havana-live-rodeo2There’s still a strong cultural influence in Cuba from its one-time Spanish colonizers, and the rodeo featured all the standby traditional events: bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing, lasso demonstrations and remarkable feats of daredevilry. Mustached and oateed men with broad-brimmed hats and leatherchaps mingle in the dust, drinking beer and talking on cellphones. A woman tenderly straightens the red necktie of a nervous teen as he prepares to mount a bucking bronco. A man on horseback abruptly bolts through the arena and launches himself onto a young cow, headlocking it into the mud horns-first. Cuba’s eight-day international rodeo festival is half party and half a cowboy-skill showcase that would seem right at home in Nevada, Wyoming or anywhere else in the American West. “You know that Cuba’s national sport is baseball. In second place, then, are the rodeo stadiums,” said Teresa Gonzalez, the Cuban rodeo’s national statistics keeper. “Whenever there’s a rodeo, across the whole country, the stadiums fill up.” Popular around the Americas, rodeo has its roots in the skills required of cattle herders in Spain and the New World. The word itself comes from the Spanish term for “roundup.havana-live-rodeo1“The roughly 60 participants competing in the event, part of the Boyeros Cattlemen’s International Fair, came mostly from Cuba but also Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Panama.
There’s still a strong cultural influence in Cuba from its one-time Spanish colonizers, and the rodeo featured all the standby traditional events: bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing, lasso demonstrations — and remarkable feats of daredevilry. Between competitions two stunt riders raced around the arena on a horse, one standing upright atop the saddle as his partner dangled precariously to the side, a single hand clutching the pommel.
The quirkiest moment came in an event that could be dubbed “Dancing With the Equestrians.” Riders took turns coaxing their mounts to cut a rug to amplified music, with the winner eliciting laughter and cheers for a dance to reggaeton — the tropical music notorious for its steamy lyrics. Against the thumping beat, the horse gyrated its hindquarters in imitation of the suggestive, twerk-like dance steps associated with the genre. Entire families turned out to watch, legs dangling over the side of the bleacher railing, beneath a black mesh screen that kept at bay the worst effects of the Caribbean sun.havana-live-rodeo3
“An event like this one is very important because it’s the annual fair where the best (competitors) take part,” Gonzalez said. “You couldn’t even walk in the streets because there were so many people.”

(AP By PETER ORSI,Anne-Marie Garcia)

havana-live-plane1At face value, they are three old planes not worth much more than their parts and scrap metal. Stolen from the Cuban government during a six-month period ending in April 2003 — two by hijackers, one by its pilot — all three landed at Key West International Airport, a 116-mile flight from struggling Havana to the gleaming shores of the U.S.Fidel Castro repeatedly demanded the planes be returned. Instead, they were seized by U.S. courts to satisfy part of a $27 million judgment won by a Cuban-American woman who had unwittingly married a Cuban spy in Miami. The story of what happened to the planes in the ensuing years reads like another chapter in the history of stymied, contentious U.S.-Cuba relations, with the new owners unable to get the planes anywhere. The first of the three planes to land in Key West was a yellow, Soviet-built crop-duster that pilot Nemencio Carlos Alonso Guerra used to fly seven passengers, many of them relatives, to the U.S. in November 2002.
Cuba wanted the biplane back, but a Florida judge agreed with Ana Margarita Martinez that it should be seized and sold to partially pay the judgment she was awarded under an anti-terrorism law. In 1996, her husband, Juan Pablo Roque, had fled back to Cuba after infiltrating the Miami-based anti-Castro group Brothers to the Rescue. The next day, Cuban fighter jets shot down two of the group’s Cessnas over international waters, killing four pilots.The aging Antonov AN-2 Colt was auctioned at the Key West airport in 2003 and Martinez placed the highest bid, $7,000. We had a victory — we got to keep this property of the Cuban government,” Martinez said after the auction. She hoped to sell it for a profit later but instead gave it to Cuban-American artist Xavier Cortada, who painted half of it with a colorful mural as part of an exhibit commemorating Cuba’s independence. After the exhibit,Cordada eventually donated the plane to Florida International University, which planned to display it but couldn’t find a building to house it. Today, it deteriorates under tarps on a far corner of FIU’s campus. Even if it could be flown, there would be another hurdle: The plane would have to be deregistered in Cuba or given special authorization to fly by the Federal Aviation Administration. That, however, requires maintenance documents and certificates proving the plane is safe — all of them in Cuba.
havana-live-planesDon Soldini, who purchased a hijacked DC-3, is one of the few who stood a chance of getting Cuban plane records. “I would’ve flown it back,” he said last week. Soldini, who went to Cuba as a teen to fight in the revolution, remains on good terms with the island’s leaders. He was barely 18 when he hitchhiked from Staten Island to Key West in the late 1950s, intent on joining the Cuban revolution. He flew to the island on a passenger DC-3, an elegant, bulbous-shaped plane now synonymous with World War II and the 1940s to ’60s-era commercial airline service. Once in Cuba, Soldini joined the underground and eventually fought in the rebel army, marching alongside Raul Castro and his troops.
After the revolutionaries’ 1959 victory, Soldini remained in Cuba but felt uneasy there as an American. He left and eventually started a real estate development company in Florida with offices in 21 countries. Starting in the 1970s, he began visiting Cuba about twice a year. In March 2003, a Cuban DC-3 similar to the one Soldini had first flown in was hijacked by six knife-wielding men and diverted to Key West. Thirteen days later, another Cuban airliner was hijacked to Key West by Adermis Wilson Gonzalez. “My goal was always to come to this nation and work to give my family a better future,” Wilson Gonzales said in a letter to The Associated Press last week from a federal prison in Pennsylvania. He is serving a 20-year sentence for air piracy.
Like the biplane before, both planes were auctioned.
Two aspiring pilots from Colorado came to the sale and, to their surprise, won. Wayne Van Heusden bought the DC-3 for $12,500 and Matthew Overton purchased the Antonov AN-24 for $6,500.
“My grand idea, initially, was to give it to the Cuban authorities, because it’s their plane,” Van Heusden said. He imagined filling the plane with medical supplies and flying to the island, but he couldn’t find financial support. He and Overton ran into the same hurdle: They were unable to fly the planes without the maintenance documents. The fees for keeping the planes in Key West quickly accumulated, and both decided to sell. Overton put his plane on eBay, but the winning bid didn’t go through. Key West International Airport took the plane, and today it is used for emergency drills. Soldini heard about the DC-3 and felt nostalgia for the day he flew to join the revolution. He bought the plane from Van Heusden and reached out to the Castros. But after the long, impassioned speeches Fidel Castro gave demanding the U.S. return the planes, Soldini said the aging Cuban leader didn’t want it.
“He’s more interested in the political impact rather than the practical,” Soldini said. “I couldn’t do anything.” Soldini returned to Key West, disassembled the plane and put it on a truck. He parked the plane at a central Florida hangar, where it remains. He made an extensive documentary tracing the plane’s history, from its California manufacture to its days in Cuba.
He hopes that one day it will be in a museum, since it will never fly again.


