havana-live-Antonio-BanderasHAVANA, August 2  The Spanish actor Antonio Banderas will star in the Starz series based on the detective novels of Cuban Leonardo Padura “Havana Quartet”.
Starz CEO Chris Albrecht made the announcement on Friday in a panel to TV critics in Beverly Hills, California. The series is based on the series “The Four Seasons” by Padura about the detective Mario Conde, who always dreamed of being a writer.

Banderas will play the detective and will also be executive producer of the series distributed internationally by Entertainment One.
Apparently Cuba is now a topic of interest to Hollywood.
Discovery Channel recently released its series “Cuban Chrome”,  Conan O’Brien recently recorded episodes of his late-night show “Conan” in Cuba, and American Heroes channel will air a one-hour documentary on Fidel Castro.

havana-live-speed boat recordHAVANA, August  1 (AFP)   A German businessman and power boating fanatic on Saturday broke a 57-year-old record for the fastest boat crossing between the United States and Cuba.

Roger Klueh, 50, powered his “Apache Star” powerboat the 160 kilometers (90 miles) separating Key West and Havana, shattering a record that had stood since 1958.

Klueh and his small crew piloted the high-tech speedboat between Key West and Havana in just under two hours. The boat was capable of top speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour.

The earlier speed record, set by American Forest Johnson, was a comparatively leisurely six hours 23 minutes.

Five months after that race, Fidel Castro and his band of rebels seized power from Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the beginning of the downturn in US-Cuban relations and the end of boat competitions across the Florida Straits.


Roger Klüh (left.) with Hemingway Yachtclub-Präsident Commodore Escrich

Klueh has said his record attempt was made possible by the historic thaw in ties between the former Cold War foes.

havana-live-confiscated property

The Cuban headquarters of Lloyds since 1995 is run by Palco – the government entity which rents out properties to embassies and foreign businesses – was formerly a private residence. Photograph: Joe Lamar for the Guardian

After the 1959 revolution, the state seized buildings now estimated to be worth $100bn and rented to, among others, Lloyd’s of London and the British embassy

HAVANA August 1 With an elegant marble staircase leading up to a small modern art gallery, and large crescent windows overlooking perfectly manicured lawns, the newly refurbished office building on Calle B is one of the smartest in Havana’s central business district of Vedado.

Its bright, whitewashed walls and exquisite stained glass windows have housed the Cuban headquarters of Lloyd’s of London for two decades. In the main office hang twin portraits of the Queen and Fidel Castro, “maybe the only office in the world with these two next to each other”, according to secretary Myra de Rojas.

Yet exactly who owns the property close to the newly reopened United States embassy in Havana is among many similar questions yet to be resolved as President Barack Obama’s administration attempts to end more than half a century of hostilities with Cuba, its former cold war foe.

Lloyd’s rents the office space from Palco, the Cuban government entity responsible for leasing property to foreign embassies and overseas businesses. But Nicolás Gutiérrez, a Miami-based consultant who has worked with hundreds of clients who say their homes were illegally seized in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, insists that this building belongs to his family.

It is, he says, one of many properties including houses, warehouses, farmland and even two sugar mills that the wealthy Gutiérrez-Castaño family lost to the communists, and among an estimated $100bn worth (at today’s values) of assets seized from many thousands of Cuban and US owners without any kind of restitution.

“All of us want to be recognised as the legal owners,” Gutiérrez said. “But the US government is moving ahead with its ill-conceived opening of relations with Cuba without addressing the issue of restoring ownership rights. There should be restitution or at the very least compensation. Land is going to be very valuable when the system changes and a capitalist system is restored.”

This art deco building houses the Casa de las Americas, home to an art collection, a literary magazine and a prestigious award. Photograph: Joe Lamar for the Guardian

This art deco building houses the Casa de las Americas, home to an art collection, a literary magazine and a prestigious award. Photograph: Joe Lamar for the Guardian

He said that none of the owners with whom he works would want existing tenants to be removed from their properties but, as with the building now occupied by Lloyd’s, it is a matter of protecting the rights of private ownership. “This used to be a cousin’s home and now it is in the hands of the Cuban government and its foreign business partner,” he said.

Gutiérrez’s interest in reclaiming the title to his family’s lost holdings, and his desire to help others do the same, was fuelled by the tales recounted by his businessman father, also named Nicolás, who studied law at the University of Havana at the same time as Fidel Castro. He said that his father tried to steer clear of this campus’s “rabble-rousing thug”, whose anti-capitalist rantings and shady associates quickly singled him out to people such as Gutiérrez senior as a troublemaker.

It was more than another decade before they crossed paths again, with Castro becoming the new communist leader of Cuba who embarked on the widespread transfer of privately owned land and property into state hands. Gutiérrez senior, meanwhile, was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour as a counterrevolutionary and then fled to Miami with only a single suitcase of possessions, after a secret intervention from a friend high up in the new regime.

“Growing up, my dad would tell me all these stories, bearded revolutionaries in fatigues turning up at the sugar mill offices with submachine guns, saying ‘we own this now, we may compensate you later’. But like all of these other families, we never received any compensation,” he said.

In his modest office in Miami, crammed full of books in English and Spanish about Cuban property issues dating back decades, Gutiérrez maintains records of land and many hundreds of buildings that he says were stolen by the Castro regime.

His family’s two sugar mills, in what are now called the Cienfuegos and Villa Clara provinces, were operated for a while by the government, which kept all of the profits, but Gutiérrez said that he later learned from former workers that they had been dismantled and abandoned early in this new century.

Like the building occupied by Lloyd’s, the family’s properties in Havana have fared much better. The Guardian discovered that one, the former residence of Pakistan’s diplomatic mission, was now rented to an Italian businessman who was refurbishing it with a new swimming pool.

Another Vedado property, an art deco building a short walk from the seafront, is a gallery housing 16,000 works of regional art, where one of the country’s most influential literary magazines is published, having formerly been a hub for Cuba’s post-revolutionary intelligence service, according to a worker.

Then there is the British embassy. The impressively elegant Havana home of the UK ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, also appears on the list of contested Gutiérrez-Castaño properties. Like so many others in this upmarket part of town, it is rented out to prestigious clients by Palco, and there is no suggestion that the British government was aware of its history when it signed the lease.

havana-live-confiscated property

This former residence has for 30 years housed a primary school named after the Vietnamese revolutionary heroine Vo Thi Thang. Photograph: Joe Lamar for the Guardian

A stroll from the diplomatic neighbourhood leads to the Malecón seafront, home to several prominent properties associated with the Batista era’s most notorious figures and among the first to fall into state hands. Among them is the Riviera, once one of the world’s grandest hotels when it opened in 1957 with 378 rooms, a casino, cabaret, salsa club, swimming pool and gardens.

It was part of the Havana empire of mafia financier Meyer Lansky, who owned eight other hotels, nine casinos and a racetrack. When Castro’s revolutionaries arrived, Lansky, who died in 1983, had to abandon them along with his 10th-floor suite at the Riviera, which was subsequently nationalised. Today, it is a shabby structure with a dingy pool, but the salsa is as timelessly good as the views of the Caribbean.

Further along the coast road is the former Vedado tennis club, where the wealthy elite once whiled away their leisure hours in exclusive comfort. Requisitioned by the state soon after the revolution, it is now the student union for Havana. Similarly, the Havana Yacht Club was taken over by the construction workers’ union and the Havana Golf Club became the University of Arts.

In the residential district of Miramar, to the west of Vedado and near the Russian embassy, is a former residence owned by the Gutiérrez-Castaño family that was initially turned into a teaching centre and then an accounting college. For the last 30 years, it has been used as part of a 400-student primary school named after the Vietnamese revolutionary heroine Vo Thi Thang.

“This is a much better use of the property. It now has a collective benefit, not just for one rich person,” said Livia González, a computer teacher. “Thanks to places like this, every child in Havana has a school within one kilometre, more or less.”

Gutiérrez said that many claimants, a majority of whom are resident in the US anyway, had little interest in returning to Cuba or occupying the properties they were forced to leave behind. “The easiest thing would be to sit back and just collect a check, rather than returning to rebuild and restore the rule of law. Luckily for us, the Revolution has done very little in 50 years. An overwhelming majority of the properties have neither been materially altered nor distributed to the people,” he said.

