Blanco_press_327-EditHAVANA, August  11 Blanco, a Cuban-American who lives in Bethel, announced the news on Facebook on Wednesday.

“I’ve had to keep this a secret for months, but it’s finally out,” he wrote. “So incredibly emotional for me — not only to witness this historic moment, but also to be asked to be part of it. I’m humbled, honored, and elated.”

Blanco wrote and delivered the poem “One Today” for President Obama’s second inauguration. In a memoir released last September, “The Prince of los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood,” Blanco tells his story as the son of immigrants and, in particular, his relationship with his Cuban grandmother.Screen-Shot-2015-08-12-at-12.06.03-PM

 HAVANA, Aug 11 (PL)  July 2015 was the third warmest month in Cuba since 1951, after registering an average temperature of 28.2 degrees Celsius, above 0.7 the historical average for the seventh month of the year, Granma newspaper reported today.

According to the Climate Center at the Meteorology Institute, the values of maximum and minimum monthly average were 33.1 and 23.3 degrees, exceeding the usual figures 0.5 and 0.7, respectively, the daily stated.

About 11 maximum temperature records were set in July, with the highest reports of 38.2 degrees, in Contramaestre, Santiago de Cuba, on July 29.

The Casablanca weather station in Havana had 20 days with conditions of intense heat, a figure above the historical average of the month, which is 17.

Similarly, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation phenomenon, named ENOS, continued its development by increasing the anomalies of the sea suface temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean up to two degrees Celsius.

The intensification of that complex process of ocean-atmosphere interaction will continue until late 2015 and early 2016, and may reach the category of strong between August and October, something that has not happened since the 1997-1998 period, according to forecast models.

havana-live-havanaAirHAVANA, August  11 Houston will have to wait a little longer for direct flights to Cuba.

When Miami-based HavanaAir first announced the flights last month, the private airline said flights were expected to begin in August. However, the Houston Airport System was still working with the airline on final details, HAS spokesman Bill Begley told the Houston Business Journal at the time.

Now, Begley tells the Houston Chronicle flights might begin sometime in September, though there still isn’t a definitive start date yet.
HavanaAir plans to utilize Miami-based Eastern Air Lines Group Inc.’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft for the flights, which will operate on Wednesdays between Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Havana.

The airlines also partnered to operate two flights a day to Havana from Miami, with additional flights to the Cuban cities of Santa Clara and Camaguey.
A spokesman for Eastern Air Lines did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba earlier this year. Americans authorized to travel to Cuba for various reasons — such as family visits, official U.S. government business, journalism, education and more — do not need to apply for special licenses.
However, general tourism is still not allowed, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s website.

HAVANA, August 11 (The Atlantic) Old Havana, the historic district of Cuba’s capital, was founded by Spanish colonists in 1519. Its churches and fortresses carved from white limestone, Triangle Trade–era mansions, and airy courtyards tell a story of centuries of wealth and its expression by Cuba’s military and mercantile elite.

But the district lost prominence in the early 20th century as economic growth shifted away from the city center, and by the time of the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s—when the country started to shut out foreign visitors, who once packed its bars and beaches—it had fallen into disrepair.

Today, Old Havana is the site of one of the world’s most ambitious urban-revival projects. The force behind this transformation is Eusebio Leal Spengler, the city’s chief historian.
In the early 1990s, when the collapse of the Soviet Union pitched Cuba into economic crisis, Leal persuaded President Fidel Castro to approve the establishment of a tourist-management company, called Habaguanex, that would bring foreign investment back to the island. Since then, Leal’s office claims to have steered more than half a billion dollars to the historic district and created more than 13,000 jobs.

Habaguanex controls some 20 hotels, 40 restaurants, and 50 bars and cafés, as well as dozens of stores that include a French pastry shop, a florist, and a United Colors of Benetton. Thousands of tourists now arrive each day in Old Havana, an area covering less than a square mile, making it the nation’s most popular destination for foreigners.

It has been a spectacular turnaround—but also an unsettling one. Although Castro said he wanted to restore the tourism industry as a “gold mine through which the country can obtain foreign exchange,” he regarded its cultural and financial influence on Cubans themselves with extreme caution. Until 2008, when Castro ceded power to his younger brother, the government forbade Cubans to stay in tourist hotels, including the grand Habaguanex lodges in Old Havana—part of a policy that Castro’s critics called tourism apartheid.

Leal sees nothing subversive about filling the streets with foreign visitors. To the contrary, he has described his project as the next chapter in the Cuban Revolution. Part of every dollar tourists spend at shops and restaurants pays to restore buildings that host museums, libraries, schools, and clinics; new hotels for foreigners fund new housing for locals. Leal’s approach to restoration—capitalist tactics for socialist results—has been resoundingly praised by the international architecture community.

But it has also heightened the contrast between squalor and splendor, creating a stark division in a land of supposed equals. Two-thirds of Old Havana remains unrestored, and blocks away from the new restaurants and souvenir shops, residents still live in tenements that threaten to collapse around them.

Others have been displaced from their homes as the renovation has progressed. Opportunities for corruption abound. The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, expected to release big flows of tourists and capital, will likely accelerate the area’s changes. Will more outside money help Leal preserve Old Havana’s character—or hasten its decline?

At the turn of the millennium, only one in three housing units in Old Havana was in good condition; in the early Aughts, a partial or complete building collapse was recorded every day. Today, tourists throng the district's cafés and boutiques. (Lisette Poole)

At the turn of the millennium, only one in three housing units in Old Havana was in good condition; in the early Aughts, a partial or complete building collapse was recorded every day. Today, tourists throng the district’s cafés and boutiques. (Lisette Poole)

A tour-bus driver smokes outside El Floridita, the bar where Ernest Hemingway drank daiquiris in the 1930s. The nearby Ambos Mundos Hotel, where Hemingway started writing For Whom the Bell Tolls, was one of Eusebio Leal Spengler’s first renovation projects after Habaguanex was founded. (Lisette Poole)

Since the 1990s, as hotels and restaurants have surrounded Old Havana’s ancient plazas, the Office of the Historian has restored hundreds of residential buildings in the historic district and funded new primary schools, maternity wards, and other public projects. (Lisette Poole)

An Habaguanex perfume shop on Obispo Street. A central tenet of Leal’s project is to avoid turning Old Havana into an urban museum, like Venice and other tourist-dominated European sites. (Lisette Poole)

The lobby bar of the Hotel Saratoga, which hosted Beyoncé and Jay Z in 2013. (Lisette Poole)

The apartment building at 360 San Ignacio once housed more than 40 families. After being renovated by Leal’s office a few years ago, it now houses 15 families and, on the ground floor, a Lacoste store. (Lisette Poole)

Osniel Gonzales (left) and Alberto Castillo on the balcony of their apartment building, a few blocks from the Hotel Saratoga. In June, the fourth-floor stairway collapsed. Later the same day, Castillo’s ceiling caved in. (Lisette Poole)

Some Habaneros are reluctant to relocate from their crumbling homes as Leal’s project moves forward—especially now that they anticipate a boom in American visitors. “Right now, everyone is trying to create a business related to tourists,” Daniel de la Regata, an architect who worked for several years in Leal’s office. “They’d rather have money in their pocket than a good place to live.” (Lisette Poole)

havana-live-advertisingHAVANA, August 11  The four surgeons in the video, masked and somber, bend over their patient, a vital-signs monitor beeping in the background.