havana-live-madrigalIt’s Saturday night at El Cocinero, a chic rooftop bar that has arguably become Havana’s hippest watering hole in the year since it opened, and there’s no getting in without a reservation.
There are plenty of foreigners, but also not a few sharp-dressed Cubans lounging in the butterfly chairs, sipping $3 mojitos and talking art, culture and politics. It’s an image that stands in stark contrast to common perceptions overseas of Communist Cuba as a poor country where nobody has the disposable income to blow on a night out. “Where they get the money from, I don’t know, and I don’t have a crystal ball,” said one of the Cubans at the bar: Lilian Triana, a 31-year-old economist who works for the local offices of Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA. She suggested some may have relatives sending money from abroad .Havana is seeing a boom in stylish, privately run bars and clubs like El Cocinero, evidence of a small but growing class of relatively affluent artists, musicians and entrepreneurs on an island where many people earn about $20 a month and depend on subsidized food, housing and transport to get by. Cuba’s nouveau riche are coming out of the woodwork, if not quite flaunting their personal wealth. It’s a departure from years past, when Fidel Castro fulminated against newly rich Cubans who were getting ahead of their compatriots during an earlier economic opening.Cuba is still far from a consumer’s paradise. Nonetheless, there are more things here every day to spend money on, from home improvements and beach vacations to the hordes of smartphones and Xboxes imported for resale by islanders who are traveling abroad in record numbers. Foreigners visiting and living in Cuba have long been able to afford such luxuries. So have Cubans like Triana who work for foreign companies or embassies that pay hard-currency salaries competitive with elsewhere in Latin America. Now they have been joined by the most successful of the 440,000 small-business owners and employees who are working independently of the state under President Raul Castro’s economic reforms. Some benefit from relatives abroad who send back an estimated $2.6 billion a year. Then there’s the art-world elite, which historically has been a core part of Cuba’s monied class. An artist who sells a single painting for a few thousand dollars or a musician who performs on an overseas tour is already earning hundreds of times what most Cubans make.
havana-live-madrigal1It’s a phenomenon that New York visual artist Michael Dweck documented in his 2011 book “Habana Libre,” the product of nearly three yearsphotographing the unlikely fashionable lives of Havana’s hip creatives.”They are part of the elite. Not because they are in banking or importing or real estate — these people are the creative class,” Dweck said. “There is a privileged class living a pretty good life in Havana, which is the opposite of what we were told as Americans about what’s going on in Cuba.” It’s on the bar circuit that Cuba’s Yuppies are most visible. Artists and intellectuals abound at places like El Cocinero and the Fabrica de Arte Cubana next door, opened last month by renowned musician X Alfonso as a combination gallery, concert hall and bar with a $2 cover. Others head to Bohemio, a breezy porch-turned-bar, to nosh on cheese and serrano ham tapas, or Cafe Madrigal, which began the private bar boom when it was opened by a filmmaker in 2011 and is now a favorite of the film and theater crowd. Julio Carrillo, a 52-year-old screenwriter, said in years past he and his partner went out less because state-run bars tended to be dreary joints with deafening music and lousy service. Moreover, displays of personal wealth could be seen as ostentatious and attract questions about where the money came from. So many Cubans with means tended to stay in and host private get-togethers. But as islanders increasingly get their hands on nice things, there’s less stigma attached to the good life. “It used to be we’d go to someone’s house. There’s a dinner or a party and I bring a bottle, and it stays low profile, you know?” Carrillo said. “Now it’s more comfortable. We can go somewhere else and meet (friends) there. … It makes me really happy, to tell the truth. Being able to go to places like these is like a normalization of life.”
There are also privately run clubs that cater to the young offspring of Cubans with wealth and connections: places like Sangri La, an overly air-conditioned basement nightclub in the tony Miramar district, and Palio, a smoky offshoot of a private restaurant. Some patrons say they sometimes see the scions of Cuba’s most powerful political clans living it up in raucous joints like these, as plainclothes state security agents hang around outside. The scene is a dramatic change from just a few years ago, when most Cubans were shooed away from tourist hotels such as the Habana Libre or Melia Cohiba, both home to expensive nightclubs.
It’s still a small segment of the population, however, and a far cry from the scene along the Malecon seafront boulevard where working-class Cubans gather by the thousands on weekends to sip from 90-cent cardboard boxes of rum.
“Here on the Malecon to have fun, look at girls,” said Adan Ferro, a 20-year-old street sweeper, adding sarcastically: “Where else am I going to go? The Habana Libre?”


havana-live-romanach2One of the world’s leading databases of stolen works of art is offering to help the Cuban government recover dozens of modernist works missing from Havana’s National Museum of Fine Arts.
The heist was confirmed late last week by officials with Cuba’s state-run National Council of Cultural Heritage, which added it was in the process of finishing an inventory of the missing pieces which will be made public. Miami gallery owner Ramon Cernuda, a Cuban-American exile and prominent collector of Cuban art, alerted the Havana museum last month after he became suspicious of 11 works being offered for sale in Miami, including one he purchased.On Friday, Cuban officials confirmed the works, including several by acclaimed Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach, were part of a larger trove of stolen art, thought to be about 95 pieces in all. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has begun grand jury proceedings in the case, Cernuda told Reuters yesterday. The FBI said, however, that it could not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. The disclosure of the theft is a first for the Cuban government since Fidel Castro took power in 1959. In its statement, officials from the National Council of Cultural Heritage stated that the works were cut from their frames while in storage. Most of the missing works were by Cuban artists, it said. The statement indicated the Cuban government would work “with any proper authorities inside or outside the country” to “alert museums, galleries, auction houses and others.”In years past, the Cuban government has stayed mum when museum pieces have been put on the market, raising suspicions that the sales had been officially approved in the face of hard economic times.
havana-live-cernudaJulian Radcliffe, chairman of the London-based Art Loss Register, said he was in the process to reaching out to Cuban law enforcement and officials at the museum to offer help. The organization is the recognized leader in recovering stolen artworks and it operates the largest private database of reported stolen art – although Radcliffe says they have never worked with Cuba. “There are some governments who absolutely do report their stolen items, and there are some governments who do not report their items to anyone, ever,” said Radcliffe, adding that Cuba has previously resided in the latter camp. If Cuba decides to take Radcliffe up on his offer, it could bode well for the recovery of the pieces. Having recovered some 2,000 pieces since it was established in 1991, the Art Loss Register monitors on-the-record art transactions worldwide. In past decades, many museums were so embarrassed about losing artworks to theft, that they were often not reported, Radcliffe said. In Cuba’s case, some missing museum items in the past included works expropriated from families that went into exile after the 1959 revolution. “So they are very sensitive about the subject,” he added. Cernuda has since turned over one stolen work to the FBI’s art crimes team in Miami along with the documents of the sale. He has also offered to eventually return the piece to Cuba. (Photo Ramon Cernuda)


havana-live-laurent-fabiusFrance’s foreign minister said on Wednesday he would soon travel to Cuba, the first such visit in 30 years and a sign of the quickening pace of improving ties between the European Union and Havana. Cuba this month accepted a proposal by the EU to open negotiations on a new political accord, saying it was willing to talk about human rights as part of discussions that would end what it considers a one-sided relationship with Europe. On February 10, the EU agreed to begin negotiations with Cuba to increase trade, investment and dialogue on human rights in its most significant diplomatic shift since it lifted sanctions on the communist-ruled country in 2008.
“I will soon go to Cuba, which is something new,” Laurent Fabius said during a news conference with his Brazilian counterpart Luiz Alberto Figueiredo.
Diplomats said the visit would take place before the summer. It aims to assess the intentions of the Cuban government while giving “more substance” to economic ties, the diplomats said. Cuba has been subject to a U.S. embargo for five decades. It is eager to eliminate the EU’s “common position”, enacted in December 1996, which places human rights and democracy conditions on improved economic relations.
To do so, the two sides will have to reach a new accord that is agreeable to all 28 member states, including Poland and the Czech Republic, which have taken a harder line on Cuba given their own communist pasts. After more than a year of discussions, EU foreign ministers decided in February to seek better ties with Havana to support the Caribbean island nation’s market-oriented reforms and to position European companies for any transition to a more open economy.
Since Fabius took office in 2012 he has tried to shift more of France’s diplomatic focus towards winning contracts in markets where French firms are traditionally weak, as Paris looks to find growth opportunities overseas. About 60 French firms already operate in Cuba including Pernod Ricard, Accor, Bouygues and Total.

