havana-live-customer1The dented metal pizza trays are packed away, so too the old blender that never worked when it was needed. Gone is the sweet smell of rising dough that infused Julio Cesar Hidalgo’s Havana apartment when he and his girlfriend were in business for themselves, churning out cheesy pies for hungry costumers.
Two years on the front lines of Cuba’s experiment with limited free market capitalism has left Hidalgo broke, out of work and facing a possible crushing fine. But the 33-year-old known for his wide smile and sunny disposition says the biggest loss is harder to define. “I feel frustrated and let down,” Hidalgo said, slumped in a rocking chair one recent December afternoon, shrugging his shoulders as he described the pizzeria’s collapse. “The business didn’t turn out as I had hoped.”
The Associated Press recently checked in with nine small business owners whose fortunes it first reported on in 2011 as they set up shop amid the excitement of President Raul Castro’s surprising embrace of some free enterprise.Among them were restaurant and cafeteria owners, a seamstress and taekwondo instructor, a vendor of bootleg DVDs and a woman renting her rooms out to well-heeled tourists. Of the six ventures that relied on revenue from cash-strapped islanders, four are now out of business, their owners in more dire financial straits than when they started. But the three enterprises that cater to well-heeled foreigners, and to the minority of well-paid Cubans who work for foreign businesses, are still going and in some cases thriving.
While the sample size is small, the numbers point to a basic problem that economists who follow Cuba have noted from the start: There simply isn’t enough money to support a thriving private sector. “Clearly, there is a macroeconomic environment that does not favor the private sector or the expansion of demand that the private sector requires,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank economist. Vidal has long called on the cuban authorities to adopt a huge stimulus package or more aggressively seek capital from foreign investors. Now a professor at Colombia’s Javeriana University, he says one has only to look at the trends since 2011 to see the private sector economy is nearly tapped out. After a surge of enthusiasm, the number of islanders working for themselves has stalled for the past two years at about 444,000 or 9 percent of the workforce.
Even in developed countries where entrepreneurs have access to capital, loans and a wide pool of paying customers, startups are risky ventures. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about half of all new establishments in America close within five years, and two-thirds are gone within a decade. The failure rate of Cuban entrepreneurs followed by AP was 44 percent in less than two years, and worse if one considers only those.
“There’s not enough money circulating in the economy in the hands of everyday people,” said Ted Henken, a professor of Latin American studies at Baruch College in New York and author of an upcoming book on private enterprise in Cuba. “You’re all competing for the same customers, most of whom are poor and have very limited disposable income.” Economists have criticized the Cuban government for a series of measures to crack down on what it sees as illegal activities — including banning private movie cinemas, taxing the import of hard-to-get products in travelers’ luggage, and banning the sale of imported clothing. But on Saturday, Castro came down firmly in favor of increased regulation, sternly warning entrepreneurs that “those pressuring us to move faster are moving us toward failure.”
Henken and Vidal said Cuba must find a way to raise state salaries, expand state-funded microcredits and create a functional wholesale market to service the new businesses. They also noted that for a relatively well-educated society like Cuba’s, there are remarkably few white collar jobs on the list of nearly 200 activities that have been legalized.
Still, not every entrepreneur is struggling.
havana-live-customerHigh-end bars and glamorous new restaurants have become common in Havana, with shiny state tour buses disgorging photo-snapping travelers to sample lobster tail and filet mignon at upward of $20 a plate. Private rooms and homes that rent to foreigners can go for $25-$100 a night, less than most tourist hotels. Cubans with the means, and the business sense, to tap into the gravy train can do very well.
Chef-owner Javier Acosta sank more than $30,000 into Parthenon, a private restaurant catering to tourists and diplomats. He struggled at first, telling the AP back in 2011 that there were nights when nobody came in and he and his four waiters just sat around. But the restaurant slowly gained a reputation, in part because Acosta makes a potent Cuban mojito and offers a special suckling pig that can feed up to five people for $50. These days, Acosta is expanding. He recently added tables in a new room decked out with mosaic tiles and faux Greek pillars, and plans to build a roof deck. He even has started advertising, paying $300 a year to have his establishment included in a tourist magazine.
“I haven’t yet managed to recover my initial investment and the other money we’ve put into the place,” the 40-year-old said. “But in two or three more years maybe I can.”
Even more humble operations can do well, as long as they have some access to foreign money. One woman who rents an apartment to foreigners for $25 a night in the upscale Vedado neighborhood says her business provides a stable income that supports her and allows her to help her son and granddaughter.
Two women who sell $1.25 box lunches to Cubans and foreigners in a building in Old Havana with many international firms and consular offices have managed to stay afloat despite a sharp drop in customers following the departure of several companies, and what they say has been a steady rise in prices of key ingredients like black beans, rice, cooking oil and pork.
“This has become difficult,” said Odalis Lozano, 48. “But we’re still here, because we can always make some money.” For those without access to that foreign cash line, the results have been grim. Besides, the failed pizzeria, a DVD salesman, seamstress and street-side cafe owner who allowed the AP to tell their stories shut down after less than a year in business, citing high monthly taxes, a lack of customers and limited resources and business sense.
The only two operations that rely on everyday Cubans for revenue which remain in business are gymnasiums. One is run by Maria Regla Zaldivar, who in 2011 was giving taekwondo classes to children in Nuevo Vedado and dreamed of converting a ruined dry cleaning factory into a proper gymnasium. The factory remains a crumbling shell, but Zaldivar said her business continues. She declined to grant a formal interview, but said in a brief phone call that she had rented a small space near her apartment and continued to give classes.
The other success story belongs to Neysi Hernandez, the mother of Julio Cesar Hidalgo’s girlfriend. Hernandez opened a simple gymnasium for women in the courtyard and garage of her home in Havana’s La Lisa neighborhood, charging the equivalent of $5 a month for membership. Two years later, she has 25 paying clients and ekes out a small profit. Hernandez says her customers are loyal, despite the fact the gymnasium lacks basic amenities like a shower room, lockers and towels. Unable to afford imported equipment, Hernandez uses sand-filled plastic water bottles for weights. Her three exercise bicycles and mechanical treadmill are creaky and aging.
“My gymnasium is modest, but they like it,” Hernandez said, adding she has dreams of one day installing a small massage room and sauna. “A little bit at a time.”
For the pizza man Hidalgo, however, the experience with private enterprise has been a bitter one. He says he lost between $800 and $1,000 on the pizzeria. He is appealing a $520 fine levied by tax authorities who accuse him of understating his profits, even though the business failed. He has had bouts with illness, and has been unemployed since the pizzeria closed in April. Hidalgo says he has not given up on the idea of opening a new business one day. But he is also setting his sights beyond Cuba’s shores.
“What I wanted was to work and make money so that I could live a normal life, have money to buy myself shoes, eat, and go out with my girlfriend,” Hidalgo said, punctuating each modest desire with a flip of his hand and a rueful smile. “I hope that kind of work materializes in my country, but if the opportunity presents itself to work somewhere else, I won’t turn it down.”Recently, Hidalgo’s girlfriend, Gisselle de la Noval, 25, took out a license to operate a nail salon in the space once occupied by the pizzeria. The salon has been open a matter of weeks and it is too soon to know if it will do well. But she says she is content, charging about 40 cents for a manicure and slightly more for a pedicure. “I don’t miss the pizzeria, but I am sad it wasn’t a success,” she says with a shrug. “But I am young, so whatever. Now I’m dedicated to this.”

