Ernest-Hemingway-and-his-mojitoActually, the Mojito wasn’t Hemingway’s beverage of choice.

HAVANA, Dec. 9th  The greater the person, the more mythology surrounds him/her. Many grew up hearing tales of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, that emperor Nero played a mean fiddle while Rome burned, or that Newton needed to have an apple bonk him on the conk to figure out gravity.

EH 5084P Spencer Tracy, Ernest and Mary Hemingway, and others at La Florida, Havana, Cuba, circa 1955. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

EH 5084P Spencer Tracy, Ernest and Mary Hemingway, and others at La Florida, Havana, Cuba, circa 1955. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

So, too, is it with the prototype of The Most Interesting Man in the World, Ernest Hemingway. In my book, To Have and Have Another—A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, I set out to debunk common myths associated with him.

According to myth, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drink was the Mojito, which he drank often at one of his favorite bars, La Bodeguita del Medio, in Havana, Cuba. Yet, aside from a handwritten quote on the wall at La Bodeguita, there exists no evidence that Hemingway ever drank Mojitos, or that he ever set foot in the joint.

As for that inscription, it looks a lot like Hemingway’s handwriting, and it plainly says “My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.” So this is proof, right?

“… This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie.

Wrong. It’s a forgery. Indeed, back in the late 1950s, the owners of the bodega, a Mr. and Mrs. Martinez, were brainstorming with a Cuban journalist (and Hemingway friend), Fernando Campoamor, about how to gin up more business. Per Campoamor, “We were trying to figure out how to help his business, and someone said, ‘Mi mojito en La Bodeguita, mi daiquiri en El Floridita.’

It was a funny joke, nothing more … Well, I had these things at home in Papa’s handwriting, so they hired a graphic artist to imitate it. I protested this even though I enjoyed the humor at the beginning. This was merely a private joke among friends. But the little joke grew into a big lie.”havana-live-floridita

To say that it worked would be the understatement of the year—thousands flock to La Bodeguita each year to get their “Hemingway Mojito.” Hell, even Pope Francis and Chinese President Xi Jinping have made that phony pilgrimage in recent years.

As further evidence, you never see either La Bodeguita or the Mojito mentioned in any of Hemingway’s prose, letters, or in his various biographies. The premise behind ‘To Have and Have Another’ is that Hemingway tended to write about what, and where he drank. Harry’s Bar in Venice? You’ll find it his novel Across the River and into the Trees.

The Daiquiri and the Floridita are in countless letters, as well as in his novel Islands in the Stream. The Gin & Tonic at Museo Chicote in Madrid? See “The Denunciation,” one of his short stories from the Spanish Civil War.

Gregorio’s Rxhavana-live-mojito
1 1/2 ounces Papa’s Pilar Blonde Rum
1 ounce honey syrup (made from a ratio of 1:1 water to honey)
1 ounce lime juice
4 mint leaves

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Strain into a glass filled with ice. Add sparkling water to shaker. Swirl and pour into drink. Garnish with a mint sprig.
Indeed, if he drank it, he generally wrote about it, somewhere. Not so with the Mojito. In fact, I’ve not yet encountered a single reference to either the drink, or the Bodeguita, in all of my research, which spans about 20 years.

Let me qualify that I did find one. Indeed, jai alai player Jose Andres Garate, a close friend during the ‘40s and ‘50s, said that he “drank with Papa at the Floridita many times and ate oysters with him at Ambos Mundos Hotel in Havana.” When asked about the Mojito story, he replied, “I’ve never heard of La Bodequita (sic) del Medio.”

But Hemingway did enjoy a drink like the Mojito while out on his beloved boat, Pilar. Gregorio’s Rx was created by his skipper, Gregorio Fuentes, which he made for Hemingway when he was under the weather. Many believe that Fuentes and another Hemingway skipper, Carlos Gutierrez, both served as the basis for the character of the old fisherman Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea.

Read also:

HotelRiviera_dHAVANA, Dec. 9th The family of the late gangster Meyer Lansky is hoping to be compensated for a Havana casino hotel seized after Cuba’s 1959 revolution.

Now that Cuba and the United States have begun trying to resolve billions in dollars in claims for the confiscation of American properties by the island’s socialist government, Lansky’s family sees an opportunity to reclaim the Habana Riviera or its cash equivalent.

“The hotel was taken from my grandfather forcefully,” said Lansky’s 60-year-old grandson, Gary Rapoport of Tampa. “Cuba owes my family money.”

A U.S. commission has certified nearly 6,000 claims against Cuba by American and U.S. firms whose property was taken. The claims are worth as much as $8 billion. U.S. court rulings against Cuba add another $2 billion.

Cuba in turn is demanding more than $100 billion in damages for the half-century old U.S. trade embargo on the island. Resolution of the issues is seen as fundamental to the reestablishment of trade between the countries.

A nearly daylong meeting Tuesday served as “the first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization,” the State Department in a prepared public statement.

It cost an estimated $8 million to build the Habana Riviera in the 1950s. It still is operated as a state-run hotel.

“We never filed a claim with the government or hired an attorney earlier because we didn’t think the door for negotiating would ever actually open,” said Rapoport, whose mother, who also lives in Tampa, is Lansky’s only daughter. “Now it is open.”

Whether the family ever can be compensated is unclear. Rapoport said his family can prove ownership through financial records.

An initial list American properties and business nationalized in Cuba was completed on July 6, 1972. The U.S. government’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission accepted claims again from 2005 through 2006, but not since then.

In an e-mail statement to The Tampa Tribune ( ), the State Department said the commission “is not presently authorized to accept additional claims by U.S. nationals for property seized by Cuba.”

The Havana hotel became kind of a base for Lansky, considered one of the most significant mob figures of the 20th century. When it opened in 1957, it was the largest casino hotel in Cuba and boasted air conditioning when that amenity was still a rarity.

Rapoport said his grandfather never recouped his investment in the project.
“He needed another six to eight months of business,” Rapoport said.


havana-live-american-airlinesHAVANA, Dec. 9th The first weekly charter flight connecting Los Angeles to Havana departs Saturday, reflecting the continued easing of travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

American Airlines will launch the weekly nonstop flight with a Boeing 737. The Fort Worth-based airline already operates several charter flights to Cuba from Tampa, Fla., and Miami but the flight from Los Angeles International Airport will be the first from the West Coast.

The flights to Cuba will be sold by Cuba Travel Services.

The new flight is the latest signal that the nation’s airline industry is gearing up for an easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, announced by President Obama last year.

U.S. law still bars normal tourism to Cuba but new rules now allow ordinary Americans for the first time to visit under 12 broad categories without any advance U.S. government approval.
The twelve categories include visits to close relatives, attending academic programs, conducting professional research, journalistic or religious activities and participating in public performances or sports competitions.

A civil aviation agreement with Cuba would be needed before regular commercial flights could operate between the two countries.

American Airlines executives say they are looking forward to such an agreement.

“We stand ready to offer scheduled service as soon as the United States and Cuba allow commercial flights,” said Art Torno, a senior vice president at American Airlines.

The first flight will depart at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, following a ceremony attended by several airport officials and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

how-a-startup-with-no-revenue-can-be-worth-a-billion-dollarsHAVANA, Dec.8th (REUTERS) Cuban and U.S. officials on Tuesday will begin to untangle one of the most complex obstacles to normalization of relations between the two countries: the claims of Americans whose property was nationalized after the 1959 revolution and Cuban counterclaims for damages caused by the U.S. trade embargo.

The talks in Havana are the latest in a series of bilateral meetings since the two former Cold War adversaries restored diplomatic ties in July this year.

Some 5,913 U.S. corporations and individuals have been awarded $1.9 billion worth of claims for factories, farms, homes and other assets that were nationalized in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s rebels came to power on Jan. 1, 1959.

Those claims, registered with the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, are now worth roughly $8 billion when including 6.0 percent annual interest.

Cuban law ties the settlement of the claims to U.S. reparations for damages resulting from the embargo and other acts of U.S. aggression against Cuba. Cuban estimates of that damage range from $121 billion to more than $300 billion.

Neither side is eager to pay the full value, setting up a negotiation.

“The meeting is the first step in what we expect to be a long and complex process, but the United States views the resolution of outstanding claims as a top priority for normalization,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement on Monday.

Cuba nationalized all foreign businesses and reached settlements with owners from other countries. The government recognizes the U.S. claims but it cut off negotiations in response to the decision by former President Dwight Eisenhower to suspend Cuba’s sugar quota in 1960.

The claims sat dormant for half a century as a result of the U.S.-Cuba estrangement, which ended a year a ago when U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced detente.

Many of the nationalized companies no longer exist and individual claims have been passed to heirs.

The largest claim, by the Cuban Electric Company for more than $267 million, has changed hands several times due to mergers and acquisitions and is held by Office Depot, itself a takeover target of Staples Inc pending antitrust review.

