havana-live-buena_feHAVANA, June 20 (Prensa Latina) The popular band Buena Fe will open the summer cultural program in Cuba with a big concert in the Karl Marx Theater to promote his new compilation album ”Soy”, which targets the international market.

The band will perform on June 26, 27 and 28 with a repertoire including several of their greatest hits as well as new songs such as ‘Casanova’, ‘Cecilia Valdes y la Bella Durmiente’, ‘Orare’ and ‘Dame Guerra’.
Buena Fe lead singer Israel Rojas told Prensa Latina that this 13-track album was produced without trade concessions and keeps the original arrangements already known by the national audience.

“At first we were reluctant to make this album, but launching us to the international market while keeping our essence convinced us to endeavor to this project”, he added.
The international label ‘Metamorfosis’, along with Sony Music, are responsible for promoting the album ‘Soy’ in the Hispanic market; while the Company of Musical Recordings and Editions (EGREM) will do so in the national scene.

Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are some of the countries they plan to visit with this new production. Meanwhile, concerts in Cuba will be a sort of re-encounter with Buena Fe music, since they include well known songs such as ‘La culpa’, ‘Catalejo’, ‘Si yo fuera Fabelo’, ‘Despedida’, ‘Noviembre’, ‘Soy’ and ‘Pi 3,14’.
These concerts will also have a sui generis staging, based on the work by the Cuban artist Alicia de la Campa, who also illustrated the CD.

 havana-live-menories-miramarHAVANA, Jun 20   From June 22 to 24, world-class chefs, maîtres, sommeliers and pâtissiers will come together at Memories Miramar in Havana for the 5th International Conference on Dining & Gourmet Excellence.

For three days, Memories Miramar will host these industry-leaders who are meeting to exchange ideas on methods and best practices for the preparation and communication of food and beverage within the tourism industry.

They will also discuss the future of restaurants and supporting businesses as Cuba begins to emerge. Memories Miramar was chosen as the setting for this gathering because of the quality and variety of gourmet options already being offered by this hotel and its spacious design and grand features.

The 5th International Conference on Dining & Gourmet Excellence will bring top global talent to this newly-acquired establishment where they can experience the essence of Memories hotels.
The hotel is part of the rapidly growing Memories brand that now has eight properties across the Caribbean and Cuba. Recent introductions include a family-friendly Memories Holguin Beach Resort. The chain has also recently announced its first ever Grand Memories property with the introduction of Grand Memories Varadero in April.
(Marketwired via COMTEX)

HAVANA,  June 19  What does Cuba mean to the destination and tourism market as it comes off a five-decade U.S. visitor embargo?

What other destinations are at risk?
Which tourists will go?
What will drive its growth in travel and tourism?

Cuba was, for many years, the jewel of the Caribbean, the destination of choice for the well-heeled and privileged. That all changed after the Castro revolution, when the U.S. levied sanctions on the Caribbean’s largest island and made it illegal for citizens to travel there.

As the draconian laws are finally lifted and U.S. citizens are again permitted to travel there, what will a suddenly visible and viable Cuba mean to other tropical destinations? I think the hierarchy is about to change. The goal of every destination brand is to be different and better than the competition. They all look to have some equity at their disposal, some smidgen of uniqueness that gives them a foot up in the battle for tourist dollars.

For the most part, this has been diluted into meaningless catchphrases like “It’s Better in the Bahamas.” At the end of the day, every tropical destination tries to sell its white-sand beaches (or pink if you are Bermuda), clear, tropical waters, trade-wind breezes and colorful, local inhabitants. Some tried to be different by promoting cuisine or adventures like scuba diving or hang gliding.Cuba-TravelWeekly-8.5x14-Infographic-Sojern

The silliness of such focus is not lost on potential visitors, since everyone knows you can scuba dive everywhere in the tropics. And the food? Well, you can eat everywhere, too.
Then there’s the rise of the all-inclusive resorts, which imitate landlocked cruise ships with everything you need and want right at your door. Of course, “everything” can translate into more of the same.Conspicuously missing are the colorful locals who, except for staff members, are purposely locked out.

What some travelers are drawn to as safe and predictable sun and fun, others see as sterilized ports that end up offering only cheap booze, overcrowded pools and no authentic experiences. Ecotourism emerges as the opposite of the all-inclusive resort, an attempt at a real experience that was environmental, historical or anthropological.
The idea — and an important brand idea at that — was to experience something that was food for the soul as well as an excuse for indulgence. Among this clutter of destination redundancy, Cuba stands unique.

It actually owns something that travelers covet. It may be short-lived, but for now it is the forbidden fruit. With decades of demand primed and fed by the embargo, Cuba is poised to set the Caribbean, maybe even the entire tropical destination market, on its ear.
But it might well be that an open Cuba will grow the entire travel market rather than just cannibalizing its tropical neighbors. For example, I once thought Cuba would eat Jamaica’s lunch when sanctions and embargoes were lifted.

I am rethinking that a bit, because Jamaican visitors are tourists, not travelers. They are a frightened lot who populate the all-inclusive resorts but have learned to fear the unplanned and unprogrammed.
Sure, they might venture out to the famous waterfalls or raft down a meandering river, but they avoid the local crowds of people in Kingston and prefer organized and guided excursions (even if it is to a tourist mall).

Somehow, I don’t think this is the profile of the Cuba tourist.

‘Cuba is a place where the excitement of mingling with locals is at least as important as the white beaches, blue skies and local cuisine. Cuba is for the traveler. Cuba is not for the tourist. Its promise is the unscripted, not the rack brochure.’

To the U.S. traveler, Cuba seems caught in a time warp. In addition to our visions of beaches and bistros, we also indulge fantasies of hailing a cab that’s a vintage 1950s Ford.

Hemingway’s Cuba still lives in our hearts, and we all envision ourselves strolling down the beach and encountering the Old Man of the Sea or hearing discussions of the great Joe DiMaggio. Cuba is not a destination filled with visions of fences (excepting Guantanamo) or walled communities. It is a place where the excitement of mingling with local inhabitants is at least as important as the white beaches, blue skies and local cuisine — oh, and I forgot to mention, the world’s best cigars.

Cuba is for the traveler. Cuba is not for the tourist. Its promise is the unscripted, not the rack brochure. There is another reason I think Cuba will set the travel world on fire: a brand of totalitarianism called communism. I know that might sound strange, but hear me out. As a brand strategist, I know the ins and outs of messaging and persuasion.

As I see it, the problem that besets almost every destination and tourism brand is the convention and visitors bureau. These political quagmires, which run most destination brands, have a habit of mucking things up. Their agenda is not to win and succeed so much as to satisfy every political faction.
After all, it is quite common for touristy things to be taxed, and everyone who levies those taxes believes they should have a voice in the final message. This process produces vanilla pudding.

Each message sounds like everyone else in the category, because they are in fact exactly like everyone else in the category. Committees are the archenemy of branded messages, and every resort, destination, tropical island and port of call has one. The result is a terrible brand strategy, if there is any strategy at all.

But as a totalitarian communist country, Cuba is used to managing messages, along with just about everything else. There are no dissenting constituencies to contend with. All Cuba needs is the right strategy and the ability to execute it. Finding the right strategy is key, because it will need permission to evolve.

What will no doubt be a slam dunk in the beginning will quickly become challenged, because once the destination becomes popular, it is a difficult challenge to sell it as unique. Right from the get-go, the strategy needs to build on this progression with a singularity of purpose. Apple Computer offers a fine example.
Despite the fact that everyone owns an Apple device (many even save the boxes), the Apple brand has been able to maintain the conceit that its fans are special and think differently.

Cuba had its Fidel Castro, and Apple had its Steve Jobs. While the level of tyranny is, of course, not at all comparable, there is more to the power of personality than mere coincidence. So who loses? I think Cuba will siphon off business from everywhere.

Its limits will be measured in availability of accommodations rather than consumer demand. Cuba will win big by default. The only question is whether it will be the biggest winner through brand planning and singularity of message. The country will have one chance to get it right. 


HAVANA, June 19   Since late May, art ­collectors and dealers from all over the globe have been flocking to Havana for the month-long exhibition called the Biennial.

Virtually every inch of outdoor space in Havana has been converted into a gigantic gallery where artists from about 40 countries are exhibiting.
Since it’s the first Biennial launched after the Obama administration’s December announcement of a diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba, the event is also being closely watched by many people outside the art world. Miami-based art curator Dr. Milagros Bello has just returned from the Biennial.

She says she sees a “big change” in Cuba artistically — and economically. Bello noticed the way Cuban artists are bypassing government-run art galleries and selling their work on their own, something she calls a “new phenomenon.” “Artists are opening up their own studios that really function as galleries not regulated by the government,” say Bello.

She describes sales between the artists and collectors as good-faith transactions where the buyer wires the money to an international account, usually Canadian. The seller ships the artwork out and can retrieve the funds via ATM.

Kind of sounds like free enterprise, doesn’t it? Since the purchase of Cuban art has been (since 1989) one of the exceptions to the U.S.-Cuba trade embargo enacted in 1961, American art collectors have been able to bring artwork from the island with a minimum of drama.

Bello says the U.S.-Cuba detente — and Cuba’s removal from the United States list of state sponsors of terrorism — will result in an influx of enthusiastic art lovers to the island. “There is a change in the image of Cuba internationally,” she says.


havana-live-maria_la_gorda HAVANA,  June 19  (AP) — The coral reefs and gin-clear waters off the coast of Cuba offer some of the best diving in the Caribbean and some of the best-preserved reefs on earth.

And if travel restrictions on U.S. tourism to Cuba are ever lifted, the remote Peninsula of Guanahacabibes could well become a popular destination for American divers.
The land and marine reserve encompasses some 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) on Cuba’s westernmost tip about 135 miles (217 kilometers) northwest of Havana.

It juts into the Caribbean, with protected forests on land, aquamarine waters lapping at white sand beaches and pristine coral beds teeming with a colorful variety of fish just offshore.

In some ways, the peninsula is just as frozen in time as other aspects of life in Cuba, where 50-year-old cars are common and Wi-Fi is scarce. But the lack of change here has had a positive effect, sparing Cuba’s reefs from the degradation evident in coral beds elsewhere.

Lack of agricultural run-off, little coastal development and strong environmental laws have all helped keep Cuba’s reefs healthy. That said, several factors stand in the way of Guanahacabibes becoming a major tourist attraction any time soon.
For one thing, while President Barack Obama has relaxed limits on travel to Cuba, trips from the U.S. to Cuba for pure tourism remain prohibited by U.S. law.

The Obama administration has said that it believes more U.S. visits to Cuba will accelerate reform on the island. But Obama’s critics say that U.S. visits simply feed cash into coffers of government agencies like the military-run tour company that oversees diving in Maria La Gorda, the resort inside the Guanahacabibes reserve.