AP By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ and ANNE-MARIE GARCIA

havana-live-soap-operasFor the past three decades, Brazilian telenovelas have helped Cubans forget their litany of woes for an hour a day.
But today, dozens of South Korean soap operas are earning wide audiences.
Following in the footsteps of South Korean films and K-pop, “doramas” – South Korean soaps dubbed into Spanish – first appeared on Cuban televisions earlier this year.
Queen Of Housewives, My Fair Lady, Dream High and, for the past month, Secret Garden, are all winning fans on the island.
Dozens of other South Korean shows are being passed around in digital form on USB flash drives, a common way for Cubans to spread information because of the lack of widespread Internet access. “South Korean shows are selling the best lately. They are easy to follow and very funny,” Yosmely Batista, a 21-year-old man who runs a film and TV series stall out of his apartment in Havana’s Centro neighbourhood, told AFP.
“Why are they so successful, given all the cultural differences between South Koreans and Cubans? I suppose because it’s so foreign – they hardly ever kiss on South Korean shows!” says Batista.
On offer at his home shop – about 60 TV shows, half of them from South America (Brazil, Colombia and Mexico) and the other half from Seoul. Laura, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, says she has downloaded 24 Korean shows onto her computer, but has only watched nine of them so far. Boys Over Flowers is the most popular among her classmates, she says. “I just love them, they are short and really different,” the teen explains. South Korean soaps, which echo the melodrama of Latin American telenovelas, have allowed Cubans to see a totally foreign world.
“Koreans and Cubans have a lot in common,” South Korean singer Yoon Sang-Hyun, better known in Cuba for his leading role on My Fair Lady” said during a recent trip to Cuba. “A bit of comedy, a bit of drama, some romance, but never anything very serious,” says the singer-actor in explaining South Korean soaps. “Just real-life relationships.”But Brazilian telenovelas have not lost their fan base just yet.
“The Brazilian shows are the best and Brazil Avenue keeps me glued to the screen,” admits 64-year-old housewife Susana Suarez, who says she has never missed an episode since Malu and Slave Isaura were first shown in the 1980s.
Four shows are currently vying for the top spot among Cuban viewers: Secret Garden Brazil Avenue, Argentina’s Stolen Lives and Cuba’s own Lands Of Fire.
Like many Cubans, Suarez – who lives on a pension of US$8 a month – says soap operas are her daily “therapy”.“You can stop worrying about all your problems, you forget everything, at least for a little while,” she says.
“Here in Cuba, you’re under stress every day,” Suarez adds, admitting she spends two hours a day watching her programmes.“Among neighbours, we’d rather talk about TV shows than talk about real life,” said 32-year-old book editor Yaima Rosaen.

havana-live-europaThe number of arrivals of cruise ships at Cuban ports is expected to surpass the figure reported in previous years, said an executive in the specialized tourist sector. Norberto Perez, general director of the Aries Transport Company, in charge of commer- cializing cruise ships opera- tions in Cuba told reporters that a new company named Cuba Cruises will manage arrivals here of cruise ships, such as Canada’s Louis Cristal, which called at the south-central harbor of Cienfuegos on Saturday. havana-live-Thomson-CruisesPerez said that 10 cruise ships will call at Cuban ports during the current high tourist seasons, including the luxurious Europa, the Albatross and the Thompson Dreams, which is the largest of all, with capacity for 785 passengers. The Thompson Dreams visited Havana harbor on December 6. The international tourist modality is affected in Cuba by the US economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba, which bans American citizens from visiting the island, the executive said.

