HAVANA, July 28  EVERYTHING, my brother? ” Cimafunk, the singer of the moment in Cuba, greets the waiter …

Read more

You never know what you'll see on this free bike tour of HavanaHAVANA, Aug. 17th Bicicletear La Habana (Bicycling Havana) is a free gathering of bike lovers who cycle en masse throughout Cuba’s capital city following a route that is not finalised until just a few minutes before the ride starts.

Read more

http://en.mercopress.comHAVANA, June 20th The Cuban government opened on Monday the 3rd Edition of International Convention and Exhibition of Cuban Industry (CubaIndustria 2018), seeking to attract foreign investors to revitalize the country’s economy.

Read more

Cuba Venue of Biennial Cepal MeetingHAVANA, may 4th (Granma) Havana will be the site of the 37th period of sessions of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Cepal), hosting the regional organization’s most important biennial meeting, May 7-11 in Havana.

The designation of Cuba as the host was agreed Read more

Nicholas Maduro arrives in Cuba to meet new president Miguel Diaz-Canel

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, right, is received by Cuba’s Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel upon arrival to Jose Marti International airport in Havana, Cuba, late Thursday, March 17, 2016. (Ismael Francisco/Cubadebate via AP)

HAVANA, 21 apr. (EFE) The new president of Cuba, Miguel Diaz-Canel, received today in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, the first head of state who visits the island .

Maduro, who arrived Read more

Technological Scams: Be on the AlertHAVANA, Apr. 20th (HT) by EL TOQUE  The police station in the city of Trinidad has received at least one complaint every day over the past week about scams via fraudulent phone calls which encourage customers from Cuba’s Read more

Who's who at the top of Cuba’s new governmentHAVANA, Apr. 20th (Reuters) – As Cuba on Thursday named Miguel Diaz-Canel to succeed retiring Raul Castro as president, it also appointed new leadership of the 31- Read more

Who is Miguel Díaz-Canel ?, the first president of post-Castro CubaHAVANA, 19 apr. (EFE) Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel, number two of the Cuban government since 2013, became this Thursday the new president of Cuba, where for the first time in six decades the main president of the country does not Read more

Canada sends home families of diplomats posted in CubaHAVANA, April 17th The Canadian government has recalled families of its diplomatic staff in the Cuban capital, Havana.

The move comes as 10 Canadians continue to show Read more

haydee-milanes-premiacion-lucas-foto-faustino-delgado-alvarezHAVANA, Dec. 11th (Michel Hernández) At the recent Lucas Awards in Havana, “Canción fácil,” the video clip starring Haydée Milanés and made by acclaimed film director Fernando Pérez, swept the awards for Best Video of the Year, as well as Best Director (Fernando Pérez), Cinematography (Raúl Pérez Ureta), Art Direction (Alejandro Gutiérrez), Best First Work, and Best Video Song.

Fresh from her win, Milanés spoke with Cuban Art News writer Michel Hernández about her upcoming projects, what it’s like to work with her father, and where she enjoys performing most.

After recording five albums, appearing in large and important venues in Europe and Latin America, and reaching the top of the contemporary Cuban music scene as a young songwriter renowned for the high quality and poetic character of her work, Haydée Milanés is paying tribute to the person responsible for this success: none other than her father, Pablo Milanés, founder of the Nueva Trova movement and a living legend of Latin American music.

At 34, Pablo´s youngest daughter is no longer trying to avoid her father´s shadow. She talked about this new phase of her career in an interview with Cuban Art News. The conversation took place in Nuevo Vedado, where she lives with her 2-year-old daughter and her husband, the audiovisual producer Alejandro Gutiérrez.havana-0live-Haydee_Milanes

“My father is very important in my life. I admire him a lot—as a person, as an intellectual, and as an artist. He is a complete human being and is well aware of what is happening in the world. He has lived a lot,” said Haydée, seated on the sofa in the room where she works.

“At first, I wanted to get away from his influence and make my own work known. Now it´s time to pay him my own tribute, because he is certainly the greatest influence over my career.”

With a style that is quite distinctive in the local Havana music scene, Haydeé has released albums like A la felicidad and Palabras—the latter with songs by the renowned Cuban singer and composer Marta Valdés. For her new project, Haydée plans to record two albums featuring Pablo´s “new and little known songs,” including “Te espera una noche de éxito,” “A veces cuando el sol,” and José Martí poems, she said, “set to music by him.”Haydee-y-Pablo

Where are you with this project?
It’s being realized. My father is very excited, and has given me the freedom to do it. It´s really nice to hear the blending of our voices. We used to sing together at home, and now I plan to record those songs on two albums. I want the first one to come out later this year.

Haydée and Pablo  Milanés Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Is there anything about your father that particularly encouraged you to undertake this project?
I’m still discovering facets of my father´s life. Some days ago, for example, he told me that when he worked in a printing shop, many books passed through his hands, and this stimulated his avid interest in reading.

He also worked for a film magazine, and thus his love for cinema was born. He has lived very intensely. As a teenager he did many jobs and met many intellectuals whom I later encountered through him. All this attracts me about his life.

Knowing Pablo, I can imagine he is the main “critic” of your career.
I am interested in knowing his view on the things I do. It is very critical, and I really appreciate it. For example, he is happy with the album I did with Marta Valdés´ songs. Coincidentally, he recorded those songs the year I was born. My mom was pregnant with me, and I was also pregnant when I recorded the songs.

How is your relationship with your father, considering that you both have very different and intense careers?
We usually see each other on weekends. When I’m recording, I see him on weekdays, or he comes here and brings me his hard drive so we can copy some movies for him. Believe it or not, he is a total movie buff; he sees more movies than albums. He calls me and asks if I have any new movies, and if I do, he comes over right away. Now he is fascinated by his granddaughter. We see each other a lot, but not as often as I would like.Milanes_y_Valdes

Tell us about Palabras, your album of songs by Marta Valdés.
I was quite surprised with the result of this album, because Marta´s music is not for the multitudes. Nevertheless, it has been widely accepted among Cubans with different creative concerns. This album covers various stages of Marta´s music; as you know, she was one of the major composers of thefeeling genre back in the 1950s. Because of their quality, these songs will never get old.

I learned about many Cuban musical genres from my father, who has been devoted to musical treasures, and now also through Marta. Sometimes she mentions a composer´s name and gets upset because I don’t know him. I explained to her that many of my generation don’t know them.

The problem is that there was a time when many of these great musicians were bypassed in Cuba; they were not given the place they deserved. Also, there’s a lack of information, which takes its toll on young people today. It’s a very dangerous process, because a part of our national identity is being lost forever.

The prestigious Cuban filmmaker Fernando Pérez made the video clip of “Canción Fácil,” one of the key songs in the Palabras album. How did you get to Fernando?
I met Fernando during a concert I did in the Chaplin cinema as part of the Young Filmmaker’s event. I was always eager to talk with him because I admired him as an artist and a person. Later, he heard about my music and Marta´s album.

I invited him to the concert, and he talked about his desire to make a video clip forCanción Fácil.” In the concert, he had felt a very strong attraction to that song. The video was made very quickly; it flowed very well. That was something big in my life, because I never imagined that Fernando would make me a video clip.

Haydée Milanés with director Fernando Pérez

With Palabras and now taking on this ambitious project with your father´s songs, where do you think your career is at this point?
It´s been a long time since I’ve composed. I’m more focused on doing arrangements. I discovered with Marta´s album that I can make vocal, piano, or string arrangements, and I have enjoyed it a lot.

In my father´s album I also plan to do some of the musical arranging, and then I will focus on composing. I also want to finish an album I started with Brazilian singers, which I put aside during Marta´s recording. I’ll go back to this after my dad´s album. It includes some of my songs sung by Chico Buarque and also by Luis Melodía, a singer who is not well known in Cuba. I also plan to invite Pedro Aznar.

These days, we don’t often see you in Cuban performance spaces, especially in the big theaters.
The only place I feel comfortable playing my music is at Cafe Miramar; other facilities don’t have the right conditions for this type of work. My music is meant to be played in nightclubs, jazz clubs, but there are very few spaces for this.

