havana-live-pope francisHAVANA, 19 Sept.  (AP)   The latest developments in Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba and the United States. All times local:

5:21 p.m.

Francis is traveling through the streets of Havana, waving to excited crowds from the latest version of the iconic popemobile.

Thousands of Cubans are along the route from the Jose Marti International Airport to the home of the Vatican’s ambassador to Cuba, where the pontiff is to spend the night.Download

Many are waving Cuban and Vatican flags. Near the residence, a group of nuns is singing the Lord’s Prayer to the rhythm of traditional Cuban “son” music. One woman holds a sign that reads: “Francis, you bring us hope.”

There’s also a near-continuous line of security agents forming a human barricade.

4:50 p.m.

Pope Francis has been given a red-carpet welcome in Havana complete with a military honor guard and a handshake from a dark-suited Raul Castro.

Smiling children handed him flowers, and a band played the Cuban national anthem before Castro and then the pope took turns speaking.

Island church leaders were also on hand to greet the pontiff.

4:40 p.m.

Pope Francis is hailing detente between the United States and Cuba as a model of reconciliation. He urges Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro to continue working to build normal ties as the pontiff begins a 10-day tour of the former Cold War foes.

Francis served as mediator for the resumption of diplomatic relations this year. He says, “I urge political leaders to persevere on this path and to develop all its potentialities.”

Francis calls the negotiations that led to the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington “an example of reconciliation for the entire world.”

At an airport arrival ceremony headed by President Raul Castro, Francis says he wants his greeting “to embrace especially all those who, for various reasons, I will not be able to meet” — a possible nod to political dissidents as well as average Cubans.

4:30 p.m.

Cuban President Raul Castro is praising Pope Francis’ critiques of the global economic system, saying it has “globalized capital and turned money into its idol.”

In a lengthy speech welcoming the pope at Havana’s international airport, Castro says Cuba’s communist government has “founded an equitable society with social justice.” He thanks the pope for mediating negotiations on detente between the United States and Cuba.

Castro is also calling for the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and the return of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.

3:51 p.m.

Pope Francis has landed in Havana, launching a historic 10-day trip to Cuba and the United States after serving as secret mediator of the historic rapprochement between the former Cold War foes.

Cuban President Raul Castro is at the airport to welcome the pontiff, who will be offering a show of solidarity with Cubans and delivering a message in the United States that Hispanics are the bedrock of the American church.

2:45 p.m.

Hundreds of people are beginning to gather along the route where Pope Francis will travel when he arrives in Cuba.

They include five Salvadoran citizens waiting on a street closed to traffic in a leafy neighborhood of western Havana, where Francis is to overnight at the papal ambassador’s residence.

Sandra del Moreno traveled from San Salvador with four friends and was clutching the Central American nation’s flag.

The 51-year-old woman said “We love this pope, although we would have liked it if he had visited El Salvador.”

A block away three kids were playing with a ball made from rags.

Ten-year-old Kevin Duvergel and 9-year-old Marlos Duenas exclaimed in unison: “Pope Francis is going to pass by!”

1:55 p.m.

Not everyone in Havana is thrilled at being asked to turn out for the pope.

State-employed medical office worker Rafael Rivero says he’s not sure if he will come watch Francis’ motorcade, and many co-workers feel the same way.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player
HAVANA, Sept. 19 The U.S. Treasury and Department of Commerce announced changes in the United States’ relationship with Cuba Friday morning.

“Today’s announcement underscores the Administration’s commitment to promote constructive change for the Cuban people,” Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said.
“These regulatory changes build on the revisions implemented earlier this year and will further ease sanctions related to travel, telecommunications and internet-based services, business operations in Cuba, and remittances.
A stronger, more open U.S.-Cuba relationship has the potential to create economic opportunities for both Americans and Cubans alike.

By further easing these sanctions, the United States is helping to support the Cuban people in their effort to achieve the political and economic freedom necessary to build a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.”

The changes are the following:
Facilitating authorized travel and commerce, increasing contact between Americans and Cubans, and supporting civil society in Cuba:

  • Transportation by vessel of authorized travelers – between the United States and Cuba only and without stops in third countries – will be authorized by general license. Certain related lodging services aboard vessels used for such travel will also be authorized.
  • License Exception Aircraft, Vessels, and Spacecraft (AVS) will authorize temporary sojourns to Cuba of certain categories of vessels. Eligible categories of vessels are cargo vessels for hire for use in the transportation of items; passenger vessels for hire for use in the transportation of passengers and/or items; and recreational vessels that are used in connection with travel authorized by the Treasury.
  • License Exception AVS will authorize aircraft on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 7 consecutive days and authorizes vessels on temporary sojourn to remain in Cuba for up to 14 consecutive days.
  • Close relatives will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for certain additional activities. In the January changes, OFAC permitted close relatives to join visits related to official government business and certain educational activities, and to visit additional family members residing in Cuba. Close relatives now also will be allowed to visit or accompany authorized travelers for additional educational activities, journalistic activity, professional research, and religious activities, as well as activities related to humanitarian projects and activities of private foundations or certain research or educational institutes. For purposes of this provision, a close relative is defined as someone related to a person by blood, marriage, or adoption – and who is no more than three generations removed from that person or a common ancestor with that person.
  • All authorized travelers will be allowed to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba in order to access funds for authorized transactions while in Cuba.

Telecommunications & Internet-Based Services —
Enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba, and better providing efficient and adequate telecommunications services between the United States and Cuba:

  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to establish a business presence in Cuba, including through joint ventures with Cuban entities, to provide certain telecommunications and internet-based services, as well as to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services.
  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to import Cuban-origin mobile applications into the United States and to hire Cuban nationals to develop them.
  • An existing authorization for the provision of services related to certain consumer communications devices exported to Cuba will be expanded to authorize services related to additional types of items authorized by Commerce, and to add training related to the installation, repair, or replacement of those items.
  • License Exception Consumer Communications Devices (CCD) will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception CCD is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.

Commercial and Financial Transactions –

  • Refocusing sanctions so they do not prevent day-to-day transactions by Cuban individuals who are outside of Cuba.
  • All persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to provide goods and services to individual Cuban nationals located outside of Cuba, provided there is no commercial exportation of goods or services to or from Cuba.
  • Banking institutions will be able to open and maintain accounts for Cuban individuals for use while the Cuban national is located outside of Cuba, and to close such accounts.

Physical Presence and Operations in Cuba –
Facilitating certain authorized activities involving Cuba:

  • Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction engaging in the following categories of authorized activities will be allowed to establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse, in Cuba: news bureaus; exporters of certain goods authorized for export or reexport to Cuba by Commerce and OFAC, such as agricultural products and materials for construction or renovation of privately-owned buildings; entities providing mail or parcel transmission services or certain cargo transportation services; providers of telecommunications or internet-based services; entities organizing or conducting educational activities; religious organizations; and providers of carrier and certain travel services. These individuals and entities will also be authorized to employ Cuban nationals, open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and employ persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Cuba.

Support for the Cuban People –
Improving living conditions, strengthening civil society, and supporting independent economic activity by the Cuban people:

  • License Exception Support for the Cuban People (SCP) will authorize certain exports and reexports of items to Cuba for use in establishing, maintaining, and operating a physical presence in Cuba. Eligible end-users of the items include certain persons providing telecommunications or internet-based services; establishing telecommunications facilities; providing travel or carrier services; organizing or conducting educational activities; or transporting authorized items between the United States and Cuba.
  • License Exception SCP will no longer be limited to sales or donations. This change to License Exception SCP is intended to support other types of transactions, such as leases and loans of eligible items for use by eligible end-users.
  • Certain temporary reexports from a foreign country to Cuba will be authorized by License Exception SCP when the items are for use in scientific, archeological, cultural, ecological, educational, historic preservation, sporting activities, or in the traveler’s professional research and meetings. Previously, this provision was limited to temporary exports by persons departing the United States.
  • Certain commodities and software for use in software development may be exported or reexported to eligible end-users in Cuba pursuant to License Exception SCP.
  • License Exception SCP will authorize temporary exports and reexports to Cuba of additional categories of items, including certain tools of trade to install, service, or repair items; and certain commodities and software for exhibition or demonstration.

Remittances –
Empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment, and in turn strengthening independent civil society:

  • The limits on donative remittances to Cuban nationals other than prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials, currently set at $2,000 per quarter, will be removed entirely. The limits on authorized remittances that individuals may carry to Cuba, previously $10,000 for persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and $3,000 for Cuban nationals, will also be removed entirely.
  • The unblocking and return of remittances that were previously blocked because they exceeded the then-applicable caps on periodic remittances, and of certain previously blocked funds transfers, will be allowed.
  • Depository institutions will be allowed to maintain accounts for certain Cuban nationals present in the United States in a non-immigrant status, and will no longer be required to block such accounts if not closed before the Cuban national’s departure. Access to such accounts will be limited to while the Cuban national is lawfully present in the United States, although the account may remain open while the Cuban national is not in the United States. The $250 monthly limit on payments from previously blocked accounts held in the name of such Cuban nationals will be removed to more adequately allow access to funds for living expenses.
  • Remittances from Cuba and from Cuban nationals in third countries to the United States will be authorized by general license, and financial institutions will be allowed to provide related services.
  • An expanded general license also will authorize additional remittances to Cuban nationals in connection with the administration of estates. This provision complements another general license authorizing all transactions incident to the administration and distribution of the assets of estates in which a Cuban national has an interest.