(acn)

havana-live-ballett-schoolRESPECT THE AUTHENTICITY OF AN ARTWORK
Dear Norman Foster,
Having not received a response to the personal letter I sent you on 19th September 2012 and having been encouraged by recent conversations at international gatherings in Brasil, Cuba, Austria, and others where I was invited to talk about the National Schools of Arts, I write you this open letter. As you know, the Ballet School I designed is part of a unique and inseparable Complex of five buildings that are integrated into the park of the former Country Club of La Habana. The aim was to create a “campus”, subdivided into pavillons and joined by paths through the park, that should became a landmark for the artistict training of youth Cubans and beyond. The greatest Cuban artists recognized today in the world were mostly formed in these Schools. havana-live-ballett-school1The authors of these Schools, besides me, are the Architects Ricardo Porro (Plastic Arts and Modern Dance),and Roberto Gottardi (Dramatic Arts). The program of the five Schools responded to the idea of strong integration, exchange and experimen- tation among the different artistic disciplines within a single unified campus. The Schools and their history have been published in numerous architecture and art books, first among them is Revolution of Forms, Cuba’s Forgotten Art Schools, of which you have a copy. Various film documentaries for tv shows and cinema were realized, one above all lavishly awarded in several Cinema International Festivals. Their story and the current debate continue today all over the Internet.
The entire Complex of the five Schools of Arts and the park surrounding them has been declared National Monument by the Cuban Government. The Schools have been on the WATCH list of the World Monuments Fund as the WMF’s first listed works of endangered modern architecture, and are also candidates for World Heritage designation by UNESCO. This proves that we are dealing with a work of art and architecture of historical and international renown that deserves to be respected. With this open letter, I wish to express together with the undersigned, my bewilderment at the fact that You developed a feasibility study for the restoration of the Ballet School bypassing, and not even consulting whatsoever, the author of the work, and moreover ignoring concrete plans for restoration that I have developed over the last ten years, of which the last one is the only plan approved by the National Commission of Monuments in Cuba.
In light of the aforementioned considerations, the undersigned demand that the Escuelas Nacionales de Arte be respected together as a whole entity, single campus and that the restoration of the Ballet School be returned to an environment of fairness and responsibility to its author, Architect Vittorio Garatti
Architetto VITORIO GARATTI

Milano, 13th November 2013havana-live-ballet_school2

havana-live-jet-skiSpanish navigator Alvaro de Marichalar left Havana en route to Cancun, Mexico, to complete another stage of his jet-ski journey commemorating the 500 years since the discovery of the Pacific Ocean by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa.
De Marichalar left Thursday on his jet ski “Numancia” from Havana’s Club Nautico Marina Hemingway headed for Mexico, a crossing which, if all goes as scheduled, should last about two days and will include two stops to take on supplies in the eastern Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.
The Spanish adventurer, 52, arrived in Havana on Tuesday from Key West, Florida, a long trip during which he was accompanied by his wife, the Russian Ekaterina Anikeeva, who joined him for the first time on his navigation of the high seas.
Up to now, De Marichalar has traveled 210 miles of the 2,400 planned for this expedition, which will celebrate Nuñez de Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 25, 1513.
His next stops will include ports of call in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, where he expects to wrap up his voyage in January 2014.
De Marichalar adds this tribute to the one he made in March and April to the discovery of Florida by colonizer Juan Ponce de Leon 500 years ago, following his maritime route. The navigator, who travels alone with no support vessel and always standing as he jet-skis, devotes these expeditions to raising funds for non-governmental organizations and beneficent foundations.

Heral Tribune

havana-live-chevroletFirst time since the 1959 revolution Cubans will soon be allowed to purchase new and used vehicles from government retailers without permission for first time since the 1959 revolution, state media announced Thursday.
The move comes two years after a reform allowed Cubans to buy and sell second-hand vehicles from one another but stopped short of allowing them to do the same from the state. Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, reports that the decision to “eliminate mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state” was approved on Wednesday by the Council of Ministers.
The decision was made after “several months of study,” Granma said, and a fund made up of the new income will support the development of public transportation. The Cabinet also plans to prioritize the retail sales of bicycles to encourage their use.

[Reuters] Andrew Katz

havana-live-CUC_AFPThe Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) will be eliminated in the process to reestablish a one-currency system on the island, confirmed VP Marino Murillo, during a plenary session of the Cuban Parliament on Friday. The hard currency CUC, pegged to the US dollar, joined the regular Cuban peso (CUP) in the harsh post-Soviet years of the 1990s, as a second island currency. Returning to a one-currency system is now seen by Cuban president Raul Castro and most economists as necessary.
The monetary unification plan, announced last October, will bring the CUC out of circulation, said Murillo. He added that there would be guarantees for those who have funds and bank accounts in CUC.

havana-live-chevroletFirst time since the 1959 revolution Cubans will soon be allowed to purchase new and used vehicles from government retailers without permission for first time since the 1959 revolution, state media announced Thursday.
The move comes two years after a reform allowed Cubans to buy and sell second-hand vehicles from one another but stopped short of allowing them to do the same from the state. Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, reports that the decision to “eliminate mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state” was approved on Wednesday by the Council of Ministers.
The decision was made after “several months of study,” Granma said, and a fund made up of the new income will support the development of public transportation. The Cabinet also plans to prioritize the retail sales of bicycles to encourage their use.

[Reuters By Andrew Katz

havana-live-havanajazzArtists from 10 countries will perform here during the 29th International Jazz Plaza Festival Dec. 19-22, which will be devoted to great musicians of this genre in Cuba.
Orlando Vistel, president of the Cuban Music Institute, said at a news conference that about 34 Cuban groups and soloists, along with 14 foreign guests, are involved in this event.
International musicians include Arturo O’Farrill from the United States, son of the famous Cuban composer and arranger Chico O’Farrill.
Also on the list are the bands Nolose (Switzerland) and Giant Steps (Bermuda); the Lucas Chamorro quartet from Argentina, Dutch percussionist Joost Lijburt, and Spanish pianist Adolfo Delgado.
This year, the 9th International Jazz Plaza Symposium will be held on Saturday, Dec. 21, at the Center for the Research and Development of Cuban Music in Havana. Critics, specialists, musicians, and researchers will discuss Afro-Cuban jazz musicians, synthetic processes in piano performance, and the orchestra and creativity in Cuban popular music.

