havana-live-USA--Importation-regulation HAVANA, 13 Feb.  (Reuters) – The United States on Friday dramatically eased restrictions on imports of goods and services from private Cuban entrepreneurs as part of Washington’s rapprochement with Havana after more than half a century of enmity.

The U.S. State Department said the import of all goods and services was now permissible except in certain broad categories, which include arms, live animals, tobacco, vehicles, mineral products, machinery, and some textiles and base metals.
“The administration had made it very clear they are changing the thrust of U.S. policy to allow the private sector in Cuba to blossom,” said Pedro Freyre, chair of law firm Akerman LLP’s international practice.

“Of course there are two ends to this. We are still waiting to see how it is going to play out in Cuba.” Under Cuban law, private sector entrepreneurs cannot independently import and export products or services without a government license.
However, artists are allowed to sell their work to foreigners, and there is also an exotic bird cooperative that obtained a license in 2013.

The goods that can now be imported exclude those specified in the following sections of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule:
Section I: Live Animals; Animal Products (all chapters);
Section II: Vegetable Products (all chapters)
Section III: Animal or Vegetable Fats and Oils and their Cleavage Products; Prepared Edible Fats; Animal or Vegetable Waxes (all chapters)
Section IV: Prepared Foodstuffs; Beverages, Spirits, and Vinegar; Tobacco and Manufactured Tobacco Substitutes (all chapters)
Section V: Mineral Products (all chapters)
Section VI: Products of the Chemical or Allied Industries (chapters 28-32; 35-36, 38)
Section XI: Textile and Textile Articles (chapters 51-52)
Section XV: Base Metals and Articles of Base Metal (chapters 72-81)
Section XVI: Machinery and Mechanical Appliances; Electrical Equipment; Parts Thereof; Sound Recorders and Reproducers, Television Image and Sound Recorders and Reproducers, and Parts and Accessories of Such Articles (all chapters)
Section XVII: Vehicles, Aircraft, Vessels, and Associated Transportation Equipment (all chapters) Section XIX: Arms and Ammunition; Parts and Accessories Thereof (all chapters).

 havana-live-hemingway-pilarHAVANA, 13 Feb. The mystery of whether Ernest Hemingway’s widow volunteered or was coerced into leaving their Cuban house to the nation has come a step closer to being solved, with the discovery of a letter in which she states that her late husband “would be pleased” that Finca Vigía be “given to the people of Cuba … as a centre for opportunities for wider education and research”.

Hemingway lived on the 19th-century Cuban farm for 21 years, between 1939 and 1961, writing his masterpieces The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls there as well as posthumously published works including A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream. He committed suicide in Idaho in 1961.

The property became a museum in 1962, but it has been unclear whether this was following the wishes of Mary Hemingway, his fourth wife, or at the insistence of the Cuban government, with differing accounts from different parties.
The newly discovered letter, dated 25 August 1961, sees Mary Hemingway specifically donate the Finca Vigía to the Cuban people. “…Whereas – my husband, Ernest Hemingway, was for twenty-five years a friend of the Pueblo of Cuba … he never took part in the politics of Cuba … he never sold any possessions of his, except his words, having given away cars, guns, books and his Nobel prize medal to the Virgen del Cobre,” she wrote to her husband’s friend Roberto Herrera.

“I believe that he would be pleased that his property … in Cuba be given to the people of Cuba … as a center for opportunities for wider education and research, to be maintained in his memory.
With this document, as the only heir of Ernest’s estate, I hereby give to the people of Cuba this property, in the hope that they will learn and profit from, and enjoy it, as much as Ernest and I did.” havana-live-hemingway-letter

 havana-live-horse-purebredIn this Jan. 31, 2015 photo, a horse trainer braids the main of the horse he’s been training, before the start of an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. Cuba splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company and uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import steeds at great expense. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA,13 Feb. (AP ANNE-MARIE GARCIA) — Already renowned for fine rum and fancy cigars, Cuba is carving out a new luxury niche that is attracting Latin American elites to Cuba: thoroughbred jumping horses.
By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are creating prized competitors capable of fetching more than $40,000 from buyers at private auctions, with much of the proceeds going back to the government-led equine enterprise.

At an auction last month at the National Equestrian Club, well-heeled horse collectors gathered in the tropical air to sip wine and raise their bidding paddles, hoping to find a champion among the Dutch Warmbloods paraded before them. By evening’s end, 31 horses sold for a total of about $435,000 to buyers from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, the Netherlands and Mexico.

“The great advantage is that they are already in the Americas,” said Cecilia Pedraza, a Mexico City collector who bought several of the Dutch Warmbloods. “In addition, they have been trained very well. They are advanced for their age, very well-behaved, perform concentrated jumps and have excellent blood lines.”
Rufino Rivera, from Xalapa, the capital of Mexico’s Gulf coast state of Veracruz, paid about $17,000 for a horse he hopes will follow the path of Aristotelis, a prize-winning jumper he bought at the club’s first auction six years ago.

Cuba’s tradition of horse breeding and training dates to the 16th century, but after the 1959 communist revolution, Fidel Castro’s government banned horse racing along with gambling and professional sports. Cuba continued to participate in amateur equestrianism, producing top-notch horse riders and trainers.
But the costly sport slipped into decline in the 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet Union provoked an economic crisis that made it hard to care for the animals. Then, starting in 2005, Cuba began seeing horses as a way to gain badly needed foreign currency.

It began to import Dutch Warmbloods around age 1½, then train them for competitive jumping before selling them at age 3. In the days before an auction, jockeys and trainers like Jose Luis Vaquero can be seen brushing their purebred wards’ coats and braiding their manes so that “everything is perfect.” “You have to take care of the horse, look after it every day,” Vaquero said.
The National Equestrian Club is run by Flora and Fauna, a state business that promotes the island’s natural resources. It keeps 117 horses in stables in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. Cuba, which splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company, uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import animals at great expense.

Willy Arts, the head of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse association’s North American wing, said there is growing demand for high-quality show horses and Cuba’s program could be important to people in the Western Hemisphere looking to purchase them at more accessible prices. Cuba complains bitterly about training world-class athletes who leave to make millions for themselves in other countries.

If successful, the new equine initiative would produce four-hooved performers whose success only means more revenue for the program that produces them. Nearly two dozen mares currently are part of the breeding effort.
Last year, three horses born through the insemination program were sold at prices ranging from $39,000 to $50,000, said Maydet Vega, a veterinarian who oversees equine programs at Rancho Azucarero, the horse-breeding center west of Havana where the artificial insemination program is being developed.

Breeding foals in Cuba has the additional advantage of allowing horses to adapt to Cuba’s sweltering heat and humidity from birth, she said. “It’s important to be able to produce them on the continent,” Vega said. “They can adapt to the tropical conditions of our climate so people can have them in all countries in the Americas.”

 havana-live_jetblue HAVANA, 12 FEb.  JetBlue Airways  the largest airline to the Caribbean, today announced an agreement with its partner, ABC Charters, to add a new charter flight to Cuba beginning this summer.

The weekly flight, which begins on June 5, will operate on Fridays from Tampa (TPA) to Havana (HAV). JetBlue will have the most flights to Cuba from Tampa. Travelers should make arrangements directly with ABC Charters (www.abc-charters.com).
The addition marks one of the first expansions in charter service by a major U.S. airline since restrictions on travel to Cuba were eased in January.

“Cuba will one day play an important role in our overall Caribbean network, a region where customer response has already helped us grow into the leading U.S. airline,” said Scott Laurence, senior ‎vice president, airline planning, JetBlue.
“Expanding our charter program today reflects the thoughtful approach we are taking in Cuba over the long-term.” JetBlue will now have four weekly round trips to Cuba.

In addition to the new Friday flight, JetBlue and ABC Charters operate weekly flights from Tampa to Havana on Tuesdays and from Tampa to Santa Clara (SNU) on Wednesdays.
JetBlue also operates flights between Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Havana through Xael Charters on Fridays.