Legal Services –
Updating the legal services provisions:

  • OFAC’s existing general license authorizing the provision of certain legal services to Cuba and Cuban nationals will be expanded to allow the receipt of payment for such services. Certain limitations will apply, related to payments from prohibited Cuban Government or Cuban Communist Party officials. Additionally, a new general license will authorize persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to receive, and make payment for, certain legal services from Cuba or Cuban nationals.

Civil Aviation Safety –
Supporting international aviation and passenger safety:

  • A case-by-case review policy will apply to license applications for exports and reexports to Cuba of items to help ensure the safety of civil aviation and the safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft. Items that are to be reviewed pursuant to this policy include aircraft parts and components; software and technology related to safety of flight; air traffic control, aviation communications, and aviation weather related equipment; airport safety equipment; and devices used for security screening of passengers and baggage.

Gift Imports –
Allowing certain gifts:

  • Imports of merchandise from Cuba or Cuban-origin merchandise from a third country intended as gifts, excluding alcohol and tobacco products, will be allowed to be sent to the United States provided that the merchandise is not carried by a traveler, the value of the merchandise is not more than $100, and the item is a type and in quantities normally given as a gift.

Educational Activities –
Increasing contact between American and Cubans and enhancing the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people:

  • Under an expanded general license, additional educational activities involving Cuba and Cuban nationals, including the provision of standardized testing services and internet-based courses, will be authorized.
  • Academic exchanges and joint non-commercial academic research with universities or academic institutions in Cuba will also be authorized.
  • Travel-related transactions in connection with these activities will also be authorized.

Ordinarily Incident Transactions –
Clarifying the scope of authorized transactions:

  • OFAC is clarifying that the Cuba sanctions provisions that are already in place allow most transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to a licensed transaction. For example, certain payments made using online payment platforms are permitted for authorized transactions.

Air Ambulances and Emergency Medical Services –
Facilitating access to emergency medical services:

  • The provision of air ambulance and other related emergency medical services to travelers in Cuba will be authorized by general license, and a general license will clarify that the provision of nonscheduled emergency medical services to Cuban nationals in the United States is authorized.

Humanitarian Projects –
Facilitating aid to the Cuban people in times of need and preserving Cuban history:

  •  The general license authorizing transactions related to specified humanitarian projects will be expanded to include disaster relief and historical preservation.

Supporting Diplomatic Relations –
Supporting the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba in accordance with the President’s announcement:

  • OFAC is expanding the general license authorizing transactions with official missions of Cuba to the United States to include international funds transfers.

The changes will take effect on Monday.

havana-live-us embassyHAVANA, Sept. 18 (Reuters) – The White House is drafting sweeping regulations to further weaken the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba that would ease restrictions on U.S. companies and make it safer for Americans to travel there, U.S. government sources said on Thursday.

The regulations could be announced as soon as Friday.

U.S. companies would be allowed to establish offices in Cuba for the first time in more than half a century, according to a draft of the new rules seen by Reuters.

The regulations make it easier for airlines and cruise ships to import parts and technology to improve safety in Cuba; loosen restrictions on software exports; and allow authorized companies to establish subsidiaries with Cuba, possibly via joint ventures with Cuban firms such as state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa.

However, they do not authorise private financing of trade nor change current rules on who can travel to Cuba, though it is possible regulations could still be modified by other agencies or updated later in the year, according to people familiar with the White House’s thinking on Cuba policy.

There was no immediate comment from President Barack Obama‘s administration.

“These are the most comprehensive expansion in U.S. trade and investment regulations with Cuba in decades,” said John Kavulich, head of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, who is familiar with the new rules.

“The result will be an exponential increase in interest towards Cuba by U.S. companies and pressure upon Cuba by those same companies to permit access to the marketplace,” Kavulich said.

The regulations expand on others that Obama announced in January to ease the 53-year-old embargo of the Communist-ruled island.

Those rules were an initial gesture after Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would move toward normal relations between the former Cold War foes for the first time in more than half a century.

Although legislation seeking to promote commercial ties between the two countries has support from Democrats and some Republicans, efforts to pass bills that would ease trade and travel restrictions have been stymied by opposition from Republican congressional leaders.

Given the resistance from Congress, Obama is using executive powers to ease the trade barriers.

The administration was preparing the new regulations as Jose Cabanas, a veteran diplomat, on Thursday became Cuba’s first ambassador to the United States in 54 years.

Washington has yet to name an ambassador to Cuba.

Cuba is also preparing for a three-night visit from Pope Francis starting on Saturday.

One advocate of U.S. engagement with Cuba who has been briefed on the matter said administration officials first discussed the regulations with supporters of Obama’s Cuba policy in July.

“The focus is on ease of doing business, and (the regulations) have been in hopper to be released for a couple of weeks. Interesting that they’re choosing it to coincide with the pope’s visit,” said Felice Gorordo, co-founder of the Cuban-American group Roots of Hope.

havana-live-.verizonHAVANA, Sept. 18 (Reuters) Verizon Communications Inc announced on Thursday it would become the first U.S. company to offer roaming wireless service in Cuba next week.
The announcement by the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier follows the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in July, after a break of 54 years.
The United States has set connectivity as a priority in its new relationship with the Communist-run island.

Telecommunications equipment, technology and services were among the first exemptions to a U.S. economic embargo of the island after Washington and Havana announced plans to restore diplomatic relations in December.

Verizon will charge $2.99 per minute for voice calls and $2.05 per megabyte for data, making the option an expensive one. Currently, visiting Americans must purchase a pay-as-you-go cell phone through state telephone company Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba SA (ETECSA) to have cellular service on the island, or have a cellphone account in a third country. ETECSA does not offer data.

Boost Mobile, part of Sprint Corp, in April launched a prepaid plan for U.S. consumers calling and texting Cuba. In March, U.S.-based IDT Corp reached an agreement with ETECSA to provide direct international long-distance service. Previously phone communication between the two countries had to pass through third countries.

Scarcely 2 million people out of Cuba’s population of 11 million have cell phones. Cuban officials cite the U.S. embargo as the reason for its weak development and say they hope to reach 60 percent mobile-phone access by 2020.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 12: Cartons of mail ready to be sorted sit on a shelf at the U.S. Post Office sort center on August 12, 2011 in San Francisco, California. The U.S. Postal Service is proposing to lay off 120,000 workers in order to deal with an $8.5 billion loss this year that has the agency close to insolvency. The layoffs, if approved by Congress, would take place over the next three years. In addition to layoffs, the Postal Service also wants to eliminate 100,000 jobs through attrition. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

HAVANA, Sept. 18 (AP) — The United States and Cuba should be able to transform their new diplomatic relationship into a deeper commercial partnership before the end of the year, with direct postal service to begin and an agreement on regularly scheduled commercial flights between the two countries, an American official said.

Washington also plans to publish new regulations soon making it easier for U.S. citizens to visit the island and do business with its growing ranks of independent entrepreneurs.

The official, who is familiar with the diplomacy, described significant progress in U.S.-Cuban discussions since the former Cold War foes reopened embassies in their respective countries in July. At a meeting in Havana last week, delegations from each side established a plan to settle a half-century of economic and legal disputes within the next 15 months.

While difficult questions related to human rights and compensation claims won’t be resolved immediately, the official said first steps toward a broader normalization of ties would come quickly.

First, the Obama administration intends to move on its own in the coming days by releasing a new set of rules designed to loosen the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to publicly lay out the process and demanded anonymity.

The goal is to pick up where President Barack Obama left off in January, when he eased economic restrictions on Cuba in potentially the most dramatic manner since relations between the countries broke down after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959 and the subsequent Bay of Pigs invasion and Cuban missile crisis. The action sought to cut red tape for U.S. travel to Cuba, permit American companies to export telephones, computers and Internet technology, and allow U.S. firms to send supplies to private Cuban enterprises.

But efforts to expand business, tourism and other exchanges have run into an overlapping thicket of U.S. laws and hindrances, not to mention an uneven response from Cuba’s political leaders, the U.S. official said.

Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips. Routine airline service hasn’t satisfied various federal conditions. Cruise ships and ferries are still trying to finalize regular maritime routes with Cuban authorities. Credit card and other companies still can’t transfer payments to Cuba. Telecommunications companies haven’t been able to set up shop and get equipment to the island 90 miles south of Florida. And Cuba’s government isn’t even running its Internet connections anywhere near capacity levels.

The new U.S. rules should help cut through some of these bureaucratic hurdles, the official said, though he declined to describe all the legal changes in concrete terms. Only Congress can end the embargo, and much of the foreseen expansion of U.S.-Cuban economic ties rests on the cooperation of the island’s communist government.