“Screwdriver,” says one. “Pliers.” Then finally, in relief, another surgeon whispers, “I think it’s good.”

One more surgery with a happy ending. Except the patient is not human. It’s a cellphone.

The video? It’s a commercial for a business called La Clínica del Celular — the Cellphone Clinic. And it’s located in Havana.

In Cuba, advertising — that hallmark of capitalism — is back.

Advertising for private businesses — those billboards sporting an unsmiling Che Guevara don’t count — disappeared from Cuba, along with private enterprise, in the early years of the revolution.

The new ads, for small businesses such as the cellphone-repair clinic, hair salons, and the private restaurants known as paladares, are becoming ubiquitous — if not exactly legal — in the weekly paquete, Cuba’s underground market for foreign TV shows, movies, sports and Internet content.

Because of the severe lack of web access on the island, many people subscribe to thepaquete, a weekly package of programming bought and sold on thumbdrives, or, for those who can afford them, external hard drives.

And with the demand for the paquete rising, advertising was not far behind. Ads in the form of smartly produced videos and photos are common, publicizing the new small enterprises the government of Raúl Castro has allowed since 2010.

The paquetes even feature privately published magazines, in graphic format, which carry advertising themselves. Venus promotes itself as a Cuban variety magazine for women, while Vistar carries cultural and entertainment news.

(The government is aware of the paquete, and has launched its own version, the mochila, or backpack, because it is afraid to “lose the cultural war,” according to an article by Joel Mayor, a Cuban journalist who wrote a piece on the phenomenon in a state-run local newspaper, El Artemiseño.)

The paquete sells for between 2 to 3 CUCs — the Cuban currency roughly equivalent to dollars — per week, and buyers can watch, among hundreds of offerings, recent episodes ofGame of Thrones, Veep, The Mindy Project and the History Channel’s The Vikings.havana-live-advertising

Along with promotion and advertising businesses, the demand for video ads has led to the rise of another long-lost art in Cuba: the production of commercials.

Cuban designer Vanessa Pino and her brother Angel own a small promotion company in Havana with an English-language name: ToDoDesign. Her clients, she says, are business owners who “realize the importance of having a good design when it comes to identity and brand” for their ads.

ToDoDesign produces fliers, creates visual identities for businesses, customizes promotional items like T-shirts or souvenirs, and subcontracts the production of promotional videos at the client’s request, Pino said. The production company charges clients from 50 CUCs to as much as 500 CUCs, and sometimes even more if the company hires a local artist. What is harder to ascertain is how much the distributors of the paquetes are charging the businesses to advertise.

Most of these new production agencies work without legal status, but until now the government has not taken action to shut them down. The state media, though, remains under the strict control of the Communist Party and so far there is no sign of an opening to a more-commercial model.

The return of advertising to Cuba, even if under the radar, is auspicious, says a U.S.-based newspaper designer and long-time Cuba observer.

“One of the most notable aspects of the rebirth of the media in Eastern European countries after the fall of communism was the appearance of advertising,” said Mario García, a Cuban-American adjunct professor at Columbia University who has designed more than 700 newspapers around the world, including the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

“You had people there who had only seen propaganda in their televisions, radios, newspapers and magazines,” García said. “Nothing was advertised except the virtues of communism. Now, suddenly there was supermarket advertising (all that food on the screen), fashion ads for store openings everywhere, and promotions for everything, from shampoo to ice cream. For those waking up from the boring media generally associated with Communist regimes, that was much more interesting than the stories published in newspapers and magazines.”

Arnulfo Espinosa, a graphic designer who teaches at the University of Havana, said advertising has been slowly returning to the island, mostly promotional mentions during sports on state television in the 1990s that later disappeared again: “What is happening now is only the latest reappearance.”

One thing that has helped the rebirth: The reappearance in the 1990s, despite the country’s economic travails, of classes in marketing, public relations and communications in Cuban universities.

The work of the self-employed designers and publicists can be legit — as long as they have a permit from a government agency, the Cuban Association of Social Communicators.

There are no laws, however, allowing for media and advertising in Cuba — or laws regulating audiovisual creators, which some designers have complained have led to productions in “bad taste.”

“I think that there are professionals in Cuba capable of doing the tasks required in advertising,” Espinosa said. “But in every case there is a lack of technical skill and, especially, a lack of team culture and business administration.”Dulces Detalles

havana-live-muecke-aedes-aegypti-540x304HAVANA, Aug 10 (acn) Professors of England, Panama, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Switzerland and Cuba are taking part in an International Course on Dengue that began on Monday in Havana.

The Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute (IPK), Collaborating Center of the Pan-American and World Organizations PAHO / WHO for the Study of Dengue and its Vector, is the venue of this meeting, which will run until August 21, the Cubasi the Web site reported on August 10.

In this 14th edition of the course, which will include theoretical and practical sessions, experts from several countries will receive an update on the epidemiological situation of dengue at global and regional scales, the clinical management of patients, the control of Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that transmits the disease, and advances in research on the subject.

These include vaccines; the development of antiviral substances; genetics of individuals; the virus and the vector and new control tools; the influence of climate change on that condition; and confrontation of emergencies; announced Dr. of Sciences Maria Guadalupe Guzman, president of the organizing committee.
Also presented will be the progress made and results obtained in the implementation of the Comprehensive Management Strategy that PAHO and countries develop in the Americas for a better struggle against dengue, as well as other international initiatives led by the WHO and other organizations.
Likewise, Guzman, Head of the Virology Department of the IPK and director of its WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center for the Study of Dengue and its Vector announced that there will be a parallel course on Mathematical Modeling for the prognosis of the disease.

Also, there will be a workshop dedicated to severe dengue and three expert meetings -to discuss the progress of a multi-center project; the strengthening of surveillance and response to outbreaks of the disease; and the comprehensive management of vectors.

ladiesinwhiteHAVANA, August 10  Relations may be warming at last between Washington and Havana, but that doesn’t mean the Castro regime is suddenly upping its human-rights game simply to please Obama.