(Reuters Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)  

havana-live-samsung1Cuba’s state monopoly telephone company, Etecsa, today denied reports that the island will offer Internet access for home users in the coming months, reported dpa news. The company said that false news has been circulating in recent days. “This is “untrue and misinforms people.” Different websites reported recently that the government of Raul Castro plans to authorize citizens in the coming months to contract private Internet connection from their homes at very high prices.
Etecsa denied the information and noted that the tariffs apply only to companies and organizations. “Any information on the opening of this service to households will be duly communicated by the company,” it said in a press statement.
Cuba has one of the lowest Internet access levels in the world. The population of the island need special permission to contract private access from home, granted to a select number of officials, artists, diplomats or foreign companies. These old style dial-up connections also suffer from very poor transmission speed. The best access is available at some tourist hotels but with prices averaging US $8.00 to $10.00 an hour.
In mid-2013 Etecsa opened over 100 cafes throughout the country that improved public access to a segment of the population. Those capable of paying $5.00 per hour in a country where the average wage is $20 a month includes, to a large extent, those with family members abroad that send significant remittances. The government accuses the economic embargo imposed by the United States for the bad internet access on the island. Castro detractors argue that the lack of connectivity owes to a restrictive government policy. In mid-2013 Etecsa announced that a fiber optic cable laid two years earlier from Venezuela had finally become operative. However, despite improvements in infrastructure, service continues way below regional and international standards for access to the network.

havana-live-little-havanaCuban Americans met in Miami on Saturday to discuss how to normalize relations with Cuba and end the five decade-long United States embargo against the communist-run island, the first such gathering in a decade in a city better known for hostility toward the communist-run island. The one-day event was organized by four groups led by Cuban Americans for Engagement (CAFE), founded two years ago to counteract the influence of traditional Cuban exile organizations that support the embargo. Held at a hotel conference room it attracted about 125 attendees, including several invited speakers from Cuba.
“This is a historic event that unites different organizations that are willing to sit down and discuss ways to stimulate the normalization of relations,” said Hugo Cancio, publisher of OnCuba, a Miami-based magazine which opened an office in Cuba last year. “We want to tell the U.S. and the Cuban governments to find a way to better the lives of the Cuban people, and to let us participate in the economic transformation of Cuba,” he said. Under U.S. law Cuban Americans are allowed to send unlimited money to relatives on the island, but Cuba does not allow non-residents to invest directly in business or property.
That could change under a foreign investment law being debated in Cuba, said one of the speakers, Roberto Veiga, deputy editor of Espacio Laical, a highly-read magazine of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Havana. “That is a decisive factor for Cuba,” he said. “But there is resistance (within the Cuban government) to investment from Miami because … the Cubans here in Miami have money and the Cubans on the island don’t,” he added. The conference comes on the heels of a national poll last month that found a strong majority of Americans – and an even greater percentage of Floridians – support normalizing relations with Cuba. The organizers said two Cuban officials from Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Washington – which is not an embassy as the two countries broke formal diplomatic ties decades ago – were invited to speak but were denied permission to travel to Miami by the U.S. State Department. Unlike attempts in past years to promote engagement with the Cuban government, Saturday’s meeting went off without protests from anti-Castro groups in Miami. “It just shows that the community is really ready to have a serious debate on U.S.-Cuba policy,” said Ricardo Herrero, a director of the Cuba Study Group, a Miami exile organization that supports closer ties with Cuba.
“Cuba is no longer the third rail in politics. People see all the activity that is going on in Cuba and they are looking for opportunities now that there are cracks in the system down there.” Larger Cuban American exile groups oppose engagement with Cuba while its one-party communist system remains in place. Mauricio Claver-Carone, director of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC, the most powerful Cuban exile lobby group in Washington, described some of the organizers as being Castro sympathizers.
“This isn’t the first event of this type, they spring up from time to time,” he said recalling a period in the 1990s when some exiles groups came together to challenge the embargo. The Obama administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba, but U.S. officials say Washington is looking for concessions from Cuba before taking any further steps. Congress has also shown no interest in lifting the embargo in a decade.

The conference was billed as a “conversation among Cubans” and included topics ranging from economic reforms in Cuba to travel regulations for Cubans and Americans visiting the island.
One speaker, Abiel San Miguel-Estevez, manager of a privately run restaurant in Havana, Doña Eutimia, gave a power-point presentation on the laws governing the administration of private businesses in Cuba.
“There are more and more places where you can eat well in Cuba. The private sector is growing fast,” he said.
Cuba is in the midst of a five-year plan to “modernize” its state-run socialist system under President Raul Castro, gradually shedding state jobs and moving workers into the private sector in a quest to improve efficiency and raise living standards.
Collin Laverty, president of Cuba Educational Travel said U.S. organized tours to Cuba tend to be dominated by elderly, wealthy, white Americans, as they cost around $3,500 for a week. “The U.S. government needs to let us open up travel so we can diversify who is going,” he said, referring to the restrictions placed on travel by U.S. citizens.

(David Adams Reuters) 

havana-live-Kelvis-Ochoa1The popular Cuban singer Kelvis Ochoa presented in this city his first album made in the island along with a documentary that gathers much of his life and work, which is classified in the category of world music.
Produced by the Bis Music label, the album titled Dolor con Amor se Cura (Pain is Cured with Love), includes 10 tracks that combine rhythms such as sucu-suco, bolero, son, reggaeton, and typical sounds of African music.
The documentary Yo se de un Lugar (I know of a Place), directed by Swedish filmmaker Beat Borter, will be simultaneously exhibited from March 13 to 19 in all major cinema theaters in the country.
Speaking to the press, Ochoa pointed out the presence of special guests in which what he considers his first solo album: the Nicaraguan Salsa singer Luis Enrique, and his compatriots Alexander Abreu, Aldo López-Gavilán, Yaroldi Abreu, Gaston Joya, Harold Lopez-Nussa and Rolando Luna.
This is my best work because it approaches my daily work, he stated.
During his career, he has worked with popular musicians of his country and of the world, among them the Spanish Lolita Flores and Pastora Soler; French Manu Chau; the Puerto Rican duo Calle 13; and Cubans Descemer Bueno, Haydee Milanes, Edesio Alejandro and Roberto Carcasés.

havana-live-Key-West-bridgeThere were times when Florida depended from the General Captainship of Havana, under Spanish colonial rule. At that time, the Cuban capital was a city bigger and more important than other towns like New York and Philadelphia in the United States.
The English, in 1762, did not occupy the Island, they were satisfied with holding on to Havana. One year later, Spain passed on to England all the Florida peninsula in order to get Havana back, hinting at the importance that Madrid attributed to the capital of the largest of the Antilles. Key West was considered part of Florida. Thence, when Spain gave that peninsula to England, the Key was part of the package. But London barely paid attention to the key, which continued to be used as occasional venue for fishermen born in Cuba and other islands of the Caribbean.
havana-live-key_west-pointWhen the United States obtained its independence, citizens of the new nation arrived at the Key and for years Washington did not exert any control over Key West nor recognized it as its own. No other government did so either. This circumstance was maybe to blame for the fact that in 1815 the Governor of Havana gave the territory of the Key to Juan Pablo Salas. The sly creole owned the key for a short time. By that time, more U.S. citizens had come to live in Florida and Salas thought it most convenient to sell the Key, so he did. The naughty thing was he sold it twice, first to a John Strong, and later to a John W. Simonton, who did not take long to pass on the property to General John Guedes, former Governor of South Carolina. Eventually, the trick of Juan Pablo Salas was discovered and the case sent to court. Simonton was recognized as rightful owner He had no more right than Strong, but he did have more influence in Washington circles. By that time, the United States government had decided to take action regarding its rights over the Key. In fact, on March 25, 1822, Lt. Matthew C. Perry, Navy officer,landed on that territory and planted the flag of his country and proclaimed U.S. sovereignty over Key West. He proceeded to change its name and baptized the territory as Thompson’s Island, in honor of Smith Thompson, Secretary of the Navy, and named the port as Rodgers, in tribute to a war hero. None of the new names were to take roots in the people. havana-live-perryKey West is its official name, although Hispanic descendants keep calling it “Cayo Hueso” because as tradition goes, the first settlers found many parts of human skeletons in its beaches. Be it called one way or the other, the southernmost U.S. locality, three hours south of Miami, is a tourist city by excellence and enjoys the preference of visitors from all over the world.
Several cruiser lines stop there. The facilities for a visitor are so many and extended that it is thought the Key is made for the travel industry. Its restaurants and hotels fit all pockets and exceed all expectations. Its museums are full of treasures saved from terrible shipwrecks and the souvenir stores attract the attention of passers-by. Key West is famous for having been, together with San Francisco and New Orleans, one of the most liberal towns of the United States, where the enthusiasm of its people and the brisk and easygoing pace of existence invites to a bohemian and relaxed stay.
My wife Silvia Mayra and I went once more to Key West, not as a reporter nor as tourist, but as a curious passenger of our history. Because that small island is, as Jorge Mañach would say, is an honorary piece of Cuban land. Bone and marrow of the homeland, as Fina Garcia Marruz uses to describe Cayo Hueso or Key West. A place so close to the emergence of Cuba as a nation was called by Jose Marti ” “the egg yolk of the Republic.” (To be continued)