The U.S.-Cuban political track moved ahead Thursday as new ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez presented his credentials to Obama at a White House ceremony. The pair briefly spoke, according to a Cuban embassy statement.

When Obama laid out his vision of improved relations eight months ago, he said his objectives were twofold: ease economic hardship in Cuba and spur its development of a private market outside of state control.

Some breakthroughs can be expected by the end of the year, according to the official.

Washington and Havana are slated to begin a “pilot program” allowing Cubans and Americans to send mail directly to one another, the official said. The governments have been speaking about re-establishing a postal link since Obama entered office, but the talks stalled when Cuba imprisoned U.S. contractor Alan Gross. Direct mail service was halted in 1963, though letters and packages travel back and forth through countries like Canada and Mexico.

The postal program will use the Miami and Havana airports, the official said.

(Image: Peter Turnley for Harper’s/Corbis)

(Image: Peter Turnley for Harper’s/Corbis)

HAVANA, Sept.16  CUBA has a unique relationship with tobacco. Cigars are the country’s national product and tobacco generates an annual income of between $400 and $500 million. If you’ve ever walked down the Malecón of an evening, Havana’s iconic waterfront promenade, you can’t fail to have noticed the scores of young people pulling on cheap cigarettes in the sea breeze.

It still strikes me as odd when I see people smoking inside public buildings, and it isn’t frowned upon to light up at your desk in most Cuban workplaces.

And therein lies the problem.Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in Cuba, after cardiovascular disease, andlung cancer rates are among the highest in the region, according to the World Heath Organization.

But Cuban researchers are helping lead the fight against the disease. They recently added a new weapon to the arsenal against lung cancer: Cimavax. This vaccine – designed to be given to people with cancer – encourages the immune system to attack a protein that fuels tumour growth, slowing the disease’s spread.

“The basic idea is to mobilise the immune system so the components which typically defend you are able to fight the cancer cells growing inside the body,” says Kaleb Leon, director of investigation and research at the Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) in Havana, where the drug was developed.

There is one key reason why Cuba punches above its weight in the medical research arena: research and treatment are tightly connected in the Cuban healthcare system. Writing in the journal PNAS earlier this year, a group of US neuroscientists including Mark Cohen of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted the benefits of this “two-way communication between the lay public and research scientists in the cause of public health” (doi.org/7qc). They cited large-scale population studies which “routinely achieve more than 95 per cent enrolment success”.

Partly because of this connection, the team at CIM has made significant progress with clinical trials of Cimavax.Pooled results from phase I and II clinical trials showed that those vaccinated survived for 11 months on average, while the survival rate in a control group was four to five months (Human Vaccines, doi.org/dbgtw9).

And the work has attracted international interest. On his recent trade visit to the island, Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, brought representatives from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. They have now signed an agreement with CIM to further test and develop Cimavax in the US.

“An agreement has been signed to further test and develop Cuba’s cancer vaccine in the US”

Leon is clearly proud of his team’s achievements as he guides me around the national immunology lab, housed in a modernist building on the outskirts of Havana.

“Roswell Park has been in touch with us for about three years now,” he says. “The plan is to start a phase I clinical trial there at the end of this year.”

But he admits it hasn’t been easy. For over five decades, the US government has maintained an economic and diplomatic embargo on communist-run Cuba, which has made it almost impossible for researchers in the two nations to work together.

This year’s PNAS article emphasised the benefits to the US of closer cooperation. Scientists in Havana, too, are aware that they would benefit from further detente.

“In many different senses this weird relationship we have with the US has caused problems for us,” says Leon. The US forbids third nations from selling equipment containing US-made components to Cuba, for example.

But 2015 has seen quite a turnaround for these cold war enemies, including a face-to-face meeting between presidents Obama and Castro, diplomatic ties re-established and embassies reopened.

If the thaw is to last, however, it must take hold in arenas beyond diplomacy. Cancer patients on both sides of the Straits of Florida will hope biomedical research can benefit from this new-found spirit of cooperation.

Edgar Berguer(I), presidente Internacional de Sony Music, Mario Angel Escalona Serrano(C), Director General de la Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM), Afo Verde (D), presidente de Sony Music para Latinoamerica, España y Portuga, firman los Acuerdos entre la EGREM y su homóloga estadounidense Sony Music Entertainment, realizada en la Disquera Areito, en La Habana, Cuba, el 15 de septiembre de 2015. AIN FOTO/Oriol de la Cruz ATENCIO/rrcc

Edgar Berguer(I), presidente Internacional de Sony Music, Mario Angel Escalona Serrano(C), Director General de la Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales (EGREM), Afo Verde (D), presidente de Sony Music para Latinoamerica, España y Portuga, firman los Acuerdos entre la EGREM y su homóloga estadounidense Sony Music Entertainment, realizada en la Disquera Areito, en La Habana, Cuba, el 15 de septiembre de 2015. AIN FOTO/Oriol de la Cruz ATENCIO/rrcc

HAVANA, Sept.16 (Havana Times) Sony Music Entertainment and the Empresa de Grabaciones y Ediciones Musicales(EGREM) signed a historical agreement on Tuesday in Havana that will allow many Cuban musicians and recordings to enter the international market through the wide door of the US music industry.

Cuban music made and recorded on the island since 1960 hasn’t received more important news (from a commercial standpoint) in the many decades of isolation and limitations in terms of international distribution.

The agreement was signed by executives from the two companies at Havana’s renowned Estudio Areito101, a venue where a plethora of Cuban and foreign artists have been recording music since the 1940s, sealing more than two years of negotiations which profited from the winds of change blown by the newly-established relations between Cuba and the United States.

A Catalogue of Legends
In practical terms, the agreement will allow some 30,000 recordings and music videos by legendary Cuban musicians such as Bola de Nieve, Barbarito Diez, Celina Gonzalez, Elena Burke, Omara Portuondo and Compay Segundo and famous bands such as Aragon, Irakere and the Van Van to enter new distribution and marketing spaces, under a global licensing contract granted by EGREM, whose Cuban music catalogue is considered the broadest in the world.

The Egrem Studios 2008

EGREMCuba’s music and film arsenal will be made available in all music and video platforms available today. This will spell a commercial leap forward towards new technologies and into the hands of a whole new generation of listeners.

“We are delighted to be partnering with EGREM to share for the first time one of the largest and most acclaimed catalogs of Cuban music with fans across the globe,” said Sony Music Entertainment CEO Doug Morris in a communiqué. “This landmark agreement will help expand international awareness and appreciation of Cuban culture, Cuba’s rich musical heritage and its many wonderful artists.”

Embargo Exceptions
The historical agreement was signed by Afo Verde, Sony Music president for Latin America, Spain and Portugal, and Mario Escalona Serrano, EGREM general director. The document was signed in the presence of Edgar Berger, international president of Sony Music, who traveled to Havana to witness the hallmark event.

Despite embargo restrictions, the commercial agreement was made possible thanks to an exception applied to informational materials and artistic products made by the US Treasury’s Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).No details regarding the monetary scope of the agreement (believed to be in the millions of dollars) were offered.

Though part of EGREM’s catalogue has been licensed by other prestigious music labels in the past, this is the first time a multinational corporation is granted access to the entire bulk of its recordings and film materials for international distribution over a period of several years.

This bold move by Sony Music in the Cuban music market could open the doors to other negotiations with US companies in the culture and entertainment sphere, and it will mean increased promotion of Cuban musicians in commercial circuits, as well as music events and award ceremonies around the world.

org-mundial-turismoHAVANA,  Sep 16 (acn) When Cuba’s popularity grows in the global tourism market; this Caribbean island was elected venue of the 60th meeting of UNWTO Regional Commission for the Americas, convened for May 2016.

The Caribbean nation was chosen to host the important event, unanimously, in the framework of the UNWTO General Assembly, which runs by these days in Medellin, Colombia, and is attended by a Cuban delegation headed by Manuel Marrero, Cuban Tourism Minister.

According to a press release, the fact is irrefutable proof of the prestige and backing won by Cuba among UNWTO member countries. The note refers that Cuba has a large potential to develop in the current scenario of this sector, which grew by 17 percent so far this year regarding the arrival of foreign visitors, while it also increased the interest of investors from abroad.

” Cuba will continue offering tourism of peace, health and safety to our visitors and attaches great importance to the advancement of tourism and the bonds of friendship and cooperation that tourism allows to establish between the peoples and governments,” added the document.
After reaching the desired goal in 2014 of three million -record in the arrival of travelers-, reports of the current year are equally flattering to Cuba. According to official data, more than two million vacationers arrived in the Caribbean country from January to August, and it is expected by the end of 2015 to double that figure.

With a housing capacity that today is of 63,000 rooms -of which almost 70 percent are Four and Five stars-the island will continue investing to add new and better hotels in the coming years. Estimates indicate that by 2020, this infrastructure will reach 85,000 rooms.

The Caribbean archipelago also treasures 253 protected areas, 257 national monuments, 7 sites declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, 6 Biosphere Natural Reserves and 13 Wildlife Refuges, among many other areas of preferential tourism.