Gutiérrez added that he and other owners saw some glimmers of light, despite the US government pressing ahead with reforms in its policy towards Cuba, including the reopening of embassies in Washington and Havana, without first addressing the property issue. Almost 6,000 claims approved by the US Department of Justice’s Foreign Settlement Claims Commission, which adjudicated more than $7bn to US companies and individuals confiscated in 1960, have not yet been discussed with Cuban officials.

“There has been no movement in restoring property rights, but while we condemn what the president has done on moral, legal and national security levels, it has undoubtedly pushed the property issue closer to the forefront of this debate,” he said.

Ultimately, however, only the cooperation of a future Cuban government can bring satisfaction to the owners, many claimants believe, although some remain sceptical that will ever happen, despite the recent thaw in relations.

Florida neurosurgeon Javier García-Bengochea was 15 months old in 1960 when his family left Cuba, leaving behind a profitable shipping and warehouse business seized by the state. He told a hearing of the western hemisphere subcommittee of the House committee on foreign affairs last month that Cuba must be made to acknowledge the property owners or any US investment in the country and the normalisation of relations would be illegal.

“Unless the claims are settled, any American enterprise in Cuba will have the same legitimacy as a drug deal,” he said. “Trafficking in stolen property is not economic opportunity. It is not pro-business or normal. It is criminal and immoral.”


HAVANA-LIVE-gaycubaflag-copyHAVANA, August 1  – As tourism flourishes in Cuba the island is emerging as a destination for the LGBT community and a travel agency specializing in packages for those customers is already in operation.

Pioneering the business are the owners of Mi Cayito Cuba, a Web-based intermediary between “gay-friendly Cuban private initiative and clients around the world,” company director Alain Castillo, a Cuban who lives in Madrid, told EFE.

“The island has great potential as a space for coexistence,” said the 35-year-old entrepreneur who wants to contribute to “the visibility and improvement of the LGBT collective” in the country.

“We are open to everyone, we believe in a free and tolerant environment where respect is valued,” he said.

Located east of Havana, Mi Cayito is probably the only gay beach in the Cuba and for that reason Castillo thought it was an appropriate name for his company, founded a year ago.

“It is vacation time,” the promotion posted on social media say. “It is Cuba time. The new gay paradise.”

Most popular destinations so far for Mi Cayito Cuba’s clients are Havana, the verdant heaven of Viñales in the western province of Pinar del Rio, and Varadero beach, Castillo said.

Mi Cayito Cuba’s Web site is available only in Spanish, but Castillo said it has been visited by clients in Germany, the United States, Russia, Spain and Latin America who have the choice of tours like “Havana Gay” or a service of personalized guides.

More than 2 million foreign tourists have come to Cuba so far this year.

“Changes in Cuba have become an incentive and have increased demand,” Castillo said, adding that his company expects a flood of U.S. visitors as a result of the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana and the restoration of diplomatic relations after a break of more than 50 years.

Cuba has not always been so welcoming to LGBT people. In the decades following the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Cuban government derided, persecuted and jailed gays and lesbians.

In a 2010 interview with the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Castro acknowledged that he bore ultimate responsibility for the persecution and expressed regret about the policy.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Cuba in the 1990s and the island’s free public health service began offering sex-reassignment operations in 2008.


Apache Powerboats - Apache 50 - "Apache Star" Apache Powerboats – Apache 50 – “Apache Star”

HAVANA, July  31 Pure power will be on display tomorrow off Key West, Florida when one of the most famous offshore raceboats in US history will attempt to set a new world record for the fastest ocean crossing between Key West and Havana. The crossing will mark the first time since 1963 that an American pleasure boat with an American crew has been authorized by the US government to race to Cuba. And if all goes well, the approximate 90-mile trip will take less than two hours and beat the old record by over four hours!

The Apache Star, already two-time World Champion raceboat capable of speeds well in excess of 100 mph, will attempt to beat the current record with Apache Powerboats owner and offshore performance boating legend Mark McManus operating the throttles, and entrepreneur Roger Kluh driving.

The Apache Star – originally named Apache Heritage – broke multiple records and won two world championships in 1992 and 1993 has received a number of modern upgrades as part of an extensive restoration effort in preparation for its record attempt  including new, custom-made helmets and Recaro racing bucket seats that utilize technologies developed for fighter jets. Twin Mercury Racing bi-turbo engines that generate a combined total of 2,700 horsepower have already pushed the Apache Star to speeds of more than 115 knots in initial test drives.

Apache Powerboats - Apache 50 - "Apache Star"
“Apache Star”Owner/driver Roger Kluh grew up with boats and during the course of his 15-year career as a star ice hockey player in Germany Elite League, he also enjoyed numerous summer vacations in the South of France where he developed a love for offshore performance boats.

Roger had also been in Key West In the early 1990s to witness Apache Heritage successfully win back-to-back World Championship titles. So, when an opportunity to acquire this legendary race boat came to him in 2012, he jumped at the opportunity and rather than let the boat simply rest on its past glory, he immediately committed to an exhaustive refit in order to attempt a new world record for the fastest crossing between Florida and Cuba.

It took more than two years to prepare the Apache Star for this record attempt, and more than three years to secure the necessary permits. But the wait it over on Saturday August 1. So bring your ear plugs if you are anywhere near Key West tomorrow. The Apache Star‘s 2,700 horsepower may be many things, but quiet isn’t one of them.


HAVANA, July 31  , 2015 /PRNewswire/ — As the United States and Cuba move toward normal relations for the first time in more than 54 years, a remarkable documentary film profiles a unique collection of people who are pushing the boundaries and “Reinventing Cuba.”

The one hour documentary film, “Reinventing Cuba,” goes beyond the stereotypes – beyond cigars and salsa, beyond mojitos and Malecón, beyond antique American cars and decaying architecture to reveal an extraordinary nation eager to embrace change.

Correspondent Gerry Hadden – a long time Cuba watcher – takes viewers on a personal journey. He meets little league sluggers defying the odds and dreaming of the majors; doctors and medical researchers saving lives; hustlers finding ways around limited internet connections; artists and designers at the height of creativity; and black marketeers selling a vital entertainment and information device called “the package.”

Cut off from America by decades of hostility, living in conditions of scarcity and political restrictions, the Cubans emerge here as a people making something out of nothing with whatever is at hand.

Hadden portrays vibrant, hopeful, and resourceful characters facing enormous challenges in today’s Cuba.  He reveals an often overlooked, burgeoning, middle class that is at the forefront of what will likely be Cuba’s future as it moves into a new era.

“Reinventing Cuba” has its first airing Sunday August 9th, a few days before John Kerry becomes the first U-S Secretary of State to visitHavana in 60 years.

The documentary is directed by Humberto Duran; filmed by Amando Guerra and Josep Alfero.  It is produced by the North American production center of China Central Television.  Executive Producers are Ma Jing, Mei Yan and Guo Chun.

“Reinventing Cuba” can be seen August 9th at 7pm US eastern time, nationally on Dish Network Channel 279 and on the ‘CCTV News’ channels in New York, Washington  D.C., and Los Angeles.


havana-liveAs the U.S. and Cuba re-establish diplomatic relations, Latin music execs are scouting the island for crossover hits.

HAVANA, August 1 (By APRIL CLARE WELSH)  Musically, Cuba is like a paellera—the pan in which locals cook up their take on the Spanish paella—filled with flamenco licks, Jamaican dancehall riddims, West African drum beats, and club-ready blends like cubaton and reggaeton.

It’s a broad sonic spectrum that was borne painfully from Cuba’s blood-stained legacy of Spanish colonizers and imported African slaves, with Afro-Cuban percussion providing the backbone to many of the country’s diverse musical styles. Cuba is often seen as the ultimate music mecca, however, thanks to fraught Cuban-American relations, there’s been little chance of experiencing it in person for over fifty years.

It was a different story in the early ‘50s, when Cuba’s capital Havana was a playground for America’s rich and hedonistic: hop aboard a short flight, hit up venues like the Tropicana Club in the city’s Marianao neighborhood, famed for popularizing the mambo and the rumba, and be in with a chance of rubbing shoulders with Hollywood A-listers like Marlon Brando and Ava Gardner.

