havana-live-IDT_LOGOHAVANA, Feb 20  (Reuters) – U.S.-based telecom company IDT Corp has reached an agreement with Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A. (ETECSA), Cuba’s national telecom provider, to provide international long distance telephony between the United States and Cuba directly.

The company said that the agreement was filed today with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and is subject to FCC review for a period of ten days. FCC was not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.
If the agreement takes effect, IDT will be the only U.S. carrier to have a direct interconnection into Cuba. “This is an important first step in the liberalization of telecommunications between the U.S. and Cuba,” said Bill Pereira, Chief Executive Officer of IDT Telecom in a statement.

IDT joins a list of U.S. companies looking to take advantage of thawing diplomatic relations between the United States and the communist-ruled island country. Netflix Inc launched its movie and TV streaming service in Cuba last week.

MasterCard Inc has said it will allow its cards issued in the United States to be used in Cuba, effective March 1. American Express Co has also said it would launch operations in Cuba. The announcement follows revisions to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations announced by the U.S. government earlier this month.

 havana-live-artCubaLA HAVANE, 20 Feb. Des critiques et experts de l’art contemporain cubain s’interrogent sur l’avenir de l’art dans l’île. Le rapprochement entre la Havane et Washington ne risque-t-il pas de lui faire perdre son identité ?

“L’art cubain sera-t-il un vecteur de conciliation ?” C’est la question que se pose le critique d’art cubain Píter Ortega Núñez dans le quotidien de Miami El Nuevo Herald.
Le rapprochement entre les Etats-Unis et Cuba ne peut qu’encourager les investissements privés des mécènes, des collectionneurs et des professionnels au sein de l’île, estiment certains observateurs et experts de l’art contemporain.
Ce nouveau “business” ouvre en effet le champ à la création de galeries indépendantes, de publications sur l’art, mais aussi à des espaces de débat et de revendication sur la liberté de création des artistes cubains.

Nivellement par le bas ?
D’autres sont moins enthousiastes. Ainsi le directeur d’une galerie d’art à Miami, Robert Borlenghi, estime-t-il que l’accroissement des échanges entre les deux pays pourrait entraîner une sorte de nivellement par le bas de l’art cubain.”La situation politique de Cuba a forgé pendant longtemps l’inspiration de ses artistes”, affirme-t-il.

Or, le processus de mondialisation qui n’épargne pas le milieu artistique pourrait faire perdre son identité à l’exception culturelle cubaine “du fait de l’adaptation des artistes aux tendances du monde occidental”. La meilleure visibilité dont bénéficieront les Cubains sur le marché de l’art pourrait également, en multipliant l’offre, “faire baisser la qualité moyenne des œuvres”, ajoute le galeriste.

Nouvelle scène
A l’heure actuelle, seule une poignée d’artistes cubains ont pignon sur rue à New York ou en Europe, rappelle El Nuevo Herald. Ils sont les rares représentants d’une catégorie de Cubains disposant d’un niveau de vie supérieur à la moyenne sur l’île.

Mais à l’image de “Los Carpinteros” (un trio de sculpteurs) à New-York ou de Carlos Garaicoa (sculpteur) en Espagne, rares artistes cubains présents sur la scène internationale, une nouvelle génération de créateurs reconnus pourrait bientôt émerger. C’est ainsi que l’art pourrait bien jouer un rôle futur dans l’émancipation des individus à Cuba, conclut El Nuevo Herald.

 havana-live-filming-havanaHAVANA, 19 Feb.(Paul Duran) Since President Obama eased tensions with Cuba late last year, the film community in the island nation has been optimistic, if cautiously so, about striking new relationships with its counterpart in Hollywood, and hopeful it can reform the Cuban film industry to compete on the world stage.

“Many (American) directors have expressed — more or less privately — their interest in filming in Cuba,” says Luis Barrera, senior advisor at the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industry (ICAIC), the government-run film commission that, in essence, acts as the sole movie studio in Cuba.
“On the other hand, Cuba has its own tradition in cinema, and is among the leading lights in the Caribbean region,” he adds. Helmers like Alejandro Brugues (“Juan of the Dead”) and Daniel Diaz Torres (“La Pelicula de Ana”) are some filmmakers who’ve gained international recognition.

Barrera notes that it’s also important for Cuba to build an efficient and competitive infrastructure, with professional crews experienced not only in local productions, but in co-productions with Europeans. “This is one aspect we can quickly work on, as well as looking toward investments and joint ventures, including tax rebates and other incentives to attract U.S. filmmakers,” Barrera says.Havana-Club-2007

Local filmmakers, though, worry that ICAIC will prioritize the needs of foreign productions that want to film in Cuba over the needs to develop those of the nation’s own creative talent.
“The first step should be to see how Cuban cinema can flourish from this relationship on its home turf, and hopefully not get swallowed up by the great machinery of the U.S. film industry,” says Carlos Quintela, whose second film, “The Project of the Century,” about three generations of a Cuban family living near an abandoned Soviet nuclear power station, won a Tiger award at Rotterdam after being acquired for international sales by Berlin-based M-Appeal.

Filmmaker Yassel Iglesias, who made 2012 doc “The Chosen Island,” about Jewish emigres in Cuba, which ultimately brought him to the U.S., sees progress coming only after regulations ease.
“I think that (reform) will definitely help the production of Cuban films,” says Iglesias, “but I can’t use the phrase ‘Cuban film industry’ yet, because so far there have been no reforms or laws that recognize new independent companies, and the only ‘industry’ is ICAIC, which many Cuban filmmakers refuse to work with.”

Many Cuban filmmakers have had to seek funding overseas. Quintela, a former student at the Intl. Film and Television School (EICTV) in Havana, started a production company in England and raised coin for “Project of the Century” from Argentina (with production shingle Rizoma Films), as well as tapping coin from the Rotterdam fest’s Hubert Bals Fund.
At its heart, Cuba is a warm, welcoming nation full of vast promise and rich potential, yearning for opportunity, both economically and artistically.03062010422

Despite its communist roots, the country has an entrepreneurial spirit, built of raw necessity plus a desire to make its own way, without an intrusive government or an overbearing next-door neighbor.
For now, the greatest obstacle to rebuilding the local film industry may well be the lack of freedom of expression. The promise that a diplomatic thaw would change that took a blow when Boris Arenas Gonzalez, a professor at EICTV, was fired after being jailed for attempting to participate in a free-speech-themed performance-art event.

Especially troubling is that the school, which has an international charter, has been a beacon of free speech in Cuba for students and filmmakers from around the world. The hope is that this is a momentary blip on the radar, and that the thawing of relations with the U.S. will bring more free expression and less government intervention.
“I think it’s a historical change that presents opportunities and challenges to both nations,” says Barrera. Quintela agrees. “If we were to combine the shared histories of both countries, there would be enough material to create movies of great significance.”

For Iglesias, who just finished shooting his latest film, “Lois” in Havana, the future is already beginning to take shape. “There’s more hope, and Cubans need that. A year ago, nobody thought of change, and to find a smile on the streets was harder. Today people scream, ‘Ya somos amigos de los Yuma!’ — Now we are friends with the Americans!
And there is laughter, and rum … of course.”

 havana-live-zz-topHAVANA, 19 Feb. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons is going to Cuba this June to play a jazz summit.