It is also connected by air with more than 50 cities worldwide through 36 international airlines operating to the main poles, including Havana, Varadero, Santa María Cay, Jardines del Rey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

Also it has three cruise terminals, 39 international marinas, 7 international diving centers, facilities mostly immersed today in a strong investing process to revive the nautical mode in the country.


John Kavulich, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council, said Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s travel to the island nation is likely to take place in early November in conjunction with the Havana International Trade Fair. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

HAVANA, Sept. 16  A small trade group focused on promoting American business ties with Cuba says Commerce Department Secretary Penny Pritzker, and possibly Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, are planning to visit Cuba this fall.

John Kavulich of the U.S. Cuba Trade and Economic Council said Pritzker’s travel to the island nation “perhaps” will take place in early November in conjunction with the Havana International Trade Fair.

The Commerce Department declined to comment about Pritzker’s possible travel plans. But during keynote remarks at an event sponsored by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa International airport, Pritzker said she anticipated regulations allowing U.S. companies to participate in upgrading Cuba’s telecom infrastructure and Internet and consumer communications devices.

In April, Pritzker said she would lead a delegation to Cuba as soon as the two countries have normalized relations and opened embassies in each other’s countries.

While Pritzker’s schedule is likely up to her and her alone, Kavulich used his release to argue that she should travel either in December in January, and that she should attend with representatives of the International Trade Commission and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. By that time, he said, the Cuban government may have issued regulations approving purchases relating to product exports and imports first proposed by the U.S. in December when Obama announced the historic change to U.S.-Cuba relations.

“A visit by Secretary Pritzker should only arise subsequent to the government of the Republic of Cuba having purchased products and permitted the provision of services as outlined in December 2014, not as a means of seeking the purchase of products and provision of services,” Kavulich said. “The visit needs to be a reward, not an inducement.”


havana-live-havana-nightCuba is opening up and Lebanon has planned its future

HAVANA, Sept. 15 Cuba, famous for cigars, salsa dancing and Che Guevara, is now open for business! In the past year, Cuba has slowly been opening up to external markets and Lebanon is one of the first countries to have set foot on this territory.

Cuba has undergone a number of changes in order to attract investments and business. First, they implemented the Law on Foreign Investment (LFI), also known as Law 118, which provides great incentives to attract new technology and foreign capital as well as increase domestic production. It also provides the main vehicles for foreign investment, be it a joint venture company, an international economic association contract or full foreign ownership.

Its main objective is to establish the legal framework for foreign investments and the guarantees and legal security to attract and utilize foreign capital. It also provides greater tax incentives because of a special taxation regime: there are no more taxes on dividends. Companies in joint ventures are exempt from all taxes on profits for the first eight years, and thereafter only pay a 15 percent tax rate (previously 30 percent).

Opening the investment door

They are exempt from paying the wholesale and service taxes during the first year, from paying labor taxes, and from paying customs taxes for the importation of equipment, machinery and other assets during the investment process. However, foreign capital companies are obliged to pay taxes for the duration of their contract.

There were also some key changes that helped to promote foreign investment, such as allowing 100 percent foreign ownership, recognizing the intellectual property rights and technological innovation of the foreign investor, and the guarantee to freely transfer profits abroad without paying taxes or other charges.

Additionally, mixed companies, foreign owned companies and contractual international economic association are to receive preferential treatment concerning pricing, quality and terms when purchasing domestic goods and services.
This law is oriented towards diversifying and expanding the Cuban market, as well as accessing state of the art technology, generating new jobs, harnessing new managerial methods and developing renewable sources of energy.

It prioritizes 11 sectors: agriculture and forestry, construction, energy and mining, the food industry, healthcare, the light chemical and electrical industries, pharmaceuticals, the sugar industry, tourism, transport and wholesale trade.

Secondly, the Zona Especial de Desarollo (ZED) Mariel, the first special development zone created by the Decree Law no 313, is another method used to attract investments.
It is not a free trade zone, but rather an area where production of goods and services are incorporated to promote innovation of new technology, industrial concentration, import substitutions, export generators, and sources of high quality jobs.

It already ensures investors have basic infrastructure, access roads, a stable supply of drinking water and electricity, and a communication system interconnected with fibre optics. In this zone, there are some sectors that take priority, such as biotech and pharmaceutical, containers and packaging, renewable energy, agriculture, agro food industry, telecommunications and informatics, tourism and real estate, and investment and infrastructure.

The objective of the ZED Mariel is to contribute to national development and generate exports, while promoting the replacement of imports, the transfer of cutting-edge technology and know-how, and skills referring to business management. It also aims to attract foreign investment, generate new sources of employment, favour environmental sustainability, develop infrastructure necessary for economic progress, stimulate the establishment of national or foreign enterprises and ensure its coordination with the rest of the economy.

The Portfolio of Opportunities for Foreign Investment states that there are 246 business opportunities presently in Cuba. They range across various sectors and domains, available in both the ZED Mariel and the rest of the country.

According to Rafif Berro, a representative from the Ministry of Economy and Trade, they have launched, along with the Lebanese Cuba Business Council (LCBC), a process to amend the trade agreements between Cuba and Lebanon.

They are first reviewing existing agreements to see what can be improved, and will later change them so they become more specialized. This is not limited to the exchange of goods and services, but also encompasses joint ventures. They are grooming Cuba to become an entry point for this type of development.

When asked about the future, Berro says he sees a partnership between Cuba and Lebanon. Some Lebanese products may be produced for Cuba specifically, such as programming and software development. Berro doesn’t believe it’s going to be a one sided direction, but rather a complementary one.

The Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade has also been seeking non-classical markets such as Cuba as a way to begin exchange with countries outside of the Arab world and Europe. They have launched negotiations for free trade agreements with Venezuela, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Cuba’s favourable geographical location might be the entry point for these Latin American countries. In some ways, the opening of Cuba has happened at the optimal time for Lebanon since it will hopefully be the start of a long list of non classical markets.

Mohammad Choucair, the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, said that the Chamber has given its full support to the LCBC in order to open the capacity for investing in Cuba. Lebanon is one of the first countries preparing itself for Cuba and the advantage it holds are threefold: (1) there is an existing diplomatic relationship, (2) the Lebanese know how to work in difficult countries (with years of instability and lack of resources) and (3) there are over 50,000 people of Lebanese origin already living in Cuba. A history exists between these two countries which will aid negotiations.

Early bird catches the Cuban worm

The president of the LCBC, Ali Kazma, is the person selling and promoting Cuba to potential investors. He has announced that the objective of LCBC at the moment is to prove its commitment to doing business in Cuba, which is why they have launched an impressive advertising campaign to promote the country through videos and other media.

They want to show the Cuban government that the council is serious, and as part of this campaign, the first Cuban Lebanese Economic Forum will be held on September 29. Cuba is ready to open its doors but this has to be done slowly. The country is not equipped to handle all the demand, so it made a ten year plan. “We are just placing our foot in the door” he said.

Cuba has a lot to offer, its projects are worth $8 million and ZED Mariel has built the biggest port in Cuba. The LCBC doesn’t expect or want all the projects, but they do want a piece. Cuba Invest, a business created by Kazma but unrelated to the LCBC, has two projects lined up, including a boutique hotel which will hopefully be finalized by February 2016.

“We believe it’s going to take 2 years to start generating a revenue on these projects. It’s a long process but it’s an investment.” said Kazma. Cuba Invest is not only working with Lebanese companies; it is recruiting international companies to work in Cuba through Cuba Invest. The first website, LCBCouncil.com, is already up and running.

Cuba still has a long way to go. There is uncertainty about the Cuban government’s commitment to foreign investment and state control of the economic activities which might hinder its prosperity. It’s a land that is in need of a lot of reforms. Lebanon can help it take the first step.

Conch Harbor, Key West

Conch Harbor, Key West

HAVANA, Sept 14 The dismantling of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has brought with it a wave of opportunities for travelers and sports enthusiasts alike, among them the first offshore race between the countries in decades.

The first annual Pilar Regatta will set sail from Key West, Fla., to Veradero, Cuba, Dec. 3, 2015. The race committee and judges are composed of representatives of US SAILING and the Cuban Sailing Federation. Registration for the event is ongoing through Oct. 1, 2015.

“It’s been over 40 years since the American flag has flown from a U.S. Embassy in Cuba,” said Ken Johnson of Pilar Regatta race management. “For sailors this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be the first to sail and see old Cuba and visit Marina Gaviota in Varadero, the first class facility of Cuban ports.”

Pilar Regatta events include a VIP welcoming party at Conch Harbor Marina, Key West, Fla., an awards ceremony in the over-the-water Marina Gaviota restaurant and informational meetings between the American racing community and the Cuban Sailing Federation, hosted by Pilar Regatta sponsors.havana-live-pilar

“This is the start of new sailing relationship with our Cuban friends,” said Johnson. “And Varadero the city is white beaches – a vacation town for both sailors and Cubans – and a terrific place for sailors to first meet Cuba”

“The initial response to the regatta has been overwhelming from performance sailboats,” said ocean-crossing sailor Jack Yoes, principal race officer of the Pilar Regatta from the Houston Yacht Club. “These boats can sail from Key West to Cuba in hours; it’s easier than sailing from Key West to Miami.”