With interest that claim is now worth more than $1 billion.

Other major claimants include Starwood Hotels, Coca-Cola, the former International Telephone & Telegraph Co., now ITT Corp, and various oil, sugar and financial interests.

havana-live-AniplantHAVANA, Dec. 7th Many changes are happening in Cuba, and many more are sure to follow.  As more people make their way to Cuba,
“to see it before it changes”, the plight of the animals is getting more attention.  Here are just a few observations we’ve heard recently:

  • Hungry, sick, mangy dogs and cats wandering the streets for food and shelter
  • “Small businesses” who are breeding dogs, and selling puppies in markets
  • Growing evidence of dog-fighting
  • Animals seen being abused, sometimes by the hands of the dog catchers
  • Thin and unhealthy horses pulling carriages for tourists
  • Concern for marine life along Cuba’s pristine coast as development begins

More tourists are asking how to help–whether it is donating supplies or dollars to Aniplant, or trying to find help for a sweet-faced, hungry, sick dog or cat they meet on the street.  We are thankful to hear these requests for information on how to help.  Aniplant and The Aniplant Project are dedicated to helping these poor animals.

Our number one mission is to spay/neuter as many dogs and cats as possible to prevent unwanted animals.  Other important goals are education and raising awareness for the humane care and welfare of all animals in Cuba.

Last, but not least, Nora Garcia and her circle of volunteers have daily missions of helping animals…one at a time.  This small team has been called on to locate and help needy animals all over Cuba…to visit regularly, to feed, to ensure the dogs or cats are safe, and to vaccinate and treat them for sickness.
All of these activities take resources.

This is where your donations go:
For anesthesia to spay/neuter animals
For food and medicines to treat strays
For gasoline or bus fare to find and care for reported strays regularly
For use of the internet so that Nora can receive and respond to requests for help
For maintenance of the Aniplant clinic in Cuba and the 20 dogs who live there
For supplies of surgical gloves, sutures, mange/parasite medications, etc.

Please take a moment to donate.  Every dollar helps.  With your continuing help, we hope to make better lives for many more Cuban animals in 2016.   Thank you for your love and care of the dogs, cats, horses, birds… and all the animals of Cuba!

Thank you!  ¡Muchas Gracias!   Merci!   Danke!

The Aniplant Project Team

havana-live-club-de-parisHAVANA, Dec. 7th  (REUTERS) Cuba is near a deal with 15 rich creditor nations of the Paris Club to restructure US$16 billion in debt stemming from a 1986 default, with creditors expected to forgive most of the amount owed, diplomats close to the talks said.

The parties will meet in Paris later this week and, after two years of informal discussions, are close to a multilateral deal, the diplomats said.

“Cuba has agreed to pay the principal of around US$5 billion owed since its 1986 default in exchange for forgiving US$11 billion in service charges, interest and penalties,” said one diplomat from a major creditor nation. “Negotiations are now more about how much time they need to pay it and how much of the money will be reinvested in Cuba.”

Cuba has secured investment agreements from creditors in previous debt negotiations and is seeking similar commitments from the Paris Club nations, the diplomats said.

The Paris Club is an informal group of creditor governments from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States.

It has a 15-member working group on Cuba that excludes those countries – the United States among them – that do not hold the debt under negotiation.

Most of the creditors are willing to show flexibility due to their increased interest in doing business in Cuba following the Communist-run island’s detente with the United States and continuing domestic reforms.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced a year ago their governments would work toward a normalization of relations after decades of confrontation, although a U.S. trade embargo of Cuba remains in place.

Castro, who replaced his ailing brother Fidel as president in 2008, has made restoring Cuba’s international financial credibility a priority. He has reined in imports and cut state payrolls and subsidies while insisting the near-bankrupt government get its financial house in order.

Cuba has had a trade and current account surplus since 2011 and has improved its payments record to creditors and suppliers.

In the past four years, Cuba has restructured its debt with Japanese commercial creditors, Mexico and Russia, each time obtaining reductions of 70 percent to 90 percent in what was owed and extended payment plans it could meet in exchange for greater investment opportunities on the island.

Cuba also has restructured its debt with China, estimated by local economists at more than US$6 billion.

“Our companies want this out of the way so they can obtain financing for investments,” one European diplomat said. “They want to get here before the Americans lift the embargo.”

Cuba is not a member of the World Bank nor any other multilateral lending institution.

“A comprehensive deal would go a long way toward normalizing Cuba’s international financial relations and gaining access to official trade credits,” said Richard Feinberg, a non-resident senior fellow of the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the author of several studies on Cuba’s need to join the international financial community.

“However, a deal with the Paris Club will not get Cuba a good international credit rating. That can only come from more robust export earnings and a healthier sustainable balance of payments,” Feinberg said.

Cuba does not comment on debt negotiations.

The government last reported its “active” foreign debt, accumulated after it defaulted in 1986, at US$12.5 billion in 2012. It no longer reports its “passive” debt from before the default, the principal of which local economists estimate at US$8 billion.

The Economist Intelligence Unit estimated Cuba’s total foreign debt as US$26 billion at the end of last year.

This week’s formal negotiations with the Paris Club creditors are the first since negotiations failed in 2001.

havana-live-real-estate-solar_aguiarHAVANA, Dec. 6th (by D. Sidney Potter)  If there’s one thing that conservative Democrats can rejoice about, given the less than stellar reviews of their point person who now occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, rent free, is that the ‘shout-out’ heard around the world would have to be President Obama’s “opening” with Cuba that occurred earlier this year.

The residual effect of this better than late coup d’état in terms of international diplomacy, is that the opening with Cuba will somewhat allow Americans in a roundabout way to buy investment real estate without the red-tape that existed before, when that other young President, with the initials JFK monogrammed on his luggage occupied the White House.

This diplomatic opening, has just about made it possible to buy a single family residence and/or a similar type of investment property, such as a duplex, small apartment complex, or perhaps a similar income producing property, without the normal red-tape; Communist or non-Communist state.

Make no mistake, this is a momentous occasion for small investors to resort developers. The good news however (depending upon your perspective), is that you won’t have to renounce your American citizenship, move to Cuba, and shack up with a Cuban national in order to buy an investment home.

Greenbacks in a Red Country
According to Yad Aguilar, CEO of Canada-based Point 2 Cuba, a company that provides Cuban real estate expertise to international investors and developers.
Many people have been planning ahead for this day. I can tell you that a number of major American hotel companies have already spotted sites in which they’re interested. I can tell you that I’ve already heard of a 750-slip marina under discussion. And I can tell you that, for American travelers, the prices will be incredible… beautiful penthouse condos will be going for as little as $200,000.

Although Mr. Aguilar may be a bit more optimistic then what jaded investors are willing to fully embrace, here are the facts: Cuba is 220 miles south of Miami and is considered one of thy hottest real estate ‘buys’ in the world right now.
However, most Americans and foreigners are shut out of this potentially lucrative product due to existing archaic laws still on the books. Namely, the Trading With the Enemy Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1961. However, that’s not the case for Cuban nationals.

Why? That’s because Fidel’s little brother, Raul Castro, in control of Cuba since 2006, and to his business acumen, has become an ardent pro-business advocate in a Communist country. More specifically, Raul is allowing Cuban residents to buy and sell their own homes. This is the new normal.

So  a real estate revolution is occurring, of which has never happened in such volume since Fidel took over the island country 54 years ago. At that time, Fidel seized nearly all foreign owned real estate in Cuba, without so much as a peso for the real estate.havana-live-real-estate-solar_aguiar

The Real Estate Revolution and The New Normal: Cuban Style
Is this a new day in Cuban-American relations? Irrespective of the politicos, the feeling since President Obama’s announcement is bullish among investors. Here’s what those in the know are saying about the new normal.

“Where Cuban tourism and residential development is concerned,” says Point 2 Cuba’s Yad Aguilar, “the sky’s the limit. The opportunities are certainly there. And American investors, resort developers, and high-end residential developers are just waiting for the opportunity to rush in, and fill the vacuum that’s been created over the past 54 years. For the resort and residential sectors,” Aguilar added, “we think Cuba will become a land of opportunity!”

To further support this optimism, Cuban-American real estate broker Pablo Tacon, who opened a new office in Havana earlier this year, called Cuba Tacon Inmobiliaria – it’s a bit more complicated than that. How complicated? There are two different ways in which Cuba’s real estate market functions; one for the locals, the other for outsiders.

Pablo tells the World Property Journal, “One market is called Permuta, which is for Cuban Nationals only as the buyers and the sellers amongst themselves, with the Permutaeros as agents; the other is for foreign investors only with particular designated properties and intermediaries.”

Translation: If you have a stomach for international intrigue, versus buying cookie cutter bull shit condos in Phoenix, AZ and would like a little excitement in your life, then the Cuban housing market just might be for you. And especially so, if you dig anything written by Ernest Hemingway and prefer tequila shots over Pina Colados.

