181122514Secretary of the Russian Security Council Nikolai Patrushev

MOSCOW – HAVANA May 16  (RIA Novosti)  Russia’s Security Council and Cuba’s Commission for National Security and Defense have signed a memorandum on cooperation and agreed to establish a joint working group, the secretary of the Russian Security Council said Wednesday.
“The situation in the world is changing fast and it is dynamic, that’s why we will have a possibility to react to it promptly,” Nikolai Patrushev said. A Cuban delegation led by Col. Alejandro Castro Espin arrived in Moscow on Tuesday and held a meeting with the leadership of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.
The delegation is also scheduled to meet with the leadership of the Federal Security Service and the Investigative Committee. Castro Espin said Russia and Cuba need “an effective cooperation tool to respond to sensitive issues.” “The memorandum may define priorities for cooperation to ensure effective security of both states,” he said. Moscow said last week it views the US decision to keep Cuba on the list of countries supporting terrorism as a further sign of Washington’s reluctance to establish dialogue with Havana. Cuba earlier supported Russia’s stance on the situation in Ukraine and said it opposes double standards and sanctions.

CUC-CUPHAVANA, 15 May  (By Domingo Amuchastegui) Cuba’s reforms and changes, aiming at a complete redesign of its rigid, state-controlled socialist experience, has come to a point of no return.

There’s no turning back, and the Achilles Heel of this present stage is the effort to put an end to the two-tier currency system, with all its distortions in finance, accounting, incentives, productivity, and social differences. Although the Party’s Guidelines (Lineamientos) announced currency unification in 2011, it was only in October 2013 that the government disclosed a timeline, without details or specific dates.
A Granma article on Oct. 22 was clear: “It is imperative to guarantee the re-establishment of the Cuban pesos’s value and its role as currency, as a unit of accounting, means of payment, and of savings. Since then, a debate has ensued among academics and observers over what analyst David Brunat has called “the most sensitive subject Cuban lawmakers are to face in the economic sector.” Any discussion must consider two contexts.
One is the current state of the Cuban economy and the legacy of the past 20 years of coping with the downfall of Soviet-style socialism. A partial recovery has taken place, but GDP growth is still less than 3%, well below the 5-7% growth… continue at http://www.cubastandard.com/2014/05/14/analysis-cubas-currency-unification/

sea-turtles-3HAVANA, 15 May  (sience News)  After more than a year of preparation—and some last-minute visa hiccups—scientists and policymakers from the United States and Cuba met yesterday to discuss ways the two estranged nations can better collaborate on marine science and conservation.

“We are neighbors,” says marine scientist David Guggenheim, president of the nonprofit organization Ocean Doctor and one of the pivotal players in organizing yesterday’s meeting in Washington, D.C. “Neighbors don’t always get along, but when something happens in your neighborhood, you have to find a way to rise up and work together.”
Guggenheim has spent the past 14 years doing research in Cuba, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with the United States for some 50 years and is the subject of a U.S. trade embargo. Despite that breach, scientific research in the waters shared by the two countries has been one of the few areas of quiet cooperation. “We’ve worked for years without the U.S. government at the table,” Guggenheim says. In 2010, however, the Cuban government reached out to U.S. officials with the idea of forging a more formal agreement that would help facilitate collaboration in marine science. Cuban scientists
Yesterday’s meeting, which included Cuban and American scientists, government officials, a U.S. senator, and congressional staff, marks a step toward that goal, Guggenheim says. “[We] are on to the next page,” he says. At the meeting, which was hosted by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D–RI), a vocal advocate for ocean science, participants heard briefings on ongoing projects and discussed future possibilities. One topic: drafting a new bilateral agreement that would declare that working together is a priority for marine science and conservation, that it is in both countries’ national interests to do so, and that they will commit themselves to facilitating collaboration.
A key part of the declaration would be aimed at making it easier for U.S. scientists to obtain licenses for their work from the U.S. government, which must approve cooperation with Cuba, and to make it easier for people and scientific equipment to move between the two nations. “Getting scientific equipment to Cuba is very challenging because of the embargo, but also because Cuba is on the [U.S.] list of terrorist nations,” Guggenheim says. Now, U.S. researchers obtain permission for a temporary export of equipment through the U.S. Department of Commerce and are expected to bring back all of their equipment—a task that can be problematic for items like disposable tracking tags placed on fish. Whitehouse will take the lead in drafting the declaration, Guggenheim says. Any deal is likely to ultimately need approval from the White House, sources say, perhaps through an executive order issued by the president, and a sign-off from senior officials at several departments.
The group is also looking to set the stage for collaborative projects, including a proposal for an ocean “peace park,” such as the one established by Jordan and Israel in the Red Sea, or an international network of connected marine protected areas. Guggenheim also believes that having an agreement in place will make it easier to procure funding for projects in Cuba from philanthropic donors. And it could pave the way for an international exchange program to educate kids about marine science. “What we’ve tried to do is use marine science as a form of diplomacy,” Guggenheim says. The meeting came amid other signs of growing marine science links between the United States and Cuba.
Late last week, the U.S. State Department invited Dr. Fabián Pina Amargós, director of Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research, to participate in a high-profile “Our Ocean” conference that Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting in June. According to Guggenheim, the invitation represents the first time a Cuban has been invited to such a U.S.-hosted event.
As if to underscore the challenges facing U.S.-Cuba collaboration, yesterday’s meeting was supposed to have been held on 8 May—but had to be rescheduled after bureaucratic tangles prevented two Cuban researchers from receiving timely travel visas.
Courtesy of David Guggenheim

Fresh approaches to one of the city’s core districts
Pilling4Biljana Savic and Dominc Church present the Strategy Team’s recommendations to the Charrette.
Photo: John H. Pilling

HAVANA, 15 May This spring, Havana once again hosted an international group of urban planners and designers, who joined their Cuban colleagues in envisioning new ideas for the district’s waterfronts and Calle Línea.
Architect John H. Pilling, a longtime participant, reports on this year’s Havana Charrette. The Cuban and Norwegian Chapters of the International Network for Traditional Building and Urbanism (I›N›T›B›A›U) and the Council of European Urbanism (CEU) convened the Seventh Havana Urban Design Charrette in March, 2014. Urbanists from Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States met their Cuban hosts to discuss the subject of this year’s charrette, the neighborhood of El Vedado.
Each of these charrettes study Havana’s waterfront guided by the “Master Plan for XXI Century Havana,” authored by Julio César Pérez Hernández and his team of Cuban architects. Previous charrettes studied the waters of Havana Harbor, Habana del Este, and Centro Habana. This year’s subject, El Vedado’s waterfront, is comprised of the westernmost segment of the Malecón and the Río Almendares.
PillingAerialAerial view of the Havana waterfront area, with the El Vedado district highlighted at left. The Río Almendares is clearly visible. Courtesy John H. Pilling

In his introduction to the design problem on the I›N›T›B›A›U website, Julio César Pérez Hernández’s described aspects of the El Vedado. He wrote: “Since the first half of the 19th Century, along the Calzada de Cerro, the affluent bourgeoisie built a series of free-standing Neoclassical villas, called quintas, with gardens and porches that served as a model for the new district of El Vedado—which means ‘forbidden’ in Spanish.
Pilling1 (1)Members of the Charrette begin their tour of the study area at the Torrejón de Chorrera on the Malecón. Photo: John H. Pilling

The colonial fortress of Santa Dorotea de la Luna de La Chorrea [at the mouth of the Río Almendares], built by Italian Engineer Bautista Antonelli around 1645, and the Prince’s [Principe] Castle (1767-1779) built by Engineers Silvestre Abarc, August Crame, and Luis Huet [to the south and east side of the district] were the only buildings in (what was a] wooded area before Spaniard Luis Yboleón Bosque laid out “El Carmelo” in 1859, and a new urbanization that was expanded in 1860 taking advantage of an adjacent piece of land owned by the Count of Pozos Dulces that was also designed by Yboleón and further expanded with “Medina,” another subdivision. The whole district took the name of El Vedado.
The plan emphasized order with a regular grid defined by tree-lined avenues along which the lots were laid out. The building’s frontage featured a setback for private gardens and a porch, allowing for the primary separation between the public and the private realms. This ensured privacy and created a very distinct streetscape that would be signed by the hierarchy of the street network where two major ones would stand out – Paseo, or Avenue of the Mayors, and Avenue of the Presidents or G Street – for their section and urban design. Public space was provided by entire blocks within the grid devoted to parks and gardens.
Pilling6The house of poet Dulce María Loynaz (Loynaz del Castillo family house) on Línea Street, one of the earliest built in El Vedado. Loynaz (1902-1997) was awarded the prestigious Cervantes Prize for Literature in 1992. Photo: John H. Pilling

El Vedado reached its maximum splendor along the first three decades of the 20th century when the international price of sugar cane peaked and beautiful eclectic mansions were built. The neighborhood’s image and environment benefited from the development of the Malecón, started by US engineers Mead and Whitney in 1901, that reshaped Havana’s waterfront and became an iconic seaside boulevard showing Havana capacity to reaffirm its Genius Loci.
Besides the colonial fortresses there are many other landmarks that stand out within El Vedado, like the Christopher Columbus Necropolis (1871-1886) and the University of Havana (1904-1940). Havana’s administrative center is located in the southernmost part of the district, considered the geographic center of the capital by world famous local and international architects and chosen for the building of the Republic’s Square ….
Pilling7Entrance lobby and stair of the former El Vedado Tennis Club, now the Circulo Social José Antonio Echeverría. Photo: John H. Pilling

The Almendares River, on the west of El Vedado, was Havana’s second settlement before the Spanish decided to finally and definitely settle by the harbor and it is one of the city’s most important environmental assets. … Outstanding examples of modern architecture coexist with Eclectic style buildings, Art Deco style and Streamline Moderne. However, the harmonious scale of the district was disrupted by the presence of tall buildings erected in the 1950s.
Pilling3Charrette members look at existing workshops on the Río Almendares. Photo: John H. Pilling

El Vedado has been the subject of previous charrettes [done by groups other than the Cuban and Norwegian Chapters of CEU and I›N›T›B›A›U], such as the one that took place in 2005 and focused on the updating of the Ordinances.

