havana-live-currencyHAVANA, 1 October (Ramon Espinosa AP) Cuba’s central bank chief is giving new details about the elimination of a special currency, saying that the shift will require putting more pesos into circulation and issuing higher-denomination bills.

Elimination of the stronger currency is one of the toughest challenges facing Cuba’s struggling socialist economy, forcing officials to eliminate a distorted double set of prices for many goods without spawning inflation.
Most Cubans earn and buy goods in local pesos. The convertible peso used largely in the tourism sector is also used by Cubans to buy goods long unavailable in local currency. The convertible peso is worth about one U.S. dollar, or 24 local pesos.
The highest-denomination local bill is 100 pesos. The state news agency reports Wednesday that Central Bank president Ernesto Medina says consumer prices won’t change.

havana-live-Tutor-for-StudentsHAVANA, 1 October (HT Dmitri Prieto)  A brochure handed out in Havana’s neighborhood of Vedado offers a “package” of refresher courses for high-school students. Parents are invited to pay between 5 CUC (Math only) and 15 CUC (Math, Spanish, Physics and Chemistry) a month to ensure their “son or daughter becomes a university student”, calling a mobile phone number for enrollments. The scope of the academic packages offered catches the eye: they offer refresher courses for the subjects mentioned as well as for the natural sciences, in diverse combinations and at different prices.

The subjects are taught in 45-minute lessons according to a weekly schedule. One wonders, in view of the way these lessons are structured, whether we are dealing with mere refresher courses or a veritable proposal for an alternative to Cuba’s public schools. 

It’s clear the teachers of these refresher courses would not subject students to exams, which would be taken by the latter in the institutions where they “study” officially. The quotation marks are not accidental: it is also clear that the budding business of private lessons exists thanks to the poor quality of public education, which can’t even manage to have its students pass or obtain good grades at the exams designed by the State educational-methodological bureaucracy on the basis of official programs.

That is why both parents and students turn to “refresher” (or perhaps downright private) lessons as an individual option. I see nothing wrong in the existence of private refresher courses. But State education is in such dire straits that these are beginning to replace the systematic education offered at schools, in their very essence. The offer I described above isn’t the only one out there.
There are others, such as “comprehensive refresher courses”, at 10 CUC a month, offered 3 days a week (1 and a half to 2 hour lessons), for secondary school students, which include the completion of the “assignments” required by teachers of a wide range of subjects. The issue becomes particularly complex when we start dealing with university admittance exams.

Those who wish to purse different kinds of university studies must take a Mathematics, Spanish and History exams. Some private refresher courses charge some 300 Cuban pesos (13 CUC) for lessons (offered 3 times a week) designed to prepare you for these exams in full. The core problem isn’t (exclusively) that of prices, but the extent to which State education has deteriorated.
Following this year’s History university admittance exam, the Ministry of Higher Education had to offer a public statement in the news, explaining that the contents of the exam were to be found “in textbooks” and hadn’t been prepared on the basis of the whims of the examiners. It seems many of those aspiring to enter university who failed those exams had complained.

When those of us who graduated years ago saw the exam questions put on screen, they struck as the most elementary queries about facts that, it is logical to assume, “every Cuban ought to know” about the country’s history. Will private schools that offer an alternative to State institutions emerge, reducing the latter to mere venues for “rituals of passage” (examinations) for young people who wish to “go up the ladder” of their personal education? That is the question.

havana-live-medical_educationHAVANA , Sep 30 (acn)  Some 400 delegates and guests, half of them Cubans, will meet today in this city to discuss the role of universities in the health of population.

Renowned personalities of medical education and public health of the United States, Great Britain, Angola , Mexico, Venezuela , El Salvador, Belgium, and other countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe will participate in the 2nd International Conference on Medical Education for the 21st century, which runs until October 3.
Dr. Iliana Morales, director of Science and Technology of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and president of the organizing committee, announced that the event will focus its discussions on how human resources graduate from these centers of higher learning can contribute directly in solving major health problems the world’s population suffers today.

The list of those attending the event includes Dr. Maria Isabel Rodriguez, who served as El Salvador Health Minister, and this time the Havana Medical Sciences University will confer her Doctor Honoris Causa title. As part of the side events a symposium on ethics in health, headed by Dr. Ricardo Gonzalez, MINSAP Ethics Committee president, and visiting professors from the United States will be developed.

Another symposium will deal on education in pharmacology and will be given by the main educators of this specialty in Cuba. The Forum , based in Havana Conventions Palace, includes the presentation of three books by Cuban group of authors on comprehensive general dentistry, obstetrics and perinatology: diagnosis and treatment and anatomy applied to dentistry.


havana-live-panchocespedes8Havana, September 28 (EFE)  Singer and songwriter Francisco “Pancho” Cespedes, who has not taken the stage in Cuba for more than two decades, once again performed live for fans in his native land with a feeling of “indescribable emotion” and with the view that “life is opening up” on the island.

“I don’t make concessions on principles in my life for anything. If I’m singing here without making any concession on principles, something is changing,” Cespedes told Efe moments before taking the stage Saturday night at Havana’s Karl Marx Theater, where he offered a concert to kick off the 6th Leo Brouwer Chamber Music Festival.

In Cuba, “everything is opening up” and “getting straightened out” 56 years after the Revolution,” a time “of too many difficulties,” and Cespedes said that “there’s the thinking and a need that everything is moving forward,” the singer said. “We’re confident about that. I, too, am on that same page,” the write of “Vida loca” said.

