cuba-lDroughtAPHAVANA, May 18  (EFE) The intense drought in Cuba is affecting more than 1 million people, the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper reported Sunday, citing specialists.

The situation is being classified as “critical” in Cuba, where rainfall levels were insufficient in every region at the end of the February-April period, Weather Institute Climate Center researcher Cecilia Fonseca told the newspaper.

The areas most affected by the drought are the provinces of Pinar del Rio, in westernmost Cuba; Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus, located in the central part of the island; and the eastern provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila and Las Tunas, Juventud Rebelde said.

Las Tunas is the most affected province, with average annual rainfall of just 1.038 millimeters (0.04 inches) and reservoirs at 25 percent of capacity.

The rainy season, when Cuba gets about 80 percent of its precipitation, is starting, but the forecast for this year “is not currently favorable,” Fonseca said.

National Hydraulic Resources Institute Water Management Department chief Yunior Gonzalez, for his part, said rainfall patterns had been “pretty erratic” this year in terms of their effect on reservoirs.

Water trucks are being used to supply water to some of the people affected by the drought, Gonzalez said.

The government is staging the “Meteoro 2015” exercise this weekend to provide emergency management personnel with training in dealing with hurricanes, powerful earthquakes, tsunamis, forest fires, chemical spills, epidemics and other types of disasters.

Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska of Finland conducts a rehearsal in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, May 14, 2015. The Minnesota Orchestra also played Havana in 1929 and 1930, when it was called the Minneapolis Symphony. Friday’s all-Beethoven program was a reprise of its 1929 repertoire, with performances of “Overture to Egmont, Opus 84,” “Fantasy in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra, Opus 80,” and “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55.”  (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

Minnesota Orchestra Music Director Osmo Vanska of Finland conducts a rehearsal in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, May 14, 2015. The Minnesota Orchestra also played Havana in 1929 and 1930, when it was called the Minneapolis Symphony. Friday’s all-Beethoven program was a reprise of its 1929 repertoire, with performances of “Overture to Egmont, Opus 84,” “Fantasy in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra, Opus 80,” and “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55.” (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)

The Minnesota Orchestra played to a sold-out house Friday night in the first performance in Cuba by a full professional U.S. orchestra since 1999, coming just months after the two Cold War rivals announced a thaw in relations.

Few of the visiting Americans speak Spanish, but “the universal language of music” was all they needed, said Mele Willis, the orchestra’s artistic operations manager.

The performance at the 2,000-seat National Theater, which was broadcast live in Cuba and on Minnesota Public Radio, included famed Cuban pianist Frank Fernández and the Cuban National Choir. Fernández was presented with a bouquet, then pulled some of the flowers loose and handed them to a few of the Americans in the orchestra.

A thrilled crowded gave the concert a standing ovation. Omar Fernández, a Cuban who works for a Canadian travel agency in Havana, attended with his wife and young son. “We love music. And this is very important,” he said when asked why he came.

Smaller groups of U.S. classical musicians have visited Cuba in recent years, but a 1999 visit by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is believed to be the last by a major orchestra.

Friday’s concert came a day after members of the Minnesota Orchestra held standing-room-only master classes with music students at a Havana high school and university. Students filled every seat, sat on floors, peered in through windows and videotaped the sessions with cellphones.

The Americans’ lack of Spanish did not impair their enthusiasm. Trumpet player Bob Dorer gave a thumb’s up and demonstrated trumpet technique by mouthing an “O” after a spike-haired teenager, Antonio Díaz, performed. Shouts of “Bravo!” erupted after violin student Jorge Enrique Amado played a challenging modernist piece he composed. “We’re very impressed,” said Roger Frisch, a violinist in the orchestra who asked for a copy of Amado’s piece.

“I’m not used to hearing high school students play at such a high level,” agreed percussionist Brian Mount, who said he was “blown away” and “almost wanted to cry” watching the Cuban kids in a jam session.

Student Natali Chongo said it was a “privilege” to be coached on drumming four kettledrums by the orchestra’s Peter Kogan. “The musicians of the U.S. and the musicians of Cuba always have friendship in their hearts,” she said. “They need our music and we need their music.”

The Cuban Ministry of Culture invited the Minnesota orchestra to perform as part of Havana’s International Cubadisco Festival. “It is an extremely important moment,” said Orlando Vistel, president of the Cuban Institute of Music.

The Minnesota Orchestra also played Havana in 1929 and 1930, when it was called the Minneapolis Symphony. Friday’s all-Beethoven program was a reprise of its 1929 repertoire, with performances of “Overture to Egmont, Opus 84,” ”Fantasy in C minor for piano, chorus and orchestra, Opus 80,” and “Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Opus 55.”

Another concert was scheduled for Saturday night along with a jazz performance by Minnesota players and Cuban musicians at the Havana Cafe.

The trip marks a healing for the orchestra, which is rebounding from a bitter labor dispute that included a canceled season.

Its tour has cost nearly $1 million, which was underwritten by Marilyn Carlson Nelson, an heir to the Carlson hotel company fortune, and her husband, Glen. The U.S. government gave special permission for a direct charter flight from Minneapolis to Havana for the event, putting four tons of equipment and 160 people on an Airbus 330.

Orchestra CEO Kevin Smith said the musical exchanges were “the most exciting part of the trip, along with the fact that it’s happening in such a dynamic period in relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”

HAVANA, May 16   Minnesota Orchestra has returned to Cuba, for the first time in 85 years.
It has become the first major orchestra from the United States to play in Cuba since December, 2014, when it was announced that diplomatic relations between the two nations would be restored.

Cuban, Ana Maria Verdes, was in the audience for the historic performance.

“What we should aspire to is that these exchanges are enriching, that they help us grow,” she said. “For the benefit of the people of the United States as much as for the Cubans. It has truly been a pleasure.”

The musicians were invited to the National Theatre in the capital Havana to play in the Cubadisco music festival. There, the audience was treated to Beethoven’s Symphony Number 3, the Eroica.

havana-live-Guantanamo HAVANA, May 14   If the United States and Cuba restore diplomatic ties in the coming weeks, as anticipated, the two countries will still be a long way from anything resembling a “normal” relationship, Cuban President Raul Castro has said repeatedly. His list of grievances is lengthy. But this week Castro said it boils down to two big issues.

The first, of course, is the U.S. trade embargo. The other is the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, the oldest overseas American navy base in the world, which the United States has occupied for 116 years.

That one isn’t up for debate, the Obama administration says.

But, one can only wonder, for how long?

Scholars and military experts say it’s difficult to see how United States can overhaul its relationship with Havana while hanging on to a big chunk of Cuban territory indefinitely, especially if relations warm significantly in a post-Castro era.

While there are plenty of examples in the world of disputed borders or contested islands, the 45-square-mile American enclave at Guantanamo is something of a global geopolitical anomaly. There is no other place in the world where the U.S. military forcefully occupies foreign land on an open-ended basis, against the wishes of its host nation.

“It’s probably inevitable that we’ll have to give it back to Cuba, but it would take a lot of diplomatic heavy-lifting,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Stavridis was head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command between 2006 and 2009, putting him in charge of the Guantanamo base, which he said remains a “strategic, and highly useful” U.S asset.

“It’s hard to think of another place with the combination of a deep water port, decent airstrip and a lot of land,” Stavridis said.

The controversial American detention camp for global terrorism suspects is just one of the base’s conveniences. It is a logistical hub for the Navy’s Fourth Fleet, as well as counter-narcotics operations and disaster relief efforts.
It also functions as a detention center for north-bound migrants intercepted at sea. The base’s location on Cuba’s south coast allows the U.S. military to project power across the entire Caribbean basin. And it’s strategically located next to Haiti, a place that often needs U.S. help.

As a military installation, though, Guantanamo — Gitmo is its nickname — is no longer essential in a modern era of aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and drones, Stavridis said. “You wouldn’t launch a large-scale military operation from there,” he explained, adding that many of the other uses Guantanamo provides could be fulfilled by existing U.S. military facilities in Puerto Rico or south Florida.

“I don’t think it’s irreplaceable,” Stavridis said.

U.S. warships sailed into Guantanamo Bay in 1898, and together with Cuban rebels, defeated the Spanish fleet. The Americans essentially never left, conditioning Cuban independence on constitutional provisions allowing the U.S. Navy to occupy the area “for the time required.” Rent was set at $2,000 a year, paid in gold.

A new lease increased the amount to $4,000 in 1934, according to this history of the base by scholar Paul Kramer. But there was no cut-off date for the Americans to leave.

The U.S. government still dutifully sends rent checks to the Cuban government, but the Castros don’t cash them. They don’t recognize the lease, and – like landlords in a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment — want their tenants to leave. Fidel Castro is said to keep the checks piled up in his desk drawer, using them as a kind of political prop.
It’s hard to imagine a more ready-made symbol of U.S. imperialism than a military base whose history is so wrapped up in late 19th-century attempts at American empire.