To be clear, because this is not for the faint of heart, Cuba’s way of transacting real estate today is archaic, opaque and fragmented. Yet, given the country’s natural beauty, its proximity to Florida and the thawing political détente, vis-à-vis American Cuban relations, what’s not to like about Cuba.

In practical terms, and even with the unlikely accession of Republican Marco Rubio to the White House, can one really expect relations with Cuban to be nothing short of sunny days going forward? Likely not.

What’s the takeaway: Expect Cuba to delivery kick ass investment returns to property speculators worldwide over the immediate to near-term.

Marry a Cuban, Buy a Home?
According to World Property Journal, there is a back door way of buying homes in Cuban, albeit it’s rather unorthodox.

Another example of how some non-American, non-Cuban investors are skirting Cuban property purchase laws, involves the investor marrying a Cuban woman and both beginning to live permanently in Cuba. The property could be bought in the woman’s name. She would hold the title for life. And if the two divorce, the property remains in the woman’s name. True love would have to blossom and endear in this situation.1

Also according to World Property Journal, there are ways of entering the Cuban market in a less salacious manner, all the while maintaining your Christian values. So if you happen to be a frustrated, cash-loaded American who desires to enter the Cuban real estate arena, you may be technically hamstrung, based upon the aforementioned Trading With the Enemy Act, passed during Kennedy’s first year in office.

Here’s the skinny: There plenty’s of opportunity for under-the-table action involving Americans and foreigners.

For example, and according to World Property Journal, an American investor could consider funneling funds to a Cuban resident friend in Cuba to purchase properties and hold the title under the friend’s name.

Under this situational scenario, Raul Castro’s government – sometime in the near future of course, would allow non-Cuban Americans to legally buy real estate in Cuba with no restrictions attached. The risk, is that such a move by Raul might be many years away, which would leave the property in the Cuban friend’s name for an indeterminate period.

Julio Perez drives his 1950 Chevrolet convertible as he looks to provide taxi and tour service to tourists visiting Cuba on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 (Photo AL DIAZ)

HAVANA,Dec. 6th  In the oldest part of the city, near the famed Parque Central, stands a building that’s being restored from top to bottom.

The project has been under way a long time. Possibly it began before the last time I was here, 21 years ago.

One can only guess the height of the building because it’s been swallowed by vines that now obscure all the scaffolds. From blocks away it looks like a masterpiece of topiary.

Much of Cuba is like this, exotic and deceptive at a distance. Some things change. Some things remain stuck in a time warp.

U.S. tourists are here now, practically everywhere you go. Both enchanted and sobered by what they see. They’re coming in droves. Thousands upon thousands of Cuban Americans make the trip, too, visiting family.

The hotels in Havana are packed. Every charter flight from the States is full. This is new and revolutionary.

It’s never been better to be a taxi driver with a ’52 Chevy, because Americans are suckers for old American cars. The one I took to Morro Castle was powered by its original inline-six engine, a point of pride for the driver. (Some of the Detroit classics here have been refitted with dubious Russian parts.)

Two decades ago, it was hard to find anybody who was optimistic about the future. The economy was a wreck, and Fidel Castro had declared a “special” time of sacrifice for the people.

Roadblocks were erected to prevent farmers from bringing their vegetables to the city and selling them on the streets. One night my friend and I were stopped, and our car was searched by soldiers.

Things are a little better now. Raúl Castro is allowing some private enterprise — restaurants and room rentals, for instance. A tobacco farmer told me 80 percent of his family’s crop goes to the government, and the rest is his to sell.

Most people seem relieved that President Obama has moved to normalize diplomatic relations and happy to see the American flag on display again after half a century.

The main complaint is that change isn’t coming fast enough to Cuba, a place where nothing happens fast. “Only when Raúl and Fidel are gone,” one man asserted.

Basics are still strictly rationed (each person gets five eggs per month), and the pay is still shockingly low. One man talked about his sister, a cardiologist earning the U.S. equivalent of $35 a month. She left for Colombia. He said he’ll probably go, too.

You heard the same kinds of stories in 1994. Today there’s more hope, but also a familiar echo of restlessness and frustration.

The best jobs in Havana are in tourism, because of the tips. A 43-year-old engineer recently quit his job to drive a taxi. A machine worker who made auto parts did the same thing — he shares a small house with a grown daughter and five grandchildren.

Parks where the government has opened internet sites are packed with people willing to pay $2 an hour for limited web access. The median monthly salary in Cuba is only about $20.

Record numbers of Cubans, more than 27,000, have made their way to the United States this year. The new favored path is a dicey overland journey from Ecuador to Texas. It’s safer than a raft trip, but thousands are now stranded in Costa Rica because Nicaragua has shut its borders.

Ironically, the latest surge in migrants is blamed on fears that the United States will end the immigration exception that allows Cubans to stay if they touch land.

Those who aren’t leaving Cuba won’t blame the American embargo for all their hardships and shortages, but it’s in the conversation. Every U.S. politician who still defends this contemptible policy should come and spend a day among those it punishes.

Cuba cannot rebuild without American trade, and even then the effort would take many years and many billions of dollars. There’s simply no money here.

What exists in abundance is a spirit as magnetic as the architecture and landscape. Americans are streaming to the island because it’s a place with a truly beautiful soul.

You understand why those who leave feel they’ve got no choice — and you understand why the others stay. Havana creaks and coughs, yet still casts a spell.
Some things will never change. Some things shouldn’t.

IMAGES SECTIONS-17HAVANA, Dec.5th  (New York Times) Representatives of Cuba and the United States will meet on Tuesday in Havana to begin negotiations on settling decades-old outstanding property claims for the thousands of American citizens and companies whose assets were confiscated after Cuba’s revolution, according to several people briefed on the coming talks.

The meeting is considered a major step because the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba was initially enacted after Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader at the time, expropriated land from American companies. Nearly 6,000 people and corporations lost homes, farms, factories, sugar mills and other properties totaling $1.9 billion.
Now, for the first time, Cuba has agreed to meet to consider settling those losses. The State Department is expected to announce the meeting on Monday. A Cuban Embassy spokeswoman declined to comment.

“This meeting is an enormously big deal,” said Mauricio J. Tamargo, the former chairman of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, an agency within the Justice Department that adjudicates claims against foreign governments.
“The Cubans have up till now never recognized these claims as legitimate or something they are even prepared to discuss. It has never happened in 56 years since the revolution began and they started confiscating American property.”

When Mr. Castro declared victory in 1959, many Americans were forced to flee their homes and give up their land. His government later started expropriating large companies, and eventually nearly 900 corporations filed claims.

The list of claimants includes Exxon, Texaco, Coca-Cola and Starwood Resorts. About half the value of the claims, now estimated at up to $8 billion, belong to just 10 companies.

The issue had long been a stumbling block to the re-establishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. But the Obama administration restored diplomatic relations last year, with the vague assurance that property claims would be on the long list of issues to be taken up in bilateral talks.

Cuba would be unlikely to accept any deal that did not include lifting the trade embargo, which has for years been the nation’s top priority, said Mr. Tamargo, a lawyer with the firm Poblete Tamargo, which represents people with claims. If the embargo is lifted, he added, the Cubans could pay off the settlements with the increased trade revenues.

The Cuban government has estimated that the American embargo cost Cuba about $121 billion in losses.

“If American properties are compensated, then the embargo should be lifted,” Mr. Tamargo said. “There is a window of opportunity for Cubans that will be gone in about a year.”

“Obama is a very good negotiating partner for them to have as opposed to President Trump or President Bush or even President Hillary,” he added, referring to Donald J. Trump, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton.

The talks would not include the thousands of claims of Cuban-Americans who lost property before they became American citizens, like Mr. Tamargo’s family, who lost a 3,500-acre farm.

Although many people assume that Cuba does not have the money to pay off settlements, it could pay claims by offering American corporations with outstanding claims a first shot at the Cuban market, said Richard E. Feinberg, whose Brookings Institution study on the issue will be released Tuesday.

If the payments were spread out over 10 years, Cuba probably has the money to pay the original claims, but perhaps not the 6 percent interest levied by the claims commission, Mr. Feinberg said.

“It’s a historic moment, if you consider that U.S.-Cuban relations collapsed in the early ’60s in large measure when Fidel Castro moved to expropriate the large U.S. holdings there,” he said. “Now 55 years later, the two sides are sitting down to say, how do we settle this?”

One person with a pending claim, Margery Leeder, 85, a retired real estate agent in Pompano Beach, Fla., said she never thought her family would be compensated after the Cuban government seized 72,000 acres of rice and sugar her father owned outside Havana.

“If you think about it, the Castro brothers have done the biggest heist in history,” Mrs. Leeder said.

Her father’s land was worth $3.9 million in 1959, and the family’s claim is now valued at $16 million.

