that allows the app to take photos at regular intervals and review their pictures before uploading them.

A father and son team, for example, made significant progress mapping the remote Faroe Islands, which are about halfway between Norway and Iceland between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic, during their summer vacation using three simple cameras and a smartphone.

After Faroe Islanders petitioned rival Google Street View to come and map the islands, Google arrived on Aug. 31 to begin mapping with cameras mounted on bikes, backpacks, ships, a wheelbarrow and even the backs of sheep. Some 70,000 sheep live on the islands, more than the entire population.

Google Street View’s global reach is far greater than Mapillary’s, but Solem said the Swedish company hopes to top Google’s coverage within a few years, mostly because of its growing network of community mappers.

When Google maps, it generally sends a fleet of vehicles into a city or town and then doesn’t come back and update for a few years.

“We have a different way of capturing images as well as our frequency of updating is different,” Solem said. “We offer a way for anyone to contribute and fill in [mapping] gaps.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article104007501.html#storylink=cpy

American ballerina in Havana

Catherine Conley never thought she'd end up spending a year in Cuba, but the 18-year-old ballerina is breaking boundaries as the first American to train in the country's famed ballet system.

Catherine Conley never thought she’d end up spending a year in Cuba, but the 18-year-old ballerina is breaking boundaries as the first American to train in the country’s famed ballet system.

HAVANA,Sept. 25th (CNN) Catherine Conley never thought she’d end up spending a year in Cuba, but the 18-year-old ballerina is breaking boundaries as the first American to train in the country’s famed ballet system.

She arrived, ready for her adventure in Havana a day after commercial flights from the US to the communist country started back up last month.

“I feel incredibly honored to be the first American to come here (to train) and symbolize the two countries coming together,” she told CNN. “A few years ago — even last year — this wouldn’t have been possible.”

Conley, who graduated from high school last spring, is the first American since U.S. and Cuba moved toward normalized relations to study at the world renowned National School of Ballet in Havana. She will train with some of the best dancers her age and she’s put college on hold to do it.

Conley has been dancing since she was a child and trained at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago. During a visit to the US the director at Cuba’s national school of ballet saw Catherine dance and she was impressed.

Ballet is considered one of Cuba’s greatest exports — classes are subsidized by the Cuban government — and Conley said there is even a television channel dedicated to the form of dance that all Cuban citizens can watch.

Cuba has produced some of the most famous ballerinas in the world — including Alicia Alonso, who founded the National School of Ballet.

“I love the culture here,” Conley said. “The kids here enter into the school to become ballet dancers. They’re not doing it for a hobby so therefore the training is really, really intense.”

Conley said she hopes she will be the first of many ballet students to come and train in Havana with the National School of Ballet.

“(The people at the school) have been so open and welcoming,” she said. “I think that’s reflective of where the two countries are looking to go.”

Cuban ballerina Xiomara Reyes, who leads the Washington School of Ballet, said the art form shouldn’t be political when it comes to the rocky relationship between the United States and Cuba.

“I don’t think ballet should be political,” Reyes said. “We are actually an art form that doesn’t have words.”

New class purebred dogs emerges in Havana

havana-live-dogs-havanaHAVANA,Sept. 22th  (AP)  Lourdes Ortega spent nine years castrating cattle and ridding pigs of parasites until a chronic nerve disease forced her out of veterinary medicine, leaving her struggling for two decades to raise three sons as a single mother on disability.

Then opportunity appeared in the form of a year-old Chihuahua named Macorina. Continue reading

havana-live-granma

Cuban Granma news paper runs US embassy notice

havana-live-granmaHavana,Sept. 22th  (AFP) Granma, the Communist Party newspaper and a source of anti-US tirades since 1965, made history Wednesday by running a US embassy notice for American citizens living in Cuba.

The notice gives information on how US residents can request absentee Continue reading

Iran leader meets with Fidel Castro in Havana

havana-live-rohani-cubaHAVANA,Sept. 20th  (AP)  Iranian President Hassan Rohani met with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his brother President Raul Castro during a one-day state visit in Havana on Monday.

His sit-down with Fidel Castro was an unusual encounter since Cuba’s 90-year-old retired president receives only a few people.
Officials did not say where they Continue reading

Iran’s president Hassan Rohani arrives in Havana

havana-live-RohaniHAVANA, Sept. 19th Iranian President Hassan Rohani has arrived in Havana to hold talks with senior Cuban officials.

Heading a high-ranking politico-economic delegation, Rohani arrived at Havana Jose Marti International Airport on Monday at the official invitation of his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. Continue reading

Trump says he would reverse Obama’s deal with Cuba

trumpmiami160916HAVANA, Sept 18th If Cuba doesn’t comply with his demands, Donald Trump said on Friday, he’ll cut off the freshly re-established trade and diplomatic channels between the country and the United States.

The comments came during a rally in Miami, Florida, according to Reuters — a city with a large Cuban population, due in large part to its proximity to the island nation.

During his second term in office, President Barack Obama made efforts to repair the strained diplomatic relationship between the U.S. and Cuba that had existed since the Cold War. He reduced restrictions on travel and trade with the country, according to MSNBC .

But on Friday, Trump called the measures taken by the Obama administration “one-sided,” and said that they benefitted “only the Castro regime,” according to CNN.
“All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them,” he said. “And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands.”