Castro shut off the water and electricity in 1964, and today the base is completely isolated from the rest of Cuba. Visitors say it resembles a small American city, with the island’s only McDonald’s franchise, as well as a Taco Bell, a Subway and other American chains. The divide from the rest of the island is lethally enforced by land mines, concertina wire and thickets of thorny cactus.

In recent years, President Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to close the base’s prison camp have inspired several dream scenarios of a post-military future for the base. One would converted it to a research center and treatment facility for tropical diseases and epidemics.
If returned to Cuban control, it could become a second campus of Cuba’s Latin American School of Medicine, where students from around the world get free medical training from the Cuban government.

Stavridis said a proposal along these lines to “internationalize” the base that retains its value as a logistical center for humanitarian relief would probably be an acceptable future within the Pentagon– at least in the long run. Others optimists say the base’s transformation could serve as an exercise in trust-building between Cuba and the United States as hostilities ease.

Such a move wouldn’t be without precedent. The U.S. reluctantly gave up the Panama Canal Zone, a place far more strategic to military operations and U.S. commercial interests than Guantanamo Bay.

Panama converted the military installations into a “City of Knowledge,” a cluster of research labs and campus facilities in partnership with several U.S. universities.

Panama converted the military installations into a “City of Knowledge,” a cluster of research labs and campus facilities in partnership with several U.S. universities.

Here’s the timeline on how the United States came to occupy Guantanamo bay:

1898: U.S. warships sail to Guantanamo Bay, helping Cuban rebels defeat Spanish forces.
1903: U.S. granted territorial rights to Guantanamo Bay. Lease is extended in 1934; rent doubles to $4,000 a year.
1959: Fidel Castro takes power in Cuba, toppling U.S.-backed strongman Fulgencio Batista. He cuts off water and electricity to base in 1964.
1990s: Base serves as detention camp and processing center for tens of thousands of refugees from Haiti and Cuba
2002: Prison camp opens for global terrorism suspects. Nearly 800 detainees have been held at the facility, and roughly 100 remain today.

More to see and do in Havana, next week and after

HAVANA, May 14  The Havana Biennial doesn’t officially open until next Friday, May 22. But the action starts long before that. Here are a few of the other openings next week, in chronological order.

Monday, May 18

“Bienal, bienal! Are you my friend?” Sandra Ceballos launches what she’s calling her final show at Espacio Aglutinador. An all-day event, running 12 noon to 8 p.m. The exhibition runs through June 15.

Wednesday, May 20

Cuban Art Awards. At the Wifredo Lam Center, this event will see the presentation of the first international Cuban Art Awards. Sponsored by the Howard and Patricia Farber Foundation (sponsors of Cuban Art News), the awards include Artist of the Year and Young Artist of the Year. The event includes a cocktail reception with music by El Septeto Habanero. Invitation only. 4 p.m.

Crack. Galería Habana brings out a team of heavy hitters for this group show exploring various aspects of the global financial crisis: euphoria, panic, addiction, the housing bubble, and more. Artists include Tonel, Ariamna Contino & Alex Hernández, Felipe Dulzaides, Iván Capote, Carlos Garaicoa, Roberto Fabelo, Yunier Hernández, Enrique Báster, Glenda León, and Los Carpinteros. On view through July 3.

RAM-ROM-RUN (run, save, and continue running). In a historic building that several Cuban families call home, the art space Loft Havana hosts a group show of young and cutting-edge artists. A project by Nina Menocal curated by Elvia Rosa Castro and produced in collaboration with architect José Antonio Choy, RAM-ROM-RUN uses the tropes of technology to examine notions of memory, archival documentation, and the speed of contemporary life. The close to 20 artists and art groups in the show include Elizabet Cerviño, Plasticv Guajiras, Yornel Martínez, Rachel Valdés, and Celia y Junior. Opening 5–7 p.m.; the show has been extended to run through Friday, May 29.

Thursday, May 21

Zona Franca (Free Zone). The largest collateral project of this year’s Biennial is the artists and collectives presenting their work at the Morro-Cabaña complex. Opens at 4 p.m. Through June 22.

Alumbrando el Barrio / Lighting Up the Neighborhood. As the sun goes down, the lights go on in this urban restoration project by artist Kadir López Nieves. Working from an aesthetic he calls En Poder Práctica Social (In-Power Social Practice), López Nieves has overseen the restoration of several vintage neon and illuminated signs around Havana, including those for the Alameda, Acapulco, and Apolo theaters. Through June 20.

HB, Muestra de arte cubano contemporáneo. Presented at the enormous Pabexpo center in Playa, this show features work by dozens of top artists. Reception at 8 p.m.

No es lo que ves. Photographs by Che Serguera and Alfredo Sarabia, curated by Julia Portela. Estudio 50 in Vedado. Reception at 8 p.m.

De la acera de enfrente (… Across the Street). The latest collaboration between two Vedado neighbors, the Norwegian Embassy and Studio Figueroa-Vives, this group show promises to expand the interior and exterior space of both locations. The ten artists on view are all expected to attend, including Alexandre Arrechea, Ignacio Barrios, Alejandro Campins, Javier Castro, José A. Figueroa, Francisco Alejandro (Jim), Flavio Garciandía, Alejandro González, Tony Labat, and Fernando Rodríguez. 9–12 p.m.

FAC Reopens. For the past three weeks or so, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano has been closed for an art-oriented remodeling. It’s now ready to unveil the results, in a grand reopening, May 21, from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. In honor of the Biennial, admission is free from noon to 6 p.m. through June 7.

Friday, May 22

The Biennial officially opens at 10 a.m.

Pez Peo (Fartfish). Installation by Lázaro Saavedra, opening 4 p.m. at the Wifredo Lam Center.

Artista x Artista (Artist x Artist). A collateral exhibition at the Carlos Garaicoa Studio in Miramar. Reception at 5 p.m.

Montañas con una esquina rota (Mountains with a Broken Corner). An international group show curated by Wilfredo Prieto, Direlia Lazo, and Gretel Medina. Opens 7 p.m. at the Fábrica de bicicletas in Vedado.

Saturday, May 23

Libros sin dominio (Books without Domain). At the Fayad Jamís Bookstore in Habana Vieja, Elvia Rosa Castro curates a show of book-objects by Reynier Leyva Novo and other artists, as part of an intervention by artist Yornel Martínez. 3 p.m.

Four exhibitions open at the Museo Nacional. In addition to Alexandre Arrechea’s El Mapa del Silencio(The Map of Silence) and Wild Noise: Artwork from The Bronx Museum of the Arts and El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (both previously profiled on Cuban Art News), two other shows will open at the museum that day:

Gustavo Pérez Monzón: Tramas. A solo show by one of the original “Volumen Uno” artists, curated from the Ella Fontanals-Cisneros Collection by Elsa Vega and René Francisco Rodríguez.

Wilfredo Prieto: Ping-Pong Cuadrícula. A solo show by the conceptual artist, whose work was featured in last summer’s show of Latin American contemporary art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Through July 23.

All four openings begin at 5 p.m.

Alejandro Campins: Ciudad de los Muertos. At Galería Servando, this solo show by Campins—a Young Artist of the Year finalist for the Cuban Art Awards—opens with a reception at 7 p.m.

Rocío García: The Mission and René Francisco: Entropía. Factoría Habana kicks off these solo shows with an 8 p.m. reception.

Sunday, May 24

Between. A joint exhibition by Alejandro Campins, Michel Pérez Pollo, and José Eduardo Yaque opens at UNAICC (Unión Nacional de Arquitectos y Ingenieros de la Construcción de Cuba) in Vedado, with a reception at 5 p.m. Through June 10.

Detrás del muro: En el medio de nada (Behind the Wall: In the Middle of Nowhere) opens at 6 p.m. on the Malecón. Check Cuban Art News next week for a preview of this show.

Monday, May 25

Sobrerania (post-zone) / Sovereignty (post-zone). At Cristo Salvador, three Danish artists join Ernesto Leal, Ernesto Oroza, and the studio’s resident artist, Ezequiel O. Suárez, among others, in a group show opening at 7 p.m. Through June 25.

And on Thursday, May 28, Cristo Salvador will host the launch of the LP “Los Beatles Felices o El triunfo de 1970” at 7 p.m.

Insomnia. A combination art installation and performance piece, Insomnia has artist Pablo Rosendo and actress Claudia Tomás inhabiting a house that remains constantly open to the public. Once the project has ended, Rosendo will be an artist in residence in North Miami with the Copperbridge Foundation, which is hosting the opening reception at 8 p.m.