“Overnight if you were American and had a bank account, it was closed; you had no money,” she said. “Eventually Castro did allow you to get some money, only about $1,000. Castro said nobody needed more than that.”

havana-live-austriaHAVANA, Dec. 5th AUA Austrian Airlines, a unit of German giant Lufthansa, will offer flights to Havana (Cuba) as of autumn 2016, the company said in a statement.
The flights on the first route to the Caribbean to be offered by the group in five years will provide a connection with Havana once a week.

• Once a week to Cuba with a Boeing 767
• Caribbean region once again part of the flight offering for the first time in five years
• Austrian Airlines is consistently expanding its long-haul route portfolio and continues to focus on tourist destinations

Next year Austrian Airlines will add another new tourist destination to its flight schedule. Austria’s national carrier will offer flight service once a week to Havana, the capital of Cuba, as of October 25, 2016.

Flights will be operated on Tuesdays deploying a Boeing 767 to Havana, the largest city in the Caribbean, as part of the airline’s winter flight schedule. Thus Austrian Airlines is once again including a Caribbean destination in its flight portfolio for the first time in five years. The last time Austria’s flag carrier operated flights to the Caribbean was in 2010 when it flew to Punta Cana.

“2016 is the year in which Austria and Cuba celebrate 70years of bilateral ties. We are pleased to link our new direct flight to Havana with this anniversary“, explains Austrian Airlines Chief Commercial Officer Andreas Otto. “The launch of flight service to Cuba is another step in the consistent expansion of our long-haul route portfolio and our continuing focus on tourist destinations.

The duration of the flight from Vienna to Havana is about 12 hours 10 minutes. Tickets are available starting at EUR 799 round-trip including taxes and charges. Tickets can be purchased starting today, Friday, December 4, 2015 at, by calling +43 5 1766 1000 or from a travel agency.

Flights Vienna-Havanna-Vienna as of October 25, 2016

Route                     Flight number    Flight days      Departure    Arrival
Vienna-Havanna  OS023                 Tuesdays         10:15            4:25 p.m.
Havanna-Vienna  OS024                 Tuesdays         6:10 p.m.      10:50 on the next day

havana-live-titan-tropic-competicionHAVANA, Dec 5 (PL)  A total of 140 cyclists from 13 countries will take part in the Titan Tropic Mountain Bike, from Sunday to Thursday, in Cuba, said weekly JIT in its digital version here Friday.

For the first time, the mountains of the Cuban western province of Pinar del Rio will be the host of this event, a younger brother of so-called Titan Desert, with an initial stage of 88.5 kilometers (54.99 miles) from Havana to Las Terrazas (Pinar del Rio).

The Titan Desert was an event celebrated in the sands of Morocco, and one of its sponsors, Spanish company RPM Events (Barcelona) this time bet on the Caribbean environments, based in Cuba, which combines abundant vegetation, rivers, impressive views, hills, mountains and others.

Victor Mur, head of Press and Communications of Spanish group RPM Events, introduces this competition supported by the Cuban Cycling Federation, predicted by all these natural conditions the success of the competition and the interest aroused in the media of their country and other nations.

“Also by the quality and experience of competitors, including winners of the Titan Desert and 19 women, as equal, it is very good to count on the presence of a squad from Cuba, it is intended to hold the event annually,” Mura said.

The riders will have the support of different organizations and local governments the participation of local people, especially children and youth as a way to promote this type of cycling competition.

Organizers also expect vehemently a great competition for the title of the individual general classification, although participants do in different age categories, which have a prologue morning of 33 kilometers by different streets of the capital, including the Revolution Square, the Malecon, Paseo del Prado and the Capitol.images

After the first stage from Memories Miramar hotel in Havana, to the finish line in a steep flight of Las Terrazas, cyclists will face the steep path from that site to Soroa; the next day will be about 90 kilometers from the city of Pinar del Rio to Viñales, beginning and end of the penultimate sleeve, a circuit that adds 70 km to conclude on Thursday with the way north to Key Jutías to accumulate almost 465 throughout competition.

According to the Organizing Committee, Colombian Diego Alejandro Tamayo and Portuguese Luis Leao Pinto, racing champions Titan Desert 2015 and 2013 respectively, confirmed their participation in the trial.

Other participants are the leader guest team from Cuba, José Mujica, head of Classic Guantánamo-Havana route this year, and one of the two local women who will compete, Olga Echenique.

Lizardo Benitez is the head coach of the Cuban team, formed by Alvaro Soca, Cesar Rodriguez and Yasmani Balmaceda and Danay Martinez.

10369230_475666962598571_498380365178804354_nHAVANA, 5th Dec.   Javier, who has lived in Miami for the past 12 years, decided several years ago to return to his native Cuba to open a business. But the catch is he still lives in the U.S., and like others who are doing the same, has circumvented existing laws by working through relatives on the island.

Javier, who did not want his real name printed, purchased a large house under his mother’s name in the hopes of transforming the home near the Carretera Central – the highway spanning the island – into a place where travelers can relax, eat a snack, and perhaps stay for the night.

“I tried to do it here but I didn’t have any luck,” Javier said.

It’s not uncommon for Cuban-Americans from Miami -mostly recent arrivals – to travel back to the island after saving enough money to open a business in their home country, boosting not only their incomes but those of their loved ones in Cuba – and also impacting the Cuban economy.

“It’s a trend and I think it’s been going on for a while,” said Cuban-born Pedro Freyre, a Columbia University lecturer and expert in Cuban-American legal relations and chair at Akerman, a Miami-based international law firm. Freyre said he believes this has increased since President Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced last December 17th they were restoring diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1961.

For the past few years, Javier has traveled to Cuba virtually each month to oversee the construction of his business. Most of the supplies were taken from Miami including, all the plumbing and electricity.

Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban Central Bank official who now teaches at Javeriana University in Colombia and writes about the Cuban economy, says about 20 percent of businesses in Cuba operate with foreign investment, while 80 percent are opened by local Cubans with their own money, according to a recent poll he conducted.

Several entrepreneurs who live in Miami and own businesses in Cuba were reluctant to be interviewed on this topic, saying they feared repercussions on the island. The businesses included an ice cream shop, a clothing store, a hostel, and a couple of paladares, which are privately-owned restaurants.

Many of these entrepreneurs ship products from the U.S. to support their operations on the island. Orlando Hernandez, who has owned a shipping company called Cuba Carga Express since 2009, says he has shipped plenty of items for people opening businesses in Cuba. His clients include Cubans as well as Americans and Europeans. One American couple from Florida recently shipped beds and other products to Havana for a guesthouse they opened with the help of a local family.

Some popular items shipped include those for the food industry, like barbecues and smoothie makers as well as items for party rental shops like popcorn machines and bounce houses, for children’s parties.

Leonardo Sanchez-Adega, who worked for the first shipping company to send humanitarian supplies from Miami to Cuba, said he easily serviced about 1,000 customers between 2011 and 2013, who were specifically sending supplies for their businesses. “We sent entire kitchens, entire restaurants, in pieces,” according to Sanchez-Adega, who also created a website to support self-employed people in Cuba.

Since importing products for commercial use is illegal in Cuba, items are sent in multiple shipments. So, an entrepreneur opening a paladar will send a couple of tables at a time to make it appear it’s for home use. Or for someone who owns a clothing store, sending 60 pairs of pants in one shipment would be too obvious, so they send 10 pants to six relatives or friends.

Javier, who works in Miami as a handyman, arrived in the U.S. in 2000, after two failed attempts to cross the Florida straits on a raft and after spending one year in a Bahamian prison when he was intercepted by officials there. When he finally made it to the U.S., he tried to open a business, but said it was impossible because he was unfamiliar with the laws and regulations.

“Here it’s too difficult to open a business,” he said. That’s when he thought of giving it a try back home.

Technically, it’s illegal in both the U.S. and Cuba for an American citizen or resident to own a business on the island. But those doing it are circumventing the law by working with Cubans on the ground.

Freyre said he thinks that while both governments have an understanding this is going on, they won’t clamp down on the entrepreneurs because “they have a lot of other things on their plate.” Javier echoed the same feeling, saying he’s not afraid of running a business in Cuba because the government knows what’s going on. “The government is giving a blind eye because we’re solving a problem for them,” he said.

There is potential for this to have a positive impact on Cuba because the businesses will create jobs and there could be cases where there is a shared enterprise, said Ted Henken, a Baruch College professor and author ofEntrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape.

But Henken believes the Cuban private sector may be eventually swallowed by a tidal wave of foreign investment. “This is a product of very weak economic rights the Cuban entrepreneurs have,” Henken said. “I think that’s a danger. It makes people more vulnerable.”

Vidal thinks the most important contribution of these businesses is private employment at a time that the government is trying to cut the number of public sector jobs. “This compliments the reforms the government is trying to implement on the public sector,” Vidal said, adding that it also raises the level of productivity, which is necessary in order to have higher state salaries.

