MIA-WORLD-ATLANTIC-FIS-HAVANA-1MIAMI- HAVANA April 07 (By CHRISTINE ARMARIO  Associated Press)
The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba continues to rise, even as the more than five-decade long embargo remains firmly in place, according to study released Monday.
Within the first three months of 2014 alone, there were more U.S. tourists to the island than in all of 2013 from England, Germany or France, according to a report by the U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group provided to The Associated Press. Canada remains the No. 1 country of origin for travelers to Cuba, but the number of U.S. travelers to the island has been steadily increasing over the last seven years. Some 173,550 U.S. travelers visited Cuba in January through March. That compares to 149,515 from England, 115,984 from Germany and 96,640 from France in 2013.
“The data confirms, although the Cuban government does not recognize it publicly, that the United States, even with the effect of the embargo, is the second greatest source of tourists to Cuba after Canada,” Emilio Morales, the consulting group’s president wrote in the report.
“The push in the first trimester has been huge,” he added.
Most of the U.S. travelers are Cuban-Americans visiting family but others have no ties to the island and travel to participate in academic and cultural programs. The continuing increase in U.S. travel to the Communist-run island comes five years after President Barack Obama loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba. In 2009, Obama lifted a limit put in place by former President George W. Bush allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to island country no more than once every three years to visit relatives. And in 2011, he reinstated the so-called “people-to-people” trips, allowing U.S. citizens to apply for a travel license to participate in educational activities that promote contact with ordinary Cubans. The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba continues to rise, even as the more than five-decade long embargo remains firmly in place, according to study released Monday, April 7, 2014 by the U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group. 
FILE – In this July 8, 2013 file photo, fishermen cast their lines along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. The number of U.S. visitors to Cuba continues to rise, even as the more than five-decade long embargo remains firmly in place, according to study released Monday, April 7, 2014 by the U.S.-based Havana Consulting Group.
Havana is the top destination for most U.S. travelers, followed by Santa Clara and Camaguey. The vast majority fly out of Miami International Airport. More than 1,000 flights have departed from Miami to Cuba so far this year, with another 109 leaving from Tampa, the report said.
Travel in the first three months of 2014 was higher than in the last trimester of 2013, when many Cuban-Americans travel to spend the holidays with their family. The number of U.S. travelers has increased steadily each year, from about 245,000 in 2007 to nearly 600,000 last year.
“We expect that 2014 will be a record year,” Morales wrote.
On average, Cuban-American travelers spend about $3,238 per person during their stay, accounting for a major source of revenue for the economically-strapped island. The study was based off data from U.S. airports and Cuba’s National Statistics Office.
While the data points toward another big year for U.S. travel to the long-forbidden island, there is one ongoing hurdle: Cuba suspended consular services in February after being unable to find a new bank in the U.S. for its diplomatic accounts. While many U.S. travelers had already submitted their visa requests for spring visits to Cuba, the situation remains unresolved and charter operators say it is having an impact. “At this point, it’s just getting worse,” said Armando Garcia, the owner of Marazul, one of the largest Cuba charter operators. “For Cuban-Americans born in the United States we already have serious problems because we don’t have visas for them. It’s affecting travel, no doubt.”

movimiento_cartelHAVANA 4th April (by Victoria Alcalá) Every April, visitors to Old Havana’s historical centre will find squares, parks, streets, museums and old houses possessed by a dancing spirit. And it was this spirit invoked by dancer and choreographer Isabel Bustos and her company Retazos, which turns balconies, windows, stairs and walls into stages for the International Dance Festival. This absolutely unique dance festival began in 1996 in two or three house-museums in the Historical Center of Havana.
In the words of Isabel Bustos, it started with “five or six people who ran from house to house, from balcony to balcony, from courtyard to courtyard, from garden to garden, two dancers here, two there.” Since then, it has gradually taken over almost all of the institutions run by the Office of the Historian as well as the main squares and streets in all the ancient parts of the city. The premise behind the International Dance Festival is to draw inspiration from the city’s architecture, to awaken the imagination, to promote new creative environments and to encourage the exchange of ideas and artistic experiences between the people of different languages and cultures.
The invitation goes out from the Retazos Company which is directed by Isabel Bustos. Hundreds of Cubans and foreign visitors attend, fascinated by this opportunity to translate into movement the sensations and emotions that are awakened by the beauty of the splendid Havana architecture. For this year’s festival expect Old Havana’s plazas and streets to be filled with over 1,500 participants that include dancers, choreographers, musicians and painters from all over the world. Part of the International City Dance Network established in Barcelona this is a real cultural highlight in the beating heart of Old Havana, which should not be missed.
( Photos cubaabsolutely )
havana-live-movimiento-ca

havana-live-moviemento-caHabana Vieja: ciudad en movimiento. Foto: Ladyrene Pérez/Cubadebate.havana-live-moviemento- ca2014: Details of Event Hundreds of dancers, artists and choreographers from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Cuba, Spain, France, Mexico and Venezuela will take part in the event. Meetings, exhibitions, lectures, video-dance showings and passacaglias will take place during the mornings, while master classes, passacaglias and workshops will be held in the afternoons. The evenings have been reserved for shows. The principal stages will be Plaza de Armas, Plaza de San Francisco de Asís, Plaza Vieja; Rumiñahui, Simón Bolívar and Las Carolinas Parks; Galería Oswaldo Guayasamín, Casa Benito Juárez, Casa Simón Bolívar, Casa de la Poesía, Factoría Habana, Vitrina de Valonia, Las Carolinas Theater and the streets of Mercaderes, Oficios, Amargura and Obrapía.
Highlights & Program Opening & Closing Ceremony (April 9 & 13) April 9, 4pm at Teatro Las Carolinas. Gigantería Stilt Walking Company (Havana) / Passacaglias for the opening of exhibitions Transparencias (Isabel Bustos and José Eduardo Yanes, Pantalla TV Movimiento y Ciudad).
mapa-festival-habana-en-movimientoApril 9, 9pm at Plaza de Armas. Opening of the 19th International Dance Festival in Urban Landscapes. Old Havana: City in Motion with the premiere of Retornos: Gente y ciudad, choreography by Isabel Bustos with the performance of Gente y ciudad, a premiere by the Retazos Dance Company. April 13, 9pm Closing Ceremony at Plaza de Armas,
Daily Program (April 10-12) 11am to 1.30pm: Shows for kids at various venues (Sat and Sun ONLY) 3pm starting at Plaza de Armas. Gigantería Stilt Walking Company (Havana) and TECMA (Pinar del Río) / Passacaglia presenting guest companies on streets, parks and plazas 6pm at Casa Benito Juárez, Casa Simón Bolívar, Casa de la Poesía, Factoría Habana, Vitrina de Valonia; 7pm at Casa Guayasamín; 8pm at Casa de África; 9pm at Las Carolinas Theater .
Video-Dance Festival (April 7-12) Plaza de Armas April 9, 8.30pm, Showing of Cosecha, Prizewinner of Technologias que danzan, 2013
Espacio DV DANZA a La Cancha (Calle Amargura e/ Mercaderes y San Ignacio) April 10, 8.30pm, Works performed in the Festival Breaking 8, Italia April 11, 8.30pm, Works performed by British choreographer and filmmaker Billy Cowie April 12, 8.30pm, Screening of selected international works April 13, 8.30pm, Screening of selected national works
Teatro Carolina Amargura No. 61 e/ San Ignacio y Mercaderes, Habana Vieja, La Habana, Tel. +(53) 7 860 4341 www.danzateatroretazos.cu

FLDec. 25 and 2618MIAMI – HAVANA  Apr 5th (The Economist)  AT THE outset of Tom Wolfe’s latest novel, “Back to Blood”, the muscled hero, a 25-year-old Cuban-American cop called Nestor Camacho, seethes when his fat and disdainful Americano (Anglo) colleagues stereotype him as a Cuban. He has never set eyes on the island, he says. His Spanish is poor. At home, his parents’ hatred of Fidel Castro flies over his head. His world revolves around Miami, not Cuba.
Unsurprisingly, the book is not universally liked in Miami (it skewers everyone, from Anglos to Cubans to Haitians to Russians). But in at least one respect it is spot on. Younger Cuban-Americans are less obsessed with Cuba than their exiled elders. Like other Americans, pollsters say, they now think more pragmatically; Cuba is not the only voting issue that they care about.
 
In fact, they are more likely to be pouring money into Cuba than shunning it. Remittances, as well as travel, have risen since President Barack Obama eased restrictions in 2009 and 2011 (see chart). Much of the money has found its way into restaurants (known as paladares), hairdressers or other small businesses run by relatives in Cuba. That has given Cuban-Americans an increasing, albeit hidden, stake in the island’s economic future.

The laws of both the United States and Cuba have forbidden such money to be treated as investment. But on March 29th Cuba’s parliament approved a new foreign-investment law that for the first time allows Cubans living abroad to invest in some enterprises (provided, according to Rodrigo Malmierca, the foreign-trade minister, they are not part of the “Miami terrorist mafia”). The aim is to raise foreign investment in Cuba to about $2.5 billion a year; currently Cuban economists say the stock is $5 billion at most.

The law, which updates a faulty 1995 one, is still patchy, says Pavel Vidal, a Cuban economist living in Colombia. It offers generous tax breaks of eight years for new investments. However, it requires employers to hire workers via state employment agencies that charge (and keep) hard currency, vastly inflating the cost of labour. It enhances the right to establish fully owned foreign businesses, although existing private firms, such as paladares, are still forbidden from taking foreign capital. Much, including whether or not Cuban-Americans can invest, will depend on how the government implements the law. “It’s still very discretionary,” Mr Vidal says.
Despite their failings, Cuba’s new rules are a reminder of how inflexible United States law remains. Because of the 53-year-old embargo against Cuba, some Cuban-Americans fear they will be left behind as investors from Brazil, China, Russia and Europe move in. Already Tampa, on Florida’s west coast, is vying for a greater share of Cuban business when the embargo is lifted. “Every day we’re missing opportunity,” says Bob Rohrlack, head of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
In Miami people talk of a tipping point. Alberto Ibargüen, a former publisher of the Miami Herald, says demographic trends that began decades ago have finally softened the mood towards Cuba (though “absolutely not” towards the Castro regime). If American restrictions on all tourism to the island were lifted, “you’d get a couple of letters to the editor.”
Some Miami Cubans have managed to squeeze through cracks in the embargo. Hugo Cancio, who left the island in the Mariel boatlift of 1980, owns a website and magazine, OnCuba, written mostly by Cubans, which plays down repressiveness and plays up commerce and culture. He has a newsroom in Havana but despite his entreaties, American law forbids him from paying its staff. Tony Zamora, a semi-retired Miami lawyer who was jailed in Cuba for taking part in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, has also recast himself as a promoter of investment in the island. After 40 trips to Cuba, he calls the embargo “almost a total failure”.
Many Cuban-Americans put their faith in Mr Obama to soften the embargo, even if Congress will not lift it. They note that more than 60% of Miami-Dade County, where they predominate, voted for the president in 2012, many more than in the previous election, even after he eased policy towards Cuba. If Charlie Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat who is running for a second turn as Florida governor and supports lifting the embargo, wins in November, it will help their cause.