I can’t do a concert in a theater every month because that is very expensive. There are theaters that don’t have lighting. You have to pay for that, and also for the sound system, and that takes a lot of money. A concert requires many things that the artist has to pay for, and it’s not profitable.

You can allow yourself this luxury when it´s a big concert, but it’s not economical to do this more than a once a year. Not even with the box office proceeds they give you to cover everything, from the musicians to promotion.

Haydée, filming of Palabras

You haven’t thought of “migrating” to private clubs?
I’ve heard a lot about those clubs; I think that some work even better than state facilities in terms of promotion. But right now my biggest passion is my daughter. Raising her takes so much time, and I´ve realized that playing and sharing with her gives me enormous pleasure. I wish I had more time to read, watch movies, stroll the boardwalk, watch the sea. I don’t go out much or go to concerts—that is missing in my life. But I´m sure that the time for going out and having fun will come back.

How do you perceive the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations?
Some young Cuban musicians have wanted to be like North Americans, and have lost their own style when playing and making instrumental arrangements. Everyone has to be well-grounded in their roots. Today more than ever we have to look to the origins of our culture, which is very valuable. We must also listen to Cuban music and think about the feeling, the son, the rumba, and Cuban instruments.

This U.S.-Cuba exchange can be very helpful, because they are two great cultures that have been separated by political problems, but whose union will bring significant results. And to prove it, we just have to look forward.

Canción Fácil

Michel Hernández Sánchez (La Habana 1980). Cultural columnist for Granma. Degree in Social Communication from the University of Havana. He has published in magazines such as Punto Final from Chile, Variopinto, Mexico, and the Cuban agency Prensa Latina. In 2007, he received the National Award in Cultural Journalism given by the Hermanos Saiz Association of Cuba. He specializes in issues related to Cuban and international contemporary music.

11011300_10204679387677844_9036447984397426693_nHAVANA, Nov. 27th Have you started feeling the pressure yet? If you’re a fan of Latin America travel, you know what I’m talking about: that sometimes-overwhelming feeling that you absolutely must go to Cuba. Right this very minute. Before everything changes.

The island nation has been making an awful lot of news lately, as the relationship thaws between the U.S. and Cuban governments — so more people are talking about Cuba vacations. There are more companies offering Cuba tours and cruises. I’ve written about the phenomenon for various travel publications, and also for my travel blog, LatinFlyer.com.

And some travelers seem in a hurry to get to the largest island in the Caribbean before it changes too much — in other words, before relations are so normalized that McDonald’s and Starbucks invade the island. So does that mean you should ditch your Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic vacation plans and go to Cuba instead?

The short answer: No.

The reason? Because a Cuba vacation is still a completely different experience from a vacation in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic (if you’re a U.S. citizen, that is). That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider a trip to Cuba — after all, it’s a fascinating destination that has been mostly off limits to most U.S. travelers for a long time.
But you need to know what to expect in Cuba, and realize how it’s different from every other vacation destination in the Caribbean (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter).

How Travel to Cuba is Different from Travel to Puerto Rico and the DR
The main thing that makes travel to Cuba different for U.S. travelers is regulation. The U.S. government only allows U.S. citizens to spend money legally in Cuba when their visit falls into one of 12 categories:

• Family visits
• Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, or intergovernmental organizations
• Journalistic activity
• Professional research and/or meetings
• Educational activities
• Religious activities
• Public performance (as a performer — are you Beyoncé? Piece of cake!)
• Clinics, workshops, athletics, or other competitions and exhibitions
• Support for the Cuban people or humanitarian projects
• Activities of private foundations or institutes
• Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information materials
• Authorized export transactions

Basically, that means that if you want to go to Cuba, you need to go through an authorized travel agent and/or tour operator, and need to adhere to the U.S. guidelines.

That also means that, if you’re a “normal” U.S. citizen, you can’t legally travel to Cuba for a relaxed beach vacation, or to wander around much on your own. You’ll be kept busy with tours, activities and other approved “people to people” programs designed to connect visitors with Cuban culture and people, but also to stay in line with U.S. government restrictions.

In addition, Cuba isn’t up to speed like other destinations when it comes to WiFi and Internet connectivity — so be prepared to be less connected than in other Caribbean vacation destinations.

In a recent report I wrote for Travel Weekly about travel to Cuba, a variety of industry insiders weighed in on what makes the island different. “Cuba is a unique Caribbean destination, and we feel that managing clients’ expectations is key,” said Bryan Murray, marketing manager for Vacation Express.

“For example, the star rating system for hotels in Cuba is not the same as in Cancun or the rest of the Caribbean. Menus at even the best hotels change based on food availability, so people with very strict dietary needs may want to wait to visit Cuba. Travelers should also have realistic expectations about internet access and cell phone service, as internet access is limited, and cell phones will not work on the island.

Some suggest that creature comforts like your favorite snack or personal hygiene items are best brought with you, because they may not be available.”

If you go to the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, on the other hand, you can do whatever you want. Fly when you want. Stay where you want, visit where you want and spend what you want. You’ll find plentiful WiFi and Internet connectivity, too. You can also go to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and do nothing more than stretch out on the beach and sip cocktails for a few days.

The Dominican Republic has the advantage of offering lots of all-inclusive resorts as well, while Puerto Rico offers the advantage of being a U.S. territory, so you don’t even need a passport to visit if you’re a U.S. citizen.

In short, there are plenty of reasons to consider a trip to Cuba and also a vacation in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. But the experiences you’ll have in Cuba, if you’re a U.S. citizen, are likely very different from what you’ll have on the other two islands. Go to Cuba for the amazing culture, history, music and people — and full itineraries of U.S. government-approved activities.

But go to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico for everything else: culture and history and people, of course, and full itineraries, if you want them, too — but also flexibility, freedom and plenty of time to kick back and enjoy some rest and relaxation.

In a perfect world, with plenty of vacation time and a healthy travel budget, my personal preference would be to go to all three islands.


havana-live-stingHAVANA, Oct 9  (AFP)  British singer Sting is aiming to beat the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger to perform in Cuba, his Argentine guitarist said in an article yesterday.

Dominic Miller, who has performed with Sting since 1990, told Cuban news portal cubadebate.com that his boss was vying to make it to the island before Jagger, who is reported to be considering a March concert in Havana. The 72-year-old rocker is expected to perform on the island as part of a 2016 Rolling Stones Latin America tour. Miller will perform in Havana Thursday night as part of British Cultural Week on the island.
Sting, 64, rose to fame as a member of the Police, known for such classics as “Message in a Bottle” and “Roxanne,” before launching his solo career.


 havana-live-obama-castroHAVANA, Sept 27 (AFP) US President Barack Obama will hold talks with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the White House said Sunday.

It will be the second meeting between the two leaders, after a first historic encounter in Panama in April.

Washington and Havana reestablished diplomatic relations in July after more than half a century of enmity.

The Cuban leader, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, will make his first-ever address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, only several hours after Obama takes the podium.

In an address to a UN development summit on Saturday, Castro took aim at the US embargo against Cuba, describing it as the “main obstacle” to his country’s economic development.

“Such a policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member-states that demand its removal,” he said, referring to a UN resolution calling for the end of the decades-old embargo.

The 193-nation assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1960.

Castro hailed the re-establishment of relations with Washington as a “major progress,” but stressed that the embargo was unfinished business.

“The economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba persists, as it has been for half a century, bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people,” said Castro.

Since the rapprochement with Cuba, the Obama administration has expressed support for lifting the embargo, but the decision rests with Congress, where a Republican majority opposes the move.

The General Assembly is set to discuss a new draft resolution condemning the embargo at a session next month.

havana-live-SC-Line-strait-of-gibraltarHAVANA, Sept. 25 In another sign of growing U.S. links with Cuba, shipping company SC Line has started up service between Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Cuba.

SC Line can serve the Cuban seaports of Mariel and Santiago every two weeks on a route that circles between Florida, Cuba, Panama and Colombia. It made its first stop in Cuba on Sunday with its Caroline Russ vessel, which can carry shipping containers, vehicles, breakbulk and other varied cargo.

“We’re ready to respond to customer volume. We could add bigger ships, more ships or weekly service if needed,” said Jose Pardo, chief marketing officer from company offices in Panama.

