Buena-Fe1HAVANA,  May 23   Cuban band Buena Fe celebrates this year fifteen years of prolific musical life, whose success lies on their commitment to tell the reality of their country in their songs.

Israel Rojas, main responsible for their lyrics, ratified that the essence of the project he founded 15 years ago with guitarist Yoel Martínez has been and will be to discuss Cuban reality. Commenting on the anniversary, Rojas at the venue of the Union of Journalists of Cuba talked about the current challenges and the role of artists in a rapidly changing society like his. He claimed that in artistic creation everything happens through an economic independence, so there must be a change of mind to defend and internationalize the good art done in Cuba.
He added that the essence of his work is and will be “discussing Cuban contemporary society”, and he added that he would like to be remembered as someone who did not flinch from his commitment to build a better nation. Native from Guantánamo, the most eastern province of Cuba, Buena Fe beat geographical fatalisms and commercial obstacles to establish itself as a leader band in the national pop.
Rojas, a lawyer, considered crucial to his career having recorded an independent production, which freed him from any guidelines for his work, imposed by employers or third parties. With eight albums from 2001 to the date, Buena Fe is liked mainly among the colledge crowd even though their arrangements with influences of trova, son, changüí or pop-rock are widely popular. (Prensa Latina).

fechterHAVANA,  May 22  The Ville de Havana Women’s Epee Grand Prix and Men’s Foil Cup kicked off Thursday in Cuba’s capital, with the world’s leading fencers.

Some 117 fencers from 27 countries are competing in the event, which concludes Monday, including 10 Cuban women in the epee and 10 Cuban men in the foil.
Star fencers at the competition include Rumania’s Ana Maria Branza, the world leader and defending champion of the Cuban classic, Hungary’s Emese Szasz, world runner up, and China’s Xu Anqi, ranked in third place globally. Cuba’s men’s squad is led by national champion Yosniel Alvarez and runner up Jesus Riano, and includes Leandro Ramos, Jesus Delgado, Michel Carty, Karol Rivero, Michel Tejeda, Enmanuel Mojena, Riuben Jay and Redys Prades.
Both the epee and the foil competitions are considered by Cuban fencing authorities as part of preparations for the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games, to be held in Veracruz, Mexico in November.(Photo internet)
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/xinhua-news-agency/140522/worlds-top-fencers-cross-blades-cuba

cooperativa_noagroHAVANA,  May 22  Some 246 cooperatives are already operating in Cuba, with a total of 498 approved to kick off activities, though many of them are still at different stages before being officially registered.
Cuban official Grisel Trista, in charge of the Department attending to the development of entities at the Permanent Commission on the Implementation of the economic guidelines, said that those cooperatives already approved to operate are in the areas of domestic trade, gastronomy and other services like cargo and passenger transportation, construction, food processing, energy and accounting.
Experts say that the development of the non-state collective modality faces obstacles such as the lack control measures that can be applied to their function, while other control systems in force are not appropriate. The lack of access to wholesale markets and limited relations with state enterprises are also considered hurdles in the new economic sector.
The solution to many of the current problems identified in the current experimental operations of cooperatives on the island is still being addressed by state bodies and the Commission to implement the new transformations, said the Cuban official.  (acn)

hector-igarzaParis – HAVANA, May 22 Cuban ambassador in France, Héctor Igarza, presented to 70 members of the Maxim Business Club (MBC) open investment opportunities in several priority sectors of the Cuban economy.

During a forum with French business men, Igarza carefully explained all the facilities offered by the Special Development Area Mariel, opened at the beginning of 2014. This zone, located in the port with the same name 60 kilometers west of Havana, is thought to be the main entrance and exit door of the Cuban foreign trade.
Related to this project, the sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, property line, pharmaceutical and agri-food industries, and tourism. In addition, there will be installed one of the largest and more modern container terminal in that region.
At the event, the diplomat also talked about the new Foreign Investment Law, which stimulates the development of different types of partnerships with the Caribbean nation. Introducing the debate, Prince Jean Poniatowski, one of the founders of the club in 1968, mentioned three recent visits to Havana by the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and Tourism, Fleur Pellerin.
The Maxim Business Club gathers 850 members based in Paris and Geneva, Switzerland.(Prensa Latina)

hector-igarzaParis – HAVANA , May 22 Cuban ambassador in France, Héctor Igarza, presented to 70 members of the Maxim Business Club (MBC) open investment opportunities in several priority sectors of the Cuban economy.