JetBlue is currently evaluating opportunities to add additional charter flights. JetBlue serves all charter flights to Cuba on its Airbus A320, which are configured with 150 leather seats, the most legroom in coach of any U.S. carrier*, large overhead bins, free live seatback entertainment, and free snacks.
“Travelers to Cuba would prefer to fly in a roomy and comfortable aircraft with an airline they know and trust,” said Laurence. “By expanding our charter program, we are able to bring the JetBlue experience that customers love, on our modern fleet of aircraft, to even more people making their way to Cuba.”

JetBlue began flying to Cuba for charter companies in 2011. The airline’s leadership in the Caribbean and valuable operational experience in Cuba positions it well to offer additional service to Cuba from multiple U.S. cities as soon as permissible by law.


HAVANA, 12 Feb. It’s been a busy few weeks for the half-dozen or so companies licensed to charter flights between the United States and Cuba.

In December, President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the easing of travel and trade restrictions started in mid-January.
We have just been inundated,” says Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, which has been around for 35 years and flies mostly between Miami and a few Cuban cities. In the second half of January 2014, Guild says his company received 30 requests for group travel.

During that period this year—the first two weeks under the eased rules—the company got 1,300 requests from groups of Americans seeking to visit the island. In fact, Guild says he is discouraging people from packing their bags until April or May. “Cuba is already filled, as far as their hotels go,” he says. Air service agreements between the two countries date back to 1953.

Until last month, the U.S. had limited air travel to Cuba to companies holding special licenses and operating non-regular flights. As Jimmy Carter and other presidents expanded Cuba travel categories beginning in the late 1970s, companies such as Marazul, Gulfstream, ABC, Xael, Wilson and Cuba Travel Services grew to dominate the market.
In 2003 and 2004, President George W. Bush set restrictions on family visits and cut back cultural licenses for Americans. “He hit us really hard,” says Tessie Aral of ABC Charters.

“We had to lay off half our staff.” The industry bounced back in 2009 and 2011, when Obama began easing restrictions. Michael Zuccato of Cuba Travel Services estimates his business is up more than 100 percent since 2011.
Marazul isn’t the only company cashing in. Zuccato says he represented his company at a travel show, and a week later, “I’m just now getting my voice back.” His company is adding a weekly flight from New York City to Havana in March.

A Tampa International Airport spokeswoman says that she expects charter operators there to add additional flights to Cuba in the coming weeks, and that GoToCuba.org, a website the airport created to provide Cuba travel information, has seen 1,580 percent more traffic since before Obama’s announcement in December.

A plan to renegotiate the 62-year-old air service agreement between the two countries could clear the way for major commercial airlines to start flights. American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United have all expressed interest in flying to Cuba, and representatives from the Priceline Group and Orbitz tell Newsweek they’re eager to get Cuba on their booking websites.
Kayak, a travel search engine under the Priceline umbrella, has already added Cuba hotel and flight data to its search results. Still, the charters have loyal followings and have weathered tough storms—extremists bombed Marazul’s offices in 1988 and 1996.

Lillian Manzor, a University of Miami associate professor and expert on U.S.-Cuba travel policies, says the smaller operations have “a long experience and tradition of working with Cuba” and “an experiential know-how that they’ve already had to deal with for 20-odd years that the [major] American companies don’t have.

havana-live-dead.daisiesblackLA HAVANE, 12 Feb. (AFP)  Le groupe de rock américain The Dead Daisies, composé en partie d’anciens membres de Guns’n’Roses, partira en tournée à Cuba ce mois-ci, le premier concert d’un groupe américain depuis 2005.

Les musiciens ont notamment prévu une semaine d’enregistrement en studio avec des artistes locaux. En clôture, le groupe se produira le 28 février au concert de “Cuba Rocks for Peace” à La Havane. .

Le groupe a mentionné que la tournée serait une première pour un groupe américain d’envergure depuis que le président Barack Obama a pris, en décembre, la décision historique de rétablir les relations diplomatiques avec Cuba en assouplissant un embargo économique décrété il y a plus de cinquante ans contre l’île communiste.

“Avec ces changements diplomatiques qui n’ont que trop tardé, nous avons senti qu’il était temps d’y aller”, a indiqué Dizzy Reed, ancien claviériste de Guns’n’Roses. “Cuba, c’est le rêve de toute une vie, une partie du monde si riche en histoire et en influence, et c’est sur le point d’arriver”, a déclaré Reed dans un communiqué diffusé mardi.
Marco Mendoza, le bassiste hispanophone du groupe qui a grandi au Mexique, a ajouté avoir hâte d’explorer le riche héritage de l’île, notamment la culture afro-cubaine.

Malgré une longue animosité politique entre les deux pays, les musiciens ont souvent servi de pont entre les deux cultures et plusieurs artistes cubains d’envergure ont pu se produire aux Etats-Unis. Audioslave, le groupe de hard rock fondé par Chris Cornell, s’est produit devant plusieurs dizaines de milliers de personnes à Cuba en 2005.

En 2013, le célèbre couple formé de Jay-Z et de Beyoncé avait visité l’île en touristes, ce qui avait soulevé l’ire de certains conservateurs qui l’avait accusé de violer l’embargo américain. Le département du Trésor avait cependant donné son accord au couple ainsi qu’à Audioslave, qualifiant ces voyages d’échange culturel.

havana-live-presidente-de-turquia-llega-a-cubaHAVANA, 11 Feb.  Step by step, Turkey is showing its strong interest in the Caribbean region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Havana Tuesday for the beginning of an official visit to Cuba.

The trip is slated to include meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. Erdogan’s trip is part of a wider regional tour that includes stops in C’olombia and Mexico.
He is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Mehdi Eker, Minister of Culture and tourism Ömer Çelik and Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi. It’s the first visit to the region by a sitting Turkish president since 1995, according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But it’s by no means Turkey’s first foray into the region; indeed, the country has been steadily growing its influence across the wider Caribbean in recent years. Last year, the country expanded its partnership with the Caribbean, with moves including a $2.1 million grant to the government of Antigua and Barbuda, a series of cooperation agreements with the Dominican Republic and, on the smaller side, the donation of laptops to Dominica’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Taken together, these kinds of moves seem to signal a strategy similar to that employed by China in recent years in the region. In July 2014, the country also announced what it called a “clear and long-term engagement” to strengthen its Caribbean ties.
That included a proposal to establish a joint chancery for the common use of CARICOM members to establish diplomatic representation in the country’s capital, Ankara.
Erdogan made headlines late last year when he said that Muslims were the first to reach America from the Eastern Hemisphere, referring to a passage in one of Columbus’ journals that referred to a “little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque.” The passage was used metaphorically by Columbus.

He said Muslim sailors had reached the New World in 1178.


havana-live-se-vende-casa (2)La Havane, 11. Feb.  Depuis 2011, les Cubains peuvent vendre et acheter des maisons et autres immeubles, alors qu’il était seulement possible de les troquer jusque-là.

Un changement qui s’inscrit dans les bouleversements économiques que vit l’île depuis quelques années.Cette photo montre une maison à vendre – et à restaurer -, dans la vieille Havane. Un phénomène impossible à imaginer quelques années plus tôt à Cuba.
À la révolution, les Cubains sont restés ou sont devenus propriétaires de leur logement. Les exilés, ceux qui ont quitté l’île dans les années qui ont suivi la prise du pouvoir par Fidel Castro, se sont fait confisquer leurs propriétés, dont certaines ont été réparties parmi la population non propriétaire.