Even so, the old guard cares more about keeping the embargo than younger Cuban-Americans do about getting rid of it. Most Cuban-American congressmen in Washington, DC, remain avid backers of it. Mauricio Claver-Carone, who heads a pro-embargo lobby group, argues that all foreign investment still goes to monopolies run by the Castro regime, which helps prop it up. The stakes have been raised by the jailing of Alan Gross, an American citizen convicted in Cuba of smuggling communications equipment to dissidents. Few believe the Obama administration would risk a bold move without his release.

The embargo’s days are nonetheless numbered, not least because Raúl Castro, the 82-year-old president, and his brother Fidel, 87, will not live for ever. In the meantime, it increasingly seems like a relic, as outdated as the Castros’ Cuba.

havana-live-girl-mobileHAVANA – WASHINGTON April 3, (AP By DESMOND BUTLER, JACK GILLUM and ALBERTO ARCE,) — In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government. McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government. McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid. According to documents obtained by The Associated Press and multiple interviews with people involved in the project, the plan was to develop a bare-bones “Cuban Twitter,” using cellphone text messaging to evade Cuba’s strict control of information and its stranglehold restrictions over the Internet. In a play on Twitter, it was called ZunZuneo — slang for a Cuban hummingbird’s tweet. Documents show the U.S. government planned to build a subscriber base through “non-controversial content”: news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize “smart mobs” — mass gatherings called at a moment’s notice that might trigger a Cuban Spring, or, as one USAID document put it, “renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society.” At its peak, the project drew in more than 40,000 Cubans to share news and exchange opinions. But its subscribers were never aware it was created by the U.S. government, or that American contractors were gathering their private data in the hope that it might be used for political purposes. “There will be absolutely no mention of United States government involvement,” according to a 2010 memo from Mobile Accord, one of the project’s contractors. “This is absolutely crucial for the long-term success of the service and to ensure the success of the Mission.” The program’s legality is unclear: U.S. law requires that any covert action by a federal agency must have a presidential authorization. Officials at USAID would not say who had approved the program or whether the White House was aware of it. McSpedon, the most senior official named in the documents obtained by the AP, is a mid-level manager who declined to comment. USAID spokesman Matt Herrick said the agency is proud of its Cuba programs and noted that congressional investigators reviewed them last year and found them to be consistent with U.S. law. “USAID is a development agency, not an intelligence agency, and we work all over the world to help people exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms, and give them access to tools to improve their lives and connect with the outside world,” he said. “In the implementation,” he added, “has the government taken steps to be discreet in non-permissive environments? Of course. That’s how you protect the practitioners and the public. In hostile environments, we often take steps to protect the partners we’re working with on the ground. This is not unique to Cuba.” But the ZunZuneo program muddies those claims, a sensitive issue for its mission to promote democracy and deliver aid to the world’s poor and vulnerable — which requires the trust of foreign governments. “On the face of it there are several aspects about this that are troubling,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s State Department and foreign operations subcommittee. “There is the risk to young, unsuspecting Cuban cellphone users who had no idea this was a U.S. government-funded activity. There is the clandestine nature of the program that was not disclosed to the appropriations subcommittee with oversight responsibility. And there is the disturbing fact that it apparently activated shortly after Alan Gross, a USAID subcontractor who was sent to Cuba to help provide citizens access to the Internet, was arrested.” The Associated Press obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents about the project’s development. The AP independently verified the project’s scope and details in the documents — such as federal contract numbers and names of job candidates — through publicly available databases, government sources and interviews with those directly involved in ZunZuneo. Taken together, they tell the story of how agents of the U.S. government, working in deep secrecy, became tech entrepreneurs — in Cuba. And it all began with a half a million cellphone numbers obtained from a communist government. ___ ZunZuneo would seem to be a throwback from the Cold War, and the decades-long struggle between the United States and Cuba. It came at a time when the historically sour relationship between the countries had improved, at least marginally, and Cuba had made tentative steps toward a more market-based economy. It is unclear whether the plan got its start with USAID or Creative Associates International, a Washington, D.C., for-profit company that has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. contracts. But a “key contact” at Cubacel, the state-owned cellphone provider, slipped the phone numbers to a Cuban engineer living in Spain. The engineer provided the numbers to USAID and Creative Associates “free of charge,” documents show. In mid-2009, Noy Villalobos, a manager with Creative Associates who had worked with USAID in the 1990s on a program to eradicate drug crops, started an IM chat with her little brother in Nicaragua, according to a Creative Associates email that captured the conversation. Mario Bernheim, in his mid-20s, was an up-and-coming techie who had made a name for himself as a computer whiz. “This is very confidential of course,” Villalobos cautioned her brother. But what could you do if you had all the cellphone numbers of a particular country? Could you send bulk text messages without the government knowing? “Can you encrypt it or something?” she texted. She was looking for a direct line to regular Cubans through text messaging. Most had precious little access to news from the outside world. The government viewed the Internet as an Achilles’ heel and controlled it accordingly. A communications minister had even referred to it as a “wild colt” that “should be tamed.” Yet in the years since Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother Raul, Cuba had sought to jumpstart the long stagnant economy. Raul Castro began encouraging cellphone use, and hundreds of thousands of people were suddenly using mobile phones for the first time, though smartphones with access to the Internet remained restricted. Cubans could text message, though at a high cost in a country where the average wage was a mere $20 a month. Bernheim told his sister that he could figure out a way to send instant texts to hundreds of thousands of Cubans— for cheap. It could not be encrypted though, because that would be too complicated. They wouldn’t be able to hide the messages from the Cuban government, which owned Cubacel. But they could disguise who was sending the texts by constantly switching the countries the messages came from. “We could rotate it from different countries?” Villalobos asked. “Say one message from Nica, another from Spain, another from Mexico”? Bernheim could do that. “But I would need mirrors set up around the world, mirrors, meaning the same computer, running with the same platform, with the same phone.” “No hay problema,” he signed off. No problem. ___ After the chat, Creative hired Bernheim as a subcontractor, reporting to his sister. (Villalobos and Bernheim would later confirm their involvement with the ZunZuneo project to AP, but decline further comment.) Bernheim, in turn, signed up the Cuban engineer who had gotten the phone list. The team figured out how to message the masses without detection, but their ambitions were bigger. Creative Associates envisioned using the list to create a social networking system that would be called “Proyecto ZZ,” or “Project ZZ.” The service would start cautiously and be marketed chiefly to young Cubans, who USAID saw as the most open to political change. “We should gradually increase the risk,” USAID proposed in a document. It advocated using “smart mobs” only in “critical/opportunistic situations and not at the detriment of our core platform-based network.” USAID’s team of contractors and subcontractors built a companion website to its text service so Cubans could subscribe, give feedback and send their own text messages for free. They talked about how to make the website look like a real business. “Mock ad banners will give it the appearance of a commercial enterprise,” a proposal suggested. In multiple documents, USAID staff pointed out that text messaging had mobilized smart mobs and political uprisings in Moldova and the Philippines, among others. In Iran, the USAID noted social media’s role following the disputed election of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2009 — and saw it as an important foreign policy tool. USAID documents say their strategic objective in Cuba was to “push it out of a stalemate through tactical and temporary initiatives, and get the transition process going again towards democratic change.” Democratic change in authoritarian Cuba meant breaking the Castros’ grip on power. USAID divided Cuban society into five segments depending on loyalty to the government. On one side sat the “democratic movement,” called “still (largely) irrelevant,” and at the other end were the “hard-core system supporters,” dubbed “Talibanes” in a derogatory comparison to Afghan and Pakistani extremists. A key question was how to move more people toward the democratic activist camp without detection. Bernheim assured the team that wouldn’t be a problem. “The Cuban government, like other regimes committed to information control, currently lacks the capacity to effectively monitor and control such a service,” Bernheim wrote in a proposal for USAID marked “Sensitive Information.” ZunZuneo would use the list of phone numbers to break Cuba’s Internet embargo and not only deliver information to Cubans but also let them interact with each other in a way the government could not control. Eventually it would build a system that would let Cubans send messages anonymously among themselves. At a strategy meeting, the company discussed building “user volume as a cover … for organization,” according to meeting notes. It also suggested that the “Landscape needs to be large enough to hide full opposition members who may sign up for service.” In a play on the telecommunication minister’s quote, the team dubbed their network the “untamed colt.” ___ At first, the ZunZuneo team operated out of Central America. Bernheim, the techie brother, worked from Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, while McSpedon supervised Creative’s work on ZunZuneo from an office in San Jose, Costa Rica, though separate from the U.S. embassy. It was an unusual arrangement that raised eyebrows in Washington, according to U.S. officials. McSpedon worked for USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), a division that was created after the fall of the Soviet Union to promote U.S. interests in quickly changing political environments — without the usual red tape. In 2009, a report by congressional researchers warned that OTI’s work “often lends itself to political entanglements that may have diplomatic implications.” Staffers on oversight committees complained that USAID was running secret programs and would not provide details. “We were told we couldn’t even be told in broad terms what was happening because ‘people will die,'” said Fulton Armstrong, who worked for the Senate Foreign Relations committee. Before that, he was the US intelligence community’s most senior analyst on Latin America, advising the Clinton White House. The money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent. Tensions with Congress spiked just as the ZunZuneo project was gearing up in December 2009, when another USAID program ended in the arrest of the U.S. contractor, Alan Gross. Gross had traveled repeatedly to Cuba on a secret mission to expand Internet access using sensitive technology typically available only to governments, a mission first revealed in February 2012 by AP. At some point, Armstrong says, the foreign relations committee became aware of OTI’s secret operations in Costa Rica. U.S. government officials acknowledged them privately to Armstrong, but USAID refused to provide operational details. At an event in Washington, Armstrong says he confronted McSpedon, asking him if he was aware that by operating secret programs from a third country, it might appear like he worked for an intelligence agency. McSpedon, through USAID, said the story is not true. He declined to comment otherwise. ___ On Sept. 20, 2009, thousands of Cubans gathered at Revolution Plaza in Havana for Colombian rocker Juanes’ “Peace without Borders” concert. It was the largest public gathering in Cuba since the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1998. Under the watchful gaze of a giant sculpture of revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Miami-based Juanes promised music aimed at “turning hate into love.” But for the ZunZuneo team, the concert was a perfect opportunity to test the political power of their budding social network. In the weeks before, Bernheim’s firm, using the phone list, sent out a half a million text messages in what it called “blasts,” to test what the Cuban government would do. The team hired Alen Lauzan Falcon, a Havana-born satirical artist based in Chile, to write Cuban-style messages. Some