But while the U.S. embargo on Cuba continues, the level of U.S. investment in Cuba will be limited. Freyre said what is important is the synergy between the two shores. “They’re ahead of both governments. The governments have to catch up to the reality on the ground,” he said.

cuba-1HAVANA, Dec. 4th (Sputnik) The United States and Cuba will probably launch a direct postal service at the beginning of 2016, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for South America and Cuba Alex Lee said on the sidelines of the Cuba Summit in Washington, DC.

“[W]e’re getting very close and it is our hope we’ll be able to reach an agreement soon and will be able to announce the establishment of direct postal service hopefully early next year,” Lee said on Thursday. “[T]hat would be a major quality of life improvement for communities of Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits.”

Lee noted that the Cuban and US governments have long wanted to establish direct mail service and are taking a very pragmatic stand about it.

In December 2014, US President Barack Obama announced the United States would normalize relations with Cuba. The two countries reopened embassies in their respective capitals on July 20, after more than 50 years of non-engagement.

Alex Lee also noted that the number of travellers between the United States and Cuba has significantly risen since Washington announced last December it would normalize relations with Havana.
“Actually, the number of Americans travelling to Cuba has greatly increased and the number of Cubans travelling to the US has greatly increased,” Lee said on the sidelines of the Cuba Summit in Washington, DC on Thursday.

However, Lee noted the US Congress must remove the existing embargo the United States still maintains in the island nation in order to “fully allow Americans to go back and forth without trying to see if they belong in one of those 12 categories.”

US citizens are allowed to travel to Cuba for 12 specific purposes that are listed in the US Treasury Department’s Cuban Assets Control Regulations. They include journalistic, educational, religious, professional and humanitarian activities, in addition to family visits and “support for the Cuban people.”

havana-live-Insel-AirHAVANA, Dec. 4th The local aviation company InselAir started yesterday with charter flights from Miami to Cuba. In partnership with three U.S. agencies they provide up to nine daily flights to four different destinations in Cuba.

This major contract for InselAir is the result of four years of intensive negotiations. This is according to Jurgen Lippinkhof, Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) of the airline.

The three U.S. operators may not fly to Cuba so they use InselAir. The airlines started yesterday operating flights between Miami, Santiago de Cuba, Camaguey, Holguin and Havana.

The agreement is for an indefinite period.

havana-live-baleariasHAVANA, Dec. 4th  If you’ve been itching to take a ferry from Florida to Cuba, be patient. It probably won’t start before the second half of 2016 and could take longer, according to ferry executives.

Spain’s ferry veteran Balearia said Thursday that it has proposed to invest more than $35 million to build a ferry terminal and related facilities in Havana to help speed the start of Florida-Cuba service.

But Havana has not approved that project or any U.S-Cuba ferry venture yet, executives said.

Cuba needs to develop terminal facilities for proposed ferries from Florida, complete with customs and immigration processing and room to handle passengers and freight. That requires millions of dollars in investment.

Still, Havana need not accept Balearia’s offer to build a large, permanent terminal and could opt for less expensive, temporary facilities first to assess what’s needed longer term, U.S. executives said.

Excitement over Florida-Cuba ferries had surfaced this spring, when the U.S. government issued the first approvals for Florida ferry service to Cuba in more than half a century. At least seven companies were granted U.S. licenses, and some executives hoped to start the routes as soon as this fall.

But much has changed since then.

After the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations this summer, Washington liberalized rules for sea transport to Cuba and no longer requires specific licenses for ferries to the island. That means any ferry company that receives Cuban approval now can start up Florida-Cuba service, said veteran cruise operator Bruce Nierenberg, CEO of United Caribbean Lines, one of the companies that received a U.S. license this spring.

What’s more, Cuba has decided to wait on authorizing ferry service from Florida.

“The Cuban government has said they’ll hold off for several months. It’s not a priority now,” Nierenberg said. With U.S. air travel to Cuba booming, Havana has said it wants to focus on building more hotel rooms and on developing facilities for cruises, whose passengers won’t need hotels, he said.

“It won’t start before the second half of 2016 at the earliest,” Nierenberg said. “Cuba is taking its time. They’re thinking it through. You have to have a lot of patience.”

Florida-Cuba ferries would be especially attractive for Cuban-Americans who often bring supplies to family and friends on the island, from food to appliances to equipment for private businesses. Those visitors now pay hefty fees to carry extra baggage by plane and would pay less to take cargo by ferry.

But Cuba has yet to change its rules to allow Cuban-Americans to arrive by sea, said Vivian Mannerud, president of Airline Brokers Co. of Miami, which also holds one of the U.S. ferry licenses. U.S. ferries to Cuba don’t make financial sense without Cuban-Americans and cargo, she said.

Spain’s ferry veteran Balearia, which operates ferries from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas, said it has made a proposal to Cuba to spend nearly 35 million euros, or some $38 million at today’s exchange rate, “to show the willingness of the company to invest in Cuba and operate from Havana,” said spokeswoman Pilar Boix.

Balearia also offered to operate four solar-powered boats that can hold about 100 passengers each to serve as shuttles around the Havana Bay area, a news release said. Those boats could link with other transport hubs in the city, providing links to buses, taxis and trains.

Seaports in Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach County, Miami, Tampa, Key West and elsewhere are vying to host Cuba ferry service and boost their business.

Nierenberg said his United Caribbean Lines aims to operate two overnight cruise-ferries to Cuba from Miami and Tampa. The ships would depart Florida in the afternoon and reach Havana in the morning.

His line plans to use vessels with some 500 cabins that are “like a cruise ship on a top of a garage” that can hold about 500 cars and some 1,500 trailers, he said. A passenger would pay about $295 round-trip and could rent a bin for about $150 to take up to 1,000 pounds of freight, Nierenberg said.

havana-live-vaccine shot cubaHAVANA, Dec. 3th. Cuba will expand its clinical trial on a therapeutic vaccine aimed at treating lung cancer, official media reported Wednesday. The vaccine, currently underway in only two provinces, will be dispensed in municipal clinics across the country come 2016.

The ultimate goal, said one of the program’s researchers to news agency ACN, is to standardize the administration of Cimavax EGF, a medication developed by Cuba’s Molecular Engineering Center.

Cimavax EGF is already being used in “at least one clinic per municipality” in Villa Clara and Havana provinces. Lorenzo said, and the trial will be extended to the rest of the country during the course of 2016.

The vaccine is used as a complement to conventional treatments such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. While it does not prevent or cure lung cancer, it has been shown to improve quality of life for patients, especially those in the advanced stages of the disease.

Low toxicity, comparatively mild side effects and ease of administration via subcutaneous injection make Cimavax suitable for use in the family medical practice offices that serve almost every community in the island, Lorenzo said.

Created to strengthen the immune system’s response to non-small-cell lung cancer, Cimavax EGF was first registered in Cuba in 2008 and since 2012 it has been on the list of basic medications.

More than 3,000 patients have received treatment with the vaccine, which has attracted interest from other countries.

In April, Cuba’s Molecular Immunology Center and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, signed an agreement that will bring Cimavax to the U.S. for clinical trials.
Based on reporting by EFE

HAVANA, Dec. 3th On the eve of the annual Havana Film Festival, a camera crew wrap up a long day’s shoot on the backstreets of the capital.

No Hollywood blockbuster, it’s a low-budget music video for a band. Yet there is still something unique, almost revolutionary, about how it’s being produced.

It’s part of a new wave of independent film-making in Cuba.

Video clips, short films, documentaries and even successful feature-length movies have been made not through the state-run cinema industry, but by independents financed from abroad.

More and more, it seems, Cuba’s film-makers are striking out on their own.

Leading the way is director Pavel Giroud. His latest movie, El Acompanante, examines the Cuban government’s handling of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Set for its Cuban premiere during the Havana Film Festival, it is an independent co-production with support from France, Venezuela and Colombia.

“This is an indie film,” Giroud tells me during pre-production. “It doesn’t pertain to any of the major studios around the world or in the United States.”

It is also not tied to Cuba’s state-run cinema agency, the ICAIC. “They are collaborating with us, facilitating and making life easier for us, for which we’re grateful,” Giroud says. “But they have no link to the production itself.”

The film has been well received on the festival circuit, though given the subject matter – about how the authorities kept infection rates down by detaining HIV patients in a sanatorium – its director thinks it’s not one the state would have made itself.

But he says it’s encouraging that he was able to make the movie with no interference from above and he’s urging the government to change the law to allow more productions to adopt his model.

“It’s a blueprint which a group of film-makers and I are putting all our support behind. This is our best bet for the future,” he explains.

But Giroud admits there isn’t complete unity over the idea.

“Others disagree with me, including within the cinema community in Cuba. But I’m going to push for the ICAIC to become a film institute like anywhere else in the world – with links and relationships to the smaller production houses.

“I think that would be the most effective structure for Cuban cinema.”

It’s not just younger filmmakers who are calling for change.