In fact, just yesterday, the Cuban government threw an estimated 90 protesters — many clad in black-and-white Barack Obama masks — into jail for marching against the government. The arrests are part of a larger crackdown in Havana ahead of John Kerry’s historic trip to the capital city Friday to reopen the American embassy there.

“It’s his fault, what is happening,” a political prisoner named Angel Moya told an AFP reporter at the scene, referring to Obama. “The Cuban government has grown even bolder” as a result of the thawed relations, he said before Cuban police arrested him.Part-MVD-Mvd6705413-1-1-0

Midway through the protesters’ march, security forces rounded up about 90 of the demonstrators and placed them under arrest, AFP reports.

havana-liveHAVANA, August 10 (ACN)   The Cuban bands Los Van Van, currently directed by Samuel Formell, and Havana D’Primera, directed by Alexander Abreu, were pre-nominated on Thursday for the 17th edition of the Latin Grammy Awards.

Awarded by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences in the United States, these prizes are among the most important in the field of music in the Americas, so the mere pre-nominations of these two groups constitute a cause for rejoicing.

Los Van Van – founded and directed until 2014 by late bassist and composer Juan Formell – compete in the Best Salsa Album category with its latest CD, La Fantasia.

“This album is a tribute to my father and being nominated is a blessing, because we have respected his original idea and concept,” Samuel Formell, who is in the US on a tour of that country, told the press.

Havana D’Primera, founded eight years ago, also confirmed its presence in the Best Salsa Album category with its third CD, La Vuelta al Mundo.

havana-live-restaurant Atelier Havana

Niuris Higueras has spent two decades building up her private restaurant, Atelier. Courtesy Airbnb

HAVANA , August 9  (Miami Herald) Niuris Higueras jokes that her spouse calls Atelier — the Havana restaurant she started with her brother — her real husband.

In an effort to see her family more, she’s decided to move them into the rooms in the back of her popular Vedado restaurant. It already has a homey atmosphere with crocheted tablecloths, louvered shutters and an eclectic decor featuring old radios, typewriters and other antiques.

Julio Alvarez Torres, who runs Garaje NostalgiCar which renovates classic cars, says stress is a byproduct of being a cuentapropista.

One sure sign that the restaurant may be eating up a bit too much family time: “My son is only 7 years old and he knows how to make chocolate fondue and cheesecake,” Higueras said.

As Cuban entrepreneurs negotiate the twists and turns of private business on the island, they’ve found a few new challenges: stress and trying to achieve work/life balance.

They also find themselves grappling with pressing questions such as these: How do I keep this ancient Russian washing machine running so I can wash the towels at my bed and breakfast? Where am I going to buy hair dryers for my guest rooms? Where can I source duck for my restaurant menu? How do I get my products to market?

And then there are the big question marks: Why hasn’t Cuba developed a meaningful wholesale market where I can find the products I need to run my business? What will the new relationship with the United States mean for Cuba’s private sector?

“There are so many problems you have to confront daily,” Higueras said. Because her menu includes dishes, such as conejo en vino (rabbit in wine sauce) and duck confit in a country where such fare is not readily available, she’s been working for the past 15 years with a private farmer in Pinar del Rio who keeps the restaurant in fowl and rabbit.

She’s also vexed by a government regulation that limits paladares, private restaurants, to just 50 seats. “Without that restriction, we could have grown more rapidly,” she said.

The rules for cuentapropistas, Cuba’s self-employed, are gradually evolving. The government recently allowed operators of paladares, for example, to do home food delivery without taking out a new license. But Higueras said that doesn’t help her much. Her restaurant caters to foreign visitors and Cubans on special occasions. Her food is too expensive for most Cubans to have delivered on a regular basis, she said.

In this new world of cuentapropistas, almost any location can become a place of business — the front step of a home, the courtyard of an apartment building or even a stairwell. On Havana’s Acosta Street, one enterprising individual has moved a computer and a small table into a nook by the stairs of a building and is using it to resell the weekly package — a weekly installment of televised sports events, news, websites, and entertainment programs from abroad that are copied on to a customer’s portable hard drive or USB.

While some cuentapropistas are engaged in little more than subsistence activities, others over time have built thriving businesses that provide jobs for other Cubans.

Some were almost accidental entrepreneurs. Julia de la Rosa and her husband Silvio Ortega run a bed and breakfast in the south Havana neighborhood of La Vibora that now has 10 guest rooms. “We were pushed to begin this activity. Twenty years ago, this country was in the middle of an economic crisis [after the collapse of the Soviet Union],” said de la Rosa. “As Cubans, the only resource that many of us had were our homes.”

The house, a 1938 mansion the couple inherited from Silvio’s aunt who left Cuba, appears to be quite a substantial resource. Guests splash in a large turquoise pool, have breakfast in a covered pavilion and sleep in stylish rooms with exposed brick walls, patterned tile floors, white linens, handcrafted furniture and flat-screen televisions.

But when the couple got the mansion, it was a wreck. Little of the furniture was functional, and the pool had been closed.

At the time, Ortega was a taxi driver who squired tourists around the city in a 1929 Ford. Drawing from his earnings, the couple slowly began to fix up the house and turn it into La Rosa de Ortega bed and breakfast.

It’s taken two decades of refinishing furniture — including some pieces tossed at the side of the road — commissioning Cuban craftsmen to make the iron beds and other furniture for the guest rooms, scouring Havana and historic Trinidad for tiles and antiques and finding parts for the swimming pool filtration system.

Having adequate wholesale markets where the couple could have purchased everything from construction materials to bedding would have made the whole process a lot easier, said de la Rosa. When she couldn’t find the hair dryers she needed for the guest rooms, she made a trip to Miami and brought them back in her suitcase.

Many entrepreneurs say they hope the opening with the United States will eventually make it easier to import the products they need for their businesses and that such luggage commerce won’t be their only alternative.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson met with some cuentapropistas during normalization talks with Cuba earlier this year. She called them “some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met.

“I hope Americans will aggressively take advantage of the new policy to support them so that they no longer resort to, as one said to me, ‘el mercado Samsonite,’” she said.

Jacobson said the growth of Cuba’s private sector can be “game changing” for the island.

“They have already made the psychological shift from reliance on the state to reliance on themselves — and that is revolutionary,” she said earlier this year.

In the meantime, the cuentapropistas try to overcome bumps in the road. One of the big ones is lack of good Internet connections to communicate with suppliers and take reservations.