Despite the travel ban, however, thousands of Americans are visiting Cuba, some flying in via third countries like Mexico or the Bahamas, others certifying that their trips meet standards for permitted categories such as educational or cultural travel. Another impediment to tourism here is Guanahacabibes’ location. It’s a five-hour drive from Havana over tortuous roads to get to Maria La Gorda.havana-live-diving-in-maria-la-gorda-5

Finally, even though international travelers and moneyed Cubans enjoy the area, eagerly taking in the sights underwater, it doesn’t offer the type of comforts Americans are accustomed to. “No, there is no way they are going to be ready for them,” said American diver Tony Dorland, 51, a contractor from Chicago who has visited the island numerous times to dive.

Dorland said Americans “like all the bells and whistles when they travel, but it’s going to be for the people that know that this is the way Europeans travel, not the way Americans travel.” The dive resort has the feel of a summer camp: spare hotel rooms (though they do have air conditioning) and a buffet that serves unimaginative fare of rice, beans and either chicken, beef or the ubiquitous pork Cuba is famous for.

And since it’s located at the edge of a protected reserve, there are no other visitor options for miles around. Despite the lack of luxury, the attractions of the sea satisfy even the most demanding divers: clear water, spectacular coral heads towering 60 feet (18 meters) and an abundance of marine life.

Manuel Mons, 55, a marketing manager for a Cuban state-run tour agency, says Cuba is uniquely suited to ecotourism because of its lack of development and strong environmental laws. “You’re diving in a protected area, so there aren’t areas that are under pressure from manmade activity,” said Mons.

“On the contrary, the policy is of conservation, so it’s assumed under this conservation policy they should be that way for a long time.” But he acknowledged that if the area wants to attract and please American tourists in the future, “we need to improve our infrastructure.”

havana-live-Free-Public-Wi-FiHAVANA, June 18 (Reuters) – Cuba plans to beam Wi-Fi signals at 35 public spaces in the first such offering for the population at large, whose Web access has been mostly limited to desktop rentals in state-owned Internet parlors.

Cuba will also cut the price for surfing the net from $4.50 to $2 per hour, the chief spokesman for the state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa told the official newspaper Juventud Rebelde in Thursday’s editions.

Cuba has one of the lowest Internet usage rates in the world with virtually no home broadband service and extremely high rates for foreigners and a tiny number of homes and businesses allowed to be wired.

Only 3.4 percent of Cuban homes are connected, and most of those have intranet, not Internet, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union, a U.N. agency.

But increasingly Cuban officials have been commenting about demand for better Internet access. At the same time the United States has promoted the Internet in Cuba has part of the recent opening to its longtime nemesis, for example relaxing the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba to allow U.S. companies to do Internet-related business here.

The Wi-Fi signals will be beamed to 35 public spaces including five in Havana, Etecsa spokesman Luis Manuel Diaz Naranjo told Juventud Rebelde. Each spot would be able to handle 50 to 100 users with a speed of one megabit per second per user, Diaz Naranjo said. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta Editing by W Simon)

The sun sets on the Malecon, Havana’s oceanfront promenade. Photo by Frank Carlson

The sun sets on the Malecon, Havana’s oceanfront promenade. Photo by Frank Carlson

HAVANA,  June 18 Behind every good reporting trip is a good fixer — the women and men who live and work in the country you’re visiting, speak the language, and know how to work the system to get you the people and footage you need.

“It’s not gonna be a problem!” We must have heard that phrase 50 times in our seven days in Havana from Josue Lopez, our fixer, and he was usually right. Should we be at the Havana airport four hours before our flight, as the tickets instruct? Are we going to have issues getting our gear through customs? Is this building sound?

Cuba is a place where it helps to “know a guy,” and Josue seemed to know someone in just about every place we went. So on our last evening in Havana, I asked Josue to take me to some of his favorite spots in town. Here’s what he showed us:

Besides offering great views, Nazdarovie excites a nostalgia of Soviet era Cuba. Photo by Frank Carlson

Besides offering great views, Nazdarovie excites a nostalgia of Soviet era Cuba. Photo by Frank Carlson

Best way to view the Malecon
The Malecon is Havana’s oceanfront avenue, where each evening people walk, fish, swim and gaze out at the Gulf of Mexico. A few floors up, near the eastern end of the strip, is Nazdarovie a Soviet-themed restaurant with a great balcony and stunning views of the water, the Morro Fortress and the colorful colonial buildings to the west.
Its interior houses some interesting Soviet-era propaganda, including one of American icon Marilyn Monroe sporting a hammer and sickle on her sweater.

The Casa de la Musica Piano Bar, El Tun Tun, in Havana, attracts a new generation of young Cubans. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The Casa de la Musica Piano Bar, El Tun Tun, in Havana, attracts a new generation of young Cubans. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Best spot to hear live music
You can find great music all over Havana — in fact the bellhop at our hotel, the Habana Libre, turned out to be a singer with his own group, Rene y los Grandes del Tres. He told me to check out his artist page on iTunes; he’s pretty good.
So while you can find great live music all over Havana — in restaurants, hotels and street corners — near the National Capitol Building is the Miramar House of Music (Casa de la Musica), where musicians play every evening from 5 to 9 p.m.

Best club to hang with Havana’s hipsters Opened last year, The Cuban Art Factory is a former cooking oil plant that’s been converted into a massive nightlife venue, with multiple art galleries, live music spaces, bars and a dance club. Just next door, in the smokestack, is a restaurant, The Cocinero, with a great open air lounge. Taken together, they’re a one-stop shop for food, music, art and drinks.

Morro Castle is a 16th century fortress on the eastern edge of the Malecon. Walking along its promenade is Josue, our fixer. Photo by Frank Carlson

Morro Castle is a 16th century fortress on the eastern edge of the Malecon. Walking along its promenade is Josue, our fixer. Photo by Frank Carlson

Best spot to watch the sunset
On the eastern end of the Malecon sits the Morro Castle, a fortress built the late 16th century to protect Havana from would-be invaders. And just behind its lighthouse, frame by rusted cannons, is a quiet spot to take in the sunset. It’s a great view of the Malecon at any time, but on the evening we visited, the departing storm made for a colorful end.

Best way to see an “authentic” side of Cuba
Now this is a real insider’s tip: Raul Moas of Roots of Hope, a Miami-based nonprofit, has a suggestion for where to connect with everyday Cubans and to hear about their lives. It’s at the corner of G Street and 23rd Avenue. Tell your taxi driver, and he’ll know where to go, and, well, we’ll let Moas tell you the rest:


Villa_Tropico_beach_cubaHavana, Jun 19 (Prensa Latina) Cuba was selected by the Caribbean Tourism Organization as the 2nd most relevant tourist destination in the start of 2015, behind the Dominican Republic, press media reported here Wednesday.

A report by Cuban nwespaper Granma said that the difference between Cuba and the Dominican Republic is getting shorter, since Cuba registered 3.1 million visitors in 2014, and the Dominican Republic, a little bit more than 5.14 million. In the first quarter of 2015 1.35 million tourists moved to Cuban territory, while 1.49 million travelled to Dominican soil.

According to statistics, Canada, with 551, 360 tourists from January to March, is the country that mostly chooses Cuba as a tourist destination in the region; which can be greatly favored by the recent agreements signed by the two countries to improve air connections and increase the frequency of flights.
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization such behavior could worry Puerto Rico, as against growth of 15 per cent of visits during the first quarter of the year to Cuba, the Puerto Rican country experienced an increase of just 0.3 percent.

Easing for U.S. tourists to travel to Cuba will also alert the Puerto Rican tourism industry, being affected the influx of American travelers, because the Cuban would become a strong competitor and favour by opening a market hitherto forbidden, according to the source.
Since last December, it has increased interest by Cuba in the world and a sample is the Group of airlines that increase frequency of flights to the archipelago, re-open old stopovers or begin new routes.

In order to maintain the pace of growth in the sector, the largest of the Antilles enlists more than three thousand rooms in its fundamental poles and encourages the inclusion of the non-State sector within the offers that promote travel agencies. The Caribbean recorded an increase of six per cent in the arrival of tourists from January to April last and projecting similar growth for the rest of the year, the Caribbean Tourism Organization reported.

According to the President of that entity, Barbadian Richard Sealy, in the first four months of 2015 arrived to different islands in the area, 7.9 million people, mostly from United States and Canada.

ets-1U.S. universities show appetite for recruiting students in Cuba

HAVANA,  June 18  Two popular university-entrance exams will soon be offered in Cuba for the first time, a development that signals U.S. educational institutions’ appetite for recruiting prospective students in the newly opened communist nation.

Four Cuban students will sit on June 27 in Havana for the Test of English as a Foreign Language, a standardized exam required for admission for nonnative speakers at many universities in the U.S., U.K., Australia and other countries, according to the nonprofit Educational Testing Service, which administers the test.

The Educational Testing Service also said it plans to offer the GRE revised general test, which is a graduate-school entrance exam that measures verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing, in Cuba as early as October.
But the island nation’s still-developing financial and technological infrastructures present considerable logistical hurdles, the testing service said. The planned Cuba test dates come in large part as a response to demand from U.S. universities seeking to recruit Cuban students as relations between the countries normalize, said Jose Santiago, GRE business director at Educational Testing Service.

There has been “a lot of interest both on the U.S. side and the Cuba side” in making the tests available to Cuban students, he said. The University of Washington’s School of Law is among the institutions eager to recruit Cuban candidates.
The school actively seeks students from transitioning economies around the globe, such as Afghanistan and Myanmar, for its Sustainable International Development program, for which students earn a master of laws degree, said Anita Ramasastry, a professor of law and the program’s director.

“It’s not a far stretch to think that Cuba is another important country in this larger dialogue,” she said. The university requires graduate applicants not educated in English to meet an English-language proficiency requirement, she said.

Yet there are still kinks to be worked out. For one, registrants for the GRE and the English language test typically sign up via credit card, which few Cubans have, Mr. Santiago said. For that reason, he said, the Educational Testing Service expects that students’ family members who are outside Cuba or at universities overseas will have to complete registration on their behalf.

All four Cuban students taking the coming English test in Havana were registered from outside the country, the testing service said. Schools can also provide vouchers to test takers to cover fees, allowing them to bypass online registration, he said. Also difficult is securing testing facilities with sound computing capability, said Mr. Santiago.

The test center for next Saturday’s English exam has six electronic workstations, two of which will remain open in case a student’s equipment malfunctions and he or she must move to another station, according to the testing service. The organization is “erring on the side of caution,” a spokesman said. Mr. Santiago said he’s currently working with two Cuban universities to certify their computer labs as official test centers.

There are currently no planned dates to give the English test in Cuba beyond this month’s administration of the exam. It is too soon to evaluate demand from Cuban test takers, Mr. Santiago said. “This is still very new; it’s in its infancy,” he said. “There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved.”


havana-live-twitter-headquartersThe company has talked with the Cuban government about letting its citizens tweet through cheap and easy text messaging.

HAVANA, June 17   Twitter says it’s talked with the Cuban government about expanding access to its service, the latest sign of U.S. tech companies exploring digital possibilities on the island after President Barack Obama’s announcement of a historic thaw in relations.