Cespedes is known for his personal style of interpreting boleros and ballads with a touch of jazz. It was 24 years ago that he settled in Mexico, his “adoptive homeland,” but Cespedes, who was born in 1957 in the central Cuban city of Santa Clara, has visited Cuba a number of times since then.
However, the chance to sing once again in his homeland and before his countrymen is “a very special moment” and perhaps the key event of his life, Cespedes said. The Leo Brouwer Chamber Music Festival will run until Oct. 12 in Havana and will feature the performances of more than 300 Cuban and foreign artists.havana-live-panchocespedes4  havana-live-pancho havana-live-panchocespedes3

cytokmakjian.jpg.size.xxlarge.promoHAVANA, 28 September  (Michael Weissenstein AP)  A Canadian automobile executive has been sentenced to 15 years in Cuban prison on corruption-related charges that officials here call part of a broad campaign against graft, his company said Saturday.

Ontario-based Tokmakjian Group said the charges against its president, Cy Tokmakjian, 74, were concocted as an excuse to seize the automotive firm’s $100 million in assets in Cuba. The company described the case Saturday as “absurd” and a “travesty of justice.”
The company’s Cuban offices were raided in 2011 as Cuba launched an anti-graft drive that has swept up foreign business executives from at least five nations as well as government officials and dozens of Cuban employees at key state-run companies.

Foreign business people have long considered payoffs ranging from a free meal to cash deposits in overseas accounts to be an unavoidable cost of doing business in Cuba. President Raul Castro has said that rooting out rampant corruption is one of the country’s most important challenges. More than 150 foreign business people and dozens of small South American and European companies have been kicked out of the country under the anti-graft drive.
Several dozen defendants have ended up in jail, including a few foreigners and high government officials accused of influence-peddling and taking bribes. Such cases, and questions about their fairness, have chilled many current and potential investors in Cuba, which is trying to attract foreign capital to jumpstart the stagnant economy.

Cuba’s judicial system is known for speedy proceedings behind closed doors with little or no media access. Cuban officials have said little about the Tokmakjian case beyond announcing last year that the Tokmakjian Group’s operating license had been rescinded due to unspecified actions “that are contrary to the principles and ethics that should characterize commercial activity, and contravene Cuban judicial order.”

Tokmakjian managers Claudio Vetere and Marco Puche got 12- and 8-year sentences, respectively, company vice-president Lee Hacker told The Associated Press. He said the company’s lawyers were notified of the sentences on Friday. The Canadian company said its president had been allowed to call only four of the 18 expert witnesses he wanted to testify.
“The deception taking place in Cuba is beyond imagination,” the company said. “Lack of due process doesn’t begin to describe the travesty of justice.” The company’s website lists its head office in Concord, Ont. The website says it provides both transportation services and engine repairs. With files from The Canadian Press

 havana-live-pefumeHavana, September 27   Cuba will punish officials with the Biological Laboratories Entrepreneurial Group Labiofam after they launched two perfumes in presumed homage to Cuban-Argentinean guerrilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara and Bolivarian leader Hugo Chavez.

“This serious mistake will lead to correspondent disciplinary measures, reads a statement by the Executive Committee of the Cuban Council of Ministers published by Granma newspaper.
Labiofam workers announced to the international media during a recent congress of the entity in Havana that two perfumes, still in the works, would bear the names of Ernesto and Hugo.
The details of this irresponsible action were deeply analyzed in the evening of Friday, September 26 in the presence of the Enterprises’ director and the officials who presented the product, even when it was not being commercialized or registered, the statement reads.

It was made clear that it was not true that the relatives of Che and Chavez would have approved such use of those names, as one of the officials told AP news agency. After asserting that such symbols are sacred today and always, the statement stressed that such actions will never be accepted by the people or the revolutionary government.(acn).

 havana-live-taxiHAVANA, 27 September  Cuba’s state-run tourism industry is increasingly doing business with the country’s new class of private entrepreneurs, trying to improve quality of food and lodging while maintaining a grip on the sector’s biggest sources of foreign exchange.

One of the country’s highest tourism officials provided new details on the initiative in an interview with The Associated Press, saying two dozen restaurants for tourists have been converted into worker-owned cooperatives since January.
Jose Manuel Bisbe, president of state tour operator Havanatur, also said his firm was sending tourists to hundreds of private bed-and-breakfasts instead of government hotels. “The state must free itself from activities that aren’t decisive for the economy and that experience is showing function better privately,” he told the AP on Thursday.

He said that some tourism-related businesses like bus transport and large-scale hotels would remain in state hands. Tourism is one of Cuba’s top four generators of income, along with nickel mining, medical services and remittances from relatives living abroad.
State-run restaurants for tourists and for Cubans have long suffered from complaints about poor quality and widespread pilferage by employees who resell food and supplies on the black market or take them for personal use.

Hundreds of private restaurants have sprung up around the country since the launch of a limited economic liberalization four years ago and generally offer food and customer service far superior to those in government venues. Cuba sees cooperatives as a middle ground between the communist model of state ownership and the private enterprise that has been making inroads into industries like restaurants and personal services under the reform meant to spur badly needed growth.

State news agency Prensa Latina has reported that Cuba has 11,000 restaurants, most for Cubans, and 1,260 private establishments known as “paladares,” which cater mostly to visitors and foreigners living in Cuba.
Official statistics are sparse in Cuba and Bisbe declined to provide further details of the private enterprise initiative, including how many restaurants were run wholly or partly by the state tourism sector. The Ministry of Commerce also runs a large number of restaurants.
State news agency Cubadebate reported this week that 200 homeowners in the lush Vinales valley had signed deals with state tour operators to provide lodging for tourists. (By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ and MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN Associated Press)

 havana-live-grammy-award-2014HAVANA, September 26 Cuban artists Descemer Bueno, Eliades Ochoa, Pablo Milanes and the popular group Gente D Zona were nominated on Wednesday by the Latin Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences to opt for different awards in the 15th edition of its Grammy Prizes.