Those “demands,” Trump said, include “religious and political freedom for the Cuban people,” and “the freeing of political prisoners,” the latter of which CNN notes was absent from the copy of Trump’s prepared remarks, giving it the appearance of having been improvised on the spot.

Cuba did release 53 political prisoners in 2014 as part of its deal to reopen diplomatic ties with the United States, according to CNN.

Trump’s criticism of the Obama administration’s deal with Cuba is a departure from comments he has made in the past that seemingly showed his support of improved relations.

As recently as March, Trump told CNN that opening a hotel in the country was something he would consider.

“Maybe it won’t work out, but I will tell you, I think Cuba has a certain potential and I think it’s OK to bring Cuba into the fold,” he said.

Peruvian Navy vessel “Union” arrived in Havana

624x468HAVANA, Sept. 14th Peruvian Navy vessel the “Union,” the largest training sail ship in Latin America, arrived yesterday to the port of La Havana, where it will remain on an official two-day visit as part of its training voyages.

The 115.75 meter ship, with a little more than a month and a half of service Continue reading

Japan is offering Havana ¥120 billion in debt relief

shinzo_mHAVANA, Sept. 11th Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering offering Cuba debt relief worth ¥120 billion ($1.17 billion) during his planned visit to the Caribbean nation later this month, according to sources close to the matter.

Abe is considering visiting Cuba later this month, in what would be Continue reading

Cuban biotechnology specialists meet in Havana

heberprot-pHavana, Sep 8. (ACN) A national meeting of biotechnology specialists working in the extension to the population of treatments with Heberprot-P®, drug used with remarkable results in diabetic foot ulcers, will take place in Havana.

Headquartered at Comodoro Hotel, the event, Continue reading

“The Companion” Premieres in Cuba

the_companion_el_acompanante_HAVANA ,Sept. 7th  The Companion, the Cuban film which has been critically acclaimed worldwide, had his premier yesterday, September 6th, in Cuba

. The Companion is a story that takes place in Havana in 1988, when the Cuban government was taking severe measures to try and control the AIDS/HIV epidemic.

The main character, Horacio Continue reading

Digital Oases For Cuba’​s Internet

havana-live-internet-box

The Internet stations are biodegradable cubes, with fake grass flooring and solar panels.

HAVANA, Sept. 5th (ClarinCuba‘s belated embrace of the Internet has people packing into places like the Plaza de la Revolución and the colonial fort Castillito, two of the island’s just 114 public WiFi hotspots.

Overall, the number of Cubans who regularly access the Web is still relatively small. Continue reading

In Cuba the tax man is coming slowly

14225450_534606676732152_1934007360386761508_nHAVANA, Sept. 3th (Reuters) Some 1.5 million more Cuban state workers will contribute to social security next month, with some paying income tax for the first time since the 1959 revolution as a law passed as part of efforts to modernize the economy gradually goes into effect.

The workers, mainly in industry, will pay a 5 percent social security tax on income over 500 pesos per month and income tax of 3 percent to 5 percent on earnings over 2,500 pesos per month, Cuban state media said on Friday.

Deputy Finance Minister Meisi Bolanos Weis said the tax would be deducted from workers’ pay checks by their employers, the Communist Party daily, Granma, reported.

With an eye to the increasing inequality that was sure to come after President Raul Castro began implementing cautious market-oriented reforms and reducing the role of the state in the economy, the Communist-run island passed its first comprehensive tax code in 2012.

Cuba had abolished taxes after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, when everyone began working for the state at low wages. The government then subsidized everything from health, education, sports and culture to food, utilities, transportation and social security.

The Caribbean nation’s average monthly wage last year was 687 pesos, or about $25 at the official exchange rate. There were 5 million in the labor force, of which 80 percent worked for the state.

The government envisions replacing subsidies for all with targeted welfare, meaning that the largely tax-free life under a paternalistic government is on its way out

But the code is being implemented gradually, as “conditions permit,” the law states, with such novelties as a property tax and inheritance tax still on hold.

Income tax was first applied to owners of small businesses, cultural figures and Cubans working for foreign companies and more recently to hundreds of thousands of farmers and 500,000 self-employed Cubans.

Most state workers, for example in the health and education sectors, do not pay income tax, but over the last three years began contributing to social security.

Photo Walk-Through: Amanecer at Galería Habana

  A solo show by Pablo Rosendo turns the entire space into an artwork

Courtesy Galería Habana

HAVANA, Sept. 1th We normally think of Galería Habana as a sedate, “white cube” space, where individual works of art are hung on the walls or installed on plinths, with identifying labels posted discreetly nearby. For Amanecer, his solo show and “intervention,” emerging artist Pablo Rosendo had other ideas.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

Instead of individual works of art per se, Rosendo turned the entire space into an environmental artwork.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

In place of the usual white walls and ceiling, the upper half of the gallery was converted into a slightly menacing mass of dripping black.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

The black color not only dripped down the walls but hung in globules from the ceiling.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

Beneath the dark mantle was a colorful, slightly chaotic fantasy. The environment included a welter of lines on the floor and individual artworks.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

Some motifs were applied directly to the walls, and others were executed on paper and then affixed to the walls.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

Except for the wall décor, individual artworks were propped up on the floor rather than hung.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

One of the individual works included in Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer
Courtesy Galería Habana

Moving through the space, the viewer becomes part of the environment, and part of the artwork itself.

Gallery view of Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer at Galería Habana
Courtesy Galería Habana

Pablo Rosendo: Amanecer runs through September 9 at Galería Habana.
Cuban Art News