And even he doesn’t know why. “How did my name get on a jazz roster? I’m a blues and rock & roll player,” Gibbons tells Rolling Stone. “But I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’d love to go to Havana.”
Yet the ZZ Top guitarist, who recently recorded a weed anthem with his Nashville protégé Tim Montana, says he’s not going to come armed with only rock riffs.

Gibbons has been hunkering down in the studio, writing what he calls “Cuban music.” “The engineers were rolling their eyes, going, ‘Yeah, Gibbons is going to go Havana on us.’ But when I was 13, I got a guitar and my dad — being the consummate entertainer — sent me up to New York to study Latin percussion with Tito Puente. I learned maracas, timbales, clavas, bongos…you name it,” Gibbons says.
“And having lived in Mexico a couple years, I know just enough Spanish to get me in trouble.” Encouraged by the results, Gibbons is eyeing the project as a proper solo album. “I put together a little side band,” he says.

“I’m going back to wrap up the project and, believe it or not, it’s turning out to be such an obtuse, oddball, unexpected left turn from ZZ Top’s blues background. But there is something to it.” While filming Dave Grohl’s Sonic Highways documentary series, he even turned to the Foo Fighters leader for advice on balancing careers.

“I said, ‘How do you get around having multiple bands?'” Gibbons recalls. “He said, ‘Keep the golden goose. Doing a little side project ain’t no big deal!'” With ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill recovered from an August fall on his tour bus, Gibbons and the Texas trio will return to the road in March to resume their tour.
Last week, the band marked 45 years since playing its first gig together in 1970.

 havana-live-internet-50%HAVANA, 19 Feb. (AP) Cuba has temporarily reduced the hourly charge for using state-run Internet cafes in the country’s first small but substantive public move to increase online access since the declaration of detente with the U.S.

President Barack Obama said late last year that Cuba had promised to increase Internet access, although U.S. and Cuban officials have since provided few specifics. Virtually all home connections remain illegal in Cuba and getting online at government centers remains prohibitively expensive.
Post-discount, an hour costs roughly 10 percent of the average monthly salary of $20. Users nonetheless hailed the decision to cut the rate by 50 percent until April 10. State centers previously charged $4.50 an hour.

The promotion gives Cubans two hours and 16 minutes for $5. “The cut is something that’s really positive,” said Dimas Bencomo, an artist who goes nearly every day to one of the 155 cyber-cafes opened in 2013.
“They should be charging even less and it would be much better to have a connection in my house.” Cuba announced last month that it plans to open an additional 136 Internet centers around the country this year.

The price doesn’t appear to have changed in hotels, which charge $8 an hour. The price cut that began Feb. 10 has received virtually no publicity in state media and news of it spread by word of mouth. It doesn’t appear to have dramatically increased demand at state cyber-centers.(HabanaLinda)

havana-live-Metro-bus-en-El-vedado-G-y-25HAVANA, 19 Feb. The Cuban Ministry of Transportation’s Trans-Metro company has been operating a new articulated bus to improve the Santiago de las Vegas – Vedado service in Havana since December 22 of last year.

This novel express metro-bus operates Monday to Friday during rush hours, making a total of 17 stops, from the town of Santiago de Cuba to the interesection of 25 and G streets in Vedado, and 18 stops on its way back.
With two articulated sections and air-conditioning, the bus charges 1 Cuban peso per person. This State initiative is part of a six-month experiment. Should it yield positive results, the country will import ten additional buses from Holland and operate them in different routes around Havana.(Havana Times)

havana-live-200_Pax_Catamaran HAVANA, 18 Feb. With travel restrictions to Cuba eased since last year, a Fort Lauderdale-based company is looking to start a ferry service from the Marathon City Marina to Havana,by the end of the year.

Catamaran broker Brian Hall, owner of KonaCat, said he’s confident he can get clearance for his 200-passenger catamaran to travel from the Florida Keys to Cuba twice a day. He hasn’t decided the number of days a week it would run.
A four-hour one-way trip would cost $169 or ($338 round trip). Ferry service between the Keys and Cuba was huge before the U.S. government halted travel to Cuba shortly following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Hall said he’s wanted to start roundtrip service to Cuba from the Florida Keys after a 2011 business trip to Havana. With President Obama’s announcement in December that most travel restrictions for Cuba were being lifted, Hall decided to apply to the U.S. Office of Foreign Asset Control to travel to Cuba.
The Office of Foreign Asset Control operates under the U.S. Department of the Treasury. “We’re going to operate as a nonprofit organization. I feel pretty certain we’ll get the OFAC license,” Hall said.

“The trips are going to be for religious groups, educational trips and for Cuban-Americans to see their families again.” General U.S. tourism travel to Cuba remains banned but the federal government has no way to enforce it. It’s basically an honor system — one must cite a specific non-tourism reason to go to the island.

Generally, travel to the country must be for family visits, official business of the U.S. government, journalistic activity, educational programs, religious activities and humanitarian services. According to Hagar Chemali, spokesman for the Treasury Department, Hall would still be able to take people from Marathon to Cuba even if he is denied a general license.
“General licenses have been issued for travel to Cuba within categories of travel that Treasury has jurisdiction over — that means travelers that meet the requirements within those categories do not need to apply for a license as the travel is generally permitted,” Hagar said.

“Travel service providers and air carriers also would not require a license to provide services to authorized travelers.” Hall must work out how he will work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to clear travelers and prevent Cuban stowaways from hiding on board and coming to the U.S. Hall said he’s working with agents at the Customs station in Marathon to address those issues.
Hall said he hopes the under-construction Customs international entry point will be completed at Florida Keys Marathon Airport before the first vessel launches.

Assistant Director of Airports for Monroe County Thomas Henderson said the Customs office could be complete by August. Former Mayor Rick Ramsay, who helped spearhead getting the official international point of entry at the Marathon airport, has expressed interest in the past of extending Customs’ services from the airport to the city marina.
Regardless of the status of the entry point at the airport, Hall said he’ll work to have regular inspections with Customs agents. “When we dock, the boat will be given to a Customs agent who will sweep the whole boat and all the baggage,” Hall said.

“It will be similar to the Customs screening you get if you flew into the country by plane.” Space for what would be an increase in parking at the Marathon marina is another obstacle Hall said he’ll have to overcome. Still, having traveled to Cuba himself last month, Hall sees day trips from Marathon to Cuba as inevitable.

havana-live-pelosi-CUBA EEUUHAVANA, 18 Feb. (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is traveling to Cuba on Tuesday with a delegation of congressional Democrats, Pelosi’s office announced.

Late last year, President Barack Obama moved toward normal relations with Cuba and some members of Congress favor further relaxation of trade and travel restrictions with the communist-led island.
“This delegation travels to Cuba in friendship and to build upon the announcement of U.S. normalization of relations and other initiatives announced by President Obama,” Pelosi said in a statement released by her office.

“This delegation will work to advance the U.S.-Cuba relationship and build on the work done by many in the Congress over the years, especially with respect to agriculture and trade.” Republicans, who have a majority in both houses of Congress, are generally more resistant than Democrats to changes in U.S.-Cuba policy.
Pelosi and her delegation will meet with Cuban government officials, Cuba’s Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, local community leaders and representatives and American officials at the U.S. Interests Section, her office said.