(Prensa Latina)

havana-live-film-restaurationThe first 54 episodes of the newly-restored ICAIC Latin American Newsreel are being screened here at the 35th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. The newsreels, by the late Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez, cover the period of 1960 to 1964.
In June 2012, Cuba and France signed an agreement for the restoration and digitization of those movies, which are considered works of great artistic and historic value and a cinematic testimony of great events in the world in the latter half of the 20th century.
The agreement involves collaboration between the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC in Spanish) and the National Audiovisual Institute of France (INA in French), making it possible to preserve copies in 35 mm and their conversion to high-definition digital format.
At a press conference today, Mathieu Gallet, director of INA, recalled details of the joint collaboration from its inception to date. This work will continue for two more years and specialists, historians and filmmakers will have access to this first group of movies, he said.
For Michel Raynal, in charge of conservation, one of the biggest challenges was restoring the sound, which was in precarious conditions. The films have been shown here since Monday.
The ICAIC Newsreel collection consists of 1,490 weekly broadcasts, produced and exhibited between June, 1960 and July, 1990. Declared Heritage of the Cuban nation in 2009, the ICAIC Newsreel was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

havana-live-film-restaurationThe first 54 episodes of the newly-restored ICAIC Latin American Newsreel are being screened here at the 35th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema. The newsreels, by the late Cuban filmmaker Santiago Alvarez, cover the period of 1960 to 1964.
In June 2012, Cuba and France signed an agreement for the restoration and digitization of those movies, which are considered works of great artistic and historic value and a cinematic testimony of great events in the world in the latter half of the 20th century.
The agreement involves collaboration between the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC in Spanish) and the National Audiovisual Institute of France (INA in French), making it possible to preserve copies in 35 mm and their conversion to high-definition digital format.
At a press conference today, Mathieu Gallet, director of INA, recalled details of the joint collaboration from its inception to date. This work will continue for two more years and specialists, historians and filmmakers will have access to this first group of movies, he said.
For Michel Raynal, in charge of conservation, one of the biggest challenges was restoring the sound, which was in precarious conditions. The films have been shown here since Monday.
The ICAIC Newsreel collection consists of 1,490 weekly broadcasts, produced and exhibited between June, 1960 and July, 1990. Declared Heritage of the Cuban nation in 2009, the ICAIC Newsreel was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

havana-live-Louise_CristalThe high tourist season in Cuba will be given a favorable thrust with the arrival in Havana on Friday of the Canadian Louis Cristal cruise ship, which joins another three similar boats that already called at Cuban ports in less than a week.
The cruise ship belongs to the Cuba Cruise Company of Canada, and will kick off a tour of the island on December 16. Starting that day the Louis Cristal will depart every Monday from Havana and every Friday from Montego Bay Jamaica in a program that will run till March 2014.The itinerary includes six ports from western to eastern Cuba.
This week, the Cuban capital was visited by Britain’s Thomson Dream and the MV explorer, while the MV Minerva’s, visited eastern Santiago de Cuba. Over two million 312 thousand 609 tourists came to Cuba from January to October.

(ACN)

havana-live-nightclubs-APThe free market is still limited in Cuba, but already it is altering lives and reshaping attitudes. It might not yet be Wall Street or the Square Mile, but as more and more Cubans go into business for themselves under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms, the ethos of capitalism is increasingly seeping into the island’s daily life, often in stark conflict with fundamental tenets of the Cuban revolution.
These days it seems there’s a snack shop or pirate DVD stand on every other block in parts of Havana. Farmers line up before dawn at an open-air market to jockey for the best spot to sell their produce. After decades of being urged to report any black-market activity in their neighbourhoods, some Cubans now find themselves worrying that they’re falling behind.
The free market is still limited in Cuba, but already it is altering lives and reshaping attitudes. Some fear – and others hope – that values anathema to a half-century of communist rule are taking root more with each passing day: it is OK to make money, within limits; workers can reap the benefits of their own labour directly, instead of seeing it redistributed; individual enterprise is rewarded.
“There have been changes, and as the country grows there will be more,” said Luis Antonio Veliz, the owner of the Fashion Bar Habana nightclub. “It’s a very positive thing, but some Cubans are having difficulty understanding that now not everything depends on the state.”
While many new entrepreneurs have failed, undone by a lack of supplies, a limited customer base and scarce resources, many of those who have succeeded have entered a glamorous world that disappeared after Fidel Castro’s arrival in Havana put an end to the freewheeling 1950s.
It is on display at Fashion Bar Habana, where Mr Veliz has done well enough that he recently was able to relocate his business to the colonial quarter that draws well-heeled tourists. But with success, came sacrifice. Mr Veliz realised he had to be on-call 24 hours a day to solve problems – an unthinkable notion when he was a state-employed restaurant worker.
“When you work for yourself, you have to look out for your own interests,” Mr Veliz said. “I have become harder, tougher, more confident.”
The law of the marketplace visibly dominates places such as Egido Street, which teems with horn-blowing cars and independent pedicab drivers calling out to potential fares.
Dozens of entrepreneurs have moved in to take advantage of the crowds around a farmer’s market. They include 13 flower shops and at least seven snack bars that all offer the same ham and cheese sandwiches.
Yeska Estiu, a 44-year-old florist, recalled the dilemma she faced when stores ran out of the green spray paint they use to spruce up their arrangements. She hit on switching to white paint – giving her bouquets a snowy touch that was a big hit with clients.
Within a few days, the others had copied the technique. “Here, sales are based on quality, on innovation,” said Ms Estiu, who also tries to stand out from her neighbours by swathing her bouquets in brightly coloured paper and ribbons brought from overseas by her husband.
The new business ethos comes with risks, some Cubans say. Gilberto Valladares, better known as “Papito”, worries that competition and self-interest will eat away at revolutionary values such as solidarity, unity and nationalist pride. Mr Valladares is the founder of the private hair studio Artecorte, which resembles an opulent European salon with its mosaic floors and intricate plaster moulding.
He is on a mission to convince fellow entrepreneurs that they have a moral duty to give back to the community. In recent years he has used his salon to bankroll a neighbourhood revival project, opening up an adjacent barbers’ school, repainting walls and installing plants and street lights. “I want people to understand that not only should there be economic benefit, but they can contribute to the social benefit,” said Mr Valladares.
Back at Egido Street, Manuela Pena, 73, complained that prices were soaring. After hearing decades of Marxist preaching that all Cubans should share the same fate, she is falling behind. “The country is going from bad to worse,” she said.