Composed by Descemer Bueno and interpreted by Gente D Zona and Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias, the single Bailando gets to this internationally renowned contest with mentions in the categories of Recording of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Urban Performance and Best Urban Song.
Santiago de Cuba musician Eliades Ochoa and his Patria Quartet will compete in Best Traditional Tropical Album with the CD El Eliades que soy, produced in Cuba by Bis Music, the record label of Artex S.A, as informed by the contest’s official site.
Also represented in the annual competition for the most important awards in the Latin sound context will be troubadour Pablo Milanes with this CD Renaciendo, competing in Best Album by a Singer-Songwriter.
Another member of the island’s New Song Movement will be present through the nomination of Ojos Color Sol in Song of the Year, a piece in which Silvio Rodriguez cooperated with the Puerto Rican group Calle 13.
The 15th edition of the annual Latin Grammies will take place on November 20 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena of Las Vegas .(ACN) 

havana-livemurilloHAVANA, Sept 26  (Reuters)  Cuban President Raul Castro granted more authority to the man who has led the campaign to modernize Cuba’s socialist economy, naming Marino Murillo as economy and planning minister on Thursday, the government said. Former Economy Minister Adel Yzquierdo, 69, was demoted from minister to deputy minister but will retain his position on the powerful 14-member Political Bureau of the ruling Communist Party, the government said in a statement. Murillo, 53, also a member of the politburo and one of Cuba’s vice presidents, takes over as head of the ministry in an attempt to give more impetus to the market-oriented reforms that Castro has been implementing since taking over for his ailing brother Fidel Castro in 2008. “It is necessary to take the process of modernizing the economy and planning to a higher level,” the statement said. Marino will retain his position as chief of the commission charged with implementing the reforms, the statement said. (by Daniel Trotta)

 havana-live-luis-cristalHAVANA, September 25  Cuba expects the visits of 200 cruise ships in the upcoming winter season, the largest number of calls by those boats ever, according to a Tourism official cited by specialized media.

The visits by tourist and academic boats are expected to surpassed their record in 2013, when the island received nearly 200 boats, said the president of the International Tour Operators and Travel Agents Group Havanatur, Jose Manuel Bisbe.
According to specialized media online, the directive announced that during the winter season, beginning October 29, the island expects to receive the British Cruise Ship Thomson Dreams with capacity for 2 000 passengers.
The boat is expected to call Havana harabor with no operations in that destination. Also scheduled to arrive the Canadian Cuba Cruise, which will take a seven-day tour around the island, while others like the Panorama and the Star Clippers are also on the winter agenda.(ACN)

  havana-live-old-havana-repaire3HAVANA, 25 September  (Havana Times Elvira Pardo Cruz)  Many are the obstacles we must dodge as we head for work or go out for a stroll around the city. One sees men wearing helmets and overalls in hectic movement, oblivious to the hot tropical sun and what day of the week it is.

Their minds are firmly set on installing underground gas, electricity, fiber-optic and telephone pipelines. People of all ages – and even those with disabilities – dodge, jump and climb over the trenches dug up by these men, such that one feels one is watching the Olympics at times.  Some are helped by a worker and there is always the charitable old lady who offers these hard-working and willful men a bottle of water or a cup of coffee.

  havana-live-old-havana-repaire1The installation of underground piping began in January of 2013. A large investment to restore this infrastructure using cutting edge technology is being made. These efforts involve brigades from the Union Nacional Electrica (National Electric Union, UNE), Recursos Hidraulicos y Aguas de la Habana (Havana Hydraulic and Water Resources Center), the telephone company ETECSA, the Empresa de Gas Manufacturado de La Habana (Natural Gas Company of Havana) and the Direccion de Redes Tecnicas (Technical Networks Office) of the Provincial People’s Power Assembly.
  havana-live-old-havana-repaire4The Direccion de Inversiones (Investment Office), Puerto Carenas construction company and Plan Maestro para la Revitalizacion Integral de la Habana Vieja (“Master Plan for the Comprehensive Restoration of Old Havana”), projects attached to the Office of the City Historian, are also participating in the project. Cuba’s National Housing Institute, the Road and Traffic Center and the Servicios Especializados de la Construccion (Specialized Construction Services, SECONS) verify the state of the buildings before work begins. The company GEOCUBA and Pinar del Rio’s GEOMINERA have also taken on the challenge.

The work goes on from sunrise to sunset.
The narrow streets make it impossible to install all of the pipelines at once. Old Havana is in a state of commotion, as the repair of parks and old buildings as magnificent as the Capitolio, the Manzana de Gomez complex or the Parque Cristo, as well as the restoration of housing, is also underway. Old Havana, it seems, is being reborn from the foundation up. 

 havana-live-old-havana-repairePassersby, tourists and locals look on, marveling at the pace of the work. A building being built on the corner, a long piece of pipe being transported by a dozen men, a dumper loaded with construction materials, a crane lifting the concrete foundation off an old building, an enormous truck being loaded with rubble, the deafening noise of sledge-hammers breaking up the pavement, the sirens of fire-fighters, rushing to the scene of a fire, making their way through the tight streets – many are the sights during the day, but people remain positive as they head home to rest, harboring the dreams yet to be fulfilled.
Tomorrow will be another day, the repair work will continue, the city will stir like a giant, and the streets will show the dug-up trenches that are a testament to these efforts, undertaken in sunlight or in rain.
(Photo by Elio Delgado Valdes) havana-live-old-havana-repaire2 0030

 havana-live-pefumeHAVANA, 25 September (AP ANDREA RODRIGUEZ)  Call it “Eau de Revolution” Cuba’s biggest producer of natural products has come up with a pair of colognes for the discerning supporter of international socialism who wants something more than just the iconic “Che” T-shirt.  Formulated by a French company and produced in Cuba, the colognes are being presented this week at a Labiofam convention in Havana.