While the tech conversation around Cuba has thus far been about building the basic network infrastructure the country lacks, Twitter says it has a simple, short-term ask: Let Cubans tweet by text message.
Story Continued Below Cuba lacks the sort of four- or five-digit number shortcut that allows users to tweet via SMS, often quite cheaply and even from rudimentary cellphones. (In much of the world, that short code is “40404,” but it varies; Mexico’s short code is, for example, “6464.”)

Twitter says its director of global public policy, Colin Crowell, has met with officials from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington — the country’s current diplomatic outpost in the U.S. — to discuss the issue.

“We don’t have a short code deal with Cuba, and it’s one of the few places in the world where we don’t,” says Crowell. “We’ve broached our desire with Cuban officials and they’re open to it, but we haven’t made a trip down there to effectuate that deal.

“We’ll follow in short order when everyone catches their breath,” he adds. “We’d love to get a deal sooner rather than later.” At least one major U.S. tech company has expressed interest in helping to do a major upgrade of Cuba’s communications infrastructure.
A representative from Google is in Havana this week, focused on “helping the Cuban government think through their publicly stated goal of improving Internet access,” according to a company spokesperson.

Twitter could be a way for Cubans to share information among themselves and with the outside world, a sea change in a country that Reporters Without Borders ranks among the world’s worst when it comes to freedom of the press.
While many of the world’s users now tweet using the Twitter.com website or Internet-based apps, the lack of online options in Cuba — only about 5 percent of the population has Internet access — makes that difficult for many.

But Twitter started out as a text message-based service and can still operate as one, points out Crowell. The Cuban government owns ETECSA, the telecom that runs Cubacel, the island’s mobile network, and that would be responsible for setting up the desired short codes.

It was April’s Summit of the Americas in particular, attended by both Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro, that demonstrated the potential power of increased Twitter access in Cuba, says Crowell. The company saw that Cuba-related tweets were commented on and retweeted remarkably widely and often.

“The interest is quite pronounced in the [Cuban] diaspora, and in the hemisphere generally,” says Crowell. “We’re eager to do whatever we can to augment the ability of Cubans to make their voices heard. We’d love to have more Cuban voices on our platform.”


 havana-live-travel-cubaHAVANA,  June 17  You did it — you bought your ticket to Cuba! Hello sunshine, fancy cigars, and Cuba Libre cocktails. Booking the trip is off the To-Do list, but what about getting around town? We’ve put together a list of Cuba’s most popular and affordable transportation options, so all you have to do is enjoy your getaway.

Cuba has a rail system that runs the length of the country. Take the Main Line (which touches the country’s biggest cities) and avoid delays that plague smaller lines. Tickets must be purchased at the train station at least one hour in advance.
Train fares vary, but a trip from Santiago de Cuba to Havana will cost around roughly the equivalent of $50 to $65 American dollars. The type of seating on the train will also range in terms of comfort and, a word to the wise, bring toilet paper!

Taking the bus, or “omnibus” as it is called here, is a popular way to get around Cuba. Foreign passport holders will want to take a ride from a bus company like Viazul — don’t worry, their website is in English, too!
Tickets are usually one-way and cost anywhere from $6 to $15. They can be purchased from an established travel agency in just about any major city. Unfortunately, local buses in many Cuban cities are notoriously hard to ride if you’re a tourist. The best bet is renting a car or taking a taxi for local excursions.

Car Rental:
Renting a car for your personal use is easy to do. It will cost you anywhere from $45 to $85 a day (although discounts may exists for multi-day rentals), including mileage and insurance through a state-run rental agency. A few things to know: Driving at night is dangerous and inadvisable, as there is no lighting on highways and plenty of small bicycles and horse-drawn buggies to watch out for.

It is suggested that tourists book a car in advance, and reputable agencies in Havana are steps away from major hotels. The office of car rental agency Havanautaos is just one block from the gorgeous and historic St. John’s Hotel on Calle 0.

Tourist Taxis:
Taxis are one of the most popular, albeit more expensive, ways to get around major cities. Tourist taxis are government operated and run on a meter, although not all drivers turn it on. They tend to charge more in bigger cities and beach resorts.

Communal Taxis:
These are often privately owned vehicles that operate more like a bus service than traditional taxis. Most of these are unidentifiable from other taxis except they are often older American cars, and the driver will stop at the start of his route and shout his destination out to all who are interested. These taxis have fixed fares and will usually cost around $10 for shorter rides and $20 for longer distances.

Bicitaxis or Ciclotaxis:
Ciclotaxis are cute, three-wheeled bicycles built for two passengers. In bigger cities you will see these everywhere. The ride costs about the same as a taxi (roughly $1 a meter) but negotiation seems to be the name of the game with these rides.
Taking a ride in one of these trike taxis is easy to do in Havana. Stay at the beautiful and historic Hotel del Tejadillo Boutique and hop a ciclotaxi around the Havana Harbor or into the city-center of Old Havana (Havana Vieja).

Read also :  https://www.havana-live.com/news/travel-information


The couple with their son, Bastian, and cat, Angelina Jolie. Stefan Ruiz

The couple with their son, Bastian, and cat, Angelina Jolie. Stefan Ruiz

HAVANA,  June 17   For one couple, realizing their dream house as a cultural salon in Havana has been more than a labor of love. It’s been a lesson in patience, perseverance and wild invention.

About once a month, the Havana villa that Pamela Ruiz and Damian Aquiles brought back to life amid obstacles that only a Cuban could appreciate becomes electric.

Massive chandeliers cast dancing shadows on the tile floors, the saffron perfume of paella fills the air and guests like Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Anne Bass and the Proenza Schouler designers mix with local artists and cultural figures. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

Ruiz, an American, came to the island two decades ago to scout locations for an ad campaign, then met and fell in love with Aquiles, an artist. Since then, she has become Cuba’s Peggy Guggenheim — without the inheritance and retinue of famous lovers.

Against the backdrop of the couple’s magnificent house — it took them eight years to gain rights to it and another seven to renovate — Ruiz, who grew up in a middle-class household in Queens, has become an unlikely social locus as the country rejoins the West.

It may seem that she is merely in the right place at just the right moment, but back in the mid-1990s when Ruiz decided to immigrate to Cuba, everyone, including Aquiles’s family, thought she was crazy. The Soviet Union had fallen and food and gas were scarce; cats became a delicacy and horse-drawn carts replaced buses. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

There were virtually no other Americans except for Black Panthers and fugitives; the few European expats and diplomats weren’t interested in socializing with her as she didn’t have the right sort of pedigree.
But settling Aquiles and their son, Bastian, now 18, in the United States would have meant huge hurdles, and despite the privations, she loved the culture: the colors, the energy, the warmth of the people.

In 1999 she spied the villa while walking through the leafy Vedado neighborhood where she and her family were living in a two-bedroom apartment. They had always fantasized about owning one of the pre-revolution estates in that part of town, where the cratered sidewalks are speckled with bougainvillea blossoms. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

This once-grand house looked abandoned, its shutters closed, the paint peeling, a mountain of junk in the yard. When she knocked on the enormous door, the tiny face of an Afro-Cuban woman peered out.
“Excuse me,” Ruiz said in Spanish, “but I wanted to meet the woman who lives in my dream house.” “You have transparent eyes,” said the woman, who immediately sensed Ruiz’s sincerity and let her in.

The hundred-year-old house was dark but clean; it smelled vaguely musty, like the bottom of a grandmother’s purse. Best of all, it hadn’t been subdivided into apartments for hoards of relatives as many Havana houses had.

The woman, Vincenta Borges, had come there in 1950, as a housekeeper. The childless owners had died in the 1970s and left the house to her. She couldn’t read or write, and lived on food vouchers. She had no money for repairs. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

Ruiz desperately wanted the house, but real-estate transactions in Cuba are a Kafkaesque ordeal. Buying and selling property is illegal, but a permuta, or swap, is allowed. The houses need to be of equal value; size and land aren’t figured in, so a large villa in disrepair might be worth the same as a two-bedroom apartment with a new kitchen.

But Borges didn’t want Ruiz’s place — too many stairs. A ground floor with a veranda to hang her laundry would be perfect, she said. It took Ruiz eight years to arrange a three-way swap — someone with a place Borges would want who also wanted Ruiz’s apartment.

The permuta was just the beginning of the couple’s long voyage to bring the house back to its original glory, however. As renovations began, they realized how much the structure had declined in the years since they first set eyes on it. The plumbing had deteriorated; the only running water came through the leaks in the roof and veranda. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

Rodents had gnawed through the ancient cloth-covered wiring in the attic, producing fireworks of sparks. One afternoon, midconstruction, when Bastian brought some friends into the kitchen, a tornado of roaches flew out of the pipes, “like a horror movie,” he recalls. “Gross, but sort of cool.” Then came the hurricanes.
In 2008, just after they moved in, three deadly storms washed away more than 100,000 homes and nearly a third of the island’s crops.

The government commandeered all construction material — bricks, concrete and wood — so the couple was left to comb the city for salvage. “Whenever we found a building that had collapsed we’d ask if there was anything for sale,” says Ruiz. The mahogany beams of their roof are from a wrecked historic site, the century-old bricks of their patio from a burned-down cigar factory.

With no hardware stores in Havana, Ruiz, who retained her citizenship, made trips to the U.S. to carry back suitcases crammed with new wiring. Friends from Aquiles’s hometown moved in — for years — to help them with labor. “I called it ‘campismo con techo,’ ” she says, camping under a roof.

Over the years, Ruiz collected bits and bobs of Modernist furniture on the island, a legacy of Cuba’s midcentury stylishness, pre-Castro. Rather than fill the rooms with random battered pieces, she hired a car painter to spray the lot in black lacquer.
She brought the chandeliers back from the mainland and from Mexico, disassembled and stowed in luggage; one Murano masterwork weighed 150 pounds. As the house started to come together, so did Ruiz’s influence.

During her early career in New York, she had represented the photographer Juergen Teller, who was just starting out, and worked with a lot of well-connected people with whom she had stayed in touch.
The philanthropist and art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody, an old friend, sent an increasing numbers of travelers her way and Ruiz began to throw parties, a godsend in a culture that until recently has forbidden privately owned businesses and had virtually no place for creative people to mingle. havana-live-pamela-ruiz

Over the years, Ruiz produced shoots in Havana for Teller, William Eggleston and Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and arranged for U.S. galleries to bring ambitious exhibitions to the island, including one of Louise Bourgeois’s work that was the country’s first show of a major contemporary artist.

The house was finally finished last year, and since December the flow of visitors has become a flood. Meanwhile, Ruiz recently co-founded a foundation, Cuba Untitled, to continue the cross-pollination of cultures and artistic ideas.
“The house is beautiful, but it’s what goes on inside the house that’s important,” Ruiz says. “I have waited my whole life for this moment to occur.”
Photos: Stefan Ruiz


  havana-live-ramos-havanaHAVANA, June 17   Spanish international and Real Madrid stalwart Sergio Ramos is in Cuba as a Unicef goodwill ambassador, a presence that excited soccer fans on the island this Tuesday.

Ramos visited the Vo Thi Thang school Tuesday morning in Havana, where the kids welcomed him with dancing and music, while dozens of fans, many wearing Real Madrid jerseys and scarves, waited for him at the entrance hoping to get a few words, an autograph or a photo of their idol.