were mildly political and comical, others more pointed. One asked respondents whether they thought two popular local music acts out of favor with the government should join the stage with Juanes. Some 100,000 people responded — not realizing the poll was used to gather critical intelligence. Paula Cambronero, a researcher for Mobile Accord, began building a vast database about the Cuban subscribers, including gender, age, “receptiveness” and “political tendencies.” USAID believed the demographics on dissent could help it target its other Cuba programs and “maximize our possibilities to extend our reach.” Cambronero concluded that the team had to be careful. “Messages with a humorous connotation should not contain a strong political tendency, so as not to create animosity in the recipients,” she wrote in a report. Falcon, in an interview, said he was never told that he was composing messages for a U.S. government program, but he had no regrets about his involvement. “They didn’t tell me anything, and if they had, I would have done it anyway,” he said. “In Cuba they don’t have freedom. While a government forces me to pay in order to visit my country, makes me ask permission, and limits my communications, I will be against it, whether it’s Fidel Castro, (Cuban exile leader) Jorge Mas Canosa or Gloria Estefan,” the Cuban American singer. Carlos Sanchez Almeida, a lawyer specializing in European data protection law, said it appeared that the U.S. program violated Spanish privacy laws because the ZunZuneo team had illegally gathered personal data from the phone list and sent unsolicited emails using a Spanish platform. “The illegal release of information is a crime, and using information to create a list of people by political affiliation is totally prohibited by Spanish law,” Almeida said. It would violate a U.S-European data protection agreement, he said. USAID saw evidence from server records that Havana had tried to trace the texts, to break into ZunZuneo’s servers, and had occasionally blocked messages. But USAID called the response “timid” and concluded that ZunZuneo would be viable — if its origins stayed secret. Even though Cuba has one of the most sophisticated counter-intelligence operations in the world, the ZunZuneo team thought that as long as the message service looked benign, Cubacel would leave it alone. Once the network had critical mass, Creative and USAID documents argued, it would be harder for the Cuban government to shut it down, both because of popular demand and because Cubacel would be addicted to the revenues from the text messages. In February 2010, the company introduced Cubans to ZunZuneo and began marketing. Within six months, it had almost 25,000 subscribers, growing faster and drawing more attention than the USAID team could control. ___ Saimi Reyes Carmona was a journalism student at the University of Havana when she stumbled onto ZunZuneo. She was intrigued by the service’s novelty, and the price. The advertisement said “free messages” so she signed up using her nickname, Saimita. At first, ZunZuneo was a very tiny platform, Reyes said during a recent interview in Havana, but one day she went to its website and saw its services had expanded. “I began sending one message every day,” she said, the maximum allowed at the start. “I didn’t have practically any followers.” She was thrilled every time she got a new one. And then ZunZuneo exploded in popularity. “The whole world wanted in, and in a question of months I had 2,000 followers who I have no idea who they are, nor where they came from.” She let her followers know the day of her birthday, and was surprised when she got some 15 personal messages. “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!” she told her boyfriend, Ernesto Guerra Valdes, also a journalism student. Before long, Reyes learned she had the second highest number of followers on the island, after a user called UCI, which the students figured was Havana’s University of Computer Sciences. Her boyfriend had 1,000. The two were amazed at the reach it gave them. “It was such a marvelous thing,” Guerra said. “So noble.” He and Reyes tried to figure out who was behind ZunZuneo, since the technology to run it had to be expensive, but they found nothing. They were grateful though. “We always found it strange, that generosity and kindness,” he said. ZunZuneo was “the fairy godmother of cellphones.” ___ By early 2010, Creative decided that ZunZuneo was so popular Bernheim’s company wasn’t sophisticated enough to build, in effect, “a scaled down version of Twitter.” It turned to another young techie, James Eberhard, CEO of Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. Eberhard had pioneered the use of text messaging for donations during disasters and had raised tens of millions of dollars after the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Eberhard earned millions in his mid-20s when he sold a company that developed cellphone ring tones and games. His company’s website describes him as “a visionary within the global mobile community.” In July, he flew to Barcelona to join McSpedon, Bernheim, and others to work out what they called a “below the radar strategy.” “If it is discovered that the platform is, or ever was, backed by the United States government, not only do we risk the channel being shut down by Cubacel, but we risk the credibility of the platform as a source of reliable information, education, and empowerment in the eyes of the Cuban people,” Mobile Accord noted in a memo. To cover their tracks, they decided to have a company based in the United Kingdom set up a corporation in Spain to run ZunZuneo. A separate company called MovilChat was created in the Cayman Islands, a well-known offshore tax haven, with an account at the island’s Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Ltd. to pay the bills. A memo of the meeting in Barcelona says that the front companies would distance ZunZuneo from any U.S. ownership so that the “money trail will not trace back to America.” But it wasn’t just the money they were worried about. They had to hide the origins of the texts, according to documents and interviews with team members. Brad Blanken, the former chief operating officer of Mobile Accord, left the project early on, but noted that there were two main criteria for success. “The biggest challenge with creating something like this is getting the phone numbers,” Blanken said. “And then the ability to spoof the network.” The team of contractors set up servers in Spain and Ireland to process texts, contracting an independent Spanish company called Lleida.net to send the text messages back to Cuba, while stripping off identifying data. Mobile Accord also sought intelligence from engineers at the Spanish telecommunications company Telefonica, which organizers said would “have knowledge of Cubacel’s network.” “Understanding the security and monitoring protocols of Cubacel will be an invaluable asset to avoid unnecessary detection by the carrier,” one Mobile Accord memo read. Officials at USAID realized however, that they could not conceal their involvement forever — unless they left the stage. The predicament was summarized bluntly when Eberhard was in Washington for a strategy session in early February 2011, where his company noted the “inherent contradiction” of giving Cubans a platform for communications uninfluenced by their government that was in fact financed by the U.S. government and influenced by its agenda. They turned to Jack Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, to seek funding for the project. Documents show Dorsey met with Suzanne Hall, a State Department officer who worked on social media projects, and others. Dorsey declined to comment. The State Department under then-Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton thought social media was an important tool in diplomacy. At a 2011 speech at George Washington University, Clinton said the U.S. helped people in “oppressive Internet environments get around filters.” In Tunisia, she said people used technology to “organize and share grievances, which, as we know, helped fuel a movement that led to revolutionary change.” Ultimately, the solution was new management that could separate ZunZuneo from its U.S. origins and raise enough revenue for it to go “independent,” even as it kept its long-term strategy to bring about “democratic change.” Eberhard led the recruitment efforts, a sensitive operation because he intended to keep the management of the Spanish company in the dark. “The ZZ management team will have no knowledge of the true origin of the operation; as far as they know, the platform was established by Mobile Accord,” the memo said. “There should be zero doubt in management’s mind and no insecurities or concerns about United States Government involvement.” The memo went on to say that the CEO’s clean conscience would be “particularly critical when dealing with Cubacel.” Sensitive to the high cost of text messages for average Cubans, ZunZuneo negotiated a bulk rate for texts at 4 cents a pop through a Spanish intermediary. Documents show there was hope that an earnest, clueless CEO might be able to persuade Cubacel to back the project. Mobile Accord considered a dozen candidates from five countries to head the Spanish front company. One of them was Francoise de Valera, a CEO who was vacationing in Dubai when she was approached for an interview. She flew to Barcelona. At the luxury Mandarin Oriental Hotel, she met with Nim Patel, who at the time was Mobile Accord’s president. Eberhard had also flown in for the interviews. But she said she couldn’t get a straight answer about what they were looking for. “They talked to me about instant messaging but nothing about Cuba, or the United States,” she told the AP in an interview from London. “If I had been offered and accepted the role, I believe that sooner or later it would have become apparent to me that something wasn’t right,” she said. ___ By early 2011, Creative Associates grew exasperated with Mobile Accord’s failure to make ZunZuneo self-sustaining and independent of the U.S. government. The operation had run into an unsolvable problem. USAID was paying tens of thousands of dollars in text messaging fees to Cuba’s communist telecommunications monopoly routed through a secret bank account and front companies. It was not a situation that it could either afford or justify — and if exposed it would be embarrassing, or worse. In a searing evaluation, Creative Associates said Mobile Accord had ignored sustainability because “it has felt comfortable receiving USG financing to move the venture forward.” Out of 60 points awarded for performance, Mobile Accord scored 34 points. Creative Associates complained that Mobile Accord’s understanding of the social mission of the project was weak, and gave it 3 out of 10 points for “commitment to our Program goals.” Mobile Accord declined to comment on the program. In increasingly impatient tones, Creative Associates pressed Mobile Accord to find new revenue that would pay the bills. Mobile Accord suggested selling targeted advertisements in Cuba, but even with projections of up to a million ZunZuneo subscribers, advertising in a state-run economy would amount to a pittance. By March 2011, ZunZuneo had about 40,000 subscribers. To keep a lower profile, it abandoned previous hopes of reaching 200,000 and instead capped the number of subscribers at a lower number. It limited ZunZuneo’s text messages to less than one percent of the total in Cuba, so as to avoid the notice of Cuban authorities. Though one former ZunZuneo worker — who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about his work — said the Cubans were catching on and had tried to block the site. ___ Toward the middle of 2012, Cuban users began to complain that the service worked only sporadically. Then not at all. ZunZuneo vanished as mysteriously as it appeared. By June 2012, users who had access to Facebook and Twitter were wondering what had happened. “Where can you pick up messages from ZunZuneo?” one woman asked on Facebook in November 2012. “Why aren’t I receiving them anymore?” Users who went to ZunZuneo’s website were sent to a children’s website with a similar name. Reyner Aguero, a 25-year-old blogger, said he and fellow students at Havana’s University of Computer Sciences tried to track it down. Someone had rerouted the website through DNS blocking, a censorship technique initially developed back in the 1990s. Intelligence officers later told the students that ZunZuneo was blacklisted, he said. “ZunZuneo, like everything else they did not control, was a threat,” Aguero said. “Period.” In incorrect Spanish, ZunZuneo posted a note on its Facebook page saying it was aware of problems accessing the website and that it was trying to resolve them. ” ¡Que viva el ZunZuneo!” the message said. Long live ZunZuneo! In February, when Saimi Reyes, and her boyfriend, Ernesto Guerra, learned the origins of ZunZuneo, they were stunned. “How was I supposed to realize that?” Guerra asked. “It’s not like there was a sign saying ‘Welcome to ZunZuneo, brought to you by USAID.” “Besides, there was nothing wrong. If I had started getting subversive messages or death threats or ‘Everyone into the streets,'” he laughed, “I would have said, ‘OK,’ there’s something fishy about this. But nothing like that happened.” USAID says the program ended when the money ran out. The Cuban government declined to comment. The former web domain is now a placeholder, for sale for $299. The registration for MovilChat, the Cayman Islands front company, was set to expire on March 31. In Cuba, nothing has come close to replacing it. Internet service still is restricted. “The moment when ZunZuneo disappeared was like a vacuum,” Guerra said. “People texted my phone, ‘What is happening with ZunZuneo?’ “In the end, we never learned what happened,” he said. “We never learned where it came from.” ___ Contributing to this report were Associated Press researcher Monika Mathur in Washington, and AP writers Andrea Rodriguez and Peter Orsi in Havana.

