havana-live-Mick-JaggerHAVANA,Oct. 5  Preparing for a concert in Cuba? Mick Jagger, the leader of the famous British band The Rolling Stones, is visiting the Caribbean island, reports dpa news on Monday.

Jagger, 72, was seen walking through the historic city center of Old Havana, the paper. The legendary vocalist also visited a private club, the Shargi La bar & restaurant . The local posted this photo of several employees posing next to Jagger on its Facebook page.

In its online edition, Granma newspaper said the visit to the island is “private” but also speculated that it may have to do with the concert the Stones want to hold in Cuba as part of their upcoming Latin American tour.

The band’s guitarist Keith Richards said some weeks ago that the group wants to perform for the first time in Cuba as part of its upcoming tour of South America.6807-mickjagger

According to reports from the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo”, the rock veterans are negotiating with the Cuban authorities to hold their concert in March at the Latin American Stadium in Havana.

Cuba has been for decades outside the main musical circuits, but the economic liberalization in recent years, and the recent political rapprochement with the United States, has generated interest from many artists to travel to the island.


havana-live-Luis Alberto RodríguezHAVANA, Oct. 5  (Bloomberg)  HAVANA’s redevelopment is in progress. Near El Floridita, where Ernest Hemingway once knocked back daiquiris, the hulking Manzana de Gómez building is being transformed into a five-star hotel.

Stylish boutiques sell perfume and stereos. Inside an old warehouse is a microbrewery teeming with people drinking lager made in huge steel tanks imported from Austria.

What isn’t immediately apparent is that all of this — and anything else that stands to make money in Cuba — is run by a man little known outside the opaque circles of Cuba’s authoritarian regime.

He is chairman of the largest business empire in Cuba, a conglomerate that comprises at least 57 companies owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and operated under a rigid set of financial benchmarks developed over decades. It’s a decidedly capitalist element deeply embedded within socialist Cuba.

This is Luis Alberto Rodriguez. For the better part of three decades, Rodriguez has worked directly for now Cuban President Raúl Castro. He’s the gatekeeper for most foreign investors, requiring them to do business with his organisation if they wish to set up shop on the island.

IF AND when the US removes its half-century embargo on Cuba, it will be this man who decides which investors get the best deals.

Rodriguez doesn’t just count Castro as a longtime boss. He’s family. More than 20 years ago, Rodriguez, a stocky, square-jawed son of a general, married Deborah Castro, Raúl’s daughter.

Rodriguez’s life is veiled in secrecy. He’s rarely been photographed or quoted in the media. He and the other Cuban officials in this story declined multiple requests for comment.

In a country where capitalism was treated as a subversive enemy force for a half-century, Castro has been cautiously opening the island to private enterprise since he effectively succeeded his brother Fidel Castro as president of the country in 2006.

There are now 201 permitted types of private businesses (restaurants and bed and breakfasts are the biggest categories), employing a million people, or a fifth of the Cuban workforce, according to Omar Pérez, a professor at the University of Havana and a researcher at the influential Centre for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Castro has legalised the sale of homes and cars, scrapped travel restrictions, and allowed private farming and co-operative businesses. It’s now legal for Cubans to stay in hotels, and 2.6-million people own cellphones, up from close to zero a decade ago.

But Castro has kept the big-money industries in the hands of the state, and much of it is managed by his son-in-law.

Rodriguez’s Grupo de Administración Empresarial (Gaesa) runs firms that account for about half the business revenue in Cuba, says Peréz. Other economists say it may be closer to 80%.

Gaesa owns almost all of the retail chains in Cuba and 57 of the mainly foreign-run hotels from Havana to the country’s finest Caribbean beaches. It has restaurant and petrol station chains, rental car fleets and companies that import everything from cooking oil to telephone equipment.

Rodriguez is also in charge of Cuba’s most important base for global trade and foreign investment: a new container ship terminal and 465km² foreign trade zone in Mariel.

Cubans talk constantly about the changes they’ve seen. But for a majority of people, Castro’s reforms haven’t delivered that most basic thing: a living wage.

Monthly salaries average just 584 pesos, or about $24, government figures show. That’s what it costs to buy 2kg of chicken breasts, a couple of bags of rice and beans, and four rolls of toilet paper in one of Gaesa’s Panamericana supermarkets.

Families still receive food rations: 250g of chicken, 10 eggs, one pack of spaghetti, 500g of black beans and 250ml of cooking oil per person per month.

Since December 17, when Castro and US President Barack Obama announced plans to normalise US-Cuban relations, the country has been abuzz with talk of money.