Andrea Rodriguez

havana-live-wave-knightThe British Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ship Wave Knight will visit Havana December 13-20 on a routine stay related to disaster training activities in the Caribbean area, the British embassy in Havana announced.
High-level officials from Cuba and other institutions involved in dissaster response will attend a series of meetings with the crew of the Wave Knight to exchange views and experience on rescue operations and the fight against drug trafficking.
The agenda of the British crew includes a visit to the Cuban Naval Academy and other activities, the announcement explains. British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, said that the visit by the Royal Fleet Auxilliary to Havana is an excellent opportunity for the United Kingdom to share its experiences and viewpoints with the Cuban government in the field of disaster response. These issues are crucial for both countries given the large number of British tourists visiting Cuba every year. havana-live-wave-knight2The Royal Fleet Auxiliary or RFA is a civilian-manned fleet, owned by the British Ministry of Defense, which supports Royal Navy ships around the world, supplying warships with fuel, ammunition and supplies. The RFA fleet is fully integrated into the Royal Navy’s command and control system and forms a vital part of maritime operations.

(ACN)

havana-live-fiart_2013The 17 th International Craftwork Fair, FIART 2013, was inaugurated on Friday at the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress in this city, in the presence of exhibitors of 16 nations. During the inaugural speech, Jorge Alfonso, director of the Cuban Fund of Cultural Assets, pointed out that starting from Sunday and until December 22 the Fair will be accompanied by a wide program of activities. This edition, he added, will also include a variety of musical shows, mainly aimed at children and youngsters. He underlined that, on this occasion, FIART is dedicated to the province of Pinar del Rio and its craftwork for cigars, so a universe of pieces related to this aspect will be on display.
Alfonso, also president of the Fair’s organizing committee, pointed out that this year there are 355 stands, 69 of which correspond to foreign exhibitions. As part of the program, there will be a theoretical meeting entitled “Today’s craftwork: challenges, opportunities and prospects,” on December 10-13, a colloquium in which participants will reflect on the main problems of the craftwork sector in the country.

(ACN)

havana-live-semester2The Semester at Sea cruise ship, an academic program sponsored by the University of Virginia, in the United States, arrived in here today, nine years after its last visit. About 648 people arrived in the island, 568 of them are students from more than 200 universities in 42 states of the northern country, mostly Americans, but there are also students from other nations, such as Mexico and Canada. University of Havana rector Gustavo Cobreiro and a delegation from the higher education center boarded the ship after docking in the harbor to welcome the visitors.
The objective of the stay here is that those students know this country’s history and the scientific development reached, while exchange with Cuban students from different careers, Jose Manuel Febles, director of International Relations department at the university, told reporters.During the stay in Cuba, the Semester at Sea students will also visit many universities in different provinces, and announced a meeting with the media for tomorrow.

Prensa Latina

havana-live-lennon1A bronze likeness of the Beatle, who was assassinated 33 years ago Sunday, was inaugurated in a leafy Havana park 13 years ago. But souvenir-seekers kept stealing the iconic circular spectacles that adorned it. Officials tried gluing them on. But they should have known better: Vandals simply broke them off. Enter Juan Gonzalez, a 95-year-old retired farm worker who lives across the street. For the last 13 years, four days a week, Gonzalez has showed up at 6 a.m. for a 12-hour shift, wearing a government security guard’s uniform and cap.
As tourists arrive, he places the glasses on the singer’s nose and waits patiently as they snap pictures. When they leave, he gently tucks the glasses away in a shirt pocket next to his cigars.
Gonzalez probably didn’t hear much of the Beatles in their heyday. He was already middle-aged and the communist government then frowned on rock ‘n roll and its long-haired practitioners. Not much of their music made it to the ears of farmers in rural Cuba and he moved to the capital only about 20 years ago to be with his daughter. But he says he’s a fan now.
Despite his age, Gonzalez says he’s not ready to quit his mission to help preserve the memory of one of modern music’s greats, and to meet people from all corners of the globe.
‘‘All the foreigners that come here take a picture of me, both men and women. They sit here with me and take pictures,’’ Gonzalez said. ‘‘I am in every country in the world.’’