Strategies and Recommendations
The range of expertise of the charrette’s participants, from regional planning to real estate development, made it possible to study El Vedado on every scale. Participants were divided into four teams: one to create a strategic view of El Vedado, two to develop urban designs for the Malecón and the Almedares riverfront, and a fourth to create a specific real-estate development plan for the “Fábrica de Omnibus,” on Calle Línea, whose two blocks were originally the shops and storage yard for Havana’s streetcars. Ongoing work was punctuated with breaks for presentations by the members of the charrette. Cuban architect Oscar Jaime Rodríguez showed the history of the redevelopment of La Habana Vieja.
Professor Richard Beacham highlighted the history of the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden, including its ongoing restoration work. Architect Biljana Savic described the importance of strategic planning as well as projects of the Prince’s Regeneration Trust. Lawyer and CEU Secretary Audun Engh showed the results of employing a participatory planning process based on traditional urbanism for the Bergen Waterfront. The strategic planning team noted that the Malecón is both a working spine and a city lounge. The intersections between it and the area around La Rampa and the Hotel Nacional; Avenida Paseo; and Avenida Presidente are ‘hot spots’ immediately ready for private investment. The Rio Almendares area presents an opportunity to create a special development zone, similar to the one for La Habana Vieja, to adapt the district’s industrial buildings and underused parcels into a mixed use, community-oriented retail/recreational riverfront.
Linea, once a streetcar line, should be enhanced as the core of a new urban transit system. Calle 17, already home to emerging micro-businesses, has a future as an enterprise and innovation zone. The vacant parcels and blocks in El Vedado can be redeveloped using a facilitated, self-build housing method that has proven successful in other countries.
Pilling2The proposal by the Charrette’s Malecón Team for alterations to the seafront area in El Vedado. Photo: John H. Pilling

The Malecón urban design team recommended emphasizing the boulevard more as ‘city lounge’ than ‘working spine.’ They showed opportunities for reducing the number of traffic lanes, introducing dividers with tree plantings, transforming the seaside walk into a linear park, and adding development parcels with filled land on the boulevard’s seaside at the mouth of the Rio Almendares. The Río Almendares team noted the opportunities afforded by its location, environment, and availability of vacant and underused land. Their key ideas were connectivity between El Vedado and Miramar, adding a new ‘center’ to the already polycentric metropolis, and focusing on both ‘green river’ sustainability and leisure.
The Fábrica de Omnibus team entitled their proposal “Las Palmas, an initiative of the Barrio Vedado.” The proposal included a central market built by re-using the original streetcar building, with 4,900 square meters of shops and 6,300 square meters of offices. Based on advice from Cuban colleagues about construction costs, they projected a total project cost of US$12,060,00. The proposal for the mill yard block to the west of the streetcar building was for a 290-apartment residential complex with ground-floor parking. Its project cost is estimated at US$30,626,000. 
The capability of this seventh Havana Urban Design Charrette to have both strategies and specifics, combined with the informative presentations by its participants on topics related to traditional building and urban design, made it a success. The plans for next charrette are to study Miramar, the neighborhood across the Río Almendares from El Vedado. CEU and I›N›T›B›A›U of Cuba and Norway thank the Norwegian Embassy in Havana, Cuba and its head of mission, Mr John Petter Opdahl, Ambassador, for sponsoring the Havana Urban Design Charrette and hosting a reception for its participants at the residence of the Ambassador.
 (http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/focus-on-el-vedado-the-2014-havana-urban-design-charrette/3716 )                                                                                                     
John H. Pilling, AIA is a member of the faculty of the Boston Architectural College. He studies architecture and urban design in Mexico and the Caribbean, and has traveled regularly to Cuba since 2001. In addition to his academic work, he practices fulltime in metropolitan Boston.

QHCxA.Em.56LA HABANA – MIAMI  14 Mayo                  (BY JAY WEAVER AND JUAN O. TAMAYO) A Miami man has been arrested in an unprecedented money-laundering case that alleges some part of $238 million gained from Medicare fraud was secretly pumped into the Cuban banking system. Eduardo Perez de Morales, 26, was arrested by FBI agents Monday on one charge of conspiring with his fugitive brother, Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, who owned an offshore remittance company, Caribbean Transfers. The company is suspected of bankrolling a Florida check-cashing business that prosecutors say cashed checks for Medicare fraud offenders and transferred the dirty dollars through Canada to Cuba. Jorge Emilio Perez de Morales, who owns a seaside home in Havana, is wanted by the FBI and was last reported to be living in Cuba.
Charged in 2012, he also could be in the Dominican Republic, Mexico or Spain, authorities said. The revised indictment now charging his brother alleges that as much as $238 million in stolen Medicare proceeds were laundered in the scheme, but it does not say how much was believed to have ended up in Cuba’s national bank. The indictment further alleges that the Perez brothers laundered some of those dollars through Caribbean Transfers’ bank accounts in Canada and other locations.
The initial indictment, which made national headlines, alleged that $70 million in tainted Medicare profits were laundered by 70 healthcare operators through the Naples check-cashing business of Oscar L. Sanchez, who has pleaded guilty and is serving a 4 ½-year prison sentence.Prosecutor Ron Davidson has alleged that about half of that amount was transferred through Canada into Cuba, and described Caribbean Transfers as a sort of offshore Western Union. The company, which closed its doors in 2012, claimed it specialized in remittances to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Caribbean Transfers, meanwhile, has claimed that it did nothing wrong but acknowledged that money from the Medicare fraud had “contaminated” its legitimate remittances to the island.
A 1,200-word statement posted Monday on the company’s website attacked the newspapers el Nuevo Herald and the Miami Herald and the blogs Diario de Cuba and Cuba al Descubierto for their reports about the company’s affairs. “This media campaign with irrational lies creates an irreparable prejudice in the community from which a jury is supposed to be chosen to judge this case,” it said. It added that the campaign “prepares the way for a sure conviction” of Jorge Perez de Morales. The statement repeated its previous argument that the real blame for the case lies with the Miami banks that accepted Medicare payments for fraudulent billings, and a Miami remittance company that sent money to Cuban families through Caribbean Transfers.

Caribbean Transfers has not identified the remittance company, but sources close to the investigation say it was La Bamba, which also cashed checks. La Bamba owner Juan René Caro is serving 18 years in prison for making false reports of money transfers. Caribbean Transfers said it does not operate in the United States, but added that the money from the Miami remittance company “contaminated” its own legal transfers of money to the island. “Our company does not steal, does not defraud and does not move the money of fraudsters to Cuba. What we do is to transfer the money of families to Cuba,” the statement said. “You can ask the more than 150,000 clients who have received our service of remittances to Cuba if at any time they have not received the assistance that is sent to them.” The statement said that the documentation needed to prove that the accusations against Jorge Perez de Morales are false is being prepared and that it will be presented “before the proper authorities” when it is ready.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/13/4115310/new-arrest-in-case-of-money-laundering.html#storylink=cpy

cuba-and-us-science484x302LA HAVANA, 14 May  (by BEATRICE LUMPKIN)  U.S. and Cuban scientists engaged in “science diplomacy” recently when they signed an agreement that furthers scientific and medical cooperation.

The deal was inked after a delegation from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) visited Havana for a three-day tour hosted by the Cuban Academy of Sciences and other institutions. Although Cuba is a logical partner for the United States to collaborate with on medical research and development, the longstanding U.S. embargo severely limits trade, travel and exchanges with the island nation. “This trip was a wonderful opportunity to reinvigorate the long-standing friendship between U.S. and Cuban scientists and to form a specific plan of action,” biologist Gerald Fink said.
Fink is current President of AAAS, the largest organization of scientists in the United States. The plan of action covers four areas in the life sciences: emerging infectious diseases, brain disorders, cancer and antimicrobial drug resistance. An article in Science April 24, 2014, published by AAAS, reports, “The country has committed a large amount of its resources to its scientific, medical and public health systems, including a hardy biotechnology industry that exports a number of vaccines, antibody based drugs, and other medical technologies.”
(The magazine does not add that the U.S. blockade prevents people in the United States from benefiting from Cuban medical exports.) Science also reports that life expectancy in Cuba is as high as in the United States. A large aging population gives rise to many common interests in fighting cancer and diseases of older people. Both countries are also at risk for mosquito-carried viruses such as dengue and chikungunya.
To date, there is no vaccine for either disease. Neither Cuba nor the U.S. has ever had a known case of chikungunya. But it is spreading across Caribbean Islands and both countries are concerned. In December it was spreading In Saint Martin by mosquitoes infected with the disease. That is just the kind of issue where international cooperation among scientists can save lives and turn back the disease. However, scientists from both Cuba and the U.S. noted that U.S. scientists were still limited in their travel to Cuba. To read more about the AAAS trip and a fascinating history of Cuban science and medicine go to “Science diplomacy visit to Cuba produces historic agreement” on aaas.org.

havana-live-terry-fox-marathonNEW ROCHELLE – HAVANA , May 13, 2014 Marathon runners, who like to collect passport stamps along with their completion medals, can set their sights on the Marabana Havana Marathon and half-marathon this year.

Insight Cuba, is offering Americans the exclusive opportunity to legally participate in this momentous run through the historic city on Sunday, November 16, 2014. “Sport and athletic competition continues to be the great global conduit to bring people, cultures and countries together,” says Tom Popper, president of Insight Cuba.
“This year, we can finally realize the dream of Americans running side-by-side with our island neighbors through the neighborhoods of Havana during the Marabana Havana Marathon and half-marathon.” Insight Cuba, the leading provider of authorized people-to-people travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens since 2000 has created three exclusive tours surrounding the November 16, 2014 event. These include the Havana Marathon 4-Day Tour (Nov 14-17), the Havana Marathon and People-to-People 8-Day Warm-Up Tour (Nov 10-17), and the Havana Marathon and People-to-People 8-Day Cool-Down Tour (Nov 14-21).
Tour prices range from $2,495 to $4,395 per person (double occupancy). “We are proud to be working with Insight Cuba and provide Americans this very special opportunity,” says Carlos Gattorno, race director of the Marabana Havana Marathon. “We are excited to have runners from across the U.S. at the starting line, and in a small way bridging the divide which has existed between our two countries.” The course winds through magnificent avenues lining the UNESCO World Heritage city and past historic places of interest, including the famous Malecna broad esplanade, roadway and seawall which stretches along the coast from the mouth of Havana Harbor in Old Havana to the vibrant neighborhood of Vedado.
Along the way, runners can take in the sights of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, the expansive Revolution Square, and Havana’s Capitolio (modeled after the U.S. Capitol). In addition to the marathon, runners will enjoy exclusive people-to-people encounters, which will include memorable meetings with Cuban runners and local residents. Tour participants will also benefit from the guidance and expertise of RunnersWorld.com columnist and coach, Jenny Hadfield. “It’s a historic marathon event and an epic way to journey into the heart of Havana, Cuba,” says Hadfield. Coach Jenny has created special marathon training plans and tips tailored to prepare the runners for the Marabana Havana Marathon, and she’ll be leading a pre-race shake out run and marathon prep presentations on the tour.
All three Insight Cuba Marathon Tours include: Superior accommodations at the Meli Cohiba in Havana Insight Cuba exclusive-guided programming, including insider access to Cuba’s famous and rarely seen places, and private visits and lectures with Cuba’s renowned experts Experienced Insight Cuba tour leader All meals while in Cuba, except for two paladar evening dining experiences on your own Traditional pre-marathon lunch U.S. Department of the Treasury license and Insight Cuba letter of authorization Expert Cuban guide Training tips from Coach Jenny Hadfield Fresh bottled water while touring Marabana Havana Marathon and half-marathon entry fee and bib (runners only) Arrangement of flight package (cost additional) including; round-trip charter air from Miami to Cuba; priority check-in at Miami International Airport; and baggage fee for first checked bag. Medical check-up All entrance fees to scheduled activities and events Travel health insurance, emergency medical evacuation, and trip cancellation coverage (up to $1,000) For more information on all three Havana Marathon tours and other Insight Cuba tours, visit www.insightcuba.com or call 1-800-450-CUBA (2822).
About Insight Cuba Insight Cuba is the leading provider and pioneer in legal people-to-people travel for Americans to Cuba. Since its inception in 2000, the organization has sent more than 10,000 participants on hundreds of tours and crafted more than 100 custom group tours. When travel to Cuba was reauthorized for all Americans in 2011, this not-for-profit company (a division of Cross-Cultural Solutions) was the first to bring American travelers back to Cuba. Insight Cuba offers six signature tours, more than 100 departures annually and dozens of custom group tours each year.  (SOURCE Insight Cuba)

clip-difing-aldrigeHAVANA, 12 May   Blake Aldridge a remporté la première étape du Red Bull Cliff Diving, à La Havane. Le Mexicain Jonathan Paredes et l’Anglais Gary Hunt complètent le podium.