Alcibiades Hidalgo, 70, who spent decades working in Cuban state media and government posts, is part of a network of Cuban defectors and self-described exiles in Miami engaged in a cottage industry of sorts — that of forecasting Castro’s next move.

In April 1981, Castro called Hidalgo into his sprawling office on the fourth floor of the headquarters of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. He directed Hidalgo to join a handful of powerful advisers who, among other things, were going to overhaul the economy.

One of the most powerful advisers was Julio Casas, an accountant who fought under Castro’s command during the revolution. Castro put Casas to work building what would become Gaesa.

Casas’s top aide was Rodriguez, who would sit quietly in meetings with Castro, talking only when addressed, Hidalgo recalls.

Casas built Gaesa around wringing revenue from the military’s properties and assets. Soldiers planted crops at bases. Work brigades built tourist hotels. Military planes were refitted for domestic passenger flights for Gaesa’s ad hoc civilian airline, Aerogaviota.

As Casas started new businesses, he put Rodriguez in as manager.

“Luis Alberto was not very sophisticated,” says Hidalgo, who rose to become Castro’s chief of staff. “But he was an efficient manager who was cold and calculated in his pursuit of power.”

In 2002, Hidalgo fled Cuba at night in a speedboat after being sidelined and then blacklisted for almost a decade in one of the regime’s political purges.

WITH the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba lost its economic patron, and the country was plunged into a crushing four-year contraction known as the Special Period.

Cubans endured shortages of food and medicine. Jobs disappeared. The sugar industry, which had long supplied the Soviets at inflated prices, fell apart. In 1993, Cuba’s gross domestic product shrank 14.9%, according to the World Bank.

Fidel Castro responded with schemes to lure foreign money into Cuba. He legalised the possession of hard currency. He allowed people to start private businesses, including family restaurants.

Big change came to Gaesa as well. Its tourism arm, Grupo de Turismo Gaviota, cut deals with international chains, most notably Spain’s Meliá Hotels International and Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, to build and run hotels in Varadero, a 20km stretch of white, sandy beach two hours east of Havana by car.

By the late 1990s, the Castros had found their saviour in Hugo Chávez, who was elected president of Venezuela on promises to emulate Cuban-style socialism. He flooded Cuba with free oil — up to 115,000 barrels a day.

Cuba also cut lucrative deals with other leftist leaders, including Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to send tens of thousands of medical doctors to work abroad. Under the terms of those deals, many of which are still in place, the Cuban government kept up to 90% of the doctors’ wages.

After Chávez died of cancer in March 2013, Venezuela slid into an economic crisis. The country slashed oil shipments to Cuba — some estimates say by a third or more. Cuba once again needed cash.

“Raúl Castro has to open Cuba up to the world, to the capitalist, free-market world. He has no choice,” says Emilio Morales, a former marketing executive at Cimex, a big conglomerate later folded into Gaesa. Morales, too, now lives in Miami, where he runs the Havana Consulting Group.

According to his research, people made 650,000 trips to Cuba from the US last year, taking advantage of Obama’s and Castro’s relaxed travel restrictions.

“They brought $3.5bn of goods with them in their suitcases,” he says. And Cuban-Americans sent $3.1bn to relatives in Cuba. “It’s a huge impact.”

CUBA is a place both frozen in time and moving swiftly towards a future in which private enterprise will be a bigger part of life. Vast areas of Havana are little changed from 1959, when Fidel Castro’s bearded guerrilla fighters marched into town.

As for the fast-arriving future, there are Afro-Cuban jazz clubs, swanky private restaurants, and boutique hotels.

In April 2011, the Cuban Communist Party’s Sixth Congress approved 313 economic and social policy guidelines of the party and the revolution. By then, Castro had already moved Cuba’s most profitable state companies under Gaesa and Rodriguez.

More recently, Rodriguez was given the green light to take over Habaguanex, the state company that owns the best commercial properties in Old Havana, including 37 restaurants and 21 hotels.

Rodriguez rarely deals with clients, apparently preferring to delegate to the managers who run Gaesa’s collection of companies.

He seemed to be more hands-on in Mariel, where he was entrusted with building the $1bn megaport and surrounding free-trade zone. He regularly assembled his engineers for progress reports.

On January 27 last year, the port was ready, and dignitaries took their seats under a brilliant sun for the formal opening.

On the stage was Castro, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. The port, a collection of more than a dozen big cranes, a 700m-long pier designed to handle the world’s biggest container ships, a highway and a rail line to Havana, had been built by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. It was financed at subsidised rates by Brazil’s state development bank.