(by Ciro Bianchi Ross ) 

havana-live-rodeoThe international rodeo championship will be one of the attractions of the 17th International Food and Agribusiness Fair of Rancho Boyeros, FIAGROP 2014, which will be held on March 15-23.
The best horsemen and horsewomen of Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia and Panama will perform for the enjoyment of the public, Yoandri Lazo, director of events of the Havana entity told the press on Wednesday. Lazo explained that this time there will be calf roping, double lassos, bull riding, knocking over, barrels and acrobatics among other activities. Also scheduled is a trade fair, in which some of the new technologies used in Cuban agriculture will be presented. Consumables, products, technologies, scientific-technical advances, agricultural equipment and machinery, other equipment, materials and veterinary medicines and agricultural products and services of the participating companies and entities will be on display. In this way, FIAGROP favors direct exchanges of entrepreneurs and producers, and generates the signing of agreements and negotiations between production and marketing centers of nations represented.

havana-live-melba-hernandezMelba Hernandez, one of two women who helped Fidel Castro launch his revolutionary battle with a failed 1953 attack on a military barracks, and who was later named a “heroine of the Cuban Revolution” has died at age 92.
A message from the Communist Party’s Central Committee published Monday in the party newspaper Granma said Hernandez died the previous night of complications from diabetes. “She is one of the most glorious and beloved combatants of the revolutionary quest, (and an) imperishable example of the Cuban woman,” it read. With her crown of snowy white curls, Hernandez was occasionally seen at official events in her later years, accompanied by one or the other of the Castro brothers. Fidel stepped down due to ill health in 2006, passing command to his younger brother Raul. Born on July 28, 1921, Hernandez was five years older than Fidel Castro and remained faithful to him throughout her life.
At the time of the July 26, 1953, assault on the Moncada Barracks in the eastern city of Santiago, Hernandez — like Castro — was a young attorney who had grown increasingly fed up with government corruption under Fulgencio Batista, who seized power in a 1952 coup. She signed on to Castro’s assault plans and obtained 100 uniforms for the attackers from an army sergeant who later joined the movement.
She and the only other woman involved in the operation, Haydee Santamaria, sewed insignia showing military ranks onto the uniforms. At a farm in the hours before the operation, the women ironed the uniform slacks and shirts.
The assault failed miserably, with many of the attackers killed by government soldiers and the rest, including Castro, arrested. The women, who were waiting nearby to provide medical assistance to their comrades, were also jailed. Santamaria’s brother Abel was tortured and killed in prison.
Hernandez and Santamaria were freed months before the men and organized support rallies for those still jailed. They also distributed writings by Castro that were smuggled from behind bars — essays that helped rally sympathy for the revolutionaries. Castro corresponded frequently with Hernandez when he was in prison, giving instructions on helping run his July 26 Movement. After the remaining rebels were freed, Hernandez traveled to Mexico with the group, including her new husband and fellow revolutionary Jesus Montane, to help organize a guerrilla army.
She did not, however, join the band that sailed from Mexico to launch an uprising in Cuba’s eastern Sierra Maestra.
A member of the rebels’ national directorate, Hernandez became a member of the guerrilla army’s Third Front. Batista fled the country Jan. 1, 1959, and Castro took power soon after. Hernandez later helped found the Communist Party of Cuba and served as ambassador to Vietnam and Cambodia.
She also was secretary-general of the Organization for the Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, a group founded in Cuba in 1966 to support independence struggles in developing nations.
In 1997, Hernandez was among five women from around the world who received human rights awards from Col. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, long an ally of Cuba. The University of Havana granted Hernandez an honorary doctorate in international relations in July 2007. “Melba has been one of the greatest exponents of Cuban diplomacy,” National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said at the ceremony. The announcement in Granma said Hernandez was to be cremated and her ashes interred in a cemetery alongside the remains of other participants in the Moncada attack.

havana-live-terry-fox-marathonThe 14th edidition of the Terry Fox Marathon of Hope takes place in Havana and all across the country, starting at 9am on March 15th . The Marathon has the greatest participation of any country in the world with up to 2.3 million people running, walking, rolling and pushing in an inspirational testament to the ideals and stamina of Terry Fox (1958-1981), who was a young Canadian athlete who’s right leg was amputated due to cancer but who heroically crossed his country (143 days and 5,373 kilometers (3,339 miles), running to raise awareness and funding to fight cancer. If you are in Cuba during this time this is a great event to participate in the 4km circuit whatever your level of fitness, no pre-registration required. Carlos Gattorno, director of Marabana / Maracuba project, told reporters today that the race can be attended by people in accordance with their physical capabilities, in an event that will not have awards. He added that the starting signal will be given at 10 am by Radio Reloj station. Gattorno also urged Cubans to massively attend the race, as an expression of solidarity that characterizes the people of Cuba. For more information about Terry Fox see http://www.terryfox.org

Details about Terry Fox Run

The Terry Fox Run is an annual non-competitive charity event held in numerous regions around the world in commemoration of Canadian cancer activist Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, and to raise money for cancer research.
The event was founded in 1981 by Isadore Sharp, who contacted Terry in hospital by telegram and expressed his wishes to hold an annual run in Terry’s name to raise funds for cancer research. Sharp himself had lost a son to cancer in 1979. In Canada, the event is held every year on the second Sunday following Labour Day. Since its inception, it has raised via the ‘Terry Fox Foundation’ close to $500 million dollars (CAD). The run itself is informal, which means that the distance often varies, usually between 5 and 15 kilometres; participation is considered to be more important than completing the set distance. There are also runs set up by schools of every level, often with shorter distances than the “official” ones.
Unlike other major fund raising events, the Terry Fox Run has no corporate sponsorship. This is in accordance with Terry Fox’s original wishes of not seeking fame or fortune from his endeavor. During his cross-Canada run, he turned down every endorsement he was offered (including from major multinationals such as McDonald’s), as he felt that it would detract from his goal of creating public awareness. The Terry Fox Runs have no advertisements on any race related materials (such as t-shirts, banners, etc.).

by John Walters 

havana-live-robaina3Cuban painters, dancers, growers, collectors, and representatives of international cigar clubs will pay homage to the legendary veguero Alejandro Robaina next March 20th, when he would turn 95 years old. The memorial gala will be attended by personalities of the Cuban National Ballet and the famous painter havana-live-robaina2Nelson Domínguez, who will open an exhibition of works inspired on the cigar smokers culture, annouced to Hiroshi Robaina, grandson of the tobacco grower deceased in 2010. As part of the exhibition, the painter will donate to the family a painting of Alejandro, which will be showcased along with the rest of the collection in the museum house in the farm El Pinar, in Cuhillas de Baracoa, San Luis. We are preparing a great tribute to my grandfather,Cuban cigar lovers,from Europe and other continents, said the farmer and manager of the famous tobacco plantation Vegas.
During the ceremony, the socio-cultural project “Herederos de Robaina” will be opened, which will receive children from nearby schools. In the farm El Pinar -170 kilometers west from Havana- tobacco is grown since 1845, a practice fostered by the Canarian ancestors of Don Alejandro, former ambassador of the desirable Habanos. People from several countries come every day to admire the tobacco plantations covered with thin blankets, take pictures of the fields, visit the museum, and also become familiar with the art of twisting cigars, affirms the farmer, keen of judo and singing. havana-live-robaina4-From the ancient property in the municipality San Luis inPinar del Río, raw material is obtained for the Vegas Robaina line, which includes five cigar vitolas which are making their way into the international market.According to experts, this is a brand of medium strength, attractive either for beginners or expert smokers. My concern is preserving the prestige of the cigars grown in the farm El Pinar; being authentic is assuming the roots and keeping the tradition, he affirmed.