Ces confiscations restent d’ailleurs un contentieux entre Cuba et les États-Unis, qui réclament qu’on les restitue ou qu’on dédommage les propriétaires. La normalisation des relations entre les deux pays devra passer par une sorte d’entente à ce sujet.Les gens sont donc propriétaires de leur logement, mais jusqu’en 2011, ils n’avaient pas droit de les vendre.
Ils pouvaient seulement les échanger. Cela s’appelle la « permuta ». « Je t’échange mon appartement bien rénové contre le tien plus grand, mais qui a besoin de travaux. » Voilà comment ça fonctionne.havana-live-habana-casa-agence

Évidemment, un peu d’argent sous la table peut toujours compenser, même si ce n’est pas permis officiellement. Il y a donc des bourses informelles de la « permuta » ici et là. L’une d’entre elles se trouve au Prado, cette magnifique avenue qui mène du Capitole à la mer en face du phare du Morro.
Depuis 30 ans on y fait des échanges de logement. Sur l’image, on voit des enfants qui font une activité en groupe sur le Prado.Puisqu’il est possible depuis 2011 d’acheter ou de vendre, un nouveau métier est apparu et est désormais autorisé : agent immobilier. Au moins deux agences immobilières ont vu le jour. La première agence à avoir pignon sur rue a été La Isla, fin 2013.

Elle est située dans le quartier chic de Nuevo Vedado. La Isla a un répertoire de 2300 propriétés et en a vendu 800 en moins d’un an.L’autre agence, plus discrète, est Habana Casas.
Elle est située sur le Prado, près de la vieille Havane historique.Une fois rénovés, les logements peuvent être loués aux touristes, en devises, ce qui permet des restaurations d’autres logements.havana-live-isla-agence-immobiliere

Sur cette photo, on voit l’entrée d’une maison à louer aux touristes… en devises, bien entendu.C’est le début d’un nouveau marché. Un gros problème : le manque d’accès aux matériaux neufs et en gros.
On doit se rabattre sur la récupération dans les immeubles en ruines. Le quartier « chaud » pour l’immobilier : la vieille Havane historique. Sur la photo ci-haut, le deuxième étage de la maison rouge est à louer aux touristes.

 havana-live-netflixLA HAVANE, 10 Feb. Lundi, le site américain de vidéo en ligne a ouvert son service à Cuba. Mais cette arrivée sur l’île est avant tout symbolique au regard du nombre d’habitants qui pourront y accéder…

Alors que leurs relations diplomatiques étaient rompues depuis 1961, les États-Unis et Cuba ont décidé de les normaliser depuis quelques semaines. Conséquence quasi-immédiate de ce rapprochement entre les deux nations: Netflix vient de débarquer sur l’île! Lundi 9 février, le célèbre site américain de vidéo en ligne a ouvert son service à Cuba.

Mais son arrivée se veut avant tout symbolique. En effet, si les Cubains peuvent se réjouir de l’arrivée de Netflix sur leur terre, ils seront malheureusement peu nombreux à pouvoir en profiter. À Cuba, on ne dénombre que 5.360 lignes fixes à haut-débit alors que le pays compte 11,3 millions d’habitants. En clair, comme le révèle l’International Telecommunications Union, seuls 3,4% de la population locale pourront accéder au site américain de vidéo en ligne.

Par ailleurs, les Cubains désireux de s’abonner à Netflix devront avoir un accès à des méthodes de paiement internationnales et déboursé de 7,99 à 11,9 dollars par mois. À Cuba, le salaire mensuel moyen s’élevant à 20 dollars, l’accès à Netflix reste donc pour le moment le privilège d’une minorité.
Reste que l’arrivée du géant américain participe à la normalisation historique des relations entre La Havane et Washington. Une porte-parole du groupe a d’ailleurs expliqué: «Notre arrivée sur ce marché est un signe de notre confiance dans les réformes en cours à Cuba et dans le fait que l’assouplissement des restrictions sur les entreprises américaines (voulant opérer dans l’île) va conduire à des investissements rapides là-bas, y compris pour améliorer les infrastructures».

Netflix dispose aujourd’hui de plus de 57 millions de clients dans une cinquantaine de pays. Le site américain de vidéo en ligne compte 5 millions d’abonnés en Amérique latine depuis son arrivée en 2011.

havana-live-tropicanaHAVANA, Feb 10 (EFE) The legendary Tropicana cabaret, with a 75-year-long history and a symbol of cuban music, is excited about the new era with the United States with a predicted increase in North American spectators among the international audience that attend the “Paradise Under the Stars” every night.

“We are hopeful, let’s see how this process develops. We hope that finally the travel restrictions are lifted and that many North Americans come here to see Cuba and Tropicana,” the cabaret’s artistic director, Armando Pérez, told Efe.

First opened on 31 December 1939, Havana’s Tropicana remains one of the island’s main tourist attractions with a show that is unique both for the location in the open air surrounded by lush tropical flora and its quality repertoire of genuine Cuban music, where the cha-cha-cha, mambo, guaracha, rumba and African rhythms have fused with Latin jazz, samba, and Spanish and Brazilian music. In high season, between 500 and 800 people attend the acclaimed show.

All are foreign tourists mainly from Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and in recent years from Russia. Very few Cubans are seen in the Tropicana audience as the cheapest ticket is CUC 75 (equivalent to the US dollar), a prohibitive price for Cubans earning a precarious income.

After it was announced that relations between Cuba and the United States were to be reestablished and the first measures taken by Washington to soften the blockade introduced, among them an easing of travel restrictions to the island, the Tropicana is waiting for an increase in North American traffic in the not-too-distant future.

One of the show’s solo singers, Idra, who specialises in son and guaracheras, sees the change as positive. “I hope they can come here and appreciate our art (…) that they see us here, at our home,” she told Efe, after explaining how the Tropicana is an “institution” that has never ceased to operate despite the 50-year U.S. embargo.
After it opened in 1939 on an old Havana estate in the neighbourhood of Marianao, the Tropicana quickly became one of the most popular nightclubs on the American continent, visited by the legends such as Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole.

Celebrated Cuban and foreign artists to perform at the club include Rita Montaner, pianist and composer Ignacio Jacinto “Bola de Nieve” Villa Fernández, entertainer Josephine Baker and singer Celia Cruz. The venue became a casino-cabaret, receiving many visits from various members of the American mafia until Fidel Castro’s revolution succeeded in 1959.

 havana-live-netflexHAVANA, 9 Feb.  Netflix Inc., the online video-subscription service, said it will offer movies and TV shows in Cuba starting at $7.99 a month as Internet access there improves and credit and debit cards become more widely available.

Starting today, Cubans with broadband service and access to international payment methods will be able to stream shows including “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” Los Gatos, California-based Netflix said today in a statement.The company will offer a curated selection of movies and TV shows.
Netflix didn’t say what role, if any, the Cuban government would play in the service. Markets outside the U.S. are the company’s fastest-growing source of new online subscribers, which reached 57.4 million at year-end. Netflix raised $1.5-billion in a bond sale this month to support its expansion, including the development of new shows.

“Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture, and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience,” Reed Hastings, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in the statement. The company began offering its service in Latin America in 2011 and now counts more than 5 million subscribers.
Netflix plans to enter Japan by fall, a person familiar with the matter said last week. The company said on its earnings call in January that it would offer its monthly service to almost every territory with high-speed Internet service by the end of 2016.

miss-univers-sacreLA HAVANE, 9 Feb. Elle incarne la beauté et la grâce et elle croit de tout son cœur à la paix dans le monde.

C’est pour toutes ces raisons que Paulina Vega, étudiante colom­bienne de 22 ans, récem­ment couron­née Miss Univers, vient d’être appe­lée en renfort à La Havane, où doivent se tenir des pour­par­lers histo­riques qui marque­ront peut être la fin d’un conflit de 50 ans entre les Forces armées révo­lu­tion­naires de Colom­bie (Farc) et le gouver­ne­ment de Juan Manuel Santos.

A grandes couronnes grandes respon­sa­bi­li­tés. Sacrée Miss Univers 2015 en janvier dernier, devant notre Camille Cerf natio­nale, la Colom­bienne Paulina Vega va pouvoir se rendre utile plus vite qu’elle ne l’es­pé­rait surement.
Celle qui s’était dite «prête à se rendre à La Havane pour que la paix soit signée» entre les Farcs et le gouver­ne­ment de son pays, a pour ainsi dire été prise au mot.