Other members of the delegation include Representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Representative Rosa DeLauro, the senior Democrat on the agriculture appropriations subcommittee; Representative Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the agriculture committee; and Representative Jim McGovern, the co-chair of the congressional Human Rights Commission.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17 they would work toward normalizing relations between their countries, more than half a century after Castro’s brother Fidel took power.

 havana-live-pink-tankHAVANA, 17 Feb. (Café Fuerte)  With his own, personal infantry tank, Jesus Leiva is most probably the only Cuban civilian who owns a war machine in Cuba.

If we add that he keeps it parked outside his house, letting troops of children climb its belts, hang from its 75-mm cannon and enter and exit the vehicle through the hatch – as well as the fact the machine is painted pink and isn’t owned by Al Qaida – it would probably not be too rash to conclude he is most likely the only individual on the planet with such an artifact.

For Leyva, it is nothing out of the ordinary – the fact this World War II Sherman tank should be part of El Progreso, a botanical garden with over 25 types of fruit trees (including sugar-apples, cherimoya and mango trees) and precious-wood trees (including carob, cedar and ocuje trees) is a kind of added bonus to this lush, green paradise in Havana’s Bahia neighborhood, just across the Havana Bay Tunnel in the direction of the capital’s east-laying beaches.

Without offering any kind of factual evidence, the legend and Leiva stubbornly insist that it is the last of the seven M4 medium tanks (as they are officially called) that Fulgencio Batista stationed at the Residencial Via Tunel (as the area, nicknamed the “Key to Havana”, was known at the time) in the 1950s, during his first 5-year-term in office.

There, his son had plans to build a series of gaming establishments in conjunction with friends from the Italian-American Cosa Nostra. There is nothing to suggest this story is true.
Fulgencio Batista hoped that these Sherman tanks would drive other powerful families (and opposing clans) away from the place, and that they would ensure no one and nothing stood in the way of his very noble and commendable aim of stuffing his pockets with the takings from these casinos. The truth appears to be rather less exciting.

To begin with, there is no evidence to suggest the president’s son had any ties to the mafia. There is also no record (not even the slightest indication) suggesting Batista’s involvement or that such connections existed on the island, which to some resembles a tongue (saying everything) and to others an ear (listening in on everything).
Locals do maintain that the Sherman was used at a facility where military exercises were conducted, a facility that operated there in the days of Cuba’s Territorial Militias (or MTTs), a Cuban version of Vietnam’s all-out people’s war.

Fidel Castro founded them in 1980 when he had plans of turning every inch of land into the worst nightmare of any troops dispatched by Ronald Reagan.
Whether it was the mafia or the MTTs, Leyva stresses that the only way he’s giving away his Sherman – the nickname the British gave the tank, after US Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman – is in exchange for the vehicle’s weight in iron rods, which he needs to repair his large house.
We’re talking about a vehicle that weighs 3.3 tons. What isn’t clear is why he painted the tank pink. “Well, if there’s a yellow submarine, why can’t there be a pink tank?” he asks.

 havana-live- O'Brien poses with U.S. first lady Obama during the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in WashingtonHAVANA, 17 Feb. (CNN) Conan O’Brien and his late-night show are no stranger to road trips, but this time it looks like he’s pulled off a major one: filming in Havana.

O’Brien spent the past weekend with his crew filming the March 4 episode of his TBS show in Havana, Cuba. It marks the first time a U.S. late-night show has filmed in the country since the embargo began in 1962.
A news release from the show says the host spent “multiple days taking in the sights, sounds and culture of the country. The trip gives the ‘Conan’ audience a rare glimpse into the daily life of a country not often seen by American viewers.”

In December, President Obama announced that the U.S. would be moving to re-establish diplomatic relations with the island nation, including reopening an embassy in Havana and loosening travel restrictions.
According to Deadline, O’Brien picked the weekend before Presidents Day because his show does not tape on the holiday and would be available to travel. In the past, he has taken the show to locations including Ireland, Atlanta, Toronto, Chicago and Dallas.

Now that the door has been opened, there may be a flood of American productions headed to Cuba’s shores. In January, it was announced that a production of “Rent” done in cooperation with the Cuban National Council of Performing Arts would be the first full Broadway musical held in the country in 50 years.
In February 1959, Jack Paar traveled to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro for “The Tonight Show.” Paar was roundly criticized for the move, despite the fact that Ed Sullivan had interviewed the Cuban leader in January.

havana-live-aidsvirus_0Les spécialistes du sida craignent l’apparition d’une nouvelle souche du VIH plus virulente.

LA HAVANE, 16 Feb. Des chercheurs de l’Université catholique de Louvain (Belgique) et de l’Institut de Médecine Tropicale Pedro Kouri de La Havane ont mis au jour une nouvelle souche du VIH plus virulente.

Selon leurs recherches, celle-ci développerait le sida beaucoup plus rapidement. Les personnes atteintes seraient en effet malades en seulement trois ans, contre six à dix ans avec les souches du virus existantes.
Virus meurtrier
Certains n’auraient même pas le temps de se rendre compte de leur infection et de démarrer un traitement. Même si le diagnostic des chercheurs a été réalisé sur seulement 95 personnes, cette découverte expliquerait la rapide progression du sida sur l’île caribéenne. Elle pourrait éviter à terme que le virus fasse autant de mort chaque année.

havana-live-aidsvirus_0HAVANA, 16 Feb.  Moving so fast that the use of retroviruses may be of little use, an aggressive form of HIV has been found in Cuba with the virus progressing to AIDS within just three years.

Alarmed by the speed at which some HIV patients were developing AIDS, officials in Cuba reached out to Professor Anne-Mieke Vandamme, a professor of health at the University of Leuvan in Belgium.
Vandamme and her team studied over 70 patients, dividing them into groups. The team composed one group with those progressing toward AIDS much quicker than the five to 10 years the virus normally takes to develop into the autoimmune disease.

The individuals that developed AIDS at the unprecedented rates had tested negative for HIV just one or two years prior to testing positive. HIV would typically only progress to AIDS at the speeds observed by Cuban health officials and Vandamme’s team when a individual’s immune system was already weak prior to contracting the virus.
But what’s happening in Cuba appears to be the recombination of three sub-strains of the virus. Individuals with the aggressive strain were found to have more of the virus in their system than the other patients.

“Here we had a variant of HIV that we found only in the group that was progressing fast,” says Vandamme in an interview. “Not in the other two groups. We focused in on this variant [and] tried to find out what was different. And we saw it was a recombinant of three different subtypes.” Outside of the lab, recombinant strains of diseases can develop in a person who has contracted multiple variants of a virus.

The aggressive strain of HIV found in Cuba combines sub-types A, C and D to create what being called CRF19. The discovery of CRF19 in Cuba comes just after the world received a bit of good news in the war on HIV and AIDS.

Research shows HIV-related deaths among African Americans has dropped by about 28 percent, a landmark for the group that suffers the highest mortality rate due to the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) used data from 2012 to reach its conclusion that HIV-related deaths among African Americans was on the decline. The CDC report also found the disparity between HIV-related deaths in white and black people has narrowed from about a 28 percent margin in 2008 to a divide of approximately 13 percent 2012.

havana-live-luise-cristal1HAVANA, 15 Feb. Under newly relaxed regulations governing travel to Cuba, Cuba Cruise is offering Americans seven-night trips that circumnavigate the island.