havana-live-calle-obispoHavana, April 1. (PL) Obispo, one of Old Havana’s main streets, changed yesterday its businesses for literary appearance, to celebrate the Cuban Book Day, with stands selling books. That street, from the Albear Park to Plaza de Armas (Arms Square), becomes the street of book, a festivity that traditionally takes place during summertime in Prado Street and central 23rd Avenue in the neighborhood of Vedado.
This time, Obispo hosts stands and points of sales created by the network of bookstores of the capital, to sell new titles from the country publishing houses. Although the busy street is known for its many shops, cafeterias, and restaurants, the prestigious Fayad Jamis and La Moderna Poesia bookstores are located there. Precisely, the latter is venue for meeting and lectures such as “Leer entre paginas: pensar entre libros,” by Roberto Zurbano, researcher of Casa de las Americas.The Children’s Book Festival also begins today, until April 5 in Old Havana, and will be dedicated to the 209th birthday of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875).
Organized by the Havana’s Historian Office, the meeting includes an example of pictures for children’s books, creative workshops, meeting with children of the classrooms-museum project, theater and dance performances, and oral narration events.

save-money-youth-sports-billHAVANA 31. March (Latin American Herald Tribune) Cuba reported on Monday the entry into force of the announced salary hikes for athletes, coaches and specialists in the sector, whose incomes will depend on the results and awards they obtain. Athletes’ income has been structured into six categories, with base pay that varies from around $18 a month for second-string baseball players to roughly $60 a month for Olympic medalists.
In addition to those base salaries, athletes are also eligible to receive bonuses for outstanding results in competitions. Players in Cuba’s top baseball league will also vie for premiums based on runs scored, pitching wins and stolen bases, among other categories. The squad that wins the league championship will share the equivalent of $2,600, with bonuses of $1,800 and $1,200 for the second- and third-place teams, respectively. In another change, prize money won in international competitions will be paid out entirely to athletes, coaches and specialists involved in those events. A total of 80 percent will go to the athletes and 15 percent and 5 percent, respectively, to the coaches and specialists. The Cuban government announced last September the pay raises for the sports sector and also said that Cuban athletes could be hired abroad.
However, the information published by Communist Party daily Granma on Monday says that “the implementation of the hiring system abroad” remains under study. The entry into force of the new salaries comes just days after salary increases that will take effect in June were announced for health professionals.

badmintonHAVANA, Mar 31 (acn) In a game more comfortable than expected, the Czech Jan Frohlich won the crown of the Giraldilla of Havana International Badminton Tournament. Frohlich defeated in two sets 21-9 and 21-6 the American Bjorn Seguin, in the Men’s Singles final, in a match held at the Sports City Coliseum. Thus the Czech, who appears 88th in the world rankings, improved his previous year performance, he finished second, and he also earned 2 500 points for his personal score. In the case of Seguin, 93rd of the world, and executioner in Jan+Frohlich+London+Badminton+Grand+Prix+Day+cVLjulXE-CSlthe semifinals of the Cuban Osleni Guerrero, had to settle for second seat. Among women, the Italian Jeanine Cicognini beat 21-19 and 21-13 the Belgian Marie Demy to win the scepter. Likewise, the women’s doubles event was won by the Peruvian Danica Nishimura and Luz Zornoza María, who defeated 21-15, 21-17 their countrywomen Camila Garcia and Daniela Zapata. The other winners of the day were the Guatemala men’s duo made up by Rodolfo Ramirez and Jonathan Solis, who beat 21-15 and 21-11 the Americans Seguin and Mathew Fogarty. While the mixed doubles event was won 21-16, 21-15 by the locals Guerrero and Taimara Oropeza over Peruvians Andres Corpancho and Luz Maria Zornoza.

imagesNew York, Mar 30 (PL) Cuban Film Conduct Opens New York Film Festival of Havana on 3 April, an event marked for the popularity peaked by the movie directed by Ernesto Daranas among the public in the Caribbean country.
Until April 15, the festival, whose program includes 45 Latin American films and also includes a tribute to the 55 years of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) will be extended.
In its fifteenth edition, the event will screen 24 productions selected island especially for the occasion by film critic and director of the Cinematheque of Cuba, Luciano Castillo, said festival artistic director, Diana Vargas.
Although these works are emblematic of Cuban cinema, are little known in the US, he added.
Another significant element, he said, will be the presence of prestigious Cuban directors like Gerardo Cuban Chijona and actor Jorge Perugorría, among others.
Board American films, the festival covers Billboard tapes Argentina , Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Spain, Guatemala, Panama and Puerto Rico, Vargas said.
The festival will close Lucia Puenzo of Argentina, with the New York premiere of his film The German doctor, an unnerving story about experiments in the South American nation by the Nazi Josef Mengele.At the end, we will deliver the Havana Star Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Documentary.Havana-Film-Festival-2014The main headquarters of this annual event lie in the Quad Cinema in Manhattan and meeting Queens counties and the Bronx.

 

havana-live-capiteaux-etrangereHavana 29.March (Reuters By Marc Frank) Cuba’s government has drawn up a new foreign investment law that will cut the profits tax in half and exempt investors from paying it for eight years in an attempt to attract desperately needed capital into the economy. The National Assembly will meet on Saturday to approve the legislation that Cuba promises will offer investment security to foreigners and help further integrate the Caribbean island in the global economy. But the proposed law appears to withhold many of the tax benefits from companies that are 100 percent foreign-owned, instead reserving those incentives for joint ventures with the Cuban state and between foreign and Cuban companies. The proposed law includes a clause that bans expropriations except in cases of public interest previously established by the government, in which case investors would be compensated. The new investment law continues the structural economic reforms under way in Cuba since President Raul Castro took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008.
It has been anticipated since 2011, when Cuba enacted a 300-point overhaul of its domestic economy to encourage more private enterprise. The new law aims to address the lengthy and sometimes murky process to approve foreign investment deals and improve investment guarantees, two major concerns of potential investors and foreign governments. It would also guarantee the free transfer of profits or dividends outside of Cuba without paying additional tax, and allows investment in any sector of the economy except education and healthcare. Details of the proposed law were published on Wednesday in state-run media, and Reuters later reviewed a copy of the complete draft. The National Assembly was expected to approve the draft with little change. Cuba is cut off from U.S. investment by a comprehensive trade embargo and has failed to meet its investment targets for each of the past five years. Major foreign companies doing business in Cuba include Canada’s Sherritt International, which has a joint venture with the Cuban state to mine nickel, and Spanish hotel group Melia Hotels International, among others. Such companies will enjoy the new lower tax rates but not the 8-year tax holiday granted to new investors. 20060404-sher200 melia-blue-logo-resized-image-resized-image
Cuba is promising legal protections to persuade foreign investors to risk their capital in the Soviet-style economy, and new incentives such as the dramatically lowered tax. “The Cuban government has a major credibility gap to overcome with foreign investors. Investors will want evidence, not just legislation, that Cuba is prepared to allow investors to make money, employ Cubans they select and not move the goal posts when success seems to be too rewarding,” said Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba who now teaches at Boston University. Under the current foreign investment law, which went into effect in 1995, all tax breaks are negotiated and foreign firms pay a 30 percent profits tax and 20 percent labor tax. The labor tax was already being gradually reduced and now will be eliminated completely. However, foreign ventures that mine natural resources, including oil, can be subject to a higher profits tax of up to 22.5 percent, depending on how those ventures are negotiated with the state. Investors will still have to hire labor through state-run companies, a major complaint of foreign firms. The policy’s impact will be known once Cuba starts negotiating deals with potential partners, but the new law’s incentives and flexibility seem to be designed to bring in the capital needed to lift the economy and make the reforms succeed,” said Phil Peters, who runs the Virginia-based Cuba Research Center. “Agriculture, sugar, and renewable energy are key sectors to watch for signs of a new attitude toward foreign investment.”
MARKET-ORIENTED REFORMS
Under Castro’s reforms, Cuba has proposed moving 20 percent of the state labor force to a non-state sector made up of farms, small businesses, cooperatives and joint ventures. Greater foreign investment flows would “increase exports, the effective substitution of imports, (spur) high-technology and local development projects, as well as contribute to the creation of new jobs,” according to the 300-point plan in 2011.
Yet to date the reforms have not led to fast growth. The economy is expected to expand 2.2 percent this year, compared with 2.7 percent in 2013. The current law and new law allow for 100 percent foreign-owned companies and do not explicitly exclude Cubans who are citizens of other countries, but in practice Cuba has in most cases insisted on 51 percent ownership of joint ventures and has not allowed Cubans abroad or its own citizens to invest, except in small businesses. There are currently around 200 joint ventures and other projects involving foreign investment in Cuba, compared with more than 400 some 12 years ago and the economy is considered one of the least investor friendly in the world. (Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Rosa Tania Valdes; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Kieran Murray)