“We need real, normal access to email,” Ortega said. Now, Cubans with accounts can send emails within Cuba. “We’re so hungry for more — that’s not enough,” he said. “Internet is absolutely essential for our business. We need more freedom in many things — from Internet to normal exchanges with American citizens.”

To manage, he said his wife goes to hotels or hot spots outside hotels — anywhere she can find to log on and connect for a short time.

“We have a friend who says what is happening in Cuba is the rebirth of lost hope,” he said. Cuba’s entrepreneurs, he said, are scratching out every opportunity they can find without losing what’s positive about Cuban society. “I”m 100 percent convinced that the way forward lies in change,” he said.

Running a casa particular is a family affair for Fanny Acosta, 36. Everyone pitches in at Casa Randy, a Centro Habana bed and breakfast named after Acosta’s three-year-old son. With two small children, Acosta has her hands full.

Her mother comes every morning to give her a hand and her husband Raddy goes out each morning at 7 a.m. to purchase mangoes, papayas or other fruit in season, fresh bread and whatever else is needed for guests’ breakfasts. She likes to give each guest a breakfast made to their particular taste.

Her father has contributed a refrigerator to the effort, and her mother purchased a microwave for the apartment.

“You can find microwaves and some of the things you need to run a casa in Cuba, but they are very expensive,” she said. Sometimes she’ll ask regular guests to pick up towels and sheets abroad for her.

To help with the business, her husband left his job as a Customs worker. Charging 25 Cuban convertible pesos per night (around $25), the couple can take in more per guest than the average state worker earns in a month — although they have to pay monthly installments to the investor who helped Acosta purchase the apartment and need to cover taxes and other expenses.

“We don’t have an employee like many casas to help with washing, cleaning and cooking,” she said. “In spite of business increasing, we look for ways to do everything in the family.”

That means cleaning up three times a day: after breakfast, after the children play and in the evening after dinner is served to guests who order it in the morning. She said she loves fresh air so she keeps the windows of the fourth floor apartment open. But that allows dust to come in, so she’s constantly sweeping up.

Because she wants the white sheets and towels she uses to be spotless, first she boils them, then bleaches and washes them in a “very old Russian washing machine,” and finally hangs them in the sun to dry.

So that all three guest rooms in the apartment can be rented, the couple and their two kids crowd into the fourth bedroom of the apartment near El Prado as their private living quarters.

Despite all the work, Acosta said, “I like what I do very much. We make really good friends. One of the advantages of this is the friendships that remain.”

Since the United States and Cuba began the process of normalizing relations in December, she said she’s seen “many, many, many” Americans on the island. Acosta admits at first she was a little scared of them because, “for many Cubans, Americans are arrogant.” And she also had the impression that Americans viewed Cubans as “ignorant, dangerous, and mired in extreme poverty.”

Now based on her own experience with American guests, she said she views them as people who want to get to know Cuba without offending anyone. “The Americans also are very clean and easy-going,” she said. “We haven’t had any problems with Americans.”

Looking to the future, Acosta said, when her 18-month-old daughter is old enough for kindergarten and she has a bit more time, she is thinking about adding salsa lessons to the casa’s offerings.

Milagros del Caridad Contreras, a dance teacher and choreographer, has learned the virtue of a two-for when it comes to business. She operates a dance academy, Mily Dance, where she gives salsa, African and contemporary dance classes and also rents out three rooms in her Centro Habana home to paying guests.

Her initial students came from the neighborhood but when some of her guests heard the rhythms spilling out of the adjoining dance academy, they too signed up for dance lessons. “Imagine you’re in a Cuban home and you’re hearing salsa music. Of course, you’re going to say teach me, too,” she said. She charges the foreign students a premium to keep prices lower for neighborhood children.

So far, this has been a good year for Contreras. Business used to start to decline in March as the winter season wound down, she said. But not this year. “Now, most nights I am sleeping in the office because the bedrooms are all rented,” she said. “This is a first for us.”

She’s also receiving more American visitors than ever. Through the beginning of July, international visitors to Cuba were up 16 percent.

In hopes of picking up even more business, de la Rosa, Contreras and Acosta all have registered their rooms with San Francisco-based Airbnb, which began offering American travelers the opportunity to book stays at private Cuban homes in April. It now has more than 2,000 Cuban listings.

Contreras is thinking big. Some day, she said, she hopes to have various houses to rent out and she wants her dance academy, which has already been featured in several films about Afro-Cuban culture, to grow, too.

De la Rosa’s dream is more limited. She just wants to finish up renovation of the house and attend to all the details that remain. “I hope in five years to have this place completely done, running in an efficient way so I can have a more relaxed life,” she said.

“Everything is so fast now. I feel so pressed by all there is to do for the future,” de la Rosa said. “I think with these changes in Cuba, there is no turning back.”

There’s also another byproduct of the flirtation with the market economy that Cuba really hasn’t had to deal with in the past five decades, said Julio Alvarez Torres, who runs a garage that restores vintage cars and is part of a collective of classic car owners who drive visitors around the island.

“Today we want to do so much with so little that it is affecting our health,” said Alvarez. When he went to the doctor recently, he said he was told that his blood pressure was high. “The doctor said, ‘That’s what we’re seeing now — cuentapropistas with higher stress levels.’ This is something we need to learn to manage as well.”


Hotel manzana-de-gomez project

HAVANA, August 8  – Cuba’s state-run Gaviota tourism agency plans by the year 2020 to nearly double its number of hotel rooms islandwide to 50,000, state television reported.

Gaviota expects to open three new hotels in Havana over the next three years as it bids to make the Cuban capital a premier urban tourism destination in the Caribbean.

The report did not say whether Gaviota’s expansion will rely on joint ventures with foreign hotel companies, which is the dominant mode of the island’s tourism industry.

One of the first steps in the expansion project will be the opening next year of a 246-room, five-star hotel in Old Havana’s historic Manzana de Gomez building.

Set for 2017 is the reopening of the legendary Hotel Packard, with 300 rooms, while 2018 will see the launch of the Prado y Malecon facility, a new seaside inn with 208 guest rooms.

Gaviota’s three existing hotels in the capital, Quinta Avenida, Memories Miramar Havana, and H10 Panorama, are all located in the exclusive Miramar neighborhood.

The project will also include new hotels in the resort of Varadero beach, some 150 kilometers (95 miles) east of Havana, and in the northern keys off the provinces of Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila and Camagüey.

Cuba received 2 million foreign tourists in the first six months of 2015 and is experiencing a boom in visitors from U.S., up 50 percent to 90,000 as a result of Washington’s easing of restrictions on travel to the island.

The busy stretch of 23rd Street in Havana that slopes upward from the seawall is known as La Rampa (The Ramp). It’s a fitting name for the place where many Cubans are discovering the Internet for the first time.