A woodsy and refreshing citric scent with notes of talcum powder called “Ernesto” honors guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara. For those seeking something softer and fruitier, there’s a blend with hints of mango and papaya called “Hugo,” for the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
“They will be very attractive colognes, but the names also mean a lot to us,” said Isbel Gonzalez, vice president for research and development for Labiofam, which produces homeopathic medicines, cleaning products and dietary supplements. Formulated by a French company and produced in Cuba, the colognes are being presented this week at a Labiofam convention in Havana.
The two scents so far have generic bottles and simple printed labels bearing only their names. But Labiofam is developing more attractive bottles and labels with hopes of putting the colognes on sale in Cuba and internationally, Gonzalez said. She declined to provide a timeline. Labiofam officials said they and French firm Robertet worked for more than 1 1/2 years to produce the colognes.
The Cuban company polled 122 visitors to other pharmaceutical conventions to determine what names people preferred from a pre-selected list of options. “It was a great challenge,” said Cuban biochemist Mario Valdes, who led the scent design team. The French company did not respond to a request for comment. Labiofam is also producing a pair of women’s perfumes called “Amalia” and “Alba.”

While ALBA is the Spanish acronym for the leftist Latin America regional alliance founded by Chavez, Gonzalez did not provide details about whether the perfumes’ names also had political connotations. Celebrity endorsements are a vital part of the perfume and cologne business, but scents inspired by political figures are rarer. One example is that associated with ousted Philippines President Joseph Estrada, a former movie action star and heart throb who was forced out in a 2001 “people power” revolt.
Estrada, now mayor of the Philippines capital of Manila, was known for using a distinctively scented body powder, and at one point during his presidency packages described as Estrada’s body powder were put on sale for his followers. Guevara’s image has long been appropriated for products as diverse as clothing and automobiles, often running into objections from the survivors of the Argentine-born revolutionary who helped Fidel and Raul Castro’s rebels overthrow Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Chavez became the Castros’ greatest ally since the breakup of the Soviet Union, frequently visiting and supplying Cuba with millions of barrels of discounted oil that provided vital support for the island’s struggling economy. Labiofam’s director is a nephew of the Castros, and Valdes said the families of Guevara and Chavez had been consulted and approved the use of the names.
Cubans are enthusiastic consumers of perfumes and colognes. State cosmetics company Suchel-Camacho produces “Alicia,” a scent named for Cuban National Ballet founder Alicia Alonso, which has been popular among both tourists and Cuban women since the 1980s. At the Labiofam convention, visitors’ reactions to the revolutionary scents were largely positive.
“I’d probably be more likely to buy ‘Ernesto’ because the scent is a little more striking,” said Reymundo Miranda, an expert in traditional medicine. Valdes said the colognes had no intention of trivializing the two men’s legacies. “We didn’t want to create propaganda, but rather pay homage to them and help their names endure,” he said. FRANKLIN REYES — AP Photo.

CUBA-GALA CLAUSURA XXIII FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE BALLET DE LA HABANAHAVANA, September 24  (acn)  Cuba’s National Ballet Company (BNC), directed by Alicia Alonso, will be present with prima ballerina Yanela Piñera and leading dancer Camilo Ramos at the 20th International Gala of Ballet to be held on September 27 and 28 at the Grand Opera House of the German city of Dortmund.

The Cuban dancers will interpret the pas de deux of The Corsair, choreographed by Alicia Alonso over the original by Marius Petipa, music by Riccardo Drigo and customs by Salvador Fernandez.
In two presentations, the Cuban dancers will share the stage with figures of the San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Ballet of London, the Staatsballet of Berlin and the National Ballet of Norway, among other important companies.
The press department of the emblematic Cuban company also informed that choreographer Eduardo Blanco is working in the Republic of Honduras, at the Art School of the city of San Pedro de Sula, following an invitation by the authorities of that artistic center.
From October 28 to November 7, the BNC will be the host of the 24th edition of Havana’s International Ballet Festival, a unique moment to exchange experiences between personalities, critics, specialists and impresarios of all parts of the world.

 havana-live-capitol1HAVANA, 24 September  The National Capitol building is a symbol of the city and one of the Cuban big buildings. Moreover, Italian marbles  were used for its construction. Its walls, roofs and lamps were mainly made in France. The emblematic building is regarded as a National Monument since 2010. Today, that huge building is being fully refurbished by the group from the city’s Historian office and a group of private contractors.

It was in 1926 when the then secretary of Public Works Carlos Miguel de Céspedes, during the Gerardo Machado government, ordered to the architects Evelio Govantes and Félix Cabarrocas the planning of that building which was carried out by the Purdy and Herderson Company.
The institutions participating in the refurbishment work include the local Puerto de Carena one, Constructora Caribe one, the Producciones Industriales Cabildo one, among others. Julio Gamboa, who is the main responsible for the refurbishment of the historical architectural structure, explained that there are five main works of refurbishment: the roof, the fourth floor, the ground floor, the external areas and the dome´s structural elements, during the first stage of investment.  havana-live-capitol
Julio Gamboa also added that “the complexity of that work led to carry out a diary analysis, along with the state-run and private institutions to look for a solution for each problem. Over 200 workers from both sectors, who were mainly trained at the related workshop school from the city´s Historian office, are participating in the building´s refurbishment.
The workers who carry out the reconstruction have great experience in relation to the heritage refurbishment. In addition,“all the material used have been nationally produced, including the long-thing bricks from Las Tunas province. The construction of the National Capitol building started on April 1926 in a plot of land with over 43.000 square meters. Moreover, there were around 8000 men, from different nationalities, who participated in its building process. Over eight decades from the beginning of the building of that work, the nation is assuming the important challenge in relation to work for the refurbishment of one of the capital city´s urban landscape´s architectural wonders.
By Hilia Tamayo Batista

AGLUTINADOR_INAUGURAAnd Brujas, pero también brujos, too
Tomorrow September 24, at 6 p.m., Sandra Ceballos launched her latest exhibition, Brujas, pero tambíen brujos (Female Witches, but also Male) at Línea 106 gallery. A project of Aglutinador-Brücke, the Museo de Arte Maniaco (Museum of Manic Art, or MAM), and Línea 106, the group show features work by close to 40 artists or art collaboratives. Cuban artists in the show include Tania Bruguera, Marta María Pérez Bravo, José Bedia, and Manuel Mendive, among others. Other artists hail from Canada, Spain, Italy, and Poland.