(Adalys Pilar Mireles PL) 

havana-live-cucCuban authorities revealed some of the new pricing and accounting methodologies going into effect as the country moves toward monetary unification. A report published today recalled that as announced last October 22, 2013, the Council of Ministers had agreed to initiate a schedule for carrying out measures that will lead to that unification.
These norms are the first regulations that have been released in terms of prices and accounting, as part of that process. Currently, two currencies circulate in Cuba; the Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC). The published strategy corresponds to Guideline 55 of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) Social and Economic Policy. The announcement itself recognizes the complexity of such a process and deals with it via an integrated perspective meant to foster the monetary reorganization within the Cuban economy. The data were released in the Official Gazette Extra (No. 12), of 2014, courtesy of Resolutions 19, 20 and 21 from the Ministry of Finances and Pricing.
Accounting norms and methodologies are shown for wholesale and retail pricing, directed at state entities, and required by the decreed monetary unification. Toward this end, the report reflects a priority on training all managers throughout the country who may be linked to such a process. It also points out that the new pricing methodology will assist in resolving a variety of problems in the island economy.
One of the indicated problems is the connection of internal pricing with the behavior of the international market, among other notes of interest. The report specifies that the entire process will lead to a more efficient distribution of financial resources from the State budget.

(Prensa Latina) 

havana-live-Key-west-havanaRegular air service between Key West and Havana, Cuba, quietly resumed on Friday after a more-than-half-century hiatus.Miami-based Mambi International Group is partnered with flight operators Air Marbrisa and Air Key West. Mambi spokesman Isaac Valdes told the Keynoter that following a first flight on Feb. 28, the next flight on March 7 is “already sold out.”
Beginning March 17, Mambi will offer the 30-minute hop to Jose Marti International Airport on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, departing Key West International Airport at 2:30 p.m. and returning at 4:15 p.m. The Monday and Wednesday flights cost $479 roundtrip, with the Friday route going for $525, Valdes said. havana-live--MetroII_1The process of designating Key West International Airport as an international point of entry began in 2009 with a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Following that was a three-phase, two-year, $2.25 million project to have the airport reclassified as a federal inspection station, instead of the current label of a general aviation facility. Monroe County Airports Director Peter Horton said the feds signed off on the upgrades in October 2011. The last time planes regularly flew between Key West International Airport and Jose Marti in Havana, just 90 miles from the Southernmost City, was in 1962.


havana-live-drum-festivalDrummers of Mexico, Australia, Argentina and the United States will travel to Havana to participate in the Fiesta del Tambor Festival (Drum Festival) as of March 11 to 16, with more than a thousand Cuban artists.
Professional and self-taught musicians will compete in the traditional Guillermo Barreto In Memoriam percussion contest, which is also open to foreigners in the categories of drums, kettledrums, congas, bongos and bata drums, musician and composer Giraldo Piloto, chairman of the event, told Prensa Latina.
It is an internationally known musical event and this time will receive Jojo Mayer, one of the best drummers in the world, Piloto said.
The 13th Drum Festival also sponsors a casino dance contest and concerts with famous bands such as Los Van Van, Manolito Simonet y su Trabuco and Buena Vista Social Club, among others.
Mella and Karl Marx theaters, the Salon Rosado de la Tropical, Rumba Palace and the Habana Libre hotel will be the headquarters of the Drum Festival, which also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Egrem record company.

(By Adalys Pilar MirelesPL) 

havana-live-privat-rooms4Cuba’s political and economic swings have had an effect on the sex life of the population, but lovers and entrepreneurs have learned to adjust – and appear to be enjoying something of a golden age. Countless private pousadas have sprung up in recent years to offer rooms – often charged by the hour – for couples seeking a place for a tryst. Many started illicitly, but have been licensed as part of official economic reforms. Eduardo Pérez, a veteran of the war in Angola, has been a taxi driver for 38 years. His wife was a Russian teacher but found it easier to make a living as a barber.Desperate for extra income during the “special period” – the era of hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union – the couple started renting out spare rooms in their home. Unlicensed at first, this was a surreptitious operation for the business and their customers, many of whom were having extramarital affairs. One client, who asked to remain nameless, said he first started going to the private rooms when state motels went out of business.
“Twenty-five years ago, I used to take my mistress from Havana to Mariel for the weekend. That stopped after the fall of the eastern bloc when there was hardly any fuel, fewer cars and the motels closed. Instead, we found little pousadas in Havana, like this one, that offered rooms for just a couple of hours.”
However, Pérez said the reforms had removed the need for secrecy – at least on the part of the business. “In the past two years, it has become much easier because what we do is legal. I can rent out rooms at any time now, whereas in the past I sometimes had to tell people to come back at midnight because I was worried we were being watched. We don’t have to hide now so I’m making more money.” He is expanding the business and upgrading the rooms with concrete beds. “It’s my wife’s idea,” he grinned. “In this business, the springs wear out too quickly on a normal bed.”

(The Guardian Jonathan Watts Photo Jean Francois Campos) 

havana-live-romanach3Nearly a hundred paintings have been stolen from Havana’s National Fine Arts Museum in what could well be the most serious misappropriation of Cuba’s artistic heritage of recent decades.
“Dozens of works are missing from storage,” a source employed by the museum told Cafe Fuerte. “Most are vanguard pieces.” The paintings were kept at the warehouse of the former headquarters of Cuba’s Technical Investigations Department (DTI), which has belonged to the museum following its remodeling in 2001.
Police officers were in charge of the local’s security.The thefts were detected last week, when a number of the missing pieces began to be offered to art dealers in Miami.An investigation by Ministry of the Interior and art heritage experts is underway According to the information secured by Cafe Fuerte, the pieces are works by Cuban painting masters. Apparently, news of the theft came from US art dealers.
havana-live-romanach“Someone noticed that the works they were being shown belonged to Cuba’s collection and notified the Fine Arts Museum of what was happening,” the source, who chose to remain anonymous, declared. At least two art dealers in Miami reported seeing works by Cuban painter Leopoldo Romañach (1862-1951), pieces which began to circulate in the South Florida market recently.
Though the exact number of works stolen is unknown, reports suggest that it could be close to a hundred. It is believed most of the pieces belong to the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and 30s. Cuban authorities and the country’s media do not generally report on the theft of artworks, and many haven’t even been registered by Interpol. Art heritage dealers and experts around the world believe the museum should assume the responsibility of immediately reporting the stolen pieces, so that the Cuban art market can protect itself and prevent the works and objects stolen from being sold and turning their potential buyers into the direct victims of the perpetrators. This is not the first time the museum’s collection suffers a massive theft of this nature. In 1995, Cuban authorities dismantled a network of art smugglers headed havana-live-museum-of-fine-art3_1by Arquimides Matienzo,a former museum administrator, and detained an additional five culprits, including an Italian citizen. The group had stolen 40 paintings from the museum. Founded in 1913, the National Fine Arts Museum is the institution tasked with storing and conserving works belonging to Cuba’s visual arts heritage.
The facility holds the largest collection of Cuban art produced between the 16th century and the present day. Its current director is Moraima Clavijo Colom.

Ivette Leyva Martinez  (Cafe Fuerte) 

havana-live-havana-club-anejo-15-anos-scCuban rum producer Havana Club International has relaunched its Havana Club 15 Year Old expression with a new bottle design. Created to “highlight its authenticity and premium quality”, the latest design features a new shape and taller bottle, with a more “sophisticated” label to increase the product’s shelf stand out.
The words “La Habana Cuba” are also embossed onto the bottle and a bottom-weighted glass base has also been incorporated into the design. “A rum of such outstanding quality and authenticity as Havana Club 15 Year Old deserves packaging that reflects its rich Cuban rum making tradition,” explained Nick Blacknell, international marketing director for Havana Club International. “The new bottle conveys the importance we place on craft, whilst highlighting the quality of the rum inside and we’re confident it will appeal to true connoisseurs who know how to appreciate a rare and luxurious Cuban rum.”
The new release is already available in Cuba and Australia and will be launched into various markets around the world by the end of the month, before being rolled out in Mexico and China later this year.