During a forum with French business men, Igarza carefully explained all the facilities offered by the Special Development Area Mariel, opened at the beginning of 2014. This zone, located in the port with the same name 60 kilometers west of Havana, is thought to be the main entrance and exit door of the Cuban foreign trade.
Related to this project, the sectors of renewable energy, biotechnology, property line, pharmaceutical and agri-food industries, and tourism. In addition, there will be installed one of the largest and more modern container terminal in that region.
At the event, the diplomat also talked about the new Foreign Investment Law, which stimulates the development of different types of partnerships with the Caribbean nation.
Introducing the debate, Prince Jean Poniatowski, one of the founders of the club in 1968, mentioned three recent visits to Havana by the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and Secretary of State for Foreign Trade and Tourism, Fleur Pellerin. The Maxim Business Club gathers 850 members based in Paris and Geneva, Switzerland.(Prensa Latina)

Yoani SanchezHAVANA, 21 May  ( AP Havana) Cuba’s first major independent general-interest news outlet in five decades was hacked yesterday shortly after being launched by the country’s best-known dissident blogger.

A little more than an hour after its launch, the site, www.14ymedio.com was directing readers inside Cuba to a page dedicated to scathing criticism of blogger Yoani Sanchez by well-known pro-government writers. Access outside Cuba appeared to be unimpeded.
Sanchez accused the Cuban government of using its control of the country’s internet to divert readers to the critical site. “Bad strategy by the Cuban government to redirect our site from Cuba,” she wrote on Twitter. “There’s nothing more attractive than the forbidden.” The government has made no official comment on Sanchez’s site, though it considers all dissidents to be mercenaries paid by Washington to stir up trouble.
M.H. Lagarde, a Cuban blogger who has frequently written critically of Sanchez and in favour of government policy, said the site critical of her, www.yoanislandia.com had existed for some time but he didn’t know who ran it. He said an article of his on the site was used without his permission.
Other writers whose articles appeared on the site did not immediately respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment. Before it was hacked, www.14ymedio.com offered feature and news reporting, opinion, sports and even hair and beauty tips that Sanchez hoped would challenge the monopoly on information by the government.
The site was seen as testing both government tolerance for dissent and Sanchez’s ability to parlay her international blogging success into a wider domestic audience. It went live just after 8am Havana time with offerings including reporting with a critical slant towards the government. One feature looked at petty violence through the lens of a night in one of Havana’s main hospitals.
Other offerings included an interview with a detained dissident writer and a sports feature on the alleged official neglect of soccer in favour of baseball. Sanchez has gained global renown and a string of foreign awards for her blog “Generation Y”, which offers scathing criticism of Cuba’s communist government. She has more than 600,000 followers on Twitter, but she is far less well known at home. http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1517546/dissident-cuban-news-site-quickly-hacked

MartinezRosasyEstrellas1972Raúl Martínez, Rosas y estrellas (Roses and Stars), 1972 Courtesy The Farber Collection

HAVANA , 21 May   The Farber Foundation has announced the jurors for the first Cuban Art Awards.
This fall, a panel of eight will select the Cuban Artist of the Year and Young Cuban Artist of the Year. The jurors will select the winners from a list assembled by a group of nominators—curators, critics, and scholars in Cuba and overseas—who are working anonymously. A short list of their highest-ranked finalists will be presented to the jurors later this year.
The awards will be announced in January 2015. The Cuban Artist of the Year award carries a cash prize of $10,000, The cash prize for Young Cuban Artist of the Year is $3,000. For Howard Farber, director of the Farber Foundation, the timing for the awards couldn’t be better. “2014 is already turning out to be a crucial year for Cuban artists globally,” he explained, “with more participation in international group shows, solo exhibitions, artist residencies, and other projects.
With the Cuban Art Awards we’re looking to enhance that momentum. It’s a way of spotlighting not only the winning artists but the entire field of Cuban contemporary art.” Farber had warm praise for the nominators and jurors. “We’re fortunate to be working with dedicated professionals who share a profound appreciation for Cuban art, and who see the value in the broader recognition that the Cuban Art Awards will bring.” The Cuban Art Awards are open to artists living on the island and elsewhere. In the same vein, the jurors are based in Cuba and abroad.