“I’m excited to see an athlete like him here in Cuba. It’s a unique moment because I admire him so much,” Roberto, a young Cuban fan of Real Madrid, who was working near the school when he learned that Ramos was in Havana, told Efe.

“I’ve got to see him when he comes out, to see if he’ll sign my Real Madrid scarf,” the young man said. Ramos arrived in Havana Monday afternoon to visit Unicef projects on the island, as he told Efe right after he landed at the airport, though he offered no further details about his agenda nor about how long he would stay in Cuba.

State media reported Tuesday that, as soon as he arrived in the Cuban capital, he attended a show staged by the kiddie theater group La Colmenita and a ballet by choreographer Lizt Alfonso, who, like the footballer, is a Unicef goodwill ambassador.
havana-live-ramos-havana havana-live-ramos-havana


havana-live-Ernest-Hemingway-007HAVANA, Jun 15 (acn)  Researchers and experts on the work of Ernest Hemingway will participate in the 15th edition of the International Colloquium dedicated to the Nobel Literature Prize winner, scheduled for June 18-21.

The program includes the 3rd meeting of organizations devoted to study and safeguard Hemingway’s legacy to the world, in addition to the usual theoretical debates on the life and work of the brilliant writer, who lived at Havana’s Finca Vigia, today turned into a museum, the www.cubasi.cu Web site reported on Monday.

This edition of the Colloquium, which takes place every two years, marks, most especially, the 80th anniversary of the first publication of his book “Green Hills of Africa” and the 90th anniversary of the publication of “In Our Time”. Similarly, there will be a tribute to René Villarreal, who was for 14 years Hemingway’s right-hand man.

The headquarters of the theoretical meetings will be the Palacio O’Farrill, located on Cuba and Chacon streets, in the historic center of Old Havana. In that area, many of its buildings also testify to the presence of the great novelist in this city that became part of his life, like the Ambos Mundos Hotel, where he used to spend long periods of time, or the restaurant El Floridita, in which he savored his daiquiri, among other places.

Experts on the life and work of the author of such novels as “The Old Man and the Sea” from different universities and other institutions in the United States and Argentina, among other countries, along with Cuban researchers, will take part in this meeting.
They will be dealing with issues related to the life and work of Ernest Hemingway in the United States, the preservation of his legacy, projects to expand access to information hitherto unknown, and the analysis of some of his works, among others. Similarly, the program of the Colloquium announces the presentation of books like “The Last Lion,” by Professor Richard Koon –Thursday, June 18; and “Hemingway: the unknown” by Enrique Cirules -June 19, Friday.

There will also be visits to Cuban sites that the U.S. writer frequented, such as La Bodeguita del Medio, the El Floridita bar-restaurant and Sloppy Joe’s, all located in Old Havana, and to Cojimar, a Havana coastal area, and its Restaurant Las Terrazas, one of the places where the author of works such as “For Whom the Bell Tolls” used to spend long hours with fishermen, with whom he established a close friendship.

Participants, of course, will visit on Sunday, June 21 (the final day of the Colloquium), Finca Vigia, the only stable home the great U.S. writer really had. During 22 years of his life, the Nobel Literature Prize winner found there peace and inspiration to create works of the likes of “The Old Man and the Sea”.

Read also :  https://havana-live.com/nouvelles/hemingway-cubas-adopted-son/

havana-live-cuba-pesosHAVANA, June 16  Cuba is likely to eliminate its dual currency system by the end of this year in a first step to simplifying a multiple exchange system that investors view as a serious obstacle to business.

Cuba currently operates two currencies: the peso (CUP), which largely circulates in the domestic economy, and the so-called convertible peso (CUC). Residents and tourists can purchase CUCs at government exchange offices at a rate of one for 25 CUP ($0.04). State and foreign companies must exchange CUCs at the official one-to-one rate. Neither currency is convertible outside the island.

“It is my understanding that the CUC will be removed from circulation before the next Communist party congress in April,” says a Cuban economist with knowledge of reform efforts. The move would continue President Raúl Castro’s efforts to introduce market elements and remove price distortions, and improve accounting transparency and the efficiency of state companies.

The economist adds that the currency reform was one of more than 300 reforms adopted at the last party congress, “and Raúl wants them all done by then [April]”.
In a country where the state controls more than 75 per cent of the economy and most wages and local goods are priced in CUP, the CUC is used in tourism, to price imports such as gasoline, and also in upscale eateries and stores.
Until recently, the currencies operated separately, with CUC used by those with access to foreign exchange, or who changed CUP for CUC to shop in better-stocked stores.

But there are signs of convergence. Many previously CUC-only outlets now accept either. At the same time, a new system of CUP pricing and accounting is being rolled out. Bigger CUP notes, ranging from 200 to 1,000 pesos, went into circulation this year, and anyone can go to state-run CUC stores and buy a fridge for 1,000 CUCS or the equivalent 25,000 CUPs.

The prospect of reform has unsettled Cubans since the announcement in October 2013 of plans to do away with the dual system. Better-off Cubans have turned to other currencies. “It is all funny money, only the dollar or euro are safe,” says the owner of a private Havana restaurant.

“I change what I can and send it out of the country.”

There has been talk of return to a single currency since Cuba legalised the dollar in 1994 and let the CUC circulate alongside the peso. At the time, the dollar traded at 150 pesos on the black market, compared with seven in 1989.
While unifying the currency — dubbed “day zero” — is a step forward, it is a far cry from full convertibility, which typically requires the backing of large hard currency reserves, often supported by International Monetary Fund loans. Cuba is not a member of the IMF.

Nor does it report its holdings of foreign currency, but the Economist Intelligence Unit estimates it has $11bn of reserves against a forecast 2015 current account deficit of £524m as of May 20. Economists say currency unification, by itself, ignores the real issue: a devaluation of the official exchange rate of one CUP to the dollar, in effect since 1959 and used by many state companies.

“A real monetary reform implies a significant devaluation of the CUP exchange rate,” says Cuban economist and monetary specialist Pavel Vidal, of Javeriana de Cali University in Colombia. “This would change the financial situation of state companies — some of which would fold — improve competitiveness of the sectors operating within the global economy and promote more transparency in financial accounts.”

Mr Castro says there will be no shock therapy. Central bank officials have told foreign businesspeople that devaluation will proceed cautiously and only in tandem with a strengthening economy.
For now, the government will continue to tinker in the hope of improving the trade balance, stimulating local production and paying workers more. For example, the state-run sugar monopoly receives 1,000 CUP, instead of 100 CUP, for every $100 of sugar exports, letting it invest and pay workers more.

In the Mariel special zone, the state will pay workers 10 CUP for each $1 foreign businesses pay their employees, instead of 1 CUP. The state-run tourism industry also began buying food direct from farmers in 2013, instead of via state distributors or imports. Hotels now change one CUC per 10 CUP to buy local produce.


havana-live-sprint-t-mobile HAVANA,  June 16  Both Sprint and T-Mobile are making it easier to contact friends and family members living in Cuba. On Monday, both wireless providers introduced options to dial the island nation. Sprint has announced the immediate availability of a new Sprint Cuba 20 Plus add-on feature.

Priced at $10 per month, it provides 20 voice minutes to any phone line in Cuba. Additional minutes will cost 70 cents each; new and existing customers can add the bundle to phone plans.
T-Mobile’s prepaid arm, MetroPCS, reaches out across the sea to add Cuba to its World Calling plan. For $10 a month, customers can place unlimited calls to land lines in more than 75 countries, and unlimited texts to most countries. For Cuba specifically, MetroPCS subscribers get 20 minutes of monthly calling time to landlines and mobile phones.

The bundle also includes 200 minutes to mobile phones in select countries. Boost Mobile, a prepaid subsidiary of Sprint, already offers discounted calls to Cuba. Subscribers can make calls for as low as 70 cents per minute with a Todo Mexico Plus or International Connect plan.


 havana-live-school-ship-MÉXICO (3)HAVANA,  Jun 15 (acn) Huasteco school ship, belonging to the United Mexican States Navy, will hold its second official visit to Cuba, which began on Sunday when arriving at the port of Havana and will last until June 19, Granma newspaper reported.

This visit is part of the 2015 training trip of the vessel with third year cadets of the Naval Academy, said frigate captain Aristeo Aguilar Meza, commander of the ship.

The stay in the port of Havana or in any other port in Cuba, he added, is always considered within the training voyages made by the cadets.

The ship’s crew and chiefs will pay tribute today to the heroes Jose Marti and Benito Juarez in the monuments at Central Park and the one at Presidents Avenue, respectively.

They will also make a courtesy visit to the president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power and the Head of the Revolutionary Navy, as well as to other places of historical and cultural interest.

The Huasteco can be visited today from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm; on Tuesday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and on Wednesday 17 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

After completing its visit to Cuba, the ship will sail on a five days journey for Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

 havana-live-Havana HAVANA,  June 15  With so much attention and apprehension focused on whether the U.S. government will or will not allow travel to Cuba, and how the politics will play out, there has been little attention paid to the issue of capacity. But with demand for Cuba growing by leaps and bounds, that issue cannot be avoided for long.

“More than two years ago I said that once travel restrictions are eased, demand will soar without the proper infrastructure to accommodate it in Cuba,” said Ronen Paldi, president of Ya’lla Tours. “Unfortunately that time is here.”

With Americans flooding to Cuba in ever larger numbers, and nationals of other countries rushing to see Cuba before the American influx, it is inevitable that tour operators and travelers will bump up against capacity issues.

“Oh yeah, the capacity issues are definitely here,” said Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba. “Most of the hotels that Americans stay in are booked solid in Havana through the peak season.”

As an example, said Popper, Insight Cuba had booked 100 rooms for the Havana Marathon in early December and late November of last year. The marathon does not take place until next Nov. 15.

“In January we tried to increase that amount by 10, 20, 30 rooms,” said Popper. “This was five months ago. We couldn’t get 10, 20, 30 rooms for next November. All the hotels have stopped sale. They’re all sold out. Most hotels from November through April 2016 are sold out. Many of the better casa particulares [small private hotels] are sold out in provinces and in Havana.”

Demand for Cuba is mushrooming, and not just from the U.S.

“Everyone says Americans are flooding in, and that’s true,” said Popper. “But the reason hotel capacity is limited to the extent that it currently is because the Canadian market is going in much larger numbers than in the past.”

As with most of the changes in the Cuba market in recent times, the established tour operators are not feeling many repercussions.

“For companies like Insight Cuba it’s not affecting us because we secure blocks of rooms far in advance,” said Popper. “Right now we’re booked through 2017. We have our space secured. For tour operators that have been doing business and are able to secure space it’s not an issue. Where it is creating an issue is with people just wanting to go, or other companies or travel agents who want to do something new, maybe book hotels on their own.”

For most dates throughout the rest of 2015 there is no capacity available, said Popper. There is some availability in summer and early fall, Cuba’s off-peak season. But even then, there’s not very much.