Japan-players-HavanaHavana 29 March  An exhibition of sixteenth and seventeenth century Japanese Nanban art opened in Havana on Friday (March 28) to mark 400 years since Samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga’s visit to Cuba and the development of friendly ties between the two nations. The collection features a full-body portrait of the samurai who first visited Cuba as well as collection of works from some of Japan’s most important Nanban artists. “We are presenting original works in Havana’s Fine Art Museum, of which we are very proud because of the Ibero-American countries this collection is only in Mexico, Argentina, Chile Spain and our Cuba. So, in Ibero-America there are only five collections, and we are proud to have one of them,” said curator, Teresa Toransio. samurai
In 1614, Tsunenaga stopped over in Cuba as he headed to establish relations with Mexico and the Vatican. Over the centuries, the Asian superpower and the Caribbean’s Communist-lead nation have enjoyed friendly ties. “(The exhibition) gives everyone the opportunity to appreciate the ancient art of this wonderful country which has a fabulous tradition. This is something that is appreciated both in Japan and Cuba and it allows us to further strengthen relations,” said Mario Naito Lopez, a Cuban resident of Japanese descent. Japan has also organised a series of other cultural events in Cuba to celebrate 400 years of relations, including a concert of traditional Japanese music at the iconic Cabana Fortress.

havana-live-rodeo2There’s still a strong cultural influence in Cuba from its one-time Spanish colonizers, and the rodeo featured all the standby traditional events: bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing, lasso demonstrations and remarkable feats of daredevilry. Mustached and oateed men with broad-brimmed hats and leatherchaps mingle in the dust, drinking beer and talking on cellphones. A woman tenderly straightens the red necktie of a nervous teen as he prepares to mount a bucking bronco. A man on horseback abruptly bolts through the arena and launches himself onto a young cow, headlocking it into the mud horns-first. Cuba’s eight-day international rodeo festival is half party and half a cowboy-skill showcase that would seem right at home in Nevada, Wyoming or anywhere else in the American West. “You know that Cuba’s national sport is baseball. In second place, then, are the rodeo stadiums,” said Teresa Gonzalez, the Cuban rodeo’s national statistics keeper. “Whenever there’s a rodeo, across the whole country, the stadiums fill up.” Popular around the Americas, rodeo has its roots in the skills required of cattle herders in Spain and the New World. The word itself comes from the Spanish term for “roundup.havana-live-rodeo1“The roughly 60 participants competing in the event, part of the Boyeros Cattlemen’s International Fair, came mostly from Cuba but also Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
There’s still a strong cultural influence in Cuba from its one-time Spanish colonizers, and the rodeo featured all the standby traditional events: bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing, lasso demonstrations — and remarkable feats of daredevilry. Between competitions two stunt riders raced around the arena on a horse, one standing upright atop the saddle as his partner dangled precariously to the side, a single hand clutching the pommel.
The quirkiest moment came in an event that could be dubbed “Dancing With the Equestrians.” Riders took turns coaxing their mounts to cut a rug to amplified music, with the winner eliciting laughter and cheers for a dance to reggaeton — the tropical music notorious for its steamy lyrics. Against the thumping beat, the horse gyrated its hindquarters in imitation of the suggestive, twerk-like dance steps associated with the genre. Entire families turned out to watch, legs dangling over the side of the bleacher railing, beneath a black mesh screen that kept at bay the worst effects of the Caribbean sun.havana-live-rodeo3
“An event like this one is very important because it’s the annual fair where the best (competitors) take part,” Gonzalez said. “You couldn’t even walk in the streets because there were so many people.”

(AP By PETER ORSI,Anne-Marie Garcia)

havana-live-plane1At face value, they are three old planes not worth much more than their parts and scrap metal. Stolen from the Cuban government during a six-month period ending in April 2003 — two by hijackers, one by its pilot — all three landed at Key West International Airport, a 116-mile flight from struggling Havana to the gleaming shores of the U.S.Fidel Castro repeatedly demanded the planes be returned. Instead, they were seized by U.S. courts to satisfy part of a $27 million judgment won by a Cuban-American woman who had unwittingly married a Cuban spy in Miami. The story of what happened to the planes in the ensuing years reads like another chapter in the history of stymied, contentious U.S.-Cuba relations, with the new owners unable to get the planes anywhere. The first of the three planes to land in Key West was a yellow, Soviet-built crop-duster that pilot Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra used to fly seven passengers, many of them relatives, to the U.S. in November 2002.
Cuba wanted the biplane back, but a Florida judge agreed with Ana Margarita Martinez that it should be seized and sold to partially pay the judgment she was awarded under an anti-terrorism law. In 1996, her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, had fled back to Cuba after infiltrating the Miami-based anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue. The next day, Cuban fighter jets shot down two of the group’s Cessnas over international waters, killing four pilots.The aging Antonov AN-2 Colt was auctioned at the Key West airport in 2003 and Martinez placed the highest bid, $7,000. We had a victory — we got to keep this property of the Cuban government,” Martinez said after the auction. She hoped to sell it for a profit later but instead gave it to Cuban-American artist Xavier Cortada, who painted half of it with a colorful mural as part of an exhibit commemorating Cuba’s independence. After the exhibit,Cordada eventually donated the plane to Florida International University, which planned to display it but couldn’t find a building to house it. Today, it deteriorates under tarps on a far corner of FIU’s campus. Even if it could be flown, there would be another hurdle: The plane would have to be deregistered in Cuba or given special authorization to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration. That, however, requires maintenance documents and certificates proving the plane is safe — all of them in Cuba.
havana-live-planesDon Soldini, who purchased a hijacked DC-3, is one of the few who stood a chance of getting Cuban plane records. “I would’ve flown it back,” he said last week. Soldini, who went to Cuba as a teen to fight in the revolution, remains on good terms with the island’s leaders. He was barely 18 when he hitchhiked from Staten Island to Key West in the late 1950s, intent on joining the Cuban revolution. He flew to the island on a passenger DC-3, an elegant, bulbous-shaped plane now synonymous with World War II and the 1940s to ’60s-era commercial airline service. Once in Cuba, Soldini joined the underground and eventually fought in the rebel army, marching alongside Raul Castro and his troops.
After the revolutionaries’ 1959 victory, Soldini remained in Cuba but felt uneasy there as an American. He left and eventually started a real estate development company in Florida with offices in 21 countries. Starting in the 1970s, he began visiting Cuba about twice a year. In March 2003, a Cuban DC-3 similar to the one Soldini had first flown in was hijacked by six knife-wielding men and diverted to Key West. Thirteen days later, another Cuban airliner was hijacked to Key West by Adermis Wilson Gonzalez. “My goal was always to come to this nation and work to give my family a better future,” Wilson Gonzales said in a letter to The Associated Press last week from a federal prison in Pennsylvania. He is serving a 20-year sentence for air piracy.
Like the biplane before, both planes were auctioned.
Two aspiring pilots from Colorado came to the sale and, to their surprise, won. Wayne Van Heusden bought the DC-3 for $12,500 and Matthew Overton purchased the Antonov AN-24 for $6,500.
“My grand idea, initially, was to give it to the Cuban authorities, because it’s their plane,” Van Heusden said. He imagined filling the plane with medical supplies and flying to the island, but he couldn’t find financial support. He and Overton ran into the same hurdle: They were unable to fly the planes without the maintenance documents. The fees for keeping the planes in Key West quickly accumulated, and both decided to sell. Overton put his plane on eBay, but the winning bid didn’t go through. Key West International Airport took the plane, and today it is used for emergency drills. Soldini heard about the DC-3 and felt nostalgia for the day he flew to join the revolution. He bought the plane from Van Heusden and reached out to the Castros. But after the long, impassioned speeches Fidel Castro gave demanding the U.S. return the planes, Soldini said the aging Cuban leader didn’t want it.
“He’s more interested in the political impact rather than the practical,” Soldini said. “I couldn’t do anything.” Soldini returned to Key West, disassembled the plane and put it on a truck. He parked the plane at a central Florida hangar, where it remains. He made an extensive documentary tracing the plane’s history, from its California manufacture to its days in Cuba.
He hopes that one day it will be in a museum, since it will never fly again.

(AP) By CHRISTINE ARMARIO 

havana-live-madrigalIt’s Saturday night at El Cocinero, a chic rooftop bar that has arguably become Havana’s hippest watering hole in the year since it opened, and there’s no getting in without a reservation.
There are plenty of foreigners, but also not a few sharp-dressed Cubans lounging in the butterfly chairs, sipping $3 mojitos and talking art, culture and politics. It’s an image that stands in stark contrast to common perceptions overseas of Communist Cuba as a poor country where nobody has the disposable income to blow on a night out. “Where they get the money from, I don’t know, and I don’t have a crystal ball,” said one of the Cubans at the bar: Lilian Triana, a 31-year-old economist who works for the local offices of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA. She suggested some may have relatives sending money from abroad .Havana is seeing a boom in stylish, privately run bars and clubs like El Cocinero, evidence of a small but growing class of relatively affluent artists, musicians and entrepreneurs on an island where many people earn about $20 a month and depend on subsidized food, housing and transport to get by. Cuba’s nouveau riche are coming out of the woodwork, if not quite flaunting their personal wealth. It’s a departure from years past, when Fidel Castro fulminated against newly rich Cubans who were getting ahead of their compatriots during an earlier economic opening.Cuba is still far from a consumer’s paradise. Nonetheless, there are more things here every day to spend money on, from home improvements and beach vacations to the hordes of smartphones and Xboxes imported for resale by islanders who are traveling abroad in record numbers. Foreigners visiting and living in Cuba have long been able to afford such luxuries. So have Cubans like Triana who work for foreign companies or embassies that pay hard-currency salaries competitive with elsewhere in Latin America. Now they have been joined by the most successful of the 440,000 small-business owners and employees who are working independently of the state under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms. Some benefit from relatives abroad who send back an estimated $2.6 billion a year. Then there’s the art-world elite, which historically has been a core part of Cuba’s monied class. An artist who sells a single painting for a few thousand dollars or a musician who performs on an overseas tour is already earning hundreds of times what most Cubans make.
havana-live-madrigal1It’s a phenomenon that New York visual artist Michael Dweck documented in his 2011 book “Habana Libre,” the product of nearly three yearsphotographing the unlikely fashionable lives of Havana’s hip creatives.”They are part of the elite. Not because they are in banking or importing or real estate — these people are the creative class,” Dweck said. “There is a privileged class living a pretty good life in Havana, which is the opposite of what we were told as Americans about what’s going on in Cuba.” It’s on the bar circuit that Cuba’s Yuppies are most visible. Artists and intellectuals abound at places like El Cocinero and the Fabrica de Arte Cubana next door, opened last month by renowned musician X Alfonso as a combination gallery, concert hall and bar with a $2 cover. Others head to Bohemio, a breezy porch-turned-bar, to nosh on cheese and serrano ham tapas, or Cafe Madrigal, which began the private bar boom when it was opened by a filmmaker in 2011 and is now a favorite of the film and theater crowd. Julio Carrillo, a 52-year-old screenwriter, said in years past he and his partner went out less because state-run bars tended to be dreary joints with deafening music and lousy service. Moreover, displays of personal wealth could be seen as ostentatious and attract questions about where the money came from. So many Cubans with means tended to stay in and host private get-togethers. But as islanders increasingly get their hands on nice things, there’s less stigma attached to the good life. “It used to be we’d go to someone’s house. There’s a dinner or a party and I bring a bottle, and it stays low profile, you know?” Carrillo said. “Now it’s more comfortable. We can go somewhere else and meet (friends) there. … It makes me really happy, to tell the truth. Being able to go to places like these is like a normalization of life.”
There are also privately run clubs that cater to the young offspring of Cubans with wealth and connections: places like Sangri La, an overly air-conditioned basement nightclub in the tony Miramar district, and Palio, a smoky offshoot of a private restaurant. Some patrons say they sometimes see the scions of Cuba’s most powerful political clans living it up in raucous joints like these, as plainclothes state security agents hang around outside. The scene is a dramatic change from just a few years ago, when most Cubans were shooed away from tourist hotels such as the Habana Libre or Melia Cohiba, both home to expensive nightclubs.
It’s still a small segment of the population, however, and a far cry from the scene along the Malecon seafront boulevard where working-class Cubans gather by the thousands on weekends to sip from 90-cent cardboard boxes of rum.
“Here on the Malecon to have fun, look at girls,” said Adan Ferro, a 20-year-old street sweeper, adding sarcastically: “Where else am I going to go? The Habana Libre?”