Samedi dernier, devant plus de 60.000 spectateurs, le Britannique Blake Aldridge a gagné la première étape du Red Bull Cliff Diving 2014, à Morro Castle, et s’est adjugé du même coup sa première victoire dans cette compétition. L’ancien plongeur olympique a devancé le Mexicain Jonathan Paredes et l’Anglais Gary Hunt. En compétition avec une blessure au dos, le Britannique s’est surpassé et a créé la surprise devant tous les favoris grâce à un total de 447,40. A commencer par le champion en titre, le Russe Artem Silchenko, qui se classe seulement septième avec un total de 379,30.
Le Britannique Gary Hunt se classe donc troisième avec un score de 427,70 points. Seul le jeune Mexicain Jonathan Paredes est parvenu à accrocher Blake Aldridge jusqu’au bout de l’épreuve, avec 444,75 points, et seulement 2,65 points de retard. Le Mexicain empoche du même coup un record personnel.À l’issue de cette première épreuve, le septième vainqueur d’une compétition World Series, Blake Aldridge s’est exprimé sur ce succès et ne cachait pas sa satisfaction de s’être imposé lors de cette première étape. “C’est surréaliste et j’ai attendu ce moment depuis trois ans. Faire ça de la façon dont je l’ai fait, c’est incroyable.
J’ai commencé avec un mauvais plongeon, puis j’ai enchaîné avec deux autres sauts avant de modifier mon dernier plongeon au dernier moment. Ce choix a payé”, a-t-il indiqué. Nouvelle étape pour la deuxième épreuve du Red Bull Cliff Diving 2014, à Fort Worth, au Texas, le 7 juin prochain.sclip-diving4 Download (2) Jonathan Paredes clip-diving clip-diving3 clip-diving1

sanchez-yoani-lupi-giordano222-685x342HAVANA – MIAMI 12 May (CBSMiami) – Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez was blasted by an Italian-language translator who worked with her for the past six years. According to Progeso Weekly, Gordiano Lupi, 54, published an article on Friday, May 9th saying Sanchez is arrogant, mercenary and greedy. The article titled “Yoani Sánchez: Her new journal is my freedom” appeared on the website Il Gazetin in Italian but Progreso Weekly translated the article. According to their translations, Lupi’s said Sánchez had terminated her contract with the Italian Daily, La Stampa, which he says made him a free man from any connection from her and the interests of what he called “the world’s richest and most rewarded blogger.” Lupi goes on to question how nobody in Cuba harasses or threatens Sánchez, adding that she has no problem entering or leaving her Cuba. He also went on to accuse Sánchez of having ulterior motives and wanting to become rich and famous.

Yoani Sánchez’s Italian-language translator for the past six years, Gordiano Lupi, on Friday (May 9) published an article blasting the Cuban blogger for being arrogant, mercenary, and greedy. Its title: “Yoani Sánchez: Her new journal is my freedom.”
Lupi, 54, is a respected translator, having translated into Italian works by José MartÌ, Heberto Padilla, Virgilio Piñera, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Alejandro Torreguitart Ruiz, and many others.
The article, which appeared in the independent website Il Gazetin, is so revealing — coming from a man who knew Sánchez for a long time — that Progreso Weekly has translated it from the Italian and is publishing it here. Our translator’s clarifications appear [in brackets.] ****** Yoani Sánchez has terminated her contract with [the Italian daily] La Stampa and has made me a free man who, until yesterday, could not say what I thought, in view of the fact that I translated her. Now that I no longer have any connection [with her] and that the interests of the world’s richest and most rewarded blogger are in the hands of her agent, Erica Berla, I can remove the pebbles from my shoes. They were hurting me.
I made the mistake of believing in Yoani Sánchez’s cause, believing it to be a David-against-Goliath struggle, a struggle that came from the grassroots to strike at the power, an idealistic struggle for the freedom of Cuba. I realized — through bitter disappointments — that Yoani’s opposition was a dead letter, not to say [an opposition] of convenience, as if to make the world believe that in Cuba there is freedom of speech. I began to wonder if Yoani was not so much an agent of the C.I.A. — as her detractors say — as [an agent] of the Castro family, paid to blow smoke in people’s eyes.

But even if none of this were true, it would be enough for me to realize that I was dealing with a person whose foremost interests are not at all idealistic. A blogger who leads a tranquil life, who nobody in Cuba knows and nobody harasses, who is not threatened, imprisoned or silenced, who has no problem entering or leaving her homeland. Because of her pretty face, I was the target of insults and threats from Italian supporters of Castro and communists for taking part in a nonexistent struggle, a dream of freedom hoped for by many, but certainly not by her, who thought only about the money that came from awards and contracts. At this point, I do not know if Yoani Sánchez is an agent of the C.I.A. or the Cuban Revolution. I do not know, and do not care to know. I only know that she is not the person I thought she was. That’s enough for me. One episode, above all, should have opened my eyes to reality. Over a year ago, I sent my mother-in-law to Yoani’s house to ask for some clarifications about [Yoani’s] trip to Italy. Well, they made her wait on the staircase.
They didn’t even invite her into the entrance hallway. Very strange behavior for a Cuban of the people. I should have believed my mother-in-law when she told me, “Those people are not fighting for the freedom of Cuba. They’re only interested in filling their pockets.” I didn’t believe her, and I was wrong. I believed in an ideal fight that didn’t exist. In reality, Yoani Sánchez’s intention has always been to become rich and famous. Now she has achieved that. Now that she has distanced herself from me, I have lost the right to re-enter Cuba, while the princess-blogger buzzes like a blowfly between Havana and Miami. The word “butterfly” does not describe her. “Blowfly” is a more fitting term.

Now Yoani Sanchez will open a “farlocco” [phony] newspaper, as we call them here in Italy. Somebody else can translate it from Cuban, I cannot. A phony newspaper like [publisher Walter] Lavitola’s “Avanti,” with all due respect to Lavitola. She and her little friends will start a daily that nobody in Cuba will read, because it will be available only online. But what does Yoani care? To her, it’s enough that someone finances it, that it is read in Miami and Spain, that the Cuban community continues to be deceived by a nonexistent paladin. So far, we’ve traveled together, dear Yoani. Now we stop. I continue my journey alone, far from your ambitions. It still involves Cuba, true, which is part of my life, although many Cubans have disappointed me. I shall try not to think about it, out of respect for my wife, who is a Cuban of the people and has nothing to do with your bourgeois arrogance. And then, as Fidel Castro said, history will decide. Let’s see who it will absolve.  ( By Progreso Weekly )

FITCUBA2014HAVANA,   7 May   Opened by Cuban tourism minister Manuel Marrero and general secretary of the World Tourism Organization Taleb Rifa, the aim is to highlight a new foreign investment law which offers tax breaks and more flexible labor practices.
Citing the longstanding US embargo, Rifa said tourism should not be influenced by politics and called for direct New York-Havana flights to give the industry a much needed boost. Tourism minister Manuel Marrero said the country should also diversify its tourism product to better promote its nine World Cultural Heritage sites, museums and national monuments. The fair continues until May 10, with a program of seminars, business meetings and cultural events. This year the fair is showcasing Havana as “the country’s most complete” destination with a focus on MICE and health tourism, and promoting it as a cruise ship destination.
Tourism income reached $1.8 billion in 2013 according to government data, with a forecast for up to three million visitor arrivals this year. Canada remains the number one overseas market, and despite the five-decade long US embargo still firmly in place, almost 600,000 US travelers visited Cuba last year. International arrivals rose 5% in the first quarter of 2014 compared to the same period last year.

havana-live-air_FranceHAVANA,  May 7    The Cubana de Aviacion and Air France airlines signed on Tuesday in this capita a memorandum of understanding for commercial cooperation, which will strengthen the current routes of connection between the two countries.
The document was signed by Ana Margarita Godoy, deputy director of Cubana de Aviacion, and Zoran Jelkic, vice-president of Air France, within the framework of the International Tourism Fair FITCUBA 2014, under way until May 10, with France as special guest. Of the lines of work included in the document, Jelkic highlighted the expansion of flights to other cities on the island, like Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara and Holguin, to bring French tourism to them. In statement to ACN, Godoy said that the memorandum also includes the participation of Cubana de Aviacion and Air France in joint projects to develop, in a short and long terms, other destinations of great demand, like other Caribbean islands. (acn)