Thursday, May 28

Con aroma de nación: La primera cola. ICAIC’s Galería Fresa y Chocolate is the setting for this group show curated by Teresita Gómez Acoasta and Yuray Tolentino Hevia, which gathers together recent winners of the Premios Nacionales de Artes Plásticas (National Awards in the Visual Arts). The reception starts at 7 p.m.

And this just in…

Cutting Edge Art in Havana: 100 Cuban Artists. Just in time for the Biennial, this new guide to the contemporary art scene includes artists’ studios, cultural centers, and more.

 havana-live-le-drapeau-cubain-flottant-sur-la-havane-le-18-octobre-archivesHAVANA,May 15   (AP) The U.S and Cuba say they will hold a new round of talks next Thursday in an attempt to remove barriers to the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana.

The talks will be held in Washington, the State Department and Cuba’s Foreign Ministry announced separately. The two sides have been negotiating for nearly five months over the conditions for re-establishing diplomatic relations under a deal announced by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on Dec. 17.

The talks have been hung up on disagreements over U.S. diplomats’ ability to import uninspected embassy supplies and travel in Cuba without restrictions and meet citizens, including dissidents.

Castro said this week he expects ambassadors to be named after Cuba is taken off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism at month’s end.

 havana-live-minnesota-orchestra HAVANA – It was 1:01 p.m. Wednesday when Delta Flight 8876 hit the tarmac at José Martí International Airport in Havana.

“Yubba yubba dee,” shouted violist Michael Adams.

“Yubba diah,” responded his mates near the rear of the airplane as the Minnesota Orchestra and a group of cultural ambassadors landed in Cuba for a historic five-day visit. The 160 musicians, staff, supporters and press may be the largest Minnesota contingent to visit the island nation since the Minneapolis Symphony arrived by steamer in January 1930.

Adams explained later that the phrase simply mimics the tempo and melody of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

“It’s tradition on any tour when the wheels hit the ground,” Adams said as his orchestra becomes the first major U.S. orchestra to travel to Cuba since President Obama’s December overture to normalize relations.

The orchestra will perform at the Teatro Nacional on Friday and Saturday nights, and coach music students from a high school, university and conservatory. The concerts will be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio at 7:30 p.m. Twin Cities time both nights.   havana-live-minnesota-orchestra

Thursday: Breakfast with speaker from U.S. Interests Section in Havana. School visit to Escuela Nacional de Arte and Instituto Superior de Arte. Afternoon rehearsal.

Friday: Rehearsal with students at Orquesta Sinfónica Juvenil del Conservatorio Amadeo Roldán. Evening concert at Teatro Nacional. Beethoven program, featuring Egmont Overture, Choral Fantasy and Symphony No. 3, with pianist Frank Fernandez, the Cuban National Choir and Coro Vocal Leo.

Saturday: Concert at Teatro Nacional. Program includes symphonic dances from “West Side Story” and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

Radio: Live performances 7:30 p.m. (CST) Fri. and Sat., May 15-16, on Minnesota Public Radio classical stations (99.5 FM in the Twin Cities).

“Believe it or not, we’re finally doing it!” said orchestra President Kevin Smith during a champagne toast on the flight. “We look forward to seeing you on the ground in Havana.”
Members of the Minnesota Orchestra group pose for a group photo in front of their plane upon arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.

The orchestra’s flight, while uneventful, was also historic as the first direct flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Cuba. Previously, travelers had to go through other cities, such as Miami or Atlanta. The Customs and Border Patrol recently approved the airport as a “port of entry.”
Orchestra officials had raised the issue with the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which in turn sought approval from the Federal Aviation Administration. Sen. Amy Klobuchar,D-Minn., played a key role in the designation.

“We worked with Sen. Klobuchar’s office to encourage the FAA to approve such flights,” said Patrick Hogan, MAC spokesman.

The scene at José Martí was jubilant — dozens of people taking pictures of dozens of other people taking pictures. Music director Osmo Vänskä and concertmaster Erin Keefe posed for a selfie with the airplane in the background, and then with the airport building.

A half-dozen coach buses took the players, staff, donors, board members, press and community supporters on a tour of the city on the way to the Hotel Meliá Cohiba, which sits near the Atlantic Ocean.

Included was a stop at the Plaza de la Revolución, a huge spread of asphalt near the Teatro Nacional and directly adjacent to the José Martí memorial. Martí was a celebrated author and a hero of Cuba’s 19th-century war of independence against Spain.

A walking tour was planned for the evening, followed by dinner at the Hotel Nacional.

Jackets that felt good at takeoff were peeled off at the airport, where sunshine, 85 degrees and high humidity signaled that the orchestra was not in Minnesota anymore.

The board members, donors and community supporters — who are traveling with the orchestra on “people to people” cultural-exchange licenses — will visit cultural sites, talk with Cuban artists and, of course, attend the concerts.

The trip was Smith’s brainstorm, and in the past 110 days the orchestra’s staff has worked with Klobuchar’s office and Classical Movements, a Virginia-based group that for 18 years has handled logistics for such tours.

“This is definitely the largest we have handled,” said Classical Movements President Neeta Helms.

On Thursday morning, the orchestra will visit a high school and university to work with small groups of musicians. In the afternoon, the orchestra will get its first look at the Teatro Nacional, a 2,086-seat auditorium.

In the orchestra’s cargo was a large band shell, borrowed from Champlin Park High School, to help with acoustics in the hall.

“I’d like to raise a glass to Kevin Smith for making this crazy idea into this fantastic trip,” said the orchestra’s board chairman, Warren Mack, a Minneapolis corporate attorney. He also mentioned former Carlson Companies chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson and her husband, Glen, who helped underwrite the cost of the tour.

havana-live-le-president-cubain-raul-castro-a-gauche-et-son-homologue-americain-barack-obama-a-panama-le-11-avril-2015_5338503HAVANA, May 14  (CNN)  Senior officials from the United States and Cuba will resume meetings next week with the goal of finalizing the diplomatic thaw that both sides hope will lead to the re-opening of embassies in each country.

The talks, set to take place in Washington, come after President Barack Obama recommended Cuba be removed from the United States’ list of states that sponsor terrorism, a designation that had stalled the formal renewal of diplomatic ties that began late last year.

A senior administration official said the talks — led by top Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson and her Cuban counterpart Josefina Vidal — are meant to set the stage for the re-opening of embassies.

If those talks are successful — as officials believe they will be — the Obama administration is leaning toward naming the current head of the U.S. Interests Section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, as ambassador to Cuba.

The official said the administration specifically tapped DeLaurentis for his position in Havana in 2014 because it was believed he had the skills to oversee the transition of the Interests Section into an embassy, understanding that the confirmation of a new ambassador to Cuba might be difficult in a Republican-led Senate.

Obama made the recommendation to remove Cuba from the terror list in mid-April, and Congress has a 45 review period to potentially block the move.

While some lawmakers — including Cuban-American Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — have fiercely resisted Obama’s moves to restore ties with Havana, formal movement on blocking the terror list removal hasn’t yet been filed.

Once the 45-day period has passed, administration officials say the reopening of embassies could begin.

In Havana, the American embassy will likely occupy the same building where the Interests Section currently operates, White House aides have said. That’s the same structure, situated on the Havana waterfront, which housed the American embassy prior to the severing of diplomatic ties after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s.

CMA CGM announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement with the Cuban government and Almacenes Universales SA (AUSA) for a 17 hectare facility that will handle the warehousing of goods as well as full and empty container storage.

Matthieu Friedberg, a vice-president of the shipping giant stated, “The platform of Mariel’s is a first step in Cuba’s land logistics development. It is also a new step in the acceleration of CMA CGM LOG’s international development.”

The Mariel seaport, largely subsidized by the Brazilian government, began operations in January 2014 and has been dredged to a depth of 60 feet to accommodate post-Panamex vessels.
When final development on the project is completed, the port is expected to have an annual capacity of up to 1 million containers, almost triple the capacity of neighboring Port of Havana. Cuban officials are hoping the Mariel port will become a major container hub for the Caribbean on par with current regional leaders.

Monday’s agreement between CMA CGM and the Cuban logistics company was signed in the presence of French President Francois Hollande, the first French president to visit the island since 1898.

France has been a long-time opponent of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and on Monday Hollande further urged the U.S. to end its decade-long embargo on the island nation. In January, the Obama administration called for improved trade relations with Cuba, but congress has yet to act on any legislation to end the embargo.

CMA CGM LOG has had its sights set on international expansion in recent years with the opening of offices in six new countries and with the acquisition of one of India’s main logistics companies, LCL Logistixs.

This new logistic facility places the company at a strategic position for international trade, especially as prospects of commerce between Cuba and the U.S. increase.

havana-live-portmanateeHAVANA, May 13  (EFE) The Cuban Interests Section in Washington is studying opening a bank account in Florida after Havana was left without banking abilities in the United States in 2014, a local media outlet reported Wednesday.