However, diplomatic relations were put on ice back in January 1961––following divisive revolutionary Fidel Castro’s 1959 takeover of the U.S.-backed Batista government and the country’s subsequent shift towards communism––and a trade embargo was imposed that same year. The good times ground to a halt.

On July 1st 2015, a historic deal saw Cuba and America formally restore diplomatic relations.

That was until July 1st 2015, when a historic deal between U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro saw the two countries formally restore diplomatic relations. (Last Monday saw the reopening of Havana’s embassy in Washington.) The tide was already turning last December: a statement issued by The White House had unveiled Obama’s intentions to unpick the fraying stitches of Cold War history, “normalizing relations” between the two countries in the hope of providing “more opportunities for the American and Cuban people.”

Since then, Obama has already begun lifting travel blockades. Any American wishing to travel within one of 12 approved categories or purposes––including participation in public performances, visits to close relatives, and professional research––is no longer required to apply for a case-by-case license from the OFAC, which had previously been a lengthy and convoluted process.

Now you just have to tick a box and keep your receipts for five years. Although tourist travel is still currently prohibited by statute, people-to-people programs (which fall within the remit of education as far as the 12 categories of general-license travel are concerned) could offer a way around the holiday ban as they do not discriminate on eligibility.

However, they come with a strict itinerary and will set you back thousands of dollars as the trip must be booked through a certified organization like Blue Note Travel.

Cuban nationals, on the other hand, have been able to visit the U.S. freely since the island eased travel restrictions two years ago, but how will they fare from this renewed relationship? For starters, despite the trade embargo still being in place, Obama and Castro have eased import restrictions from the U.S., allowing more American telecommunications and technological goods into Cuba.

This should help make the country better connected; according to independent watchdog organizationFreedom House, only between 5%-26% of the 11.3 million people currently living in Cuba have access to the internet, with hourly connection costs amounting to as much as 20% of monthly wages.

“There’s just so much enthusiasm for anything Cuban at the moment.”—Michel Vega

So what does all this mean for the Cuban music industry? According to Latin music executive Michel Vega—the former head of Latin music at ​William Morris Endeavor, the first major talent agency ​to have a department ​dedicated to the Latin market, and now the CEO of songwriter/producer Marc Anthony’s new entertainment company, Magnus Media LLC—many of his colleagues in the U.S. music industry have been treating the new relationship a little like a gold rush.

“We’ve heard of a lot of A&Rs and writers going over to Cuba and doing scouting trips,” he tells me over the phone from his home in Miami. “It just seems that every day you hear about someone having gone or planning to go. With a rise in Americans traveling to Cuba, the ball is now rolling and there’s just so much enthusiasm for anything Cuban at the moment.”

Vega says that, historically, U.S. record labels have been unwilling to sign Cuban artists, largely on account of the politics and the complexity of traveling between the two countries. Since 1988, the congressionalBerman Amendment​​​ has exempted “informational materials” like records ​f​rom the trade embargo––meaning Americans could legally license recordings by Cuban artists that had already been produced––but performing in the U.S. has been a different story.

The majority of Cuban artists have to hire a lawyer to organize their artist visa, which is an expensive and arduous process that can sometimes take up to four months. What’s more, if they do get their travel authorized, performers are not entitled to any kind of fee, only small “per diem” payments which amount to a maximum of $188 a day, per group. However, this could change in time if the​ trade​ embargo is lifted by congress.

“All the A&Rs have started rushing here and I think that the labels are very interested in capitalizing on what’s going on.”—Javier Otero

Havana-born Javier Otero, the founder of music production company Blue Night Entertainment, says that he has also noticed an increased flurry of industry activity directed at Cuba. “All the A&Rs have already started rushing here and I think that the labels are very interested in capitalizing on what’s going on, although I think they’re still a little bit cautious about the legal aspects,” he explains.

“But it’s like anything––what will happen eventually is that Cubans will end up being viewed just like people from anywhere else in the world, in as far as the musicians are concerned anyway.”

Otero is looking ahead to the day when Cuban music will be widely embraced by the U.S. commercial mainstream. Although there are a few obstacles to overcome before the path is cleared completely, a number of Cuban artists have already broken through. Take popular reggaeton actGente de Zona, for example, just one of the acts that Blue Night represent.

The Cuban duo mix the rap/reggae hybrid with more traditional rhythms like son––a melding of classical Spanish compositions with Afro-Cuban percussion––and have triumphed in the current climate. They won three Latin Grammys for their collaboration on Enrique Iglesias’ 2014 hit“Bailando,” which topped the Latin Charts for 33 weeks.

Then, just last month, a recording of their track “Homenaje Al Beny (Castellano Que Bueno Baila Usted)” was played at a conference celebrating Apple’s new streaming service, chosen by Eddy Cue, Senior Vice President of Internet Software and Services and an American of Cuban descent.havana-live-gente-de-la-zona

“Gente de Zona didn’t have this kind of ideological weight on them as much as the previous generation. I think that could be a precedent for future Cuban musicians.”—Billboard’s Judy Cantor-Navas

Billboard’s Latin music specialist Judy Cantor-Navas has nothing but respect for Gente de Zona for opening more ears to what Cuba has to offer. “They have learned to use all the skills they have but to do a sound that’s more international and has all the things that everyone loves about Cuban music,” she says, over a Skype call from Barcelona.
“What’s more, Gente de Zona didn’t have this kind of ideological weight on them as much as the previous generation to say they couldn’t do it and I think that idea could be a precedent for future Cuban musicians.”

Otero says that Cubans are excited about what the future might bring. “The relationship between Cuba and the U.S. has been broken politically for years, but the U.S. has not abandoned Cuba and has helped support it by providing food and aid during times of need.” he says. “A lot of Cubans see America as a great country.
I believe that large record companies, like Sony, will now want to establish offices in Cuba because Cuba is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world and Cuban music is known everywhere.”

Cuban hip-hop, in particular, has been flourishing since the early 1990s, when the government announced the implementation of periodico especial, or the “Special Period.” This was a time of austerity which coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s long-term communist ally to whom it had always turned to for economic and political support, as well as trade.
The economic depression saw many raperos, or rappers, turn to music as a vehicle for their discontent. Despite the political divide of the time, the influence of U.S. rap in Cuba was very present, even though it wasn’t always the easiest to come by.

“I believe that large record companies, like Sony, will now want to establish offices here because Cuba is one of the most culturally rich countries in the world.”—Javier Otero

“It’s a myth that Cubans never listen to American music,” says Cantor-Navas. She has been going back and forth to Cuba since the ‘90s. “Whether it was a case of people bringing records in when they went abroad back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, or via pirate satellite dishes. They used to—or still do—make homemade antennae so they can listen to American radio stations from Miami, and that’s how so many things got in. Then there was a point in the ‘90s that the hotels started to get MTV. I think many Cuban artists see the States as somewhere they should be.”

Unlike in the U.S., the Cuban music industry is regulated by the government, with the majority of artists on a salary. If the Cuban-American trade embargo is lifted, EGREM—the country’s state-run record label since 1964—may find itself licensing more and more of its recording artists and songwriters to U.S. labels and, as Otero suggested, seeing those same major labels establish offices in its capital. The FADER reached out to EGREM and fellow Cuban label Bis Music for comment.

I asked Cuban sound engineer Ali Álvarez, the son of famous pianist and composer Adalberto Álvarez, whether he sees the thawing out as a chance for Cuban recording artists to make a bigger splash in the U.S. charts.
He says he’s unsure how easily they will fit in: “I think it will be a while before we see any massive surge, not necessarily because of politics but more because of mentality. Most Cuban artists and producers do not fully understand the American market per se. Their lyrics are extremely local and the level of production is poor in most cases, due to the lack of technological knowledge and expertise.”

“Cuba is like a rough diamond, but hopefully this change will be an eye opener for those on the island and they will start to produce works that compete with what’s coming from the U.S.”—Ali Álvarez

In more traditional circles, Cuba’s commitment to the arts is demonstrated by its prestigious conservatories, like the Amadeo Roldán, and its classically trained musicians like Roberto Urbay; some of the best in the world. “Cuba is like a rough diamond,” Álvarez continues, “but hopefully this change will be a big eye opener for those living on the island and they will start to catch up, producing works that are up to compete with what’s coming from the U.S. and other parts of the world.”