In the past, American passengers had to book lengthier land-and-sea itineraries with a sanctioned American tour operator. Now securing passage aboard the 1,200-passenger Louis Cristal involves reserving the trip with Cuba Cruise, a Canadian company, and registering for a People-to-People Program with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an American nonprofit.
The organization then issues a participant letter authorizing travel. Sailors can embark in Montego Bay, Jamaica, or in Havana for trips that include visits to six Unesco World Heritage Sites in and around Santiago de Cuba, Cienfuegos and the capital.

Americans are limited to educational shore excursions, all of which are optional, including visits to Fidel Castro’s birthplace, the mountains of Baconao Park, the Spanish colonial city of Trinidad and Havana via a vintage auto.
The cruises run through March and will resume in December. They start at 782 Canadian dollars a person, or $637.50 at 1.22 Canadian to the U.S. dollar, plus port fees (178 Canadian dollars) and the cost of registration ($75), excluding airfare.

havana-live-USA--Importation-regulation HAVANA, 13 Feb.  (Reuters) – The United States on Friday dramatically eased restrictions on imports of goods and services from private Cuban entrepreneurs as part of Washington’s rapprochement with Havana after more than half a century of enmity.

The U.S. State Department said the import of all goods and services was now permissible except in certain broad categories, which include arms, live animals, tobacco, vehicles, mineral products, machinery, and some textiles and base metals.
“The administration had made it very clear they are changing the thrust of U.S. policy to allow the private sector in Cuba to blossom,” said Pedro Freyre, chair of law firm Akerman LLP’s international practice.

“Of course there are two ends to this. We are still waiting to see how it is going to play out in Cuba.” Under Cuban law, private sector entrepreneurs cannot independently import and export products or services without a government license.
However, artists are allowed to sell their work to foreigners, and there is also an exotic bird cooperative that obtained a license in 2013.

The goods that can now be imported exclude those specified in the following sections of the U.S. Harmonized Tariff Schedule:
Section I: Live Animals; Animal Products (all chapters);
Section II: Vegetable Products (all chapters)
Section III: Animal or Vegetable Fats and Oils and their Cleavage Products; Prepared Edible Fats; Animal or Vegetable Waxes (all chapters)
Section IV: Prepared Foodstuffs; Beverages, Spirits, and Vinegar; Tobacco and Manufactured Tobacco Substitutes (all chapters)
Section V: Mineral Products (all chapters)
Section VI: Products of the Chemical or Allied Industries (chapters 28-32; 35-36, 38)
Section XI: Textile and Textile Articles (chapters 51-52)
Section XV: Base Metals and Articles of Base Metal (chapters 72-81)
Section XVI: Machinery and Mechanical Appliances; Electrical Equipment; Parts Thereof; Sound Recorders and Reproducers, Television Image and Sound Recorders and Reproducers, and Parts and Accessories of Such Articles (all chapters)
Section XVII: Vehicles, Aircraft, Vessels, and Associated Transportation Equipment (all chapters) Section XIX: Arms and Ammunition; Parts and Accessories Thereof (all chapters).

 havana-live-hemingway-pilarHAVANA, 13 Feb. The mystery of whether Ernest Hemingway’s widow volunteered or was coerced into leaving their Cuban house to the nation has come a step closer to being solved, with the discovery of a letter in which she states that her late husband “would be pleased” that Finca Vigía be “given to the people of Cuba … as a centre for opportunities for wider education and research”.

Hemingway lived on the 19th-century Cuban farm for 21 years, between 1939 and 1961, writing his masterpieces The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls there as well as posthumously published works including A Moveable Feast and Islands in the Stream. He committed suicide in Idaho in 1961.

The property became a museum in 1962, but it has been unclear whether this was following the wishes of Mary Hemingway, his fourth wife, or at the insistence of the Cuban government, with differing accounts from different parties.
The newly discovered letter, dated 25 August 1961, sees Mary Hemingway specifically donate the Finca Vigía to the Cuban people. “…Whereas – my husband, Ernest Hemingway, was for twenty-five years a friend of the Pueblo of Cuba … he never took part in the politics of Cuba … he never sold any possessions of his, except his words, having given away cars, guns, books and his Nobel prize medal to the Virgen del Cobre,” she wrote to her husband’s friend Roberto Herrera.

“I believe that he would be pleased that his property … in Cuba be given to the people of Cuba … as a center for opportunities for wider education and research, to be maintained in his memory.
With this document, as the only heir of Ernest’s estate, I hereby give to the people of Cuba this property, in the hope that they will learn and profit from, and enjoy it, as much as Ernest and I did.” havana-live-hemingway-letter

 havana-live-horse-purebredIn this Jan. 31, 2015 photo, a horse trainer braids the main of the horse he’s been training, before the start of an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. Cuba splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company and uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import steeds at great expense. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA,13 Feb. (AP ANNE-MARIE GARCIA) — Already renowned for fine rum and fancy cigars, Cuba is carving out a new luxury niche that is attracting Latin American elites to Cuba: thoroughbred jumping horses.
By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are creating prized competitors capable of fetching more than $40,000 from buyers at private auctions, with much of the proceeds going back to the government-led equine enterprise.

At an auction last month at the National Equestrian Club, well-heeled horse collectors gathered in the tropical air to sip wine and raise their bidding paddles, hoping to find a champion among the Dutch Warmbloods paraded before them. By evening’s end, 31 horses sold for a total of about $435,000 to buyers from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, the Netherlands and Mexico.

“The great advantage is that they are already in the Americas,” said Cecilia Pedraza, a Mexico City collector who bought several of the Dutch Warmbloods. “In addition, they have been trained very well. They are advanced for their age, very well-behaved, perform concentrated jumps and have excellent blood lines.”
Rufino Rivera, from Xalapa, the capital of Mexico’s Gulf coast state of Veracruz, paid about $17,000 for a horse he hopes will follow the path of Aristotelis, a prize-winning jumper he bought at the club’s first auction six years ago.

Cuba’s tradition of horse breeding and training dates to the 16th century, but after the 1959 communist revolution, Fidel Castro’s government banned horse racing along with gambling and professional sports. Cuba continued to participate in amateur equestrianism, producing top-notch horse riders and trainers.
But the costly sport slipped into decline in the 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet Union provoked an economic crisis that made it hard to care for the animals. Then, starting in 2005, Cuba began seeing horses as a way to gain badly needed foreign currency.

It began to import Dutch Warmbloods around age 1½, then train them for competitive jumping before selling them at age 3. In the days before an auction, jockeys and trainers like Jose Luis Vaquero can be seen brushing their purebred wards’ coats and braiding their manes so that “everything is perfect.” “You have to take care of the horse, look after it every day,” Vaquero said.
The National Equestrian Club is run by Flora and Fauna, a state business that promotes the island’s natural resources. It keeps 117 horses in stables in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. Cuba, which splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company, uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import animals at great expense.

Willy Arts, the head of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse association’s North American wing, said there is growing demand for high-quality show horses and Cuba’s program could be important to people in the Western Hemisphere looking to purchase them at more accessible prices. Cuba complains bitterly about training world-class athletes who leave to make millions for themselves in other countries.

If successful, the new equine initiative would produce four-hooved performers whose success only means more revenue for the program that produces them. Nearly two dozen mares currently are part of the breeding effort.
Last year, three horses born through the insemination program were sold at prices ranging from $39,000 to $50,000, said Maydet Vega, a veterinarian who oversees equine programs at Rancho Azucarero, the horse-breeding center west of Havana where the artificial insemination program is being developed.