The race will comply with International Sailing Federation Offshore Category 2 Regulations. The Notice of Race, registration forms and further information on the Pilar Regatta can be found at www.regattadecuba.com.

HAVANA, Sept 12 Ten American kayakers paddled out of Havana on Friday, in an attempt to cross the Florida Straits to Key West.

havana-live-US-Cuba-RelationsHAVANA, Sept 12  President Obama has reauthorized Cuba‘s listing on the Trading with the Enemy Act, a move that allows him to continue to use executive authority to improve ties with Cuba.

Obama’s action follows a unilateral decision last December to re-establish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, paving the way to embassies being opened in both countries.

The act, which must be reauthorized every year, gives the president the power to make changes to U.S. relations with listed countries, in this case that is Cuba.
Obama “continues to believe Congress should lift the embargo on Cuba and has already taken a number of steps to normalize relations and empower the Cuban people,” National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard told ABC News.

“That said, until the Congress acts, the Administration will continue to take prudent and responsible steps to allow commerce and travel, consistent with its authorities and within the continuing constraints of the embargo.”

Officials say that in order to do regulatory changes, like those taken by the administration in January to allow expanded travel under 12-specific licenses, the president needs the authority embedded in the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Without the act, the standing U.S. law with respect to Cuba is the Helms-Burton act, or the embargo, which limits nearly all transactions, travel and business with the island nation.

Congress has made no effort to change the embargo, although legislation was introduced to committee earlier this year that would allow for all travel restrictions to be lifted.

Last month, ABC News learned that the administration has plans underway to make it easier for people to visit and do business with Cuba, through regulation changes at the Treasury Department and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Those changes however, wouldn’t be possible without the power granted to the administration under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

havana-live-us-embassyHAVANA, Sept. 12   The bilateral commission created by Cuba and the United States to advance the normalization of their ties concluded here Friday its first meeting in which it set the agenda for talks.

Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said in a release that the meeting took place in “a professional, respectful and constructive climate,” adding that the next meeting will be held in November in Washington.

The U.S. delegation was led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America Alex Lee, while the Cuban one was led by Director of U.S. Affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry Josefina Vidal.

Both sides agreed that in upcoming months, they will work to establish cooperation mechanisms in such areas as environmental protection, the prevention of natural disasters, health, civil aviation, law enforcement, as well as combating drugs, human trafficking and transnational crimes.

They also decided to address human rights, as well as topics with multilateral interest such as climatic change, the fight against epidemics, pandemics and other threats to world health.

The Cuban delegation also demanded on Friday that its former foe stop its “illegal” radio and television broadcasting at Cuba and eliminate programs designed to destabilize and subvert the Cuban government.

U.S. and Cuban presidents announced their decision to restore bilateral ties on Dec. 17, 2014. Their embassies in Washington and Havana were reopened on July 20.

havana-live-cubaeeuu_banderasHAVANA, Sept. 11 (ACN)   The first meeting of the US-Cuba Bilateral Commission will take place on Friday in Havana to define an agenda to be considered following the reestablishment of bilateral relations between the two countries.

According to Cuban television, the island’s delegation will be headed by the general director for the United States at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Josefina Vidal, and, on the US side, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs Edward Alex Lee.

The bilateral commission, whose creation was announced by Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez and by US secretary of state John Kerry, will focus on the new areas for cooperation in the benefit of the two countries.

The meeting will also deal with bilateral and multilateral issues, including those on which the two countries have different positions, as well as other pending subjects between Havana and Washington.

havana-live-EU-Cuba-talksHAVANA, 11 Sept.   (AFP)   There has been “substantial progress” in talks in Havana on normalizing ties between the European Union and Cuba, the head of the EU delegation said.

“There has been substantial progress, including in the areas of human rights, democracy and governance, and the remaining differences were narrowed even further,” said Christian Leffler, who heads the European delegation.

The EU suspended relations with Cuba in 2003 over a crackdown on journalists and activists.

It began talks on restoring them in April 2014, aiming to persuade Havana to improve its rights record.

Leffler said that it is “no secret” that the European view on human rights is not the same as the Cuban view of the issue, “so we have to find an area of understanding.”

The talks “allowed for the mutual increase of understanding on both sides,” which could smooth talks at the next meeting in Brussels in November, Leffler said.

The European Union and Cuba have moved to accelerate the process since Havana and Washington announced a historic rapprochement in December and reopened embassies in July.

Brussels and Havana have now set themselves a deadline of December 31.

Cuba wants the EU to scrap its nearly 20-year “common position,” which makes restoring European ties with the island contingent on democratic reforms.

The 28-member bloc is pressing Cuba to sign a slate of international human rights treaties.

havana-live-prisoners-rights_600HAVANA, Sept, 11 (AFP) – Cuba’s government pardoned 3,522 prisoners, the most since the 1959 revolution, as a gesture of goodwill ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the communist island, the official daily Granma said Friday.

Among those pardoned are people over 60 years old, younger than 20 years old with no criminal record, the chronically ill, women and foreigners, provided their country of origin vows to repatriate them, the newspaper said.

The decision is due to be effective within 72 hours.

“On the occasion of the visit by His Holiness Pope Francis, the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba (the highest governmental body)… agreed to pardon 3,522 prisoners, chosen due by the nature of the acts for which they were jailed, their behavior in prison, the time of punishment and health concerns,” Granma said.

On December 28, 2011, Raul Castro’s government granted a pardon to 2,991 prisoners on the occasion of a visit by pope Benedict (who came in March 2012).

That was about 10 times more than revolutionary leader Fidel freed a month after the visit of John Paul II, in January 1998.

The latest prisoner release is the largest since the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, who was replaced for health reasons by his brother Raul in 2006.

In January this year, as a gesture of goodwill after the historic detente with the United States, the communist government pardoned 53 inmates Washington considered “political prisoners”.

havana-live-pradoHAVANA, Sept. 10  It’s unclear how quickly Cuba’s economy will handle recent changes in diplomacy, but many feel it might become the best real estate investment for American entrepreneurs.

Since Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, the island nation was essentially shut off from American interests and investment. In some ways, Havana still exists in 1959 complete with old, dilapidated buildings and decades-old American cars. That’s all changing. For real estate investors, the change is very welcome

The famed Paseo del Prado, the most prominent promenade in the city, is also a location where a great deal of real estate transactions takes place. While still in the beginning stages, the emphasis on real estate in Cuba is growing thanks in part to the indomitable Cuban spirit and the opportunities as perceived by the normalization of US and Cuban relations.

Why Cuba is a Prime Real Estate Opportunity
Put simply, the Cuban people and the real estate market are ready for an infusion of US investors who can bring new life to the Cuban economy and reinvent the real estate market.
The pieces are already in place and Raul Castro, the current leader of Cuba, allowed his countrymen to start buying and selling real estate in 2011 which means that the decades of Communist doctrine in terms of private property has now changed to a capitalistic one.

Before, the citizens of Cuba were only allowed to trade property. Today, the buying and selling of private property have created a small boom in terms of home renovations as well as fixing up old hotel properties that could be rented to new tourists coming in from the US and other countries.
However, most of the real estate market is still heavily involved in renovations since constructing new buildings and homes is still very difficult given the low wages and profits of the Cuban people.

However, that could all change if there is a large influx of American tourists and investors into the country such as it was in the 1950s before the Castro regime took power. While the previous Cuban government of the old days was highly corrupt, it did allow for the construction of many buildings and homes which still exist and are used today.

The promise is that with all the new money, Cubans will start building new homes, hotels and other types of buildings, which would represent a real boom to the country in general.

For American investors, the possibility of purchasing prime beachfront properties at relatively low prices combined with the expected growing economy in Cuba represents a very large temptation. In essence, Cuba may be seen as a paradise that was closed off for nearly 60 years and now is re-opening to a new world where the profit potential is staggering.

Potential Limitations to the Cuban Real Estate Market
Currently, American can actually invest in Cuba, but only through a relative who lives on the island or through an associate that acts as their front man. However, all the legal deeds remain in the name of the Cuban purchaser which greatly increases the risk of things going wrong.
For example, a foreigner can marry a Cuban and have the right to purchase real estate while living on the island. However, if they should get divorced, the property goes to the Cuban automatically.

In fact, there are many horror stories of foreign investors trying to gain a foothold in the Cuban real estate market under the current system which has not turned out well for them at all. In addition, there is a very large question about what is known as the “right of return” issue.

In 1962, Fidel Castro seized all property that was foreign-owned which today means that there is roughly $8 billion in commercial and private property that still has claims by American citizens and corporations to sort through before the real estate situation can be fully normalized.
Considering the feelings of many Cuban ex-patriots who live in the United States along with corporations that still exist wanting their properties returned. This is a process that could take a considerable amount of time depending on the attitude of the Cuban government.

Other issues include the relatively primitive state of Cuba itself as there is no internet access on the island to any real degree. That means current real estate agents operate in Cuba with no internet as if it were the 1950s.
Plus, the market itself is still a cash-only system with many agents taking a 5% cut for their fees. This is one reason why up to 50% of the sales take place without any real estate agent to make the transaction.