Where there’s youth, there’s curiosity, and it’s arguably a synthesis of the old and the new that creates the most exciting, forward-thinking music—and Cuba’s richly diverse musical heritage means there’s plenty for a younger generation of musicians to draw on.

Now diplomacy has been restored, it’s possible that sonic adventurers will find more opportunities to present their music to a U.S. audience. And if Cuba’s communication infrastructure improves, then the internet will, of course, be an all-important vehicle for casting the island nation’s myriad musical styles further afield.


havana-live-ghost-orchidHAVANA, July 30   (AP) – The diplomatic thaw with Cuba has led to a new collaboration with scientists in that country to study the ghost orchid, one of the world’s rarest flowers, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Ernesto Mujica of Cuba’s Ministry of Science ECOVIDA Research Center has joined researchers from Illinois College and the University of Florida in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to study ghost orchids, the delicate blooms that star in the book “The Orchid Thief” and the movie “Adaptation.”

Mujica’s participation “would not have been possible without years of persistence and the recent, history-making improvements in U.S. relations with Cuba,” said Tom MacKenzie, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s southeast region.

The five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island inhibited orchid researchers in both countries from sharing data, though a group of Illinois College researchers and students were able to visit Cuba’s Guanahacabibes National Park in 2013.

Mujica waited two years for a U.S. visa to visit Florida before his application was approved this year, MacKenzie said.

This month, Mujica helped document ghost orchids throughout the refuge and is helping implement long-term monitoring methods he uses to study the flowers in Cuba.

“In the future we hope to compare ghost orchid populations in southwest Florida to those in Cuba as a means of better understanding the species’ specific habitat requirements and needs for continued survival,” said Lawrence W. Zettler of Illinois College.

Just a few hundred ghost orchids bloom across the swampy landscape that feeds into Florida’s Everglades. Unique orchid varieties have made the region popular with both enthusiasts and thieves.

Only 11 ghost orchids previously had been catalogued in the panther refuge, but Mujica’s methods helped researchers identify and catalog over 80 new ones, MacKenzie said.

The collaboration shows “how cooperation between our two countries may help at least one rare species in peril,” Zettler said.

havana-live-hillary-clintonHAVANA,  July 30  Hillary Clinton will declare her support on Friday for lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, her campaign said, allying herself with President Obama’s open stance toward the long-isolated island nation.

Speaking at Florida International University Friday morning, Clinton will also criticize Republicans’ opposition to normalizing relations with the country, saying that the right’s arguments against increased engagement are part of a legacy of failed strategies for addressing Cuban relations.

“She will highlight that Republican arguments against increased engagement are part of failed policies of the past and contend that we must look to the future in order to advance a core set of values and interests to engage with Cubans and address human rights abuses,” the Clinton campaign said in a statement.

Clinton will hold her speech in the state that Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio call home. Bush, the former governor, has called Obama’s opening relations with Cuba a “policy misstep” and a “dramatic overreach of his executive authority.” Rubio, who is the son of Cuban immigrants, has also strongly criticized Obama, calling the decision “a terrible one, but not surprising unfortunately.”

The United States has maintained various embargoes on Cuba since 1960, and continues to block trade with the country despite having opened up diplomatic relations with the island nation. Republican Rep. Tom Emmer filed a bill on Tuesday to remove the restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba.

Clinton has long supported normalizing relations with Cuba, and as secretary of state pushed Obama to normalize relations with the Communist nation. A February Gallup poll showed that 59% of Americans support reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.


havana-live-cubaembargoHAVANA,  July 29   A Republican U.S. congressman filed a bill Tuesday to eliminate the decades-long U.S. embargo on Cuba.

U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, who won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2014, filed the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, which would remove restrictions on American businesses from trading with Cuba and allow Americans to travel to the island.

According to a USA Today report, Emmer decided to pursue a full repeal of the embargo after he visited Cuba in June, where he met with Cuban government officials and other citizens who live on the island.

“I understand there’s a lot of pain on both sides of this issue that goes back many decades, something that a kid from Minnesota is not going to necessarily be able to understand,” Emmer told a USA Today reporter.

“But I believe this is in the best interests of the Cuban people. This isn’t about the Cuban government — it’s about people on the street looking for more opportunity and to improve their quality of life.”

The U.S. embargo on Cuba has been in effect for 55 years.

havana-live-vote-cubaHAVANA,  July  29 (By Brooke Sartin)  “El bloqueo,” as Cubans call the United States’ 1962 embargo, consists of commercial, economic, and financial sanctions, as well as restrictions on travel and commerce with the island.

 The 54-year policy has failed to achieve its goals, namely that Cuba adopt a representative democracy and shed its communist rule.  Further goals of the embargo include the improvement of human rights and resolving $8 billion worth of financial claims (mostly in confiscated property) by corporations and individual families against the Cuban government.

Cuba does not pose the same threat to the United States that it once might have during the Cold War.  The USSR dissolved in 1991, and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report in 1998 stating, “Cuba does not pose a significant military threat to the U.S. or to other countries in the region.”

 The embargo can no longer be justified by the fear of Communism spreading throughout the Western Hemisphere, especially given that Americans are free to travel to other communist countries if they obtain a visa, including China, Vietnam, and North Korea.  Further, the embargo unfairly burdens and even harms the Cuban people.

 Cubans are denied access to technology, medicine, affordable food, and other goods.  Because of the embargo, Cuba has access to less than 50% of the drugs on the world market. Bone cancer medical treatments and antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS are not readily available in Cuba because many are commercialized under United States patents.
The embargo has been successful in that it has impacted the Cuban economy, costing the country over $1 trillion in its five-decade history; however, it has not effectively ousted communist rule just 90 miles from Florida’s coast.havana-live

The embargo is not only a pointless punishment on Cuba; it also negatively impacts the United States.  Namely, the United States’ embargo on Cuba is estimated to cost the United States between $1.2 and $4.8 billion annually.
Further, a 2010 study by Texas A&M University calculated that lifting the embargo could create 5,500 American jobs, jobs that are desperately needed in an economy that is still bouncing back from a devastating recession.

Further, the United Nations has denounced the embargo for 22 straight years, and the United States’ stubbornness in maintaining the embargo makes the country look immature and vindictive.
Despite the embargo, the United States is still conducting minimal business with Cuba, making the embargo seem even more senseless.  The United States has become Cuba’s fifth-largest trading partner since 2007.

 In 2001, after a devastating hurricane struck the island, the United States began exporting food to Cuba and is now the island’s second largest food supplier with sales peaking at $710 million in 2008.
The blockade has deprived United States citizens of Cuba’s many medical breakthroughs: the first meningitis B vaccine, treatments for the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, a preservative for un-refrigerated milk, the cholesterol-reducing drug PPG, and CimaVax EFG—the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer.

Now that the United States has reopened its embassy in Havana and Cuba has raised a flag outside its own embassy in Washington, D.C., negotiations for the resumption of full diplomatic relations can continue.
A major issue to be addressed is that of human rights violations of the Cuban people, which the 2014 Human Rights Watch report stated that Cuba “continues to repress individuals and groups who criticize the government or call for basic human rights” through detentions, travel restrictions, beatings, and forced exile.

The Congressional Research Service reported that there are an estimated 65,000 to 70,000 prisoners incarcerated in Cuba as of May 2012, which is the second highest incarceration rate in the world. However, this incarceration rate is less than thirty-six of the states and the District of Columbia in the United States.

The United States’ efforts are aimed at promoting independence of the Cuban people and their rights to speak freely and peacefully assemble.  Cuba, in turn, wants the United States to return the illegally-held Guantanamo Bay, end the transmission of anti-Castro radio and television broadcasts, and compensate the country of Cuba for damages suffered as a result of the embargo.
To begin the long process of restoring diplomatic relations, the United States has already removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism; however, such full resolution will likely require many more discussions with many more compromises.

The question that arises is to what degree will reestablishing ties impact the ordinary lives of Cubans and Americans?  What will the future hold for these two countries?  Regardless of what happens going forward, in the words of one Cuban-American, “You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.”

For now, one can only speculate on how and to what extent establishment of full diplomatic relations will have on both countries.  Likely, the United States will forcefully encourage Cuba to adopt some form of a representative democracy under the guise of maintaining good business practices.  However, such a guise is simply that, given that the United States’ business relationship with China, a communist country, is only growing.