Rousseff, smiling, walked up to the podium and started her speech with the customary naming of dignitaries in the crowd.

She thanked Castro and unnamed Cuban ministers, foreign executives and leaders.

And just before she leaned into her short address, she thanked one more person by name: Gaesa chairman Luis Alberto Rodriguez.

150812-havana-wifi-img_2237_f472ea6fc164c24632d9522cedb5fcab.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000HAVANA,Oct. 4 With home Internet service unavailable to Cubans and public WiFi hot spots prohibitive in cost for the average worker/professional, the State monopoly Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) announces that it will now allow people in other countries to pay for Cubans’ Internet use, reported Progreso Semanal.

At 10 CUC (11.50 USD) relatives and friends can facilitate five hours of a Cuban’s browsing or family communications with the outside world, notes ETECSA, which said the service takes effect on October 6 at the website www.ding.com.

To receive the gift, the Cuban on the island must have a permanent Nauta account with ETECSA. Such accounts, available by contract, are valid for 330 days and can also be reactivated by depositing funds at any commercial ETECSA office.

To effect the payment, continues the note, you must enter the access data of the user’s account, for example, usuario@nauta.com.cu or usuario@nauta.co.cu as appropriate.

For more information, users can call 118 in all of Cuba.


VivaCuba_AlasdairMclellan_WMag_12 (1)HAVANA, Oct. 2 ( )  As she packs her bags full of feminine skirts, sexy suits, and sleek separates perfect for soaking up the local flavor, Naomi rang Kate. ‘Just get to Cuba,’ she said. ‘I’ll bring the clothes.'”

So reads a Harper’s Bazaar editorial from 1998. Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss are in their prime — household names at home in the UK and stateside. The two have reached supermodel stardom, muses for design doyens like Gianni Versace and the stars of breakthrough ad campaigns for Calvin Klein.

And now, Bazaar is photographing them in Cuba for a feature titled “Meet Me in Havana” with famed photographer Patrick Demarchelier. The 18-page spread hits stands that May. A year later, Bazaar is slapped with a $31,000 fine from the United States Treasury Department.tumblr_nt3h5stA5S1svu7e2o1_1280_post.0

The problem here doesn’t lie with the two British supermodels or the renowned French fashion photographer, but with the American magazine that sent them to Cuba — a communist country rife with human rights issues, economic problems, and political adversaries, the United States being one of them.

When President Obama sat down with Cuban President Raúl Castro this April — the first meeting between US and Cuban leaders in over 50 years — New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman predicted that as strained relations between the two countries improve, the fashion industry would be one of the first to take advantage of loosened restrictions on travel and trade.
Fast forward five months and Cuba has become the go-to destination for fashion magazine editorials, from Marie Claire to Net-a-Porter’s Porter Magazine.

Since the ’60s, the US and Cuba have had little to no political relationship save for brief interactions here and there, using Switzerland as a mediator. One of their biggest disputes? Trade. Well, trade, rumors of spies, and political back and forth that eventually culminated in several caustic situations, including an international scare known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Trade still seems to play a major role in this bitter relationship. When former Cuban President Fidel Castro implemented extensive taxes on American products and increased trade with the Soviets, the US pushed back, establishing trade restrictions with Cuba on everything except food and medical supplies — perhaps the reason why the island appears as if it is frozen in time, perennially stuck in the ’50s in terms of architecture, automobiles, and yes, even fashion.tumblr_nta900w2o51sorqa6o3_1280.0As it turns out, this is exactly what makes Cuba a prime location for American fashion magazines. That and its proximity: The island lies just 330 miles from American soil, yet the two countries couldn’t be farther apart in terms of economic development. One can almost hear an editorial director saying: “Those antiquated 1950s Chevys and Fords would look great next to this Balmain.”

According to Friedman, “fashion is tasked with channeling the zeitgeist.” In other words, even though Obama has cleared businesses for travel to Cuba, American fashion magazines aren’t heading there just because they can. They’re flocking to the country because they have to in order to remain relevant. In doing so, they run the risk of exoticizing Cuban people and culture — something fashion has gotten heat for in the past.marie-claire-us-september-2015-1llo-620x594.0Can fashion magazines capture Cuba’s allure without glossing over the years of hardship, without simply trading in on all that Cuba is for their own temporary gain? The task seems nearly impossible, but despite the issues that arise, magazines continue to travel to Cuba to shoot.