by Melita Kiely 

havana-live-suite-generis_1_1The National Ballet of Cuba (BNC), headed by Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, will premier two ballets next March 7,8 and 9, informed the institution. Celeste and Triade are the titles of the new choreographies of the well-known Belgian-Colombian choreographer Anabelle Lopez, music by P.I. Chaikovski, wardrove by Dieuweke van Reij and light design by Michael Mazzola. Lopez worked along with assistants Stephanie Bauger and Linnet González, who worked with ballet dancers Viengsay Valdés, Yanela Piñera, Grettel Morejón, Miguel Anaya and Lyvan Verdecia, among others. On the other hand, Triade, by Eduardo Blanco, will present young ballet dancers Chanell Cabrera, Cynthia González and Gabriela Mesa, at a choreography with music by Gioachino Rossini and wardrobe by Salvador Fernández. The premiers program will be complemented with the presentations of Prologue to a tragedy, by Brian McDonald, on the Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare, and Suite Generis, choreography of Alberto Méndez, inspired by the music of Haendel and Haydn.


havana-live-taliban2The Cuban government adopted legislation to immediately freeze funds from foreign banks linked to terror groups, including al Qaeda and the Taliban, officials said Friday.
The decree, signed by President Raul Castro, stresses that the sanctions are part of Cuba’s legal framework demonstrating its “commitment in the fight against money laundering, financing terrorism and the proliferation of weapons.”
“Funds or other derived or generated assets that belong to or are directly or indirectly controlled by persons or entities linked to al Qaeda or the Taliban will be frozen immediately and without notice,” it said.
The measure also targets “persons or entities” identified as “terrorists” by the United Nations or “at the request of cooperation by third countries.” Sanctions may apply to foreign financial institutions that operate on the island under license from Cuba’s Central Bank and their representative offices, as well as to “individuals and legal persons.”
Eleven foreign banks operate in Cuba, where the banking system operates under tight control by authorities, a far cry from nearby offshore tax havens. Cuba’s latest effort to align its banking sector with international norms comes as the communist island prepares to push through a new law on foreign investment in March meant to attract much-needed capital for the country’s sagging economic system.

havana-live-ballet-contestCuba won the largest number of medals at the 4th International Ballet Contest of South Africa (two gold medals, one silver and one bronze), announced today the principalship of the National School of Ballet.
Students Rafael Quenedit and François Llorente won gold and bronze medals, respectively, in the junior category, while the professionals who have graduated from this same institution, Ramiro Samón and Javier Monier, won gold and silver among the seniors. Director of the National School of Ballet, Ramona De Sáa, told Prensa Latina she was satisfied with these results of the effort of the young students and the hard work of various teachers in the center.
She was also pleased because the eight students sent to compete passed the first round and the references on their performance were all excellent.
Professor Yuneysi Rodríguez, who led the delegation to the contest, talked with the director about the good performance of the schoolÂ?s new values.
The event was attended by participants from Switzerland, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, China, the United States, South Africa and Cuba. Master De Saa, National Award for Dance 2006, stated that the important thing was to dance well, with technique, and also style and taste.

havana-live-luise-cristal1Midway through its successful inaugural season, Cuba Cruise, the niche product affiliated with Louis Cruises, is thrilled to announce new sailing details for the 2014/2015 season. The Canadian company launches its much-anticipated second season with innovative seven-night circumnavigation sailings embarking every Monday from Havana, Cuba and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica from December 22nd, 2014 to March 30th, 2015. Travellers can take advantage of Cuba Cruise’s Early Bird Discount and book their next winter escape beginning March 2014. “The feedback is overwhelmingly positive and we look forward to providing future cruisers with the same great itinerary, impeccable service, delicious food and first rate entertainment program next winter,” says Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President. “Cuba has welcomed us with open arms and we’re not saying goodbye anytime soon.” Across social media and online forums, Cuba Cruise’s valued guests are raving about their voyage, describing the itinerary as completely unique and an authentic immersion into Cuban life and culture. Notable compliments include the outstanding entertainment team, friendly crew, engaging shore excursions, well-appointed cabins and delectable dining options.

New for 2014/2015 Season
The yacht-like M/V Louis Cristal resumes calling at six ports including Havana, Holguin (Antilla), Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances on the Isle of Youth and Montego Bay, with minor changes to its exclusive itinerary. Guests will now have more leisure time on idyllic Punta Frances to soak up the hot Caribbean sun, swim and snorkel in the crystal clear water and relax on the white-sand beach.havana-live-Cuba-Cruise-Tour

havana-live-flagThe U.S. State Department says it came up with a “workable solution” to the banking dilemma that prompted Cuba to suspend its consular services in the United States but Cuba decided not to pursue it.
But it’s hard to say whether the solution was truly workable. Neither the State Department nor Cuba will disclose what it was. The U.S. government has been working with the Cuban Interests Section and the Cuban mission to the United Nations since July to try to find a bank or banks that would provide services after their former bank, Buffalo-based M&T, informed them it was getting out of the business of handling accounts for foreign missions.
Last Friday was the deadline that M&T gave the Cuban missions for accepting deposits of fees for visas, processing passports for Cuban citizens, authenticating documents and other consular services. That meant, said the Cuban Interests Section, that it was forced to suspend consular services, except for humanitarian cases, until it found a replacement for M&T.
“We are disappointed in this action, given that we had helped the mission identify a workable solution to its consular fee processing needs with ample time for its implementation,’’ said a State Department spokesperson. “That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike.” Asked for details on the solution, a State Department employee responded, “Since these were confidential communications, this is a question best asked of the Cuban missions.”
But the Cuban Interests Section didn’t respond to an email or phone call seeking comment. M&T has informed the Cuban missions that their accounts will be closed on March 1. The State Department said while the primary responsibility to find a new bank lies with the Cuban missions, in an effort to help, it has been in touch with more than 50 financial institutions since last summer and that M&T also had tried to help the Cuban missions identify a new bank or banks.
“We encourage the Cuban government to consider all available options, including potential solutions we have repeatedly discussed with them, to address their missions’ needs and to restore full consular services,” said a State Department employee.
The Cuban Interests Section also shut down its consular services on Nov. 26 after reaching a previous M&T deadline without finding a replacement bank, but less than two weeks later the consular section was back in service after M&T offered an extension.

(Miami Herald) 

havana-live-hemingway1Cuba has released to US researchers copies of more than 2,000 documents related to Ernest Hemingway, media reported Tuesday in Havana, the American literary giant’s home during the 1940s and 1950s. “More than 2,000 documents held at the Finca Vigia Museum in Havana are now available for the first time for researchers in the United States after having been digitized and sent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,” the Cuba Contemporanea magazine wrote on its website. Now a museum, Finca Vigia, which means “lookout house” is located in the town of San Francisco de Paula just outside Havana. It was Hemingway’s home during much of his more than two-decade-long residence in Cuba. Among the treasures now accessible to US scholars at the Kennedy Library in Boston is the 1954 telegram from the Nobel Prize Committee in Sweden informing Hemingway that he had just been awarded its prestigious literature prize.
A statement from the Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts said that the trove of documents, which had never seen outside of Cuba, includes letters, passports, telegrams, household accounts, bar bills and recipes.
“We are pleased to make available to researchers copies of these materials that provide a unique glimpse into the everyday life of Ernest Hemingway,” said Tom Putnam, Director of the Kennedy Library. “For a literary figure who is often portrayed as larger than life, this trove of personal ephemera serves to humanize the man and to understand the writer.” Officials said it is the second large document release from the Finca Vigia. A first huge tranche of 3,000 digitized images was donated to the Kennedy Library in 2008. Hemingway, who took his own life in 1961 at the age of 61 after returning to the United States, wrote some of his most famous works in Cuba, including “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”
He was awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature “for his mastery of the art of narrative… and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style.”