The second stage of a donation from Namibia will soon arrive to Cuba, in a shipment bringing 16 animals of three species, belonging to the so-called heavy ungulate of hoofed animals (mammals).
havana-live-elephantThis group is composed of pachyderms -10 rhinoceros, five black and five white, in addition to six elephants-, which will be exhibited at the National Zoo on December 11, as informed to ACN on Friday by graduate Armando J. Barrios, a specialist of the center’s Department of Public Relations. The arrival will force the Zoo to close due to works derived from it. The park’s activities will resume the following day, and the public will also be able to enjoy the exhibition of a white lion, donated to the Zoo by Belgrade, capital of Serbia.A puma and its litter will also be exhibited.
havana-live-rhinoThe first shipment of 131 animals of 20 species, also from Namibia, arrived in Havana in 2012, made up by 63 ungulates, 48 carnivores, 16 birds and four rodents. The group is composed of roan and heart-skinned antelopes, impalas, grand kudus, elands, gemsboks, springboks and African buffalos. Also, hyenas, lions, honey badgers, leopards, black back jackals, cheetahs, lynxes caracal, brownish-gray hyenas and bat-ear foxes.Ostriches, African vultures and porcupines complete the donation.
All in all, Cuba has received from that African nation 147 animals of 23 species.

havana-live-thomson_dream_5The British cruise ship Thomson Dreams will call at Havana harbor on Friday with 1 200 passengers on board, as the U.K. is becoming the second major source of tourists to the island. According to the Cuban Tourism Ministry, the arrival of the Thomson Dreams is part of the commercial campaign being deployed by local tourist authorities to guaran- tee the success of the current high season.
The ship will arrive here Friday morning and it will be welcomed by local tourist officials, the Ministry explained.The visitors will be able to enjoy the attractions of the Cuban capital city, one of the major tourist centers on the island, considered one of the most popular emerging destinations in 2013 at the world level, according to the Travelers Choice awards, based on the opinions of millions of clients on the TripAdvisor website.
Over 127 thousand British tourists visited the island between January to October this year, 1.7 percent below in the same period last year, according to the National Statistics Office.

(ACN)

Havana tops 2013 World List based on the reviews and opinions of millions of TripAdvisor travelers around the globe – TripAdvisor announced the winners of its 2013 Travelers’ Choice Awards for Destinations on the Rise. The awards highlight 54 spots globally that have seen the greatest increase in positive traveler feedback and traveler interest, year-over-year. Havana, Cuba was the number one ranked destination for the top 10 in the world, and lists were also revealed for Asia, Europe, South America, South Pacific, and U.S. havana-live-malecon1
“For travelers looking for inspiration for their 2014 travel planning, TripAdvisor travelers have helped us put a spotlight on some amazing destinations that caught the eye of travelers this past year,” said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor. “Between large cities gathering steam and off-the-beaten-path spots surfaced by our community, travelers can discover wonderful accommodations, attractions and restaurants in all of these award-winning destinations.”

havana-live--capitolioTop 10 Destinations on the Rise in the World: Havana, Cuba
La Fortuna de San Carlos, Costa Rica
Kathmandu, Nepal
Jerusalem, Israel
Cusco, Peru
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Sapporo, Japan
Hanoi, Vietnam
Corralejo, Spain
Fortaleza, Brazil
Despite restrictions on visiting Cuba for Americans, there are now some limited opportunities to visit, such as through educational tours and family visits, that have not previously existed for decades,” said Messing. “As many global travelers are well aware and as reflected in the feedback from millions of TripAdvisor travelers, Havana is an outstanding destination with growing appeal.”

See more at: http://www.traveldailynews.com/news/article/57985/tripadvisor-names-travelers-choice-destinations#sthash.k7lTWMU0.dpuf

havana-live-harleyDriving It sure felt that way in the tiny garage where Fernando Varera kickstarted a vintage Harley-Davidson. The BLAT BLAT BLAT of a 50-year-old hog is unmistakable and can probably send big enough soundwaves to start an earthquake. After his small audience flinched, surprised by how loud that hog could snort, Varera, who restores old choppers and Harleys here, laughed like it was his birthday and said, “Yes! Scary, isn’t it?” havana-live-harley3This particular Harley he was displaying, with his chest puffed up and a big grin, was used by the Cuban police back in its heyday. In the late 1920s, former Cuban president Gerardo Machado made Harley-Davidsons the official motorcycles of the police. Fernando Varera’s garage in Havana, Cuba, is full of old Harleys. “Look,” Varera says, with something mischievous obviously on its way. He points to the button that starts the sirens.“I like to use it when I’m in a rush,” he says, stomping his feet and bending over from about of maniacal laughter. He takes off his glasses to wipe away some tears. “Everyone gets out of my way.havana-live-harley1”Although they say all Cubans are mechanics out of necessity, Varera does it because he thinks it’s fun. He also comes from a long line of mechanics; his family repaired boats for the Spanish army before landing in Cuba.“The world of Harleys is a very special one,” he says. “People will pay very big money for them, even if they don’t work.”Luckily for Cuban Harley lovers, good ones in working order, although rare, can still be found despite the 50-year-old embargo from the United States.
Varera says he once found a Harley-Davidson on a farm that hadn’t been touched in more than 50 years. All it needed was a spit shine and some fuel, and it was running like it was 1962. He says it’s the solid build quality that makes Harleys such stalwart machines that continue to ignite passion in motorheads. Other times, Varera isn’t so lucky. The embargo makes it near impossible to find parts, so many of the Harleys he works with are actually bastardized, put together with parts from other bikes. Other tinkerers have also resorted to building and machining spare parts by hand. Cuban Harleyheads have to fight to keep their bikes alive, which likely makes their dedication even stronger. According to the documentary Cuban Harlistas: The art of Harley-Davidson maintenance in Cuba, there are about 150 of the classic bikes on the island, with about 80 still in working condition. harleyAfter the embargo from the Unites States was enacted, the Cuban government began to see the hogs as a symbol of American imperialism, which made being a Harley fan a bit more difficult. Although the stigma has lifted, life as a Harley-Davidson aficionado still isn’t easy. Varera says the passion for HDs is obvious when Harley bikers on the island meet on the third Sunday of every June at the famous Colon cemetery in Havana. The rally, of which Varera is a dedicated patron, is called Dia del Motorista Ausente (the Day of the Absent Motorcyclist) in honour of José Lorenzo Cortes, a Cuban Harley mechanic and master restorer who allegedly disappeared in 1990. Cortes is a legend in Cuba, credited with being the father of the art of Harley maintenance on the small island. Fernando Varera’s garage in Havana, Cuba, is like a graveyard of spare Harley parts. Cuban Harlistas says that, in 1992, the Club of Classical Motorbikes in Cuba was established to help Harley lovers on the island organize rides and exchange information and spare parts. The club is admired by Harley organizations all over the world, because they appreciate how difficult it can be for Cubans to keep their bikes running. The club often gets donations of spare and tires from these organizations, and every little bit helps. The club’s rally has become sort of a mecca for Harley lovers from all over the world, and despite there being a language barrier, the passion for Harley-Davidsons is universal. The hog only speaks one language, and it’s a language of love and perseverance.havana-live-harley5