The head of the Cuban Interests Section in the United States, Jose Ramon Cabañas Rodriguez, told members of the Greater Manatee Chamber of Commerce, in the city of Bradenton on Florida’s west coast, that Cuba is negotiating with a bank in the state, Miami’s El Nuevo Herald daily reported on Wednesday.

The ability to open bank accounts and use banking services and removal from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism are the Cuban government’s top demands vis-a-vis the United States with an eye toward reestablishing diplomatic relations.

Cabañas visited Port Manatee, which is one of the largest deepwater ports in the United States and is located 482 km (about 300 mi.) from the Cuban port of Mariel, accompanied by Port Manatee chief Carlos Buqueras and several directors of ferry companies.

The companies are interested in adding Port Manatee to the list of ports that can quickly be used for making ocean trips to Cuba, a matter currently being examined by Havana, but Cabañes said that “one should not speculate” about it at this stage.

Several ferry companies in South Florida already have received U.S.-issued licenses to transport passengers by sea to and from Cuba, a service that was interrupted five decades ago but which could be reestablished at the end of this year.

At least four Florida companies are hoping to be able to make ocean trips to Cuba when Havana approves it, after having received the green light from the U.S. government earlier this month.

U.S. approval for ocean journeys back and forth to Cuba has come within the framework of the rapprochement between the two countries, and Washington so far has been eliminating assorted obstacles to travel and trade.

HAVANA, May 13 (By Alasdair Sandford)  They are iconic symbols of Cuba like cigars and rum: pre-revolution 1950s American classic cars.

But the Cadillacs, Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles are not nostalgic collectors’ items on the island; they are necessities for Cubans who have no modern alternatives – and breakdowns are frequent.

Maintenance can be a nightmare for workshops such as “Nostalgicar” in Havana; spare parts have to be smuggled out of the US and are increasingly hard to find.

The thaw in American-Cuban relations has focused thoughts on the future, should trade barriers come down.

“What could happen in Cuba in my opinion is that modern cars will quickly follow in our streets, but there will still be a niche market for classic cars,” said Nostalgicar’s manager Julio Alvares.

Cuba of course faces questions that go beyond
the fate of the old vehicles, whose elegance has been noted by many an awestruck visitor, but which have been described as “a legacy of the country’s isolation”.

Asked whether he is optimistic for the future, Alvares paused lengthily and answered cautiously: “I do believe in the changes that are taking place in Cuba.”

The garage owner also said he hoped Cuba would become a land of real opportunities with a functioning market economy.

As for the cars, despite their glossy external appearance, some commentators warn that after years of Heath Robinson repairs involving little more than paint and sticking plaster, many are more fit for the scrap-heap than the auction house.

Euronews’ correspondent in Havana Stefan Grobe said:
“The old Eisenhower cruisers are a colourful reminder of Cuba being stuck in the past. Fascinating for tourists, but a hassle for Cubans. Many here would love to see them disappear – if Cuba were to embrace the 21st century.”

  (AP) Cuba and the U.S. will name ambassadors to each other’s countries after the island is removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism later this month, Cuban President Raul Castro said Tuesday.

Castro spoke to journalists at Havana’s international airport after seeing off visiting French President Francois Hollande.

The United States and Cuba have not had full diplomatic relations since 1961. Currently they have lower-level missions called Interests Sections in each other’s countries, under the protection of the Swiss government.

President Barack Obama in April announced his decision to remove Cuba from the terror list, which was seen a major obstacle for the opening of full embassies. A 45-day waiting period that would give Congress time to take action on Obama’s decision ends on May 29.

Havana long has resented the terror designation as false and unfair.

“This sort of unjust accusation is about to be lifted and we’ll be able to name ambassadors,” Castro said.

Castro and Obama announced in December they would work toward a restoration of diplomatic relations after more than a half-century.

The Cuban president also said Tuesday he had expressed his concerns to Obama about the activities of some American diplomats at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, which he characterized as “illegal.”

Cuban authorities long have taken exception to contacts between U.S. officials and dissidents on the island.

havana-live-PULLMAN_LogoEditionHAVANA, May 12    On the occasion of the French President’s visit to Cuba, Accor announces the signature of a management contract with Gran Caribe (Ministry of Tourism) for the Pullman Cayo Coco hotel in Cuba.

This 518-room hotel-resort (including 40 suites), will offer upscale services and will notably be the first establishment on the island offering Wi-Fi in all its rooms.
The Pullman Cayo Coco is located just 10 minutes from the international airport and boasts a vast sea front (over 500 meters) on the beautiful “Las Coloradas” beach. The Pullman Cayo Coco will open in November 2015.

Jean-Philippe Claret, SVP Operations Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, declared: “Accor has been present in Cuba for nearly twenty years and we have been effective in forging trusting and lasting relations with our local partner Gran Caribe. ThePullman Cayo Coco will enrich Cuba’s offer of hotels in the upscale segment which has real development potential.”

Accor also has another construction project in Cuba with Gaviota in the luxury and upscale segment: the 218-room Sofitel So La Habana, ideally located on the corner of the Malecón and Paseo del Prado.

Accor currently manages two midscale establishments in Cuba: the Mercure Sevilla Havane (178 rooms), located in the UNESCO world heritage site neighbourhood of La Habana Vieja, and the Mercure Playa de Oro, (385 rooms) located in the seaside resort of Varadero. havana-live-cayo-coco

Cuba's President Raul Castro (R) receives his French counterpart Francois Hollande at the Revolution Palace in Havana May 11, 2015.      REUTERS/ADALBERTO ROQUE/POOL

Cuba’s President Raul Castro (R) receives his French counterpart Francois Hollande at the Revolution Palace in Havana May 11, 2015. REUTERS/ADALBERTO ROQUE/POOl

HAVANA, May 12  Cuba has announced an oil exploration deal with France in the Gulf of Mexico after the French president, François Hollande, made a historic visit to Cuba in which he called on the United States to end its trade embargo on the Communist-run country.

French oil major Total signed an agreement on Monday to explore for offshore oil with Cuban state oil monopoly CubaPetroleo (Cupet). Cuban state-run television reported the exploration agreement without giving further details.

On Monday Hollande said France “will be a faithful ally” to Cuba as the country reforms its centrally planned economy and tries to re-enter the global economic system.

Hollande’s one-day trip to Cuba on Monday made him the first French president to visit the country since it became independent.

Along with a large contingent of French executives, he focused on strengthening business and diplomatic relations five months after the declaration of detente between Havana and Washington.

Hollande met with President Raúl Castro during his brief visit to the island.

The French leader said he also met for about 50 minutes with Castro’s older brother, the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, who talked about climatic problems, agriculture and sanctions against Cuba. Hollande said during an encounter with French residents in Cuba that Castro looked physically “deteriorated” but that they had “an easy conversation”.

Top diplomats from Japan, the European Union, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia have visited the island in recent months in bids to stake out or maintain ties with an island that suddenly looks like a brighter economic prospect amid warming US-Cuba relations.

Almost all have been accompanied by business people interested in Cuba’s push to draw more than $8bn in new foreign investment as part of a broader, gradual economic liberalization. The delegations are also working to ensure that Cuba doesn’t forget its old friends in what eventually could be a new era of increased business with the US.

In Washington on Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama “has indicated that he does not envision a trip to Cuba anytime in the near future. But I certainly wouldn’t rule it out over the course of the next year”.

Speaking at the University of Havana, Hollande said: “France will do everything it can to aid the process of opening Cuba and help get rid of measures that have so seriously damaged Cuba’s development.”

Hollande’s address, in which he announced plans to increase academic exchanges with Cuba and mutually recognize the other country’s university degrees, was attended by First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the man widely expected to succeed Raúl Castro when he steps down in 2018.

Hollande also met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega to award him the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, and inaugurate a new building for the Alliance Française cultural center in Cuba.

Shortly afterward, Hollande broke from his official schedule and walked down Cuba’s elegant but crumbling Paseo promenade, chatting with passersby and startling French tourists who took photos with him.

Hollande, who is on a tour of the Caribbean, was accompanied by five of his ministers and nearly two dozen French executives, including representatives of Pernod Ricard beverages, hotel company Accor, Air France, supermarket Carrefour and the telecommunications company Orange.

Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and France are Cuba’s biggest trading partners within the European Union, which is the island’s second-largest economic partner with a combined $4.65bn a year in trade in food, machinery and other goods.

A dozen foreign firms have explored in Cuba’s deep waters over the years, sinking four wells but finding no oil.

Total has explored close to shore, drilling two wells in the early 1990s. They came up dry and Total left in 1995.