One of the most established names in Cuban cinema is Fernando Perez. His small apartment, which has incredible views across Havana, is adorned with almost no mementos from his long and distinguished career in film.

In one corner, though, he’s kept a festival prize for his 2003 film Suite Havana – a love letter and a lament to Cuba’s beautiful, decaying capital city. It was made entirely via the ICAIC but Perez says there are now other options for making films on the island.

“You can now make independent cinema in Cuba,” he says. “You don’t need to wait for the industry to give you the opportunity to film.

“There’s a whole batch of young people involved with this. And some not-so-young ones too!” he adds with a smile. “It’s a phenomenon, which hasn’t grown into a full movement yet.”

‘So many stories to tell’

Two years ago, a group of film-makers partly led by Giroud and Perez engaged the authorities in discussions over the creation of a new cinema law to redefine the way in which films are produced on the island.

The initial reception from the culture ministry was positive, and the President of the ICAIC, Roberto Smith, was keen to stress that the dialogue should not be characterised as a confrontation between Cuba’s independent film-makers and the state.

Fernando Perez agrees that the debate doesn’t have to be a clash of ideas. “Independent film isn’t cinema that runs against the principles of the ICIAC,” he says.

“On the contrary, many of these young film-makers and independent directors still dream of making a film through the ICAIC. That’s not what this is about. It’s about diversifying.”

As well as diversification, though, it’s about access. Perez joined the ICAIC when he was 17 but says he didn’t direct his first film until his early 40s.

The veteran director is quick to acknowledge the importance of those formative years in building up his training and experience before he tackled his first feature.

But Pavel Giroud says today’s generation of Cuban directors aren’t prepared to wait so long for the state’s approval and will pick up their cameras to make ‘indie’ films instead.

“We’ve spent decades training film-makers,” he says. “You can’t then expect those film-makers to wait until their 40s to make their films when they have so much to say in their 20s – especially when we live in a country with so many stories to tell, where there’s a story on every street corner.”

Cuba_Texas_Governor.JPEG-0aHAVANA, Dec. 3th Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and investment told Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday that he believes the normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is an inexorable process that won’t be reversed no matter who is elected president in 2016.

Hours later, in a conference call with Texas reporters at the end of his three-day trade trip to Cuba, Abbott said he was convinced that Cuba is dedicated to the path of modernizing and adding private sector elements to its economy.

The governor said he was “impressed with a sense of entrepreneurial spirit, a longing for free enterprise” among Cubans.

Abbott spoke after a previously unscheduled two-hour meeting with Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers and a close associate of the Castro brothers since the Cuban Revolution.

Despite the Cuban official’s old guard standing, Abbott said Cabrisas didn’t sound like a man resisting change.

“He seemed like a lead promoter of change,” Abbott said. “One thing that he made clear, and it seems like everyone makes clear, it is that they are going to advance, but it will be at their own speed, at their own doing.”

Abbott said in his conversations with everyday Cubans, “there is a growing sense of freedom and free enterprise here.”

“This is an historic process,” Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz, minister of foreign trade and investment, told Abbott at a Wednesday morning meeting. “It’s historic because it’s been a long time and a lot of administrations and there weren’t any changes, and now is when the changes are taking place. We think this process is irreversible, it’s not going to be taken back.”

“We think whoever gets elected president this process will continue,” he said.

That might not be the case if either U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida or Ted Cruz of Texas are elected president, but Malmierca made no mention of the two Cuban-Americans vying for the Republican nomination for the president.

In the meantime, Malmierca said, “the new situation regarding the U.S.-Cuba relationship has awakened the interest of many businesspeople around the world.”

“They see a light at the end of the tunnel, thinking that the blockade can be lifted someday,” he said, using the terms Cubans use to refer to the embargo, which remains in place despite President Barack Obama re-establishing diplomatic relations this year.

Ending the embargo would require congressional action.

When asked in the conference call with reporters whether it was time to end the embargo, Abbott said, “It is not within the parameter of my job to set the rules, it is my job to stay within the rules and make Texas continue to be the leader in exports.”

“My efforts are not contingent on things changing,” he said. “My efforts are based on the way things are today. We need to operate within the boundaries of the way the law exists today.”

Abbott said he believed the best way to promote freedom in Cuba was to promote free enterprise and contact with Americans – especially Texans.

“Of all the things we export across the entire world,” Abbott said of Texas, “our top export is freedom and free enterprise.”

Malmierca offered an outline for the Abbott delegation of the ways in which Cuba is modernizing its economy to make it operate more efficiently.

“Even though we keep the ideal of maintaining a socialist society, to modernize we mean to make our country more efficient,” he said, outlining three moves the government is making in that direction.

In his remarks to Abbott and the Texas delegation, Malmierca outlined three ways that Cuba is working to make its economy more modern and efficient.

First, he said, while the state will continue to own major enterprises, “the state doesn’t have to manage the enterprise day to day. We need to modernize our state enterprises to make them efficient, and a way to do this is to have an administration that makes decisions separate from the state.”

Second, he said there were small businesses —such as barbershops — for which state ownership was “absurd,” that had been privatized. Because of their nonessential nature, he said, their prices could be guided by the market.

“The price of bread, that price is still controlled by the state in a very complicated process, I am not going to explain this process, because it will bore you,” he said. But, he said, someone can choose to shave their head or grow their hair long, so a trip to the barber is nonessential.

And, the third way to modernize the Cuban economy, Malmierca said, is by encouraging foreign investment, a route that, he said, the U.S. embargo makes infinitely more complicated.

Even if it cannot be eliminated in one fell swoop, he said, “we need at least to continue trying to make it weaker.”


6_ronda_cuba_ue_2HAVANA, Dec. 3th The EU and Cuba held their sixth round of negotiations towards a bilateral Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement (PDCA) in Brussels on 1st and 2nd December 2015.

All three main chapters of the PDCA were discussed – political dialogue, cooperation and policy dialogue as well as trade and economic cooperation. The discussions took place in a constructive atmosphere demonstrating the ambition of both sides to make progress towards concluding the Agreement as early as possible and continue enhancing their relations.

The parties reached final agreement on all elements of the Trade and economic cooperation chapter. In addition, the negotiation of the Cooperation and Policy Dialogue chapter was almost completed, including on outstanding issues, such as consular protection and support to economic operators and business support organisations.

With respect to the Political Dialogue, the Parties made substantial progress, and reached agreement on a good number of the provisions in this chapter. In a few areas, further discussions between the Parties are still necessary during the next round to allow positions to converge. Both sides also started to exchange views on the general, institutional and final provisions as well as the Preamble of the future Agreement, in order to explain and clarify the proposals tabled.

The Parties agreed to meet again in Havana during the first months of 2016 for the 7th round of negotiations. Delegations were led by Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Abelardo Moreno and EEAS Deputy Secretary General Christian Leffler.

MSC (1)HAVANA, Dec. 3th  (FT)  MSC Cruises is to dock a second ship in Havana next year as it looks to gain a lead in the race for Cuban tourism and build on its investment in new ships.

The privately owned cruise operator will become the first global company with a ship in Cuba when the MSC Opera — which set sail from Genoa on Wednesday — arrives in Havana later this month.

The company has said it will now send a second ship, the MSC Armonia, to Cuba’s largest port after experiencing high levels of demand from European customers.

“There was such a good response, especially — and this surprised us — from many European markets,” said Gianni Onorato, chief executive of MSC Cruises.

“The idea is to grow more and that’ll depend a lot on the level of growth in the infrastructure that can receive the ships . . . our commitment in Cuba we hope will encourage authorities to invest in ports.”

Mr Onorato said conversations with the Cuban authorities began in January and plans for the second ship received a boost when Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, visited the Caribbean island in October.

American liners are still subject to US restrictions that limit travel to licensed volunteer programmes.

But as US-Cuban relations thaw following a truce between US President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro last December, leisure industries are rushing to take advantage of Cuba’s potential as a relatively untouched tourist destination.

Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company by market share, has received approval from the US government to send a cruise liner to Havana that combines social work and travel, but it has yet to receive the go-ahead from Cuban authorities.

MSC Armonia is part of a €5.1bn investment plan by MSC Cruises to increase its fleet by seven ships to a total of 19 by 2021.

One of these will set sail for Shanghai where it will serve the China market, which Mr Onorato said will be part of MSC’s long-term strategy. “Both China and the Caribbean represent the future,” he said.

MSC Opera and MSC Armonia can hold about 2,600 passengers each and according to the company cost €700m-€1bn to build.


havana-live-saint_Laurent_haimark_renderHAVANA, Dec. 2th It’s been more than 50 years since a cruise ship from an American port has dropped anchor in a Cuban one.

Now, just in time for the winter exodus to all places sunny, that’s about to change. The MS. Saint Laurent—a sprightly luxury ship from Haimark Travel that caps out at 210 passengers—is set to sail from Miami to Havana on February 11, 2016, with Americans on board.