Today, the Cuban real estate market is only open to Cuban citizens which in some ways makes sense as it only started up a few years ago. To subject it to massive foreign investment would be chaotic to say the least and problematic if the Cuban government decides to make changes in the middle of the process.

However, the changes in property laws as well as the expansion of the Cuban economy is already happening which means that if relations are normalized, it offers the real chance for substantial investment opportunities which would not only change Cuba into a modern society, but also reap tremendous profits for foreign investors.

The Cuban Investment Potential With the market expanding with the Cuban people and American investors chomping at the bit, the question is certainly more about when the investment can start taking place and not if.
While the normalizing of relations is currently occurring, it is important to note that the economic sanctions by the US on Cuba are still in place because that takes congressional action to lift. That will no doubt be a very important part of the equation if the Cuban real estate market will open up to foreign investment.

Furthermore, the new normalization is happening under this President’s authority which means that when a new President is elected and starts their tenure in office in January, 2017, that could all change as they would have the power to revert the US/Cuban relations to their former state.
So, there are still factors that must play out before the Cuban real estate markets can truly open up.

havana-live-finca_vigiaHAVANA , Sep 10  (PL) The Habanarte Festival evokes the life of famous US writer Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, where he lived some 20 years and wrote various of his best known works.

His house in Finca Vigia, Havana, hosts today foreign and domestic visitors participating in tours scheduled at the festival to visit places with heritage value in this capital city.

According to director of the house museum Ada Rosa Alfonso, Hemingway sought always to find good places for his writing, such as France, Spain, Key West, among others.

“But it was in Cuba where he lived and worked more than anywhere else”, she said.

Many sites of the coastal community of Cojimar and the streets, buildings and people of Havana fed the imagination of the author of For Whom the Bell Tolls and even were the stage of his works.

Hemingway, Nobel Prize for Literature winner in 1954, wrote in Cuba “Across the River and Into the Trees”, “A Moveable Feast”, “Gulf Islands” and “The Old Man and the Sea”.

Finca Vigia, built in 1887 by Catalan architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, still has the aura of the legendary novelist: his favorite chair, his large library, the dining room resembling a Spanish tavern and his dearest yacht Pilar.

The house is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation predominant in several hectares of the San Francisco de Paula community, some 15 kilometers from downtown Havana.

Various tours on different subjects across museums in Havana are included in the program of the Habanarte festival, organized by cultural institutions and tourist agency Paradiso.

On July 21, 1962, the house was declared a museum and according to historical records, it is the first institution in the world created to promote Hemingway’s work and life.

Until September 13th, with the slogan “All art at once”, Habanarte seeks to provide foreign tourists with the chance to know all local cultural expressions, although the choice is offered the same to Cuban public, said vice minister of Culture Fernando Rojas.
Read also:http://www.havana-live.com/news/hemingway-cubas-adopted-son

cuban-tourists-old-havana_onr4yhHAVANA, Sep 9 (acn) Cuban Minister of Tourism Manuel Marrero said amount of visitors has grown 17 percent so far this year, thanks to the favorable performance of the main source markets.

The list of countries bringing more tourists to Cuba is topped by Canada, England, Spain, Mexico, France and Italy, reflecting the efforts of the nation to improve the offer in the most important centers of this Caribbean destination.

Recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI by its Spanish acronym) indicates that 2 194 134 people arrived to the archipelago in the first half of 2015, representing an increase of 17 percent compared to last year.

Raising the quality, in general, is every day challenge for workers in the sector, and to that end they work intensely to achieve better services in the country, said Marrero.

After inaugurating the new headquarters, which will host the Faculty of Tourism, the Minister told reporters that due to the growing demand for training in Havana, a development strategy, which includes the construction of several hotels and maintenance of others, is being implemented.

Although we are in a good moment, he said, it is not enough.

“We know there are many things to do, but we are going in the right direction, gradually giving response to the demand,” he added.

HAVANA , Sep 9 (EFE)  Cuba’s Higher Education Ministry announced Tuesday a series of changes in its system of university education, aimed at improving “quality, performance and relevance” to give young people a better chance in the labor market after graduation, the island’s official media reported.

The creation of a new teaching system, including shorter courses and making English language studies a requisite for obtaining a university degree, will be among the principal changes proposed to begin with the 2016-2017 school year, the state dailies Granma and Juventud Rebelde said.

Higher Education Minister Rodolfo Alarcon said “this new system, to be submitted for government approval,” will guarantee that teaching provides a wide educational background, followed later by specialization, and finally by the individual self-improvement of every professional “according to the position he or she occupies,” a standard that up to now has applied only to medical sciences.

A future category of “Non-University Higher Education” is also awaiting approval, as a way to “deal with the insufficient use made of qualified members of the workforce.”

The Cuban minister also said courses will be cut from five years to four in the “immense majority” of specialties starting with the next school year, though it will be a “gradual process, with the introduction of new programs, studies and strictness.”

He said that learning English will be an “indispensable” requisite” for obtaining a university degree, but noted that the measure won’t become generalized for a few years, “because the conditions must be created for its application.”

Another of the transformations to be applied in the next school year will be the possibility to take, without an entrance exam, “Courses by Meetings,” which will not require continuous attendance at classes, as well as “Education at a Distance.”

Universal free education is one of the banner achievements of the Cuban Revolution, though for several years the shortage of teachers and the low quality of classes have been causes for concern on the island.

havana-live-jorge-drexler2HAVANA, Sept. 7  From September 28 to October 4 will take place in Havana the event “Meeting of Popular Voices”.

The musical event, which will be chaired by the famous singer Argelia Fragoso will be held under the slogan “The voices that unite us” and will be organized by VP Productions and sponsored by the Cuban Institute of Music and the National Center of Popular Music.

The meeting was attended by around forty foreign guests within which are the Uruguayan Jorge Drexler, Peruvian Tania Libertad and Puerto Rican Andy Montanez, all renowned international exponents of music, which have many fans in the Greater Antilles.

Uruguay, known for subjects like Mi guitara y vos, Eco, Deseo, among others, is also a composer, musician and performer; a doctor by profession. He has more than a dozen albums and performances on stages around the world, several nominations for the Latin Grammy, for Gardel Argentina Music Awards and many others.

Many of his songs have been number one in several charts. In 2005 he won an Oscar for Best Original Song with Across the river from Motorcycle Diaries film.(Cibercuba)

havana-live- Cuban religious leaders call prayer for peaceHAVANA, Sep 7  Cuban leaders of different religious denominations- Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists– called on the faithful to say a prayer for peace.

The inter-religious, cultural event was held in Havana for the second consecutive year. During the ceremony, the Papal Nuncio in Cuba, Giorgio Lengua, read a message sent by Pope Francis on peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance.

In his message, the Bishop of Rome called on the faithful to strengthen faith in peace, arguing that pure and faultless religion can never be a source of violence.

The first-ever Latin American Pope also warned against using God’s name to either justify or commit violent crimes and stressed that peaceful coexistence among all religious denominations could contribute significantly to world peace, common prosperity and harmonious development.

Also during the event, Papal Nuncio Giorgio Lengua announced that they will take the opportunity of the upcoming visit by Pope Francis to Cuba to personally thank him for his efforts as mediator in the negotiations that led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Havana and Washington.

The Prayer for Peace is an inter-religious and cultural event aimed at following the legacy of Pope John Paul II, who in 1986 convened the first-ever event of this kind in the city of Assisi, Italy.(RHC)


HAVANA, Sept  7   Thirty-one percent of the young people employed in Cuba, more than 1.5 million people, worked in the private sector and the rest were in jobs in the state-run sector at the close of 2014, according to official figures published Sunday by local media.

The head of employment in the Labor and Social Security Ministry, or MTSS, Jesus Otamendiz, said in an interview published in the Juventud Rebelde newspaper that “there are a considerable number of young people in the new forms of management,” as the autonomous or private sector is called on the communist island.

Of the 504,613 people registered as working for themselves or autonomously at the end of May 2015, 166,605 were young people, representing 31 percent of the people who had selected that form of employment, he said.

In addition, Otamendiz said that at the end of 2014, 4.97 million people were employed in Cuba and just under 1.53 million of them were young people, representing 31 percent of the labor force.

The MTSS chief also said that “the majority” of young people are still employed in the state-run sector, although they are increasingly moving into the private sector.

He said that 60 percent of the total number of young people working “for themselves” live in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, and they are employed mainly in activities such as food preparation and sales, cargo and passenger transport.

The broadening of the private sector is one of the main reforms undertaken in recent years by the government of Raul Castro to “update” Cuba’s socialist economic model and compensate for the gradual suppression of some 500,000 state-sponsored jobs between 2011 and 2015.

In the interview, the MTSS chief discussed the challenge posed by youth employment in a country experiencing a “flexibilization of the labor market amid a changing and more complex economic environment,” which is increasingly burdened by the aging of the island’s population.