Jurors for the 2015 Cuban Art Awards are:
Caridad Blanco de la Cruz, curator, art critic, and researcher who is currently a specialist at the Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales (Center for Development of the Visual Arts) in Havana
Elvia Rosa Castro Martín, art critic, curator, independent editor, and adjunct professor of art history at the University of Havana
Howard Farber, director of the Farber Foundation and publisher of Cuban Art News, who has been collecting Cuban contemporary art since 2001.
Alejandro de la Fuente, director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute at Harvard University and a curator of art exhibitions focusing on issues of race in Cuba.
Corina Matamoros Tuma, art historian, author, and curator at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, where she has promoted the collecting of contemporary art.
Ron Pizzuti, founder of the Pizzuti Collection, a museum of contemporary art in Columbus, Ohio, who has been traveling to Cuba and collecting Cuban contemporary art for the past five years.
Ben Rodriguez-Cubeñas, program director for the New York City Pivotal Place program of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and co-founder and chair of the Cuban Artists Fund.
Rachel Weiss, educator, curator, and author of books on Cuban and Latin American art, currently professor of arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For more detailed biographies of the jurors, see the press release on the Farber Foundation website. http://www.cubanartnews.org/news/cuban-art-award-jurors-announced/3725

1374680681904TAMPA — Another airfare price war is roiling the volatile Cuban travel market at Tampa International Airport.

HAVANA ,  20 May   Island Travel & Tours Ltd., which has been flying to the island nation three times a week, said that it will halt its Tampa-to-Cuba air service with its final flight on Wednesday and for the foreseeable future.
TIA has eight flights a week both arriving and departing from Cuba. Island Travel & Tours’ pullout would leave just five flights a week. Island owner Bill Hauf, who has accused competitors of undercutting him in the past, blamed his company’s most recent woes on newcomer Cuba Travel Services Inc. The California company, also known as CTS, entered the Tampa market in December and charters flights to Cuba on Thursdays and Sundays. havana-live-cuba-travel-service“They decided to destroy the market,” Hauf said. CTS general manager Michael Zuccato denied that allegation. “We’re not undercutting the market,” he said. “But I think we’re offering flights at a price that’s fair, and fair to travelers.” ABC Charters Inc. is the third company flying out of Tampa. “I have not felt at this point that it has affected me,” said ABC president Tessie Aral. “Whatever their strategy is, it has not affected my business.” CTS and ABC Charters said they have no plans to add more Tampa-to-Cuba flights. avana-live-Key-west-havana2But charters typically add flights in the summer when more Cuban-Americans fly because their children are out of school. Island Travel & Tours is the only charter based in Tampa. Hauf said his company will continue to arrange Cuban trips and book tickets on other flights, but he doesn’t know how many of his dozen Tampa employees he’ll have to lay off. Challenges have never been far from Tampa’s young but successful Cuban travel market, which has seen strong passenger numbers amid brutal competition. Cuban flights have been a success for TIA since 2011, when it joined the select list of U.S. airports permitted to fly there. From October to April, TIA said the number of people using the airport to travel to Cuba jumped 45 percent from the same time period the year before, to 34,358 passengers. But success for those in the Cuban travel business has been harder to come by. Cuba is under U.S. embargo. Charter companies must have permission from the U.S. and Cuban governments to land planes. And although Cuban-Americans can visit family, other U.S. citizens need an official reason and permission from their government to travel to Cuba. Tourism is not permitted.
Hauf said he used to charge $449 for a round-trip ticket and barely broke even. He said CTS entered the market charging $379. The current price for Island’s last flight Wednesday is $399. The current price for CTS’s flight on Thursday is $389. Hauf also accused CTS of undercutting baggage fees, which can be more lucrative. Cuban-Americans often travel with goods such as TVs for relatives. Hauf accused CTS of operating at a loss to ruin Island’s business. Zuccato’s response: “Aviation is one of those things that, on one flight you profit and on the next you may lose money. You have to look at operating on a quarterly and yearly basis. We’re happy with the production we have in Tampa.”
A price war benefits customers, but Hauf said one competitor could drive the others out and then raise ticket prices. There’s nothing the airport can do about it. TIA has no control over what companies fly to Cuba or how much they charge. If the market demands new flights, airport officials said, someone will provide them.
“Being a relatively new route for the Tampa Bay area, the market is still adjusting to what is the right number of flights to offer,” airport spokeswoman Emily Nipps said. “It’s a seasonal market, but if you look at the raw market the demand is obviously there to support several flights per week.”
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/airlines/cuban-charter-said-price-war-driving-it-out-of-tampa-international-airport/2180521