Port Everglades already has shipping service to Cuba from Crowley Maritime, the Jacksonville-based line authorized since 2001 to ship food, humanitarian supplies and other approved items to the island. Crowley typically serves Cuba’s new container port at Mariel weekly.

Shipments to Cuba have been limited under the 5-decades-old U.S. embargo against the island. But trade now is poised to grow, as the Obama administration since Dec. 17 has adopted a new policy of engagement to Cuba that punches more holes in the embargo.

Washington has eased U.S. rules to sell telecom products on the island and also eased trade with Cuba’s growing private sector, which includes more than half a million people deemed “self-employed.”

The administration also has streamlined rules for U.S. travel to Cuba, spurring a surge in arrivals of Americans with no family there. New reports show the number of those Americans visiting through Sept. 2 topped 100,000, similar to the total who visited in all of last year before Obama’s new policy.

Still, many U.S. companies are awaiting authorization from Cuba to start up on the island, including cruise companies and ferry companies that could operate from PortMiami and Port Everglades.

SC Line this winter switched to the bigger, faster and more modern Caroline Russ ship on its route from Port Everglades. The 10,488-gross-ton vessel can carry up to 190 trucks, 470 cars and 120 shipping containers on chassis. It departs every other Friday from the Broward County seaport.

The shipping line has been calling on Port Everglades since 2012. Founded by Spain’s Sola family in 2006, SC Line operates from Panama and aims to expand in the Caribbean Basin region.

a-child-practices-kung-fu-in-havanas-chinatownHAVANA, June 24   The lure of beaches, luxury resorts, and golf courses may bring Chinese visitors to its longtime socialist ally, Cuba. In September, a Chinese airline will begin offering direct flights between China and Cuba, a precursor to what officials hope will be a “sea of Chinese tourists” descending on the Caribbean island nation.

Cuba has already been working hard to attract some of the 100 million Chinese tourists who take overseas trips each year. Grupo Gaviota, the commercial arm of the Cuban military, started a campaign to ready 55 hotels and expand the country’s largest marina, the Gaviota Varadero Marina, to attract the Chinese. Cuban tourism authorities say they plan to have at least 85,000 hotel rooms available for tourists by 2020.

Cuba has long been an export destination for low-cost Chinese goods, but getting tourists there has been a harder sell. Top tourist destinations for the Chinese are usually in Europe, the United States, or elsewhere in Asia. Last year, only 28,000 mainland tourists visited Cuba.

But as Cuba’s tourism sector opens up, more Chinese companies and travel operators are turning their attention to the island nation. In May, a Chinese company, Beijing Enterprise, said it planned to build a golf course there, as well as condominiums. That would bring Cuba’s total number of 18-hole golf courses up to two.

Already, over 13 resort projects worth over $460 million in Chinese investment are underway, the official news agency Xinhua said this week.

If thousands of free-spending Chinese tourists begin to show up, the country’s burgeoning tourism sector could get a sizable boost. Travel and tourism is expected to contribute CUP12,709 million or 11.2% of GDP by 2024. China, Cuba’s largest creditor, also has the potential to help Cuba implement market-oriented economic reforms after its own path.

But there may be more at stake here than just golf courses and tourist dollars. For China, closer ties with Cuba could help its trading position in the US-dominated region.
For Cuba, China may be a way hedge against that US dominance as US-Cuban relations thaw. Last year, officials from China and several Latin American countries met in Havana to set up the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an alternative to the Organization of American States, led by Washington.

And of course, there’s the shared Communist history. “For the Chinese, Cuba is a country of heroes, like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara,” said Elena Wang (link in Spanish), director of China Sea International Travel Service, a travel agency that operates tours to Cuba. “For the Chinese, going to Cuba isn’t just traditional tourism, they are going to learn about the history of Cuba and her revolution.”


HAVANA, June 20   Many people in America are proponents of the organic food movement, and worried about the potentially harmful effects of pesticides on their health or the environment. In Cuba, farmers have gone organic for a very different reason – they had to. In this final instalment of our series “The Cuban Evoltion” Jeffrey Brown looks at food and farming.


havana-live-hair-competitionHAVANA, June 14   (AP)    A young Afro-Cuban performance artist transformed a Havana cultural center into the stage of a black hairstyle competition this weekend in a rare public commentary on racial beauty standards in Cuba, where prejudice remains widespread and largely undiscussed.

Politics, particularly detente with the U.S., is a common subject matter at this year’s international art fair. Few works touch on discrimination against black and mixed-race Cubans, which remains commonplace more than a half-century after the island’s socialist revolution promised to eliminate racism.

Susana Delahante, an internationally known 30-year-old Havana artist, invited black and mixed-race women to compete in three hair categories — natural, braided and dreadlocked.


Runner-up contestant Dayanira, 4, waits to go on stage to display her hairdo during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Behind closed doors and even in public, white Cubans talk disparagingly about black Cubans in ways that have become socially unacceptable in many other countries, describing them as criminals .

After a two-hour competition in which 70 women competed Saturday evening, the audience of about 300 people voted by applause, handing the natural-hair prize to 72-year-old Felicia Solano, whose white outfit dramatically set off her halo of white hair, and the braids award to Marbelys Gonzalez, 15, with a cascade of tight braids decorated in brightly colored beads.

There were no entries in the dreadlocks category.Delahante and participants in the competition described it as a way of rebuilding pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin often are seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions.

“This is a first step in reclaiming this type of hair,” said competitor Ania de Armas, a 22-year-old art history graduate who competed in the natural hair category.

Contemporary Cubans are descended mostly from Spanish colonists and their West African slaves, and Cubans categorize themselves as black, white or mixed-race.
Sixty-four percent of Cubans identified themselves as white in the country’s last census in 2012, 26.6 percent as mixed-race and 9.3 percent as black — figures that wildly undercount the number of Cubans identified as black by themselves and others in their daily lives.

Sociologists say black Cubans’ reluctance to identify themselves as such is a powerful indication of lingering prejudice.

“I wanted to do something that legitimized my hair, this undervalued type of hair,” said Delahante, who wears her hair in a tight Afro style. “This competition is about something that has merit and needs to be rewarded.”


Felicia Solano, 72, displays her Afro hairdo on the catwalk during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. After a two-hour competition in which 70 women competed Saturday evening, the audience of about 300 people voted by applause.

The socialist revolution brought large numbers of black Cubans into the middle and upper ranks of government, academia and professional fields but the Afro-Cuban population still generally has worse housing, transportation and food than whites.
The Cubans who fled the island after the revolution were heavily from the white elite class, and so their hundreds of millions of dollars of remittances sent back to relatives on the island each year tend to go to white Cubans.

Behind closed doors and even in public, white Cubans have been known to talk disparagingly about black Cubans in ways that have become socially unacceptable in many other countries, describing them as criminals and forbidding their children from dating Afro-Cuban schoolmates.

Black Cubans also have been the losers in President Raul Castro’s economic reforms, in which Cubans with capital from overseas have been able to open profitable businesses serving increasing numbers of international tourists. Black Cubans are notably absent even on the lower rungs of those new private businesses, such as in service jobs like wait staff positions that bring in big tips from foreign customers.

People of predominantly Afro-Cuban descent also are underrepresented on Cuban television and in much of the contemporary music world, making many black Cubans feel they have to straighten their hair to be considered beautiful.

Contestants get ready to go out on the catwalk during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Contemporary Cubans are descended mostly from Spanish colonists and their West African slaves, and Cubans categorize themselves as black, white or mixed-race. But the Afro-Cuban population still generally has worse housing, transportation and food than whites. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)The Associated Press

Contestants get ready to go out on the catwalk during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Contemporary Cubans are descended mostly from Spanish colonists and their West African slaves, and Cubans categorize themselves as black, white or mixed-race. But the Afro-Cuban population still generally has worse housing, transportation and food than whites. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)The Associated Press

Roberto Zurbano, a cultural critic and essayist at the Casa de las Americas, a Havana cultural center, said the mostly white leaders of Cuba’s revolution had failed to realize the deeply rooted nature of Cuban racism and implemented race-blind policies instead of programs like affirmative action specifically designed to help black Cubans move into positions of greater influence.

“Racism persists in Cuba,” Zurbano said. “The revolution didn’t question the country’s racist heritage.”