“It’s about achieving the efficient insertion of youth into the labor force, including the possibilities of employment in the non-state sector of the economy,” he said.


havana-live-spain-cuba_tony-wilson_jelly-london_964_0_resizeHAVANA, Sept. 5 (EFE) Spain wants to “facilitate to the maximum” relations between Cuba and the United States, the speaker of the lower house of Spain’s parliament, Jesus Posada, said Saturday in Havana, adding that his country will “do all it can” to smooth the path to normalization between the two countries.

After hailing the renewal of diplomatic ties between Havana and Washington as “a great accomplishment,” Posada recalled that after so many years of embargo and confrontation, “we can’t expect that everything will be all fixed up in a matter of weeks or months,” but considered that “there is a positive path ahead that will open bit by bit.”

“Spain as a member of the European Union will do all it can to make that happen,” the lower house speaker said.

He recalled that his country has stood by Cuba through “difficult times,” while other European Union countries “were perhaps not so close to Cuba as we were.”

Asked about the expectations sparked by the next round of talks between Cuba and the European Union, to be held next week in Havana, Spain’s lower house speaker expressed his confidence that it will be successful and that Spain is being “very active” in making it so.

The visit to Cuba has been “a success,” according to Posada, who insisted on its parliamentary and multi-party character, accompanied as he was by Ignacio Gil of the Popular Party, Teresa Cunillera of the Socialist Party, and Jose Luis Centella, spokesman for the leftist Izquierda Plural coalition and secretary general of the Communist Party.

Attending the meeting of the Spanish parliamentary delegation and Cuban lawmakers on Saturday were Posada, Gil, Cunillera, Centella and Ambassador Francisco Montalban on the Spanish side, while for Cuba there were parliament speaker Esteban Lazo, the head of the International Relations Commission, Yolanda Ferrer, and the leader of the Constitutional and Judicial Affairs Commission, Jose Luis Toledo Santander.

The Spanish parliamentarians return to their country Saturday night after a three-day visit, during which the met with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Association of Spanish Entrepreneurs in Cuba, or AEEC, and with representatives of Spanish communities in the Caribbean nation.


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Havana, Sept. 4 (AFP)  Cuba has decided to allow doctors who deserted while on foreign missions to return home without punishment or loss of position in the state health care system, the government said Friday.

The action comes amid worries of a brain drain of Cuban medical professionals as Cuba loosens long-time restrictions on emigration.

Doctors in particular have faced stringent restrictions on travel since the 1960s, and stiff sanctions awaited those who deserted from government-sponsored missions in foreign countries.Under the new policy announced by the ministry of public health, doctors who deserted while on foreign missions are being welcomed back.

They “have the opportunity, if they so desire, to rejoin our National Health System, and will be guaranteed work placement in conditions similar to those they had before,” a ministry statement said.
Likewise, Cuban doctors who have emigrated under a more open policy introduced in 2013 can also return, although with no guarantee of working for the state system.

In the past, deserters and emigres alike were barred from visiting the country for periods of five to 10 years, or even for life in some cases. An estimated 25,000 doctors and a similar number of health professionals currently serve in international missions in 68 countries.But the missions have been plagued by complaints about low pay and defections.

In recent weeks, about 100 medical deserters turned up in Colombia seeking to travel to the United States under a program adopted in 2006 during the administration of George W. Bush.

Cuba insists it still has one of the highest doctor-patient ratios in the world.

The island receives about $10 billion a year for the medical services it provides other countries, mainly Brazil and Venezuela, making it the top source of hard currency revenues.

investingHAVANA, Sept. 4 The resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba has pried open the door to business, and investing, opportunities previously closed to Americans. Although foreign businesses from Canada to Spain have been doing business on the island for some time, albeit warily—both because of the strictures imposed by the Cuban government and the potential for damage to relationships with the U.S.—American investors have been restricted from investing in foreign companies that derive the majority of their corporate revenues from Cuban activities and operations.

But no more. The potential is there for outside companies to see some impressive growth from Cuban business in the years to come—particularly since the Cuban government is actively seeking foreign investment to spur growth after having been shut off from much of the global economy for more than 50 years.

That doesn’t mean the business environment in Cuba will be lacking challenges. On the contrary, as of 2012, the Cuban government, according to Pew Research, “was … the source of more than three-quarters of Cuba’s economic activity,” both directly and through state-owned enterprises. In addition, Havana has very specific rules that foreign businesses must follow—or face the consequences. That said, here are four sectors in Cuba that could see the most growth—and offer the best payoff for interested investors.

havana-live-Travel and tourism

1. Travel and tourism
One sector Cuba would like to encourage is travel. Foreigners visiting the island and spending money is something the government would very much like to encourage—and even if tourists don’t flock to its natural attractions, foreign investors will come to size up business opportunities.

And all those people will need amenities: places to stay, ways to get around, and—if they’re investors—ways to open and run businesses of all types. So look for increased flights—which will require more and better airports—as well as hotels, ground transportation and restaurants.

Indeed, many countries are already hoping to be a part of that expansion. In July, Spanish tourism minister Jose Manuel Soria said in reports after a trip to Cuba that his country is engaged in talks to nail down hotel and infrastructure deals there, and that Cuba is looking at a goal of more than $2 billion in foreign investment each year as it seeks to grow its economy.

Soria was quoted saying, “The Cuban government told me of the objective for 30,000 new tourist beds.” That’s a lot of visitors—and Spain is already on the spot. Iberia Airlines operates a Madrid-to-Havana route, and NH Hotel Group SA and RIU Hotels SA also have a presence in Cuba. According to the Spanish government, Spanish exports to Cuba totaled 75.7 million euros ($83 million) in May.

Oh, and Soria was not alone. He was accompanied by representatives from 75 Spanish companies. The Italian deputy minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda, also made the trip, along with representatives from 140 Italian companies. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had to cancel his trip because of concerns over the Greek crisis, but is rescheduling, along with German business representatives—and Britain, France and the Netherlands have already sent business delegations there. Looks as if tourism is already on the rise.


2. Infrastructure
If it’s hoping to attract tourists or would-be investors, Havana is also going to need more than a few upgrades to things that people in other countries take for granted: reliable power generation and delivery, as well as more and better roads and airports.

Cuba’s need to increase its power generation capacity is clear; its grid is outdated and inefficient, and it’s looking toward renewables to provide help. In fact, some estimates place potential growth for the renewable energy market in Cuba to total $6 billion in years to come.

Presently Cuba depends on fossil fuels—low-grade domestic crude and oil that it imports from its neighbor Venezuela. But it’s in a prime location to build a new power grid based on renewables: solar, wind, hydroelectric and biomass. It’s a question of who can get in on the ground floor to midwife the transformation of its power system.

Last year Havana signed an agreement with Moscow, based on fossil fuels, for the construction of four generators at its Mariel thermoelectric plant. But the island country is looking to cut its dependence on oil, and looking for a greener way to grow electric generation. It’s also reportedly in talks with China on renewables.

3. Imports
The list of products the U.S. allowed to be imported to Cuba is still pretty limited, and mostly focused on food. When the rules changed in January, they allowed—in addition to various food products, medicines and medical devices and certain agricultural products—“tools, equipment, supplies and instruments for use by private-sector entrepreneurs.”

But the country has no wholesale system to accommodate mass imports of goods, and that will handicap its rapidly growing private-sector entrepreneurs. It will have to come up to speed pretty quickly if it’s going to start bringing in products that will help them build their businesses, so that it’s not solely dependent on outside intervention.

Under Raul Castro, the country expanded its list of categories of private employment open to Cubans to the heady number of 201. Such classifications as carpenter, decorator, electrician and plumber are now available—as are taxi driver, barber and cellphone technician. Employment in any of these fields requires goods or supplies of one sort or another, so change is underway, and the importation of vital goods can’t be far behind.

That means the building of a whole structure for the importation and distribution of everything from raw materials to finished products, including spare parts and the tools to do the work.

4. Telecommunications
And you thought Comcast was bad. In Cuba, it can cost $2 an hour for access to the Internet—pretty pricey when state salaries tend to fall in the $20-a-month range. And that’s if you can get it—less than 4% of homes have it, only a few businesses have it, and the country’s mobile phone network can’t handle it.

Oh, and remember dial-up? That’s what most who want to go online have to do. Broadband is severely limited and there are just 35 Wi-Fi hotspots in the country. But Cuban officials are saying that by 2020, at least half of the population will have access to the Internet at home, and 60% will have mobile phone service.

To make such a quantum leap in service in such a short time, Havana will have to get busy. Look for an explosion in telecommunications as Havana works to make that happen. Etecsa, the country’s state-run telecommunications monopoly, is even testing 3G and 4G cellphone service with Internet capability (the country’s existing system is 2G.

While Cuba wants desperately to bring in foreign investment, it’s not quite ready to cede control over communications and information to outsiders. However, given that global businesses run online, that’s going to have to change. And it might change through China, which has similar concerns over the free flow of information to its people—but nonetheless has gone online in a big way. Reports of a leaked Cuban government document told of plans to allow Chinese companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. to build residential broadband.


havana-live-carnivalCarnival Cruise Line offers more Cuba voluntourism cruise details while Iron Maiden leases a 747 for a world tour.