see also: https://www.havana-live.com/html/enghemingwaycubasadoptedson.html

havana-live-capriIn its heyday, Havana’s Capri hotel and casino was the playground of men known as The Blade and The Fat Butcher.
It was also a pleasure garden for headline stars who portrayed Mafiosi on the silver screen: George Raft, known for hoodlum roles such as Guino Rinaldo in 1932’s “Scarface,” was the casino’s celebrity “greeter” and made his home in the 19th-floor penthouse. Havana’s hedonistic mob-and-movie-star days came to an end with Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, and the hotel drifted into a long, slow decline. But now the Capri is back in business after being closed more than a decade ago. Its rebirth is part of Cuba’s latest bid to trade on its colorful pre-Communist past and attract tourist dollars to fund its socialist present.
“It’s a feeling of that era (at the Capri). I think in Cuba you feel that in general,” said Roberto Escalante, a 62-year-old Mexican university professor who was staying in the hotel this month during an academic conference. “It’s very comfortable. It’s missing some services still, but yes, you feel like you’re back in those times – which were good!”
Indeed, details such as the Capri’s polished, art-deco granite floors with their flowery bronze inlays fit right into a city that still teems with finned Chevrolet and Cadillac classics. So do the graceful copper-colored lobby chandeliers, which like the floors are restored originals. The newly refurbished Capri reopened around New Year’s as a partnership between state-run tourism company Grupo Caribe, which owns the hotel, and Spanish hotel chain NH Hoteles SA, which is responsible for administration.
History, Heritage and a Bit of Drama.
Built in late 1957, the Capri enjoyed a brief but madcap run as one of the flashiest mob joints of the time. Charles Tourine (The Blade,) managed the nightclub, while Nicholas di Costanzo (The Fat Butcher) ran the casino. The two were lesser-known henchmen associated with more notorious bosses like Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante. Gangsters rubbed elbows with some of Hollywood’s leading lights here. Swashbuckling actor and renowned playboy Errol Flynn frequented the Salon Rojo club where scantily clad cabaret dancers shimmied for tourists.
The handsome public face of it all was Raft, who grew up around gangsters and maintained personal ties to a number of capos. T.J. English’s “Havana Nocturne,” a history of the mob in Havana, recounts Raft’s memories of the night when Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista fled the country ahead of the inexorable advance of Castro’s bearded rebels. New Year’s Eve merrymaking was coming to an end and Raft had just retired to the penthouse, where a young woman recently crowned Miss Cuba was waiting. “There she was, asleep in my bed, but I noticed how she opened one eye when I came in the room. Now she’s half awake and amorous. ’Feliz ano nuevo,’ I said as I got between my silk sheets, alongside this fantastic girl,” Raft later said, according to “Havana Nocturne.” ’’In the middle of this beautiful scene – suddenly – machine-gun fire!” Hurrying downstairs, Raft pleaded for calm with revolutionary-minded Cubans who were ransacking the hotel, English writes. Finally a young woman recognized the movie star and persuaded the others to listen. They ended up doing a little “lightweight looting,” then left.
“So while the shooting and all that continued in the streets, the Capri was saved, at least for the moment,” said Raft, who died in 1980. It wasn’t long before the mob’s hotels all passed into the hands of the revolutionary government. Castro himself set up shop for a time in the nearby Havana Hilton, later redubbed the Habana Libre.
Most of the mafia bosses fled Cuba – out millions of dollars in lost revenue and investments. The Capri operated as a state-run hotel for decades and at times hosted a different sort of celebrity guest, people such as Cuban crooner Omara Portuondo and left-wing Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti. In 1997, militant anti-Castro exiles set off a bomb in the lobby that caused severe damage but no fatalities. The Capri survived, but like many buildings it became run-down from lack of maintenance, and closed in the early 2000s. After apparently sitting idle for years, restoration began about four years ago according to hotel officials. Workers are still refurbishing some rooms and laying carpeting on some floors. During a recent visit, finishing touches were being put on the rooftop pool, which boasts stunning views of the Florida Straits. Much has been kept faithful to history, down to the Capri’s swooping deco logo. Low-slung, 1950s-modern sofas grace the lobby, and old Havana cityscape photos hang in the rooms. Hotel operators are talking about putting historic pictures in the lobby like the nearby Nacional, another hotel where the mob once ran a lucrative casino. Nods to modernity include building-wide Wi-Fi, though it’s not included in the price of a room. What once was Raft’s penthouse is now a high-end restaurant with white tablecloths and plush, lavender-paisley chairs. The Salon Rojo is a popular disco with a $10 cover – no gambling allowed.
“It’s just friendly, modern. We like being here,” said Elke Feusi, a 49-year-old banker from Winterthur, Switzerland. Ciro Bianchi Ross, a Cuban journalist who has researched and written about the Capri, disagreed with the notion the hotel represents a lost, glamorous past. He noted that the cabaret parties and casino riches were for the elite, while many Cubans struggled with poverty, disease and illiteracy – a social equation that the 1959 revolution was specifically intended to upend.
Still, he called the Capri one of the three most architecturally important hotels of its era in Havana and said there’s nothing wrong with using Cuba’s mafia past to create income and jobs for the country. “It’s benefiting from history, and I think that’s valid. We can’t renounce a heritage like this or the Hotel Nacional,” Bianchi said. “Buildings are not to blame for their history.”

by Peter Orsi (Associated Press) 

havana-live-cigar-festival-2014Havana will open its doors once again from February 24th to 28th, 2014 for the 16th annual Habanos Festival offering the largest international meeting for the cigar enthusiasts. This year the event will be paying tribute to four of the most prestigious Habanos brands we know and love: Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagás, Trinidad and H.Upmann. The 2013 Habanos Festival was attended by more than 1,200 delegates from almost 80 countries – that’s a lot of matches used! The Commercial Fair will again be celebrated during the week of the Festival. In 2013, the Fair was attended by 72 exhibitors from 8 countries – Germany, Canada, China, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Panama and Cuba – and received over 2,000 visitors from the world of cigar, luxury products and business. During this 16th Edition of the Habanos Festival, those attending will have the pleasure of tasting in exclusive the new vitolas that will be launched to the market in 2014 as well as discover the roots and the secrets of a century-old tradition of Cuban cigar culture. The program of the Habanos Festival maintains has been released and it looks like it’s shaping up to be a big one:

What to Expect

Visits to the best tobacco plantations in Vuelta Abajo, Pinar del Río
Visits to Cigar factories
A Commercial fair
Tastings and Marriages with the best gastronomy and drinks
Habanosommelier International Contest
Master class on the Cigar Hand Rolling Technique
The longest ash contest

The opening of the event will take place on Monday, February 24th, 2014 with the inauguration of the Commercial Fair at the International Convention Center Palacio de Convenciones . The Fair will be a perfect opportunity to mingle and network with fellow BOTLs, businessmen, producers and suppliers of the cigar world.
havana-live-cigar1The day will end with the Welcome Evening at Club Habana, which includes an exclusive concert from some of the best Cuban artists. The Nominations for the Habanos Award of the Year will also be announced; all wrapped up with a welcome Cocktail dedicated to the Partagás and Hoyo de Monterrey brands. We are already drawling at the mouth. On Wednesday, February 26, there will be a special and emotive Dinner in tribute to the Trinidad brand, with participation of prestigious chef Ron Blaauw from The Netherlands, awarded with two Michelin stars, and of sommelier Cuno Van’t Hoff in the selection of the menu and marriages.
Dust off the tux as the closing of the Festival will take place on the evening of Friday, February 28, with a Gala Dinner in tribute to H.Upmann and the Traditional Humidor Auction for the benefit of the Cuban Public Health System.
The opening of the event will take place on Monday, February 24th, 2014 with the inauguration of the Commercial Fair at the International Convention Center Palacio de Convenciones . The Fair will be a perfect opportunity to mingle and network with fellow BOTLs, businessmen, producers and suppliers of the cigar world.