Breeding foals in Cuba has the additional advantage of allowing horses to adapt to Cuba’s sweltering heat and humidity from birth, she said. “It’s important to be able to produce them on the continent,” Vega said. “They can adapt to the tropical conditions of our climate so people can have them in all countries in the Americas.”

 havana-live_jetblue HAVANA, 12 FEb.  JetBlue Airways  the largest airline to the Caribbean, today announced an agreement with its partner, ABC Charters, to add a new charter flight to Cuba beginning this summer.

The weekly flight, which begins on June 5, will operate on Fridays from Tampa (TPA) to Havana (HAV). JetBlue will have the most flights to Cuba from Tampa. Travelers should make arrangements directly with ABC Charters (www.abc-charters.com).
The addition marks one of the first expansions in charter service by a major U.S. airline since restrictions on travel to Cuba were eased in January.

“Cuba will one day play an important role in our overall Caribbean network, a region where customer response has already helped us grow into the leading U.S. airline,” said Scott Laurence, senior ‎vice president, airline planning, JetBlue.
“Expanding our charter program today reflects the thoughtful approach we are taking in Cuba over the long-term.” JetBlue will now have four weekly round trips to Cuba.

In addition to the new Friday flight, JetBlue and ABC Charters operate weekly flights from Tampa to Havana on Tuesdays and from Tampa to Santa Clara (SNU) on Wednesdays.
JetBlue also operates flights between Fort Lauderdale (FLL) and Havana through Xael Charters on Fridays.

JetBlue is currently evaluating opportunities to add additional charter flights. JetBlue serves all charter flights to Cuba on its Airbus A320, which are configured with 150 leather seats, the most legroom in coach of any U.S. carrier*, large overhead bins, free live seatback entertainment, and free snacks.
“Travelers to Cuba would prefer to fly in a roomy and comfortable aircraft with an airline they know and trust,” said Laurence. “By expanding our charter program, we are able to bring the JetBlue experience that customers love, on our modern fleet of aircraft, to even more people making their way to Cuba.”

JetBlue began flying to Cuba for charter companies in 2011. The airline’s leadership in the Caribbean and valuable operational experience in Cuba positions it well to offer additional service to Cuba from multiple U.S. cities as soon as permissible by law.


HAVANA, 12 Feb. It’s been a busy few weeks for the half-dozen or so companies licensed to charter flights between the United States and Cuba.

In December, President Barack Obama announced the restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, and the easing of travel and trade restrictions started in mid-January.
We have just been inundated,” says Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, which has been around for 35 years and flies mostly between Miami and a few Cuban cities. In the second half of January 2014, Guild says his company received 30 requests for group travel.

During that period this year—the first two weeks under the eased rules—the company got 1,300 requests from groups of Americans seeking to visit the island. In fact, Guild says he is discouraging people from packing their bags until April or May. “Cuba is already filled, as far as their hotels go,” he says. Air service agreements between the two countries date back to 1953.

Until last month, the U.S. had limited air travel to Cuba to companies holding special licenses and operating non-regular flights. As Jimmy Carter and other presidents expanded Cuba travel categories beginning in the late 1970s, companies such as Marazul, Gulfstream, ABC, Xael, Wilson and Cuba Travel Services grew to dominate the market.
In 2003 and 2004, President George W. Bush set restrictions on family visits and cut back cultural licenses for Americans. “He hit us really hard,” says Tessie Aral of ABC Charters.

“We had to lay off half our staff.” The industry bounced back in 2009 and 2011, when Obama began easing restrictions. Michael Zuccato of Cuba Travel Services estimates his business is up more than 100 percent since 2011.
Marazul isn’t the only company cashing in. Zuccato says he represented his company at a travel show, and a week later, “I’m just now getting my voice back.” His company is adding a weekly flight from New York City to Havana in March.

A Tampa International Airport spokeswoman says that she expects charter operators there to add additional flights to Cuba in the coming weeks, and that GoToCuba.org, a website the airport created to provide Cuba travel information, has seen 1,580 percent more traffic since before Obama’s announcement in December.

A plan to renegotiate the 62-year-old air service agreement between the two countries could clear the way for major commercial airlines to start flights. American Airlines, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United have all expressed interest in flying to Cuba, and representatives from the Priceline Group and Orbitz tell Newsweek they’re eager to get Cuba on their booking websites.
Kayak, a travel search engine under the Priceline umbrella, has already added Cuba hotel and flight data to its search results. Still, the charters have loyal followings and have weathered tough storms—extremists bombed Marazul’s offices in 1988 and 1996.

Lillian Manzor, a University of Miami associate professor and expert on U.S.-Cuba travel policies, says the smaller operations have “a long experience and tradition of working with Cuba” and “an experiential know-how that they’ve already had to deal with for 20-odd years that the [major] American companies don’t have.

havana-live-dead.daisiesblackLA HAVANE, 12 Feb. (AFP)  Le groupe de rock américain The Dead Daisies, composé en partie d’anciens membres de Guns’n’Roses, partira en tournée à Cuba ce mois-ci, le premier concert d’un groupe américain depuis 2005.

Les musiciens ont notamment prévu une semaine d’enregistrement en studio avec des artistes locaux. En clôture, le groupe se produira le 28 février au concert de “Cuba Rocks for Peace” à La Havane. .

Le groupe a mentionné que la tournée serait une première pour un groupe américain d’envergure depuis que le président Barack Obama a pris, en décembre, la décision historique de rétablir les relations diplomatiques avec Cuba en assouplissant un embargo économique décrété il y a plus de cinquante ans contre l’île communiste.

“Avec ces changements diplomatiques qui n’ont que trop tardé, nous avons senti qu’il était temps d’y aller”, a indiqué Dizzy Reed, ancien claviériste de Guns’n’Roses. “Cuba, c’est le rêve de toute une vie, une partie du monde si riche en histoire et en influence, et c’est sur le point d’arriver”, a déclaré Reed dans un communiqué diffusé mardi.
Marco Mendoza, le bassiste hispanophone du groupe qui a grandi au Mexique, a ajouté avoir hâte d’explorer le riche héritage de l’île, notamment la culture afro-cubaine.

Malgré une longue animosité politique entre les deux pays, les musiciens ont souvent servi de pont entre les deux cultures et plusieurs artistes cubains d’envergure ont pu se produire aux Etats-Unis. Audioslave, le groupe de hard rock fondé par Chris Cornell, s’est produit devant plusieurs dizaines de milliers de personnes à Cuba en 2005.

En 2013, le célèbre couple formé de Jay-Z et de Beyoncé avait visité l’île en touristes, ce qui avait soulevé l’ire de certains conservateurs qui l’avait accusé de violer l’embargo américain. Le département du Trésor avait cependant donné son accord au couple ainsi qu’à Audioslave, qualifiant ces voyages d’échange culturel.

havana-live-presidente-de-turquia-llega-a-cubaHAVANA, 11 Feb.  Step by step, Turkey is showing its strong interest in the Caribbean region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Havana Tuesday for the beginning of an official visit to Cuba.