How so? It’s complicated (but completely legal). Though Americans still can’t travel to Cuba as tourists, cruise lines are taking advantage of an agreement that allows travel for culturally educational purposes. In other words, while you learn to roll cigars, they’ll deal with the visa issues.

Once onboard, the tripgoers will embark on a ten-day coastal tour that includes stops in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. Visits to classic spots such as Hotel Ambos Mundos (where Ernest Hemingway wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls) and the Buena Vista Social Club are also on the itinerary, with mojitos and the cha-cha in no short supply.

Of course, there’s always the option of partying on at the ship’s open bar before falling asleep on Egyptian-cotton sheets in one of the 105 staterooms. The Caribbean never looked so good. SaintLaurent_Barsaint-laurent-cruise-ship-05saint-laurent-cruise-ship-03saint-laurent-cruise-ship-04saint-laurent-cruise-ship-01


havana-live-papa (1)HAVANA,Dec. 1th Ernest Hemingway biopic “Papa” has been set for an international premiere on December 5 as part of Havana, Cuba’s 37th International Festival of New Latin Cinema.

Cast members Adrian Sparks, Joely Richardson and Hemingway’s granddaughter Mariel Hemingway are expected to be in attendance. “Papa,” directed by Bob Yari, is the first Hollywood movie to shoot on location in Cuba since the 1959 revolution.

The film screened at the Key West International Film Festival on Nov. 19. It centers on a young journalist, Denne Petitclerc, who finds a father figure in Hemingway.

Sparks portrays Hemingway and Richardson plays his fourth wife Mary. Giovanni Ribisi portrays Petitclerc.

The film also stars Minka Kelly, Shaun Toub and James Remar. It was shot in Hemingway’s home Finca Vigia and locations throughout Cuba including La Floridita and Ambos Mundos Hotel.

“Papa” is based on a script by Petitclerc, who died in 2006, and is produced by Amanda Harvey, Michael Pacino, Weezie Melancon and Yari.

Yari was the head of Yari Film Group, which operated between 2002 and 2009, when it filed for bankruptcy protection. Its slate included “Crash,” “The Illusionist,” “The Hoax” and “The Painted Veil.”
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Cuban doctors arrive for training before being assigned to work in impoverished areas where physicians and medical services are scarce, at the University of Brasilia in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 26, 2013.  Cuban doctors and foreign doctors from other countries are part of the "More Doctors" program to get more physicians working in underserved areas. All will have to spend their first three weeks in the country studying Brazil's public health system and Portuguese. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

HAVANA, Dec. 1th. (REUTERS) Cuba on Tuesday re-imposed limits on doctors leaving the country, saying its universal and free healthcare services have been “seriously affected” by the flight of vital medical specialists.

In a rare backtrack by Cuba on modernizing reforms of recent years, the Communist government said it would reapply restrictions that had been lifted in 2013.

Cuba said it was responding to a U.S. program that seeks to drain its former Cold War enemy of doctors, nurses and other specialists working in third countries. The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, begun in 2006, remains in effect even though President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba this year.

Medical professionals now need special permission to leave the Caribbean island for personal travel, marking the second restriction imposed on Cuban emigration in a week amid a crisis in Central America, where thousands of Cubans trying to reach the United States have been stuck at border crossings.

Ecuador on Thursday began requiring visas for Cubans traveling to that South American country, cutting off one route Cubans had preferred to reach the United States.

From Ecuador, where until Monday Cubans could fly without a visa, they start a 7,000-km (4,400-mile) overland journey involving eight illegal border crossings to reach the U.S. border. Once there, Cubans receive preferential treatment to enter and obtain permanent residence with relative ease.

A sudden spike in November led Nicaragua to seal its southern border with Costa Rica, where some 4,000 Cubans are stuck in harsh conditions. Another 850 are backed up in Panama, unable to cross into Costa Rica.

While attributing the exodus to “fundamentally economic motivations,” Cuba also blamed U.S. policies that welcome Cubans while immigrants from neighboring countries face deportation.

In bilateral migration talks in Washington on Monday, Cuba said it “once again demanded the elimination” of those provisions.

The Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program encourages doctors to abandon overseas assignments for the United States. Cuba generates major export earnings by sending more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries, funding healthcare at home but also aggravating the doctor shortage. Cuba also sends many doctors abroad on missions of mercy.

Restrictions long imposed by Cuba on doctors were lifted by a general immigration law in 2013 that gave Cubans wider freedom to leave. For decades it had been very difficult for any Cuban to travel abroad and even more so for medical personnel.

_86950241_protestHAVANA, Nov. 1th (BBC) As Europe’s winter approaches and many hundreds of thousands of immigrants across the continent face an uncertain future, in Havana rare street protests have been held in recent days over a separate, very different kind of immigrant crisis that’s taking place in Latin America.

It is a journey which begins in Cuba, but takes in Ecuador in the Andes and Central American nations such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
It involves political allegiances between long-standing allies and new relationships between former Cold War foes. And, of course, it involves the immigration policies of the migrants’ ultimate destination, the US.

Late on Thursday, Ecuador’s foreign ministry announced that from 1 December Cubans would require a visa to enter the country.For many Cubans, the news was a blow. In fact, Ecuador was reimposing a measure it had lifted on its socialist ally in April 2014.

For 18 months, Cubans had enjoyed the freedom to travel to the South American nation without restriction. Ecuador quickly became a popular destination for Cubans as it presented them with two important opportunities.

First, the rare chance to travel abroad to a comparatively affordable holiday destination – one where they could load up on much-needed goods and electrical items, often with the intention of reselling them on the black market back in Cuba. Second, for thousands of Cuban immigrants it became the first step on a 5,500 km trip north to the US.

Ecuador’s decision came as around 3,000 Cubans sit stranded in Costa Rica amid a stand-off with Nicaragua.Costa Rica is urging its Central American neighbours to grant safe passage to the Cubans, to allow a kind of “humanitarian corridor'” so they can reach the US.

But Nicaragua, led by Raul Castro’s old ally, President Daniel Ortega, is refusing to let them in and is taking what appears to be a harder line on Cubans passing through their territory on the route north.

Cuba has said the immigrants can return home but it is clear that they have no intention of abandoning their trip. Instead, they are left in limbo on Costa Rica’s northern border. Ecuador announced its plan to require a visa for Cubans following an emergency meeting in El Salvador – seemingly echoing Nicaragua’s tougher stance.

The Ecuadorean Foreign Ministry said they still welcomed Cubans to the country, but were committed to “efforts by the Latin American community to prevent migration without authorisation”. Meanwhile, those Cubans who had already bought plane tickets for Ecuador were caught by surprise by the news and without visas face losing their flights and their money.

But significantly, their reaction was one not often seen in Cuba.

Anger on the streets

Rather than meekly accept the decision of the authorities, they took to the streets outside the Ecuadorean embassy to demand their visas be issued immediately. Protests that aren’t government organised are very rare in Cuba and in this instance, police cordoned off several streets around the embassy building.

Ecuadorean diplomats used loudspeakers to address the crowd, who had started to chant for visas, insisting that they would have to apply for them online. Given how little internet access there is in Cuba, and how difficult and expensive it is for people to get online, that was never going to placate the crowd._86948775_cuba

At the same time, there were also queues forming outside the offices of the Copa and Avianca airline companies, as frustrated customers demanded refunds on their tickets. Some were desperate, having spent up to $800 on their tickets, a huge sum for most Cubans.

Others were visibly angry – both at the Ecuadorean Government for taking the measure, thereby cutting off one of their few routes out of Cuba, and at the Cuban Government of Raul Castro, at whose behest they believe Quito is acting. By Saturday, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, said that those Cubans who had bought tickets before the announcement would be issued visas for travel.
But even that wasn’t enough to send home some in the crowd, who resolutely stayed put until their individual cases were resolved.

HAVANA, Nov. 30th. Puerto Rican pop singer Olga Tañon is set to perform two shows in Cuba in December. Read more

havana-live-iberiaHAVANA, Nov. 30 th Six months after launching the route, Iberia will offer one additional frequency to Havana, Cuba, up to six weekly flights on Tuesdays, starting from tomorrow December 1, 2015. Iberia flies from Madrid to Havana with its newest aircraft, the Airbus A330-300, twin-engine planes, which can accommodate 278 passengers.

Business travelers can unfold their seats into 2-metre-long flat beds, all with direct access to the aisle. Economy class seats are wider and ergonomic. All passengers can enjoy touch-screen-based a on demand entertainment system with 50 films in different languages, 80 TV series and documentaries, 400 music options and video games. The seats have also power and connection ports for their electronic devices, plus access to Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity.

Iberia flights to/from Havana are scheduled to offer good connections in Madrid from/to Iberia’s 90 destinations in Europe, Africa and Middle East. Among them are Barcelona, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Bilbao, Majorca, Vigo, A Coruña and Asturias in Spain, London, Paris Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich in Europe, favouring both holiday and business travel in both directions.

havana-live-us immigrationHAVANA, Nov. 30th The U.S. and Cuba will hold another round of migration talks on Monday to discuss the “legal migration” of Cubans.