Naomi Santana, a 25-year-old librarian, said she was at the competition in order to bring herself closer to Afro-Cuban culture.


Contestants display their hairdo on stage during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Susana Delahante, an internationally known 30-year-old Havana artist, invited black and mixed-race women to compete in three hair categories, natural, braided and dreadlocked. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)The Associated Press


A contestant jokes about her hair before going on stage during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Susana Delahante, an internationally known 30-year-old Havana artist described the competition as a way of rebuilding pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin often are seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions.

“I used to have straight hair,” said Santana, who now styles her hair in a large Afro. “This is a social recognition that’s been missing for a long time.”

Runner-up contestant Paulina Champan, 5, waits to walk on the catwalk to display her hairdo during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Participants in the competition described the pageant as a way of rebuilding pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin often are seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)The Associated Press

Runner-up contestant Paulina Champan, 5, waits to walk on the catwalk to display her hairdo during an Afro hair contest in Havana, Cuba, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Participants in the competition described the pageant as a way of rebuilding pride among Afro-Cuban women in a society where kinky hair and black skin often are seen as less beautiful than straight locks and pale complexions. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)The Associated Press


Women laugh while they attend an Afro hair contest in Havana, Saturday, June 13, 2015. Sociologists say black Cubans’ reluctance to identify themselves as such is a powerful indication of lingering prejudice.

US Medical Students with diplomas in Havana. Photo: www.birthingprojectusa.org

US Medical Students with diplomas in Havana. Photo: www.birthingprojectusa.org

HAVANA, June 7 (HT) While hotels like Havana’s Melia Cohiba are full of Americans who think they are getting an early taste of international travel’s forbidden fruit hundreds of United States citizens have been calling Cuba home away from home for some time now.

Every morning US students studying at the University of Havana walk to classes, State Department diplomats and US Marines drive into the bustling Vedado neighborhood from restful Playa-Miramar, medical students from New York City, Oakland, and New Orleans make their rounds, US tour operators head out to the Jose Marti International Airport to pick up the latest bus full of their compatriots, and a few dozen United States exiles begin yet another day in Havana.

Even with the waxing and waning of bilateral relations over the decades there has never been a complete absence of US citizens on the island.

I showed up as part of the one of the more recent groups making Cuba a temporary home base, as a student of the Latin American School of Medicine. At any one time there are about 100 of us studying medicine here, split between a campus on the far western edge of the Havana and the more central Salvador Allende Hospital in the Cerro neighborhood.

Early 1960s billboards in Miami.  Photo: www.ft.com

Early 1960s billboards in Miami. Photo: www.ft.com

Well before the first group of US medical students showed up in 2001 the United States Interest Section became home to at least a few dozen State Department and U.S. Government personnel. Their presence dates back to President Carter’s administration, who in 1977, thought the Interest Section would be a critical step to opening an embassy.

Sadly President Carter’s second term never came to pass and the Interest Section became a centerpiece of contention instead of a functioning embassy, at least up until now…hopefully. Havana is no stranger to roving bands of American college students on short term study abroad programs.

Their unwashed Converse tennis shoes and tattered jeans make Cubans wonder, “Since when did the United States send homeless teens to university?” At any one time the number of US citizens on educational programs in Havana can number from a few dozen to over 100. This contingent is expected to grow significantly as relations continue to improve.

After swelling rapidly in the late 1960’s and into the 70’s the US exile/fugitive community Cuba has been shrinking the past few years. Some members have died, others, like William Potts have called it quits in Cuba and gone back to the United States. Recently Charlie Hill came out of hiding and gave conflicting interviews about his position on a possible voluntary return to the United States. While extradition seems a long way off the prospect of more cooperation between Cuba and the USA on law enforcement matters means this group will not be adding many new members.

The emerging US community in Cuba belongs to tourism operators. President Obama reopened the possibility of group travel, otherwise known as people-to-people tours, during his first term and further loosened the travel restrictions earlier this year. Due to various layers of complex legalese these tours require a Cuban and a US tour guide. This has led to an influx of US tour leaders who move so frequently between the United States and Havana they might as well call the latter home. Now with an end to the travel ban in sight the tourism industry expat clique will soon be in the majority.

The US community in Cuba has even inspired local business that caters to this demographic. Cuba Libro, run by American expat Connor Gorry, is a secondhand English language book store, coffee shop, art gallery, and community center in Havana’s leafy Vedado neighborhood. The last time I was there gossiping with a fellow medical student we watched as an American tour leader led a bus full of our compatriots through the house-cum-bookshop.

Cuba Libro is an anomaly (or “oasis” as it is known among its fans) in Havana. And even though Americans can’t just pop down to Cuba and set up shop Cuban owned private businesses are beginning to catch on to the potentials of the US market. The restaurant El Litoral near the US Interests Section caters to Havana’s only lunch crowd that shows up with neckties. Meanwhile in the sketchier Cerro neighborhood several houses near the Salvador Allende Hospital sell cheap plates of grub to on-call US medical students.

Being a US citizen in Cuba doesn’t always mean living in Cuba as at home. Unlike other capital cities around the world Havana isn’t peppered with American fast food chains, clothing stores, or our ubiquitous advertising. So we mostly bring what we want from home. Our suitcases so full of prepackaged foods it looks as if someone robbed the checkout display at convenience store or took Halloween way to seriously.

I’ve often wondered what the Transportation Security Administration inspectors think when they are rifling through my luggage in transit to Havana…another weirdo.Cuba Libro is an anomaly (or “oasis” as it is known among its fans) in Havana. And even though Americans can’t just pop down to Cuba and set up shop Cuban owned private businesses are beginning to catch on to the potentials of the US market.

The restaurant El Litoral near the US Interests Section caters to Havana’s only lunch crowd that shows up with neckties. Meanwhile in the sketchier Cerro neighborhood several houses near the Salvador Allende Hospital sell cheap plates of grub to on-call US medical students.

Around 200 years ago there were enough Mexicans living in Old Havana to create a “Little Campeche” and enough Chinese immigrants to establish a “China Town” in Central Havana. US citizens came later, with significant communities in the Playa-Mirarmar neighborhood of Havana and the gated beach community of Tarara; the Island of Youth even boasts a US Cemetery as part of its cultural heritage. Of course all of those places became solidly Cuban shortly after 1959.

Cuba is still a long way off from having a “Little Miami” in Havana. However, considering that the largest group of US citizens living in Cuba are Cuban-Americans and their children, such an experiment could become reality. Right now the only thing certain about the future of United States citizens in Cuba is that there is one.


 havana-live-book-marketHAVANA, April 25  With the US recently lifting various trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, the Caribbean island is expected to see a boost in tourism. Most tourists will be excited by Cuba’s beaches, cigars, coffee, rum and colonial architecture.

But if you are a bibliophile, you may want to immerse yourself in the rich culture of reading that took root in the country after the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961.
Cuba’s claim of having gone from just over 75% literacy to almost 100% literacy in a year would sound like propaganda if the statistics had not been ratified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and other reputed international organizations.

After Fidel Castro led a revolution to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he announced a literacy campaign that aimed to teach every Cuban to read and write.
Around 250,000 people—students, professional teachers, factory workers and other volunteers—helped in educating the illiterate. Many left cities and lived in the countryside, where illiteracy rates were much higher. More than 50 years on, Cuba has the best education system in Latin America, according to the World Bank, and a rich tradition of reading. These are five places all bibliophiles and history buffs should visit.

Havana International Book Fair
Cuba is a dictatorship, and while the Castro-run state may have helped people learn how to read, it also does its best to decide what they read. Most of the book stores are owned and run by the state and fill their shelves with tomes on socialism, Castro and Che Guevara.
Cuba’s official Book Institute oversees the country’s publishing industry. Because it tries to keep books cheap, it cannot afford to print many copies of books by popular fiction writers, so for many people the only chance to get their hands on the works of such popular writers as Leonardo Padura and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez is at the Havana International Book Fair, held every February.
The fair begins in Havana and travels across the country.