havana-live-poulettyIn a rare Europe-based Cuban R&D partnership, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) partnered with a new company formed by French equity investment firm Truffle Capital, licensing a therapeutic vaccine for chronic hepatitis B for sale in markets in Europe and Asia, for starters. Under the agreement, CIGB will manufacture the hepatitis B vaccine in Cuba, for sale in Europe, Asia and elsewhere, once it is approved there.
“As long as CIGB can scale up and meet quality requirements, Cuba wil continue to exclusively manufacture and supply the vaccine,” Truffle co-founder and ABIVAX Chairman Philippe Pouletty told Cuba Standard. He declined to specify which markets are covered by the licensing agreement. Truffle said in a press release it merged three French life sciences companies to form ABIVAX, which the investors would like to become “a global leader” in therapeutic vaccines and antivirals. Founded in December, Paris-based ABIVAX has two therapeutic vaccines under development and is in negotiations over more acquisitions. Poulletty said he hoped CIGB will contribute more products to ABIVAX’ pipeline, but he declined to specify them.
“At Truffle Capital, we are proud to have founded ABIVAX after two years of discussion with Cuba, which is known for its excellent physicians and high-quality vaccines,” Pouletty said in the press release. “This is an international project that is intended to place France and Cuba at the forefront of progress in the field of therapeutic vaccines.”
CIGB, the largest subsidiary of state holding BioCubaFarma, has partnered with companies in China, India, Canada and Brazil, but this is its first such cooperation in European markets. When signing the licensing agreement with ABIVAX executives in Havana this week, Norkis Arteaga Morales, business development director of BioCubaFarma, told Prensa Latina that CIGB will contribute the hepatitis B vaccine, which it already sells in various markets around the globe, and its production capacities, while Truffle will contribute the capital to complete clinical studies in Europe and Asia, as well as its marketing resources.
CIGB products are sold in ALBA member nations Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua, as well as in Brazil, China, Vietnam and Angola, among others.
“Our complementary skills in both R&D and production will enable us to take several vaccines into international markets in the years to come”, Arteaga said, according to Prensa Latina. Pouletty told Cuba Standard that BioCubaFarma did not want to form a joint venture this time, but added that ABIVAX has a “very open spirit to future collaboration.” Truffle Capital is a 13-year old independent venture capital firm with €550 million ($754 million) under management and advisory, specializing in energy, information technology and life sciences companies. The firm is led by a team of four general partners, Philippe Pouletty, Jean-François Fourt, Henri Moulard, and Bernard-Louis Roques. Pouletty’s track record includes founding and developing life science companies such as Deinove (Alternext: ALDEI), Carbios, Carmat (Alternext: ALCAR), Neovacs (Alternext: ALNEV), Splicos, Pharnext, Plasmaprime, Vexim, and Wittycell. He holds 29 patents, including the second highest revenue generating life science patent for Stanford University, and was inducted in the Stanford University Hall of Fame of Inventors in 2012. He has an MD from the University of Paris VI, and is a former chairman of France Biotech, the French biotech industry association.
havana-live-hepatitisThe three French biotech companies Truffle put together to form ABIVAX are Wittycell, Splicos and Zophis. CIGB, which specializes in the discovery, development and production of vaccines and antivirals, has already been working with Wittycell on getting the hepatitis B vaccine to market. The vaccine is in Phase IIb clinical trial in patients with chronic hepatitis B, which leads to cirrhosis and liver cancer. Pouletty made his first contact with CIGB in South Africa four years ago, and he said he was impressed by Cuba’s biotechnology progress.Two years ago, his company began negotiations with CIGB. “It took some time to reach a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said. “It’s a process that can be relatively complex.” Other ABIVAX products under development include an anti-viral drug for AIDS from Splicos, an anti-HPV therapeutic vaccine to treat uterine cervix dysplasia and prevent the emergence of cancer from Wittycell, and an adjuvant to boost NKT and B cell response from Wittycell.


havana-live-Visa1Cuba has suspended consular services for the second time in less than three months after being unable to find a new bank in the U.S. for its diplomatic accounts, officials announced Friday.
M&T Bank decided to sever its relationship with Cuba last year, but agreed to continue processing its banking through March 1 and accepting deposits through Feb. 17. Cuban Interests Section officials in Washington said that “in spite of huge efforts made” they had been unable to find a replacement bank and that as a result it was being forced to suspend consular services, effective Friday.
“The Section regrets any inconvenience this situation may cause,” the statement said. The Cuban diplomats blamed Washington’s embargo against the Communist-run island for the inability to get a new bank, though it has been in place for more than five decades. It’s unclear why now no bank is agreeing to service the financial accounts. The State Department had been working with Cuban officials since last July to identify a new bank for the Cuban Interests Section and Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, said spokesman Noel Clay.
“We are disappointed in this action, given that we had helped the Mission identify a workable solution to its consular fee-processing needs with ample time for its implementation,” spokesman Noel Clay said. “That the Cuban Interests Section has not effectively pursued this option will result in hardship to Cuban and U.S. citizen travelers alike.” The State Department had reached out to more than 50 banks, and that several “may be exploring whether to provide the mission with banking services,” said deputy spokesman Marie Harf. The department would continue help the Cuban Interests Section find a long-term solution, she said. The U.S. and Cuba maintain limited diplomatic relations. Since 1997, both countries have operated Interests Sections under the legal protection of the Swiss embassies. The Interests Sections allow Cubans and Americans to request travel documents such as visas and passports, among other services. Travel operators had been preparing for the Feb. 17 deadline, which falls on a bank holiday, and advised those who plan to travel to the Caribbean island to get their documents beforehand.
Armando Garcia, the owner of Marazul, one of the largest Cuba charter flight operators, said most U.S. and Cuban-American travelers planning visits to the island for the spring had gotten their documents in beforehand.
“Two, three weeks from now, people who don’t have their documents up to date obviously would not be able to arrange anything unless the Cuban Interests Section resolves the problem with the bank,” Garcia said.
An estimated 557,000 U.S. travelers are expected to visit Cuba in 2014, according to one estimate by the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group. Analyst Emilio Morales has projected that they will bring with them some $2 billion. Most of the travelers are Cuban Americans; a small amount is Americans taking part in licensed cultural exchange programs. Morales said Friday he estimated 40,000 U.S. travelers would visit in March and again in April. On average, they spend about $3,100 per person — a collective $124 million each month. “The impact is going to be much less than if it had occurred in December,” Morales said, referring to the temporary suspension last year before the height of holiday travel. “People had time to get their passports in order.”
Cubans living in the U.S. who still have a valid Cuban passport would still be able to travel to the island, but those who need to request a visa or have their passport renewed would be impacted. The U.S. State Department said in November that the U.S. bank that had handled Cuba’s accounts had severed the relationship due to a “business decision.” A State Department said the bank had apparently decided to discontinue banking diplomatic missions several years ago.
Travel operators in Miami said they had been advised by licensed consular agents to submit all their paperwork for visas, passports and other documents needed to travel to the island by last Monday, Feb. 10. Other affairs that could be affected include requests for copies of marriage licenses and birth certificates, as well as requests from those who want to extend the amount of time they are visiting the United States or who want to return to Cuba permanently. November through March is the high season for U.S. travelers participating in “people-to-people” travel to the island. Garcia said most of those applications were submitted far in advance. The upcoming March spring break and summer is when more Cuban-Americans tend to travel to visit family. Pedro Vega, a branch manager at Cubamar, an agency that helps process travel documents near Miami’s Little Havana, said he received about double the usual number of paperwork requests in January and February as clients rushed to submit before the banking deadline.
“I am worried for those who have family there that they need to visit and who have to leave with their transactions processed,” Vega said. Noemi Hernandez, co-owner of MIA-Habana Express, Inc., said she was advising clients who weren’t able to get their requests in by Monday to hold off on submitting any more documents. “We’re afraid if we send something it’s going to be stuck in limbo,” she said.

(AP Jessica Gresko) 

havana-live-Equestrian-SportsCoaches and presenters of the Royal Dutch horse jumpers that will be auctioned this weekend in this capital have extensive competition and training experience. The trainer of the Cuban National Riding Team, Carlos Alberto González, explained that many of his students will take the reins of the animals at the auction.
The Flora and Fauna Protection Agency has announced that 33 jumpers of the Dutch variety will be auctioned at the National Equestrian Center in Havana (Lenin Park) on February 15. These animals will be shown at auction tonight by experienced trainers and jockeys, many of them young members of the national equestrian team. Gonzalez has experience as an athlete and trainer since 1979, when he joined the national team riding for the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) at major competitions, including the Pan American-1991 and Central American Ponce-1993.
Furthermore, Gonzalez competed in the Espartaquiadas 1985 and 1989, and in Poland, and was a trainer for the Pentathlon team, among other activities. He said that the Cuban Riding Team is composed now of 12 jockeys around the age of 20, many with three-months of training in Holland and experience in Latin American events. Of those 12 jockeys, two are women.

(Prensa Latina)