Hemingway movieHAVANA  7  May  (By PETER ORSI Associated Press Photo Yesica Fish) An international film crew in recent weeks has been re-enacting this and other historic scenes in the streets of Havana for “Papa,” a biopic about the budding friendship between Hemingway and the reporter in the turbulent Cuba of the 1950s. Years in the making, producers say it is the first full-length feature film with a Hollywood director and actors to be shot in the country since the 1959 revolution. Due to decades of ill will between the two countries and Washington’s 52-year-long embargo, other movies ostensibly set here, such as “The Godfather Part II” and 1990’s “Havana,” were filmed in stand-in locations like the Dominican Republic. “It was an absolute passion to actually make it in Cuba where everything that is in the script happened, where the finca (farm) is where (Hemingway) lived, where his boat was, all the spots from the Morro castle to Cojimar where he fished,” director Bob Yari said. “It’s all here, so trying to duplicate it somewhere else was not very appealing.” Shooting began in March and wrapped over the weekend on the joint Canadian-Cuban-American production, with the island’s622x350 (4) governmental film institute known as ICAIC providing location support, period costumes and local actors. “Papa” came to Cuba under a U.S. Treasury Department license exempting it from most embargo restrictions. The film’s makers said there was a cap on how much they could spend, but would not say how much or release overall budget figures. For licensing purposes the movie qualified as a documentary, since it depicts a firsthand account of real events that took place here. So it’s unlikely just any Hollywood blockbuster would get the same permission in the future. Though the title derives from the Nobel Prize-winning novelist’s nickname, the movie is based on an autobiographical script by Denne Bart Petitclerc, who is played by Giovanni Ribisi (”Avatar,” ‘’Saving Private Ryan”). Hemingway is portrayed by theater and screen veteran Adrian Sparks. Petitclerc was abandoned by his father as a young boy, fell in love with Hemingway’s writing and later came to see him as a father figure. While working for the Miami Herald in the 1950s, Petitclerc wrote a letter to Hemingway professing his admiration. He didn’t intend to send it, but his girlfriend found it and dropped it in the mail. On a recent Saturday, a reading room at the University of Havana library stood in for the Herald newsroom. 622x350 (3)Cuban extras milled about in slim ties and saddle shoes, long skirts and horn-rimmed glasses. Vintage typewriters clacked away. The scene retells the moment when Petitclerc, known as “Ed” in the movie, fields a fateful phone call that at first he thinks is a prank by one of his pals. “Good letter, kid,” says Hemingway. “You like to fish?” Before long, Ed is on a boat with his idol, and the two strike up a friendship that would last until Hemingway’s 1961 suicide. The film crew got access to some of Havana’s most iconic locales, including the former Government Palace, which long ago was turned into a museum celebrating Castro’s revolution. At the majestic Grand Theater, which is closed for restoration, a sumptuous salon was tricked out to look like the bar of the Ambos Mundos hotel where Hemingway frequently stayed. In this scene, Ed is tipped off by notorious mobster Santo Trafficante (James Remar; “Django Unchained,” ‘’Dexter”) that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover has it out for Hemingway. Producers even secured unprecedented permission to shoot inside Hemingway’s former estate, Finca Vigia, today considered such a shrine that tourists aren’t even allowed inside and must peer in through the windows. Sparks who has played Hemingway on stage since 2005, confessed to something of a spiritual connection to the writer and said it was a magical experience portraying him in the land he loved.622x350 (1) “To be playing a section of the film where he’s struggling with writer’s block, I’m standing on exactly the square foot of ground that he stood on, with his typewriter in front of me, playing the scene. It wasn’t acting, it was channeling,” Sparks said. “It was just allowing him to come through.” There have also been some only-in-Cuba moments of frustration. In a country with a history of high-seas defections, something as simple as getting on a boat requires official approval. So when cast members’ names were missing from a list one day, an open-water shoot was delayed. Cuba’s scarce and creaky Internet service forced the crew to return to the yesteryear practice of slipping the day’s call sheets under hotel room doors, rather than sending them by email. Much of the equipment had to be brought in from overseas to guarantee high production values. But the payoff was the opportunity to shoot in a city that has in many ways remained frozen in the 1950s, with classic American automobiles from the era readily available to provide a historic backdrop. “It’s been chaotic. Every day there’s a new drama,” said English actor Joely Richardson (”Nip/Tuck,” ‘’The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”), who plays Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary. “It’s been so nutty. But you know what? It’s up there with my best experiences. It’s been fantastic.”622x350 Petitclerc went on to a long career as a journalist and writer of books, TV shows and movies, including the screenplay for “Islands in the Stream,” based on the Hemingway novel of the same name. He died in 2006. Hemingway lived in Cuba from 1939 to 1960 and wrote much of “The Old Man and the Sea” and other works here, and islanders claim him as much as Americans do. The two countries’ mutual affection for Hemingway is among the few things they agree on. Cuba and the U.S. have cooperated multiple times to preserve his writings and belongings — so it’s not surprising the first Hollywood feature to shoot in Cuba is about him. “Hemingway was probably the most prominent American to make Cuba his home, and I think the people of Cuba to this day cherish him and love him,” said Yari (”Crash,” ‘’The Illusionist”). “And hopefully this film will become an addition to that component of bridging this gap between two cultures and two peoples that have drifted apart.” http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/hemingway-pic-rare-hollywood-moment-cuba-23617507

havana-live-rodrigo-malmiercaHAVANA  6 May    Cuba and France on Monday signed an agreement to increase bilateral trade with a short-term line of credit, Cuban official media said. The accord was inked by Cuba’s foreign trade and investment minister, Rodrigo Malmierca, and the French secretary of state for foreign trade and tourism, Fleur Pellerin, who traveled to Havana for this week’s FITCUBA 2014 tourism fair. Pellerin said that soon a bilateral group would be set up to seek other financial instruments that will allow French firms to guarantee their exports and develop relations with Cuba. She also expressed the interest of French businessmen in investing in Cuba’s first havana-live-Fleur-PellerinSpecial Development Zone, located at the port of Mariel. The secretary emphasized that Cuba’s internationally recognized health care and biotechnology sectors are of “great interest.” Malmierca stressed that the agreement signed Monday is part of the framework of steps taken to update Cuba’s socialist model, and he said it was an “appropriate” time to expand trade relations with Paris. Currently, about 60 French firms are doing business in Cuba via associations with local entities or through representation offices, branch offices or partnerships, according to government figures.

caribbean transfersHAVANA  5 May   Caribbean Transfers says it only handled family remittances to the island. A company whose owner stands accused of laundering and sending to Cuba $30 million on behalf of Medicare fraudsters in South Florida says it did nothing wrong and blames a remittance company in Miami and a check cashing store in Naples.
“Caribbean Transfers has not committed any crimes in the United States,” the company said in a statement posted Thursday on its Web site following a string of recent reports about its owner, Jorge Emilio Pérez de Morales. A U.S. fugitive from charges of money laundering, Perez has been living in Havana and has business links with a well known Cuban actor, Jorge Perugorria, according to reports in the blogs Diario de Cuba and Cuba Al Descubierto. The company statement said it has been “working intensely on the documentation that proves this allegation is totally false,” but made no mention of Perez or his whereabouts.

U.S. prosecutors have described Caribbean Transfers as a sort of offshore “Western Union.” The company, which closed its doors in 2012, claimed it specialized in remittances to Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other countries. Perez was charged in 2012 with financing a money-laundering scheme that moved more than $30 million in stolen Medicare proceeds from South Florida through Canada and into Cuba’s banking system. Oscar L. Sanchez, the owner of a Naples check cashing business, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. Caribbean Transfers said it did not violate U.S. laws because its bank accounts outside the United States simply received family remittances sent by a company in Miami, fully licensed by the U.S. government. The money was then paid to the Cuban families.
Any crimes, it argued, were committed by the Miami remittance company, the Naples check cashing store and Miami banks that handled the U.S. government payments to more than 70 Medicare fraudsters in South Florida. “How was Caribbean Transfers supposed to know that those funds were illegal?” the statement said, adding that the company “trusted that the U.S. banks were perfectly regulated, knew their customers perfectly and were incapable of sending fraudulent money out of their jurisdiction?”Caribbean Transfers did not identify the Miami remittance company but sources said it was La Mamba, which also cashed checks. Owner Juan Rene Caro is serving an 18-year prison sentence for filing $132 million in false currency transaction reports. Lawyers generally recommend not commenting on news media reports on a case, “especially it’s a yellow press with clearly politicized biases such as The Miami Herald and bloggers,” The statement added, “Despite that, we have decided to make some truths public, confident that this will help many people to find the answers to the obvious questions that these newspapers hide,” it added. The statement, which was not signed, went on to argue that the U.S. embargo was to blame “for what happened” because the U.S. sanctions forbid the direct transfer of money from U.S. to Cuban entities.
Court records in the Oscar Sanchez case show the Cuban-born U.S. citizen was indicted for his role in laundering the profits of 70 South Florida medical companies that falsely billed Medicare for $374.4 million and were paid $70.7 million. Perez financed the Sanchez scheme and then funneled the money through shell companies that controlled bank accounts in Canada and Trinidad, according to the records. The company also operated in the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Caribbean Transfers wanted to move millions of dollars to Cuba. But, facing the U.S. restrictions on remittances to Cuba, the company bought more than 20 boxes of money orders and transferred the money in amounts less than $10,000 at a time to avoid having to declare the source of the funds under U.S. laws. The company also used aliases in the money orders, according to the court records, including the name “Bill Clinton.”(BY JUAN O. TAMAYO)

havana-live-jesuit-fathersHAVANA May 3 The return of property from the churches seized by the Cuban government after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 is more and more a fact. The old College of the Jesuit Fathers. “At this time, the correct word is ‘process,’ because it is an initiative begun some years ago that has not stopped,” says from Havana Msgr.  José Félix Pérez, associate secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba. “With this step we can rehabilitate places for services and pastoral action in cities where the religious communities had to meet in private homes or uncomfortable spaces,” the prelate says. “Thus, we have gotten back chapels and temples in Santiago de Cuba, Bayamo, Camagüey and Havana, in addition to Cienfuegos.” “In the past 50 years, the Catholic Church has not had the wherewithal to build new temples and places of worship, so we greet this decision with much gratitude, because it is a way to recognize that the Church needs these sites (buildings and spaces) and that, with those acts, a better relationship between Church and State is enabled,” Pérez says.

Father Ignacio Cruz Magariño was born just across the street from the old College of the Jesuit Fathers, an iconic building in the city of Cienfuegos, 240 kilometers southeast of Havana. According to him, although the school did not function as such since the 1940s, in 1961 it was “nationalized” by virtue of a law that made all learning centers in Cuba public schools and turned over the buildings to the Ministry of Education. As a member of the Society of Jesus and the priest assigned to the temple, Ignacio participated in several requests and conversations held since the 1960s. The talks led to the reacquisition of parts of the building until the Church regained it fully in November 2013. “There is no document that certifies the turnover, but it has been effective because, a few weeks later, the offices and warehouses of state-run entities that occupied the ground floor were moved to other sites,” Cruz Magariño says. Something similar occurred with the home of the parish priest in nearby Palmira, for many years utilized as a public library, and with the chapels in some sugar mills, according to the bishop of the Diocese of Cienfuegos/Trinidad, Domingo Oropesa Lorente. The old college of the Dominicans.havana-live-father-ignacio-magariño
“I think that they are very positive acts on the part of the authorities, and we understand that in time everything that was part of the Church’s patrimony will be returned. In Cienfuegos, there is also interest in returning part of the old college of the Dominicans,” says the monsignor, who sees in the return of the real estate a favorable step, especially for society. “The cathedral is of no use for me alone. It is a space for the people, who can live their faith there. So it will be with the college of the Jesuits. It won’t be just for the four or five priests who live inside,” he says. Sources close to the authorities were reluctant to speak on the subject, because they say it’s a process still not made official by a legal ruling that replaces the abovementioned “law of nationalization.” Off the record, the sources said that the decision will benefit not only the Catholic Church but also other religious institutions that owned property and buildings at the time of the Revolution.