The National Literacy Museum
Located in Havana, Cuba’s capital, the museum documents the 1961 campaign. Old photographs show young students teaching their less privileged countrymen in rural areas.
There is plenty of memorabilia, including the uniforms volunteers were given. Several countries supported Cuba’s literacy campaign: The Soviet Union donated books and stationery, people from European countries travelled to Cuba to join the volunteers, and China sent thousands of oil lanterns to allow volunteers to teach after dark in areas that had no electricity.
Some of these lanterns have been preserved in the museum. While there, you can watch the documentary film Maestra (Teacher) made by US film-maker Catherine Murphy, which includes interviews with some of the young volunteers who made the campaign successful.

Plaza de Armas book market
The Plaza de Armas, in the centre of Old Havana, was once used for military events and government ceremonies but is now home to a peaceful street market for second-hand books. Most of the books available are in Spanish, but there are some English books on sale.
Street musicians add to the atmosphere. The most popular author at the Plaza de Armas market seems to be Ernest Hemingway, who lived in ilable at the old bookshops on Havana’s O’Reilly and Obispo streets, but it is worth visiting them just to learn about their history.
Many of the stores have been open since the beginning of the 20th century and are home to rare books on philosophy. There is even a bookshop dedicated to poetry, La Moderna Poesia (Modern Poetry).

 havana-live-havana-chalange HAVANA, April 25, – Imagine a dozen, 2-man, 16-foot Hobie catamarans sailing across 90 miles of treacherous seas to the land of the forbidden, Cuba. There the adventurous but experienced sailors from the eclectic island of Key West challenge the Cuban Olympic Sailing team, explore the Caribbean island from a local’s perspective, exchange cultural peculiarities, and return home on the final leg of the Havana Challenge.

The adventure sailing trip and Hobie Cat race between Key West and Havana has been resurrected, with a group of sailors set to make the  90 mile trek on May 16.

The race, called the Havana Challenge, has been in the works for the past year. Late last week, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued the necessary permits, called temporary export licenses, for at least 10 boats to participate in the regatta. The organizers have requested permits for at least 22 boats and are hoping to receive the remaining permits by May 16, event organizers said.

In addition to racing across the Florida Straits to Marina Hemingway in Cuba, the sailing crews will be racing against the Cuban national team in front of the historic Malecon roadway and seawall in downtown Havana. Also, organizers will host youth sailing trips with Cubans.

The event is the brainchild of Key West-based Capt. George Bellenger and is organized by him, his wife Capt. Carla Bellenger and Capt. Joe Weatherby. The three captains started making the trek via Hobie catamarans in the late 1990s as part of their personal adventure sailing trips. The last trip made by any of the crew was in 2001, after which the annual event was put on hold.

The event is being sponsored by the nonprofit Key West Community Sailing Center. A portion of the proceeds from the event will go to youth sailing scholarships at the sailing center, organizers said.

The Bellengers, who run kayak, sail and ecotours in Key West, decided to resurrect the trip last year, and along with Weatherby, have been working with the U.S. State Department, Coast Guard, Department of Commerce and other federal agencies to obtain the proper licenses and permits. The commerce permit was the last major hurdle they had to clear.

Key West Community Sailing Center hosted the commodore of the Marina Hemingway while he was visiting South Florida for the annual Miami boat show earlier this year. The commodore has been very supportive of the event, organizers said.

The Bellengers and Weatherby also have been holding regular meetings with a group of captains and sailors who want to participate in the event. They met Wednesday night at the Key West Community Sailing Center to hammer out some of the details and logistics.

Weatherby and the Bellengers also have been working with Key Westers Tom and Nancy Coward, who organized a youth soccer trip that took Key West youngsters to Cuba.

The Havana Challenge falls under the sport and culture categories of the 12 allowable “people to people” exchanges, the Bellengers and Weatherby said.

“We are bridging cultures through traditional maritime heritage,” George Bellenger said. “We just want to sail and have a cool trip. We want to race the Cuban Oylmpic team in a beautiful place.”

“There are cultural and personal relationships between Key West and Havana that date back more than 100 years,” added Weatherby, an organizer of the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg artificial reef project off Key West. “We are just trying to re-establish that relationship.”

The group’s earlier treks were much different and much more of an adventure than what is planned for the May trip. The early trips were just a small group sailing with primitive GPS equipment, which often didn’t work and required the crews to use small hand-held compasses to navigate the treacherous Florida Straits.

On one trip in 1997, the Bellengers’ Hobie Cat began sinking six miles offshore. They had to navigate around Cuba’s coral reef to beach the boat on land. Also, Carla Bellenger had to tie a bandana around one of the riggings to help them navigate to shore. Despite the perils, they have successfully made the crossing each time and have had amazing experiences, which included watching a humpback whale give birth to a calf, they said.

“We have had all kinds of adventures,” Carla Bellenger said. For the May race, there will be chase boats carrying emergency medical equipment. Other boats will be fitted with salvage equipment so in the event one of the Hobie Cats breaks down, it can be towed or lifted out of the water and repaired, organizers said. The organizers are hoping to make the Havana Challenge an annual event.

7777329237_000-was8916730HAVANA, 10 April (AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met his Cuban counterpart in Panama late Thursday in the highest-level discussion between representatives of Washington and Havana in more than 50 years.

The State Department said Kerry met Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ahead of the Summit of the Americas, which begins Friday. A senior State Department official described the discussion between Kerry and Rodriguez as “lengthy and very constructive”, but provided few details.

Reuters reported that the meeting in the restaurant of a Panama City hotel lasted for at least two hours, with Kerry occasionally gesticulating toward Rodriguez.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro are also in Panama to attend the summit. The two leaders are expected to interact in some form Friday, though no formal meeting is scheduled. This year marks Cuba’s first appearance at the Summit of the Americas, which have been seven times since 1994.

In December, Obama and Castro announced their intention to restore diplomatic relations, beginning a painstaking process that has brought to the surface difficult issues that have long fed in to the U.S.-Cuban estrangement. Hopes of reopening embassies in Havana and Washington before the summit failed to materialize. The U.S. is still pushing Cuba to allow more freedom of movement for its diplomats, while Cuba wants relief from a sanctions regime that only Congress can fully lift.

Most controversially, some White House officials have indicated that the State Department is poised to recommend that Cuba be removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Cuba has been on the list since 1982.

While in Jamaica on Wednesday, Obama signaled that he will soon act to remove Cuba from the list, a move that could come within days.

“We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said in Kingston, before flying to Panama City. “When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it. You try something new.”

havana-live-Orlando International Airport, monorailHAVANA, 10 April   Direct weekly flights to Cuba from Orlando International Airport will start July 8, marking the first time in decades that people can leave from Central Florida to the island nation 90 miles south of Key West.
Island Travel & Tours, based in Tampa, will fly each Wednesday from Orlando International to Havana, Cuba, said company owner Bill Hauf.A roundtrip coach ticket will cost $429 for the hour and 15 minute flight, he said.

The new rules allow travel agents and carriers to book flights to Cuba for American citizens without the permission of the U.S. government, as was previously the case.Essentially, travelers have to fill out a form and choose one of 12 reasons for the trip, ranging from Cuban Americans visiting family to Americans who are going for religious, educational or cultural reasons.

Americans also will be allowed to use credit cards, which previously was prohibited.
Orlando International will be able to attract travelers from Central Florida and parts of the East Coast, all the way north to Jacksonville.
Hauf said he is renting a Boeing 737 that carries 120 passengers from a Phoenix company. If demand is great enough, Hauf said, he intends to start a Sunday flight, too.
In addition to flights, Hauf said, he can provide travelers with visas, as well as accommodations and transportation.

Venecia_-_still1_(main)A scene from Venecia (Venice), 2014, by Kiki Álvarez Courtesy HFFNY

HAVANA, 7 April This Thursday, April 9, the opening-night red carpet unrolls on the 16th Havana Film Festival New York—and with it, some of the island’s most talked-about features and documentaries.