martellyPORT au PRINCE – HAVANA   May 19 The President of Haiti, Michel Martelly, today traveled to Cuba in order to hold talks with the authorities about strengthening relations and friendship between the two countries.
The visit to Havana was reported by President Martelly himself on his Twitter account. I left the country this morning to go to Havana to talk with Cuban authorities on cooperation, posted the president, who is expected to return on Tuesday. Martelly acknowledged at the 6th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States, late April in Mexico, the historic collaboration provided by Cuba to his country, which continues today in the health, education, construction, fishing, sport and other sectors. President Martelly told Prensa Latina that the support given by Cuba to his nation did not start after the earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, but many years before. (Prensa Latina) sgl/ef/isa/mgt/dsa

_74955079_3c7302b0-72ac-450e-9e27-f935c444e873Pablo Gonzalez Portilla plays drums on a street in Miami’s Little Havana neighbourhood Little Havana offers Cuban exiles many of the sounds and flavours of home For decades Florida’s Cuban-American residents voted as a bloc around issues relating to US-Cuba relations. Now, the younger generation appears to be yearning for more contact with the island of their fathers and mothers.

MIAMI – HAVANA 19. May  (Nick Bryant BBC News) Miami is a North American city with a Latin American feel, and at Domino Park in Little Havana old men gather each day to recreate a small corner of their beloved homeland. Hunched over small tables, they wile away the afternoon playing dominos and chess, some wearing Panama hats, others donning baseball caps – a sartorial indicator of the dual allegiance of the Cuban-American community.
Many of them are old and frail. Yet ask them about the communist Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul, and the passions of their youth are easily aroused. “He’s not a good man,” says one elderly gentleman, referring to Fidel Castro. “He’s killing people in Cuba, my country.” A whistle-stop tour of Little Havana takes in the murals on the walls that celebrate the anti-communist crusade, the shops selling fat, premium cigars, and the local barber, where clients are draped with aprons adorned with the Cuban flag. No visit is complete without pausing at the memorial plaza, commemorating heroes of the Cuban independence struggle in bronze. There is also a giant map of Cuba, with an inscription from the poet and patriot Jose Marti: La patria es agonia y deber. It translates as: “The homeland is agony and duty.”
_74921602_jorge_perezJorge Perez Jorge Perez says the embargo is no longer effective

Then it’s off to lunch at the Cafe Versailles, a vital stopping-off point for candidates courting the Cuban-American vote. The longstanding influence of this lobby stems not so much from its size as its unity and concentration in Florida, a key battleground state in presidential elections. But there are signs that the political rules that operated for the last 50 years are starting to change. At the elegant new Perez Art Museum in Miami, designed by the same architectural firm behind London’s Tate Modern, we met the billionaire businessman Jorge Perez, who paid for much of its construction.
Perez, one of Miami’s most influential figures, is calling for the US’s strict embargo on Cuba to be lifted. “I strongly believe it’s a failed policy,” he says. “Lift the embargo and start a policy in which there’s a lot more communication all across the spectrum: government with government, non-profits with non-profits, people with people, in order to show why our system is the best system in the world.”
Some people in the Cuban-American community regard that as betrayal, I suggest. “I think that opinion has died down to a large extent,” he says. “And I think you’ll find particularly in the younger generation in Miami, that they’re looking forward to seeing the land of their fathers and to have a Cuba that is freer.” The embargo came into effect 1960, the year after Fidel Castro took power in Havana. Over time, it ended up banning most exports to Cuba and virtually all imports. US citizens have been prevented from doing business in or with Cuba, and restrictions were also placed on Americans travelling to Cuba.
6355752255_51d2e4e904Recent polling suggests more than half of Cubans living in South Florida favoured normalisation of relations with the island More than 50 years on, however, the Castros are still in power.