That possibility could not be confirmed by the Council of Churches of Cuba, an organization that includes most of the Protestant congregations in the country. Nevertheless, the scant information available about this process elicits moderate expectations in some members of congregations affiliated with the Council, such as the Anglican Church. Halbert Pons, Episcopal Church priest in Santiago de Cuba, believes that it will be difficult for many of the buildings to be returned because they’re being used as public schools. But he recognizes that there is an open channel of communications to obtain grants of land formerly owned by his church that, for various reasons, have been used by the Cuban State in Sola, Camagüey province, and Boquerón, Guantánamo province. At the Catholic Church, no one can throw much light on the return of sites or the issuance of construction permits for other religious congregations. “I think something is going on, too, but I have little information about it,” says secretary José Félix Pérez. Father Ignacio Cruz Magariño. “With us, everything has happened through verbal assurances that later become reality in the municipalities. They give us spoken guarantees that we’ll be able to use again what once was ours,” the priest says. With obvious enthusiasm, Father Ignacio, a master craftsman in the Society of Jesus, looks at the city block on which he hopes to rebuild. “This was a ‘realengo’ [state-owned land],” he says.
“We just removed more than 45 truckloads of garbage because for years people thought this was a dump.” “We know that many years will pass before we can inaugurate the house of spiritual practice that we want,” the priest says. “We’ll have to demolish some sections but the building is salvageable. Despite the theft of beams, floor tiles and carpentry, the walls are quite strong. Now we’re looking into the needed capital, because a million-dollar restoration is not something we can do in a few days. Besides, that kind of money will not be available at one time.” “What’s past is past,” Father Ignacio says. “The present is encouraging to all. Not only because we have an opportunity to fulfill our dream of helping create healthy minds and spirituality, but also because the city will regain a very valuable building.”  (By José Jasán Nieves Cárdenas Progreso Weekly)

havana-live-formellHAVANA 2 May (AP) Cuban musician Juan Formell, who for more than four decades was the driving force behind the big band salsa orchestra Los Van Van, died Thursday. He was 71.

An anchor on Cuban state television said Formell passed “suddenly” but did not give a cause of death. Formell received a Latin Grammy in 2013 for excellence, on top of another one in 1999 recognizing the album “Llego … Los Van Van.” “My life has been entirely dedicated to music and only makes sense when people make it theirs and enjoy it,” he said upon receiving the award last year. Born Juan Climaco Formell Cortina on Aug. 2, 1942, he was a band director, bassist, composer, singer and producer over the course of his long career.
Slender and quick to smile, Formell first learned music at the feet of his father, Francisco, a flautist and pianist. As a young man he joined various important musical groups, collaborating with Guillermo Rubalcaba, Carlos Faxas’ orchestra and the Reve group in 1967, where he made significant contributions such as the use of the electric bass and keyboards.

In 1969, he created Los Van Van, which became Cuba’s most famous big band orchestra and whose danceable tunes attracted a wide following on the island and overseas. The lyrics of his songs told the social history of the island and reflected Cubans’ joys and concerns, always with a sense of humour and a picaresque touch. Formell also set poems by the poet Nicolas Guillen to music and composed scores for the theatre and cinema. Many Cuban big bands that followed were heavily influenced by his sound.

140425-peter-crowley-6_d1e350c4c7b0bc52748851c52ca405fd.nbcnews-ux-680-440HAVANA  1 May    A 56-year-old blind American who was trying to cross the treacherous Florida Straits in a kayak had to abandon the attempt because of strong winds, he told AFP Wednesday. Peter Crowley said he hopes to try again, perhaps next year, to traverse the 90-mile (150-kilometer) stretch of shark-infested waters that separate Cuba from Key West, Florida. In the meantime, Crowley said he was satisfied with the success of his donations of devices for Cuban schools for the blind. He said he will wait to make his next attempt until the United States authorizes him to provide such equipment again.

Crowley was born with optic atrophy — a malformation that prevents the optic nerve from functioning properly, leaving him with just seven percent of his vision. He is also hard of hearing in both ears. An accomplished athlete, Crowley has already completed several major kayaking feats, paddling more than 125 miles on the Hudson River in 1999 and becoming the first blind man to cross the English Channel in 2003. But he was forced to abort the Cuba-to-US kayak trek after eight hours, and rode the rest of the way to Florida on the support boat. Despite forecasts for “near perfect” weather, Crowley found himself paddling into winds of 20 miles (32 kilometers) per hour. “This was like paddling on a treadmill,” said Crowley, who lives on the outskirts of Albany, New York, and is married with three children.

“If you believe in God, God wasn’t letting us do it; if you believe in bad luck, we had bad luck,” said the athlete, who had hoped to get to Key West in 20 to 25 hours. “For safety reasons we did the right thing.” Told as a child there were many things he should not try, Crowley said he decided to focus on what he could do, rather than on his limitations. du/nss/vlk

aerocaribeanhabanaHAVANA  1 May   (James Whittaker) A new airline company in Grand Cayman will make its first flight between George Town and Havana next month.
The company, Cubano Airtours, has leased a plane from Aero Caribbean – one of Cuba’s state-owned airlines – and will begin twice-weekly service between Havana and George Town on May 21. It aims to cater to an emerging market of Cuban tourists as well as targeting European travelers for “dual destination” trips to Cuba and Cayman. The airline will also seek to entice travelers from Cayman to bypass Miami and use Cuba as a gateway to the rest of the world. Chris Pope, owner of the company, said scheduled flights to other major Cuban cities, including Santiago de Cuba and Camaguey, would likely begin within the next few months. An expansion into cargo transportation is expected to follow before the end of the year. Mr. Pope said, “This is a long-term project for us.
I see this developing into something much bigger than a short-haul service to Havana. “There is a niche to bring European travelers here, there is a niche for residents to go to the rest of the world without having to go through Miami.” The company will initially use an ATR 72, a twin-engine turbo prop plane, with capacity for 72 passengers, though the limit will be set at 56. Flights went on sale on Tuesday for CI$285. He said partnerships with both Aero Caribbean and Havanatur, Cuba’s state-owned travel agency, which has 58 offices across the island and has launched a marketing campaign for the Cayman route in the country, would help make the business a success. “They see a niche for this and are very supportive of us adding flights from other cities fairly quickly. They believe they can fill the planes coming here, “People don’t really think of Cuba as an affluent island, but there are actually a lot of people that travel on a regular basis.” He said promotions, including offers with retailers to entice Cuban visitors here on shopping trips, were also a prospect.
The company is also developing “dual island” tours for travelers from Europe to make package trips that include flights between Cuba and Cayman. Mr. Pope said, “Realistically, the airport redevelopment is still a few years off and this is another way of attracting tourists from Europe who can’t fly directly to Grand Cayman.” The flights will also be marketed to locals as a “gateway to the world” that will allow them to link to international flights out of Cuba. It will also create another option for travelers who can’t go through the U.S. because of visa restrictions to fly elsewhere. Mr. Pope, who is in logistics at Dart Realty and has been involved in the hospitality industry for most of his career, admits he has no experience in the aviation industry. But he spent two years researching and setting up the business after being approached with the concept by his friend Alejandro Matienzo, an executive member of the Cuban Caymanian Association. He said the Cayman-Cuba route has proven to be popular and believes his partnership with Cuban travel companies will help his business tap a niche in the market.

Ammonia-Synthesis-Plant-1HAVANA  29 Abril     Cuba continues moving forward with development of a $1.4 billion natural gas regasification project and a $1.2 billion urea and ammonia plant under a Venezuelan initiative to provide cheap fuel to regional allies.
The regasification project will have the capacity to process 2.06 million metric tons per year and consist of building facilities to receive and process liquefied natural gas, Petroleos de Venezuela SA said in a December report released last week. The aim of the project is to provide a clean and low-cost energy source to the population, the company said without giving a completion date. The urea and ammonia plant will have the capacity to process 400,000 metric tons per year of urea and 370,000 metric tons per year of ammonia. The project seeks to benefit Cuba’s industrial sector, particularly plastics, industrial agriculture and chemical products, PDVSA said. lng-port
Output from the urea and ammonia plant will be destined to meet demand in Cuba while excess output will be exported by PDVSA’s petrochemical affiliate Pequiven to countries in Central America and the Caribbean. The project conceptualization phase has been finalized though no completion date was given. Created by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in 2005, the Petrocaribe Initiative lets its 18 member countries buy oil from PDVSA at market prices, paying 5 percent upfront and the remainder over 25 years at 1 percent interest. PDVSA exported an average 103,400 barrels a day to Petrocaribe members in 2013 compared to 102,000 barrels a day in 2012, the company said. Cuba, under an accord with Venezuela, received 89,600 barrels per day in 2013 from PDVSA compared with 91,100 barrels per day in 2012. (Pietro D. Pitts Bloomberg)

reformHAVANA  29 Abril   Cuba loosened regulation of its largest state-run companies on Monday, shifting the ongoing reform of the Soviet-style economy from retail services and farming into some of the country’s most important businesses, including minerals, tourism and telecommunications.
The reforms will affect hundreds of big state enterprises, from nickel producer Cubaniquel and oil company Cubapetroleo to banks and wholesale trade. Larger enterprises are being overhauled as the country strives to avoid bankruptcy and boost growth, which has averaged around 2 per cent annually since the reforms began. With the latest changes, a total of over 5,000 companies will now operate outside the government, be allowed to keep 50 per cent of their profits after taxes, and design their own wage systems under regulations that came into effect on Monday with their publication by the government. In addition, these companies may sell excess product on the open market after meeting their state quotas, have more flexibility in production and marketing decisions, and will be evaluated based on just seven criteria, a reduction from dozens previously.
Many of the changes were already under way as pilot projects and are now being generalized to over 5,000 companies in the latest of the market-oriented reforms that Cuban President Raul Castro has implemented since taking over from his brother Fidel in 2008. “Now we are cooking, getting into the really important stuff,” said a local economist who specializes in company reform, asking that his name not be used due to restrictions on speaking to foreign journalists. He was referring not just to Monday’s announcement but also the recent approval of a plan to end Cuba’s dual-currency system and new regulations and tax breaks designed to attract foreign investors. Cuba’s economy was more than 90 per cent in state hands up until 2008 and almost all of the labour force of 5 million workers were state employees. Economists estimate 75 to 80 per cent of the economy is state-controlled today. Cuba began laying off hundreds of thousands of state workers and deregulated small retail services in 2010, simultaneously creating a “non-state” sector of more than 450,000 private businesses and their employees and leasing land to 180,000 would-be farmers. Under the latest reforms, companies will be largely cut off from state subsidies and must now make a profit or risk being downsized, merged with others, or closed.
Company directors also face more modern accounting requirements. “These are rational economic measures — separating businesses from the ministries, giving managers more autonomy, institutionalizing incentive pay and profit sharing for workers,” said Phil Peters, head of the Cuba Research Center in Alexandria, Virginia. “The hard part will be allowing managers to lay off excess workers and living up to the commitment to close state enterprises that can’t survive without subsidies,” he said. The process will be gradual, giving managers more and more responsibility for their own companies, said Grisel Trista Arbesu, the Communist Party’s head of company reform, in Monday’s edition of Granma, the official Communist Party daily. The rules and regulations make clear that government ministries and other entities would be removed from business, except that government appointees would remain part of management. “The company plan will now be approved by the president of the board of directors, something that up to now was done by the (state),” Trista Arbesu said. However, the companies still cannot import and export directly or freely partner with foreign firms. (Reuters By Marc Frank)  