For over a decade, Cuba has asserted its exclusive economic zone off the north-west coast holds more than 20bn barrels of undiscovered crude.

Last week Cuba unveiled new data it said confirmed there were billions of barrels of oil beneath its Gulf of Mexico waters.

The US geological survey has estimated the region holds 5bn to 7bn barrels.

Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA and Russia’s state-run Zarubezhneft still retain exploration rights, according to Roberto Suarez Sotolongo, Cupet’s co-director.

Cuba hopes the discovery of oil offshore will free it from dependence on other countries, such as socialist ally Venezuela.

547999787-289x311HAVANA,  May 11  CUBA HAS FOR several years had a promising therapeutic vaccine against lung cancer. The 55-year trade embargo led by the US made sure that Cuba was mostly where it stayed. Until—maybe—now.

The Obama administration has, of course, been trying to normalize relations with the island nation. And last month, during New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s visit to Havana, Roswell Park Cancer Institute finalized an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to develop a lung cancer vaccine and begin clinical trials in the US. Essentially, US researchers will bring the Cimavax vaccine stateside and get on track for approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

“The chance to evaluate a vaccine like this is a very exciting prospect,” says Candace Johnson, CEO of Roswell Park. She’s excited, most likely, because research on the vaccine so far shows that it has low toxicity, and it’s relatively cheap to produce and store. The Center for Molecular Immunology will give Roswell Park all of the documentation (how it’s produced, toxicity data, results from past trials) for an FDA drug application; Johnson says she hopes to get approval for testing Cimavax within six to eight months, and to start clinical trials in a year.

How did Cuba end up with a cutting edge immuno-oncology drug? Though the country is justly famous for cigars, rum, and baseball, it also has some of the best and most inventive biotech and medical research in the world. That’s especially notable for a country where the average worker earns $20 a month. Cuba spends a fraction of the money the US does on healthcare per individual; yet the average Cuban has a life expectancy on par with the average American. “They’ve had to do more with less,” says Johnson, “so they’ve had to be even more innovative with how they approach things. For over 40 years, they have had a preeminent immunology community.”

Despite decades of economic sanctions, Fidel and Raul Castro made biotechnology and medical research, particularly preventative medicine, a priority. After the 1981 dengue fever outbreak struck nearly 350,000 Cubans, the government established the Biological Front, an effort to focus research efforts by various agencies toward specific goals. Its first major accomplishment was the successful (and unexpected) production of interferon, a protein that plays a role in human immune response. Since then, Cuban immunologists made several other vaccination breakthroughs, including their own vaccines for meningitis B and hepatitis B, and monoclonal antibodies for kidney transplants.

The thing about making such great cigars is, smoking is really, really bad for you. Lung cancer is the fourth-leading cause of the death in Cuba. Medical researchers at the Center for Molecular Immunology worked on Cimavax for 25 years before the Ministry of Health made it available to the public—for free—in 2011. Each shot costs the government about $1. A Phase II trial from 2008 showed lung cancer patients who received the vaccine lived an average of four to six months longer than those who didn’t. That prompted Japan and some European countries to initiate Cimavax clinical trials as well.
To be fair, Cimavax probably won’t be a game-changing cancer drug in its current form. The vaccine doesn’t attack tumors directly, instead going after a protein that tumors produce which then circulates in the blood. That action spurs a person’s body to release antibodies against a hormone called epidermal growth factor, which typically spurs cell growth but can also, if unchecked, cause cancer. So the point of Cimavax is to keep lung tumors from growing and metastasizing, turning a late-stage growth into something chronic but manageable.

But in the US and Europe, people with lung cancer already have treatment options with the same goal. Roswell Park researchers say they plan to explore the vaccine’s potential as a preventative intervention—making it more like a traditional vaccine. Furthermore, epidermal growth factor plays an important role in many other cancers, like prostate, breast, colon, and pancreatic cancer. “All those things are potential targets for this vaccine,” says Kelvin Lee, an immunologist at the company. Mostly for financial reasons, Cubans didn’t test Cimavax that way at all.

And that drug isn’t the only one with potential in the Cuban pharmacopeia. Thomas Rothstein, a biologist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, has for six years worked with the Center for Molecular Immunology on another vaccine to treat lung cancer called Racotumomab, with an entirely different mechanism. (It messes with a particular lipid found in tumor cell membranes.) “Investigators from around the world are trying to crack the nut of cancer,” Rothstein says. “The Cubans are thinking in ways that are novel and clever.”

Although President Obama has used his executive power to lift some restrictions against medical and research equipment, Congress must lift the Cuban embargo before collaborative research can ramp up. Johnson hopes to see Cuba embrace more entrepreneurialism in science, and see the US soak up more creative approaches to medical research. Constrained by politics, the Cuban researchers had to innovate in ways the US and Europe did not. Now maybe they’ll be able to teach their colleagues what they learned.

 havana-live-hollande-havanaHAVANA,May 11  (Reuters) – French President Francois Hollande is making the first visit to Cuba by a French head of state on Monday, attempting to carve out a larger role  at the time of Cuba’s historic opening with the United States.

Hollande was scheduled to meet Cuban President Raul Castro, deliver a speech and participate in an economic forum in Cuba as part of his swing through the Caribbean.

Hollande previously visited Saint-Barthelemy, Saint Martin, Martinique and Guadaloupe and after leaving Cuba was scheduled to go to Haiti on Tuesday.

The French president is traveling with executives from French companies including Air France , hotelier Accor and distiller Pernod Ricard . Each of those three already operates in Cuba but they want to expand their business here with an eye to the potential end of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba.

Castro and U.S. President Barack Obama announced in December they would restore diplomatic ties and seek to normalize overall relations after more than 50 years of confrontation, and the two leaders followed that with a meeting at a regional summit in Panama in April.

France has always maintained relations with Cuba and is one the largest holders of Cuban debt, but the renewed opening with the United States is expected to have ramifications throughout the West.

European companies that have long done business in Cuba could have a new competitor if the United States ends the embargo. Obama, a Democrat, has asked Congress to remove it but has encountered resistance from Republicans, who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Hollande will also meet Cuba’s Roman Catholic cardinal, Jaime Ortega, and the Cuban chapter of the Alliance Francaise, which promotes French culture abroad.

He could also visit retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 88, whose 1959 revolution is generally well regarded in France, especially within Hollande’s Socialist Party.

Fidel Castro stepped down provisionally in 2006 and definitively in 2008, handing power to his younger brother Raul.

No French president had visited Cuba before Hollande landed on Sunday night, not even Francois Mitterand, a Socialist who governed from 1981 to 1995. His widow, Danielle Mitterand, is a longtime friend of Fidel Castro.

(Editing by Daniel Trotta and Eric Walsh)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, center, greets people on a street  in old Havana, Cuba, Monday, April 20, 2015. The formal state visit, a trip that makes Cuomo the first American governor to visit the island since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation, is meant to foster greater ties between New York and Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, center, greets people on a street in old Havana, Cuba, Monday, April 20, 2015. The formal state visit, a trip that makes Cuomo the first American governor to visit the island since the recent thaw in relations with the communist nation, is meant to foster greater ties between New York and Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Tourists in shorts and sandals aren’t the only foreigners flooding Havana these days.
Top diplomats from Japan, the European Union, Italy, the Netherlands and Russia have visited the island in recent months in bids to stake out or maintain ties with an island that suddenly looks like a brighter economic prospect amid warming U.S.-Cuba relations.

On Sunday night, Francois Hollande becomes the first French president to ever visit communist Cuba, bringing along five ministers and two dozen business people, including the heads of Pernod-Ricard, Cuba’s partner in exporting Havana Club rum, and grain exporter Soufflet.

“It’s impossible to deny that diplomatic detente between Washington and Havana has accelerated the process of normalization between Cuba and Europe,” said Salim Lamrani, a Cuba expert at France’s University of La Reunion.

Cuba was once accustomed primarily to visits from leftist Latin American partners and smaller allies in Africa and the Caribbean.

Now, virtually all of the visiting diplomatic delegations are accompanied by high-powered business people interested in Cuba’s push to draw more than $8 billion in new foreign investment as part of a broader, gradual economic liberalization. The delegations are also working to ensure that Cuba doesn’t forget its old friends in what eventually could be a new era of increased business with the United States.

“We’ve never stopped believing in and betting on Cuba,” said Jean-Francois Lepy, the commercial director of Soufflet, which has been in Cuba for 30 years. Sixty French firms have active operations on the island.

Spain, the Netherlands, Italy and France are Cuba’s biggest trading partners within the European Union, which is the island’s second-largest economic partner with a combined $4.65 billion a year in trade in food, machinery and other goods. Top partner Venezuela accounts for $7 billion, mostly highly subsidized oil.