“Adventures in Art” at Fototeca de Cubacuban-art-news
As part of the 6th Contemporary Art Salon now going on in Havana, Howard and Patricia Farber will give a bilingual Powerpoint presentation about their art collecting and the Farber Foundation and its activities, including Cuban Art News and the upcoming Cuban Art Awards. Thursday, October 2 at 3 p.m. at the Fototeca de Cuba.

Subasta Habana is back
Taking the theme “A Viva Voz” (Out Loud), this year’s auction will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 5, in the Sala Taganana of Havana’s Hotel Nacional. The lineup includes works by Wifredo Lam, Víctor Manuel, Servando Cabrera Moreno, René Portocarrero, Eduardo Abela, Cundo Bermúdez, Mariano Rodríguez, Loló Soldevilla, Sandú Darié, Yoan Capote, and Los Carpinteros, among others. The works will be on view at Galería Habana from Saturday, October 27 through November 4, from 9 to 5 p.m.


12th Havana Biennial dates and theme
The 12th Bienal de La Habana will take place from May 22 to June 22, 2015. Marking the 30th event’s anniversary, the theme “Between the idea and the experience” will again bring projects to the streets of Havana, where residents will “participate in their design and implementation . . . as a living social laboratory.”

The Utility of History in Havana
FAC-interior (1)
At Factoría Habana, La utilidad de la Historia (The Utility of History) takes as its starting point the investigation of history and its role in the creative process. converted into art. The ten artists in the show span several generations, including younger artists for whom investigation and documentation are integral to their creative work. Curated by Concha Fontenla and Alejandro Machado, La utilidad de la Historia features work by Abel Barroso, Alex Hernández, Ariamna Contino, Celia y Yunior, Fernando Reyna, Frank Mujica, José Ángel Toirac, José Manuel Mesías, Lázaro Saavedra, Ricardo Elías, and Rigoberto Díaz. It opens with an 8 p.m. reception this Friday, September 26, and runs through November 20.

havana-live-_top_resa_2014HAVANA, September 22 (acn) Cuba, interested in strengthening the French market as one of its main tourists sources, will participate tomorrow in the 36th edition of Top Resa, a fair renowned for promoting tourism in Europe, to be held in Paris.

According to statement from the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR by its Spanish acronym), the Cuban mission in the event aims to strengthen links with travel agents operating in the Gallic country, plus update them on new offerings designed for the upcoming winter season.
Until next Friday, the representation of the island will promote destinations of interest to the French market, including patrimonial cities that have arrived at their 500th anniversary, sites of marked French imprint and the resorts of Varadero, Santa Maria Cay, Jardines del Rey and Holguin.
Another goal pursued is attracting new specialized agencies and sectors such as students and the one of events and incentives, the statement says. Led by Maria del Carmen Orellana, MINTUR Business Director, the delegation includes representatives of Havanatur Group and the agencies Cubatur, Cubanacan, San Cristóbal, Gaviota Tours and Amistur.
The meeting will also be attended by executives of the national hotel chains Gran Caribe, Cubanacan, Habaguanex and Gaviota, and foreign partners such as Meliá Hotels International, Accor, Barcelo, Iberostar, Pestana, Roc Hotels and Blue Diamond. Over 70 million people visit France each year, a figure that places it among the most preferred tourist destinations worldwide; hence Top Resa becomes favorable opportunity to find ways to help improving Cuban tourist product.
The latest edition of FIT Cuba, held in May at Morro-Cabaña Military Historical Park, was dedicated to France, which ranks fifth among tourist emitting markets to Cuba with more than 85 000 visitors so far this year.

havana-live-labiofamHAVANA, September 22  Experts from over 20 countries of the world are gathering at Havana’s Conventions Center on Monday for the 2014 International Congress of Cuba’s Labiofam Entrepreneurial Group, which will present its most recent experiences in the production of pharmaceuticals for humans and veterinary use.
The congress includes lectures and debates on the use of bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and other biological products, as well a pharmaceuticals to fight cancer. According to the program, agriculture ministers from 15 nations are scheduled to attend the congress, as well as representatives of international health organizations, the UN Development Program and other entities.
Labiofam entrepreneurial group is currently producing 98 percent of animal medicines used in Cuba, as well as nutritional supplements and pharmaceuticals to fight diseases such as Cancer.
Along with the congress, the group is opening an exhibit of its large gamut of products, which include vaccines, diagnostic means, probiotic foodstuffs, micro-algae and others.(ACN)

havana-live-el-patioHAVANA, 20 Sepember ( AFP) The Cuban government announced plans on Friday (Sep 19) to sell nearly 9,000 state-owned restaurants to private operators, the latest step in the island’s economic reforms.