The trip is slated to include meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and other Cuban officials. Erdogan’s trip is part of a wider regional tour that includes stops in C’olombia and Mexico.
He is being accompanied by Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Food, Agriculture and Livestock Mehdi Eker, Minister of Culture and tourism Ömer Çelik and Minister of Economy Nihat Zeybekçi. It’s the first visit to the region by a sitting Turkish president since 1995, according to a statement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But it’s by no means Turkey’s first foray into the region; indeed, the country has been steadily growing its influence across the wider Caribbean in recent years. Last year, the country expanded its partnership with the Caribbean, with moves including a $2.1 million grant to the government of Antigua and Barbuda, a series of cooperation agreements with the Dominican Republic and, on the smaller side, the donation of laptops to Dominica’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Taken together, these kinds of moves seem to signal a strategy similar to that employed by China in recent years in the region. In July 2014, the country also announced what it called a “clear and long-term engagement” to strengthen its Caribbean ties.
That included a proposal to establish a joint chancery for the common use of CARICOM members to establish diplomatic representation in the country’s capital, Ankara.
Erdogan made headlines late last year when he said that Muslims were the first to reach America from the Eastern Hemisphere, referring to a passage in one of Columbus’ journals that referred to a “little hill on its summit, like a graceful mosque.” The passage was used metaphorically by Columbus.

He said Muslim sailors had reached the New World in 1178.


havana-live-se-vende-casa (2)La Havane, 11. Feb.  Depuis 2011, les Cubains peuvent vendre et acheter des maisons et autres immeubles, alors qu’il était seulement possible de les troquer jusque-là.

Un changement qui s’inscrit dans les bouleversements économiques que vit l’île depuis quelques années.Cette photo montre une maison à vendre – et à restaurer -, dans la vieille Havane. Un phénomène impossible à imaginer quelques années plus tôt à Cuba.
À la révolution, les Cubains sont restés ou sont devenus propriétaires de leur logement. Les exilés, ceux qui ont quitté l’île dans les années qui ont suivi la prise du pouvoir par Fidel Castro, se sont fait confisquer leurs propriétés, dont certaines ont été réparties parmi la population non propriétaire.

Ces confiscations restent d’ailleurs un contentieux entre Cuba et les États-Unis, qui réclament qu’on les restitue ou qu’on dédommage les propriétaires. La normalisation des relations entre les deux pays devra passer par une sorte d’entente à ce sujet.Les gens sont donc propriétaires de leur logement, mais jusqu’en 2011, ils n’avaient pas droit de les vendre.
Ils pouvaient seulement les échanger. Cela s’appelle la « permuta ». « Je t’échange mon appartement bien rénové contre le tien plus grand, mais qui a besoin de travaux. » Voilà comment ça fonctionne.havana-live-habana-casa-agence

Évidemment, un peu d’argent sous la table peut toujours compenser, même si ce n’est pas permis officiellement. Il y a donc des bourses informelles de la « permuta » ici et là. L’une d’entre elles se trouve au Prado, cette magnifique avenue qui mène du Capitole à la mer en face du phare du Morro.
Depuis 30 ans on y fait des échanges de logement. Sur l’image, on voit des enfants qui font une activité en groupe sur le Prado.Puisqu’il est possible depuis 2011 d’acheter ou de vendre, un nouveau métier est apparu et est désormais autorisé : agent immobilier. Au moins deux agences immobilières ont vu le jour. La première agence à avoir pignon sur rue a été La Isla, fin 2013.

Elle est située dans le quartier chic de Nuevo Vedado. La Isla a un répertoire de 2300 propriétés et en a vendu 800 en moins d’un an.L’autre agence, plus discrète, est Habana Casas.
Elle est située sur le Prado, près de la vieille Havane historique.Une fois rénovés, les logements peuvent être loués aux touristes, en devises, ce qui permet des restaurations d’autres logements.havana-live-isla-agence-immobiliere

Sur cette photo, on voit l’entrée d’une maison à louer aux touristes… en devises, bien entendu.C’est le début d’un nouveau marché. Un gros problème : le manque d’accès aux matériaux neufs et en gros.
On doit se rabattre sur la récupération dans les immeubles en ruines. Le quartier « chaud » pour l’immobilier : la vieille Havane historique. Sur la photo ci-haut, le deuxième étage de la maison rouge est à louer aux touristes.

 havana-live-netflixLA HAVANE, 10 Feb. Lundi, le site américain de vidéo en ligne a ouvert son service à Cuba. Mais cette arrivée sur l’île est avant tout symbolique au regard du nombre d’habitants qui pourront y accéder…

Alors que leurs relations diplomatiques étaient rompues depuis 1961, les États-Unis et Cuba ont décidé de les normaliser depuis quelques semaines. Conséquence quasi-immédiate de ce rapprochement entre les deux nations: Netflix vient de débarquer sur l’île! Lundi 9 février, le célèbre site américain de vidéo en ligne a ouvert son service à Cuba.

Mais son arrivée se veut avant tout symbolique. En effet, si les Cubains peuvent se réjouir de l’arrivée de Netflix sur leur terre, ils seront malheureusement peu nombreux à pouvoir en profiter. À Cuba, on ne dénombre que 5.360 lignes fixes à haut-débit alors que le pays compte 11,3 millions d’habitants. En clair, comme le révèle l’International Telecommunications Union, seuls 3,4% de la population locale pourront accéder au site américain de vidéo en ligne.

Par ailleurs, les Cubains désireux de s’abonner à Netflix devront avoir un accès à des méthodes de paiement internationnales et déboursé de 7,99 à 11,9 dollars par mois. À Cuba, le salaire mensuel moyen s’élevant à 20 dollars, l’accès à Netflix reste donc pour le moment le privilège d’une minorité.
Reste que l’arrivée du géant américain participe à la normalisation historique des relations entre La Havane et Washington. Une porte-parole du groupe a d’ailleurs expliqué: «Notre arrivée sur ce marché est un signe de notre confiance dans les réformes en cours à Cuba et dans le fait que l’assouplissement des restrictions sur les entreprises américaines (voulant opérer dans l’île) va conduire à des investissements rapides là-bas, y compris pour améliorer les infrastructures».

Netflix dispose aujourd’hui de plus de 57 millions de clients dans une cinquantaine de pays. Le site américain de vidéo en ligne compte 5 millions d’abonnés en Amérique latine depuis son arrivée en 2011.

havana-live-tropicanaHAVANA, Feb 10 (EFE) The legendary Tropicana cabaret, with a 75-year-long history and a symbol of cuban music, is excited about the new era with the United States with a predicted increase in North American spectators among the international audience that attend the “Paradise Under the Stars” every night.

“We are hopeful, let’s see how this process develops. We hope that finally the travel restrictions are lifted and that many North Americans come here to see Cuba and Tropicana,” the cabaret’s artistic director, Armando Pérez, told Efe.

First opened on 31 December 1939, Havana’s Tropicana remains one of the island’s main tourist attractions with a show that is unique both for the location in the open air surrounded by lush tropical flora and its quality repertoire of genuine Cuban music, where the cha-cha-cha, mambo, guaracha, rumba and African rhythms have fused with Latin jazz, samba, and Spanish and Brazilian music. In high season, between 500 and 800 people attend the acclaimed show.

All are foreign tourists mainly from Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and in recent years from Russia. Very few Cubans are seen in the Tropicana audience as the cheapest ticket is CUC 75 (equivalent to the US dollar), a prohibitive price for Cubans earning a precarious income.