Like virtually all European business people who have established a foothold in Cuba despite its labyrinthine bureaucracy and unpredictable business environment, Lepy said the U.S.-Cuba warming represents “a risk and a challenge” for his business.

That will be even more so if agricultural interests and other U.S. businesses successfully push Congress to lift the half-century trade embargo on the Caribbean country.

“If the embargo is lifted, the U.S. market, so much closer to Cuba, will be an important competitor for us and our exports to Cuba might go down,” Lepy said.

As a backup plan, his firm is also looking at ways to export processing technology and know-how to Cuba instead of just grain, he said.

Many foreign business people see the U.S. less as a competitor than as a potential source of jet-fueled future growth for the businesses they have established, or hope to establish, in Cuba.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida became the highest-level Japanese official to visit Cuba this month when he brought several dozen representatives of his country’s automotive, finance, health and tourism industries on a trip aimed at increasing business.

A British business delegation led last month by Lord Hutton of Furness, head of Britain’s non-governmental Cuba Initiative, announced $400 million in new agriculture, energy, tourism and other projects. Cuban state media reported Friday that the Ministry of Tourism had just signed a deal with China to build a golf course east of Havana.

A French presidential spokesman told reporters this week that while his government expected no immediate economic benefits from the highest-level European visit since the Dec. 17 announcement of detente, “it’s important to be the first.”

“It would be absurd to throw oneself into a race with the United States; the ties that we have aren’t the same, they’re not even the same scale,” the French spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.

 havana-live-minnesota-orchestraHAVANA, May 9  (AP)  When the Minnesota Orchestra plays in Cuba this week, the visit will not only symbolize the reopening of relations between the United States and Cuba, but also healing for an acclaimed ensemble that was “almost destroyed” by a long and bitter lockout.

The orchestra, led by music director Osmo Vanska, will become the first from the U.S. to perform in Cuba since President Barack Obama made a surprise announcement in December with plans to restore ties after a half-century embargo. The last major U.S. orchestra to perform in Cuba was the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 1999.

“It sends a very clear message this is an organization back on its feet, doing important work,” said Jesse Rosen, president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, which represents about 800 such ensembles.

Eighty-five years ago, the Minnesota Orchestra (then called the Minneapolis Symphony) performed in Cuba to sold-out, cheering crowds in 1929 and 1930, according to news coverage from the period. But in recent years, the group’s reputation was damaged and its ranks trimmed by a fractious labor dispute.

A 16-month lockout began in 2012, when musicians refused to accept deep salary cuts. Vanska, who over more than a decade had shaped the orchestra into one of the nation’s best, quit. Divisions ran deep. The orchestra scrubbed an entire season, and some musicians left for other jobs.

Union musicians ratified a new, three-year contract in January 2014 and returned to performing that February. Vanska returned soon after — accepting the same pay cut that musicians agreed to — after he demanded and got a change in top orchestra management.

“The orchestra was almost destroyed. We came to the edge,” Vanska said in an interview last week. “I’m so glad to say when we had the chance to start again, it came together so quickly and strongly, it was like a miracle.”teatro-nacional-cuba

Orchestra president and CEO Kevin Smith said the orchestra saw an opening for a tour during a vacation week in mid-May. Musicians agreed to postpone their vacations, and after the orchestra leaders expressed interest to Cuban officials about coming, the Cuban Ministry of Culture invited the orchestra — the only one from America — to perform as part of Havana’s International Cubadisco Festival.

“It just fit beautifully into their planning and our interests, and we really feel it’s just a wonderful opportunity for us, as an organization, to make a difference,” Smith said. The orchestra will perform two concerts at Havana’s 2,000-seat Teatro Nacional on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s program is all-Beethoven, including Symphony No. 3, “Eroica,” which was played during the 1929 visit. On Saturday, the program includes Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” and Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” suite. Both nights feature Cuban artists, including pianist Frank Fernandez and the Cuban National Choir.

“We feel an incredible joy to share our music with the Cubans but also to drink in theirs,” longtime cellist Marcia Peck said. “I think it definitely goes both ways, and I think we’ll come back nourished and renewed.”

Vanska and others point to the five-day Cuban trip as further proof that the 111-year-old orchestra is back. It won its first Grammy Award in 2014, has been invited to return to New York to playCarnegie Hall in March 2016 and is scheduled next month to resume and complete its acclaimed Sibelius recordings.

“We haven’t come staggering back. It’s come roaring back,” Smith said. “And that’s exciting.”

HAVANA, May 9 In the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the government regarded golf as a bourgeois hobby and the island’s few golf clubs were allowed to languish. But on the closing day of this year’s International Tourism Fair, Cuba signed a letter of intent to build what would be only its second 18-hole golf course.

Cuba’s partner in the project will be China’s Beijing Enterprises Group

Chinese Ambassador Zhang Tuo, Wang Dong, chairman of the Beijing Enterprises Group, and José Reinaldo Daniel, business director for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, signed the letter for development of the golf resort on Thursday, according to the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde. The golf course will be located in the Bello Monte area on Cuba’s north coast.

The paper noted that when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited in June 2014, 29 agreements to increase cooperation between the two countries were signed.

Despite the famous 1961 photo of Fidel Castro, dressed in fatigues, boots and beret, spoofing at playing a round of golf with Che Guevara, Cuba wasn’t much interested in golf until the 1990s when it began a serious effort to revive its tourism industry. At the time, there were just two nine-hole courses in the entire country, and the only 18-hole project that has come to fruition since then is the Varadero Golf Club, which was completed in 1998.

The Varadero course, which replaced a nine-hole facility at the site, was designed by Canadian Les Furber and uses the Xanadú Mansion, formerly owned by the duPont family, as its club house.

Despite talk of developing multiple 18-hole courses, Cuba has had a difficult time getting its golf program off the ground.

The golf course project is seen as part of an effort by Cuba to diversify its tourism offerings. New aquatic sports and nature and adventure tourism alternatives were all on display at the tourism fair, which attracted tour operators, travel agents and journalists from more than 40 countries. The fair was held in Jardines del Rey, one of Cuba’s fastest growing tourism areas.

Last month, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said tourism was up15 percent nationwide during the first quarter of the year. In the Janauary-March period, Cuba received a record 1.14 million visitors. Although new U.S. regulations on travel to Cuba are expected to increase the number of Americans visiting the island, Canada is still leading the way with 551,773 visitors.

U.S. visitors are not supposed to travel to the island for tourism, but efforts are underway in Congress to lift the U.S. travel ban.

 havana-live--unseen-cuba-2192-arp-1230p_171f2b4e4ae99158c45d233c6b9adceb.nbcnews-ux-680-480HAVANA, Mai 9  (EFE)  Cuba expects to surpass this year the record sum of foreign tourists and revenues it attracted in 2014, a year when the island’s tourism industry took in $2.7 billion, according to figures released this week at the International Tourism Fair, or FitCuba.

Last year for the first time Cuba crossed the threshold of 3 million visitors, specifically with 3,002,745 million tourists, a 5.3-percent growth over 2013 and an upward trend that continued in the first quarter of 2015 when a million travelers came to the island, according to the Tourism Ministry.

“Cuban tourism is in its best moment,” Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said at FitCuba, which opened last Tuesday and ended Thursday at the tourism attraction of Jardines del Rey, an archipelago of islets off the island’s north coast.

In order to boost the number of international tourists, Cuba is currently developing 53 projects to build hotels with a total of 5,492 rooms in the four- and five-star categories, which will be added to the 61,200 that already exist on the island in some 300 hotels, the island’s official media says.

The Cuban tourist industry aims to continue these investments in order to complete more than 85,500 rooms that meet international standards by 2020.

The new hotels are being built by mixed companies and will mostly be administered by well-known hotel chains like the Melia and Iberostar from Spain, which have been established in Cuba for decades, in association with Cuban tourism groups like Gaviota and Cubanacan, among others.

Among the new hotel installations already in business are Valentin Perla Blu, with its 1,200 rooms in the central province of Villa Clara, and the Melia Jardines del Rey with 1,176 in Jardines del Rey, currently the hotels with the greatest capacity in the country.

At present there are 18 foreign companies operating 35,682 rooms, a figure that represents 57 percent of the country’s total hotel capacity, according to figures offered by Cuba’s tourism minister.

The private sector also provides lodging in 11,500 homes, while some 1,600 private restaurants offer their gastronomic services to foreign visitors.

Though Canada, China, Chile and Brazil are the chief sources of tourists for Cuba, tourism authorities have indicated that tourism from other countries like Venezuela, Germany and Italy has shown a “notable increase.”

This 35th International Tourism Fair has promoted the destination of Jardines del Rey, distinguished in Cuba by its dynamic annual 12-percent growth in the number of visitors and its 13-percent increase in the number of available rooms.