(AP By PETER ORSI) 

havana-live-romanach2One of the world’s leading databases of stolen works of art is offering to help the Cuban government recover dozens of modernist works missing from Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts.
The heist was confirmed late last week by officials with Cuba’s state-run National Council of Cultural Heritage, which added it was in the process of finishing an inventory of the missing pieces which will be made public. Miami gallery owner Ramon Cernuda, a Cuban-American exile and prominent collector of Cuban art, alerted the Havana museum last month after he became suspicious of 11 works being offered for sale in Miami, including one he purchased.On Friday, Cuban officials confirmed the works, including several by acclaimed Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach, were part of a larger trove of stolen art, thought to be about 95 pieces in all. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun grand jury proceedings in the case, Cernuda told Reuters yesterday. The FBI said, however, that it could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. The disclosure of the theft is a first for the Cuban government since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. In its statement, officials from the National Council of Cultural Heritage stated that the works were cut from their frames while in storage. Most of the missing works were by Cuban artists, it said. The statement indicated the Cuban government would work “with any proper authorities inside or outside the country” to “alert museums, galleries, auction houses and others.”In years past, the Cuban government has stayed mum when museum pieces have been put on the market, raising suspicions that the sales had been officially approved in the face of hard economic times.
havana-live-cernudaJulian Radcliffe, chairman of the London-based Art Loss Register, said he was in the process to reaching out to Cuban law enforcement and officials at the museum to offer help. The organization is the recognized leader in recovering stolen artworks and it operates the largest private database of reported stolen art – although Radcliffe says they have never worked with Cuba. “There are some governments who absolutely do report their stolen items, and there are some governments who do not report their items to anyone, ever,” said Radcliffe, adding that Cuba has previously resided in the latter camp. If Cuba decides to take Radcliffe up on his offer, it could bode well for the recovery of the pieces. Having recovered some 2,000 pieces since it was established in 1991, the Art Loss Register monitors on-the-record art transactions worldwide. In past decades, many museums were so embarrassed about losing artworks to theft, that they were often not reported, Radcliffe said. In Cuba’s case, some missing museum items in the past included works expropriated from families that went into exile after the 1959 revolution. “So they are very sensitive about the subject,” he added. Cernuda has since turned over one stolen work to the FBI’s art crimes team in Miami along with the documents of the sale. He has also offered to eventually return the piece to Cuba. (Photo Ramon Cernuda)

(REUTERS) 

havana-live-laurent-fabiusFrance’s foreign minister said on Wednesday he would soon travel to Cuba, the first such visit in 30 years and a sign of the quickening pace of improving ties between the European Union and Havana. Cuba this month accepted a proposal by the EU to open negotiations on a new political accord, saying it was willing to talk about human rights as part of discussions that would end what it considers a one-sided relationship with Europe. On February 10, the EU agreed to begin negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since it lifted sanctions on the communist-ruled country in 2008.
“I will soon go to Cuba, which is something new,” Laurent Fabius said during a news conference with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.
Diplomats said the visit would take place before the summer. It aims to assess the intentions of the Cuban government while giving “more substance” to economic ties, the diplomats said. Cuba has been subject to a U.S. embargo for five decades. It is eager to eliminate the EU’s “common position”, enacted in December 1996, which places human rights and democracy conditions on improved economic relations.
To do so, the two sides will have to reach a new accord that is agreeable to all 28 member states, including Poland and the Czech Republic, which have taken a harder line on Cuba given their own communist pasts. After more than a year of discussions, EU foreign ministers decided in February to seek better ties with Havana to support the Caribbean island nation’s market-oriented reforms and to position European companies for any transition to a more open economy.
Since Fabius took office in 2012 he has tried to shift more of France’s diplomatic focus towards winning contracts in markets where French firms are traditionally weak, as Paris looks to find growth opportunities overseas. About 60 French firms already operate in Cuba including Pernod Ricard, Accor, Bouygues and Total.

(Reuters Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)  

havana-live-samsung1Cuba’s state monopoly telephone company, Etecsa, today denied reports that the island will offer Internet access for home users in the coming months, reported dpa news. The company said that false news has been circulating in recent days. “This is “untrue and misinforms people.” Different websites reported recently that the government of Raul Castro plans to authorize citizens in the coming months to contract private Internet connection from their homes at very high prices.
Etecsa denied the information and noted that the tariffs apply only to companies and organizations. “Any information on the opening of this service to households will be duly communicated by the company,” it said in a press statement.
Cuba has one of the lowest Internet access levels in the world. The population of the island need special permission to contract private access from home, granted to a select number of officials, artists, diplomats or foreign companies. These old style dial-up connections also suffer from very poor transmission speed. The best access is available at some tourist hotels but with prices averaging US $8.00 to $10.00 an hour.
In mid-2013 Etecsa opened over 100 cafes throughout the country that improved public access to a segment of the population. Those capable of paying $5.00 per hour in a country where the average wage is $20 a month includes, to a large extent, those with family members abroad that send significant remittances. The government accuses the economic embargo imposed by the United States for the bad internet access on the island. Castro detractors argue that the lack of connectivity owes to a restrictive government policy. In mid-2013 Etecsa announced that a fiber optic cable laid two years earlier from Venezuela had finally become operative. However, despite improvements in infrastructure, service continues way below regional and international standards for access to the network.

havana-live-little-havanaCuban Americans met in Miami on Saturday to discuss how to normalize relations with Cuba and end the five decade-long United States embargo against the communist-run island, the first such gathering in a decade in a city better known for hostility toward the communist-run island. The one-day event was organized by four groups led by Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), founded two years ago to counteract the influence of traditional Cuban exile organizations that support the embargo. Held at a hotel conference room it attracted about 125 attendees, including several invited speakers from Cuba.
“This is a historic event that unites different organizations that are willing to sit down and discuss ways to stimulate the normalization of relations,” said Hugo Cancio, publisher of OnCuba, a Miami-based magazine which opened an office in Cuba last year. “We want to tell the U.S. and the Cuban governments to find a way to better the lives of the Cuban people, and to let us participate in the economic transformation of Cuba,” he said. Under U.S. law Cuban Americans are allowed to send unlimited money to relatives on the island, but Cuba does not allow non-residents to invest directly in business or property.
That could change under a foreign investment law being debated in Cuba, said one of the speakers, Roberto Veiga, deputy editor of Espacio Laical, a highly-read magazine of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Havana. “That is a decisive factor for Cuba,” he said. “But there is resistance (within the Cuban government) to investment from Miami because … the Cubans here in Miami have money and the Cubans on the island don’t,” he added. The conference comes on the heels of a national poll last month that found a strong majority of Americans – and an even greater percentage of Floridians – support normalizing relations with Cuba. The organizers said two Cuban officials from Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington – which is not an embassy as the two countries broke formal diplomatic ties decades ago – were invited to speak but were denied permission to travel to Miami by the U.S. State Department. Unlike attempts in past years to promote engagement with the Cuban government, Saturday’s meeting went off without protests from anti-Castro groups in Miami. “It just shows that the community is really ready to have a serious debate on U.S.-Cuba policy,” said Ricardo Herrero, a director of the Cuba Study Group, a Miami exile organization that supports closer ties with Cuba.
“Cuba is no longer the third rail in politics. People see all the activity that is going on in Cuba and they are looking for opportunities now that there are cracks in the system down there.” Larger Cuban American exile groups oppose engagement with Cuba while its one-party communist system remains in place. Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, the most powerful Cuban exile lobby group in Washington, described some of the organizers as being Castro sympathizers.
“This isn’t the first event of this type, they spring up from time to time,” he said recalling a period in the 1990s when some exiles groups came together to challenge the embargo. The Obama administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, but U.S. officials say Washington is looking for concessions from Cuba before taking any further steps. Congress has also shown no interest in lifting the embargo in a decade.

CONVERSATION AMONG CUBANS
The conference was billed as a “conversation among Cubans” and included topics ranging from economic reforms in Cuba to travel regulations for Cubans and Americans visiting the island.
One speaker, Abiel San Miguel-Estevez, manager of a privately run restaurant in Havana, Doña Eutimia, gave a power-point presentation on the laws governing the administration of private businesses in Cuba.
“There are more and more places where you can eat well in Cuba. The private sector is growing fast,” he said.
Cuba is in the midst of a five-year plan to “modernize” its state-run socialist system under President Raul Castro, gradually shedding state jobs and moving workers into the private sector in a quest to improve efficiency and raise living standards.
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel said U.S. organized tours to Cuba tend to be dominated by elderly, wealthy, white Americans, as they cost around $3,500 for a week. “The U.S. government needs to let us open up travel so we can diversify who is going,” he said, referring to the restrictions placed on travel by U.S. citizens.