HAVANA, July 28   A Fort Myers speedboat company is gearing up for a record-breaking journey to Cuba.

It wants to break a 50-year-old world record for the fastest boat crossing between Key West and Havana, wanting to reach Cuba in just an hour Saturday.

The 50-foot Apache Star can reach speeds up to 115 mph, and its engines produce 2,800-horsepower at the propeller.

The Key West Coast Guard will escort the boat within 15 miles of Cuba.

It took three years for McManus Superboats of Fort Myers to realize their dream.

“The process has literally been a nightmare. It’s taken 12 lawyers, three different countries – United States, Spain and Cuba – in order to get the two licenses and the permit in order for the client to be able to achieve his goal,” said Mark McManus, company president.

McManus plans to keep building boats after the journey to Cuba.

There are three tracking systems and two GPS devices in the boat. Progress of the journey can be tracked online. We’ll have the link as soon as the website goes live.


havana-live-gold-tresureHAVANA,  July 28  A Florida family hit the jackpot when they found $1 million-worth of gold artefacts, including a royal coin from the Spanish king, recovered from a Spanish ship that sank off the Floridean coast 300 years ago.

The Schmitt family – Rick and Lisa, their two children and daughter-in-law – have been searching for years for lost treasure on their salvage ship Aarrr Booty. Eric Schmitt, Lisa’s 27-year-old son, managed to locate the treasure in 4.5 meters of water off the city of Fort Pierce, Florida.

“Congratulations to the entire Schmitt family and the crew of the Aarrr Booty. Way to go Eric [Schmitt], this is truly remarkable!!!” said 1715 Fleet – Queens Jewels LLC, a group of Historic Shipwreck Salvors focused on the exploration and recovery of the famous vessel, on its Facebook page.

The riches include 51 coins of various denominations, 12 meters of ornate gold chain, according to Brent Brisben, the founder of 1715 Fleet. The chains, made in the shape of tiny, handcrafted, two-sided, six-petalled flowers called “olive blossoms,” were reportedly used as a tax-free coinage.

1715 Fleet owns the rights for the sunken vessel, while the Schmitt family are sub-contractors.havana-live-gold-tresure

Probably the most notable finding of the family of treasure hunters is a “royal” coin dated 1715 and made for King Phillip V of Spain (1683-1746).

“These finds are important not just for their monetary value, but their historical importance,” Brisben said. “One of our key goals is to help learn from and preserve history, and this week’s finds draw us closer to those truths.”havana-live-gold-tresure

The 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet was returning from Havana, Cuba, to Spain when it was caught in a hurricane near the present-day city of Vero Beach, Florida. Eleven out of twelve vessels were lost in the disaster. About 1,000 people died, while another 1,500 were able to swim to shore.

Some of the coins from the 300-year-old ship still wash up on the Florida coast from time to time.
Brisbane added that Spanish convoy manifests estimated that the vessels were carrying the equivalent of about $400 million in today’s money, of which $175 million has been recovered so far. He added that he wanted to time the announcement of the treasure’s discovery with the 300th anniversary of the vessels’ sinking on July 31.

The State of Florida will take up to 20 percent of the treasures and display them in local museums. 1715 Fleet and the Schmitt family will split the rest of the booty.


havana-live-pearl-mistHAVANA,  July 28  While still awaiting governmental approval, Pearl Seas Cruises announced plans to launch cruises to Cuba in the spring.

The seven- to 10-night cruises would offer the People-to-People educational and cultural programming that legalizes travel to the island long off-limits to Americans.

The cruises would be operated by the Pearl Mist, a new 210-passenger luxury cruise ship, round-trip from South Florida to both the Southern and Northern coasts, including ports such as Havana, Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba.

Pearl Seas President Charles A. Robertson made no secret of his desire to begin operating to Cuba once President Obama announced late last year that he was working to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba. In fact, the cruise company issued a press release back in January that it was exploring itinerary options.

“We are delighted to play such an important role in the People-to-People program in support of the Cuban people,” Robertson said. “The 210-passenger Pearl Mist allows access to more of Cuba’s ports and regions, while providing a relaxed means to engage directly with Cubans and explore the rich history and fabric of Cuban culture.”

However, Pearl Seas said its Cuba voyages still are pending approval by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury, the Department of Commerce and the Cuban government.

Carnival Corp.’s Fathom brand also recently announced plans to sail to Cuba starting in May. Carnival said it had obtained approval from the U.S. government but was awaiting the go-ahead from Cuban authorities.

Also, Haimark Line revealed plans to operate cruises from Florida to the long off-limits island starting in February. It hopes to operate legally under an extension of the approval granted to United Caribbean Lines, a company headed by veteran cruise executive Bruce Nierenberg that also plans to start ferry service to Cuba.

MSC Cruises will base a ship in Cuba for the winter 2015-16 season, but the cruises are not yet marketed to Americans.

A Canadian company, Cuba Cruise, started sailing around the island in the 2013-14 winter season. Athens-based Celestyal Cruises now is the majority shareholder in that company.

Just last week, the U.S. and Cuba resumed diplomatic ties and reopened embassies for the first time in more than 50 years.



The White House declined to talk about the meeting, and referred questions about the meeting to the State Department. (AP

HAVANA,  July 28   A secretive White House meeting on Cuba last week revealed that President Obama plans to visit the island nation early next year, and also discussed the controversial idea of the Cuban government opening consular offices in Miami.

After hailing embassy openings in Washington and Havana last week, the White House held an off-schedule, private meeting on Thursday with U.S. officials involved in the administration’s Cuba policy.
Nearly 80 activist members of the Cuban-American community from Florida and across the United States — mostly Democrats — were also there.Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama’s closest advisers, was on hand, along with White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes and Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of State for the western hemisphere.

The White House declined to talk about the meeting, and referred questions about the meeting to the State Department. A State Department spokesman then referred the same questions to the Cuban embassy, which was already closed for the day.


havana-live-cuban-flagHAVANA, July  27  The United States recognized Cuba’s efforts to combat forced sexual servitude, giving it better marks Monday on its annual report on human trafficking.

Cuba, which restored full diplomatic relations with Washington last week, was removed from the US blacklist because of improvements in Havana’s response to and investigations of sex trafficking, said Sarah Sewall, under secretary of state for human rights.

The 2015 Trafficking in Persons report raises Cuba to its Tier 2 Watch List, along with about 40 other countries, citing its “sustained law enforcement efforts” in prosecuting and convicting sex traffickers.

The State Department had ranked the communist-ruled island in its Tier 3 category for the worst offenders since 2003.

Sewall said that the upgrade did not mean Cuba was free of human trafficking, however, adding that Washington remains concerned that Havana does not regard forced labor as a problem.

She said the issue would be discussed in upcoming human rights talks between the United States and Cuba.

The State Department had previously removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, clearing the way for last week’s reopening of embassies in each other’s capitals.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Havana next month to formally raise the US flag over the American embassy there, after a rupture that lasted more than a half-century.

havana-live-cancerHAVANA, JULY  27   Bioven, the Malaysian Biotech Company is looking to accelerate and expand its clinical trials of a promising non-small cell lung cancer drug developed in Cuba.

Statistics from the American Cancer Society indicate that non-small cell cancer makes up approximately 85-90% of all lung cancers, so it’s easy to see why drugs in this field are such a big deal. According to Bioven’s CEO Stephen Drew, the start-up aims to raise US$30-35m by the end of this year or early 2016 on the junior AIM market in London.

This would signal the second IPO of a Biotech company wielding a Cuban-based drug after Abivax went public on the Euronext market last month, raising €58m and gaining the accolade of largest Biotech IPO in French history. So what’s so special about this Malaysian company and why are its ties to Cuban cancer treatments so interesting?

Back in 2002, Johan Indot was invited along with a Malaysian commercial delegation to investigate possible business opportunities in  Cuba.
Malaysia have shared bilateral foreign relations with Cuba since 1975 and the Cuban government even provides scholarships for Malaysian students to study medicine locally. Johan Indot was at the time a well known businessman for co-founding two companies, a sales outfit which he sold approximately a decade earlier and Inoilco, a marine services company that works closely within the oil and gas industry.