Four Cuban features are competing in the Best Fiction Film category, among them the opening night selection, Boccaccerías Habaneras / Boccaccio in Havana (Arturo Sotto, 2014), which picked up a Best Screenplay award at the International Festival of New Latin American Film in Havana this past December. In the film, three stories are anchored by a common link: the room of an author with writer’s block, who buys people’s stories._Boccaccerias_Habaneras_(Escene_1)Boccaccerías Habaneras, 2014, by Arturo Sotto Courtesy HFFNy

The other Cuban features in the Best Fiction competition include La Pared de las Palabras / The Wall of Words (Fernando Pérez, 2014), about the stresses that a family must cope with when one of their siblings becomes disabled, and Venecia / Venice (Kiki Álvarez, 2014), an affectionate portrait of female friendship from the director of last year’s hit, Jirafas / Giraffes (2012) and, as noted in the trailer below, the first Cuban film produced through crowdsourcing.
The fourth Cuban feature in the category, Vestido de Novia / His Wedding Dress (Marilyn Solaya, 2014), was inspired by an earlier documentary by the director, about a couple in which the wife is transsexual. (See trailer below.) As with Boccacerías Habaneras and Venezia, the HFFNY screenings are the film’s New York premiere.

A fifth fiction film, Contigo, pan y cebolla (Juan Carlos Cremata, 2014) will be shown out of competition as a special presentation. A comedy set in Havana of the 1950s, it follows the exploits of a housewife determined to achieve her heart’s desire: a new refrigerator.

In the Best Documentary category, Otra isla / Another Island (Heidi Hassan, 2012) follows an exiled Cuban family who, arriving in Spain, find capitalism not quite what they imagined, and end up camping on a plaza in Madrid.
The second entry in this category, Omara: Cuba (Lester Hamlet, 2015) makes its world premiere at the festival. A loving portrait and tribute to Omara Portuondo, “the diva of the Buena Vista Social Club,” the film includes appearances by Chucho Valdés, Pablo Milanes, and many others.

Otra isla (Another Island), 2012, by Heidi Hassan Courtesy HFFNY

As with recent festivals, film scholar Luciano Castillo, director of the Cuban Film Archives, is presenting a series of classic films—in this case, anchored by a 50th-anniversary celebration of Nosotros, la música / We, the Music, the 1964 feature-length documentary by Rogelio Paris featuring such iconic performers as Bola de Nieve, Celeste Mendoza, and the Ignacio Piñiero Septet. In addition to Nosotros, la música, the three-program series includes short films about Celeste Mendoza, the quartet Los Zafiros, and Bola de Nieve.

A second retrospective series, “Gabriel García Márquez, the Cinephile,” pays tribute to the late Colombian author and a founder of Cuba’s International School of Film and Television (EICTV) in San Antonio de los Baños.
The series presents a selection of films that García Márquez was involved with, directly or indirectly, including Tomás Gutiérrez Alea’s Cartas del parque / Letters from the Park (1988). The series also includes the documentary Conversando con García Márquez sobre su amigo Fidel / A Conversation with García Márquez About His Friend Fidel (Estela Bravo, 2014).

Cartas del parque (Letters from the Park), 1988, by Tomás Guttiérez Alea Courtesy festlatinosp.com.br

Other special presentations include “Cuba: New Film Generation,” a program of short films by young Cuban filmmakers, and a program of films for kids. A panel discussion, “New opportunities and incentives to shoot your indie movie in Latin America and NY State,” precedes “Cuba: New Film Generation.”

Most of the festival screenings take place at the Quad Cinema in Lower Manhattan, but there are also several screenings at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, the King Juan Carlos Center at NYU, the SVA Theater on West 23rd Street, and other locations. The festival kicked off with a warm-up screening of Rumba Clave Blen Blen Blen, a history of rumba in New York, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts late last month.

The 16th Havana Film Festival New York runs from Thursday, April 9 through Friday, April 17. For program information, schedule, and tickets, see the festival website.

The trailer for Venecia.

The trailer for Vestido de Novia.


Cuba-Mar-2014-042HAVANA, 5 Apr. After President Obama on Dec. 17 called for restoring “travel, commerce, and the flow of information” to communist Cuba, island-watchers at Penn’s Wharton School rushed to gather Cuban American magnates, scholars, and U.S. officials to brainstorm investors’ return.

They met in New York on Thursday for an all-day Cuba Opportunity Summit.

Cuba is roughly as big and populous as Pennsylvania. Better beaches too. The two were linked from the 1700s to the 1960s by common interests in tobacco, sugar, chocolate, and medical products. (Milton Hershey also built a Hershey, Cuba.)

The president is urging the island to separate from Latin America’s state-led Venezuelan and Argentine economic models, and adapt best practices from Mexico, Colombia, and Chile, where business families build wealth with “free trade, free markets, and human capital development,” Stefan Selig, U.S. undersecretary of commerce, told the crowd.

First, the United States has to reconsider Cuba’s status as a “terrorism supporter.” Then, the countries need to exchange embassies, and end the congressional trade embargo. After that, there will be much to argue about, and deals to do.
Some questioned if private investment leads to political freedom. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on the economy, and less on democracy and human rights?” asked Wharton emeritus management professor Stephen Kobrin, author of The Road to Cuba, a business guide.

To slash public payrolls, the Cuban government of Raul Castro has been privatizing restaurants, encouraging cuentapropistas – self-employed owners – and casas particulares, B&B-style hotels, to ease the scarcity of modern tourist rooms.

Private groups such as Cuba Emprende Foundation, backed by the Catholic Church and Mexico’s ProEmpleo Foundation, offer boot-camp business training. Cuba is forming service cooperatives, less ideologically threatening than private owners. Developer co-ops could make Havana an offshore software center.

“We are having a one-way conversation here,” worried Frank Del Rio, the Cuban American CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines. Wharton plans another conference in Havana this fall.

It’s easy to exaggerate Cuba’s potential, said Enrique Martinez, president of Discovery Networks Latin America, which is wrapping production of its first Cuba TV series, Cuba Chrome, about the island’s 1950s car owners. If half of Cuba’s households get cable TV, that will be fewer than two million, he said.

The pharma potential is big, countered Philippe Pouletty, chair of the French drugmaker Abivax. He said he patiently won license deals where Americans failed, because Abivax agreed to produce in Cuba, where scientists, he said, are as good as Europeans. And work for just $60 a month, added the University of Miami’s Steve Ullmann, coauthor of Cuban Health Care: Utopian Dreams, Fragile Future.

Before investors feel safe, “over a billion dollars in judgments” against Cuba for seizing family and corporate property need to be settled, said Coral Gables investor Ralph Patino.

Miami investors Thomas J. Herzfeld and Teo Babun plan a solution: a fund that would tie partial expropriation compensation to new Cuba investments.

Wharton sociologist Mauro Guillen, one of the day’s organizers, told me a favorite Havana site is the palace-turned-Art Museum, showcasing “Degas, Monet, Velazquez, and other masters, from private collections. It shows you the riches there were in Cuba. And the opportunity.”


REY cuba-picturesHAVANA, 2 Mars  Buzz is building about the United States and Cuba rebuilding relations. No one seems more excited than American travelers.
Cuba has been the “forbidden fruit” for U.S. tourism over the last 50 years and Americans are giddy to see their southern neighbor. But should Americans’ hunger for Havana concern other Caribbean countries?

Tourism is a key industry for many Caribbean nations, creating jobs and bringing billions of U.S. dollars to a relatively poor region. Now some of those dollars will head to Cuba.

“Cuba will be very stiff competition for them,” says Mauro Guillen, a business professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Cuba could be a paradise for tourism.”

Americans can’t yet travel to Cuba in the traditional sense for sun, sand and salsa dancing. They need to go for a specific purpose, such as business trip, family visit, religious mission or “support for the Cuban people.”

But the surge is expected soon. That’s why Airbnb announced Thursday it will begin operating in Cuba. Netflix, Mastercard and American Express will start doing business there soon too.

Cuba’s tourism case: Cuba has a lot to offer. Last year, three million tourists visited Cuba, more than every other Caribbean nation besides the Dominican Republic, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. And that’s with almost no Americans visiting Cuba last year.

The size of Ohio, Cuba has nine UNESCO world heritage sites — a major tourism pull. That’s more than the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Jamaica and Puerto Rico combined.

Cuba’s mix of an urban experience and sunny getaway give it a dynamic other islands don’t have, experts say. Since President Obama’s decision to lift some travel restrictions to Cuba, American companies are starting file into Havana too.