“There are hotels in Playa or the Miramar district, which is still in Havana but along the ocean,” said Popper. “It’s sort of a residential district and there’s a series of larger conference center-type hotels along the water. Those typically all have capacity. But now even those hotels are selling out.”

Inevitably when demand outstrips capacity by such a large margin, the hotels will raise prices.

“Prices have been on the rise since January,” said Ya’lla’s Paldi. “And with the Pope’s visit planned for September they will rise even further.”

“We have already seen a wave of price increases,” said Peggy Goldman, president of Friendly Planet Travel. “Rates in Cuba are controlled by the government and operators have less ability to negotiate rates than in other destinations. Also, as Americans, we pay higher rates than visitors from other countries. I expect rates will continue to increase as demand grows.”

Although Goldman expects prices to rise, she doesn’t expect it to have much effect on American demand.

“Cuba remains an enigma,” said Goldman, “where poverty doesn’t mean downtrodden, and where people have created a unique space that is well worth the cost of the visit for many travelers, I’m not sure the cost will stop travelers.

“All this was anticipated,” said Popper, “because there are only so many hotels and so many rooms. So if you increase number by double-digit percentages, one way to dampen demand is to raise prices. So it’s becoming more expensive. Hopefully over time new hotels and other alternatives will pop up. But for the immediate future it’s going to be hard. It doesn’t mean that nobody is getting to Cuba, that’s for sure. Plenty of people are going.”

Ironically, one thing that increases risk for investors in hotels is the fact that the potentially huge U.S. market is not determined by market forces but by government regulations and politics.

“There was an interesting discussion I had with the head of one of the Cuban travel agencies in 2011,” said Popper. “He said, ‘We were very excited to have the U.S. market here between 2000 and 2003. Americans came and they were filling up our rooms and business was great. Then all of the sudden because the Bush administration cut off people to people travel, overnight our hotels were empty. We didn’t have a backup plan. So we had to develop new markets. We went to Italy and Brazil and we started marketing to Mexico. It was as if we had to start again. So we’re ambivalent towards the U.S. market because it’s so volatile. It’s based on politics and not market forces.’”

Will the tourism infrastructure be so strained that the Cuban government will cap the number of visitors? No one knows for sure and opinions differ. Paldi thinks the government will impose limits.

“They are already very worried about too many Americans interacting and mingling with the locals,” said Paldi, “and I expect that they will put quotas for U.S. travelers, and increase the price even more.”

Many more changes are in store in an extremely dynamic marketplace. What lies ahead will probably create greater challenges than what have been seen so far. Under strict U.S. government control, only highly structured people to people programs are available to tourists, but this is very likely to change.

“The biggest factor will be when — not ‘if’ — things open up for leisure travel,” said Stachnik. “We all know this is coming, we just don’t know when. The giants — Funjet, Apple, Travel Impressions and the like will swoop in with a vengeance and take control of every leisure lodging. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a fact of life in our industry. This will be the single greatest change to the Cuban travel scene, and we all need to be ready for it and to accept it.”

In spite of the attempt of the Obama administration to loosen restrictions on travel to Cuba, any full and free opening of the market is still beyond the present horizon.

“The embargo toward Cuba is not yet resolved,” said Gianni Miradoli, president of Central Holidays. “There are still a lot of limitations. There is a lot of misunderstanding about what the situation between the USA and Cuba is currently. U.S. citizens are still not permitted to simply book a flight directly and take a vacation on a Cuban beach from the USA. Unfortunately this is what some of the market believes. People-to-people rules are still very strongly in effect and those rules have not changed in any dramatic fashion. New flights from the New York area and other cities are scheduled but still as charters, and passengers cannot book individually. A lot has still to be done to make Cuba a true tourist destination for the U.S.”

For tour operators, the underlying mantra continues to hold true through the various upheavals in the Cuba market over the last two decades.

“The message is consistent,” said Popper. “Go now while you can.”


havana-live-air-chinaHAVANA, June 14  China and Cuba are planning a direct flight linking the two’s capitals across the vast Pacific Ocean, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Saturday.

Air China will operate the flight.

Details of when the flights will be launched and how frequent they will be has not been revealed.

CAAC does say the new flights will help promote cultural exchanges.

Chinese travellers hoping to get to Cuba have been forced to land in a 3rd country, normally Canada, before being able to make the trip to the island nation, making the journey additionally long.

havama-;ive-siruisxm_radio HAVANA, Jun 13 (acn) The US radio station Sirius XM Radio was the first to broadcast a live program for the entire United States from Cuba in over 50 years, taking advantage of a visit of its team to the island, where it will stay for seven days.
The host of the program, civil rights activist Joe Madison, known as ‘The Black Eagle’, has been commissioned to lead this historic expedition, which will also take him to meet with government officials and visit various monuments of Cuba, the www.cubasi.cu Web site reported.
“This broadcast from Cuba is a historic moment and I’m happy to share with Sirius XM listeners at this crucial point in a new era for Cuba, and in its relations with our country, it is exciting to hear Cuban voices directly for the first time in decades,” said Joe Madison during the broadcast.
Among guests to this special program, transmitted from Havana’s Radio Taino studios, were figures from the academic fields and also from the fields of culture, entertainment and social activism, including Professor Arnaldo Coro, a Cuban radio broadcaster and a professor at the University of Havana, and DeWayne Wickham, a veteran journalist of the U.S. press.

 On Easter morning, members of Victory Outreach International - a Pentecostal order founded in Los Angeles, known for evangelising among addicts, inmates and the homeless - hold mass on Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall. Photograph: Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post

On Easter morning, members of Victory Outreach International – a Pentecostal order founded in Los Angeles, known for evangelising among addicts, inmates and the homeless – hold mass on Havana’s iconic Malecon seawall. Photograph: Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post

HAVANA, June 13  (By NICK MIROFF The Washington Post ) – Raul Castro was a Jesuit schoolboy before turning to communism, and after a lengthy meeting with Pope Francis last month, he told Vatican reporters he was so impressed he was considering a return to the church. They laughed.

“I’m serious,” said Castro, 83.

If so, he would not be the first Cuban in recent years to find his way back to Jesus.

The island has experienced a religious revival of sorts in the past 25 years, as the demise of Soviet totalitarianism has made room for a tropical Marxism that is less than total but still highly controlling.

Cuba was never a deeply pious country in the cloth of some other Latin American nations. But the Catholic church and other denominations have come a long way from the 1960s and ’70s, when Fidel Castro’s revolution sent religious believers to labor camps and enshrined atheism in the constitution.

Today, Christmas and Good Friday are national holidays once more. Churchgoers no longer face official discrimination. For the first time in five decades, the government has given the church permission to build a cathedral. And Catholic authorities face increasing competition from fast-growing evangelical denominations, many with close ties to U.S. churches.

“There is freedom of worship now, yes,” said the Rev. Roberto Betancourt, the priest at Our Lady of Regla, one of Cuba’s landmark churches. “But that’s not the same as freedom of religion.”

Indeed, no other country in the Americas is so restrictive. The Cuban government doesn’t allow the church to run its own K-12 schools, or broadcast on television or the radio. Public acts of worship or proselytizing are proscribed.

These limits may explain why Cuba continues to draw so much attention from the Vatican, despite a reputation for thinly attended Sunday Masses. About 27 percent of Cubans identified as Catholic in a poll of 1,200 adults commissioned by the Univision network earlier this year. Forty-four percent of respondents said they were “not religious.”

Still, the poll found that 70 percent of surveyed Cubans have a favorable opinion of the Roman Catholic Church, and 80 percent rated Francis positively, as both are viewed as powerful advocates for political and economic change.

When Francis arrives here in September before his trip to the United States, it will be the third papal visit since 1998, when Pope John Paul II called on Cuba to “open to the world, and for the world to open to Cuba.” Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the island in 2012.

Francis, an Argentine and the first pope from Latin America, has appeared even more eager to take up John Paul II’s mantle. He played a central role in the secret negotiations between U.S. and Cuban officials that are leading to the restoration of diplomatic relations. At one point, the Vatican hosted meetings for U.S. and Cuban negotiators, and the pope’s blessing has provided President Barack Obama with political cover as he faces opposition to the rapprochement with Castro from Cuban-American lawmakers.

By visiting Cuba and the United States, Francis will make the countries’ incipient reconciliation a central theme of his trip.

“In places where there is conflict in the world, the pope makes himself present,” Betancourt said.

Francis’ schedule shows that he will spend four days on the island, celebrating Masses in Havana and the large cities of Santiago and Holguin. Raul Castro said he plans to attend all three.

Whether Francis will openly criticize Cuba’s one-party system and urge Castro to do more to open to the world — and democratic governance — remains a key question. Opponents of the communist government here and abroad would be deeply disappointed if the pope does not use his platform to push for change.

He may be more likely to nudge. Francis, like Obama, is essentially following a course charted by John Paul II that seeks to gradually change Cuba by engaging the Castro government, rather than confronting it, as the church attempted to do in the 1960s and ’70s.

The benefits of the engagement approach are evident today in the rehabilitation of the Catholic Church as the island’s only significant independent institution. Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Cuba’s highest-ranking prelate, has negotiated directly with the government for the release of political prisoners. The church publishes magazines, hosts lecture forums open to Cuban dissidents and has organized master of business administration courses for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Such privileges are somewhat resented among other Christian denominations on the island, which cannot match the Catholic Church’s institutional profile.

Religious leaders and communist officials seem to share a sense of alarm over what both groups perceive as a “crisis of values” among Cuban youth, even if they differ on the root causes. Ideological differences notwithstanding, both see a generation of Cuban young people eager to obtain material goods, with loose sexual mores and even looser commitments to the social objectives of Fidel Castro’s revolution.

But while Catholic leaders are trying to win them back with an institutional resurgence, evangelical Christians are going into the streets to do it.

“We are living in a society that has lost its values,” said Yoel Guevara, a 32-year-old evangelical minister. “Christ gives them back.”

Cuban authorities and the Catholic Church look warily on the rapid spread of evangelical denominations across the island, as hundreds if not thousands of tiny churches have popped up in Cubans’ living rooms. There is often no hierarchical structure for the Cuban government to relate to, and many smaller Christian groups have resisted the government’s attempt to organize them. (The island also has small Jewish and Muslim communities.)

Guevara’s group is affiliated with Victory Outreach International, a Pentecostal order founded on the streets of Los Angeles that is known for evangelizing among addicts, inmates and the homeless. In Cuba, the group has no church, but Cuban authorities allow them to congregate Sunday mornings for worship services along Havana’s Malecon seawall. They bring their own generator to power the microphone and the speakers, attracting hundreds.

 The Methodist church of Marianao in Havana had fewer than 400 members in the late 1990s, but has more than 3,200 today. Photograph: Sarah L Voisin/Washington Post/AP

The Methodist church of Marianao in Havana had fewer than 400 members in the late 1990s, but has more than 3,200 today. Photograph: Sarah L Voisin/Washington Post/AP

“The presence of Christ is strong where sin is abundant,” said Daniel Delis, wearing long dreadlocks, after a small weeknight service in a fellow member’s home. He said his faith helped him to stop smoking marijuana.