paulinaq guraiebHAVANA  28 April   Young Mexican Paulina Guraieb was awarded the Grand Prix of the 12th International Contest for Ballet Academies, held in Cuba from April 21st to 26th. Guraieb was given an ovation in the three rounds of the competition for her well-defined technique, musicality, brave attitude on stage and amazing turns. The jury was made up of director of National School of Cuba Ramona de Saa, director of South African Manzi Ballet Dirk Badenhorst, professors Tatiana Izquierdo, from Peru, Cheril Town from the United States and Roberto Machado from Mexico, Venezuelan art critic Carlos Paolillo and prima ballerina of the National Ballet of Cuba Viengsay Valdes, among other dance important figures. The 20th International Meeting of Ballet Academies, which was attended by 700 foreign delegates from 15 countries, was closed by this competition. Winners of the several categories were Leticia Nayely (Mexico), Harold Mendez (Cuba), Ivana Bueno (Mexico), Cesar Josue Ramirez (Cuba), Ana Marta Zamora (Cuba), Mayna Miranda (Cuba), Laura Alejandra Tosar (Cuba), Brian Gomez (Cuba), Francisco Serrano (USA), Francois Llorente (Cuba), Rafael Quenedit (Cuba), Pablo de Jesus (Cuba), Daniela Favelo and Raul Miranda (Cuba). sgl/eav/ro/msm

wood illegal Carpenter Antonio Gutiérrez organizes a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in the Ciénaga
de Zapata wetlands.
HAVANA   April 26 (IPS By Ivet González) The lack of markets to supply raw materials for Cuba’s new private sector, along with the poverty in isolated rural communities, is fuelling the poaching of endangered species of flora and fauna.
In 2010, the  government of Raúl Castro gave the green light to private enterprise in a limited number of activities, mainly in the services sector. But without wholesale markets to supply the 455,000 cuentapropistas — officially registered self-employed people — unforeseen phenomena soon appeared, like the rise in poaching and illegal logging. Forests, which cover just under 29 percent of the territory of this Caribbean island nation, are suffering the consequences. “You can get a permit to work as a carpenter, but it’s hard to get the raw materials,” Antonio Gutiérrez, a carpenter who works at a sawmill in the Ciénaga de Zapata, the largest Caribbean island wetland, told Tie-rramérica. “You can also build more homes, or upgrade homes. People need boards, windows, everything…and to solve the problem they go into the bush and cut.” Last year, the forest ranger corps levied 19,993 fines for a total of US$125,000, and seized 2,274 metres of wood. Although there are no statistics on wood confiscated in previous years, the authorities say illegal logging is on the rise. “That’s confiscated mahogany and oak,” said Gutiérrez, 48, pointing to a pile of thin tree trunks on the ground. “Those trees had a lot of growing to do to become real logs.” He maintained that more wood should be sold to people in order to safeguard forests from illegal logging. The Agriculture Ministry’s forestry director, Isabel Rusó, told the press in March that the law in effect since 1998 provides for fines that are not effective in dissuading illegal logging.green-turtle-sea-turtleShe also said private businesses either have to face a sea of red tape to purchase wood from state-owned companies or buy wood on the black market. A new forestry bill is to be introduced in parliament in 2015. But the problems are not only limited to the country’s forests. Last year, the authorities confiscated 1,696 boats and registered 2,959 cases of illegal fishing — up from 1,987 in 2011 and just 996 in 2012. Poached sea turtles In the western province of Pinar del Río, which has rich nature reserves, over two tons of poached sea turtles were seized, most of which belonged to endangered or threatened species. In addition, 219 simple fishing boats were confiscated, and fines were levied for the use of banned fishing techniques, the capture of protected or toxic species, and vandalism against state fishing companies, among other offences. The capture of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) “is indiscriminate because it is done at night and the females are often on their way to lay their eggs in the sand,” Pedro Fernández, a 62-year-old bricklayer from Havana who has been a hobby fisherman for four decades, told Tierramérica.
“The turtles are killed and cleaned, and the waste is dumped at sea,” he added. “Because of the way things are done, it’s hard to control and assess the real magnitude of the problem,” said Fernández, who added that he had never fished illegally. He said that to catch the turtles, the fishermen place net traps at the bottom of the sea for a month or more. From May to September, loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) lay their eggs on Cuba’s beaches. Many of the beaches are protected areas, such as the ones in the Jardines de la Reina archipelago, the San Felipe keys, the Largo del Sur key, the Isle of Youth (Cuba’s second-biggest island), and the Guanahacabibes peninsula in Pinar del Río. But that doesn’t stop the poachers.

Nor do the stiff penalties against poaching or the strict police controls. The meat of different animals and fish and seafood sell for astronomical prices on the black market. One kilo of loggerhead sea turtle or crocodile meat fetches between five and seven dollars. But some Cubans have other sources of income, and can afford such forbidden luxuries. In this business, however, not everyone is always lucky. A young man from Havana returned last month from a trip to Pinar del Río, 160 km west of Havana, with empty hands, after making the journey to buy loggerhead turtle steaks. “No fisherman sold me anything,” the young man, who occasionally sells prohibited foods, told IPS. “People buy up this soft, tasty protein-rich meat really quickly.” Illegal logging Poaching and illegal logging are increasing along Cuba’s coasts and in its forests, mangroves, swamps and marshes – even in the country’s 103 protected areas. The damage caused by poaching endangered species is the most visible face of the illegal hunting, fishing and logging in this country, which has 1,163 endangered species of animals and 848 endangered species of plants. The shrinking populations of manatees, dolphins, crocodiles, caimans, green and loggerhead sea turtles, pirarucu, black coral, queen conch, parrots, and the multicoloured polymita land snail are all targeted by poachers. Generally, poachers are men, although women take part in transporting and selling the products. The authorities are beefing up oversight and inspection, to prevent international smuggling as well, while stepping up environmental education. “But alternatives must be found to boost the development of populations that live near or inside the nature reserves,” Carlos Rojas, the manager of the Laguna Guanaroca-Gavilanes protected area, told Tierramérica.

In the nature reserve, located 11 km from city of Cienfuegos in southeast Cuba, which depends on both tourism and fishing, poaching has been reduced “due to fear of the law, but not because there’s environmental awareness,” he said. “Educational programmes help, but we see that people still feel like they have the right to fish. The bans cause conflicts when it comes to how they make a living,” Rojas added. One positive step in his administration was to increase the number of people from neighbouring communities on the reserve’s payroll. But Rojas lamented that a project for sustainable fishing had never been implemented. And he said ecotourism would be another path to environmentally-friendly local livelihoods. Demand is the main driver of poaching of fish and seafood in the reserve’s lagoon, he said. And there are newer, growing phenomena, like collectors, or the lack of markets providing supplies for the private sector, he added. “Permits were issued for making crafts and selling food, but no one knows where some of the things that are sold came from,” he cautioned. Two years ago, the non-governmental Cuban Association of Artists and Artisans adopted restrictive measures for those who sold crafts made with coral or shells from vulnerable species. @ipsnews

HAVANA 26 Abril (By José Manuel Pallí, Esq). Perhaps the most important question raised by Cuba’s new approach to foreign investment in real estate is the one related to the nature of the rights a foreign investor who develops real estate in Cuba — and those who purchase the residential units from the developer — can acquire over the land and the improvements built on it.
This is a question that cannot be answered simply by reading the new law and its companion documents. It requires placing the question squarely in the midst of the Cuban legal system as a whole, taking into account the very particular (and evolving) socio-economic model that legal system supports. But you do get, from just reading a number of articles or sections of the new law, a hint (and a strong one, in my humble view) of what the nature of those “property rights” may turn out to be.
As I noted in a previous column, Chapter VI of Cuba’s new foreign investment law (Ley 118/2014), which covers foreign investment in real estate, is couched in the same language found in Chapter VI of Ley 77/95, which the new law supersedes. The new Chapter VI has only one article (article 17), which is identical to article 16 in the old law but for the fact it omits a clause that used to ban foreign investment in the area of housing to be used by Cuban individuals who resided permanently in the island. The omission of that little clause is what appears to open that area of the Cuban economy to foreign capital.

The version of Chapter VI found in the old foreign investment law included two additional articles: one covering investments which consisted in plainly acquiring real estate as an entrepreneurial activity per se, which the law considered to be a form of direct foreign investment (article 17 of Ley 77/95); and another article related to the terms and conditions governing the acquisition and transfer of real estate, which the article said would be set in the document whereby the investment was approved by the Cuban authorities, and should conform to the property laws of Cuba (article 18 of Ley 77/95). The new Chapter VI contains one single article, the aforementioned article 17 (16 of the old law).

I do not read as much into the omission of the second of these two articles in the new Chapter VI as I do with regard to the restrictive clause omitted from the text of article 17 in the new law. It seems clear, from reading the procedures whereby approvals for foreign investment are obtained, that these approval documents are always used for purposes of fixing the terms and conditions to any foreign investment the Cuban government approves.

But I do wonder what the omission of an article similar to article 18 of the old law may mean in the context of the new law. Why choose to no longer characterize the acquisition of real estate for entrepreneurial purposes as foreign direct investment, if that is what the omission of old article 18 in the new law means? And my concern is not with the Cuban legal system itself, or with the way any of its laws are drafted; what I dread is the confusion they may create in the minds of those who tend to take for granted that what they understand to be the case is exactly what others should understand is the case. And that confusion can be lethal when you are dealing with property rights, especially when you believe there is, and can only be, but one conception (yours) of what property rights are.