After it was announced that relations between Cuba and the United States were to be reestablished and the first measures taken by Washington to soften the blockade introduced, among them an easing of travel restrictions to the island, the Tropicana is waiting for an increase in North American traffic in the not-too-distant future.

One of the show’s solo singers, Idra, who specialises in son and guaracheras, sees the change as positive. “I hope they can come here and appreciate our art (…) that they see us here, at our home,” she told Efe, after explaining how the Tropicana is an “institution” that has never ceased to operate despite the 50-year U.S. embargo.
After it opened in 1939 on an old Havana estate in the neighbourhood of Marianao, the Tropicana quickly became one of the most popular nightclubs on the American continent, visited by the legends such as Ava Gardner, Marlon Brando and Nat King Cole.

Celebrated Cuban and foreign artists to perform at the club include Rita Montaner, pianist and composer Ignacio Jacinto “Bola de Nieve” Villa Fernández, entertainer Josephine Baker and singer Celia Cruz. The venue became a casino-cabaret, receiving many visits from various members of the American mafia until Fidel Castro’s revolution succeeded in 1959.

 havana-live-netflexHAVANA, 9 Feb.  Netflix Inc., the online video-subscription service, said it will offer movies and TV shows in Cuba starting at $7.99 a month as Internet access there improves and credit and debit cards become more widely available.

Starting today, Cubans with broadband service and access to international payment methods will be able to stream shows including “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” Los Gatos, California-based Netflix said today in a statement.The company will offer a curated selection of movies and TV shows.
Netflix didn’t say what role, if any, the Cuban government would play in the service. Markets outside the U.S. are the company’s fastest-growing source of new online subscribers, which reached 57.4 million at year-end. Netflix raised $1.5-billion in a bond sale this month to support its expansion, including the development of new shows.

“Cuba has great filmmakers and a robust arts culture, and one day we hope to be able to bring their work to our global audience,” Reed Hastings, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in the statement. The company began offering its service in Latin America in 2011 and now counts more than 5 million subscribers.
Netflix plans to enter Japan by fall, a person familiar with the matter said last week. The company said on its earnings call in January that it would offer its monthly service to almost every territory with high-speed Internet service by the end of 2016.

miss-univers-sacreLA HAVANE, 9 Feb. Elle incarne la beauté et la grâce et elle croit de tout son cœur à la paix dans le monde.

C’est pour toutes ces raisons que Paulina Vega, étudiante colom­bienne de 22 ans, récem­ment couron­née Miss Univers, vient d’être appe­lée en renfort à La Havane, où doivent se tenir des pour­par­lers histo­riques qui marque­ront peut être la fin d’un conflit de 50 ans entre les Forces armées révo­lu­tion­naires de Colom­bie (Farc) et le gouver­ne­ment de Juan Manuel Santos.

A grandes couronnes grandes respon­sa­bi­li­tés. Sacrée Miss Univers 2015 en janvier dernier, devant notre Camille Cerf natio­nale, la Colom­bienne Paulina Vega va pouvoir se rendre utile plus vite qu’elle ne l’es­pé­rait surement.
Celle qui s’était dite «prête à se rendre à La Havane pour que la paix soit signée» entre les Farcs et le gouver­ne­ment de son pays, a pour ainsi dire été prise au mot.

En effet, dans un commu­niqué offi­ciel, publié sur le site inter­net de l’or­ga­ni­sa­tion terro­riste – respon­sable notam­ment de l’en­lè­ve­ment d’In­grid Betan­court entre 2002 et 2008 – on pouvait lire cette semaine, à l’at­ten­tion de la jeune reine de beauté : « Nous saluons sa propo­si­tion de se rendre à La Havane, et nous l’invi­tons à concré­ti­ser sa visite pour l’infor­mer du dérou­le­ment du proces­sus de discus­sions, des avan­cées et de l’énorme contri­bu­tion que ceux qui veulent la paix et vous-même peuvent appor­ter ». Les présentes négo­cia­tions de paix sont en cours depuis novembre 2012 dans la capi­tale de Cuba.

Et, pour le moment la moitié du travail est déjà fait, puisque des accords ont été trou­vés sur trois des six points majeurs. Espé­rons donc de tout cœur que l’ar­ri­vée provi­den­tielle de la jeune Paulina permet­tra aux négo­cia­teurs de clas­ser le conflit interne colom­bien sans suite, en toute frater­nité. Plus sérieu­se­ment, on rappelle que depuis 50 ans de conflit, 220.000 personnes ont péri dans la jungle amazo­nienne.

havana-live-miss_colombia_universo HAVANA, 7 Feb. Colombia’s FARC rebels have invited newly crowned Miss Universe Paulina Vega to attend their peace negotiations.

The beauty queen hasn’t responded as yet.Miss Universe Paulina Vega was invited by rebels of Colombia’s Marxist FARC movement, who believed her presence was of utmost importance in negotiating peace with their government in Havana, Cuba’s capital.
“We welcome your willingness to travel to Havana and we invite you to materialize your visit to update you about the development of the peace talks, the progress and the enormous contributions that you and the majorities who desire peace can make,” the organization’s peace delegation wrote on its website.

It is however unclear how the beauty queen, also a Colombian national, could help establish peace between the guerilla and the government in Bogota, who have been involved in an armed struggle since the 1960s.
The beauty queen had still not responded to the rebels’ invitation. The 22-year-old Vega is a business student and model from Colombia’s Baranquilla. She was named Miss Universe this January and had expressed her willingness to travel to peace talks in Havana in several interviews.

Representatives of the guerillas and the Colombian government have been speaking in Cuba’s capital Havana and have agreed on land reforms, an end to illegal drug trade and political participation for former guerillas until now. mg/rc (Reuters, AFP)

 havana-live-internet-centerHAVANA,7 Feb. Cuban authorities plan to have more than 300 centers for accessing the Internet by late 2015, almost double the 155 so-called “cyber points” that were open to the public at the end of last year, according to the projections of Etecsa, the state-run telecommunications company, as cited by media on the island.

In the first quarter of this year, the state company plans to open 73 of these cyber points, to be set up in the nation’s Joven Clubs, which already have computers installed but where only Web pages created on the island with the domain name “.cu” have been accessible up to now. In Etecsa’s cyber points, Cubans have global access to the Internet, except for certain restricted Web sites, but the connection price of $4.50 per hour is impossibly expensive in a country where the average monthly wage ranges from $20 to $30.

The communications director at Etecsa, Luís Manuel Díaz, said in a statement on Cuban television that the process of bringing the island online also contemplates the creation of Wi-Fi networks in hotels. Late last year, Etecsa officials announced that the company intends not only to increase the number of cyber points in 2015, but also to offer Wi-Fi areas for wireless connections, though plans for the latter have not yet been consolidated.

At present, Internet connections in homes on the island are restricted to certain professionals like journalists, doctors and lawyers – with previous authorization by the government – while the majority of Cubans can only access the Web at the cyber points that opened in June 2013 with 118 public access centers.

As part of the process of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States and lifting sanctions on the island, the White House last January eased export restrictions on IT equipment and software to improve telecommunications in the Caribbean country and to lower the costs.

 havana-live-air-chinaHAVANA, Feb 7 (Prensa Latina) An Air China delegation will travel to Cuba to begin contacts for the establishment, for the first time, of a direct flight between Beijing and Havana, Zhang Xin, executive of that airline said.