Cubans frequently complain about the country’s 8,984 state-owned restaurants, which are famous for poor quality, bad service and running out of food. Deputy Trade Minister Aida Chavez said the state would sell them off in a gradual process starting in 2015.
“Cuba will substantially change the structure of its food services in the coming years, with the gradual and orderly transfer of the industry into the hands of the non-state sector,” she said, according to the state-run National Information Agency.
Chavez said the government would rent the buildings where the restaurants are located to the new owners but sell off all other assets, from stoves to chairs to utensils. “The decision… aims to modernize a sector that today demands services with the quality and security the Cuban people, and the tourists who visit us, deserve,” she said.
Cuba currently has 1,261 private restaurants that offer better-quality food and service at a higher price than state establishments. Known as “paladares,” they were first authorized by former president Fidel Castro in the 1990s. Initially, Castro only allowed family-run restaurants with a maximum of 12 seats, but today they can seat up to 50 guests and hire staff.
That has been a key development for the country’s tourism industry, which draws nearly three million foreigners to the island each year. Cuba has begun gradually opening its economy since Castro, the 88-year-old father of the island’s communist revolution, ceded power to his younger brother Raul in 2006. But the reforms have so far failed to deliver the hoped-for boost to economic growth. 

 havana-live-cuban -ffodHAVANA, 16 September   The 6th Congress of Latin America and the Caribbean on food science and technology is taking place in Havana, the Cuban capital, from Monday to Friday September 22.

Researchers, cooks, artists, cinema directors and gastronomy journalists will attend this event organized by several institutions, including the Association for Science and Technology of Food of Cuba (ACTAC), which will be celebrating its 20 years.
They will discuss issues “the food culture in science, gastronomy and audiovisual mass-media,” -also the event’s motto, said the organizational committee in a statement. The congress aims to faciliate the collaboration between the technology and science, gastronomic tourism and culture sectors, and study the current trends in these areas.
As part of this meeting, an Latin American and Caribbean Exhibition-Fair for Food Industry (SIAL-CUBA 2014) will take place over the week, and count on the participation of national and foreign companies of processed food and equipment, Cuban restaurants, and academic health institutions.
According to the head of the organizational committee and president of the ACTAC, Jesus G. Yañez, the congress will be “an unforgettable opportunity”.


 havana-live-star-cliperHAVANA, 3 Septembre   Tall ship sailing specialist Star Clippers, in conjunction with Caribtours, is offering a spectacular package combining its popular Cuba cruise with luxury hotel stays in Grand Cayman and Havana.

Depart the UK on November 25th, 2014 for Grand Cayman, spending four nights at the luxurious Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, set on one of the most beautiful beaches of the Cayman Islands and offering a spectacular spa as well as watersports, a choice of restaurants and private beach cabanas.
Embark Star Flyer on November 29th for an eight night adventure sailing the Cayman Islands as well as remote cays and fascinating colonial cities of Cuba, calling at Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, Casilda, Cienfuegos, Punta Frances (Isla de la Juventud), Cayo Largo and Cienfuegos.
Disembark on December 7th for the transfer to Havana, for two nights exploring the atmospheric Cuban capital based at the Parque Central hotel. This classic hotel, one of the finest in Havana, is right beside the old town, close to such classic sights as El Floridita, the bar favoured by Ernest Hemingway, famed for its daiquiris, and the Museo Nacional de las Bellas Artes. 

havana-live-hvana-boxresDouble Olympic and world champion, now a trainer in Havana, Héctor Vinent Charón.
Photo Simon Bohrsmann

HAVANA, 3  September  I was in a gym in Havana not because of a desire for violent exercise but thanks to a travel book about boxing in Cuba. Here, two sports inspire national fervour. One is baseball, and the other is boxing. Both sports are totally amateur, because professional sport was banned by Fidel Castro after the revolution.
The only way to make your fortune as a player or a fighter is to defect. Few do. It’s part of the Cuban enigma that some things are more important than hard cash. You enter the gym through a small door off a sweaty street. It opens into a small open air arena with hard wooden benches. In the centre is the ring with very worn ropes and a battered canvas.
It looks like a hurricane went through here. Like everything in Cuba, people make do with what they have. The book (In the Red Corner: A Journey Into Cuban Boxing) was written by former Observer journalist John Duncan who, 15 years ago, left his job as a sportswriter and headed to Cuba to try and arrange a mega-fight between heavyweight fighters Mike Tyson and Cuban champion Félix Savón.
Fifteen years later and I walk into Héctor Vinent Charón. I am boxing illiterate, and I don’t know who he is; or that he is twice an Olympic gold medallist and twice a world champion. He was sidelined from boxing by a detached retina. Now he trains young fighters at this gym. He is a quiet man, far from the posturing, shouting, fame-obsessed boxers we know. havana-live-havanaboxersHe poses in worn, old blue gloves that must have pounded many an ear over the years. young fighters train Young fighters learning the basics with Alberto Gonzalez Caturla. Photograph: Simon Bohrsmann Working alongside Charón is Alberto Gonzalez Caturla. Alberto is big, and his nose is a history of life in the ring. He tells me he once worked as a trainer in Newcastle and he has enough English to translate for me. “Tell people to come here for training,” he says.
He asks me to photograph his battered business card, which I suspect is his last copy. Today he is teaching the basics to a group of boys. They come from the streets around here, and it’s classic Havana. Old, crumbling, overcrowded. You wonder what Cuba will be like in 10 years for these boys, when they are young men. I also meet the young champions. They pose for photographs like experienced models. Many have their hair cut in the current fashion – a Mohican centre plume and shaved at the sides.
There is plenty of status at least in being a national boxing champion in Cuba. Into all this walks the seller of fried, triangular snacks that resemble samosas. They aren’t what you’d call the latest in nutritional science. Everybody seizes one, except me, who pays, and sparring resumes. What is striking about Cuba, and this gym, is how slowly things change. If they change at all. Sport in our world is sophisticated, powered by money and technology. Here, they just keep going as best they can and out of it still come some of the greatest boxers on the planet.