Source Photos Jodi Lai

havana-live-35-festival-cineWhen there are only 6 days left for its inauguration, the 35th edition of Havana’s International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema, to be held on December 5-15 is already getting its last preparations ready for its celebration.
In its first edition without its founder and main promoter, Cuban filmmaker and intellectual Alfredo Guevara, the prestigious Festival will include the screening of some 400 films, most of them from the region.
Ivan Giroud, appointed in May general director of the Festival, said that the opening will e in charge of Cuba’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble, and that the first screening will be that of the Chilean movie Gloria, by Sebastian Lelio, which hopes to win a Coral Prize in Best Feature Film.
Giroud specified that competing works are 22 shorts, 21 first works, 30 documentaries, 31 animated films, 25 unpublished scripts, 33 posters and 21 feature films, a category that includes two films by Cuban directors: Boccacerias habaneras, by Arturo Soto, and Jirafas, by Enrique Alvarez.
As special moments of the Festival he mentioned tributes to Cuban filmmakers whodied recently, like Daniel Diaz, Camilo Vives and Alfredo Guevara, along with the world premiere of the documentary Mercedes Sosa, la voz de Latinoamerica, by Argentinean Rodrigo Hernan.

(ACN)

havana-live-rain1Two people are dead from torrential rains that lashed Cuba for more than 24 hours, island authorities said Saturday.
The deluge caused multiple collapses in dwellings in Havana, Granma reported. A man and a woman were killed in one structure that caved in.
Yunior Amesa, nephew of the deceased man, told The Associated Press he had left for work just before their building came down.
“It was raining very hard and there was a lot of weight (from the water) up there. They went to bed. Minutes before, I was sitting in there,” Amesa said. “When I went to work I heard the building had collapsed and caught them both sleeping.”
The rain arrived early Friday and fell near constantly throughout the day. Traffic snarled and some cars were stranded, as intersections flooded and streets turned into rushing rivers.
Cuba’s Meteorological Institute recorded 2.8 inches (72 millimeters) of precipitation during a single three-hour period in the afternoon in Havana, and accumulations of up to 7.8 inches (200 millimeters) overnight.
Rain continued to fall in the capital early Saturday, and the famed seaside Malecon boulevard remained closed because of high surf that was breaking over the seawall and onto the street.

havana-live-35-festival-cineWhen there are only 6 days left for its inauguration, the 35th edition of Havana’s International Festival of the New Latin American Cinema, to be held on December 5-15 is already getting its last preparations ready for its celebration.
In its first edition without its founder and main promoter, Cuban filmmaker and intellectual Alfredo Guevara, the prestigious Festival will include the screening of some 400 films, most of them from the region.
Ivan Giroud, appointed in May general director of the Festival, said that the opening will e in charge of Cuba’s Contemporary Dance Ensemble, and that the first screening will be that of the Chilean movie Gloria, by Sebastian Lelio, which hopes to win a Coral Prize in Best Feature Film.
Giroud specified that competing works are 22 shorts, 21 first works, 30 documentaries, 31 animated films, 25 unpublished scripts, 33 posters and 21 feature films, a category that includes two films by Cuban directors: Boccacerias habaneras, by Arturo Soto, and Jirafas, by Enrique Alvarez.
As special moments of the Festival he mentioned tributes to Cuban filmmakers whodied recently, like Daniel Diaz, Camilo Vives and Alfredo Guevara, along with the world premiere of the documentary Mercedes Sosa, la voz de Latinoamerica, by Argentinean Rodrigo Hernan.

(ACN)

havana-live--gourmetWorkshops, lectures, and panels are scheduled for the 2nd Annual Gourmet Festival, “Flavors of Cuba and the World,” that, dedicated to drinks complementing fine cuisine, begins here today with an examination of audiovisual works centered around food.
Based at Casa de Mexico in the historic old quarter of Habana Vieja, the event will begins its sessions with the panel “Strawberries and Chocolate: the Cuban gourmet film,” including participation by some of the team involved in the making of the film, led by actress Mirtha Ibarra. Also on the list is a presentation by Peru’s ambassador to Cuba, Mr. Victor Mayorga, “The National and International Boom in Peruvian Gastronomy.”
havana-live--cocktailFour visual arts exhibitions, including three with photos and one with sketches, will open in the afternoon.
Running until Saturday, the theoretical portion of the program will include discussions about the combination of Cuban cigars and drinks, the revival of the traditional Mexican pulque (a fermented drink made from cactus sap), and the feeding of Cuban and Spanish soldiers during the wars for Cuba’s independence.
From today through Saturday, Nov. 30, the Lumiere Movie Theater in Old Havana will present a film series: “Cinema and Gastronomy.”
Prior to the festival’s closing ceremony, winners of the photo contest “Eat, drink, feel,” will be announced, along with a book launch for “Historia empresarial del ron cubano” (Managerial History of Cuban Rum), by Miguel Serrano.