The Dominican Republic and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, where Cancun is, have the most to lose, Guillen says. Others suggest that Jamaica and the nearby Caribbean island nations could get hit hard too.

Tourism makes up 43% of the Bahamas’ economy, almost 30% of Jamaica’s activity and 16% of the Dominican Republic’s economy. By comparison, only 8% of America’s economy is driven by tourism, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

“Neighboring countries will be challenged when the hospitality level catches up in Cuba,” says Jonathan Blue, managing director of Blue Equity, a private equity firm, and frequent traveler to Cuba.

But others say American tourists going to Cuba is a win for others too.

All for one and one for all?: The hope is the excitement surrounding Cuba will be an overall positive for the region. It’s like the idea of multiple gas stations on one block: the more the better.
Plus, Cuba can’t yet offer the luxury hotels and experience that many other islands have. The Dominican Republic had five million tourists visit last year, up 12% from a year before, and it has 5-star hotels.

A flood of US tourists to Cuba could flow over to other countries.
“There’s a lot of romanticism around traveling to Cuba right now,” says Alana Tummino, policy director at the Council of the Americas. However: “there’s still going to be a lot of interest in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and all these other destinations.”

Whether Cuba helps or hurts the rest of the Caribbean, one thing is certain: Americans — and their businesses — are coming.

havana-live-Obama speaks at George Tech about efforts to make college more affordableHAVANA, 23 Mar. (Reuters) – The December breakthrough that upended a half-century of U.S.-Cuba enmity has been portrayed as the fruit of 18 months of secret diplomacy.

But Reuters interviews with more than a dozen people with direct knowledge of the process reveal a longer, painstakingly cautious quest by U.S. President Barack Obama and veteran Cuba specialists to forge the historic rapprochement.
As now-overt U.S.-Cuban negotiations continue this month, Reuters also has uncovered new details of how talks began and how they stalled in late 2013 during secret sessions in Canada.

Senior administration officials and others also revealed how both countries sidelined their foreign policy bureaucracies and how Obama sought the Vatican’s blessing to pacify opponents. Obama’s opening to Havana could help restore Washington’s influence in Latin America and give him a much-needed foreign policy success.

But the stop-and-start way the outreach unfolded, with deep mistrust on both sides, illustrates the obstacles Washington and Havana face to achieving a lasting detente.
Obama was not the first Democratic president to reach out to Cuba, but his attempt took advantage of – and carefully judged – a generational shift among Cuban-Americans that greatly reduced the political risks.

In a May 2008 speech to the conservative Cuban-American National Foundation in Miami, Obama set out a new policy allowing greater travel and remittances to Cuba for Cuban-Americans, though he added he would keep the embargo in place as leverage.
“Obama understood that the policy changes he was proposing in 2008 were popular in the Cuban-American community so he was not taking a real electoral risk,” said Dan Restrepo, then Obama’s top Latin America adviser. Six months later, Obama was validated by an unexpectedly high 35 percent of the Cuban-American vote, and in 2012 he won 48 percent – a record for a Democrat.

With his final election over, Obama instructed aides in December 2012 to make Cuba a priority and “see how far we could push the envelope,” recalled Ben Rhodes, a Deputy National Security Advisor who has played a central role in shaping Cuba policy. Helping pave the way was an early 2013 visit to Miami by Obama’s top Latin American adviser Ricardo Zuniga.

As a young specialist at the State Department he had contributed to a 2001 National Intelligence Estimate that, according to another former senior official who worked on it, marked the first such internal assessment that the economic embargo of Cuba had failed.
He met a representative of the anti-Castro Cuban American National Foundation, and young Cuban-Americans who, according to one person present, helped confirm the waning influence of older Cuban exiles who have traditionally supported the half-century-old embargo.

But the White House wasn’t certain. “I don’t think we ever reached a point where we thought we wouldn’t have to worry about the reaction in Miami,” a senior U.S. official said. The White House quietly proposed back-channel talks to the Cubans in April 2013, after getting notice that Havana would be receptive, senior U.S. officials said.

Obama at first froze out the State Department in part due to concern that “vested interests” there were bent on perpetuating a confrontational approach, said a former senior U.S. official. Secretary of State John Kerry was informed of the talks only after it appeared they might be fruitful, officials said. Cuban President Raul Castro operated secretly too.

Josefina Vidal, head of U.S. affairs at Cuba’s foreign ministry, was cut out, two Americans close to the process said. Vidal could not be reached for comment. The meetings began in June 2013 with familiar Cuban harangues about the embargo and other perceived wrongs. Rhodes used his relative youth to volley back. “Part of the point was ‘Look I wasn’t even born when this policy was put in place … We want to hear and talk about the future’,” said Rhodes, 37.

Obama’s people-to-people Cuba strategy was complicated by one person in particular: Alan Phillip Gross. The U.S. government had sent Gross, a USAID contractor, on risky missions to deliver communications equipment to Cuba’s Jewish community.
His December 2009 arrest put Obama’s planned “new beginning” with Cuba on hold. The secret talks were almost derailed by Havana’s steadfast demand that Obama swap the “Cuban Three,” a cell of Cuban spies convicted in Miami but considered heroes in Havana, for Gross.

Obama refused a straight trade because Washington denied Gross was a spy and the covert diplomacy stalled as 2013 ended. Even as Obama and Castro shook hands at the Johannesburg memorial service for South African leader Nelson Mandela, the situation behind the scenes did not look very hopeful.
“The Cubans were dug in … And we did kind of get stuck on this,” Rhodes said. Rhodes and Zuniga spent more than 70 hours negotiating with the Cubans, mostly at Canadian government facilities in Ottawa. By late spring 2014, Gross’ friends and family grew alarmed over his physical and psychological state.

The White House and the Cubans knew that if he died in prison, repairing relations would be left to another generation. With Gross’ mother, Evelyn, dying of lung cancer, the U.S. government and his legal team launched an effort to convince the Cubans to grant him a furlough to see her.
That bid failed, despite an offer by Gross’s lawyer Scott Gilbert to sit in his jail cell as collateral. But a turning point had occurred at a January 2014 meeting in Toronto. The Americans proposed – to the Cubans’ surprise – throwing Rolando Sarraff, a spy for Washington imprisoned in Cuba since 1995, into the deal, U.S. participants said.

The White House could claim it was a true “spy swap,” giving it political cover. But it took 11 more months to seal the deal. Castro did not immediately agree to give up Sarraff, a cryptographer who Washington says helped it disrupt Cuban spy rings in the United States.
And Obama, stung by the outcry over his May 2014 exchange of five Taliban detainees for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, was wary of another trade perceived as lopsided, according to people close to the situation.

He weighed other options, including having the Cubans plead guilty to the charges against them and be sentenced to time served, according to the people. Gilbert worked with the Obama administration, but urged it to move faster.
From his vantage point, the turning point came in April 2014, when it became clear key Obama officials would support a full commutation of the Cuban prisoners’ sentences.

The last puzzle piece slid into place at a Feb. 2014 White House meeting with lawmakers including Democratic Senators Patrick Leahy and Sen. Dick Durbin. Obama hammered home his opposition to a straight Gross-Cuban Three trade, two people present said. Durbin, in an interview, said he “raised the possibility of using the Vatican and the Pope as intermediaries.” Pope Francis would bring the Catholic Church’s moral influence and his status as the first pontiff from Latin America. It was also protection against harsh critics such as Cuban-American Sen. Robert Menendez. Leahy persuaded two Catholic cardinals to ask Francis to raise Cuba and the prisoners when he met Obama in March. The Pope did so, then wrote personal letters to Obama and Castro. “What could be better than the president being be able to tell Menendez or anybody else, ‘Hey, The Pope asked me?'” a congressional aide said. The deal was finalized in late October in Rome, where the U.S. and Cuban teams met separately with Vatican officials, then all three teams together. Rhodes and Zuniga met the Cubans again in December to nail down logistics for the Dec. 17 announcements of prisoner releases, easing of U.S. sanctions, normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations and Cuba’s freeing of 53 political prisoners. Gilbert was aboard the plane to Cuba that would bring Gross home. Landing at a military airfield, Gilbert met Cuban officials who had been in charge of Gross for five years. “Many of us from both countries had tears in our eyes,” Gilbert said. Castro and Obama, whose Cuba policy still faces vocal opposition from anti-Castro lawmakers, will come face to face at next month’s Western Hemisphere summit in Panama. Aides have dared to imagine that Obama could be the first U.S. president to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. “We’re in new territory here,” Rhodes said.

havana-live--afro-cuban A look at Cuba’s vibrant Afro-Cuban community through the photographs of Dr. David LaFevor who has visited and photographed Cuba for the past decade.