En effet, dans un commu­niqué offi­ciel, publié sur le site inter­net de l’or­ga­ni­sa­tion terro­riste – respon­sable notam­ment de l’en­lè­ve­ment d’In­grid Betan­court entre 2002 et 2008 – on pouvait lire cette semaine, à l’at­ten­tion de la jeune reine de beauté : « Nous saluons sa propo­si­tion de se rendre à La Havane, et nous l’invi­tons à concré­ti­ser sa visite pour l’infor­mer du dérou­le­ment du proces­sus de discus­sions, des avan­cées et de l’énorme contri­bu­tion que ceux qui veulent la paix et vous-même peuvent appor­ter ». Les présentes négo­cia­tions de paix sont en cours depuis novembre 2012 dans la capi­tale de Cuba.

Et, pour le moment la moitié du travail est déjà fait, puisque des accords ont été trou­vés sur trois des six points majeurs. Espé­rons donc de tout cœur que l’ar­ri­vée provi­den­tielle de la jeune Paulina permet­tra aux négo­cia­teurs de clas­ser le conflit interne colom­bien sans suite, en toute frater­nité. Plus sérieu­se­ment, on rappelle que depuis 50 ans de conflit, 220.000 personnes ont péri dans la jungle amazo­nienne.

havana-live-miss_colombia_universo HAVANA, 7 Feb. Colombia’s FARC rebels have invited newly crowned Miss Universe Paulina Vega to attend their peace negotiations.

The beauty queen hasn’t responded as yet.Miss Universe Paulina Vega was invited by rebels of Colombia’s Marxist FARC movement, who believed her presence was of utmost importance in negotiating peace with their government in Havana, Cuba’s capital.
“We welcome your willingness to travel to Havana and we invite you to materialize your visit to update you about the development of the peace talks, the progress and the enormous contributions that you and the majorities who desire peace can make,” the organization’s peace delegation wrote on its website.

It is however unclear how the beauty queen, also a Colombian national, could help establish peace between the guerilla and the government in Bogota, who have been involved in an armed struggle since the 1960s.
The beauty queen had still not responded to the rebels’ invitation. The 22-year-old Vega is a business student and model from Colombia’s Baranquilla. She was named Miss Universe this January and had expressed her willingness to travel to peace talks in Havana in several interviews.

Representatives of the guerillas and the Colombian government have been speaking in Cuba’s capital Havana and have agreed on land reforms, an end to illegal drug trade and political participation for former guerillas until now. mg/rc (Reuters, AFP)

 havana-live-internet-centerHAVANA,7 Feb. Cuban authorities plan to have more than 300 centers for accessing the Internet by late 2015, almost double the 155 so-called “cyber points” that were open to the public at the end of last year, according to the projections of Etecsa, the state-run telecommunications company, as cited by media on the island.

In the first quarter of this year, the state company plans to open 73 of these cyber points, to be set up in the nation’s Joven Clubs, which already have computers installed but where only Web pages created on the island with the domain name “.cu” have been accessible up to now. In Etecsa’s cyber points, Cubans have global access to the Internet, except for certain restricted Web sites, but the connection price of $4.50 per hour is impossibly expensive in a country where the average monthly wage ranges from $20 to $30.

The communications director at Etecsa, Luís Manuel Díaz, said in a statement on Cuban television that the process of bringing the island online also contemplates the creation of Wi-Fi networks in hotels. Late last year, Etecsa officials announced that the company intends not only to increase the number of cyber points in 2015, but also to offer Wi-Fi areas for wireless connections, though plans for the latter have not yet been consolidated.

At present, Internet connections in homes on the island are restricted to certain professionals like journalists, doctors and lawyers – with previous authorization by the government – while the majority of Cubans can only access the Web at the cyber points that opened in June 2013 with 118 public access centers.

As part of the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States and lifting sanctions on the island, the White House last January eased export restrictions on IT equipment and software to improve telecommunications in the Caribbean country and to lower the costs.

 havana-live-air-chinaHAVANA, Feb 7 (Prensa Latina) An Air China delegation will travel to Cuba to begin contacts for the establishment, for the first time, of a direct flight between Beijing and Havana, Zhang Xin, executive of that airline said.

In statements to Prensa Latina, the manager of Cooperation and International, Governmental and Bilateral Affairs of Air China, stated that a representation of that company will arrive in Havana in mid March, seeking the Cuban approval for its operations.
The objective is to achieve an agreement and know the conditions and services of resupply, maintenance, catering and others at the Jose Marti airport. As of the approval by the Cuban part, we will do the corresponding request to Chinese authorities.

Thus, we can begin the Beijing-Havana direct flights on September 28, he stressed. The executive attended today an act to promote tourism to Cuba organized by that Caribbean island’s diplomatic mission in Beijing, and in which representatives from Chinese travel agencies and tour-operators participated.

Zhang said the trip between those distant nations will last about 16 hours with a resupply stop in Montreal, Canada, and the use of large airplanes such as Airbus and Boeing. Cuban ambassador Alberto Blanco expressed satisfaction to the participants in the activity for Air China company’s intention to begin its first direct flight to Havana, coinciding in time with the 55th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between both countries.

 havana-live-US-Cuba-flagHAVANA, 6 Feb. (Reuters) – The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite Cuba’s demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A refusal by Cuba to allow the United States to quickly establish an official embassy for the first time in half a century could complicate talks between the Cold War foes, reflecting enduring mistrust as they move to end decades of confrontation.
Striking Cuba from the terrorism list could take until June or longer, although the White House is pushing officials to move quickly, said two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the State Department’s review to take Cuba off the list. Washington is eager to re-establish diplomatic ties before a regional summit in Panama in April, when President Barack Obama will meet Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since 2013, the officials said.

The two leaders announced a historic deal on Dec. 17 to restore relations. U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet this month or in early March in Washington for a second round of talks. While renewing diplomatic relations could happen quickly, the process to normalize, including removing the U.S. trade embargo, will take far longer. Cuba has not made removal from the list a condition for restoring ties, U.S. officials said. But Havana made clear during the first round of talks last month that it first wants to be removed from the terrorism list.

For Cuba, which considers its designation an injustice, getting removed from the list would be a long-coveted propaganda victory at home and abroad. Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro’s training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.
But Cuba’s presence on the list has been questioned in recent years. The State Department’s latest annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” says Cuba has long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s left-wing FARC guerrillas. But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm.

And the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host. Even the State Department acknowledged in its report that Cuba has made progress. “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups,” it said.

Cuba raised this issue before January’s talks in Havana. A senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters on Jan. 20 that it was “unfair” to keep Cuba on the State Department’s list. “We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It doesn’t make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list).” It is rare, though not unheard of, for the United States to remove entities or countries from its list of terrorist supporters.

One entity which was removed following a lengthy and intense lobbying campaign was the Mujahiddin e Khalq, a controversial and cult-like Iranian group. The designation also comes with economic sanctions, and can result in fines for companies that do business with countries on the list, such as a record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for doing business with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

As part of the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba, the White House ordered a State Department review of Cuba’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. officials said. A U.S. national security official said intelligence agencies were under pressure from senior Obama administration officials to complete their role in the removal process by March.

“The process is under way,”said the official.

To finalize Cuba’s removal, Obama would need to submit to Congress a report stating Havana had not supported terrorism-related activities for six months, and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future.Cuba would be automatically dropped from the list 45 days later. 

Getting the embassy open is also tricky.

Converting the six-story U.S. interests sections in Havana into a full-fledged embassy after 53 years would require ending restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, limits on diplomats’ movements and appointing an ambassador.

It would allow the U.S. to renovate the building and have U.S. security posted around the building, replacing Cuban police. Cuba also wants the United States to scale back its support for Cuban dissidents when the sides meet again. U.S. administration officials have stood firm both publicly and privately that they intend to keep supporting the dissidents.