Walk along La Rampa on a typical evening and the sidewalks are jammed with young Cubans, their faces lit up in the blue glow of laptops, tablets and phones. They’re on Facebook or chatting with loved ones and friends in Miami and beyond, shouting over the din of bus engines and old Russian Ladas groaning up the hill.

La Rampa is one of five places in Havana — and  35 in Cuba overall — where the least-connected country in the Americas suddenly has public WiFi. They’re like water-slide parks set down in the middle of a desert.

“Sensational,” said Bryan Matos, 20. “A dream come true.”

Expanding Internet access was one of the things the communist government agreed to as part of the negotiations to reestablish relations with the United States. But Cuba, of course, is doing it in its own particular way.

Instead of offering mobile data plans through the state telecom monopoly, or residential service, the government has wired up a series of large Chinese-made Huawei antennas at a handful of outdoor locations like La Rampa, turning sidewalks and parks into sprawling Web lounges.

When the WiFi works, that is. With hundreds of people trying to log on, day and night, La Rampa’s network and others are often maxed out.

The Cuban government says the only obstacles to improved Internet access are technical and financial, not political or ideological. It has set a goal of 50 percent household penetration by 2020. But it has also said it will prioritize “social” Internet use, at schools, hospitals and other public institutions.

Social use on La Rampa is like a bigger, grimier version of Starbucks, without the coffee or the bathrooms. Cubans surf from the sidewalk late into the night, and during the day they crowd into patches of shade to escape the withering tropical sun. Water drips down from air conditioners jutting out of office buildings and apartments above.

Despite the lack of amenities, no one was complaining the other evening that they couldn’t have high-speed Internet at home. Several young Cubans said they liked the festive atmosphere.

“I think we’re used to doing things as a group,” said Sergio Garcia, a 21-year-old university student who uses his WiFi time to stream trailers for Hollywood movies, such as “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” on his phone.

“If we had Internet at home we’d probably be even lazier about getting out of the house,” he said.

This being Cuba, it also took black-market entrepreneurs about two minutes to figure out a way to turn the government’s WiFi service into a nifty business opportunity.

The $2 scratch-off cards that the state telecom monopoly sells for an hour of prepaid WiFi service are bought up and hoarded by “re-sellers” who walk up and down La Rampa selling them for $3 apiece. “Cards, cards,” they mutter in hushed tones, like drug pushers.

More tech-savvy Cubans have figured out a way to set up their own parallel WiFi networks on La Rampa using apps like Connectify that allow a single prepaid card or account to be shared among several users. They offer Web access for $1 an hour by converting their laptops or mobile devices into mini-antennas that can log on several paying customers at a time, albeit at slower speeds.

Cubans who do this say the police don’t even bother trying to stop them, though re-sellers of WiFi cards risk arrest and fines. “They took me down to the station yesterday,” said one 24-year-old card vendor, who was back at work the next day, undeterred, after an $8 fine.

At the city’s other high-demand hotspots, Cubans have figured out how to jerry-rig charging stations by tapping into the electrical wires of the street lamps. Others bring their own folding chairs. Just as Havana residents use the city’s famous Malecon seawall as a huge open-air lounge for drinking and playing music, they are turning the hotspots into places to party and browse the Web.

Cuba ranks 125 out of 166 nations in telecommunications development, according to the United Nations. Only about 5 percent of Cuba’s 11 million citizens have regular Internet access, though that was before the 35 hotspots were enabled last month.

A large number of Cubans still connect via dial-up modems, over a phone line, like AOL subscribers circa 1997. Government ministries and businesses have broadband, and tourist hotels offer WiFi but it’s mostly restricted to guests.

ETECSA, the government telecom monopoly, has computer terminals in its offices for hourly Web use, but the WiFi hotspots are the first places that allow Cubans to freely get online with their own devices, and the enhanced sense of privacy and freedom that comes with it.

Some anti-Castro sites are blocked on government servers, but others are not, and for the most part, Cuban WiFi users have access to the global Internet. Though not as fast as U.S. broadband, there’s enough bandwidth to stream YouTube clips or baseball highlights. The government blocks Skype, so Cubans use a program called Imo for video chats with friends or family abroad.

“My daughter sent me this from Tampa,” said Marta Rodriguez, 52, standing on a street corner along La Rampa, trying to connect her brand-new Samsung tablet to the network. “I haven’t seen her in a year and half.”

Rodriguez makes her living by renting out a room in her home to tourists. Both her children have left for the United States. She has never traveled off the island, she said, nor used WiFi before.

“In any other part of the world, it’s something totally normal, a part of civilization,” she said. “But for those of us who have lived our whole lives in Cuba, this is something we never thought we’d see.”

Rodriguez and two friends stood under the street lamps for at least an hour, but the network was too overloaded to let her log on. The video chat would have to wait. But her friend got lucky for a few minutes, long enough to look at photos of Rodriguez’s daughter’s apartment on Facebook, and send a message saying she’d try again the next day.
(Photo Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

havana-live-pawaHAVANA, Aug 7  (PL) Dominican Republic will have from the 14th of this month the new Dominican airline Pawa, which will have direct flights to Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten, reported their managers.

The company will begin operations after investing about 30 million dollars and according to Director of Corporate Affairs, Alexander Barrios, it will operate to the highest international standards.

First, the frequency of weekly flights will be 24, although over the next six months managers pretend to expand their operations gradually to Havana, Cuba; Miami and New York in the United States and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Pawa Dominicana aims to travel to other Caribbean routes that currently are not covered by other regional airlines.

The line will use DC-9 aircrafts, with capacity for 100 passengers, and MD-80 with 160 seats, which represent an offer of 3200 seats a week and 12 900 each month.

Barrios said that after 14 years Dominican Republic will have an airline, which will place the country on the map in the field of civil aviation with competitive prices.

He said it will be a ‘Dominican for Dominicans’ airline, which objective is to become the center of connections for the Caribbean, but said that only 35 percent of the shareholders are national with over 25 years in front of other international companies.

havana-live-eusebio-leal-spenglerHAVANA, August 7   Eight days before Secretary of State John Kerry is to witness the hoisting of the stars and stripes at the reopened U.S. Embassy in Havana, the city’s official historian told EFE that Cuba has never harbored “an anti-American sentiment, but rather an anti-imperialist sentiment.”

“Cubans have always understood that subtle difference,” said Eusebio Leal, the prime mover behind restoration efforts in Old Havana. “Many things connect us in history and culture.”

Leal, who was part of the delegation that traveled to Washington for the July 20 opening of the Cuban Embassy, said that while the normalization of relations is “necessary,” the two countries still face “a long process to clarify a series of unresolved questions.”