(David Adams Reuters) 

havana-live-Kelvis-Ochoa1The popular Cuban singer Kelvis Ochoa presented in this city his first album made in the island along with a documentary that gathers much of his life and work, which is classified in the category of world music.
Produced by the Bis Music label, the album titled Dolor con Amor se Cura (Pain is Cured with Love), includes 10 tracks that combine rhythms such as sucu-suco, bolero, son, reggaeton, and typical sounds of African music.
The documentary Yo se de un Lugar (I know of a Place), directed by Swedish filmmaker Beat Borter, will be simultaneously exhibited from March 13 to 19 in all major cinema theaters in the country.
Speaking to the press, Ochoa pointed out the presence of special guests in which what he considers his first solo album: the Nicaraguan Salsa singer Luis Enrique, and his compatriots Alexander Abreu, Aldo López-Gavilán, Yaroldi Abreu, Gaston Joya, Harold Lopez-Nussa and Rolando Luna.
This is my best work because it approaches my daily work, he stated.
During his career, he has worked with popular musicians of his country and of the world, among them the Spanish Lolita Flores and Pastora Soler; French Manu Chau; the Puerto Rican duo Calle 13; and Cubans Descemer Bueno, Haydee Milanes, Edesio Alejandro and Roberto Carcasés.

havana-live-Key-West-bridgeThere were times when Florida depended from the General Captainship of Havana, under Spanish colonial rule. At that time, the Cuban capital was a city bigger and more important than other towns like New York and Philadelphia in the United States.
The English, in 1762, did not occupy the Island, they were satisfied with holding on to Havana. One year later, Spain passed on to England all the Florida peninsula in order to get Havana back, hinting at the importance that Madrid attributed to the capital of the largest of the Antilles. Key West was considered part of Florida. Thence, when Spain gave that peninsula to England, the Key was part of the package. But London barely paid attention to the key, which continued to be used as occasional venue for fishermen born in Cuba and other islands of the Caribbean.
havana-live-key_west-pointWhen the United States obtained its independence, citizens of the new nation arrived at the Key and for years Washington did not exert any control over Key West nor recognized it as its own. No other government did so either. This circumstance was maybe to blame for the fact that in 1815 the Governor of Havana gave the territory of the Key to Juan Pablo Salas. The sly creole owned the key for a short time. By that time, more U.S. citizens had come to live in Florida and Salas thought it most convenient to sell the Key, so he did. The naughty thing was he sold it twice, first to a John Strong, and later to a John W. Simonton, who did not take long to pass on the property to General John Guedes, former Governor of South Carolina. Eventually, the trick of Juan Pablo Salas was discovered and the case sent to court. Simonton was recognized as rightful owner He had no more right than Strong, but he did have more influence in Washington circles. By that time, the United States government had decided to take action regarding its rights over the Key. In fact, on March 25, 1822, Lt. Matthew C. Perry, Navy officer,landed on that territory and planted the flag of his country and proclaimed U.S. sovereignty over Key West. He proceeded to change its name and baptized the territory as Thompson’s Island, in honor of Smith Thompson, Secretary of the Navy, and named the port as Rodgers, in tribute to a war hero. None of the new names were to take roots in the people. havana-live-perryKey West is its official name, although Hispanic descendants keep calling it “Cayo Hueso” because as tradition goes, the first settlers found many parts of human skeletons in its beaches. Be it called one way or the other, the southernmost U.S. locality, three hours south of Miami, is a tourist city by excellence and enjoys the preference of visitors from all over the world.
Several cruiser lines stop there. The facilities for a visitor are so many and extended that it is thought the Key is made for the travel industry. Its restaurants and hotels fit all pockets and exceed all expectations. Its museums are full of treasures saved from terrible shipwrecks and the souvenir stores attract the attention of passers-by. Key West is famous for having been, together with San Francisco and New Orleans, one of the most liberal towns of the United States, where the enthusiasm of its people and the brisk and easygoing pace of existence invites to a bohemian and relaxed stay.
My wife Silvia Mayra and I went once more to Key West, not as a reporter nor as tourist, but as a curious passenger of our history. Because that small island is, as Jorge Mañach would say, is an honorary piece of Cuban land. Bone and marrow of the homeland, as Fina Garcia Marruz uses to describe Cayo Hueso or Key West. A place so close to the emergence of Cuba as a nation was called by Jose Marti ” “the egg yolk of the Republic.” (To be continued)

(by Ciro Bianchi Ross ) 

havana-live-rodeoThe international rodeo championship will be one of the attractions of the 17th International Food and Agribusiness Fair of Rancho Boyeros, FIAGROP 2014, which will be held on March 15-23.
The best horsemen and horsewomen of Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Panama will perform for the enjoyment of the public, Yoandri Lazo, director of events of the Havana entity told the press on Wednesday. Lazo explained that this time there will be calf roping, double lassos, bull riding, knocking over, barrels and acrobatics among other activities. Also scheduled is a trade fair, in which some of the new technologies used in Cuban agriculture will be presented. Consumables, products, technologies, scientific-technical advances, agricultural equipment and machinery, other equipment, materials and veterinary medicines and agricultural products and services of the participating companies and entities will be on display. In this way, FIAGROP favors direct exchanges of entrepreneurs and producers, and generates the signing of agreements and negotiations between production and marketing centers of nations represented.

havana-live-melba-hernandezMelba Hernandez, one of two women who helped Fidel Castro launch his revolutionary battle with a failed 1953 attack on a military barracks, and who was later named a “heroine of the Cuban Revolution” has died at age 92.
A message from the Communist Party’s Central Committee published Monday in the party newspaper Granma said Hernandez died the previous night of complications from diabetes. “She is one of the most glorious and beloved combatants of the revolutionary quest, (and an) imperishable example of the Cuban woman,” it read. With her crown of snowy white curls, Hernandez was occasionally seen at official events in her later years, accompanied by one or the other of the Castro brothers. Fidel stepped down due to ill health in 2006, passing command to his younger brother Raul. Born on July 28, 1921, Hernandez was five years older than Fidel Castro and remained faithful to him throughout her life.
At the time of the July 26, 1953, assault on the Moncada Barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, Hernandez — like Castro — was a young attorney who had grown increasingly fed up with government corruption under Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup. She signed on to Castro’s assault plans and obtained 100 uniforms for the attackers from an army sergeant who later joined the movement.
She and the only other woman involved in the operation, Haydee Santamaria, sewed insignia showing military ranks onto the uniforms. At a farm in the hours before the operation, the women ironed the uniform slacks and shirts.
The assault failed miserably, with many of the attackers killed by government soldiers and the rest, including Castro, arrested. The women, who were waiting nearby to provide medical assistance to their comrades, were also jailed. Santamaria’s brother Abel was tortured and killed in prison.
Hernandez and Santamaria were freed months before the men and organized support rallies for those still jailed. They also distributed writings by Castro that were smuggled from behind bars — essays that helped rally sympathy for the revolutionaries. Castro corresponded frequently with Hernandez when he was in prison, giving instructions on helping run his July 26 Movement. After the remaining rebels were freed, Hernandez traveled to Mexico with the group, including her new husband and fellow revolutionary Jesus Montane, to help organize a guerrilla army.
She did not, however, join the band that sailed from Mexico to launch an uprising in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra.
A member of the rebels’ national directorate, Hernandez became a member of the guerrilla army’s Third Front. Batista fled the country Jan. 1, 1959, and Castro took power soon after. Hernandez later helped found the Communist Party of Cuba and served as ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia.
She also was secretary-general of the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, a group founded in Cuba in 1966 to support independence struggles in developing nations.
In 1997, Hernandez was among five women from around the world who received human rights awards from Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, long an ally of Cuba. The University of Havana granted Hernandez an honorary doctorate in international relations in July 2007. “Melba has been one of the greatest exponents of Cuban diplomacy,” National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said at the ceremony. The announcement in Granma said Hernandez was to be cremated and her ashes interred in a cemetery alongside the remains of other participants in the Moncada attack.

havana-live-terry-fox-marathonThe 14th edidition of the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope takes place in Havana and all across the country, starting at 9am on March 15th . The Marathon has the greatest participation of any country in the world with up to 2.3 million people running, walking, rolling and pushing in an inspirational testament to the ideals and stamina of Terry Fox (1958-1981), who was a young Canadian athlete who’s right leg was amputated due to cancer but who heroically crossed his country (143 days and 5,373 kilometers (3,339 miles), running to raise awareness and funding to fight cancer. If you are in Cuba during this time this is a great event to participate in the 4km circuit whatever your level of fitness, no pre-registration required. Carlos Gattorno, director of Marabana / Maracuba project, told reporters today that the race can be attended by people in accordance with their physical capabilities, in an event that will not have awards. He added that the starting signal will be given at 10 am by Radio Reloj station. Gattorno also urged Cubans to massively attend the race, as an expression of solidarity that characterizes the people of Cuba. For more information about Terry Fox see http://www.terryfox.org

Details about Terry Fox Run

The Terry Fox Run is an annual non-competitive charity event held in numerous regions around the world in commemoration of Canadian cancer activist Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, and to raise money for cancer research.
The event was founded in 1981 by Isadore Sharp, who contacted Terry in hospital by telegram and expressed his wishes to hold an annual run in Terry’s name to raise funds for cancer research. Sharp himself had lost a son to cancer in 1979. In Canada, the event is held every year on the second Sunday following Labour Day. Since its inception, it has raised via the ‘Terry Fox Foundation’ close to $500 million dollars (CAD). The run itself is informal, which means that the distance often varies, usually between 5 and 15 kilometres; participation is considered to be more important than completing the set distance. There are also runs set up by schools of every level, often with shorter distances than the “official” ones.
Unlike other major fund raising events, the Terry Fox Run has no corporate sponsorship. This is in accordance with Terry Fox’s original wishes of not seeking fame or fortune from his endeavor. During his cross-Canada run, he turned down every endorsement he was offered (including from major multinationals such as McDonald’s), as he felt that it would detract from his goal of creating public awareness. The Terry Fox Runs have no advertisements on any race related materials (such as t-shirts, banners, etc.).

by John Walters 

havana-live-robaina3Cuban painters, dancers, growers, collectors, and representatives of international cigar clubs will pay homage to the legendary veguero Alejandro Robaina next March 20th, when he would turn 95 years old. The memorial gala will be attended by personalities of the Cuban National Ballet and the famous painter havana-live-robaina2Nelson Domínguez, who will open an exhibition of works inspired on the cigar smokers culture, annouced to Hiroshi Robaina, grandson of the tobacco grower deceased in 2010. As part of the exhibition, the painter will donate to the family a painting of Alejandro, which will be showcased along with the rest of the collection in the museum house in the farm El Pinar, in Cuhillas de Baracoa, San Luis. We are preparing a great tribute to my grandfather,Cuban cigar lovers,from Europe and other continents, said the farmer and manager of the famous tobacco plantation Vegas.
During the ceremony, the socio-cultural project “Herederos de Robaina” will be opened, which will receive children from nearby schools. In the farm El Pinar -170 kilometers west from Havana- tobacco is grown since 1845, a practice fostered by the Canarian ancestors of Don Alejandro, former ambassador of the desirable Habanos. People from several countries come every day to admire the tobacco plantations covered with thin blankets, take pictures of the fields, visit the museum, and also become familiar with the art of twisting cigars, affirms the farmer, keen of judo and singing. havana-live-robaina4-From the ancient property in the municipality San Luis inPinar del Río, raw material is obtained for the Vegas Robaina line, which includes five cigar vitolas which are making their way into the international market.According to experts, this is a brand of medium strength, attractive either for beginners or expert smokers. My concern is preserving the prestige of the cigars grown in the farm El Pinar; being authentic is assuming the roots and keeping the tradition, he affirmed.