Article 2 of Cuba’s new foreign investment law is a glossary (listing the definition of terms used in the law) that includes the definition of what “administrative concessions” are. It suggests that when a state-owned asset is to become part of an approved foreign investment, the title document the foreign investment venture gets is in the nature of an administrative concession, making it a title subject to an expiration date (con caracter temporal, reads article 2 (e)), and potentially restricted by contractual obligations the beneficiary of the concession agrees to, and not an outright conveyance of the title to the property in question.

Most Cuban lands are state-owned assets. So, when one reads in article 18.2 of the new law that the transfer (transmisión) to the Cuban investing side of the ownership or other property rights over state-owned assets, in order for the Cuban side to be able to contribute those rights into the foreign investment (“La transmisión a favor de los inversionistas nacionales de la propiedad o de otros derechos reales sobre bienes de propiedad estatal, para que sean aportados por aquellos…”), is done subject to the principles established under the Cuban constitution, it is important to be aware that the Cuban constitution does not understand or define ownership rights or derechos de propiedad the way we do in the United States.

Article 18.1 (d) seems to highlight this fact when it singles out usufruct and superficie rights among those the foreign investment concern can have over the land contributed by the Cuban investor. Both of those “property rights” or derechos reales — as rights directly exercisable over things, land included, are called in Civil Law parlance — are lesser in nature and in extent than what we in the United States call private property (or ownership) rights.

But this does not mean they are worthless; they can be extremely valuable, and yet fall short of being as strong as U.S. rights are. You just need to know what you are dealing with, without deluding yourself through wishful thinking.
The new foreign investment law may trigger a reaction similar to November 2011, when Cuba decided to facilitate the transfer of housing rights to third parties. Back then, many jumped to the conclusion that there was now an American-style real property market opening up in Cuba, without noticing that, under Cuban laws, a right to housing falls far short from what we in the United States call fee simple title over a house.

As was the case back then, the fact that neither the Cuban constitution nor its civil laws have changed and the concept of property rights remains in Cuba the one that befits a society built around socialist principles should be a good reason for caution. But so it is in China and in some other countries where property rights are as different from ours as Cuba’s are. Still, foreign investors in those countries crave for opportunities to invest in their real estate assets.
Two important things to take into account and be careful with: Before a parcel of state-owned land is approved for use in a foreign investment setting, it must first be placed in the hands of a Cuban national who is to be a party in the foreign investment; and the terms and conditions to which that parcel of land will be subject to (which will define what the foreign investor will be able to do and not do with it) are found in the document whereby the investment is approved by the Cuban authorities AND in the administrative concession that entitled the Cuban national investor with whatever rights it holds over the parcel.

One last point, and I know I am wearing you down, my esteemed reader:

Cuba’s foreign investment law defines three different vehicles (article 12 calls them modalidades, or modes) through which foreign investments can be made in Cuba, but suggests (in article 13.2) that for purposes of construction at risk (contratos a riesgo para la construcción) the choice may only be one: the international economic association contract, or contrato de asociación económica internacional (the other two modes are mixed-capital enterprises, or empresas mixtas, and enterprises — or investments — where only foreign capital participates empresa de capital totalmente extranjero, pursuant to article 13.1).

A contrato de asociación económica internacional is the only investment mode that Cuba assigns as the vehicle of choice for investments in certain areas of its economy, one of them the construction sector. Of course, construction is a rather broad concept, which may range from buildings in a real estate development for housing or touristic purposes to the construction of public works (like roads or port facilities). The glossary in this law does not define what it means by contrato a riesgo para la construcción. Another term that is not defined in the law is el patrimonio de la nación, which under article 20 is out of the reach of foreign capital.
Article 20 of Ley 118/2014 reads as follows: “The Cuban state will authorize foreign investments when they do not affect national security and defense, the patrimonio de la nación, or the environment.
By implying that foreign investments that “affect” (?) either category in this somewhat broad threesome will NOT be authorized, Cuba could easily reject a large number of proposals for foreign investment, using article 20 as a shield. And I don’t recall seeing a similar provision in Cuba’s predecessor to this new foreign investment law.
I am sorry, but you will not see me taking even a stab at translating patrimonio de la nación into English legalese, because that kind of translation is usually a way to expand an already existing confusion.
But if you look for an answer in Cuba’s Ley del Patrimonio Estatal (Decreto-Ley No 227/2002), you are not likely to find it there. My reading of this 2002 law — as always, I must point out I am not a Cuban lawyer, but just a lawyer who was born in Cuba, and it is from a Cuban lawyer who currently practices in the island that you should seek the answer to this and other Cuban legal questions — is that Cuba does not make a clear distinction between bienes de dominio público, propiedad estatal and patrimonio de la nación, all terms which are used in its foreign investment law to refer to state-owned assets that are contributed by the Cuban side into a foreign investment venture.
My next installment will deal with the disappointment of seeing that Cuba’s interference with labor relations between foreigners and locals remains basically unchanged.

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached at jpalli@wwti.net; you can find his blog at http://cubargiejoe.com

ortakoy-mosque-in-istanbul-turkey-08HAVANA   26 Abril   Cuba’s Muslims enjoy good relations with the ruling Party. But getting approval to build a mosque is no easy task on the island, where bureaucracy and ideology reign For years, Cuba’s Muslims estimated at just a few thousand—have been a bit, well, unorthodox.
Most have favored a flexible version of Islam that’s adjusted to years of living in the pork-loving Communist state. Religious practices like avoiding booze, fasting on Ramadan and getting circumcised are often considered optional for Muslims on the island. Many haven’t even worshiped at a mosque, since Cuba has never permitted one. That is, until now. Cuba, it seems, may be getting its first mosque, courtesy of the Turkish government.
Turkish officials sent a delegation to Cuba last week to discuss the project. The tentative plans call for building a mosque in Havana modeled after the 19th-century Baroque style of Ortakoy Mosque in Istanbul. “We thought the mosque would fit perfectly in Havana’s historic district with the neighborhood’s European architecture,” says Yuksel Sezgin, press adviser for Turkey’s Religious Affairs Foundation, a branch of the country’s top government-run religious organization. Turkish officials say the project is part of a wider effort to reach out to Muslims across the Caribbean. The foundation will complete a similar mosque project in Haiti by the end of the year. According to the plans, the Havana mosque will be 32,300 square feet and have the capacity to serve 500 people. As it stands, most Cuban Muslims pray in their homes or, on Fridays, in the living room of Pedro Lazo Torre, the leader of Havana’s Muslim community. Luis Mesa Delmonte, a Cuban professor working on Middle Eastern studies at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, says President Raul Castro’s government approved the mosque project as part of Cuba’s wider effort to inch open the Communist system.
“The Cuban government approved the project some years ago, but the idea was to build one with national resources,” Delmonte says over email. “It seems to me that the very difficult economic conditions the island is facing won’t help in that direction.” Enter Turkey, which is eager to lend a hand and widen its influence as a world power. Cuba’s Muslim community—comprised of both locals and diplomats from abroad—enjoys good relations with the cubain government. But getting approval to build a mosque is no easy task on the island, where bureaucracy and ideology are often major obstacles. The Cuban Embassy did not respond to a request for a comment. But when news of the initiative emerged, there were several reports in Turkey indicating that many Cubans were unhappy about the mosque plan, so President Castro, and his officially retired brother, Fidel, were planning to meet to discuss the project. A few days later, Cuba’s ambassador to Turkey, Alberto Gonzales Casals, denied there was any friction about the mosque, but cautioned that the final decision of who would build it yet to be made.

140425-peter-crowley-6_d1e350c4c7b0bc52748851c52ca405fd.nbcnews-ux-680-440HAVANA   25 Abril    Peter Crowley believes there’s no excuse for not trying. Born with optic atrophy and legally blind, that has not stopped him from climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, skiing dozens of Adirondack trails, paddling from Albany to New York City and crossing the English Channel in a solo red kayak. The accomplished athlete brought that same canoe to Cuba where he aims to cross the shark-filled waters of the Florida Straits.
He left Havana’s International Yacht Club shortly after 12 p.m. Friday with his son Peter Jr. paddling alongside him in a blue kayak. Traveling some 4 miles an hour, the team hopes to reach Key West, Florida, about 100 miles away, within 24 hours. Peter Crowley, with his son. Crowley is aiming to kayak the shark-filled Florida Straits. The waters are treacherous and challenging for any athlete. Australian marathon swimmer Susan Maroney was 22 in 1997 when she became the first athlete to complete the swim with the help of a shark cage, after failing more than once. Last year, distance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, finally made it across the Straits without a shark cage after failing four times.
Last August, Tennessee musician Ben Friberg, 35, took 28 hours to paddle his 14-foot long board from Havana to Florida, a journey he said was designed to “promote peace and understanding” between feuding Washington and Havana. Peter Crowley, a legally blind athlete who will kayak from Havana to Key West. Crowley, who turns 57 next month, is hoping his journey will “inspire others to challenge themselves whether they are disabled or not.” Since he was a child, Crowley said, he “never accepted the idea that a disability defined what I could or could not do. There are wonderful opportunities out there waiting to be experienced.” Peter Crowley NBC NEWS Image: Peter Crowley /ROBERTO LEON140425-peter-crowley-son_d1e350c4c7b0bc52748851c52ca405fd.nbcnews-ux-680-480

umbral_1LA HABANA April 25   Two world premieres by the Cuban National Ballet (BNC) opened celebrations in the island on occasion of the International Dance Day, to show off the technical spectrum of this renowned company. The most recent piece by its director, Alicia Alonso, combined musicality, technical ingenuity, and an interesting use of lights to show audience a specific way of dancing, and especially boys highlighted by the virility and complex sequence of steps.
The title of the piece, Caleidos, means in Greek language beautiful form, an aesthetic principle proposed in many Alonso’s pieces and always supported by a musical luxury selection, in this case, French composer Camille Saint-SaÔns infiltrated the necessary spirituality. The gala, held at the Havana’s Mella Theater, had the presence of the Cuban prima ballerina assoluta. On the other hand, BNC prima ballerina Viengsay Valdes took a main role in “El desequilibrio,” new choreography by young dancer Laura Domingo, who also revive performances these days with the National Art School during the 20th International Meeting of Academies. From today to April 29, International Dance Day, different companies of the country will pay tribute to this kind of art, which according to Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, is inseparable from human condition.(Prensa Latina)