According to a statement from the U.S. Department of State, the migration discussion is part of the U.S. and Cuba’s biannual Migration Talks. Set for Nov. 30, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Alex Lee will lead the talks on behalf of the U.S., while Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ U.S. Division’s Director General Josefina Vidal will lead the Cuban delegation.

Vidal has been instrumental in the renewed diplomatic relations talks since earlier this year. She has engaged the U.S. on topics ranging from the reopening of respective embassies, traffic of persons, migration fraud, civil aviation, maritime protected areas and human rights.

“The delegations will discuss continuing implementation of the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, which provide for the safe, orderly, and legal migration of Cubans to the United States,” said the State Department, noting the latest round of talks were originally scheduled for July but was delayed due to the re-opening of the U.S. and Cuban embassies last summer.

“The reestablishment of diplomatic relations, the re-opening of embassies, and the much longer process of normalizing relations with Cuba have not changed U.S. policy on Cuban migration,” the State Department later added.

Monday’s talks will kickoff the first of discussions between U.S. and Cuban officials. On Dec. 1, respective government officials will gather for the “Counter-Narcotics Dialogue” in Washington, D.C. The talks on narcotics will include representatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Representatives from the State Department, Coast Guard, DEA and ICE will meet Cuban government representatives to discuss methods to stop illegal flows of narcotics traveling between the countries.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuba President Raul Castro announced the renewal of diplomatic relations on Dec. 17, last year. Since the renewed talks, the U.S. has removed Cuba as the State Sponsor of Terrorism, which only leaves Iran, Sudan and Syria on the list.

The Obama administration has also enabled the U.S. Department of Commerce and Department of Treasury to amend regulatory rules. On July 20, small ceremonies in Washington, D.C. and Havana observed the official re-opening of respective embassies.

havana-live-internetcubaHAVANA, Nov. 30th  Millions of Cuban citizens could have affordable access to the Internet in a matter of months. The only thing keeping the island in the digital Dark Ages is a lack of political will.

Cuban officials have long blamed the American embargo for their nation’s obsolete telecommunications systems. They no longer have that excuse.
Regulatory changes the Obama administration put in place this year provide Havana with a number of options to expand Internet coverage quickly and sharply. If the government took advantage of that, the island’s anemic economy could get a much-needed jolt, and young Cubans who are determined to emigrate, a powerful reason to reconsider.

Cuba was among the last in the region to go online in the 1990s. Over the years, the authoritarian government has moved haltingly in expanding access to the Internet, which remains tightly controlled and censored. The American government sought to establish clandestine connections, but relatively few people benefited from those initiatives, and those who did risked being branded as traitors.

Since 2013, Cuba has been plugged into the global cable network that enables high-speed connections, but the Internet is still largely out of reach and prohibitively expensive for those who don’t have government-sanctioned access through workplaces and universities.

Young Cubans, eager to connect with the world,have built ingenious ways around the government’s controls. In the past two years, a black market data sharing system known as el paquete, or the packet, has enabled Cubans to gain access to a menu of news sites, television shows, movies and snapshots of websites that are bundled weekly and disseminated door to door through hard drives and memory sticks. They also have used wireless routers to create neighborhood networks that are not connected to the Internet but that enable users to chat and share media.

Earlier this year, the government, responding to popular pressure, established 35 wireless centers where Cubans can use smartphones and laptops to go online for about $2 an hour. Although that amounts to roughly 10 percent of the median monthly salary on the island, the centers have been mobbed.

Norges Rodríguez, an engineer and prominent blogger in Havana, said that Cuban officials were wrestling with a quandary. “They are aware that for the economy to advance, the economy must be online,” he said in a phone interview. “But our society, by design, is like the one the Soviets had: a closed society.”
Within Cuba’s opaque power structure there is a split between hard-liners who are worried that broader Internet access could fuel dissent and more progressive leaders who see the embrace of technology as a matter of economic survival. Google, which has recently made it a priority to expand online access in some of the world’s least plugged-in societies, has invigorated that debate in recent months by offering to rapidly upgrade the island’s Internet infrastructure.

Partnering with Google, which has enormous lobbying clout in Washington, could advance Havana’s goal of building enough political support in Congress to repeal the embargo and would make it harder for a future president to dial back the restoration of diplomatic ties that Mr. Obama set in motion last year. Leading Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio, have been critical of broader engagement with the Cuban government.

Cuba could also decide to do business with non-American technology companies, as Myanmar did after it began opening its political system in 2013. Industry experts say there would be no shortage of bidders eager to establish a foothold in a populous Caribbean nation with one of the world’s highest literacy rates — despite Havana’s cumbersome foreign investment laws and its inability to obtain credit to purchase American equipment because of sanctions that remain in place.

Cuban officials pledged last December to expand Internet access “without haste, but without pause.” But that hasn’t happened, and Cubans are rightly demanding more. “The government had claimed the problem was the inability to do business with American companies,” Mr. Rodríguez, the blogger, said. “That argument has disappeared.”

havana-live-Imo-messenger-1HAVANA, Nov. 28th (14ymedio) December will soon be here and numerous lists of this year’s protagonists will be published in Cuba.

A difficult task in a country that over the last 12 months was visited by a pope, a secretary of state and even by Mick Jagger. However, the person who takes all the palms is not a politician, a religious leader or a rocker. It is a mobile application with a short name and a profound impact on our reality: IMO.

With over 150 million accounts worldwide, this video-call tool burst into our daily lives mid-year to shorten distances and reunite families. With its simple interface and capacity to adapt itself to the low speeds of our internet connection, IMO has achieved what insularity and politics has limited for so long: contact with the world.

Headquartered in Palo Alto, the startup responsible for this tool for text chats, voice and video, was founded by one of the first ten Google employees, who says that he likes working “on challenging projects.”
A maxim that has been extensively tested in Cuba, where despite the technological obstacles the app has spread virally through smartphones and tablets.

Anyone who says that technology distances us and locks us in solitude, can wander through the wifi zone on Havana’s La Rampa and see the tears and smiles this utility gives rise to when Cubans connect between here and there.
The emotions are very much as if they were face to face. There is no coldness on the screen, nothing dehumanizing on the keyboard, when they are the only chance of encountering the people we love.

The corner of Infanta and 23rd, any Saturday. A lady enjoys the son she hasn’t seen for two decades, checks out his latest hair dye, while the emigrant’s sister has brought the dog who also participates in the moment.

Even prostitution with foreigners has become more technological through the new utility. Now “the merchandise” is evaluated before the customer arrives in the country. The other day a young girl swept a tablet with a camera over her whole body while, on the other side, someone with a German accent asked if it was true that she was over 18.

However, IMO deserves the title of Person of the Year above all because of the key role it has played in the migratory crisis facing close to 4,000 Cubans on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

havana-live-havana club bitterHAVANA, Nov. 28th New drink flavourings have been launched in a collaboration between Havana Club rum and bitters producers The Bitter Truth.

The Essence of Cuba range is inspired by Havana Club Añejo 7 Años, offering bartenders a new way to serve and enjoy the aged Cuban rum. The four flavours are Aromatic Leaf, Honey, Island Fruit and Coffee.

Produced like cocktail bitters, although not bitter to taste, they have been made by The Bitter Truth, founded by German bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck.

The Essence of Cuba range has been designed to highlight the natural flavours and aromas of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años, the first Cuban rum crafted to be sipped.

To launch The Essence of Cuba range within the on-trade, distributor Pernod Ricard UK has selected 15 “hero” venues from key UK cities including London, Manchester, Leeds, Edinburgh and Glasgow, that will promote the new bitters in different ways, from table serves to food pairings.

The activations will then be rolled out nationwide, with promotions that centre on sharing occasions, digital amplification and heightened in-bar visibility.

Liam Murphy, senior brand managerHavana-Club-Essence-of-Cuba for Pernod Ricard UK, said: “To support the launch of Havana Club Essences of Cuba we entrusted our sales team to select bars across the UK, which were then treated to a brand immersion day by our brand ambassadors Meimi Sanchez and Mike Foster.

“Both introduced the outlets to The Essences of Cuba and advised those taking part how to promote them to customers within the on-trade.

“This is an extremely exciting launch for the brand as it opens up an entirely new drinks category within the on-trade, with the essences enhancing the rum’s natural flavours, making it more accessible to a wider audience.”

To celebrate the launch, Havana Club has teamed up with Andy Loudon, the Havana Club Grand Prix 2014 competition winner, to produce a range of cocktail serves using each of the flavours.

The recommended serve for The Essence of Cuba range is to add three dashes of flavouring to 40ml of Havana Club Añejo 7 Años and ice to easily create a drink that is complex in flavour. Recipes include twists on an Old Fashioned and a Tom & Jerry (pictured).