“We, the aggrieved party – because the blockade (the U.S. economic embargo) is still intact – were the first to go there and raise our flag,” Leal said, calling for a bilateral relationship based on “mutual respect” and equality.

With the restoration of diplomatic ties, the two countries embark now on a second phase of “infinite steps,” he said.

“What happens is that not everything has to be public,” said Leal, a member of Cuba’s parliament. “There are issues that, if brought to public light, would cause difficulties too hard to handle.”

Praising discretion, he spoke of the 18 months of secret Vatican-mediated talks between Washington and Havana that led to the rapprochement as “one of the best kept secrets in the history of both countries.”

havana-live-marina hemingway

A security guard walks beside the U.S. yacht Still Waters, moored at the Hemingway Marina in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015. After four hours smooth sailing from Key West, Florida, the Still Water pulled into Havana’s Hemingway Marina. The normalization of the long-tortured U.S.-Cuba relationship is transforming the 90 miles between the U.S. and Cuba back into a playground for hulking cruise ships and sleek luxury yachts. Desmond Boylan AP Photo 

HAVANA,August 7  (By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN AP)  A $3 million yacht left Key West this week with two barbeque grills, 250 channels of satellite TV and a just-in-case plan for rescuing stranded Cuban rafters encountered in the Florida Straits.

After four hours smooth sailing, the Still Water tied up at Havana’s Hemingway Marina. The well-heeled passengers breakfasted on smoked salmon and pastries, then boarded an air-conditioned Cuban government bus for a day of touring the city.

The Cold War made the Florida Straits into a stage for nuclear showdown and a graveyard for thousands of Cuban rafters seeking better lives in the United States. Now, normalization of the long-tortured U.S.-Cuba relationship is transforming the 145 kilometres between the U.S. and Cuba back into a playground for hulking cruise ships and sleek luxury yachts,

“It’s a little bubble. You can have the comforts of home in Havana,” said Jim Friedlander, president of Academic Arrangements Abroad, which helped organize the trip.

Cuban tourism officials and U.S. boating aficionados and entrepreneurs are salivating about a possible return to the go-go days before Cuba’s communist revolution, when thousands of well-heeled Americans a year sailed to Havana for long weekends of tropical leisure.

“What’s the natural market for nautical tourism in Cuba? The United States of America — the No. 1 country in the international yachting market,” said Jose Miguel Diaz Escrich, commodore of the International Hemingway Nautical Club of Cuba. “We’re talking about tens of thousands of yachts that might come.”

Fidel Castro in 2005 called cruise ships “floating hotels” that “leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents.” But under his brother and successor as president, Raul Castro, the government appears to have no such reservations. Cuba has been rapidly approving port calls by U.S. cruise ships and planning new marinas with thousands of slips for yachts in the polluted Bay of Havana and at the white-sand resort of Varadero, about a 90-minute drive away.

Even the first stirrings of a boating boom are giving rise to surreal, startling contrasts as increasing numbers of expensive pleasure boats ply waters where Cuban fishermen bob on taped-together chunks of packing foam and a rising flood of emigrants head north on rickety rafts.

Tourism per se remains illegal under the embargo. Yacht broker Paul Madden received Obama administration permission last month to operate yacht charters for “people-to-people” trips with U.S. and Cuban government guides jointly shepherding groups through daylong activities on shore meant to foster interaction between U.S. citizens and Cubans. Newly licensed cruise ships will operate under the same model.

The rise in leisure boat trips is a sign of the two countries’ eagerness to make normalization irreversible by future U.S. administrations, experts say.

“For a long time the atmospherics weren’t right. Cocktail hour on the poop deck and cruising were redolent of tourism. (But) the Obama administration as it goes into overdrive in its legacy building on Cuba doesn’t appear to me to have a lot of time to worry about that sort of thing,” said Robert Muse, a specialist in U.S. law on Cuba who represents a newly licensed U.S. ferry company.

Muse said he thinks boat travel to Cuba will remain limited because of mutual sensitivities about the Florida Straits, the scene of high sea dramas such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Mariel boatlift.

Still, Cuban tourism experts seem confident about an imminent end to restrictions on boat travel to Cuba, which have been loosened and tightened in cycles since President Jimmy Carter briefly legalized travel to the island in 1977. Many U.S. yachters, including several docked at the Hemingway Marina on Thursday, have quietly stopped in Havana for years on their way to or from other ports, the same way U.S. air travelers head to Cuba from Canada or Mexico in defiance of rarely enforced American laws.

The hottest point of discussion among such Cuba specialists now is whether the island can swiftly meet what they expect will eventually be strong demand for high-end boating facilities.

“The elimination of restrictions on nautical tourism by the U.S. government appears as if it will happen over the short term,” said Jose Luis Perello, a tourism professor at the University of Havana. “That won’t just open the doors to U.S. yachters and other tourists, but (also) to many from other countries and yacht clubs.”

havana-live-tampa_aquariumHAVANA, August 6  – The Florida Aquarium has announced what it calls a historic agreement with the National Aquarium of Cuba to work together on coral reef conservation, the first official agreement between Cuba and any aquarium in the United States.

Calling them the “underwater rainforests” of the ocean, the Florida Aquarium president said the biologically diverse ecosystems of coral reefs are extremely threatened.

“Although Cuba’s reefs are only 90 miles away from Key West, they are in much better condition than our local reefs systems” Thom Stork, president and CEO of the Florida Aquarium said in a statement. “Coral reefs are like underwater rainforests, they support large amounts of animal life and if we lose them it will have a tremendous rippling effect on the entire ocean’s ecosystem. This partnership will provide both aquariums with wonderful opportunities to advance both institutions work on understanding, protecting and restoring our shared marine environment.”

Researchers at the Tampa aquarium have been working for a decade on aquaculture techniques that allow biologists to produce coral in the lab and then use it to bolster wild populations. The Cuban aquarium researchers have “developed a formidable bank of coral reef research which complements the coral work we do,” said Thomas Hall, chairman of the Florida Aquarium Foundation.

“In early October we traveled to Havana with the hopes of developing a working relationship with the National Aquarium of Cuba,” Hall said. “Between us we share a lot of water, sea life, and valuable coral reefs. There is much we can learn from them, and there is much good we can do together. We are very proud to be their partners and look forward to the results from our work as teammates to improve the health of our oceans.”