 havana-live-St.-kitts-ambasadorHAVANA, September 2 St. Kitts and Nevis’ Resident Ambassador-Designate to the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency, Mr. Kenneth Douglas, presented his credentials to that country’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Her Excellency, Ms. Ana Teresita Gonzalez Fraga.
Ambassador Douglas is still considered the Ambassador-designate until he presents his credentials to the Vice President later in this month. In presenting his credentials, the Cuban-trained diplomat highlighted the dedication and service of his predecessor His Excellency Cedric Harper, who served as Non-Resident Ambassador to Cuba for several years. Ambassador Harper, who resides in Kingston, Jamaica, is also the Federation’s High Commissioner to Jamaica.
Ambassador Douglas expressed the Federation’s support to the Government and People of Cuba in their continued effort to end the economic and trade embargo imposed by the United States. He also spoke of the positive light in which people ought to view Cuba and pledged to work towards strengthening of relations between Havana and Basseterre.

paquetes-a-cubaHAVANA, 31 August  (AP MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN)  A carload of burly nephews and grandsons greeted Martha and Alfredo Gonzalez when they stepped out of Havana’s international airport into the blazing heat of an August afternoon.

A round of embraces and the young men got down to business, hefting the retired couple’s seven massive duffel bags into a crude two-wheel trailer hooked behind an antiquated sedan for the sole purpose of hauling the half-ton of clothes, medicines and other items the Gonzalezes bought in Miami. A few cars down, Claribel Torrez watched a trailer being loaded with baggage that included a 40-inch television and a bicycle.
“The reason I work 40 hours a week is to bring all this to my family,” the 50-year-old Miami fast-food restaurant worker said as her companions tied a tarp over the groaning trailer. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans and Cuban-Americans fly to and from the island each year thanks to the liberalization of U.S. and Cuban travel rules over the last five years.
Their Cuba-bound checked baggage has become a continuous airlift that hauls nearly $2 billion a year worth of car tires, flat-screen televisions, blue jeans, underwear and shampoo to an island where consumer goods are frequently shoddy, scarce and expensive. That could change on Monday, however, when the Cuban government enacts new rules meant to take a big bite of that traffic, sharply limiting the amount of goods people can bring into Cuba in their luggage, and ship by boat from abroad.

The Cuban government says the restrictions are meant to curb abuses that have turned air travel in particular into a way for professional “mules” to illegally import supplies for both black-market businesses and legal private enterprises that are supposed to buy supplies from the state. Among ordinary Cubans, reactions range from worry to outrage that their primary, and for many only, source of high-quality consumer goods may be throttled.
“People are really unhappy,” said Maite Delgado, a 75-year-old retired state worker. “All the clothes and shoes that I have come from my granddaughters in Spain or my siblings in the U.S.” The rules that go into effect Monday run 41 pages and give a sense of the quantity and diversity of the commercial goods arriving in checked bags at Cuba’s airports, whose baggage carousels often look like they’re disgorging the contents of an entire Wal-Mart or Target store.
Travelers will now be allowed to bring in 22 pounds (10 kilos) of detergent instead of 44; one set of hand tools instead of two; and 24 bras instead of 48. Four car tires are still permitted, as are two pieces of baby furniture and two flat-screen televisions. Cuban customs also bars passengers from bringing in items worth more than $1,000. Rather than examining receipts, customs agents are given a long list assigning pre-set values to certain goods ($250 for a video-game console, for example.)
Those prices rise sharply under the new rules, making it far easier to reach that $1,000 limit. The new rules similarly increase the duties paid on goods shipped from abroad, another major source of foreign merchandise for the island. Authorities have taken to the airwaves and pages of state media in recent days to assure Cubans that the vast majority of travelers won’t be affected. The change is intended “to keep certain people from using current rules on non-commercial imports to bring into the country high volumes of goods that are destined for commercial sale and profit,” Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of Cuban customs, told government newspaper Granma in Friday editions.

The government has justified the new rules with examples of prolific mules including one passenger it said brought in 41 computer monitors and 66 flat-screen TVs in a single year. Another supposedly brought in 34 printers, 58 monitors and 74 computers between 2011 and 2014. Between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion worth of goods were flown to Cuba in traveler’s baggage last year, with the average flyer bringing in goods worth $3,551, according to a 2013 survey of 1,154 Cuban and Cuban-American travelers conducted by the Havana Consulting Group, a Florida-based private consultancy that studies the Cuban economy. “It’s sustenance, support that greatly aids in the survival of the Cuban family,” Consulting Group President Emilio Morales said.
“Along with cash remittances, it’s the most significant source of earnings for the Cuban population, not the salaries the government pays.” While his study did not look at the final destination of travelers’ goods, Morales said he estimated based on his knowledge of the phenomenon that about 60 percent went to families and 40 percent to black-market retailers. “A sort of long-distance wholesale market has established itself to supplement the lack of a wholesale market in Cuba,” he said. “Many people are trying to meet the needs of their family, and other needs that are outside those of the family, like bringing things to sell them.”
With foreign reserves dropping sharply over the last two years as Cuba tries to pay off sovereign debt and make itself a more attractive destination for foreign investment, Morales said, the government is desperate to reduce the flow of goods and push Cubans’ relatives abroad to send help in the form of cash remittances, which are subjected to hefty government fees.
Limiting informal imports also would presumably help boost business in state-controlled stores. The rule change already has had an effect in Miami, where many stores are dedicated to selling goods to island-bound Cubans and Cuban-Americans. “”Normally I can’t even sit down for lunch,” said Diana Calzadilla, 28, a cashier at Cadalzo Fashion, a store in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood that sells discount clothing and accessories to travelers on their way to Cuba.
“Look around,” she said, nodding at the empty aisles of leggings, baseball caps and tank tops. “I haven’t sold almost anything this morning. … People look around but they don’t buy anything because they’re not sure how much they’re going to be able to bring.” Several “mules” have commented that they are going to look into other ways to make money, she said. At least one customer, she said, appeared decided. “It was their last trip,” she said. “They don’t know if they’ll go again.”

 havana-live-nayadHAVANA, 31 August (AFP) US swimmer Diana Nyad — the first to swim across the Florida Straits without a shark cage — was presented with Cuba’s Order of Sporting Merit, the first American athlete to receive the award.