“I can’t imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship with an agreement not to see democracy activists,” U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson told a hearing chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal Republican opponent of Obama’s new Cuba policy.

topelementLA HAVANE, 6 Feb. Les Etats-Unis visent une réouverture de leur ambassade à La Havane d’ici avril, ont déclaré des responsables de l’administration américaine. Les deux pays ont lancé mi-décembre un processus de normalisation de leurs relations après plus d’un demi-siècle de rupture et de confrontation.

Washington presse La Havane d’accepter la réouverture de cette ambassade en dépit de la position cubaine, qui réclame au préalable d’être retiré de la “liste noire” des pays accusés par les Etats-Unis de soutenir le terrorisme.

Ce processus, mené par le département d’Etat, pourrait prendre davantage de temps, jusqu’en juin voire plus tard, ont déclaré deux responsables américains.
L’administration américaine espère rétablir les relations diplomatiques avec Cuba avant le sommet des Amériques, qui se tiendra les 10 et 11 avril au Panama. Barack Obama y rencontrera son homologue cubain Raul Castro pour la première fois depuis la cérémonie d’hommage à Nelson Mandela, en décembre 2013. Depuis leur annonce historique et quasi simultanée du 17 décembre dernier, Obama et Castro ont délégué des représentants pour discuter dans le détail du processus de normalisation.

Un premier cycle s’est tenu le mois dernier à La Havane, un deuxième est prévu pour ce mois-ci ou début mars à Washington. Si la reprise de relations diplomatiques peut intervenir rapidement, la normalisation sera plus longue, notamment la levée de l’embargo décrété par Washington contre l’île communiste en février 1962.
“Liste noire” en question De même source, on souligne que dans les négociations en cours, le gouvernement cubain n’a pas fait stricto sensu de son retrait de la “liste noire” des pays soutenant le terrorisme une condition indispensable au rétablissement de liens.

Mais les délégués cubains ont indiqué aux représentants de Washington que La Havane souhaitait disparaître de cette liste avant une réouverture des ambassades. Cuba a été placée sur la liste en 1982 au motif que Fidel Castro, qui présidait alors l’île, armait et formait des guérillas communistes en Afrique et en Amérique latine.

Trois autres pays seulement figurent sur cette liste: l’Iran, le Soudan et la Syrie. En disparaître serait une victoire symbolique majeure pour La Havane, qui se dit victime d’une injustice. Aux Etats-Unis, et sans attendre l’annonce historique du 17 décembre, la présence de Cuba sur la “liste noire” fait débat depuis quelques années.

havana-live-Havana-World-Music1HAVANA, 5 Feb. The second edition of Havana World Music Festival is about to begin.

Two intense days of concerts, which begin at five in the afternoon, are planned for the coming days 6th and 7th, in areas of the Almendares Park, home to bring together artists of the island and outsiders
. Eme Alfonso, project leader, today confirmed the presence of foreign guests as the Franco-Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui musician, singer and composer David Walters, the Mexican Institute of Sound and DJ Set Philippe Cohen, former member of the famous Gotan Project. Also stated in a press conference that the interpreters Mélissa Laveaux Canada and Norway Ellen Andrea Wang, will also be in these presentations.

Act on the part of Cuba Raul Paz, Tony Avila, Roberto Fonseca, Isaac Delgado, Yissy García, Alain Pérez and self Eme Alfonso, who on this occasion will launch the Women of the world- WOW !, a creation to highlight the talent women of different nationalities. Source: AIN

havana-live-buenavistaLA HAVANE, 5 Feb. Vingt ans après la sortie du premier album de la formation musicale cubaine, l’étiquette britannique Social Club sort de l’ombre une série d’inédits des stars du Buena Vista Social Club.

L’album Lost and Found sera offert le 24 mars prochain. Parmi les grands noms de la musique cubaine présents sur ce disque, on retrouve Ibrahim Ferrer, Rubén González, Cachaíto López, Guajiro Mirabal, Eliades Ochoa, Omara Portuondo et Compay Segundo. Le tout premier album de la formation a été enregistré en 1996, en sept jours à La Havane à Cuba.

A cette occasion, de grands noms de la musique locale des années 1950 ont été réunis. Un disque de légende qui est devenu la référence en termes de musique cubaine. Chacun de ses membres ont joué dans le monde entier et ont fait l’objet du film de Wim Wenders Buena Vista Social Club, sorti en 1999 et nommé aux Oscars l’année suivante.

Les morceaux présents sur Lost and Found, ont été enregistrés en studio juste après leur tout premier album, mais aussi lors de concerts. Le groupe, où des membres originels officient toujours, entamera cette année une tournée d’adieu de plus de 30 dates. Elle commence le 4 février à Mexico et s’achève le 30 juillet à Londres.
La formation sera de passage à Lyon le 31 mars au festival Les Printemps de Pérouges, et à Paris à l’Olympia le 2 avril et le 3 mai. Renseignements et dates de tournée: www.facebook.com/orquesta.buena.vista.social.club.

 havana-live-cuba-travel-saerviceHAVANA, 5 Feb. Starting in March, New Yorkers will be able to hop on a direct flight from JFK airport to Havana, Cuba, for just under $850, organizers said.

California-based Cuba Travel Services will start running weekly Tuesday afternoon flights on a 737 out of New York on March 17 for $779, the charter flight company said. The fare will be $849 every week thereafter. “It’s obviously very, very exciting. The more cities we have connecting the United States to Cuba, the better,” said the company’s head of marketing, Emily Sanchez. “We’ve been excited to do it for quite a while, we’ve just been waiting for the right time. “Culturally speaking, New York and Cuba are so close. We wanted to bridge that gap.”

The charter flight package, which has been in the works for about a year, was supposed to run out of Newark airport, but officials there denied Cuba Travel so they went with JFK, staff said. It’s not known why Newark nixed the flight. “The Cuban airport authorities were pretty open to granting a permit. They were excited.
They wanted to make it work,” Sanchez said. Requests for comment from the Port Authority, which operates JFK airport, were not immediately returned.

Travel restrictions are still in effect for Americans so only those who fall into the 12 categories permitted by the US government will be able to book Cuba Travel flights. Those categories include people traveling to Cuba for family visits, to do government work, journalism and several other limited categories.
The recent normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, while exciting, didn’t have any direct impact on their New York flight plan, Sanchez said. Federal legislators however have proposed lifting all travel bans to Cuba.

Cuba Travel already runs about 20 flights a week out of Miami and Tampa, Sanchez said. For now, the company is only planning the one flight per week from JFK. “We have no plans any time soon to expand New York service. We’re just getting our feet wet,” Sanchez said.

  havana-live-flower-entrepreneur The backseat of a rented 1957 Buick is packed with flowers, to be transported to Havana from San Antonio de los Banos, Cuba. Every Monday and Thursday morning, self-employed flower vendor Yaima Gonzalez Matos leaves her home to visit a dozen farmers who sell her sunflowers, roses, lilies and other blooms. She loads the flowers into the rented American classic and delivers to customers in the capital. Photo: Ramon Espinosa, AP

LA HABANA, 3 Feb (AP) Yaima Gonzalez Matos lost her job in human resources at a state-owned enterprise three years ago. So she joined the ranks of Cuba’s small class of entrepreneurs and became a wholesaler in the island’s new private flower business to support herself and her son, now 11. Every Monday and Thursday at 7 a.m., Gonzalez leaves her home in San Antonio de los Banos, a town outside Havana, to visit a dozen farmers who sell her sunflowers, orchids, lilies and other blooms.  havana-live-flower-entrepreneur

She loads the flowers into a 1957 Buick and begins her deliveries to customers in the capital. She pays her driver about $20 a day including gas. On a good day, she earns about $28 after expenses, a little more than the average monthly salary in Cuba. It’s a tough job: Gonzalez’s suppliers hardly ever fill all her requests for reasons that range from bad weather to competitors outbidding her.
The smallest mishap can push her balance sheet into the red for weeks. On a recent Thursday, someone reached into the car and stole her cellphone while she was talking to a client who sells flowers on the street. Some days, the old Buick breaks down, leaving her stranded on the roadside. She says she works only two days a week because there isn’t enough demand to support more business. havana-live-flower-entrepreneur

But often those days last 12 hours, and she gets home long after her mother has bathed her son and put him to bed. Gonzalez is hopeful that the recent warming of relations with the U.S. will improve Cuba’s economy, and more money will trickle down to her business.
She dreams of one day having a business big enough to let her buy a truck and sign a supply contract with a hotel.