Florida officials will attend the Tri-National Initiative for Marine Science and Conservation Workshops this November in Havana, which will bring researchers from the United States, Mexico and Cuba together to talk about marine issues. The aquarium will also participate in the International Marine and Coastal Science Conference featuring scientists from all over the world.

havana-live-McDermottMcDermott Will & Emery looks set to blaze a trail for the other large international firms by opening in La Havana under an agreement with local Spanish firm Olleros Abogados

HAVANA, Aug. 5  The 1,100-lawyer, Chicago-based international practice expects to be working on inbound and outbound work from the island and sees Cuba as ‘a major opportunity in both respects’, according to partner David Goldman. Olleros previously had a relationship with Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Increased focus
McDermott joins a growing number of lawyers focusing on Cuba. A 37-strong delegation from the 100,000 member Florida Bar went to Cuba recently to explore emerging business opportunities, from telecommunications to banking.

The group spent three days in Cuba meeting with government officials and counterparts from the Cuban bar. Other law firms that are also looking at Cuban business opportunities include Canadian firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson.

In terms of sectors, the 22-office firm expects to focus in particular on instrastructure, healthcare, agriculture, leisure and food and beverages.

havana-live-shadow-theaterHAVANA, Aug. 5  – Cubans will be treated to Japan’s Kageboushi shadow theater for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday.

The two free performances are part of the Kageboushi theater company’s artistic tour of seven Central American and the Caribbean countries, promoters of the event said on Tuesday.

The company’s director, Yasuaki Yamasaki, told reporters puppet and body shadow techniques will be used in the plays to be performed at the National Theater in Havana.

The Kageboushi theater company will enchant Cubans with works such as “The Mochi Mochi Tree,” and “The Grateful Crane,” among others, including a dumb-show, for over an hour and a half.

The company will also hold a short workshop for children, teens and spectators to give them an opportunity to create their own shadows.

Yamasaki explained the company is keen to establish ties with other cultures.

Created 37 years ago, the company is devoted to developing a special art of shadows, colors and movements with a repertoire of works based on traditional Japanese tales and adult musicals.

havana-live-canopy-walkwayHAVANA, Aug. 5   Cuba’s tourism industry is currently souring, but it is about to open a new chapter as it explores its adventure tourism potential, a tourism ministry official said on Monday.

The ministry of tourism (MINTUR) is preparing a mountain climbing adventure course as well as another in the canopy of the surrounding forest in the eastern province of Pinar del Rio. A canopy course is an assault course in which tourists navigate with cables strung among the treetops.

“Pinar del Rio offers great potential to develop eco-tourism in all its forms, thanks to its geography and natural beauty. This is what we intend to capitalize on with these two adventure tourism options,” said Deborah Henriquez, the MINTUR representative in the province, on Sunday.

Until today, mountain climbing has not officially been developed anywhere in Cuba, but this new option will take place on two hills of the Valle de Vinales and will count on a team of certified instructors.

Hernandez said this mountain climbing activity will appeal to all levels of ability, even for complete beginners.

The new canopy course, the island’s second, will be divided across eight platforms in the zone of El Moncada.

They are part of the government’s plan to diversify Cuba’s tourism product as the sector is the island’s second most important source of revenue after medical services.

According to the National Office of Statistics and Information, the number of tourists arriving in Cuba grew by 15.9 percent in the first half year of 2015.

Experts believe that after an eventual normalization of ties with the United States, Cuba could receive up to 3.5 million American tourists a year. However, much work is needed to upgrade its hotel infrastructure for the influx of tourists.

havana-live-carlos-acostaHAVANA, Aug. 4 (PL) The prestigious Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, current star of the Royal Ballet of London in the UK, today confirmed the determination to found a company in his native country.

To this end, the future director invites dancers from all over Cuba professionally trained and interested in integrating the project to appear at the auditions to take place on August 10 and 11th, at the National School of Ballet Fernando Alonso, located in this capital.

The new company, attached to the Dance Center of Havana, offer contracts to 12 dancers in total: six men and six women with capacity to take on the demands of the techniques of classical and contemporary dance.

In order to maintain this line of work, the auditions will consist on lessons of both dance performance modalities to measure the skills of the artists.

Acosta is currently preparing his retirement as a classical dancer at the Royal Ballet and aspires to pursue a career in the contemporary line.

This year, the Critics Circle of Great Britain granted the National Dance Award in recognition to his achievements during a lifetime devoted to art, and American critics applauded warmly his version of Don Quixote for the British company, in the United States.

The artist’s immediate plans include a new version of the play Carmen, designed for the Royal, and scheduled for release in the month of September, when at the same time he takes the first steps with his company in Cuba.

Being 42 years old, Acosta has his days numbered as a prince on the scene, but his career in other facets of art is just born. In his country, he has received the National Dance Award and the UK even they call him Sir, since he was appointed as such since 2014 due to the title of Commander of the British Empire.

wp23e70b1e_06HAVANA,  August 4  A Palm Beach County yacht broker’s charter, carrying a documentary filmmaker and a reporter, is set to be the first ship to sail into Cuba on Tuesday since the thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Paul Madden, a longtime luxury yacht broker with Paul Madden Associates LLC, on July 1 received the first license issued by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to operate ferries to Cuba.

Several other companies have received licenses, including Carnival Cruise Line. But Madden said his 78-foot yacht will be the first to sail between the United States and Cuba in decades.

The four-cabin ship received a professional research license from OFAC and the U.S. Commerce Department, according to Madden. The trip is being arranged by a New York educational tour guide, Academic Arrangements Abroad.

Fifteen people are booked to sail from Key West to Marina Hemingway nine miles west of Havana on the historic 4½-hour excursion.

Passengers will stay on the yacht called the Still Water, which plans to proceed afterward to Havana Harbor, Cuba’s main port. The plan is for the tour to head back to Key West on Friday.

“If they say it’s alright, we will sail into the Port of Havana,” Madden said. “We want to tread very carefully. We adhere closely to the 12 visa requirements.”

An advantage to traveling by yacht rather than plane is the provisions for lodging and food. Additionally, he can offer secure Internet access, which is severely limited in Cuba, Madden said.

Three crew members and 12 paying passengers, including a documentary filmmaker and a Wall Street Journal reporter, are booked on the trip. Madden declined to say the cost but said the average charter price for a yacht that size and the length of the trip is about $45,000 for the boat.

Cruise and ferry companies have been clamoring for government licenses to sail to Cuba since the Obama administration restored diplomatic ties with Cuba and loosened rules for U.S. travel to the island. Carnival is the first cruise line to obtain a license, which plans to start service in May.

A major reason for the extended delay in starting service is Cuban infrastructure challenges and the shallow depths of most Cuban ports, said Miami lawyer James Meyer with Harper Meyer.

“It’s a big coup for anyone who becomes the first to do anything in Cuba—whether it’s the first bank or the first yacht,” Meyer said. “The publicity associated with it is priceless.”