US critics of the embargo argue it has crippled the Cuban people rather than the government. “We’re beginning to realise not only the policy didn’t work but it was just wrong and counterproductive,” says Carlos Saladrigas, another prominent figure in the Cuban-American community.
“The politics of passion is being replaced by the politics of affection,” he says. He credits a generational change – the simple fact that so many emigres have died off – and the mounting feeling that the embargo has failed. In the slow thawing of relations between Washington and Havana, Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last year became an inflection point. President Obama shook hands with his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro – the first leader-to-leader contact since Bill Clinton had a similar brush-by with Fidel Castro at a UN summit in New York in 2000.
The muted reaction to that handshake spoke volumes, according to Carlos Saladrigas. “Twenty years ago had that happened we would have had a major demonstration,” he says. In 2012, the BBC talked to Cubans about life under the embargo “That was something that indicates a significant change that has taken place in Miami,” he says. Recent polls bolster his argument. One conducted by the Atlantic Council in February showed that 64% of Cubans living in South Florida favoured normalisation of relations with Cuba or more direct engagement. When the poll expanded to those of Cuban descent throughout Florida, 79% favoured normalisation or engagement. However, leaders in the Cuban American community believe the embargo should remain in place for now. “It’s not time yet,” says Francisco Jose Hernandez, the president of the Cuban-American National Foundation.

“Things have to change, and there has to be a significant reform.” That said, he hopes the embargo will be lifted after proof of real progress in Havana, such as Raul Castro stepping down. The US embargo still has strong support from influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill, among them Democratic New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, the hawkish pro-embargo chairman of the foreign relations committee and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Both are of Cuban descent. Moreover, written in law is the stipulation that the embargo cannot be lifted while a Castro remains in power. Still, times are changing in Little Havana. To be Cuban American in Miami once meant supporting the embargo, almost as an article of identity and faith. That is no longer the case.

6cuba6HAVANA,  May 17  Principal dancers of the Cuba’s National Ballet (BNC) Víctor Estévez and Viengsay Valdés will perform at a gala dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the National Information Agency (AIN), the BNC reported today.

The AIN and the BNC have maintained a close working relationship, so the company, directed by Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, is very delighted in participating in this gala, said a statement from the BNC. Representatives of different artistic genres will participate in the show to be held here on May 20 at the Lázaro Peña Theatre, and BNC’dancers will close it with the famous pas de deux form Don Quixote.Valdés is one of the leading performers of that ballet globally, only her presence raises the standard of the event, the artistic director of the show, Hugo Oslé, told Prensa Latina.
The program of the show also includes extracts of the opera La Traviata, the traditional Spanish operetta, Cecilia Valdés and the operetta The Merry Widow, among other artistic genres. (Prensa Latina).don_quijote_3

HAVANA, 16 May  (AP) The arrival of mobile phone email service was embraced with joy in Cuba, where most people have no internet access. Tens of thousands of Cuban’s began emailing like crazy in March. Then service started to fail, taking much of Cuba’s already shaky voice and text-messaging mobile service down with it The island’s aging cellphone towers became swamped by the new flood of email traffic, creating havoc for anyone trying to use the system.
Cuba Cellphone CrashIn this May 9, 2014 photo, a cellphone owner shows the screen on his phone that reads in Spanish; “The configuration has not been able to finish. Cannot connect to server.,” as he tries to connect to the Etecsa server while waiting with other customers outside the offices of Etecsa in Havana.

Etecsa has issued a rare apology and the troubles have eased. But the problems offer a rare window into the Internet in Cuba, where the digital age has been achingly slow to spread since arriving in 1996, leaving the country virtually isolated from the world of streaming video, photo-sharing and 4G cellphones.
Cuba Cellphone CrashPeople try to connect to the Etecsa server as they wait with other customers outside the offices of Etecsa in Havana. Cuba’s government blames their technological problems on a U.S. embargo that prevents most American businesses from selling products to the Caribbean country. Critics of the government say it deliberately strangles the Internet to halt the spread of dissent.
Cuba Cellphone CrashA worker from Etecsa posts a sign on the office window that reads in Spanish; “Today we don’t offer the following services: add cell phone minutes, mobile service modifications (change of simcard, change of number, change of phone owner), Nauta cell service. We apologize for the inconvenience.,” in Havana.