havana-live-everfonsecaLast year, Ever Fonseca was awarded Cuba’s National Prize for Plastic Arts (Premio Nacional de Artes Plásticas). To mark the honor, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is presenting Ever Fonseca Evocación Lírica (Lyrical Evocation), a selection of works gathered from the MNBA, the artist’s own collection, and the collections of institutions such as the Biblioteca Nacional José Martí.
havana-live-EVER-FONSECACurated by Hortensia Montero, the show spans Fonseca’s career from 1960 to the present, and includes works that have never been shown publicly. In announcing the show, Elsa Vega of the MNBA praised Fonseca’s “intrinsic relationship with the island’s indigenous flora and fauna, and with the myths and legends of the Cuban countryside, which have imparted a mythological and genuine character to his lyrical expression.”

avana-live-cuba-cruiseLouis Cristal will have new satellite systems when she sails in Cuba. Cuba Cruise is to complete safety inspections and upgrade several areas onboard Louis Cristal before she crosses the Atlantic to start her inaugural season circumnavigating Cuba.
The operator, which works in partnership with Louis Cruises, is currently carrying out necessary crew training exercises and installing new entertainment features including satellite systems offering North American sports channels and ceiling hooks for the aerial circus act.
The line’s 25,611gt ship Louis Cristal will depart drydock in Greece on 24 November after the hull artwork is completed.
“We’re right on schedule with the launch,” said Dugald Wells, the line’s president. “We have an excellent crew equipping the Louis Cristal in dry dock and our Cuban and Canadian teams are preparing for its arrival to the island.”
Louis Cristal will embark on her first Caribbean season on 16 December 2013 and will sail seven-night cruises from Havana, Cuba and Montego Bay, Jamaica, until 31 March 2014. She will call at six ports, enabling passengers to visit the island’s six Unesco world heritage sites, four national parks and preserves, as well as its famous beaches and colonial cities.
The vessel offers 480 staterooms and suites, lounges and restaurants.

Rebecca Gibson

avana-live-triathlon1With the participation of dozens of competitors from across the country, the first phase of the Cuba Triathlon Cup will start next November 24, near Havana’s La Guayaba dam. The contest, which will start the 2013-2014 season, will include mainly youth level triathletes of both sexes, who seek to make up the national team towards the 2nd Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing 2014, Aurelio Romero,national commissioner, told the digital publication Jit. The main favorites to win the circuit are Victor Torres, Sunelis Sunset, Jorge Ezequiel, and Pedro Luis Gomez.
The major absences in this early season will be the stellars Michel Gonzalez, Lisandra Hernandez, Ana Leydis Arias, Leslie Amat, Conrado Martinez and Anyelo Sainz, who by that time will be in the Peruvian city of Trujillo to intervene in the 17th Bolivarian Games.
The national circuit will consist of nine scoring phases, and its completion is scheduled for mid next year.

(ACN)

The buying and selling of houses in Cuba increased by 2 percent in the first half of this year compared with the same period in 2012, an official with the Justice Ministry cited in local media said Tuesday.
avana-live-homeThe expert with the Property, Business and Estate Register, Aniuska Puente, said that the trend has been “rising” for housing sales among individuals, which were authorized in 2011 as one feature of the economic reform plan implemented by President Raul Castro. Puente said that a total of 873,314 properties have been entered into the Property Register so far this year, of which 659,968 are individual homes and the rest are state properties, the local Prensa Latina news agency reported.
According to official figures, the island has some 3.7 million homes and of those 85 percent are classed as individual properties.
The Castro government in November 2011 authorized the buying and selling of houses among individuals, one of the most popular measures decreed so far as part of the reforms to update the island’s socialist economic model.
The rule put an end to decades of prohibitions or limitations in Cuba on that type of sale, but certain restrictions on such transactions are still in place given that – for instance – Cubans may not own more than one residence in urban areas.

avana-live-Key-west-havana2Ambitious plans announced last month by a Miami travel agency to offer small charter flights between Key West and Cuba beginning Nov. 15 have been pushed back to a Dec. 15 kick-off by Mambi International’s partners at Air Marbrisa Airlines.
In a Wednesday e-mail to Peter Horton, the Monroe County airports director, Bob Curtis from Air Marbrisa said the delay is due to Mambi not yet having what’s called a 380 certificate.
That document, provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, establishes an operator, in this case Air Marbrisa, as a public charter based on specific regulations. Mambi spokesman Isaac Valdes said he couldn’t comment on the certificate but said flights will start Dec. 15.
But “if we performed the service [of using Key West International Airport to fly to and from Jose Marti International Airport now], we would be in violation” of federal rules, Curtis wrote to Horton. “I won’t do that, therefore I have terminated any service for 30 days. It is our intent to begin the service on or around Dec. 15.” “Everything else remains the same,” Curtis continued. “All our licenses and approvals are in place. 
havana-live--MetroIIWe are delaying the service for 30 days so that when we do perform, we are performing in accordance with all regulations.”
Last month, Horton cautioned that Mambi’s plans may be overly ambitious and Curtis said the company announced the pending flights to the media prematurely. The process of designating Key West International 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.
Horton said the feds signed off on the upgrades in October 2011.
Flights are scheduled to leave Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at 3:30 p.m., returning the following morning aboard a Metro II turboprop plane. The round trip is slated to cost $449 and each flight, lasting about 30 minutes. The plane can accommodate up to 10 people, including the pilot.
The last time planes regularly flew between Key West International and Jose Marti in Havana, just 90 miles from the Southernmost City, was in 1962.