Cuba went to Miami, now Miami is coming to Cuba

HAVANA, 3 Feb. (Havana Times By Graham Sowa) Over the last few years President Obama and President Castro have ended many of the travel restrictions between their respective countries.

Ease of travel plus an overly favorable United States immigration policy directed towards Cubans has opened an international pipeline of criminal activity. This problem has gone largely unnoticed, however Gilberto Martinez Suarez, also known by his Reggeaton stage name “Gilbertman” just gave it a name and a face. Gilberto Suarez did something dozens of Cubans have done in the past few years.
He went to the United States, dabbled in credit card fraud in various south Florida counties, was arrested, skipped bail, and ran back to Cuba with a treasure chest full of booty.

Once on the island he didn’t go to the upscale Havana enclaves of Miramar, Siboney and Playa. Instead he went to the poor, dilapidated, Guanabacoa neighborhood of Cuba’s capital. He bought up a city block of shacks, built a concrete mansion with 5 car garage, and basically set up a lord of the flies situation. At just 28 years old Gilberto had enough cash and bling to create a dedicated following of clingers-on, hoodlums, and racketeers.Download (3)
In Cuba he turned his stolen money into a music career. Guns, drugs, and briefcases of cash were prominently featured in glorified orgies of urban violence in his Reggeaton music videos such as “No Hay Break”. His combination of flagrant disrespect of the law eventually caught too much attention of authorities in the Cuban government. Something had to be done. About two weeks ago his empire crumbled as a Cuban SWAT team raided his compound. The story is now the most popular theme of gossip on Havana streets.

Gilberto Suarez would not be worth writing about anywhere else in the world, much less Miami. He would just be another small scale crook who didn’t know how to manage money and live under the radar. An erasable blotch on the fabric of society, an easy case for prosecutors. Gilbertman’s house in Guanabacoa when being raided.
Gilbertman’s house in Guanabacoa while being raided. But Cuba is not used to watching its parochial sons and daughters coming back and living this type of self-destructive sensationalism tinged lifestyle under the nose of the state. While how he lived in Cuba might be unique how he stole his way to being rich is an old story.havana-live-gilbert-man

The Sun Sentinel newspaper of Ft. Luaderdale Florida recently published an investigative report over a year in the making that highlights how Cubans are taking advantage of overly favorable immigration laws to go run scams in the United States. When looking at local Florida and national statistics on Medicare fraud, networks of marijuana growing houses, credit card fraud, identity theft, Cubans are overrepresented, more sophisticated, and more likely to escape justice. U.S. law enforcement doesn’t pursue these criminals when they return to Cuba.

A quick escape to their homeland after posting bail is currently the best “Get out of jail free” card in America. I often wonder where all the money for these new restaurants, restored private houses, imported luxury goods and other elements of first world material culture come from in a country where the average worker is supposed to make between 20-35 USD a month.

The answer is that at least a portion, maybe a large portion, is coming from ill-gotten gains from criminals ripping off the United States of America. As long as we keep extending good will to Cuban immigrants through laws such as The Cuban Adjustment Act and refuse to normalize relations with the Cuban government in order to track down and extradite these fugitives of justice, the problem will keep getting worse.
Meanwhile Cuba will have to decide if it wants to get serious about cracking down on criminals who return from the United States before the situation gets out of hand such as in Gilbert Suarez’s case.

The fact that Mr. Suarez was able to build a mansion, keep guns, fighting dogs, drugs, acquire several luxury cars in a country where car ownership is the lowest in the hemisphere, and otherwise completely flaunt local law shows weakness in several institutions. The Committee of the Defense of the Revolution, the People’s Power committee, and the local branch of the Communist Party should explain why Gilbert Suarez was given so much leeway before being arrested for crimes he was bragging about on Facebook.

havana-live-The Hollywood sign HAVANA, 3 Feb.  Fermin Rojas was thick into filming his documentary on Cuban artists in Havana when a small wire connecting a camera to a monitor snapped.

There was no BestBuy nearby or FedEx delivery to quickly ship a replacement to the Cuban capital.”It took us three days to find another,” the Cuban-born U.S. filmmaker recalled. For years, a small contingent of U.S. directors and producers has managed to legally travel and film in Cuba despite the U.S. embargo against the country, navigating a maze of ever-changing U.S. Treasury Department regulations to get approval. Once in Cuba, they’ve been bound to working with just the few cameras and equipment they are able to bring and a tight cash-only budget with no access to an ATM. Now their work could become considerably easier.getimage

Under President Barack Obama’s new regulations, which went into effect this month, documentary filmmakers will no longer need to apply for permission to travel to Cuba from the U.S. government. The process of filming should be simpler as well: The ban prohibiting U.S. banks and credit card companies from operating on the island and the cap on daily expenses have been lifted. American Express Co. and MasterCard have announced plans to start doing business in Cuba.

And down the line, American companies could help boost the island’s Internet and communication systems. The eased trade and travel measures are expected to increase the number of U.S. filmmakers shooting on the island. However, a major Hollywood production still appears a distant prospect.
While documentary filmmaking is permitted, travel for feature-length commercial films is not specifically authorized. Even if it were, there remain a number of barriers: The U.S. embargo is still in place and Cuba’s tightly-controlled economy is stagnant. “It’s still not an open door,” said Bill Martinez, a California-based attorney who has helped U.S. filmmakers travel to Cuba.

Hollywood and Havana’s relationship dates back to the 1920s, when the Fox Film Corporation filmed scenes for its “Movietone Follies” in Cuba. Despite decades of sour U.S.-Cuba relations, many celebrities have been unafraid to flaunt their affection for the island: Beyonce and Jay-Z notoriously visited Cuba — legally — to celebrate their anniversary in 2013Our-Man-in-Havana-1959-Hollywood-Movie-Watch-Online-202x300.
Sean Penn visited and interviewed Raul Castro in 2008. Filming in Cuba, however, has remained a vexing odyssey. To produce his film “Alumbrones,” examining the work and life of 12 Cuban artists, Rojas and director Bruce Donnelly contracted a Canadian production company to help obtain a Cuban government film permit. The post-production work was done in Brazil.

Alysa Nahmias, the director of “Unfinished Spaces,” an award-winning documentary on Cuba’s revolutionary National Arts Schools, said it took 10 years to finish her film working on a cash-only budget on the island. Bob Yari, who filmed a feature-length Ernest Hemingway biopic “Papa” on the island last year, said it was hard to do basic tasks like pay crew members. “I think those things are going to be much simpler now,” he said. A number of new works filmed in Cuba are now underway:

Actor Matt Dillon is making a film on Afro-Cuban music. The Discovery Channel is filming “Cuban Chrome,” which will follow Cuban car mechanics trying to keep their classic American cars on the road. Rojas is working on a second documentary, chronicling the life and work of a gay men’s jazz ensemble he founded in Havana. The filmmaking bubble comes at a time when Cuba’s independent film community is thriving despite limited access to digital technology.

Film will be an important channel to share stories and bridge a five-decade divide, said Catherine Murphy, a producer for Dillon’s documentary. “That’s what’s beautiful about documentaries,” said Murphy, who spent eight years producing the documentary “Maestra” on the women teachers behind Cuba’s 1961 National Literacy Campaign.

“The power of the human story.” There are economic motives for Hollywood to return to Havana as well — it’s cost effective. Cuba offers low labor and material fees. And aside from a lush tropical landscape, Cuba offers something that hasn’t changed much since the last time Hollywood had a significant presence in Havana: Locations that still look like the 1950s.