Initially Johan Indot’s journey to Cuba inspired him to start a pharmaceutical importing company, shipping and selling commonplace drugs to ASEAN, however the weight of regulatory conformity and scrutiny meant the company did not come into fruition. Nevertheless another opportunity came up, not for selling generic medicine but to buy the rights for a cancer drug developed by the Cuban Centre of Molecular Immunology in Havana, Cuba’s capital.

Since the trade embargo with the US and Cuba was established around 1962, the country has adapted in many ways. One of the most interesting and relevant is Cuba’s large investment within the Biotech industry giving rise to mature and tantalisingly extensive research data, spanning decades. The recent improvement in communications and relations with the US after its embassy re-opened in Havana last week has expanded possibilities further. This opens up Cuba’s Biotech sector to more foreign investment and transparency internationally.

Bioven’s cancer drug is currently in a phase 3 trial, which is the last hurdle before receiving regulatory approval. This involves 419 patients within 10 different countries and although Bioven has strong domestic funding already, an equity raise on the junior Aim market in London could give the Biotech startup the boost it needs.

It was announced in April 2015 that the drug would also be tested independently in New York and although Bioven doesn’t own the rights to the drug in the US, the CEO Mr Drew remains positive that the company could extend a deal to include the world’s largest pharmaceutical market, that is if the trade embargo is lifted.

© AFP/File Adalberto Roque

© AFP/File Adalberto Roque

Havana,  July  25  (AFP)  For eight years, Cuban boxer Namibia Flores has leaned in with a clenched jaw and raised guard to throw punches against all male training partners.

Flores follows the same preparation as her male opponents. She lifts the same truck tires and waits for the same opportunity to catch a break and get the chance to fight for her country.

But the 39-year-old woman with a body sculpted by gruelling training is in a unique race against time to achieve an athletic dream in a country where female boxing is not recognized.

“I don’t see what is so dangerous for women,” Flores says, hair pulled back tight as she dons a foam helmet and steps into the ring to take on a male opponent.

Battling against odds and time, Flores punches on, hoping to fight for her nation, be an ambassador for the sport and an example for the women she hopes fight next.

Boxing is wildly popular in Cuba and the country has won 67 Olympic medals in the sport, more than any other nation apart from the much larger United States.

Other sports on the communist island are much more open to females, but boxing remains a redoubt of machismo and women are barred from competing.

Flores has likely already missed her chance to compete in the Olympics, which added women’s boxing in 2012 with an age limit of 40.

While the subject of women’s boxing isn’t frequently discussed publicly by sport authorities, sources close to the country’s boxing federation told AFP the opening of boxing for women was under negotiation, giving Flores reason for hope.

– Feminine ‘beauty’-

Inside a decrepit gym west of Havana, Flores is drenched in sweat in the ring during a sweltering Caribbean summer.

She throws a straight left trying to get through the defense of her partner and then follows that with a powerful right, exhaling loudly.

“Namibia has good physical strength, good technique, she hits hard,” says her sparring partner of eight years, Jonathan.

“There are women like Namibia who have such adrenaline, they need to release that energy,” comments Flores’s coach Isidro Barzaga off to the side.

By watching his protegee, Barzaga hopes other women will be inspired to box.

But women’s boxing still faces an uphill battle.

In 2009 as the sport was beginning to take off around the world, Pedro Roque, then a technical director of Cuban boxing, said that to protect feminine “beauty” it is necessary to keep women from taking blows to the face.

“I don’t see how boxing deprives women of their femininity, women are feminine at any time in any sport,” Jonathan said.

For Flores, boxing is an indispensable part of her life.

“With boxing I can remove the negative energy that builds up at home, at work, day after day,” Flores says.

Crossing gloves with men daily gives her a thrill unlike any other.

“I dominate some,” she says, but “others surpass me”.

Last March, Flores traveled to the United States to attend a screening of documentary about her called “Boxeadora.”

While in the United States, she traveled to numerous cities and received offers to join American clubs.

But Flores says she won’t abandon her home nation.

“Why fight for the United States… if where I learned boxing is here,” she said before joining her coach in another intense training session.


Aerial Photograph of Oil Rig SCARABEO 9,  Photographed by Tommy Chia,

Aerial Photograph of Oil Rig SCARABEO 9, Photographed by Tommy Chia,

HAVANA,  July 24   A first-of-its kind oil summit in Cuba organized by U.S. energy-industry heavy hitters is expected in October.

The meeting, set for Havana from Oct. 18-21, comes amid loosening tensions and expanding diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.

“The symposium is both historic and unique, the first-ever bringing together of high-level experts and leaders from the U.S. to join in discussion with parallel experts and leaders in Cuba and other Gulf and Caribbean nations,” reads the mission statement of the Safe Seas — Clean Seas conference.

It is organized by two former high-ranking executives of the International Association of Drilling Contractors — Lee Hunt and Brian Petty, respectively former president and executive vice president of global government affairs for the trade group.

Hunt and Petty said the purpose of the conference is to work on establishing uniform environmental and safety policies for offshore drilling throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

As things stand between the United States and Cuba, this is not possible now. The opening up of a U.S. embassy in Havana and a Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., this week further signaled strengthening ties between the neighboring countries. But the more-than-50-year-old U.S.-imposed trade embargo against Cuba remains.

Because of the embargo, most American companies skilled in oil cleanup would be prohibited from providing immediate assistance if an oil spill occurs during a Cuban offshore drilling operation.

There are special U.S. government licenses available to American companies allowing them to do business with an oil rig drilling in Cuban waters, but not nearly enough to effectively deal with a disaster.

Based on the amount of equipment, vessels and services required to contain the 2010 DeepWater Horizon spill, Lee estimates less than 5 percent of these U.S. resources would be legally available to respond in Cuban seas.

The embargo also impacts the types of rigs and ships that can take part in an offshore Cuban operation. To comply with the embargo, a rig or vessel must have fewer than 10 percent of its parts made in the United States. If the ship is not compliant with the embargo, companies using it could face U.S. sanctions.

This was an issue in 2012 and 2013, when several international companies used an Italian-owned, Chinese-built semi-submersible rig to look for oil in the Florida Straits between Cuba and Key West.

The rig, the Scarabeo 9, met the specifications of the embargo. But there was concern among American officials, environmentalists and oil industry people that the embargo would hinder cleanup efforts in the event of a spill.

The operations largely came up empty, but the Cuban government thinks there are large supplies of oil and gas below the ocean floor in the deep waters of the Straits and Gulf of Mexico.

With that in mind, Hunt and Petty said it is necessary to “discuss the strategic and policy developments that would enable Cuba, and foreign upstream operators in Cuba, to trade with U.S. companies in certain areas of equipment and services, in particular those U.S. oilfield products and technologies that serve a dual purpose of not only enabling safe drilling practices, but also effective, successful emergency responses to oil spills to assure clean seas.”

More companies are looking to drill in the same area, according to industry sources. Media in Angola recently reported that country’s state-owned Sonangol oil company will be ready to drill in the Gulf between 2016 and 2017.

Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz, Cuba’s vice president of the Council of Ministers, stressed, however, that such operations will be difficult without the U.S. lifting the embargo.

But some industry watchers have their doubts that, even with the lifting of the embargo, Sonangol is ready to embark on such a large operation off Cuba.

“I think this is a very long shot,” said Jorge Pinon, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, Austin. “Sonangol recently announced a cutback of over $1 billion in their budget due to low oil prices. I believe it when I see it.”


havana-live-hotel-iberostar_parque_central_HAVANA,  July 24  Spain is holding talks to secure hotel and infrastructure deals in Cuba as the island opens up to foreign investors, Spanish tourism minister Jose Manuel Soria said.

Cuban authorities are targeting more than $2 billion in foreign investment on an annual basis to bolster growth after five decades of global isolation, Soria said in a Bloomberg Television interview.

As part of the plan to modernize Cuba, the country is seeking to increase the number of hotel rooms and improve old infrastructure, said Soria, who also oversees Spain’s energy and industry sectors. He said he sees opportunities for Spanish companies specializing in those areas.

“The Cuban government told me of the objective for 30,000 new tourist beds,” he said. “Apart from tourism, they will need generating plants, new electricity grids, new infrastructure, roads and airports, and Spanish companies are well situated.”