HAVANA, Sept. 4 Carnival Cruise Line unveiled more details of their “Fathom” voluntourism cruises coming to Cuba and the Dominican Republic onboard the Adonia from May 1, 2016.
In an announcement from the construction of their private port, “Amber Cove,” in Puerto Plata, Fathom chief Tara Russell noted the Cuba program would focus on Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba.

“While much is still in flux, Russell said that cultural immersion, including art and film, would be a major focus in Cuba. The activities on the Cuba trips won’t be as focused on voluntourism as those in the Dominican Republic will be,” reports Carolyn Spencer Brown. (Cruise Critic)

The portion of an aircraft found washed up on Reunion Island on July 29 has finally been authenticated as a piece of missing plane, Malaysia Airlines flight 370. The French prosecutor said a technician from Airbus Defense and Space (ADS-SAU) in Spain, which had made the part for Boeing, “had formally identified one of three numbers found on the flaperon as being the serial number of the MH370 Boeing 777,” reports Michel Rose. (Reuters)

Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, who is also a commercial airline pilot, has announced that the band will lease a Boeing 747 to fly the band around the world on their upcoming, 35-country tour. Dickinson himself will be the pilot as, on previous world tours, Dickinson had flown the band in smaller 757s. The upgrade to the 747, dubbed “Ed Force One,” will allow the plane to transport “all of the crew members and over 12 tons of equipment and stage props much easier thanks to its massive size.” (TravelPulse)

Airbnb has released its first native Apple Watch app. The key feature is Airbnb messing, by which “travelers visiting new or familiar cities now have the ability to keep an ongoing conversation with their host, ask questions, or respond to incoming messages directly on Apple Watch – without being glued to a mobile device,” according to the official release. (Airbnb)

7416496750_0f1f7874dc_bHAVANA, Sept. 3  (BY MIMI WHITEFIELD) When Carlos Fernández-Aballí and his fellow Cuban entrepreneurs were hatching a business plan, they knew they wanted their product to be sustainable, technology-driven and a substitute for something the island currently imports.

To the group behind Sazón Purita, the road to riches seemed to be paved with garlic — specifically garlic grown in Cuba and then dehydrated and sold in small packets. Garlic finds its way into most Cuban dishes, and the spice is so coveted that some garlic farmers have become millionaires.

“Garlic is a big business in Cuba. It is like white gold,” said Fernández-Aballí, who got a degree in engineering design from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and then, after returning to Cuba in 2006, earned a Ph.D. A head of garlic that costs 20 to 30 cents at harvest can rise to 10 pesos by the end of the year, he said, so dehydration made sense.

The young entrepreneurs designed the dehydrating equipment themselves, and in 2013, Sazón Purita became Cooperativa Industrias Purita. The enterprise is now run by 14 cooperative members.

In Cuba, there have been agricultural cooperatives for decades. Although their numbers have been falling, there are still more than 6,000. More recently, the government has been turning over beauty salons, barber shops, restaurants and other service businesses to workers to run privately as cooperatives because they’re considered a drag on the government’s limited resources.

Most non-agriculture co-ops are conversions of former state enterprises, said Ted Henken, a Baruch College sociology professor who studies Cuban entrepreneurship. The number of cooperatives is still tiny: Only about 500 have been approved, and at mid-year, 347 were in operation.

About 23 percent of cooperatives are start-ups like Purita, Henken said. Fifty-nine percent of non-agricultural cooperatives fall into the commerce and food, technical and personal services categories, and about 10 percent, including Purita, are categorized as light industries, he said.

It turns out the Purita entrepreneurs were on the right track with dehydrated spices, but they couldn’t get enough garlic at certain times of the year to make the business feasible. “Everyone wants to keep garlic in storage” until later in the year and speculate, said Fernández-Aballí.

Sourcing its produce from organic farms and small urban agriculture producers, the co-op branched out last year to 14 products — including dehydrated parsley, chives, coriander, tarragon, basil, rosemary and oregano, and even dehydrated peanuts, bread crumbs and fruit. They also process garlic when they can get it.havana-live-purita

Currently, the cooperative is producing 18 tons of dried peanuts and 1.4 tons of dehydrated spices, but it has the capacity to become far larger and produce up to 100 tons of dried garlic annually. It’s in the process of ramping up to produce 20 tons of dried fruit and spices.

The cooperative received a business loan from a Cuban bank for 985,000 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of about $41,042, and it has a small organic farm that produces some of its spices.

Purita has been selling its spices in small cafes and cafeterias around Havana, but in late July, it made a breakthrough: The government agreed to stock Sazón Purita-brand products in five Mercado Ideales, peso retail stores in Havana.

But the cooperative has even bigger plans. Eventually, it would like to sell its 100 percent natural dehydrated products in the United States. “We believe it’s possible,” said Fernández-Aballí.

Under the commercial opening to Cuba outlined by the Obama administration, independent Cuban entrepreneurs are allowed to sell some products in the United States, but at the moment, the list of permitted products doesn’t include prepared foods.

Fernández-Aballí said the Cuban government is preparing a packet of laws that will help private enterprise, including making it easier for cooperatives to link to companies abroad. “The goal is not to put the brakes on the process,” he said.

Organizing the co-op and working through the many obstacles a private entrepreneur faces in Cuba hasn’t been easy, acknowledged Fernández-Aballí. “We just put our heads down and smiled,” he said, “but now we have friends assisting us with the process.”

“He’s a highly educated guy,” said Henken. “He’s also well connected and perhaps well protected.”

Among the problems the cooperative members have had to work through are overestimating their capacity, which necessitated a renegotiation of their loan. Cuba’s unwieldy dual currency system where 24 Cuban pesos equal one Cuban convertible peso has been difficult, as has finding professional packaging for the spices. Packaging spices can be tricky, said Fernández-Aballí. If not done properly, the spices can rehydrate.

“All this slowed us to a point where we have a cash deficit problem,” said Fernández-Aballí. But the cooperative is slowly digging out. Next year, he said, Purita products will be professionally packaged.

Fernández-Aballí presented the Purita case study during an Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy meeting in Miami on July 30. Afterward, Arch Ritter, a Carleton University economist and co-author with Henken of the book Entrepreneurial Cuba: The Changing Policy Landscape, said, “I’m worried about your cash deficit.” But at the same time he praised the Purita group as “confirmed entrepreneurs.”

Talent and entrepreneurship are abundant in Cuba, Ritter said. There are currently about 500,000 privately employed Cubans.

The current wave of entrepreneurship, Ritter said, began to take root in the early 1990s during the special period, a time of economic crisis in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Cubans had to begin to come up with their own income and start small side businesses to survive. They began selling what they didn’t need or want from their ration books or engaged in black market activities.

Fernández-Aballí, 31, missed most of that era. When he was eight, his family left Cuba to live in Caracas, where his father held a post in UNESCO. From there, he went to England to study engineering before returning to Cuba in 2006. Fascinated by renewable energy technology, he got his Ph.D. and began teaching at CUJAE, Havana’s technical university.

He was always attracted to entrepreneurship and technology, he said. The first venture Fernández-Aballí was involved in was a transnational cooperative based in Barcelona that included Cuban, Spanish and Belgian associates. Founded with international prize money, its goal was to create low-cost, technologically appropriate housing with local materials for the homeless and low-income people.

“The taxes in Spain ate us away,” he said. “Thirty-thousand euros in prize money was not enough. We didn’t understand that then, but we do now. You probably need three times that amount to start something in Spain.” Also, trying to manage a transnational concept with Cuba’s poor Internet access was too hard, he said.

Before hitting on the garlic idea, he and his associates thought about starting a catering enterprise but realized there were too many holes in the Cuban supply chain to make it feasible. “Garlic is everywhere,” said Fernández-Aballí. They started the business after coming up with a prototype dehydration machine in early 2012.

The cooperative members meet once a month to make group decisions and vote. Each has a vote regardless of their contribution to the co-op. Profits are supposed to be shared according to the complexity, quality and quantity of work by each individual.

“We’re not pretending to be a company,” Fernández-Aballí said.


havana-live-banco-popularHAVANA Sep 3 (acn) The emerging Cuban self-employed sector will have access to loans up to 10 thousand Cuban pesos to be granted by the Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA), in a effort to boost the use of external sources of financing by them.

Greicher La Nuez, business manager of the BPA, said this measure will get in force in the next future and aims at getting a closer working relation with the self-employed sector.

According to the official, since 2013 there are several forms for the self-employed to back up their requests for a loan, like co-signers, or valuables and mortgages, but the lack of them have had a negative impact on the amount of applications.

Now, applicants will use as a guarantee of payment a banking account that will be created for that purpose, where they will deposit a fourth of the monthly amortization (200 pesos), La Nuez explained

This will help boosting a culture of saving, and once the loan is paid back in full, the monies deposited on the account can be used as collateral for a larger loan, if so desired.

In an effort to make funds available at a faster pace, the bank set a three-day deadline for loans to be granted in every branch throughout the country.