GRANMA1La Havane, 3 Feb.  (AFP)  Le quotidien cubain Granma et d’autres médias officiels ont publié lundi soir les premières photos de Fidel Castro depuis près de six mois, alors que l’état de santé de l’ex-président a fait l’objet de rumeurs récurrentes ces dernières semaines.

Fidel est un être exceptionnel, titre un article publié sur les portails internet de Granma et d’autres médias, accompagné de plusieurs photos d’une rencontre entre le père de la révolution cubaine, âgé de 88 ans, et le dirigeant de la Fédération des étudiants universitaires, Randy Perdomo Garcia.

Sur ces photos, Fidel Castro apparaît en tenue de sport bleue en train de converser avec M. Perdomo Garcia, sous l’oeil de sa compagne Dalia Soto del Valle. L’article accompagnant les photos, signé par le leader estudiantin, révèle que les clichés ont été pris lors d’une rencontre le 23 janvier au domicile de l’ex-chef d’Etat dans l’ouest de La Havane.

Cette publication survient au moment où l’état de santé du Comandante, qui n’est pas apparu en public depuis plus d’un an, fait l’objet de rumeurs récurrentes. Ses dernières photos publiées remontaient à août 2014. Son silence remarqué au moment de l’annonce du dégel avec les Etats-Unis le 17 décembre, puis lors du retour au pays d’agents cubains libérés par Washington, avait relancé de nombreuses conjectures, abondamment relayées sur les réseaux sociaux.
Fin janvier toutefois, les autorités cubaines avaient apporté un premier démenti aux rumeurs en publiant une lettre de Fidel Castro adressée à cette même fédération étudiante.

 havana-live-tourist-in-cigar-factoryDes touristes dans une usine de cigares cubains.Photo AFP

LA HAVANE, 2 Feb. (AFP) La diplomatie des cigares et du rhum est à l’œuvre: depuis peu, les quelques Américains autorisés à se rendre à Cuba peuvent enfin glisser dans leur bagages ces produits qui leur étaient interdits depuis des décennies.

En marge du rapprochement historique annoncé mi-décembre entre les deux pays, le président américain Barack Obama a autorisé ses compatriotes à rapporter 100 $ US de tabac ou d’alcool cubains, mettant un terme à des années de frustrations et de contrôles intraitables aux douanes américaines. «C’est une nouvelle très importante.

Assister à cette ouverture après tant d’années est un grand pas pour les deux nations», se réjouit Alexis Batista, barman au Musée du rhum de La Havane, avant de presser une épaisse canne à sucre et de servir à des touristes le fameux jus de «guarapo».
«C’est plus symbolique qu’autre chose, mais je crois que cela démontre que (…) nous pouvons prendre part à (la promotion) de ces symboles immenses pour la nation cubaine», explique Meryl Cohen, 29 ans, l’une des rares privilégiées à pouvoir voyager sur l’île à l’occasion d’un séjour de son association juive.
Les membres d’associations religieuses font partie des 12 catégories de voyageurs autorisés par les autorités américaines à se rendre à Cuba. Depuis 15 jours, ils n’ont plus besoin d’autorisations spéciales.

Le numéro 1 du rhum cubain Havana Club, coentreprise entre le gouvernement cubain et le géant français des spiritueux Pernod Ricard, voit d’un bon œil cette ouverture et se prépare déjà pour le jour où sera levé l’embargo américain qui étouffe l’économie cubaine depuis 1962.
«Nous avons des produits en stock, un bon niveau de production et tout est prêt pour entrer sur le marché américain le plus tôt possible», explique à l’AFP Sergio Valdes Dorta, directeur des exportations de la célèbre marque. Selon lui, le potentiel du marché américain, qui représente 40 % des achats de rhum dans le monde, «est très élevé».

Privé de ce débouché majeur, Havana Club s’est tout de même hissé à la troisième place du classement des rhums les plus vendus dans le monde, après Bacardi – entreprise cubaine qui a fui aux Bermudes après la révolution de 1959 – et le Jamaïcain Captain Morgan. Aux États-Unis, Bacardi a remporté une longue bataille juridique contre Havana Club et jouit aujourd’hui du droit d’exploiter la licence Havana Club aux États-Unis.
Pour éviter les complications, l’entreprise cubaine a déjà prévu de modifier le nom de son rhum pour le marché américain. Il s’appellera Havanista. Sollicité par l’AFP, Bacardi n’a pas souhaité commenter l’irruption éventuelle de ce nouveau concurrent qui pourra se targuer d’être 100 % cubain, alors que le Havana Club de Bacardi est produit à Porto Rico.

Dans les rues de la Havane, les vendeurs de cigares confient eux aussi vouloir profiter de cette manne inédite. Barbara Elias Hernandez, vendeuse de cigares au marché artisanal du port de la capitale, n’a jamais compris pourquoi les Américains n’avaient pas le droit d’emporter les célèbres Cohiba, Romeo & Julieta, Montecristo ou Partagas de l’autre côté du Détroit de Floride.
«Ils se contentaient de les fumer ici», raconte cette femme de 45 ans, saluant l’ouverture de ce «nouveau marché» pour les «puros» cubains. Mais en attendant la levée de l’embargo, l’impact des havanes sur le marché américain sera limité car avec 100 $ US comme limite, l’amateur ne pourra par exemple ne rapporter que trois gros Cohiba ou 10 Montecristo numéro 2.

En outre, les heureux élus sont encore peu nombreux, relève pour l’AFP David Savona, directeur du magazine américain Cigar Aficionado. «Cela dit, l’actualité de Cuba a attisé l’intérêt autour du cigare, car lorsqu’on pense à Cuba, on ne peut s’empêcher de penser aux cigares (…) Le fruit défendu est très bon et les gens en veulent», assure-t-il.
Robert Raisler, informaticien à la retraite de 78 ans, participe à un voyage culturel et universitaire. Il confie qu’au moment de préparer son séjour on l’avait averti qu’il ne pourrait rapporter ni rhum, ni cigares. «Lorsque le président Obama a fait son discours annonçant une petite ouverture, on a appris que la nouvelle limite était de 100 $. Je me suis dit: il était temps!»

havana-live-billetes-cubaHAVANA,February 2 (acn) The Cuban largest denomination bills, of 200, 500 and 1000 Cuban pesos began circulating on Sunday in the country, in order to facilitate transactions in that currency (CUP) in dollar stores (TRD) as announced by the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC).

Backed by Resolution No. 4 of January 15, 2015, and published on the same date in the Gazette Extraordinary No. 3, the measure seeks to streamline operations and reduce risk levels by avoiding the use of large amounts of money in low denomination bills.
Francisco Mayobre Lence, vice president of BCC, recently told reporters that the new notes would be put in circulation on February first but gradually, through entities Banco Metropolitano, People’s Savings Bank, the Bank of Credit and Trade and the Exchange Houses, known as CADECAs. He clarified that by now they will prioritize Havana, provincial capitals and some municipalities, which is in line with the level of operations that has manifested in certain places.

He emphasized on the need for people to learn to identify the new banknotes, which among its security measures have two watermarks, one with the image of Celia Sánchez; the number that corresponds to them; the security thread; embossed printing, and the initials of the BCC.
With predominance of orange, the 200 peso banknote has the image of patriot Frank País and in the back an allegory of the School City July 26, and in the 500, in which prevails the green color, has the bust of Ignacio Agramonte, and on the back a painting of the Constituent Assembly of Guáimaro.

The 1000 peso banknote is brown, with the figure of Julio Antonio Mella and a graphic composition of the University of Havana. Meanwhile, Barbara Soto, commercial vice president of the Cimex Corporation, recently told the Granma newspaper that the measure will prevent a lot of delays in operations, one of the recurring concerns of the population in surveys conducted by his institution.