Cuba’s tourism sector has also sought to promote the island’s attractions as a seaside resort, with more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) of beaches, 300 of coral, and with 26 percent of its insular shelf designated as protected marine areas.

These attractions were visited by more than 1.2 million tourists over the past three years, with more than 400,000 in 2014.

Questlove is interviewed in the Red Bull Music Academy pop-up radio station, at Red Bull Guest House in Miami, FL, USA on 28 March, 2015. // David Cabrera / Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150329-00434 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

Questlove is interviewed in the Red Bull Music Academy pop-up radio station, at Red Bull Guest House in Miami, FL, USA on 28 March, 2015. // David Cabrera / Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150329-00434 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to for further information. //

HAVANA, May 8   The Roots drummer DJs, goes crate digging in mini-doc of his recent trip to Cuba

On a trip to Havana in April, Questlove spent two nights DJing at the Fabrica de Arte Cubano, a local club in an old factory that is the current center of the city’s music scene.

A mini-documentary of The Roots drummer’s trip can now be seen on YouTube.

What the U.S.-Cuba Breakthrough Could Mean for Music

The 13-minute video, titled “Quest for Cuba,” shows Questlove being given a primer on contemporary Cuban music by locals, who enlighten him about seminal Afro-Cuban jazz group Irakere, dance band Los Van Van and the state-owned Egrem record label, among other things.

Jauretsi Saizarbitoria, New York-based Cuban culture hunter and director of the Havana hip hop documentary East of Havana, and Daniel Peruzzi of Questlove-founded urban music site Okay Player directed the piece.

The trip was a follow-up to one that The Roots made almost a decade ago to play the Havana Hip Hop Festival.

“This was my dream,” Questlove says in the video. “I’ve been waiting for this for like 10 years. I’ve been waiting for an audience like this.”

From the stage, he announced that The Roots will return to perform in Cuba. No doubt others will be planning their trip to the island after watching this footage of Havana nightlife.

 havana-live-bert-koendersHAVANA, May 8  (EFE) Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said Thursday in Havana that his country is ready to act as a mediator to “stimulate” the negotiations between Cuba and the European Union for a bilateral accord on the basis of the “solid relationship” The Netherlands has with the island.

Holland’s top diplomat noted that his country was one of the “promoters” of launching negotiations in April 2014 with an eye toward obtaining an agreement on political dialogue and cooperation and a “crucial actor” in pushing the talks foward to finalize a deal before the end of the year.

“It’s important that we strengthen the discussions. But without pressuring things, if we want a good agreement both for Cuba and for the EU. We have to ensure that we discuss all the questions and I think that there’s a spirit on the part of both parties to achieve it. And we’re going to stimulate that,” he emphasized.

Koenders met on Thursday morning with Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel and with the interim foreign minister, Marcelino Medina, and he is scheduled during the course of the day to hold meetings with the head of foreign trade and investment, Rodrigo Malmierca, and with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Catholic Church’s top official on the island.

The Dutch minister also said that the purpose of his trip is “to strengthen links between two friendly nations” and identify economic areas in which Holland can contribute to the island’s process of reforms to “update” its socialist model.

Koenders said that there is already a “solid” Dutch business presence on the island, which works basically in the infrastructure and shipbuilding sectors, but Holland wants to increase that presence in “the areas that are priorities for Cuba,” including agriculture, food security, energy and tourism.

With that in mind, the minister said that over the past year several small Dutch trade missions had traveled to the island but a much larger business delegation is preparing to visit Cuba at the beginning of next year.

He also said that Holland and Cuba are on the verge of agreement on two big investment projects that will be announced soon, although he provided no further details about them.

He also noted that Holland is Cuba’s second-largest European trade and investment partner, after Spain.

Koenders said that his visit to Cuba “gives continuity” to the one made by his predecessor, Frans Timmermans, who traveled to the island in January 2014 to increase bilateral ties and push relations with the EU.

On that occasion, the governments of Cuba and Holland signed an accord to establish a bilateral consultation mechanism.

The exhibition’s eight artists include four from the island

Luis Gómez Armenteros, La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi (detail), 2015 Courtesy

HAVNA, Mai 7  ( Cuban Art News)  Opening this weekend, the Cuban Pavilion at the Venice Biennale brings the work of four Cuban artists into dialogue with work by artists from Afghanistan, China, Italy, and Russia.

With the theme of “El artista entre la individualidad y el context” (The artist between individuality and context), the exhibition presents work by Luis Gómez Armenteros, Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, Grethell Rasúa, and the duo Celia & Yunior.

Curated by Jorge Fernández Torres and Giacomo Zaza—who also curated the Cuban Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale—the exhibition explores what the curators call “the contamination of creative processes with the urban fabric, design, and technological renewal—all of which are only distant systems of reality in Cuba.”

The artists in the show are of a generation that “on the one hand, absorbs the force of its own archives, its intrinsic revolutionary ideological traces, intimacy, and subjectivity” as sources of inspiration, the curators write, “and, on the other, traverses social reality and straddles ethic and aesthetic transformation.”

In the exhibition, that aesthetic transformation comes largely through video and other digital media. Delahanty Matienzo’s work, Dominadora inmaterial, 2012–2013, captures the performance of her avatar, “Flor Elena Resident,” in the online parallel universe of Second Life.

Susana Pilar Delahante Matienzo, Dominadora inmaterial, 2012–2013 Courtesy

La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi, 2015, Gómez Armenteros’s ironic reflections on contemporary realities, has a 3-D graphics component (by Yusnier Mentado) as well as a physical installation.

Video and physical installation are also elements in Apuntes en el hielo / Notes on the Ice, 2012, by Celia & Yunior. On their website, they describe the work this way:

We show the academic production of the Sociology Department of the University of Havana, in the number of undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees from 2001 to 2012. Each year is represented by a vertical bar of reams of blank paper. The quantity corresponds to the accumulated research done that year. On top of this scheme, a video projection shows the thesis titles and the years that pertain to each column. A hyperlink between two fields of knowledge, to momentarily illuminate the work and thoughts that have accumulated, from a sociological perspective, over the past decades.

Celia y Yunior, Apuntes en el hielo / Notes on the Ice, 2012 Courtesy

Perhaps the most haunting image is the one that Rasúa has chosen to focus on in De la permanencia y otras necesidades, a 2014 video offering a close-up view of a woman attempting to eat an extremely spiny cactus.

Grethell Rasúa, De la permanencia y otras necesidades, 2014 Courtesy

The other artists in El artista entre… also use video to explore the exhibition’s themes, at times to dreamlike effect. In Transit, 2008, by Afghani artist Lida Abdul, is what she calls “a playful piece, a fantasy piece,” featuring a group of children who innocently fill in the gaps in an ancient Russian plane, attempting to fly it like a kite. In her ongoing series “Screens,’ 2013–, Moscow-based Olga Chernysheva unites small-screen images with very short stories in a mix of memory, imagination, and dreams.

Noted Chinese artist Lin Yilin has contributed Triumph, 2009, which records a 90-minute performance by the artist in which he laboriously makes his way to and from the Arc d’Triomphe in Paris with one arm handcuffed to his ankle. Giuseppe Stampone, on the other hand, brings a European perspective to Cuba’s nascent entrepreneurs in his project, Casa particular.

The Cuban Pavilion is located on San Servolo Island, where the exhibition runs to November 22. The opening reception takes place tomorrow evening at 7:30.

havana-live-garbageHAVANA, May 7  (By Roberto Miguel Yepe)  Practically no garbage was collected in April and none has been picked up this month of May. This has left behind a veritable banquet for dumpster-divers and the many stray dogs that inhabit the area.

In the midst of this dreadful situation, the locals have shown an incredible degree of discipline, taking out their waste, in the most orderly fashion possible, to the area surrounding the overstuffed containers, which can no longer be approached because of the foul smell. Not even the 28 de enero primary school has been spared this deplorable state of affairs, evincing a garbage dump near its entrance that grows in size every day (where once there were a number of garbage containers).

As a neighborhood resident, I have repeatedly called the garbage collection head office and the Boyeros provincial government, where they’ve told me they are going through a very difficult situation involving the garbage collection trucks and that they cannot offer any precise information as to when this situation will be rectified. I also don’t know whether any official from garbage collection or the local government has approached the locals in any way to offer information about this.Vertedero-frente-a-Escuela-primaria-28-de-enero-300x225
The media is not adequately reporting on this very serious and well-known situation. Serious investigative journalism is required to explain to citizens the causes of this phenomenon and what measures the authorities have adopted or are thinking of adopting to confront it in a lasting fashion.