In statements to Prensa Latina, the manager of Cooperation and International, Governmental and Bilateral Affairs of Air China, stated that a representation of that company will arrive in Havana in mid March, seeking the Cuban approval for its operations.
The objective is to achieve an agreement and know the conditions and services of resupply, maintenance, catering and others at the Jose Marti airport. As of the approval by the Cuban part, we will do the corresponding request to Chinese authorities.

Thus, we can begin the Beijing-Havana direct flights on September 28, he stressed. The executive attended today an act to promote tourism to Cuba organized by that Caribbean island’s diplomatic mission in Beijing, and in which representatives from Chinese travel agencies and tour-operators participated.

Zhang said the trip between those distant nations will last about 16 hours with a resupply stop in Montreal, Canada, and the use of large airplanes such as Airbus and Boeing. Cuban ambassador Alberto Blanco expressed satisfaction to the participants in the activity for Air China company’s intention to begin its first direct flight to Havana, coinciding in time with the 55th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between both countries.

 havana-live-US-Cuba-flagHAVANA, 6 Feb. (Reuters) – The United States is pressing Cuba to allow the opening of its embassy in Havana by April, U.S. officials told Reuters, despite Cuba’s demand that it first be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

A refusal by Cuba to allow the United States to quickly establish an official embassy for the first time in half a century could complicate talks between the Cold War foes, reflecting enduring mistrust as they move to end decades of confrontation.
Striking Cuba from the terrorism list could take until June or longer, although the White House is pushing officials to move quickly, said two U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the State Department’s review to take Cuba off the list. Washington is eager to re-establish diplomatic ties before a regional summit in Panama in April, when President Barack Obama will meet Cuban leader Raul Castro for the first time since 2013, the officials said.

The two leaders announced a historic deal on Dec. 17 to restore relations. U.S. and Cuban diplomats will meet this month or in early March in Washington for a second round of talks. While renewing diplomatic relations could happen quickly, the process to normalize, including removing the U.S. trade embargo, will take far longer. Cuba has not made removal from the list a condition for restoring ties, U.S. officials said. But Havana made clear during the first round of talks last month that it first wants to be removed from the terrorism list.

For Cuba, which considers its designation an injustice, getting removed from the list would be a long-coveted propaganda victory at home and abroad. Washington placed Cuba on the list in 1982, citing then President Fidel Castro’s training and arming of Communist rebels in Africa and Latin America. The list is short: just Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba.
But Cuba’s presence on the list has been questioned in recent years. The State Department’s latest annual “Country Reports on Terrorism” says Cuba has long provided a safe haven for members of the Basque separatist group ETA and Colombia’s left-wing FARC guerrillas. But ETA, severely weakened by Spanish and French police, called a ceasefire in 2011 and has pledged to disarm.

And the FARC has been in peace talks with the Colombian government for the past two years, with Cuba as host. Even the State Department acknowledged in its report that Cuba has made progress. “There was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training to terrorist groups,” it said.

Cuba raised this issue before January’s talks in Havana. A senior official from Cuba’s foreign ministry told reporters on Jan. 20 that it was “unfair” to keep Cuba on the State Department’s list. “We cannot conceive of re-establishing diplomatic relations while Cuba continues to be included on the list,” the official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It doesn’t make any sense that we re-establish diplomatic relations and Cuba continues (on the list).” It is rare, though not unheard of, for the United States to remove entities or countries from its list of terrorist supporters.

One entity which was removed following a lengthy and intense lobbying campaign was the Mujahiddin e Khalq, a controversial and cult-like Iranian group. The designation also comes with economic sanctions, and can result in fines for companies that do business with countries on the list, such as a record $8.9 billion penalty that French bank BNP Paribas paid last year for doing business with Sudan, Iran and Cuba.

As part of the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba, the White House ordered a State Department review of Cuba’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, the U.S. officials said. A U.S. national security official said intelligence agencies were under pressure from senior Obama administration officials to complete their role in the removal process by March.

“The process is under way,”said the official.

To finalize Cuba’s removal, Obama would need to submit to Congress a report stating Havana had not supported terrorism-related activities for six months, and that Cuba has provided assurances that it will not support terrorism in the future.Cuba would be automatically dropped from the list 45 days later. 

Getting the embassy open is also tricky.

Converting the six-story U.S. interests sections in Havana into a full-fledged embassy after 53 years would require ending restrictions on the number of U.S. personnel in Havana, limits on diplomats’ movements and appointing an ambassador.

It would allow the U.S. to renovate the building and have U.S. security posted around the building, replacing Cuban police. Cuba also wants the United States to scale back its support for Cuban dissidents when the sides meet again. U.S. administration officials have stood firm both publicly and privately that they intend to keep supporting the dissidents.

“I can’t imagine that we would go to the next stage of our diplomatic relationship with an agreement not to see democracy activists,” U.S. negotiator Roberta Jacobson told a hearing chaired by Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal Republican opponent of Obama’s new Cuba policy.

topelementLA HAVANE, 6 Feb. Les Etats-Unis visent une réouverture de leur ambassade à La Havane d’ici avril, ont déclaré des responsables de l’administration américaine. Les deux pays ont lancé mi-décembre un processus de normalisation de leurs relations après plus d’un demi-siècle de rupture et de confrontation.

Washington presse La Havane d’accepter la réouverture de cette ambassade en dépit de la position cubaine, qui réclame au préalable d’être retiré de la “liste noire” des pays accusés par les Etats-Unis de soutenir le terrorisme.

Ce processus, mené par le département d’Etat, pourrait prendre davantage de temps, jusqu’en juin voire plus tard, ont déclaré deux responsables américains.
L’administration américaine espère rétablir les relations diplomatiques avec Cuba avant le sommet des Amériques, qui se tiendra les 10 et 11 avril au Panama. Barack Obama y rencontrera son homologue cubain Raul Castro pour la première fois depuis la cérémonie d’hommage à Nelson Mandela, en décembre 2013. Depuis leur annonce historique et quasi simultanée du 17 décembre dernier, Obama et Castro ont délégué des représentants pour discuter dans le détail du processus de normalisation.

Un premier cycle s’est tenu le mois dernier à La Havane, un deuxième est prévu pour ce mois-ci ou début mars à Washington. Si la reprise de relations diplomatiques peut intervenir rapidement, la normalisation sera plus longue, notamment la levée de l’embargo décrété par Washington contre l’île communiste en février 1962.
“Liste noire” en question De même source, on souligne que dans les négociations en cours, le gouvernement cubain n’a pas fait stricto sensu de son retrait de la “liste noire” des pays soutenant le terrorisme une condition indispensable au rétablissement de liens.

Mais les délégués cubains ont indiqué aux représentants de Washington que La Havane souhaitait disparaître de cette liste avant une réouverture des ambassades. Cuba a été placée sur la liste en 1982 au motif que Fidel Castro, qui présidait alors l’île, armait et formait des guérillas communistes en Afrique et en Amérique latine.

Trois autres pays seulement figurent sur cette liste: l’Iran, le Soudan et la Syrie. En disparaître serait une victoire symbolique majeure pour La Havane, qui se dit victime d’une injustice. Aux Etats-Unis, et sans attendre l’annonce historique du 17 décembre, la présence de Cuba sur la “liste noire” fait débat depuis quelques années.