US swimmer Diana Nyad less than two miles off Key West, Florida September 2, 2013 Nyad, after four failed attempts, successfully swam from Cuba to Key West Florida in September 2013 without a shark cage, in a 53-hour feat.
Speaking in Spanish, the 65-year-old said the Cuban award was “the most precious honor of my whole life.” “The dream is also to connect our great countries one day — it’s my dream and that of millions of people,” she said, referring to the half-century-long dispute between Washington and the Americas’ only communist government in Havana.  havana-live-nyadFirst Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, also head of Cuba’s Olympic Committee, said Nyad had been given the award in “recognition of her prowess, as a symbol of friendship between our peoples.” Nyad said her next attempted feat of endurance will be to walk across the United States from California to Washington “to draw attention to the problem of obesity,” followed by another project in Cuba to try to boost US-Cuba relations.
She also said she wanted to build an Olympic pool in Cuba for swimmers to “have a better chance to train.

a4a7100ab7e30c0a3885145c833b5ad0HAVANA, 29 August  EU and Cuban officials have made “substantial progress” towards agreeing a trade and political co-operation treaty, the bloc’s top diplomat to Havana said following the second round of talks in Brussels.

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday (28 August) following two days of talks, Christian Leffler, who heads the EU’s external action service in the Americas, added that negotiators would discuss “more sensitive political questions,” when they reconvene for the next round to be held in Havana later this year.
Diplomats opened talks on a ‘Political dialogue and co-operation” agreement in April. EU-Cuban cooperation, political and institutional matters in Cuba, and trade relations are the three key elements of the talks.
“The Cuban side is clear and in agreement that the accord must facilitate cooperation among all the actors of Cuba and the EU, including civil society,” noted Leffler. He added that the EU team had made their first presentation on what the main areas of trade co-operation and investment facilitation should be.
The EU froze its diplomatic relations with Havana in 2003 after Cuban authorities threw 75 dissidents in jail but provided aid and emergency support worth over €80 million in response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Unlike the United States, the EU has not imposed restrictions on its trade with Cuba, but it is the only Latin American country with which Brussels does not have a bilateral accord.  Despite limited access between their markets, the EU is Cuba’s second-biggest trading partner after Venezuela, accounting for 20 percent of total Cuban trade. Meanwhile, more than half of the EU’s member states already have bilateral trade agreements with Havana.
In return for better trade links, the EU is demanding that Raul Castro improves its human rights record. For their part, the Cuban government stated in a communiqué that the talks had “developed in a constructive manner.” The two sides are hoping to clinch a deal by the end of 2015.

havana-live-mall-cerroHAVANA, 28 August  (Havana Times)  On Saturday August 30th the Puentes Grandes Shopping Plaza opens its doors in Havana.
The government administered stores are located in a restored building in the municipality of Cerro. The complex has departments including a perfume shop, supermarket, hardware and appliance stores, a meat market and cafeteria. 
Surprisingly clothing and shoes are not among the products to be initally offered. All sales will be charged in two currencies: regular domestic currency (CUP) and freely convertible (CUC) at the exchange rate of 25 x 1. The new shopping center occupies an entire city block and has two entrances: one on Puentes Grandes St. for pedestrians and the other on 26th Ave. for customers arriving in cars.In contrast to the new mall, the over a hundred-year-old popular Cuatro Caminos market, also located in Cerro, remains deserted after it closed its doors at the end of January.

havana-live-cuba-cruiseCharter flights, seven-night cruise and transfers included for as low as $721* CAD, if booked by September 30th 

HAVANA, 28 August  Cuba Cruise, the Canadian initiative that revolutionized travel to Cuba, is launching its second season with a pioneering package that combines convenient charter flights, airport transfers, and seven-night circumnavigation cruise, available direct from the operator.
The hassle-free Sky-to-Sea package rivals any Cuban resort stay, providing intrepid travellers the opportunity to fly direct to Havana, cruise the Caribbean, and effortlessly explore Cuba’s vibrant cities, colonial villages, rolling countryside and world famous beaches – all in one seamless vacation.
“We’re proud to offer an exclusive and immersive way to experience Cuba like never before,” says Dugald Wells, Cuba Cruise President. “With a successful launch year behind us, we’re continuing the momentum and creating superior options to bring our stand-out niche product to the forefront.
Our new Sky-to-Sea package invites agents and tour operators to easily book their clients a total vacation package that is experiential in nature, with only few clicks of a button, direct from our website.”
Cuba Cruise secured season-long Air Transat Boeing B737-800 new generation charter flights from Toronto Pearson International Airport direct to José Martí International Airport in Havana, departing every Monday beginning December 22nd, 2014.
Once landing in sun-soaked Cuba, guests are transferred directly to the Cristal ship docked in charming Old Havana for check-in (approx. 25 minutes travel time).
The return airport transfer and charter flight from Havana to Toronto are also included in the exclusive travel package. Early Bird Bonus Sky-to-Sea Early Bird rates start at $721* CAD (plus taxes and port dues), if booked by September 30th, 2014.
The package includes return charter flights, airport transfers, onboard meals, snacks and entertainment featuring star performers from Cuba and Canada.
Regular Sky-to-Sea package rates start at $852* CAD. Packages will be available to book beginning Monday, September 8th, 2014. Cuba Cruise’s next season begins December 19th, 2014 through to March 30, 2015, departing every Monday from Havana and every Friday from Montego Bay, Jamaica.