Recently, Cuba made great and heroic efforts to combat Ebola in Africa. It also deployed a brigade to prevent epidemics in northern Chile after an earthquake there. Many Cubans have been instilled with a deeply-rooted sense of internationalist responsibility which makes us better human beings.
But such efforts, to be legitimate and to enjoy all of the popular support they deserve, must begin at home. For the residents of Aldabo, it must begin with guaranteeing the collection of the garbage that surrounds us today.I am fully aware of the country’s economic difficulties, but nothing justifies neglecting this basic public service in this way.

They should have already looked for a solution, as the health of people, including a large number of children, is at stake, part of a sanitary and public health situation where dengue, Chikungunya and other diseases co-exist.


Garbage collection, in any city, goes well beyond sanitary issues. Its efficiency symbolically denotes the efficacy and efficiency of the government in question.

As such, the absence of this service produces a feeling of abandonment in citizens, a sense of irresponsibility and non-governability that has nefarious political and social consequences. If the local authorities lack the resources to confront this situation, higher levels of government should become involved – and quickly.
(*) Roberto Miguel Yepe is a jurist who resides in Aldabo, Boyeros in Havana.

havana-live-caballoHAVANA, May 6   There once was a horse that carried tourists around Havana in a coach every day, making good money for his owner. One day, at around noon, he had enough: the hot sun beating down on Havana’s coast finally defeated him, and he collapsed on the scorching avenue of fatigue.

His owner, startled, asked for help and, with a hose from a nearby hotel, sprinkled the poor animal for more than an hour, in the hopes he would get his strength back and resume the tour. Pity, the horse simply could not get up and ended up on a veterinary assistance truck.
(HAVANA TIMES, Photo Juan Suarez ) havana-live-caballo havana-live-caballo  havana-live-caballo havana-live-caballo

(FILES) This November 25, 2009 photo shows the marker at the southernmost point in the continental US in Key West Florida.The marker is 90 miles (140 km) from Cuba. Christmas in Cuba was awash with hard-to-get presents like flat-screen TVs and expensive candies as a wave of US-based Cubans visited for family reunions only made possible by a recent scrapping of US travel restrictions. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

(FILES) This November 25, 2009 photo shows the marker at the southernmost point in the continental US in Key West Florida.The marker is 90 miles (140 km) from Cuba. Christmas in Cuba was awash with hard-to-get presents like flat-screen TVs and expensive candies as a wave of US-based Cubans visited for family reunions only made possible by a recent scrapping of US travel restrictions. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

HAVANA, May 6  (CBSMiami/FKNB) –May 19, regatta between the U.S. sailors and elite Cuban racers off Havana.According to co-organizer George Bellenger, five to seven 16-foot Hobie Cat catamarans, most skippered by Florida Keys-based sailors, are to participate in the challenge. They are to travel across the Florida Straits to Cuba accompanied by dedicated support boats, with the total fleet expected to include around 20 vessels.

Bellenger, a Key West captain who has sailed to Cuba five times previously, staged an unsanctioned Havana Challenge in 2000 with two U.S. boats that raced against Cuban sailors while in Havana. He and his colleagues, including current race co-organizer Joe Weatherby, attempted to repeat the event in 2001 but were foiled by unfavorable winds.
“Those informal, impromptu trips were the genesis of something organized,” said Bellenger, who made no further attempts until he and Weatherby began coordinating the first officially sanctioned race this year.
“Previously we just did it,” he said of the early Florida Straits crossings. “This year we’re working hand-in-hand with the regulatory agencies including the Coast Guard.”
Other agencies include the U.S. Department of Commerce, which is issuing the necessary licenses for the teams to participate. In early 2015, the U.S. government began easing certain restrictions on travel, business and remittance to Cuba that had been in place since the early 1960s.
Just after sunrise Saturday, May 16, the American racers are to depart Key West’s South Beach. If sailing conditions are favorable, Bellenger and Weatherby expect them to reach Havana’s Marina Hemingway around sunset.
The May 19 competition between U.S. and Cuban racers is to take place just off Cuba’s landmark Malecon oceanfront boulevard. Bellenger said Cuban Olympians and members of the country’s national sailing team are to participate.
The Key West contingent also is to stage a youth sailing seminar Monday, May 18, at Marina Hemingway. Highlights are to include amateur sailing races for kids and team members as well as a picnic provided by American sailors.
The U.S. teams and support boats are to return to Key West with their arrival scheduled late Thursday, May 21.

_82790603_marchapHAVANA, May 6  Gay rights activists in Cuba will hold a mass wedding this weekend, in a country where gay marriage is still not legal.The activists will be led by the daughter of President Raul Castro, Mariela, who is a leading gay and transgender rights campaigner.

The symbolic wedding will be part of Cuba’s annual gay pride parade.

Ms Castro said she hoped the event could lead to further change in future.In recent years, Cuba has taken steps towards integrating people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.In 2010, two years after he stood down as president, Fidel Castro said he had been wrong to discriminate against gay people, who were sent to labour camps soon after the 1959 revolution.

In 2012, Adela Hernandez, who is biologically male but has lived as a woman since childhood, became the first LGBT person in Cuba to win a seat in office, after winning in municipal elections in central Cuba.And in 2008, Cuba approved free sex-change operations to those who qualified. havana-live-mariel-castro

Mariela Castro, President Castro’s daughter, says her father supports gay marriage havana-live-gays
A law was passed in 2013 banning discrimination against sexuality – but not gender identity

Ms Castro, the head of the National Sex Education Centre and a member of Cuba’s National Assembly, says her father supports same-sex marriage, but no legislation has yet been approved.
“We can’t do a wedding, but we wanted to have a very modest celebration of love with some religious leaders,” said Ms Castro,
“In the future we’ll see what more we can do.”
In December 2013, a new labour law was approved, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the law did not ban discrimination based on gender identity, and Ms Castro voted against it.
“There is a fear that this will tear Cuban society apart,” Ms Castro said. “It will create cultural and ideological enrichment.”

In its 2014 annual report, Freedom House, a US-based think-tank, criticised delays in implementing same-sex marriage in Cuba, and said the authorities “do not recognize the work of independent, grassroots LGBT rights groups”.

 havana-live-aniplant-vanHAVANA, 5 May  Aniplant in Cuba is in desperate need of a van equipped with medical devices in order to travel around the city and country.

The Aniplant Project, located in Osprey, Florida, is Aniplant’s main source of funding. Aniplant’s weekend sterilization clinics move through Havana’s many neighborhoods offering spaying and neutering to cats and dogs on a love offering basis. If one has no money to pay, the service is free.

Thousands of animals have been helped by these clinics in recent years. Please help us reduce the number of homeless Cuban animals who are abandoned to the streets where they are picked up by teams, taken to a facility, held for 3 days, and then poisoned with strychnine. This is a horrible way to die!

We have a magnanimous donor who is providing $11,000 toward the purchase of a van, and we have added $5,000.  We need at least another $5,000 in order to make this dream a reality.  $3, $5, or any amount will help!!

Please forward this to friends and relatives who may be inclined to help us. havana-live-street-dog

Here is a link to our Go Fund Me page: 

Also see Les Inglis’ blog at:

The Aniplant ProjectP.O. Box 451
Osprey, FL 34229

 havana-live-havana-ferryHAVANA, May 5   At least two companies have received U.S. government approval to operate ferries between Florida and Cuba, their executives confirmed Tuesday.

The ferry services would be the first approved to  Cuba since Washington imposed its embargo more than 50 years ago.

Havana Ferry Partners of Fort Lauderdale obtained approval five years after applying for a license.

“I’m very excited,” managing partner Leonard Moecklin said after receiving official word of its approval from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

Also approved was United Americas of Miami, a venture developed by former cruise ship executive Bruce Nierenberg. It has been looking to launch overnight service to Cuba possibly three times a week and has held meetings with Port Everglades, Port Manatee and other Florida seaports.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” said United Americas executive Joe Hinson on Tuesday. The company already is active in ferry service in Mexico and between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

The ferries can carry authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba including people in 12 categories who no longer need a license in advance to visit, since President Obama this year eased restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba.

Americans are still not allowed to travel to Cuba for tourism under the terms of the U.S. embargo on Cuba that remains in place. Only Congress can lift the embargo.

Havana Ferry’s Moecklin said his approval was granted under certain conditions. For example, the ferry must go nonstop to Cuba, cannot carry vehicles and can carry only authorized travelers. Those include visitors in the 12 categories including family visits, religious and educational activities, among others.

Havana Ferry Partners hopes to launch ferry service between Key West and Havana within weeks, possibly with a 125 to 150 passenger vessel built by Damen Shipyard and called Sea Axe, Moecklin said. .

The company also may add overnight ferry service later from Fort Lauderdale and Miami to Havana using a larger vessel that could carry 300 to 500 passengers, Moecklin said. Plus, it’s eyeing the port of Tampa Bay as a gateway for Cuba.

At least five companies have applied for licenses to operate ferry service between Florida and Cuba.