(Adalys Pilar Mireles PL) 

havana-live-cucCuban authorities revealed some of the new pricing and accounting methodologies going into effect as the country moves toward monetary unification. A report published today recalled that as announced last October 22, 2013, the Council of Ministers had agreed to initiate a schedule for carrying out measures that will lead to that unification.
These norms are the first regulations that have been released in terms of prices and accounting, as part of that process. Currently, two currencies circulate in Cuba; the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC). The published strategy corresponds to Guideline 55 of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) Social and Economic Policy. The announcement itself recognizes the complexity of such a process and deals with it via an integrated perspective meant to foster the monetary reorganization within the Cuban economy. The data were released in the Official Gazette Extra (No. 12), of 2014, courtesy of Resolutions 19, 20 and 21 from the Ministry of Finances and Pricing.
Accounting norms and methodologies are shown for wholesale and retail pricing, directed at state entities, and required by the decreed monetary unification. Toward this end, the report reflects a priority on training all managers throughout the country who may be linked to such a process. It also points out that the new pricing methodology will assist in resolving a variety of problems in the island economy.
One of the indicated problems is the connection of internal pricing with the behavior of the international market, among other notes of interest. The report specifies that the entire process will lead to a more efficient distribution of financial resources from the State budget.

(Prensa Latina) 

havana-live-Key-west-havanaRegular air service between Key West and Havana, Cuba, quietly resumed on Friday after a more-than-half-century hiatus.Miami-based Mambi International Group is partnered with flight operators Air Marbrisa and Air Key West. Mambi spokesman Isaac Valdes told the Keynoter that following a first flight on Feb. 28, the next flight on March 7 is “already sold out.”
Beginning March 17, Mambi will offer the 30-minute hop to Jose Marti International Airport on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, departing Key West International Airport at 2:30 p.m. and returning at 4:15 p.m. The Monday and Wednesday flights cost $479 roundtrip, with the Friday route going for $525, Valdes said. havana-live--MetroII_1The process of designating Key West International Airport as an international point of entry began in 2009 with a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Following that was a three-phase, two-year, $2.25 million project to have the airport reclassified as a federal inspection station, instead of the current label of a general aviation facility. Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton said the feds signed off on the upgrades in October 2011. The last time planes regularly flew between Key West International Airport and Jose Marti in Havana, just 90 miles from the Southernmost City, was in 1962.

By SEAN KINNEY 

havana-live-drum-festivalDrummers of Mexico, Australia, Argentina and the United States will travel to Havana to participate in the Fiesta del Tambor Festival (Drum Festival) as of March 11 to 16, with more than a thousand Cuban artists.
Professional and self-taught musicians will compete in the traditional Guillermo Barreto In Memoriam percussion contest, which is also open to foreigners in the categories of drums, kettledrums, congas, bongos and bata drums, musician and composer Giraldo Piloto, chairman of the event, told Prensa Latina.
It is an internationally known musical event and this time will receive Jojo Mayer, one of the best drummers in the world, Piloto said.
The 13th Drum Festival also sponsors a casino dance contest and concerts with famous bands such as Los Van Van, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco and Buena Vista Social Club, among others.
Mella and Karl Marx theaters, the Salon Rosado de la Tropical, Rumba Palace and the Habana Libre hotel will be the headquarters of the Drum Festival, which also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Egrem record company.

(By Adalys Pilar MirelesPL) 

havana-live-privat-rooms4Cuba’s political and economic swings have had an effect on the sex life of the population, but lovers and entrepreneurs have learned to adjust – and appear to be enjoying something of a golden age. Countless private pousadas have sprung up in recent years to offer rooms – often charged by the hour – for couples seeking a place for a tryst. Many started illicitly, but have been licensed as part of official economic reforms. Eduardo Pérez, a veteran of the war in Angola, has been a taxi driver for 38 years. His wife was a Russian teacher but found it easier to make a living as a barber.Desperate for extra income during the “special period” – the era of hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union – the couple started renting out spare rooms in their home. Unlicensed at first, this was a surreptitious operation for the business and their customers, many of whom were having extramarital affairs. One client, who asked to remain nameless, said he first started going to the private rooms when state motels went out of business.
“Twenty-five years ago, I used to take my mistress from Havana to Mariel for the weekend. That stopped after the fall of the eastern bloc when there was hardly any fuel, fewer cars and the motels closed. Instead, we found little pousadas in Havana, like this one, that offered rooms for just a couple of hours.”
However, Pérez said the reforms had removed the need for secrecy – at least on the part of the business. “In the past two years, it has become much easier because what we do is legal. I can rent out rooms at any time now, whereas in the past I sometimes had to tell people to come back at midnight because I was worried we were being watched. We don’t have to hide now so I’m making more money.” He is expanding the business and upgrading the rooms with concrete beds. “It’s my wife’s idea,” he grinned. “In this business, the springs wear out too quickly on a normal bed.”

(The Guardian Jonathan Watts Photo Jean Francois Campos) 

havana-live-romanach3Nearly a hundred paintings have been stolen from Havana’s National Fine Arts Museum in what could well be the most serious misappropriation of Cuba’s artistic heritage of recent decades.
“Dozens of works are missing from storage,” a source employed by the museum told Cafe Fuerte. “Most are vanguard pieces.” The paintings were kept at the warehouse of the former headquarters of Cuba’s Technical Investigations Department (DTI), which has belonged to the museum following its remodeling in 2001.
Police officers were in charge of the local’s security.The thefts were detected last week, when a number of the missing pieces began to be offered to art dealers in Miami.An investigation by Ministry of the Interior and art heritage experts is underway According to the information secured by Cafe Fuerte, the pieces are works by Cuban painting masters. Apparently, news of the theft came from US art dealers.
havana-live-romanach“Someone noticed that the works they were being shown belonged to Cuba’s collection and notified the Fine Arts Museum of what was happening,” the source, who chose to remain anonymous, declared. At least two art dealers in Miami reported seeing works by Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951), pieces which began to circulate in the South Florida market recently.
Though the exact number of works stolen is unknown, reports suggest that it could be close to a hundred. It is believed most of the pieces belong to the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 30s. Cuban authorities and the country’s media do not generally report on the theft of artworks, and many haven’t even been registered by Interpol. Art heritage dealers and experts around the world believe the museum should assume the responsibility of immediately reporting the stolen pieces, so that the Cuban art market can protect itself and prevent the works and objects stolen from being sold and turning their potential buyers into the direct victims of the perpetrators. This is not the first time the museum’s collection suffers a massive theft of this nature. In 1995, Cuban authorities dismantled a network of art smugglers headed havana-live-museum-of-fine-art3_1by Arquimides Matienzo,a former museum administrator, and detained an additional five culprits, including an Italian citizen. The group had stolen 40 paintings from the museum. Founded in 1913, the National Fine Arts Museum is the institution tasked with storing and conserving works belonging to Cuba’s visual arts heritage.
The facility holds the largest collection of Cuban art produced between the 16th century and the present day. Its current director is Moraima Clavijo Colom.

Ivette Leyva Martinez  (Cafe Fuerte) 

havana-live-havana-club-anejo-15-anos-scCuban rum producer Havana Club International has relaunched its Havana Club 15 Year Old expression with a new bottle design. Created to “highlight its authenticity and premium quality”, the latest design features a new shape and taller bottle, with a more “sophisticated” label to increase the product’s shelf stand out.
The words “La Habana Cuba” are also embossed onto the bottle and a bottom-weighted glass base has also been incorporated into the design. “A rum of such outstanding quality and authenticity as Havana Club 15 Year Old deserves packaging that reflects its rich Cuban rum making tradition,” explained Nick Blacknell, international marketing director for Havana Club International. “The new bottle conveys the importance we place on craft, whilst highlighting the quality of the rum inside and we’re confident it will appeal to true connoisseurs who know how to appreciate a rare and luxurious Cuban rum.”
The new release is already available in Cuba and Australia and will be launched into various markets around the world by the end of the month, before being rolled out in Mexico and China later this year.

by Melita Kiely 

havana-live-suite-generis_1_1The National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), headed by Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, will premier two ballets next March 7,8 and 9, informed the institution. Celeste and Triade are the titles of the new choreographies of the well-known Belgian-Colombian choreographer Anabelle Lopez, music by P.I. Chaikovski, wardrove by Dieuweke van Reij and light design by Michael Mazzola. Lopez worked along with assistants Stephanie Bauger and Linnet González, who worked with ballet dancers Viengsay Valdés, Yanela Piñera, Grettel Morejón, Miguel Anaya and Lyvan Verdecia, among others. On the other hand, Triade, by Eduardo Blanco, will present young ballet dancers Chanell Cabrera, Cynthia González and Gabriela Mesa, at a choreography with music by Gioachino Rossini and wardrobe by Salvador Fernández. The premiers program will be complemented with the presentations of Prologue to a tragedy, by Brian McDonald, on the Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare, and Suite Generis, choreography of Alberto Méndez, inspired by the music of Haendel and Haydn.

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