barriochino2HAVANA 25 Abril  (By Patricia Rey Mallén)  China’s foreign minister arrived in Cuba on April 22, on an official visit to an island where Beijing is increasing its investment, including in oil exploration.  The Chinese community in Cuba, in fact, dates back 150 years, and played a fundamental role in the success of Castro’s revolution — but few people know about it.
Armando Choy does. The son of a humble Chinese shopkeeper, Choy grew up in Havana in the 1950s, experiencing racism and wretched living conditions. In 1957, he joined the uprising that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista’s U.S.-backed regime, and he was made a general in Fidel Castro’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. “I acted in the interests of the majority of humanity inhabiting the planet earth, not on behalf of narrow individual interests,” he wrote in “Our History is Still Being Written,” a memoir he co-wrote with two other Chinese-Cuban revolutionaries. Deeply Marxist and convinced that communism would never thrive without a global uprising, Choy embodies the ties that China and Cuba shared throughout much of the 20th century. Since its rise to the position of world’s second-largest economy, China’s interest in the region has expanded to other countries, but Cuba still plays an important role in Beijing’s Latin America strategy.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chose Havana for his first stop in his tour of the region, which will take him to Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil as well, in the last week of April. “China and Cuba have common goals in their international agendas,” Bruno Rodríguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, said after his meeting with Wang on Tuesday. China historically backs many of Cuba’s positions, such as the rejection of the embargo and embracing the principle of nonintervention in international disputes. However, Wang’s tour of Latin America is more about economics than geopolitics. China’s interest in Latin America is growing steadily, for economic reasons. Over the past decade, China has largely had a relationship with the region based on importing natural resources and exporting manufactured goods. This balance, though, has started to shift: For the past five years, China has focused increasingly on direct investment in projects in the region, and Latin America is happily welcoming it as a partner. China is Cuba’s second largest trading partner after Venezuela. In addition, Cuba is China’s largest partner in the Caribbean, with bilateral trade now standing at a little over $2 billion annually, according to Chinese government data. Beijing has been pushing Havana to open its market through reforms, drawing upon its own experience in the last three decades, when China allowed its private sector and entrepreneurship to flourish, stimulated foreign investment, and promoted internal consumption.
To this end, China agreed in 2004 to give Cuba $400 million in the form of long-term loans to support development, on top of the $1.3 billion it had already invested in the island since the 1990s. China has also undertaken several large-scale projects in the country, such as developing onshore and offshore oil exploration, as well as the expansion of Cuba’s largest refinery in Cienfuegos; the development of the recently opened deep-water port in the town of Mariel; and building two hospitals. Foreign entrepreneurship is now encouraged in Cuba, and Cuban exiles and expats are allowed into the country for short periods of time, for both family and business reasons. The country has also focused its efforts on renovating its ailing industry, starting with sugar, the island’s main export. Cuba has begun receiving foreign investment — mainly from Brazil and the UK — to modernize equipment and upgrade its sugarcane plantations. China imports about 400,000 tons of sugar a year, making it the largest buyer of Cuban sugar, according to state sugar monopoly AZCUBA.

But China is being driven to more involvement in Cuba by pragmatism, not a shared Communist ideology. “Beijing has demonstrated that it will conduct business with left-leaning governments like Venezuela and Ecuador as readily as with right-leaning governments like Colombia,” Paul Nash, a China commentator for the Diplomatic Courier, wrote in a column. Nash argued that the partnership between Cuba and China represents Cuba’s ticket to international trade. “If China can help Cuba’s economy reform such that [the island], like Vietnam, no longer justifies the embargo on the basis that Cuba’s economy is controlled by international communism, that might be the path to normalized relations [with the U.S.],” he added. This pragmatism about international economic relations has also defined China’s approach to Venezuela, its largest trading partner in Latin America. Venezuela has been depending on China for investment and loans since the country severed its ties with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in 2007. “Venezuela has a policy goal of trying to limit its exposure to the international debt market,” Mark Jones, a Latin America expert at the Baker Institute, told Al Jazeera. “For China, ideology has very little to do with it. They are investing for strategic reasons.” China has made it clear that its interest in Latin America is not limited to those countries with which it may ally politically. In his first visit to the region in an official capacity last year, China’s President Xi Jingping visited Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rica, all countries whose allegiance is with the U.S. Xi is expected to stop over in Cuba in July, on his way to Fortaleza, Brazil, to take part in a BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). “Cuba and China’s relationship is as strong as ever,” said Wang at the end of his visit to Havana. “Now, we need to work to bring it to the next level.” As Wang said, China and Cuba’s relationship has entered a new stage: it is no longer defined by ideology — as it was in Choy’s days — but by trade. As the Asian giant steps further into Latin America, though, Havana will remain one of the first stops in its itinerary.

igarzaHAVANA  24 April  (CUBA STANDARD)  Although foreign investors at the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) will still have to hire employees through a state agency, they will be able to negotiate salaries, contract self-employed Cubans, and hire as many foreign workers as they want, and workers will pocket most of what their employers pay the agency.
Speaking at the FECONS construction fair in Havana, Mariel Zone chief executive Ana Teresa Igarza said that workers at Mariel will receive 80% of what employers pay the agency, and employers will freely negotiate salaries with the agency, without having to adhere to any fixed tariffs. Previously, foreign joint ventures paid salaries under to a fixed scale in convertible pesos (CUC) to state agency ACOREC, which passed on only a fraction to workers, in non-convertible Cuban pesos (CUP). Under that arrangement, foreign companies had few means to provide incentives to Cuban employees; in a legal gray zone, “many employers” have been paying hard-currency “gratifications” to good workers, Igarza recognized. Igarza didn’t say whether under new regulations the state agency will offer employers a choice of workers. However, the new rules do not put any limits on hiring foreign workers, and the new foreign investment law also allows contracting self-employed Cubans through the state agency, according to reports in official media.
The state agency is designed to help foreign investors, because “many don’t know the country, and they will be offered suitable workers,” Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry official Deborah Rivas defended its continued existence in a press conference with local media last week. Igarza said the new employment agencies’ main aim, according to the new foreign investment law passed in March, is not to collect, but to “offer a service” — “to supply and facilitate the personnel best qualified for the activity.” “This will make investors feel motivated because they have to pay less, and workers as well because they receive larger salaries than those before, and therefore productivity is incentivized,” Igarza said, according to official news reports. In negotiating salaries, employers must consider the high level of education among Cuban workers, Igarza said during her speech. The Foreign Investment Ministry’s Rivas said that negotiations will be based on comparable salaries in Latin America and average salaries in Cuba. If an example cited by Igarza is an indication, Mariel jobs could pay more than 10 times as much as the median salary in Cuba. The 20% fee will go towards the cost of providing services, such as maintaining offices, Igarza said.
In a hint of how the government is planning for a currency merger, Igarza said that during the transition the workers will be paid in soft-currency CUP, at a rate of 10:1 for each hard-currency CUC the employer pays the agency. Observers have predicted a CUC devaluation in that range as part of the ongoing currency reform; the current exchange rate contracting and paying personnel will soon be published in the Gaceta Oficial, Igarza said. The new foreign investment law, passed by the National Assembly March 29, has yet to be published. During the same speech, Igarza said the Mariel Zone administration is working closely with foreign investors on 15 projects, which could materialize as early as this year.mariel-portada-580x435

havana-live-portmanateePORT MANATEE – HAVANA 24 Abril (Matt M. Johnson, Herald business) A ferry company that wants to start taking travelers to Cuba as early as this summer has chosen Port Manatee as its port of origin.
Havana Ferry Partners would run a ferry service between the port and Havana. It plans to ferry up to 300 passengers per trip on overnight voyages that would give travelers time to have dinner in Bradenton and breakfast in Havana. Havana Ferry Partners CEO Jorge Fernandez updated plans for his company to move its operations to the port during a meeting Tuesday in Bradenton with Rep. Vern Buchanan. But with a decades-old Cuba travel embargo still in force, the company isn’t yet ready to start selling tickets. Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras and port authority Commissioner Larry Bustle also attended the meeting. Fernandez said his company will observe regulations, which do allow U.S. citizens to receive licenses to travel to Cuba for more than a dozen reasons. But, Havana Ferry Partners would still need approval to transport people by boat. Currently, U.S. citizens with Cuba travel licenses may only travel directly from the United States to the island nation via charter aircraft.
“I know the rules and regulations are very strict,” Fernandez said. “We are very, very obsessed with compliance at all times.” Havana Ferry Partners was founded in 2009 in Fort Lauderdale. Nearby Port Everglades sends weekly shipments of goods to Cuba under a special waiver through the U.S. Department of Treasury. Those goods are generally food and medicines. Havana Ferry Partners has yet to send a boat to Cuba for any purpose. A move to Port Manatee gives the ferry company better access to a seaport than could be found at Port Everglades or PortMiami, Fernandez said. The company also chose Port Manatee over Port Tampa Bay. Fernandez said ferry passengers will save three hours of travel time to Cuba by leaving from Port Manatee versus Tampa Bay. Cuba ferry service could start as soon as 90 days from now, he said. This is the most specific timetable the company has given since it publicly presented its plans to the Manatee County Port Authority last October. Buqueras said he is optimistic that the port will be home to a Cuba ferry service. The port is ready to host Havana Ferry Partners as soon as they have federal regulations on their side and are ready to sail. “We’re not looking to open the embargo or put pressure on the embargo,” he said. “We’re looking to do it under the current legal framework.”
Barring a sudden change in U.S. law, Havana Ferry Partners would likely start its service by shipping goods to Cuba. Even that could have a slow start, as the company does not own a ferry boat. Fernandez said his company “has access” to a number of boats, as well as a relationship with a shipbuilder. If and when the company does bring its service to Port Manatee, it could employ up to 40 people. The company would also require a terminal building, a berth and dockside space for cargo. Buqueras said the port has all three. Havana Ferry is not the only company the port has courted to provide service to Cuba. Buqueras, who has promoted the port as an embarkation point to the Communist nation since taking the executive director’s post two years ago, said he is “exploring those opportunities with Havana Ferry Partners and other companies.” Port Manatee could be home to several Cuba-bound ferry services, he said. Buchanan could not be reached for comment. His deputy chief of staff, Max Goodman, said Buchanan, a Republican who serves on the Senate’s trade subcommittee, is not involved with issues concerning travel to Cuba.

Jazz-Wallpaper-1HAVANA  April 23 (PL)  A great jazz jam session will be in charge of Cuban musicians at the National Hotel to celebrate the International Jazz Day, as told by Alicia Bon Cruz, main organizer of the event Tuesday.
This way, Cuba is joined to other activities in the whole world for the International Jazz Day, since April 30 was declared as International Jazz Day by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture on November 2011. Cuban piano players Alejandro Falcon and Roberto Fonseca, drummer Yissy Garcia, trumpeter Yasek Manzano and female singer Luna Manzanares among others, will take part in a concert at the National Hotel.
Jam sessions and concerts will be a part of the activities, besides conferences and academic exchanges. UNESCO General Director Irina Bokova said the jazz melodies have accompanying the struggle against racism and other evils to get positive changes in the society, and that jazz is a reencarnartion of the spirit. One of the objectives for UNESCO is to celebrate the day to give jazz a way to be seen as a tool for peace, love and respect for everyone. The official celebration will be in the city of Osaka, Japan, known as the mecca for jazz in Japan in the 1920’s. sgl/Tac/pgh/ifb