Some of Spain’s biggest travel companies already operate in Cuba, including Iberia airlines, which covers the Madrid-Havana route, as well as hotel giants NH Hotel Group SA and RIU Hotels SA. Spanish exports to Cuba totaled 75.7 million euros ($83 million) in May, according to the government in Madrid.

“Despite the multiple historical and cultural ties between the two countries, diplomatic relationships with Cuba have been rather frosty for years,” said Angel Talavera, an economist with Oxford Economics in London. “This may signal a change in attitude from the Spanish government, probably concerned about losing investment opportunities and economic influence in favor of America.”

Earlier this month, Soria traveled to Cuba on an official visit accompanied by Spanish diplomats and representatives of companies including Iberdrola SA, Obrascon Huarte Lain SA and Ferrovial SA. The trip to Spain’s former colony coincided with the restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.


HAVANA,July  24  Historic change between the U.S. and Cuba trickled down to the streets of Havana Thursday as a bartending competition in Havana featured a South Florida visitor.

Bartenders from around the globe showcased their skills at the King of the Daiquiri contest, which took place at El Bar Floridita. For the first time, the event included barkeeps from the U.S.

Among the participants was Miami resident John Christian Lermayer, and he said he felt very welcome at the competition. “All I can do is go back to America and tell other American bartenders how warm and receptive that the Cuban bartenders are to us,” he said.

Lermayer said he almost felt like a pioneer representing the continental U.S. in Havana. “The doors are going to open for more and more Americans. I can tell you that the first group of Americans that are going to come here are bartenders,” he said.

The competition, however, proving to be too much for Lermayer, as a Cuban barkeep was crowned King of the Daiquiri.


 Move goes further than Obama administration’s easing of travel restrictions 
Appropriations committee also votes to end banking curbs for exports to Cuba

HAVANA, July 23  A Republican-controlled Senate panel has voted to lift a decades-long US ban on travel to Cuba, giving a boost to President Barack Obama’s moves to ease travel restrictions and open up relations with Cuba.

The Senate appropriations committee also voted to repeal a law prohibiting banks and other US businesses from financing sales of US agricultural exports to Cuba.

The Obama administration issued rules in January to significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time. The committee’s 18-12 vote comes just days after the US and Cuba formally ended more than a half-century of estrangement by re-establishing diplomatic relations cut off during the cold war.

“We have the opportunity to increase the likelihood that Cuban people have greater liberties and freedom with the ability to connect with them,” said sponsor Jerry Moran, a Republican. “I also would say that as Americans we have certain freedoms that we cherish, and Americans can travel around the globe today without exception – no country is totally prohibited with the exception of Cuba.”

The House appropriations committee has moved in the opposite direction, but the intra-party disagreement among Republicans makes it far less likely that the GOP-controlled Congress will try to use spending bills to challenge Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba.

The House provision would block new rules issued in January that would significantly ease travel restrictions to Cuba and allow regularly scheduled flights for the first time.

The Senate language goes beyond the administration rules, which lifted a requirement that US travellers obtain a licence from the Treasury Department before travelling to Cuba. Instead, all that is required is for travellers to assert that their trip would serve educational, religious or other permitted purposes.

“Positive change in Cuba will take time,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat. “But it will come not as a result of stubborn nostalgia by a vociferous few for the Batista years, but by visiting Cuba, listening to the Cuban people, and engaging with them.” Fulgencio Batista was Cuba’s dictator before he was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959.

The hospitality industry and other business sectors are still blocked from doing business in Cuba. The president of Marriot International, Arne Sorenson, just returned from Cuba and is representative of many companies eager to do business there, especially as more Americans travel to the island.

“With travel to Cuba now surging, existing Cuban hotels are full and hotel companies from other countries are racing to tie up as many of the new hotels as they can before the likes of Marriott and our US competitors show up,” Sorenson said.

The panel’s votes reflect growing sentiment, even among some GOP conservatives, to ease the five-decade-plus Cuba trade embargo and travel restrictions to the island, which have failed to move the Castro regime toward democracy.

“After nearly 60 years, we might try something different,” Moran said.

The panel also voted to lift restrictions on vessels that have shipped goods to Cuba from returning to the US until six months have passed.

The Cuba legislation was added to a $21bn measure funding the Treasury Department, which enforces the longstanding trade embargo.


havana-live-Prieto-stone-MNBAHAVANA,  July 23  Last summer, the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst—the municipal museum of contemporary art in Ghent, Belgium, better known as S.M.A.K.  presented the exhibition Wilfredo Prieto: Speaking Badly About Stones.

S.M.A.K. was one of three international art institutions that worked together to present three solo exhibitions by Prieto. The others were the Kunstverein in Braunschweig, Germany, and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana.

In each museum, the organizing curator took a slightly different approach to the exhibition, and not every work appeared in each location.

At the Museo Nacional, the exhibition—curated by Aylet Ojeda and titled Ping Pong Cuadrícula—includes pieces created specifically for the show, and others not previously seen in Cuba.

In the video, filmed at the Ghent exhibition, Prieto talks about Políticamente correcto, Sí/No, Dos zapatos y dos medias, and other works also on view in Havana.

Wilfredo Prieto: Ping Pong Cuadrícula is on view until August at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana.

The video was directed and filmed by Léa Rinaldi for Havana Cultura. For more videos on the visual arts, see the Havana Cultura website.



Photo credit :Tole

HAVANA, July 22   A Florida bank established the first connection with a Cuban counterpart since President Obama’s December decision to open up relations between the two nations.

Stonegate Bank and Banco Internacional de Comercio S.A. (BICSA) signed a deal on Tuesday in Havana that would establish a correspondent account for the Florida-based bank on the island, making it easier for U.S. companies doing business in Cuba to process transactions directly,reported the Wall Street Journal.

Correspondent accounts allow banks to send money back and forth across international borders. Some U.S. business transactions in Cuba use U.S. treasury licenses, but all commercial deals end up going through banks in third countries, adding another step to the process.

These kinds of accounts have come under close scrutiny by federal regulators due to their historical ties to money laundering and other criminal activities, and banks have been hesitant to work with counterparts in other nations that don’t have strong oversight of their banking systems. Cuba has been labeled “high-risk” by the Financial Action Task Force, an organization that supports policies to prevent money laundering.

“We did an extensive risk-management approach to this,” Stonegate Bank CEO Dave Seleski, told the Wall Street Journal. “We feel very comfortable that we did something that is very low risk.”

The move could be the first step toward closer financial ties between the two nations, including the eventual approval of the use of credit cards in Cuba. U.S. credit cards don’t currently work on the island, though the companies have said they would start processing transactions this year.


havana-live- jose manuel carenoHAVANA, July  22 Cuban dancers and the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, founded by Alicia Alonso, are known all over the world. Now that diplomatic relations have been restored between the United States and Cuba, opening the island up for more cultural exchange, what will that mean for Cuba’s ballet scene?

Meghna Chakrabarti spoke with José Manuel Carreño, a Cuban-born former principal dancer with the American Ballet Theater, who is now artistic director of Silicon Valley Ballet, based in San Jose.

“I see it as a good thing. I see it as a great opportunity for Cuban dancers also to explore and dance with other companies,” Carreño said. “Many dancers, they have been defecting and dancing in the United States and in other companies, but I guess this will open up the relation with Cuba, and I think it’s a great thing.”


havana-live- Classic CarsHAVANA.  July  22 There are reportedly over 2,000 active Airbnb listings in Cuba.

With the Cuban Embassy reopening in Washington, D.C., this week, room-sharing service Airbnb says it will cover the cost for U.S. travelers booked to stay in the country.

The Cuba refund will apply to trips booked prior to July 20 for travel between July 19 and July 26.

A trade embargo was lifted and travel to Cuba has been allowed once again after President Barack Obama enacted policy changes at the end of last year.

“In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” the White House said at the time. “Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.”

Nathan Blecharczyk, a co-founder and CTO of Airbnb, recently wrote for Fortune about Cuba’s economy. He said that since Airbnb started allowing listings in Cuba in April, there are over 2,000 rentals available.

“For the first time in decades, authorized U.S. travelers will have the chance to experience authentic Cuban hospitality at homes across the island,” an Airbnb blog post announced at the time. “Despite its proximity to the U.S., Cuba has been off limits to most Americans for over 50 years. Part of Cuba’s appeal to visitors is that it offers an experience unlike anything else.”