In recent months the use of CUP in stores that sell in convertible pesos (CUP) was extended and one of the difficulties faced was precisely in the denomination of the bills, because until now the 100 pesos was the largest in Cuba, but most sales in the TRD was done with banknotes of 20 and 50.

There are products whose prices are higher, such as appliances and furniture, and to acquire them the customer has to carry much money in sometimes not optimal conditions, Soto said. Since the implementation of this new decision, they foresee a decrease of time the client spends making payments and therefore there will be an optimization of the process, said the official

havana-live-Default-Rates-625x344HAVANA, 2 Feb.  The unexpected strengthening of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the US in December has increased the appeal of defaulted Cuban loans for frontier market investors.

Kevin Daly, portfolio manager in the emerging market debt team at Aberdeen Asset Management, is considering buying Cuban loans in anticipation of further rapprochement between Cuba and the US. The price of the loans, which defaulted in 1986, jumped from four cents on the dollar to nine cents after the diplomatic breakthrough between the US and Cuba in December, according to Mr Daly. The agreement struck between the two countries included the easing of trade, investment and financial services restrictions for US firms, which have been in place since 1961, although trade sanctions remain.

Mr Daly said: “If the US removed the trade sanctions, this would allow US institutions to buy Cuban loans, potentially leading to a big rally. This makes for an interesting story — all of a sudden Cuba is in play. “We have done this in the past, when, in 2003, we started to buy the untendered Argentine defaulted bonds that we then tendered in the 2005 debt exchange and again in 2006.
In both instances we got prices of 50 cents on the dollar. “Cuba is a much poorer country and you will not get the huge upside that you did with Argentina, but if you bought the loans today and participated in the debt restructuring down the road, you will definitely make money.”

Political analysts believe Cuba will push hard to improve its relationship with the US given the growing difficulty for Venezuela, Cuba’s main source of external financial help, to continue that support. “If you get removal of US trade sanctions allowing US investors to buy these [loans], they could double to 16 to 20 cents. That is considerable upside.”
Dominic Bokor-Ingram, portfolio adviser in the frontier emerging markets team at Charlemagne Capital, agreed: “I would think the chances of [Cuba] paying out in full on the debt from 1986 is remote, but I am sure if you buy it today you will make a lot of money if there is some restructuring.”
Mr Bokor-Ingram added that the US trade embargo would need to be lifted before a debt restructuring could be considered. “There is no question that Cuba could be very exciting at some point, but it is a long way from being investable,” he said. Another European investor, who asked to remain anonymous, said that despite the investor excitement around the improving US-Cuba relationship, his company will not buy the loans while the sanctions are in place.
“I am following the situation in the hope that something does change,” he said.


   havana-live-mcdonalds-coca-colaMcDonald’s and Coca-Cola are welcome in Cuba, says Fidel Castro’s son

HAVANA, Feb.1 (Elsa Buchanan)  One of the sons of the revolutionary has welcomed two of America’s megabrands on its island, saying Cuba is ready to “take a break” in its socialism.

A member of the Fidel Castro clan has welcomed two of America’s most powerful corporate symbols, McDonald’s and Coca- Cola, on the island of Cuba. As the United States and Cuba move toward normalisation of relations for the first time in more than fifty years, Alex Castro-Soto – who is one of the eight sons of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro – has indicated the fast food chain and iconic brand may land on the island in the very near future.

In an interview with America Teve, Alex said that Havana is taking a “break” in its socialism.”Coca -Cola and McDonald’s are welcome in Cuba. We are neighbors , there may be a Coke factory,” the younger Castro said. “We are [taking] a “break” in our socialism, but we will not abandon it.”
A few days ago his father, Fidel, addressed a message through the Cuban press, in which he said he was not opposed to a peaceful solution to the conflict with the US but that he neither trusted Washington’s politics nor had he exchanged a word with the White House.

Cuba has been the epicenter of anti-Americanism in modern Latin America, with Fidel being one of the leading figures of the anti- American critique – from capitalism to geopolitics. Alex’s comments come less than two days after his uncle, and current Cuban president, Raúl Castro demanded that the US hand back its Guantanamo Bay military base, which appears to be an apparent bargaining tool in the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the countries.
Raúl, Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro also asked for a complete lifting of the decades-old trade embargo, and for compensation for its effects.

He argued that without these changes the recent diplomatic thaw “wouldn’t make any sense”. “The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is the start of a process of normalizing bilateral relations, but this will not be possible while the blockade still exists, while they don’t give back the territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” Raúl told delegates during the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit on Costa Rica on Wednesday (28 January).

In early January, US President Barack Obama pledged that Washington would move quickly to restore ties with Cuba, scrapping scores of travel and economic restrictions with immediate effect and dispatching a US delegation to Cuba for a first round of historic talks. Alex, who is one of the sons Fidel had with his wife Dalia Soto del Valle and is the official photographer of Fidel, also added that his father was in good health, fed well, studied and drank tea regularly.
Fidel, who helped lead the Cuban Revolution and became the leader of Cuba in 1959, when he created the first communist state in the western hemisphere, has not been seen publicly since January last year, and his last official photograph dates back to August 2014.
Raúl has governed Cuba since July 2006, when he was designated as the President of the Council of State in a temporary transfer of power due to Fidel’s illness.

havana-live-marlinHAVANA, Feb.1 (acn) The Ernest Hemingway International Marlin Fishing Tournament, which promises in its 65th edition to break records of attendance, will be held on May 25-30 in Havana.

Carlos Garcia, president of the Business Group of Nautical Clubs and Marinas, Marlin S.A., recalled that, boosted in 1950 by the famous U.S. novelist, the Hemingway is one of the three oldest tournaments in the world, which therefore makes Cuba stand out as an attractive destination for nautical tourism.
He said that over the last decade the competition has received crews from more than 30 nations, among them the United States with 23 teams, Russia 16, Cuba, United Kingdom, Italia and France with 15 each, and Spain with 14. Commodore Jose Miguel Diaz, of Cuba’s Hemingway International Nautical Club, said that so far they have received dozens of requests from around the World to participate in the Tournament, particularly from the U.S. nautical community.

If their government authorizes it, the attendance of U.S. fishers this year will break the historic records of 1979 (80 ships) and 1999 (50), predicted Diaz. The president of the Cuban Fishers Federation, Ramon Cusa, informed that the competition will include two modalities: trolling and tag and release, in order not to harm the species during catch.

  havana-live-spanish-balletHAVANA,31 January (Elvira Pardo Cruz)  Since its re-opening in 2014, Havana’s Marti Theater has surprised us with artful and powerful performances.

This time around, Cuba’s Spanish Ballet Company – a dance ensemble that will be celebrating 28 years of existence next April – was responsible for the performance we enjoyed.
Resplandor de tacones (“Shining Heels”), a dance performance directed by Eduardo Veitia, with choreographies by Pablo Egea and Spain’s Francis Nuñez, featuring prima ballerinas and dance teachers Lesli Ung, Graciela Santana, Daniel Martinez and Ricardo Santana, was staged on the 23rd, 24th, and 25th of January before a full house.  havana-live-spanish-ballet

The performance opened with a repertoire of dances from the Bolera school, representative of Spanish classicism, a current that developed in the 17th century – a beautiful combination of castanets, gestures and traditional wardrobe that evoked Spanish identity through the classics of Sonata y fandando, Castilla and El Cid.
The varied aspects, sensuality and gestures of flamenco, performed in the traditional dresses, was reserved for the second act.
En las sombras, La luz mudejar (a world premiere), Esencia, Arte y tronio and Añoranza were some of the pieces performed. Near the end, the intermingling of sounds produced by the Spanish cajon, the bata drums, chequeres and tambourines – a mix of Spanish and Afro-Cuban music – engendered a powerful rhythm that eared the dancers and musicians a standing ovation from the audience.

This brief season aims to expose audiences to the company’s reportoire, which draws from Spain’s historical and artistic heritage.
(Havana Times Photo by Elio Delgado Valdes)