Some attribute Cuba’s technological problems on a government desperate for foreign exchange that is investing little in infrastructure improvements while extracting as much revenue as possible from communications services largely paid for by Cuban’s wealthier overseas relatives. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)

mariel1HAVANA, May 16  Employees working for Cuba’s Special Development Zone (SDZ) at Mariel port would be charged with a 5-percent personal income tax, the Cuban government announced Thursday.

The decision was published in the Government Gazette, along with other regulations on Mariel, a deep-water port and industrial complex 50 km west of Havana. Employees will be hired through employment agencies set up for different sectors, such as energy, construction, biotechnology and foreign trade. The agencies will retain 20 percent of a worker’s wages for commission. All the wages should be paid in Cuban pesos, including those of foreign companies, traded at the annual exchange rate.
“Hypothetically, out of 1,000 U.S. dollars, 800 dollars would go to the worker, but at a rate of 10 pesos per dollar, he would receive a nominal wage of 8,000 Cuban pesos (618 dollars),” Communist Youth daily Juventud Rebelde explained. Wage taxes were eliminated in Cuba after the victory of the revolution in 1959. However, Cuban leader Raul Castro, who launched an economic renovation program six years ago, has stressed the importance of both public and private sector workers contributing to the national budget. (Xinhua)

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

Background
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 )

Casa Miglis, HavanaCasa Miglis

HAVANA 10 May ( By Richard Feinberg Cubastandart) Among investors focused on Cuban markets, private bars and clubs are the new big thing. Within the last 18 months, enterprising Cuban investors have spiced up an already vibrating Havana night life by opening a variety of chic watering holes.
By all accounts, many investors are achieving their primary goal: rapid returns on risk capital.And middle-class Cubans — not just tourists and expats — are enjoying the widening diversity of options for evening destinations.

Stiff competition, narrow market
For the emerging private sector — promoted by Raúl Castro since he took over from his ailing brother Fidel in 2008 — the previous big story was the paladares, privately run restaurants generally located within family homes. But so many enterprising Cubans seized the opportunity to earn gastronomic profits that the restaurant market quickly turned terribly competitive. Many fine-dining paladares cater primarily to well-heeled tourists, charging prices that are moderate by international standards but far out of the reach of nearly all Cubans. Most Cubans working for the state receive the miserable wage of $20 per month — roughly the cost of a single paladar meal. Facing this dual challenge of stiff competition in the restaurant space and the narrow tourism market, innovative Cuban entrepreneurs seized upon nocturnal entertainment as an exciting solution.
Havana is not without bars, often featuring Buena Vista Social Club–style bands in Havana Vieja that appeal to middle-age tourists — but not to hip young Cubans or international travelers looking for the latest music video or mixed cocktail creations. The newly launched bars/clubs feature flat-screen TVs with contemporary sounds. Dancing begins around 10 pm and whirls well into the early morning hours. Some of the bar-hopping crowd may be exiting the paladares, in search of the after-hours fun for which Havana is so famous — but with a contemporary beat. Significantly, the new upscale bars are also attracting Cubans – by keeping their prices within the range of what could be labeled the Cuban middle or upper-middle classes. Entrance or cover charges are minimal and local beers sell for the equivalent of $2, tapas for just $2 – $6, heavier fare for $6 -15.
These prices still lock out most Cubans, but are within the range of perhaps five percent of the 2 million Habaneros. (Alas, the Cuban government does not publish statistics on income distribution.) Even if a Cuban couple limits their consumption to two beers each and a few snacks, how can they afford an evening on the town? Where do they find the $20 — the equivalent of a full month’s state salary? The sources of this middle-class purchasing power: profits from their own thriving private businesses, wages and tips earned in the tourist trade, bonuses granted by joint ventures, or remittances sent by generous family and friends living abroad. Cubans who served overseas — as diplomats, military attachés, or medical personnel — can accumulate savings. And privileged offspring of senior government officials are known to enjoy free beverages and bites. As recently noted by AP correspondent Peter Orsi, the elites of the remarkably large and talented Cuban creative class — painters, dancers, musicians, film makers — also earn a good living; the farándula — the inbreed creative classes — congregate at Café Madrigal, Privé, and Espacios. In Havana these days, trendy bars are not the only visible indicators of Cuba’s prosperous upper-middle classes and their lucky, beautiful children. Expensive daycare centers and domestic housekeepers, 21st century cars with private license plates replacing the iconic but decrepit 1950s Chevrolets, and expensive cell phones with e-mail service — all signal the emergence of new money. At the new nocturnal watering holes, successful Cubans mingle comfortably with foreigners: the resident expatriate community of diplomats and business executives as well as tourists — mostly Europeans and Canadians, but also increasingly Americans, permitted to travel legally to Cuba under people-to-people educational programs licensed by the Obama administration.