Like Catholic leaders, Cuba’s evangelicals oppose abortion, which is legal in Cuba, as well as the highly publicized efforts of Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter, to win same-sex marriage rights and other protections for gay Cubans. The Pentecostal group says it goes out on weekend nights to walk among the revelers along Havana’s seawall, attempting to convert gays and occasionally facing police harassment.

The issue is a reminder that while the Cuban government holds the reins, its social policies are sometimes calibrated to balance among different groups.

Evangelical Christianity has made inroads especially in poorer eastern Cuba, and among migrants from rural Cuba who arrive in Havana and find community through the church’s open doors and animated style of worship.

The Rev. Ricardo Pereira, the bishop at the Methodist Church of Marianao in Havana, said his church has gone from fewer than 400 members in the late 1990s to more than 3,200 today. There are three worship services on Sundays to accommodate them. His services draw everyone from dissidents to military officials.

Like other “charismatic” forms of worship, Pereira’s sermons are rollicking, hallelujah affairs, featuring electric guitars and drumming. “The great majority of Cubans have African blood,” he said. “We show our devotion with drums and a lot of shouting.”

In some ways, he and others have won followers by making Christian devotion more like Santeria, a form of spirit worship that blends African deities with Catholic saints. It is perhaps more pervasive in Cuba than ever, and even as Christian leaders of nearly every denomination label it “idolatry,” they have incorporated more music and dance into their services.

“Other denominations want Cubans to stop being Cuban when they enter the church, and sit there like Europeans or Americans,” Pereira said. “We want to dance and be Cuban.”

tumblr_n4k3a5C87q1rdpk23o3_1280HAVANA, June 13  (Reuters)  The Obama administration is expected to announce an agreement with Cuba in early July to reopen embassies and restore diplomatic relations severed more than five decades ago, U.S. sources familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The two sides hope to conclude the deal by the first week of next month, clearing the way for Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Havana soon afterwards for a flag-raising ceremony to upgrade the U.S. Interests Section to a full-scale embassy, the sources said.

Since a breakthrough between the two former Cold War rivals announced in December, negotiators have settled all but a few differences and were confident they would soon be resolved, several sources told Reuters.

They said the exact timetable for the formal embassy opening was unclear because of Kerry’s recovery from a broken leg suffered in a May 31 biking accident in France, as well as the looming June 30 deadline for a final nuclear deal with Iran, which would dominate Kerry’s schedule over the next weeks.

Restoration of relations would be the latest phase in a normalization process, which is expected to move slowly because of lingering problems over issues such as Cuba’s human rights record. A U.S. embargo will remain in place, and only Congress can lift it.

The sources said the administration hoped to formally notify Congress within the next two weeks of its intention to reopen the Havana embassy. The State Department is required by law to give Congress at least 15 days’ notice of such an action.

Cuba’s Communist government is likely to act in sync with the United States on reopening of the embassies, issuing its own announcement on restoring ties, one source said. But it was unclear how fast the two sides would act in naming ambassadors.

As part of its preparations to turn its interests section in Washington into a full-fledged embassy, Cuba erected a large flagpole on the front lawn of the building on Wednesday. The flag itself will await the formal announcement of relations.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro pledged full restoration of ties on Dec. 17. The two leaders met in Panama in mid-April.


Cuba was formally removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism late last month, a critical step toward rapprochement 54 years after Washington cut off relations at the height of the Cold War and imposed an economic embargo.

U.S. and Cuban negotiators have resolved all but a few minor differences since the last round of high-level talks in May in Washington, the sources said.

The main obstacles had been U.S. demands for relative freedom of movement for their diplomats on the island, comparable to that in Russia and Vietnam, while the Cubans had objected to U.S. training courses in journalism and information technology given at the U.S. interests section in Havana.

Negotiators are now settling issues such as how many shipping containers will be allowed into Havana for renovating the U.S. mission there.

U.S. officials say there is little, if any, chance that hardline anti-Castro lawmakers in Congress would be able to block the restoration of ties.

The White House declined comment on the timing of any announcements. There was also no comment from the Cuban government.

A WiFi antenna was recently installed on the outside of the Medical Library on the corner of 23rd and N Streets in Vedado.  In several cities of the country the move to create WiFi zones has reportedly begun.  Until June 30th, ETECSA is offering the service for a special rate of 2.25 CUC (2.60 usd) an hour.

A WiFi antenna was recently installed on the outside of the Medical Library on the corner of 23rd and N Streets in Vedado.  In several cities of the country the move to create WiFi zones has reportedly begun.  Until June 30th, ETECSA is offering the service for a special rate of 2.25 CUC (2.60 usd) an hour.

HAVANA,  June 12  (Oncuba)  Replacing the current low-speed dial-up systems with broadband Internet connections during 2015 and 2016 – and taking these services to at least 50 % (or 1,942,950) homes by 2020 – are two of the noteworthy aims of Cuba’s Ministry of Communications, part of a “National Strategy for the Development of Broad Bandwidth Infrastructure in Cuba.”

These plans are contained in an executive summary leaked by the blog La Chiringa de Cuba on June 8. The document outlines the political will of Cuban authorities to extend online access on the island, which currently reaches 25.7 percent of the population, although most of those can only access the local “Intranet”.

The document confirms plans to set up Wi-Fi networks this year and begin offering broadband mobile Internet services for Cuban users, through a 3G technology network.

The plans announce that authorities hope to achieve 100% connectivity at all levels of Communist Party entities, all government bodies, banking institutions and mail offices by 2018. By 2020, 80% of commercial entities (State and private) and 95% of educational and health institutions should enjoy a quality Internet connection.

By then, access to a 256 kbit/s broadband connection should not cost more than 5% of the average monthly salary in Cuba.

One of the obstacles that the implementation of this nationwide strategy runs into is the country’s poor, existing infrastructure. Only 24.1% of the population has access to landlines and a mere 21.4% uses mobile phones.

To start with, authorities aim to guarantee a broadband connection of at least 256 kbits/s. In the course of time, the definition of broadband should evolve towards advanced bandwidth (2048 kbit/s or 2 Mb download speed) and total bandwidth (10 mbit/s download speed), by 2025 and 2030, respectively.

According to the document, broadband (fixed or mobile) currently reaches 0% of the population and only 3.4% of homes have Internet access.

The document currently being circulated at different State entities in search of suggestions summarizes a larger, 83-page document, where this strategy is fully laid out. The latter should be approved this coming June 22 and then be made public. The complete implementation schedule will not be ready until October. By then, the costs, terms and officials responsible for implementing the scheme should be defined.

The document also insinuates plans to relax the monopolistic control maintained by Cuba’s telecommunications company ETECSA.

One of the “measures” described suggests “diversifying entities that offer Internet services through different forms of relationships with the telecommunications operator, to incentivize the rendering of services that prioritize social sectors.”

In the future, this scheme may include non-State management of third-party Internet services, such as cybercafés or small operators, based on the use of “telecommunications agents,” one of the self-employment categories approved which is currently limited to the sale of pre-paid mobile phone cards and collecting payment for telephone services.

The leaked document also reveals that a Telecommunications and New Technologies Law, a Decree Law and other complementary norms are currently being developed to put an end to the legal vagueness and regulatory backwardness that exists in Cuba today.

havana-live-us-cuba-relationsHAVANA, June 12  Three months after a group of Kansas agricultural officials visited Cuba to check out trade opportunities, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from the Sunflower state, has introduced legislation that would restore trade with Cuba.

The bill, which Moran introduced with U.S. Senator Angus King, an Independent from Maine, seeks to pave the way for exporting goods and services to Cuba – which essentially is barred by the U.S.-Cuba embargo – by not calling for the use of federal funds to underwrite trade.

“What this bill does is take away one of the unnecessary criticisms of dealing with Cuba, which is you’re just going to allow U.S. taxpayers to fund the sale of agriculture products, commodities to Cuba,” Moran said ..

“What we’re saying is if the market is there, if Cuba can acquire the necessary financing, that’s a great development for American business and for American agriculture,” he said, “but the criticism that we’re subsidizing those sales disappears in our legislation.”

The legislation, known as The Cuba Trade Act of 2015, permits private businesses to export goods and services to Cuba.

In March, several Kansas officials traveled to Cuba on a trade mission.

When they returned, the officials said Kansas stood to gain from being able to export agricultural goods to Cuba, which imports 30 million bushels of wheat annually, they said.

Doug Keesling, a Rice County farmer and a former chairman of the Kansas Wheat Commission, said at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing in April: “From what I could see, there is a lot of potential in Cuba: potential in its own agriculture sector and potential as a market for U.S. agricultural exports.”

Of the 30 million bushels of wheat Cuba imports, Keesling said: “That would be over 10 percent of all the wheat grown in Kansas, going to this one island just a couple days’ sail from U.S. ports.”

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Jackie McClaskey said in a news release:  “It makes sense that we should be looking to add new trading partners.”

No one expects the legislation to just cruise through.

Lifting the embargo faces stiff resistance in Congress.

Many who oppose removing it say that Cuba must take meaningful steps toward democratic reforms, including respecting human rights and allowing political opposition.

Many also object to the decision by President Barack Obama to restore diplomatic relations and ease travel and trade restrictions. They say Cuba has conceded nothing in return and that the deal to restore relations has disproportionately benefited the regime of Raul Castro. The Obama Administration cannot end the trade embargo without congressional approval.

“This issue is particularly fraught with lots of politics and personal experience,” Moran said, according to McClatchy newspapers.

“Cuban-Americans who immigrated from Cuba to the United States have strong feelings on both sides of this issue, so I don’t think anything is easy about it,” he said. “But this is – in my time in dealing with this topic – probably the best opportunity we’ve had.”

However, those who support diplomatic relations and lifting the embargo say that more than 50 years of taking a hard line against the Caribbean island have done nothing to spur democratic changes, and that a new approach by the United States is necessary.

“Cuba is only 90 miles from our border, making it a natural market for our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” Moran said in a statement on his website. “By lifting the embargo and opening up the market for U.S. agricultural commodities, we will not only boost the U.S. economy but also help bring about reforms in the repressive Cuban government. I am hopeful that increasing the standard of living among Cuban citizens will enable them to make greater demands on their own government to increase individual and political rights.”


havana-live-hotel-nacional HAVANA, June 12  The VII School of Public International Law and the IX International Seminar-Workshop on International Humanitarian Law, opened today at the National Hotel of Cuba, brings together 180 lawyers from 13 countries in Havana.
Doris Quintana Cruz, executive secretary of the Cuban Society of that specialty and event coordinator, told ACN that its implementation reflects the need to promote respect for the principles that gave rise to international law.
Also, she said, it imposes to face the challenges of international humanitarian law, reforming the United Nations (UN) and analyze from a legal point of view the conflicts that currently threaten peace.
Dr. Néstor García Iturbe, professor at the Higher Institute of International Relations of Cuba (ISRI by its Spanish acronym), gave a lecture about the present situation and prospects of the Cuba-US relations.
In addition, issues such as Community Law, the Central American Court of Justice, legal issues of human rights in the United States and consular protection as a human right were analyzed.
Tomorrow it is scheduled an analysis on the migration topic and the duty to cooperate, as guiding principle in the exploitation of transboundary resources, among other important issues for the continent.
source: www.cibercuba.com

 havana-live-western-union HAVANA, June 11 As the Cuban economy flirts with market-oriented changes, remittances from the United States have been helping fuel private enterprise on the island and at least one U.S. company is already encouraging that trend.