HAVANA, 13 Mar. More African slaves were imported into Cuba (roughly the size of Pennsylvania) than into the entire United States. For most of Cuban history, manumission, the process through which slaves became free, was more accessible for people of African descent than in the United States.

When slavery finally ended in 1886, there were already a sizable number of free Afro-Cubans, many of whom were artisans and professionals.
Another key difference was that many of the newly freed Cubans had been born in Africa and had direct knowledge of African cultures. Above, a babalawo, or Santería leader can be seen. Like much of Cuban culture, Santeria is a fusion of African and European religious practices.

At various moments in Cuban history, the practice of African-derived spirituality was suppressed. Currently, Santeria is thriving. Dr. David LaFevor an Assistant Professor at UT Arlington, has taken more than 4,000 images ranging from portraiture to street photography on his visits to Cuba over the past decade.
Many of his images portray daily life for Afro-Cubans and their cultures of religion, public life and sociability.havana-live--afro-cuban1

This series of photographs, taken over the last decade, shows a small part of how Afro-Cuban culture and people have made the best of difficult material circumstances.

In the visual arts, religion, music, language, and virtually every other form of expression, the African roots of modern Cuban identity remain both profound and highly visible. They are increasingly celebrated and appropriated, even by many who do not identify as Afro-Cuban. Afro-Cuban culture is Cuban culture.havana-live--afro-cuban 2In the photo above, a group practices for Carnival in the street.havana-live--afro-cuban 3 Havana youths drumming for a dance in the streets of Old Havana.havana-live--afro-cuban 4These three women show a few of the many variations in skin color that defy the binary definitions common in the United States. Race is expressed in many ways, not simply as white or black.
Most Cubans will tell you that racism does exist on the island; but the evolution of race relations there offers Americans a counterpoint to our complex and evolving racial issues.

When the Cuban Republic was founded (1902), after centuries of Spanish rule and a brief American occupation, nationalists claimed that the interracial nature of the wars for independence, in which Afro-Cubans had fought in numbers that exceeded their percentage of the population, had yielded a “raceless” Republic in which citizenship was colorblind.havana-live--afro-cuban 5This is a worker on a collective farm outside of Trinidad, a colonial city located in the southern part of the island. After a long day in the fields, he was eager for conversation, especially with foreigners. Like most Cubans, he has family members living abroad.

havana-live--afro-cuban 7A youth stands in an intersection under construction in Old Havana. Part of larger plan to rehabilitate the colonial core of the city, much of area is unrecognizable from its condition a decade ago.havana-live--afro-cuban 8Biologically, race does not exist; but socially, race remains a central point of identity. It is clear that Cubans have undergone what the intellectual Fernando Ortiz called “transculturation.” The cultures of Africa, Europe, the Americas and, later, Asia, came together in Cuba to create a unique, vibrant, and constantly evolving society. In the photo above, a young woman displays the necklaces that identify her as a santera, or a Catholic, or both.havana-live--afro-cuban 9In the coming years, Cuban cultures will be challenged by and, perhaps, will embrace new ideas from abroad. Like any dynamic system, both conscious choice and unconscious reaction will yield altered outcomes and new forms.
As they have many times before, Cubans will mediate these forces with creativity and dignity. A bar patron, who lived for a while in the United States and decided to return, shows his bi-cultural outlook.

About the Photographer: Dr. David LaFevor is an Assistant Professor of Latin American History and Digital Humanities at University of Texas, Arlington. He writes about Latin American cultural and social history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
He is most interested in ideas of modernity, masculinity, transnationalism and national identities in Mexico and Cuba. His current book project traces the racial, national, and gendered contours of the introduction and popularization of boxing in Cuba and Mexico from the 1890s to the 1930s.
Secondary projects in the research phase include work on ideas of manhood and civil society in nineteenth century Mexico and the transcultural relations among Cuba, Mexico, and the United States over the last two hundred years.

  havana-live-almendronesLA HAVANE, 6 Mar.   Cuba sans ses voitures des années 1950, c’est un peu comme Venise sans ses gondoles ! Ces autos rutilantes doivent leur survie à l’embargo américain. Mais tout pourrait changer avec le rapprochement historique entre La Havane et Washington. Reportage à Cuba où le Président François Hollande a annoncé sa visite le 11 Mai.  havana-live-almendrones

Elles surgissent au coin des rues défoncées de La Havane, rondeurs assumées, dans leurs carlingues fraise écrasée ou vert pomme. Les Cubaines ? Non, les Américaines. Les vieilles Américaines d’avant la révolution castriste de 1959, symbole des années fric de Batista. Chromes rutilants dehors, les Buick, Chrysler, Pontiac et autres Plymouth font chavirer les touristes.  havana-live-almendrones

11 mai.« Vous savez, il n’y a plus que la carrosserie d’origine, sourit Luis, étudiant en droit dans la capitale cubaine. Les moteurs sont sans cesse trafiqués et viennent de voitures russes ou coréennes.
» En 1962, lorsque les États-Unis décident l’embargo, fini l’importation de pièces détachées. Pour pouvoir continuer à frimer sur le Malecon, les Cubains ont dû mettre les mains dans le moteur, faire appel au Système D et à la débrouille.  havana-live-almendrones

La plupart s’improvisent mécanos. Sur l’île, les garages de fortune à ciel ouvert laissent entrevoir ce sport national (avec le base-ball !). D’année en année, ces bidouilleurs de génie ont réussi à maintenir en état ce trésor national bien loin d’une simple image folklorique.

« Elle nourrit ma famille »
Si ces belles font le bonheur des visiteurs, elles sont largement utilisées par les Cubains eux-mêmes. Bichonnées, les girondes automobiles paradent dans les fêtes de famille. Le volant, on se le transmet de père en fils. Emilio conduit son Oldsmobile couleur menthe à l’eau à Trinidad. Sa voiture a appartenu à son grand-père.   havana-live-almendrones
Même si on lui en proposait un bon prix, il ne s’en séparerait pas. « C’est une relique familiale, pas question de la vendre.
Elle nourrit ma famille. »Au pied des mogotes de Vinales, dans la région des plantations de tabac, Ariel, lui, a vendu sa maison pour s’offrir cette Chevrolet de 1953 rouge carmin. « J’habite chez ma petite amie. Ma voiture, c’est mon gagne-pain. » Il y fait très attention. Pas question de jouer les pilotes de F1 sur les routes à nid-de-poule de Cuba.
Sur l’île, tout propriétaire d’une telle antiquité sait comment contourner les pièges pour préserver les demoiselles fatiguées, qui font partie du paysage cubain.  havana-live-almendrones

Bonheur des collectionneurs
Jusqu’à quand ? Le dégel annoncé des relations économiques entre la perle des Caraïbes et le géant américain pourrait avoir des conséquences sur ce parc automobile unique mais en fin de course.
Depuis longtemps, les constructeurs américains lorgnent sur ce territoire plein de promesses et veulent s’y installer. L’importation de véhicules, autorisée depuis fin 2013, risque de se renforcer a Cuba même si, pour l’instant, les taxes très élevées ne permettent pas aux Cubains, avec leur vingtaine d’euros par mois, de s’offrir une voiture neuve.  havana-live-almendrones

Par ailleurs, les plantureuses Américaines attisent la convoitise des collectionneurs du monde entier. Mais pour l’instant, elles n’ont pas le droit d’aller voir ailleurs. « Interdit » a dit Fidel Castro, elles appartiennent au patrimoine national.
Bouquiniste au marché du livre ancien de La Havane, Osbey en est aussi convaincu : « Laisser partir ces voitures, ce serait une folie !   havana-live-almendrones(Photos : Magali Grandet et Internet)

Suivez l’odeur du cigare, les chants de Buena Vista Social Club et les traces de JR et José Parla