The places
Two of the hottest Havana bars, Sangri-La and Up-and-Down (their ownership overlaps), are so packed on weekends that their overcrowded dance floors challenge even the most fluid salsa dancers. Intimate but very lively, Up-and-Down exploits the increasing stratification of Cuban society by differentiating the entry fee for the upstairs VIP lounges: a minimum of $20 consumption per person, priced for foreigners and a thin slice of the best-heeled Cubans. The bartender at Up-and-Down is rightly famous for his designer tropical drinks laced with plentiful pours.upAndDown00

Up-and-Down.
 A combination restaurant and terraza bar, El Cocinero is a dramatic conversion of an old cooking oil factory into a two-floor industrial entertainment space. The plush first floor dining décor is dominated by a large black-and-white minimalist painting, while the al fresco upstairs features comfortable butterfly lounge chairs and a neon-lite bar. Typically, the denim-clad waitresses are youthful and attractive, and frequently with university degrees in their back pockets.

Product placement
A theatrical production of a Cuban-authored drama currently running in Havana, Rascacielos (Skyscrapers), is co-sponsored by the embassies of Spain and The Netherlands — and by El Cocinero and StarBien, a plush paladar (co-owned and managed by the gracious son of the minister of the interior). The commercial sponsorships earned product placements — explicit mentions in the text of the play — one dramatic signal of the growing weight and self-confidence of the emerging private sector.

el cocinero

El Cocinero upstairs
Other trendy Havana dispensaries of alcohol and nocturnal diversion include Fábrica de Arte (featuring avantgarde paintings), Capricho (tasty tapas, serene ambiance), Escencia Havana (pre-revolution nostalgia in an 1880 villa), O’Reilly 304 (in Old Havana, superb vegetarian soup with three varieties of chili peppers), Toke (a mostly gay clientele, next to the Cabaret Las Vegas), and two new dimly lit dance clubs catering to a younger crowd, Melén and Las Piedras. In many of Havana’s new bars, the décor and the crowd are sophisticated and universal: Their Miami equivalents have similar vibes, albeit with more bling and, as one Cuban male observed, more silicon. Island-bound Cubans have less jewelry to flaunt, and may sense that the Communist government, while more permissive today than during the decades of Fidel Castro’s austere rule, would still look askance at ostentatious displays of new wealth.havana-live-madrigal

 Madrigal
Small investment, quick return
Chats with owners and managers of these after-hour establishments suggest initial capital investments of roughly $30,000 – $70,000 (small by international standards). No entrepreneur reported commercial bank backing, which is scarce in Cuba. Rather, funds come from savings of family and friends, and in some cases money transfers from abroad – as donations, loans, or informal equity arrangements. Working within an uncertain business climate, these newly minted Cuban entrepreneurs often seek to recoup their capital in 12-24 months, a potentially feasible goal due to low costs of labor, rent, and utilities, and often interest-free financing.
bohemio-01

Bohemia
The award for the most economical opening goes to Mamainé (as in the popular Cuban song, Mamainé, Mamainé, todos los negros tomamos café), a comfortable coffee and cocktail bar constructed by environmentalist and artist Paul Sosa using recycled woods and iron work. Spending less than $5,000 to fashion the 36-seat establishment within his parents’ home, Paul attracts both tourists and locals with strong $1 espresso coffees and $2 made-to-order mojitos.havana-live-Cervecera-interior