Although U.S. investment is still prohibited in Cuba, with the exception of possible U.S. participation in projects to improve Cuba’s telecom and Internet system, remittances sent via Western Union are helping to fund micro-businesses from cafes to carpentry workshops.

“Someone receiving a remittance of $5,000, for example, from the United States can go and start a business or buy a small apartment,” said Odilon Almeida, Western Union’s president for the Americas and the European Union. “I think remittances are changing Cuba faster than is perceived today.”

Unlike other destinations where remittances are used primarily for household expenses, the main motivation for sending money to the island via Western Union now is to help start or expand small private businesses, according to the Englewood, CO-based company.

Cuba is in the process of eliminating hundreds of thousands of workers from state payrolls and now allows self-employment in 201 categories. There are nearly 500,000 Cuban cuentapropistas, or those who work for themselves, and funds from U.S. relatives have been a lifeline in getting small businesses off the ground.

As part of the effort, Cuba also is turning some businesses, such as state-run barber shops, beauty salons and some restaurants, over to employees to run as cooperatives.

It’s difficult to assess how much money is being sent annually to Cuba because it’s a highly informal market. Visitors often carry cash to their families or hire “mules” who ferry money and goods to Cuba on a regular basis.

“Today, in reality, our main competition is the black market,” said Almeida. But he said Western Union imposes formality and controls on the money-transfer business. “We know how much money is going; we know who is sending,” he said.

But Western Union declined to quantify the amount of Cuban money transfers it handles annually or the increase it has seen since new rules to allow more remittances have gone into effect. havana-live-WesternUnion

Emilio Morales, president of The Havana Consulting Group, estimates overall remittances sent to the island from the United States in 2013 at $2.8 billion and 2014 remittances at $3.13 billion. In 2015, he is projecting an 8.6 percent increase in remittances to $3.99 billion.

Western Union, which began as a telegraph company in 1851, completed 255 million consumer-to-consumer transactions worldwide last year and transferred $85 billion between consumers.

The Obama administration has progressively liberalized remittances rules. In 2009, all restrictions on family travel and family remittances to Cuba were lifted. Then in 2011, new rules allowed any American to send $500 per quarter to qualified Cubans on the island.

As part of the opening toward Cuba that President Barack Obama announced in December, the amount of non-family remittances that could be sent increased from $500 per quarter to $2,000 quarterly. When the limits were increased, Almeida said, “individuals began to send more” but he declined to say how much more.

Under a special affidavit from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the company began serving Cuba in 1995 with a network of only 36 locations. In the beginning, it only sent money to Cuba from Florida. The company wasn’t active in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution, Almeida said.

Now Western Union has a network of 420 offices across the island. Using the infrastructure of Fincimex, the financial services subsidiary of Cuban conglomerate Cimex, Western Union now facilitates money transfers to 16 provinces and 168 municipalities at locations ranging from exchange houses and gas stations to government-owned Tiendas Panamericanas.

“We had to make a significant investment in systems to track all the transactions in the way the [U.S.] government wanted,” said Almeida. “It is not easy for someone to enter this market.”

While Florida still accounts for more than two-thirds of the volume of Western Union money transfers to Cuba, remittances are now sent to the island from all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

But, Almeida said, Western Union knows that the Cuban diaspora has spread around the globe and is sending money to the island from Spain, Panama, Mexico and other countries via other channels. It wants to facilitate those money transfers as well, but its current license only allows it to send remittances to Cuba from the United States and Puerto Rico. The company has formally requested the U.S. government to allow it to handle remittances to Cuba from foreign countries, said Almeida.

“I firmly believe remittances can accelerate tremendously the pace of change in Cuba and we could accelerate that much more if we could make transfers not only from the United States but also from the diaspora in other countries,” Almeida said.

When a customer in Hialeah or Miami decides to send money to Cuba and goes to a Western Union location, Almeida said, recipients can have their money in a matter of minutes. Sometimes the customer is still on the phone telling the recipient that money has been sent and the number to claim it when the transfer arrives.

“The majority of the money is picked up on the same day; it is a very instant thing,” said Almeida. “The money goes straight to the household there; it is not touched by the government.”

Western Union uses the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) rate of 1-1 for the remittances it handles.

What enables the system to work efficiently is that Western Union can piggyback on the infrastructure of Fincimex, the largest financial services company in Cuba. “The signing of Fincimex was critical. We can link their infrastructure to our infrastructure. We could never do this without Fincimex,” Almeida said.

The sender pays a fee that varies depending on the amount of money sent. Western Union takes its profit from the fee and also pays commissions to its local agent and to Fincimex. “We never charge the receiver,” Almeida said.

Who is getting remittances in Cuba?
A majority of Cubans who receive remittances via Western Union say they want to expand or establish micro-businesses.
The remittances are being used to set up businesses primarily in these areas: food, clothing, construction, carpentry, artisan, electronics, agriculture, tourist accommodations and cafes.
U.S. remittances now reach 62 percent of Cuban households.
Cubans have expectations that their families and loved ones aboard will help finance their businesses through remittances.

How much does it cost to send money to Cuba
0 – $50 $5
$50.01 – $100 $10
$100.01 – $150 $12
$150-.01 – $1,000 8 percent
$1,000.01 – $40,000 7 percent


XVM8c64be7c-f72d-11e4-908c-f66e197407beHAVANA, June 11   Cuba expects to unveil a new enterprise law in 2017, in keeping with economic reforms launched four years ago, the Cuban News Agency reported.

The new legislation would “bring together the principles, characteristics and operational requirements of companies,” Grisel Trista Arbesu, an official with Cuba’s Permanent Commission for the Implementation and Development of the Guidelines, the body responsible for implementing the reforms, was quoted as saying.

The year 2015 “is the first year to see the convergence of all the measures adopted to grant socialist state firms more autonomy and capacity … in search for greater efficiency and productivity, ” she said at the closing of a two-day workshop held in Havana on the “Challenges of the Cuban Economy.”

Among these changes, the most important has been “separating the functions of the government from those of business,” she told the workshop which draw 645 specialists, managers and academics from around the country.

These steps have allowed the government to restructure state companies to both strengthen the country’s productive sector and increase the capacities of the country’s state-owned enterprise system, Trista said.

State-owned enterprises continue to form the foundation of Cuba ‘s economic model, “capable of promoting true development,” she said.

Cuba’s state-run enterprise system was regulated for two decades by legislation approved in 1987. Since officially taking office in 2008, President Raul Castro spearheaded reforms designed to whittle down the bloated public sector by encouraging limited private enterprise.

Once the country’s sole employer, the state has gradually shed thousands of employees who have made the transition to the fledgling private sector, which now employs about half a million workers.

 José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez (right in blue shirt), chief of mission of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, watches as workers raise a flagpole in preparation for reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, Wednesday, June 10, 2015. PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS — AP

José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez (right in blue shirt), chief of mission of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, watches as workers raise a flagpole in preparation for reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, Wednesday, June 10, 2015.

HAVANA, June 11  With efforts to lift the Cuban embargo stalled in Congress, a pro-trade senator from Kansas will try to break the stalemate on Thursday by offering new legislation designed to win over his reluctant Republican colleagues.

Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, along with co-sponsor Angus King, an independent senator from Maine, hope that taxpayer protections included in their bill to end the embargo will give it a better chance of passing the GOP-controlled Senate than a version introduced earlier this year by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

“I’m very aware of Sen. Klobuchar’s bill,” Moran said Wednesday. “My view is that the goal is to accomplish something very similar. This does it in a fashion that is much more likely to be acceptable to Congress, to the American people and much more likely to become law, and does it in a way that protects taxpayers.”

King said he and Moran carefully drafted the legislation “to be a bill that could get bipartisan support and actually have a chance at passage.”

But the odds that this latest proposal – or any legislation to undo the embargo or ease travel restrictions – will get through Congress this year is slim, say Cuba experts.

The bill is likely to run into strong resistance from a broad cross-section of Republicans – and particularly from the Cuban-American delegation from South Florida, where opposition to Cuba’s Castro regime has long been a defining characteristic.

“I think it’s hard for either side to get a Cuba bill through – to roll back what the president did, or to lift the embargo,” said Phil Peters of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Va.

Pro-trade forces have made some inroads in advocating for their position. And pro-travel forces might even have majority support in the Senate. Still, getting such legislation through both sides of Congress will be extremely difficult. And if it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll be even tougher in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The embargo on trade with Cuba was imposed more than 50 years ago and later codified by Congress. Only Congress can lift it.

Klobuchar introduced a bill in February to do just that, not long after President Barack Obama announced that he’d move to normalize relations with the communist nation. The Klobuchar bill, the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act, would remove all legal barriers to trade with Cuba but would preserve parts of the law intended to protect human rights and private property.

Although three Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors to Klobuchar’s bill – Sens. Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Jeff Flake of Arizona – it has yet to garner broad Republican support.

Similar bills filed in the House of Representatives also have had trouble making headway.

The new bill to be introduced Thursday by Moran and King is called the Cuba Trade Act. It seeks to assuage the concerns of lawmakers who balked at the idea of using federal funds to underwrite trade with Cuba.

“What this bill does is take away one of the unnecessary criticisms of dealing with Cuba, which is you’re just going to allow U.S. taxpayers to fund the sale of agriculture products, commodities to Cuba,” Moran said.

“What we’re saying is if the market is there, if Cuba can acquire the necessary financing, that’s a great development for American business and for American agriculture,” he said, “but the criticism that we’re subsidizing those sales disappears in our legislation.”

Like Klobuchar’s bill, the Cuba Trade Act would permit private-sector industries in the United States to export goods and services to Cuba.

But it includes additional language to ensure that U.S. taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook if the Cubans default on lines of credit extended by U.S. banks and businesses.

Another provision emphasizes that private funds – rather than taxpayer dollars – would be used to promote trade and develop markets in Cuba.

And the bill would preserve an existing ban on U.S. government-backed credit and foreign aid to Cuba, including restrictions on the use of federal funds to finance trade with the communist island through the Export Credit Guarantee Program or the Export-Import Bank.

Whether these provisions will be enough to give the bill the boost it needs to pass both Houses of Congress is unclear. For now, Cuba legislation is at a standstill in both the House and the Senate – even though there appears to be increasing public support for Obama’s decision to normalize relations.

Asked by the Gallup organization whether they favor or oppose the U.S. ending its trade embargo against Cuba, 59 percent of respondents in February said they favored it – up from support of about 50 percent during polls in the 2000s.

“I think the support is there,” King said. “I’ve met with Cuban-Americans from Florida and it’s really somewhat a generational issue. The younger generation who were born and raised in America are much less passionate. There are going to be people who are just going to be mad as hell and not want this to happen. But I think by and large the public wants this to happen.”