Madden and his maritime lawyer, Michael T. Moore of Moore & Co. in Coral Gables, said the biggest challenge by far was getting insurance for the travel. Madden said he ultimately found insurance with a foreign company he declined to name.

“Some of the major hitches were with the insurance,” Moore said. “The insurance market is still behind the curve as far as these kinds of things are concerned. It’s the unknown.”

Madden’s OFAC license is good for two years. He has no other trips booked as of this time.

havana-live-olga_tanonHAVANA, August 4  Six years ago the singer Olga Tanon made a decision that earned her admirers and detractors.

The artist, who lives in Florida, boarded a plane to Havana, Cuba, to be part of the concert Paz sin Fronteras (Peace without Borders), organized by Colombian singer Juanes.
The massive event, which was attended by 1.2 million people was held at the Revolution Square where 15 artists of different nationalities, joined their voices to bring a message of peace.

Since that visit, Olga dreamed of returning to the neighboring island. The restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba gave her the chance, this time calmly and quietly, to meet with people she bet six years ago.

“When I finished the concert Paz sin Fronteras I promised to return to Cuba and I plan to return to do a big concert. We do not know when, but we will do. I want to do a massive concert, but again free for the people. I feel that Cuba now needs to receive not to give and I want to thank the people for all the love.”


havana-live-cheHAVANA, August 4  (AFP) – Workers in Cuba have begun building the altar where Pope Francis will deliver mass during a landmark visit next month, placing it just to the left of a giant image of Che Guevara.

Francis, who hails from Argentina like the famous revolutionary, will visit Cuba September 19 to 22 as part of a tour that will later take him to the United States.

He will give a mass on September 20 in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion. The sprawling central square is bordered on one side by the interior ministry; its facade sports a giant sculpted outline of Guevara’s face.

The 36-meter (118-foot) work is based on an iconic 1960 photo of Guevara by Alberto Korda that has also been reproduced on T-shirts and posters worldwide.

Guevara, who fought alongside Fidel Castro to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1959 Cuban Revolution, has been a symbol of Marxist revolution since his capture and execution in Bolivia in 1967 at age 39.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI also gave masses near the giant Guevara image during trips to Cuba in 1998 and 2012, respectively.

Pope Francis played a role in the secret negotiations that led the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic relations last month after more than half a century of animosity rooted in the Cold War.

havana-live-mountain bikeHAVANA,  August  4  One of the most famous and challenging mountain bike marathons Titan Desert, taking place in Morocco since 2006 has become a sports and tourist landmark.
The renowned mountain bike marathon recently announced it would launch an epic race in Cuba. Organizers pointed out that the first edition of the event will consist of six stages, the race will depart from Havana, Cuba’s capital, where participants will get acquainted with the historic part of the city and the cobblestone streets.

cuba mountainbikemapLater, participants will travel to western Cuba, where they will compete in Las Terrazas, Soroa and Viñales. The competition will conclude on Cayo Jutías. This small key, with an area of only 4km2, is filled with breath-taking vegetation, vigorous wildlife and sparkling white-sand beaches.

On this occasion, inscriptions were limited to 150 competitors, taking into account that it is the beginning of the event and the logistics necessary has to be defined.

In addition, the stages will be shorter compare to those designed for the traditional Titan Desert event, and conditions are different, due to Cuba’s humid climate.

 “Because they’ve been cut off for so long, they’ve morphed into their own species. It’s not a Cadillac. It’s something else.”

HAVANA, August 3  Contrary to popular belief, car collectors will not be descending on Cuba to buy up the thousands of antique American cars still on the road in the Caribbean nation.

“We just don’t see it,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in insuring collector cars.

Cuba is a bubble of anachronisms, one of the most obvious being the thousands American cars from the 1940s and 1950s, which still make up a significant form of transportation for the island nation.havana-live-old-car-havana

The time-warp feel to the place stems from the imposition of the U.S. embargo in 1962, during which American companies were no longer permitted to do any business in Cuba. Once in place, it was not possible to get new American cars or parts.

Fidel Castro’s autocratic socialism was the final nail in the coffin of the new car market—Cubans weren’t permitted to buy cars. They could only be given them by the government. And the government never had enough money to import cars en masse from Europe or Asia. During the Soviet era, Russia sent Ladas, which, despite being newer, didn’t last as long as the American cars.havana-live-old-car-havanaExperts who spoke to CNBC expressed deep admiration for the ingenuity that has kept the American cars on the road, but it’s that very same ingenuity that will likely cut into the value of the cars. “They’re known to be held together by duct tape and bailing twine,” said David Magers, CEO of Mecum Auctions.

“From our perspective, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for bringing those cars to the U.S. market,” Magers said.

The “intrinsic value in collector cars is in the originality of its parts,” said Steve Linden, an appraiser of collectible automobiles. Most important, he said, are “original body, panels, engines, transmissions.”Image-1024-1024-96529

It doesn’t take long for an expert to see that there’s little that’s original left in the American cars on the roads of Cuba—most of which are General Motors models—except the body.

Hagerty recalled one of his first experiences with the island’s cars on a trip their 15 years ago: “When I went, I jumped in a 1956 Cadillac, and it looked really good. The guy turned the key and it had a Peugeot diesel engine.”

Hagerty likened it to a “Galapagos Island” of cars. “Because they’ve been cut off for so long, they’ve morphed into their own species. It’s not a Cadillac. It’s something else.”

To use an example of how that affects valuation, Linden said a quintessential American car like a 1957 Chevy Bel Air four-door sedan, in perfect condition with original parts, could sell for as much as $50,000. The same model in Cuba, with a large dollop of Bondo body filler and substitute parts, would probably sell for only $5,000.

vintage car in Havana, Cuba

Additionally, the sweet spot of car collecting has moved from the 1950s to the 1960s. “What’s hot right now are the American muscle cars of the late ’60s and ’70s,” Magers said. Models such as Ford Mustangs from 1965 to 1973, Dodge Challengers, Chargers and Daytonas are hot, plus the Shelby Plymouth Superbird.havana-live-old-car-havana

The greatest interest is likely to come from Cuban exiles who are proud to buy a car that is quintessentially Cuban, and representative of the era. Hagerty said that a car from there “will be considered on the merits of it being a ‘Cuban’ car, not a classic collectible.”

At the same time, Hagerty said he expects there to be a great desire by the Cubans themselves to keep them on the island “as an example of the last vestige of the spirit of survival. There’s something down there about these cars that means more to them than just a car.”

“It’s like jazz,” he said. “It’s one of their art forms.”evening_cadillac

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.