State-owned beer garden
Not to be outdone by the dynamic private sector, Cuban state companies have recently opened two large bars. Sloppy Joe’s, a revival of a pre-revolutionary saloon with a legendary 59-foot mahogany bar, once again caters mostly to tourists. More original, the government gloriously transformed an old timber and tobacco warehouse on Havana Bay into a large beer garden. The affordable prices and spectacular brightly painted murals attract Cuban families as well as foreigners. On one Sunday afternoon, the author viewed more than one Cuban child watching his parents enjoy the Austrian-made tall tubes of chilled beer. Old warehouse, new beer garden Cuban capitalists not only must confront uneven competition from state-run firms, but also face regulatory uncertainty: bars are still not an officially sanctioned category of business, so their owners must register them as restaurants — making them vulnerable to government inspectors. Not surprisingly, in this high-risk business climate, investors seek a quick return on capital. But short of an abrupt shift in government policy, it is a safe bet that bold entrepreneurs will continue to provide Havana’s after-hours revelers with new and exciting entertainment options.

Richard E. Feinberg, professor of international economy at the University of California, San Diego, writes about and travels frequently to Cuba. Three of his recent publications on the Cuban economy, including Safe Landing for Cuba?, can be found at www.brookings.edu

studio 7&60HAVANA 9 May    The changing role of private enterprise and the increase in cultural tourism to Cuba have encouraged the growth of alternative art and performance organizations in Havana.
Artists in all spheres are experimenting with different ways of interacting with the public—including American tourists traveling to Cuba on people-to-people programs—and with making a living through their art. For visual artists, this often means creating a gallery of one type or another. Artist-run cooperatives such as Studio 7 y 60 are one such alternative. Studio 7 y 60 has been in existence since 2010, when Maria Cienfuegos and three collaborators decided to use her family’s apartment as a space to present their works for sale directly to the public. As their careers progressed, Cienfuegos’s collaborators decided to present their work in a different way, and she continued to experiment with a collective, artist-run space.
The gallery takes its name from its location at the intersection of 7 and 60 streets in Miramar, and the building where it’s located is notable for its architectural history. Constructed in 1956 and designed by Mario Romanach, one of Cuba’s most important modernist architects, the building combines simple, modernist lines with interpretations of colonial details such as stained glass windows and wooden blinds and grilles. Still in its original condition, the building provides an appropriate backdrop for contemporary Cuban art. In its current configuration, Studio 7 y 60’s roster includes female artists only. Cienfuegos says that the organization isn’t restricted solely to female artists, but it’s run with what she calls a “female sensibility.” She defines this as a more open and fluid environment than traditional galleries, with few fixed rules or criteria for the work shown. The roster will vary, and artists can participate at any career stage, including art school. Instead of presenting only works for sale, the gallery will also present works in progress for feedback from fellow artists and members of the public. In its new incarnation, the space features a broader array of media, including painting, photography, sculpture, and installation art. One thing remains the same: the commitment to an artist-run space that interacts directly with the public, without the intervention of curators or dealers.
The artists do not create their work collectively—instead, the gallery is a place for participants to cooperatively increase their pubic visibility and secure greater financial support through direct sales to the public. They see their space as running parallel to the established Havana gallery scene rather than competing with it. Studio 7 y 60’s new incarnation was introduced to the public on April 11, 2014, with the reception of its first group of art collectors from the U.S. The space is open by appointment only, and has already received several groups of Americans visiting the island on people-to-people exchange programs. Cienfuegos herself is a photographer whose science education is reflected in her systematic treatment of subjects ranging from family portraits to the natural world. Currently, there are four other artists on the studio’s roster. Adriana Arronte, an ISA graduate, produces work that incorporates logos of multinational corporations.
Amongst other pieces, she is exhibiting a multi-part painting-on-glass piece with images from popular culture, advertising, and political commentary. Elizabet Cerviño, another ISA graduate, paints and creates performance art. Currently she’s displaying photographs of her performances and large oil paintings. Dania González Sanabria is a student at ISA specializing in installation and performance; her work at Studio 7 y 60 includes elements from a performance as well as paintings. Lisandra Ramírez Bernal’s polished works include sculptures and glass-covered prints that engage with international popular culture—cute, big-eyed cats in resin and bronze, and a series of 1970s-inspired motifs arranged in groups on the wall. More information on the space and the artists may be found at the Studio 7 y 60 website. — Sarah Bingham Miller

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)