Part of the holdup on bills to lift the embargo can be ascribed to congressional politics. While Republicans control both chambers, the Cuba issue doesn’t fall neatly along party lines. Farm-state Republicans such as Moran have joined with Democrats to try to boost trade with Cuba, even though the GOP in general has traditionally strongly supported the embargo.

Moran is a longtime supporter of trade with Cuba, driven in part by the eagerness of the ranchers and farmers in Kansas to ramp up U.S. exports to Cuba.

The agriculture industry in Kansas and across the country has been lobbying hard to convince Congress to open Cuba to trade. More than 25 food and agricultural interests including Cargill, the National Chicken Council and the National Turkey Federation formed a coalition in January aimed at convincing Congress to scrap the embargo and open up the island to increased investment with the United States.

“When we’re not trading with Cuba, somebody else is,” Moran said. “Cuba buys $150 million of wheat every year (from the European Union). They’re buying it and they’re paying for it, they’re just not paying the United States for it.”

King said he’s particularly troubled by increasing trade between China and Cuba.

“I would rather have Cuba have us be their principle trading partner rather than having the Chinese have a significant foothold 90 miles off the shore of Florida,” he said.

On the other side, Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a 2016 presidential candidate, has marshaled forces into a camp dedicated to seeing the embargo hold. He has also laid down a set of conditions that need to be met before he will support any U.S. ambassador to Cuba, another part of the White House’s agenda.

The conditions, laid out in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week, will be tough to meet; even as a solo senator, Rubio has the ability to stymie any nominee.

And neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., nor House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have shown much interest in gumming up the congressional calendar with Cuba legislation.

“With all of that, generally the status quo wins out,” said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council Inc.

One possible intermediate victory for the pro-trade lawmakers might be to ease restrictions on credit sales of products that are exempted from the embargo, even if the overall embargo remains in effect. Removing the cash-only payment for food and health care items would allow Cuba to buy American products on credit.

Such a bill, with its smaller scope, might have a more realistic chance of passing. But that’s far from certain as well.

“It’s not the silver bullet – but for their side it would be a victory and a further erosion of the sanctions,” said Jason I. Poblete, a former Republican congressional staffer who’s an international regulatory lawyer with Poblete Tamargo LLP.

As for the ongoing debate, Poblete said, “I’ve been watching this for 20-plus years, and it looks like more of the same – great for sound bites, great for politics, but it doesn’t move product.”

Moran said he’s well aware of the obstacles.

“This issue is particularly fraught with lots of politics and personal experience,” Moran said.

“Cuban-Americans who immigrated from Cuba to the United States have strong feelings on both sides of this issue, so I don’t think anything is easy about it,” he said. “But this is – in my time in dealing with this topic – probably the best opportunity we’ve had.”

A charter flight leaves from Orlando International Airport Wednesday for Cuba. It's the first flight to leave from the airport.

A charter flight leaves from Orlando International Airport Wednesday for Cuba. It’s the first flight to leave from the airport.

HAVANA, 10 June  Orlando International Airport’s first flight to Cuba took off Wednesday afternoon. But it wasn’t without some problems and delays for the passengers.

The first charter plane to fly to Havana Cuba from OIA sat at the gate for hours. The airport said the Gulf Stream Air Charter did not order fuel for this flight.

Crew members were able to locate and purchase fuel, but by then, the afternoon’s severe thunderstorms moved in, causing a weather delay.

Once the lightning and strong winds died down, the plane carrying 70 passengers was escorted from the gate and made its way onto the runway for takeoff.

While this was the first charter plane to fly to Cuba from Orlando, it is not a regularly scheduled flight. The first commercial plane to begin twice-weekly flights will leave Orlando on July 8.


Yondainer Gutiérrez at his family's home in Havana. He rents time on a friend’s Internet connection to send apps and websites he has designed to clients in other countries. Credit Lisette Poole for The New York Times

Yondainer Gutiérrez at his family’s home in Havana. He rents time on a friend’s Internet connection to send apps and websites he has designed to clients in other countries. Credit Lisette Poole for The New York Times

HAVANA, June 10  At his parents’ cramped house in Havana, Yondainer Gutiérrez builds apps and websites on a makeshift computer that runs on pirated software. He has no Internet access there, so he rents time on a friend’s connection to send his work to clients in France, Britain, Canada and the rest of Latin America.

This is outsourcing, Cuban-style, a little-advertised circle of software developers, web designers, accountants and translators who — despite poor and expensive Internet access — sell their skills long-distance.

And ever since the United States in February authorized Americans to import goods and services from Cuban entrepreneurs for the first time in half a century, they have their eyes on America as well.

“This opens up the world,” Mr. Gutiérrez, 27, said of the new rules, which mean that an American can hire Cubans, or buy a limited range of goods from them, so long as they work in the private sector, not for the state.

After President Obama announced a new era of engagement with Cuba in December, Havana has been awash with American executives scouting business opportunities and hoping to sell commercial flights, yogurt, pharmaceuticals and other products.

Of course, there is still an American embargo against Cuba. Trade is complicated by the fact that American exporters are banned from offering credit to their Cuban customers, and many more restrictions will have to be lifted before Americans can freely invest on the island.

But under Mr. Obama’s new policy, Cuba’s tiny outsourcing sector is now open for American business, several experts said.

“This has an immediate impact helping entrepreneurs in Cuba,” said Tomas Bilbao, the executive director of the Cuba Study Group in Washington, referring to the new regulations.

Cuba is certainly no Bangalore and is unlikely to ever rival the great outsourcing hubs. But more and more Cubans are marketing their services online, using skills obtained in the country’s socialist education system and workarounds learned from years of hardship.

Websites like Freelance.com, Behance, twago.es and Traductores Autónomos carry postings from Cubans across a dozen cities, from Pinar del Río in the west to Santiago de Cuba in the east.

There are no official figures, but nearly a dozen Cubans with postings on online job sites, who were contacted by telephone or by email, said that this work was their main source of income and that their peers were doing the same. Some said they already had American clients who hired them through middlemen.

John McIntire, a former investment banker and chairman of Cuba Emprende Foundation, a nonprofit that trains Cuban entrepreneurs, said the computer programming sector had the greatest potential to flourish under the new American regulations.

“It’s in huge demand,” said Mr. McIntire, speaking at a conference in Washington hosted by the Brookings Institution last week. “And guess what? Cubans are world class at it.”

Many who work at the University of Information Sciences, or UCI, near Havana, or the José Antonio Echeverría Higher Polytechnic Institute, or Cujae (pronounced Coo-hai), moonlight as freelance programmers, using the institutes’ broadband to transfer large files, software developers said.

Others buy dial-up connections on the black market — for about $200 per month — or rent time on wireless connections at big hotels. The smoky lobby of the Habana Libre hotel in downtown Havana serves as an office for Cubans who write software, build apps, unblock or fix mobile telephones, or rent houses. They huddle daily on deep armchairs and pay $8 per hour for Wi-Fi.

Dairon Medina, 28, a Cuban computer programmer who worked as a freelancer for several years before moving to Ecuador four years ago, hires colleagues in Cuba to do jobs for clients in Argentina, Canada, Germany and the United States.

He believes Cuba’s proximity — 90 miles across the Straits of Florida — is a plus.

“There’s a cultural affinity,” he said by Skype. “And then there’s the question of time zones.”

If American clients began hiring Cubans on a regular basis, he said, “it could be an immense market” for Cuba.

Oquel Llanes, a fluent Russian speaker who works with a Spanish tourist company in Havana and writes translations on the side, said there was constant demand.

“Translators are like barbers,” he said by telephone. “No matter what, people will always need them.”

Especially when they come cheap. Mr. Llanes, 52, who studied mathematics and computer science in Moscow in the 1980s, said he charged between $5 and $10 per page to translate literary criticism and history books. That is hardly a fortune when a page can take an entire day, he said, but much more than the average $20 per month paid to state workers.

The Cuban government has long had a policy of exporting services, especially those of doctors, nurses and sports trainers, in order to increase state income. Some 65,000 Cubans are currently working for the state overseas, earning it about $8 billion per year.

Datys, a Cuban state-owned software company with 700 employees, sells services to Latin America, according to its website, and Desoft, a state-owned high-tech company, has several clients in Cuba.

Were the government to improve Internet connectivity and telecommunications, Cuba could develop a competitive outsourcing sector, either state-run or independent, experts said.

“If you wanted to run a Spanish-speaking call center, why do it in Mumbai?” Mr. Bilbao said. “Maybe Cuba could eventually do that.”

That is still a way off, though, experts said. Under current sanctions, Americans are permitted to buy services only from the private sector; Cuba may not wish to see that sector grow.

Improved Internet connectivity is also a big “if.” A plan apparently leaked by the Cuban communications ministry and published this week in a blog, La Chiringa, indicates that the government aims to connect 50 percent of Cubans to broadband by 2020, but the anticipated speed would be too slow to stream video or play games online.

One Cuban software developer currently working in Chile on a contract for a Chilean software company said 80 percent of his cohort at the Cujae had left the country to work in Canada, Ecuador, Italy, Spain or Uruguay because Cuban Internet connectivity was unreliable and expensive and the rules for freelancers were murky.

“There’s huge potential that’s being drained out of the country because we don’t have the conditions” to work, said the software developer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Still, Cubans selling services, rather than goods, have lower start-up costs and do not have to worry about the expense and hassle of shipping, Mr. Bilbao said.

“One laptop can last you for five years of translating, which can earn you X amount of dollars,” he said.

Exporting goods is more complicated. The Obama administration’s new rules allow Americans to buy an unlimited amount of products from Cuban entrepreneurs — with exceptions that include live animals, vegetable products, textiles, machinery, arms and ammunition.

The Cuban government does not give entrepreneurs export licenses, however, so Cubans must ship goods the way they currently import them: by courier or in the duffel bags of relatives and other so-called mules.

This “suitcase economy,” as Mr. Bilbao called it, could grow after the Treasury Department in April authorized companies to begin ferry service to Cuba. Businesses could send goods more cheaply by ferry and sell them on websites like Etsy, experts said.

It is also unclear how keen the Cuban government will be to see trade flourish between the island’s entrepreneurs and the United States.

John Kavulich, the president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said the new American regulations allowing imports from Cuba “are designed to create the middle class that the Cuban government sought to extinguish.”

As the United States eases restrictions, it will test the Cuban government’s willingness to open up, Mr. Kavulich said.

“At some point the impediments will leave the shores of the United States and wash up on the Malecon,” he said, referring to Havana’s seafront promenade.

For now, experts said, restrictions on both sides are limiting engagement with Cuba’s private sector.

Mr. Gutiérrez, whose products include an app that helps drivers find a parking space and AlaMesa, an online Cuban restaurant guide, said that, for the moment, he would have to find a workaround to get payment from American clients. His projects range from around $500 for a basic website to several times that amount for one project that required hiring three people.

Banking and Internet problems aside, he said, he is optimistic that the thaw between Cuba and the United States will help freelancers like himself.

“There’s a lot to build here in the way of services; there’s a whole market to exploit,” he said. “All I need is a normal Internet connection and a way of getting paid.”