Airbnb announced its plan to pay for guests’ stays via Twitter.


HAVANA, July 22 (UPI)  Cuba expects to kick start its deepwater oil exploration activity with assistance from Angola’s state-run energy company Sonangol, a Cuban official said.

Cuba is opening its doors more for Western powers after a long Cold War policy of isolation from the United States. The country in the past worked to cut the amount of oil it imports from Venezuela through development of its own offshore reserves.

An unnamed official from Cuba’s Cubapetroleo, or Cupet, told energy reporting service Argus the preliminary deal with Sonangol outlines drilling schedules.

“The matters to be determined include which of the blocks contracted by Sonangol will be drilled, the sourcing of a rig and the timing of the start of the work,” the official said.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which reviewed Cuba’s offshore potential as the thaw began earlier this year, estimated there were about 4.6 billion barrels of crude oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the form of undiscovered, technically recoverable, reserves in Cuba. About three-quarters of that is said to be located within 50 miles from shore.

The United States and Cuba formally restored diplomatic relations earlier this week. Prior to the trade embargo enacted in 1962, U.S. companies held interests in several petroleum refineries in Cuba.

The Cupet official told Argus there was scant interest from U.S. energy companies despite invitations from Cuba.

“We want to ensure all is in place for interested companies if and when the United States lifts its damaging economic embargo on our country,” the official said.

Venezuela dominates the sector by meeting more than 60 percent of the country’s petroleum demand. The second largest refinery in Cuba processes only Venezuelan crude oil.


havana-live-cuban-criminalsHAVANA, July  20  (Fernando Ravsberg)   While the Cuban flag is hoisted on the building of the new embassy in Washington D.C. today, the US Congress continues to put obstacles in the way of normalization of bilateral relations. Now they want to send 35,000 Cuban criminals back to the island.

Since the initiative involves persons born in Cuba, Washington has the legal right to deport them. However for many years the relations between the two countries are not based on law. The US has a law that grants residency to any Cuban who touches US soil, even if they are criminals, terrorists or murderers.

Part of the “Mariel” exodus of 1980 were criminals taken from Cuban jails to send north, but these “excludables” represent only 10% of the 35,000 Congress wants to deport. The rest received their “education” in the streets and prisons of the USA.

If Cuba accepts their return, it will suffer the violence suffered by Central American nations today that accepted gang members deported from the US. It is a good mirror to look at and think when your neighbor’s house is on fire, beware of your own.

Cuban society is one that enjoys greater security than most of Latin America, and levels of violence and local crime are relatively minimal. Rudy, a cameraman for CNN who lived years on the island, said that Cubans offenders are children compared with those of his native New York.

Recently, US security companies began hiring thugs to protect celebrities visiting the island. Now Congress wants to send dangerous criminals of Cuban origin to live among us. What is going to become of the nation if it goes down that path?

Cuba must open itself to the world, a pope said when visiting the island, but Cubans should not forget that the national poet once wrote that, on occasion, there’s a need to shout a resounding “Close the wall!”

HAVANA, July 20   (WSVN) — The United States and Cuba will mark the end of 54 years of hostilities and the restoration of full diplomatic relations with dual embassy reopenings in Washington, D.C. and Havana, as well as a ceremony in the nation’s capital Monday morning.

A sign designating the building at 2630 16th St. N.W. in Washington, D.C. a “Cuban Interest Section” has been taken down. On Monday, the Cuban flag will be raised on a pole located in the front, and the structure will become the Cuban Embassy. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, has traveled from Havana to D.C. will lead the ceremony, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.

Speaking in Spanish, Cuban president Raúl Castro said the development is encouraging but it will nevertheless take time. “A new stage will begin, long and complex, on the road towards normalization of relations, which will require the will to find a solution to the problems that have accumulated over more than five decades,” he said.

On Monday, Rodriguez will also hold a joint news conference with Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department. The Cuban foreign minister is expected to press for the end of the embargo, as well as the return of the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base.

Kerry, on the other hand, is expected to raise concerns about human rights and a free press in Cuba, a sentiment echoed by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “We would like to see the rights of political opponents of the Cuban government inside of Cuba not be thrown in jail because of their political views,” said Earnest. “The second would be to respect the rights of independent journalists in Cuba.”

In Havana, the U.S. Interest Section will become a full-fledged embassy. Chief of the Mission Jeffrey DeLaurentis will see his title upgraded to chargé d’affaires. However, the U.S. flag will not fly over the embassy until Kerry visits Havana later this summer. “I look forward to taking part in the reopening of our United States Embassy and the beginning of a new relationship and new era with the people of Cuba,” said Kerry.

Some, including U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have been opposed to restoring diplomatic relations between both countries, and has been pushing for change on the island first. “They still have violations of human rights. They don’t have a free and independent press, they have no rule of law, no political parties, no free elections,” she said.

Monday morning’s ceremony in D.C. is expected to air in Cuban TV. About 500 guests are expected at the event.

havana-live-american tourists just landedHAVANA, July  19    “We want to see Cuba before it changes.”

Simultaneously, on multiple continents, the brilliant Germans, Turks, Argentinians, Mexicans, and other Americans at the Havana guesthouse where we were all staying had hatched the unique idea that they needed to get to Cuba before Starbucks, Chipotle and Urban Outfitters do. One local guide claimed that U.S. tourism was up 36 percent from December, when Raul Castro and President Obama become BFFs.

My husband, Jon, as a child on a family vacation, visited Cuba before the island’s last big change. Fulgencio Batista was the dictator, the American mob ran the hotel casinos, and Fidel Castro seemed like an annoyance rather than a mortal threat.

Jon had long wanted to return. He suddenly decided now was the time, before Cuba changes. Good idea, but arranging the details wasn’t easy.

Despite America’s new opening, we had to book our trip with a tour organizer (Australian), change our money into Canadian Loonies, and fly through Cancun because of America’s embargo restrictions that presidential aspirant Marco Rubio thinks are so helpful.
Once on the island, no one took credit cards, toilet paper was not guaranteed, soap was a luxury and, most appalling to us first-worlders, there was virtually no Internet. When I did weasel my way into a fancy hotel “business center,” the guy at the next computer terminal was from Northeast Philly.

Except for the enterprising native who unsuccessfully tried to mug my husband (who also can’t get his wallet out of his jeans pocket), Cubans were welcoming, even when they had nothing to sell us. Most Cubans don’t have anything to sell tourists, though there are an amazing number of people who claim to work in cigar factories and just happen to have a few “extra” Cohibas.

My fellow Pennsylvanians can instinctively relate to Cubans because their country also sells all its liquor in government stores, the roads are full of potholes, and everyone is madly preparing for Pope Francis’ visit. It’s just that in Cuba, the state controls almost everything, including the newspapers, where I could be a cartoonist as long as I drew Raul as the handsome, brilliant genius that he is.

While in Havana, we stayed near the historic square where slaves were once sold. It’s now lined with a restaurant with tablecloths, an excellent coffee shop and a microbrewery — which could use a brewer from Philly’s Fishtown to help with its recipes.

Fortunately, there are few cars, because the ones they have are 60 years old, belch pollution, and can barely pass down the narrow streets. The cars are, however, luscious, and made me wish Detroit would return to some of those flamboyant styles. If Cubans can have tail fins, why can’t we?

While Detroit carmakers are forced by our embargo to stick to the mainline, Chinese carmakers are busily peddling their fin-less “Geelys,” most recently 719 of them, to the Cuban car rental market for tourists. Since many actual Cubans, especially outside Havana, still get around on horse-drawn carts (including trotting along on the one main “interstate”), there would seem to be room for growth. Missiles are not OK in Cuba; a growing Chinese market apparently is.

The historic architecture is beautiful but decayed — severely decayed — with trees growing out of balustraded balconies and interior stairways that would even make Pennsylvania inspectors take notice. Many families live packed in these potentially lucrative buildings that will all be renovated soon.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Raul Castro are facing the same problem: How do you make way for the new and wealthy without displacing the old and poor? It will be interesting to see if the Castros, whose rule depends on total control, can do any better than Philadelphia has.

Personally, I doubt it, as the U.S. restores its diplomatic relations with Cuba and the tsunami of Americans joins all the other world’s tourists making plans to see the “real” Cuba. Before it changes.