In Marie Claire’s September 2015 editorial titled “Havana Days,” Lithuanian model Giedre Dukauskaite poses in a $4,900 Gucci dress next to a plantain cart. In another image, she stands in stark contrast to Cuban natives, her evening gown and the lighting making the difference even more apparent.

W Magazine’s August 2015 editorial, “Viva Cuba,” features two of fashion’s leading models of Latin descent, Joan Smalls and Adriana Lima. They pose with Cubans and without, the focus mainly on the vibrant colors of their Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs ensembles.
Net-a-Porter’s Porter Magazine also took a trip to Cuba for its August 2015 issue.Porter-Magazine-Fall-2015-Achok-Majak-and-Cubans-by-Mikael-Jansson-34.0 The resulting editorial, titled simply “Cuba,” attempts to link fashion with Cuba and its inhabitants in a photo essay involving a “charismatic cast list of compelling locals and passionate creatives.”

The luxury clothing highlighted in these fashion editorials is jarring when viewed in the context of Cuba’s current economic troubles.
We don’t know for certain if restored diplomatic ties will improve the island’s economy, but what we do know is that the fashion industry tends to stay relatively silent on issues like this, focusing instead on this season’s Cuban-inspired must-buys or travel guides with “insider” tips on hotels and art galleries.

There’s also no telling how long Cuba will remain a cutting-edge backdrop for fashion magazines. Chances are it will fade from the fashion spotlight as soon as domestic travel to the island is available to everyone.
Photo: W Magazine/Alasdair McLellan


Air-France635x300HAVANA,  Oct 1 (acn) Air France will offer during the summer of 2016 up to three additional flights to Havana from the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, as compared to the number of flights of the same period of 2015.

In this way, from late March to mid-May next year, the airline will guarantee 10 weekly frequencies between the two destinations, explains Air France in a communiqué.
From mid June to late August, it will propose nine flights. In the season, which will end on October 26, there will be a daily connection.
Present in Cuba for 17 years, Air France accompanies the tourist development of the island and it is the first airline between Havana and Europe. This winter it proposes up to 11 flights per week, according to information provided.

In May, 2014, executives of Cubana Airlines and Air France expressed in Havana their interest in strengthening commercial ties between the two companies, in a Memorandum of Understanding on Trade Cooperation.

cuba-houseHAVANA, Oct.1 (By Laura Bécquer Paseiro  (Progreso Semanal)  People say it’s easier to get to the moon than to buy a house in Cuba.
One might take this as mere hyperbole, but the truth is that the prices one comes across in the island’s real estate market are so high and the mechanisms to access this market so complex that it is probably easier to dream of life on Earth’s satellite than in one’s own place in the country.

The issue of housing in Cuba still needs to be seriously addressed and the real estate market is still in diapers. That said, like everything else in Cuba, there are different ways to materialize one’s dream of having a home, be it through legal mechanisms or “under the table,” where everything seems to move more quickly and smoothly.

“It cost me 8,000 CUC,” (around 9,000 USD) says Yanet, who has lived in Havana for 6 years, after leaving Cacocum, a town in Cuba’s east-laying province of Holguin. Her foreign boyfriend – whom she met on Facebook, or so she tells us – helped her pay for an apartment in Havana’s neighborhood of Cerro.

It has only one living area, where the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom are merged into one (she puts away the mattress when people come to visit). Though the place is small, she says she is happy. “It’s mine. It’s hard to own anything here,” she says while explaining that she bought it “empty, I had to bring and install all of this (household appliances and water installations). So, it cost me twice the property price, after all was said and done.”

Ismael’s parents are Cuban government officials and served as diplomats for four years. When they returned to Cuba, the official letter afforded some government employees, facilitating the purchase of a modern car valued at 30,000 CUC, was still in effect.
They decided to sell this letter and, with part of the money earned (some 14,000 dollars), bought Ismael an apartment near the neighborhood of Santos Suarez, in the municipality of Diez de Octubre. Like Yanet, Ismael had to spend a greater amount of money on home repairs.

“The process of buying or selling a home in Cuba is fairly bureaucratic,” 27-year-old Irina categorially says. At her young age, Irina already owns a home, something unusual in Cuba. She told Progreso Semanal that her mother worked in Venezuela as a medical doctor for more than 3 years. Her earnings there, the money made from the sale of a house in Marianao and some savings made it possible for her to buy a larger home in Luyano.

“The first thing you need to do is look for offers on Revolico [an online classifieds page], to have an idea of what the market looks like,” she explains. Prices oscillate between 25,000 and 60,000 CUC (28,000 to 68,000 USD), depending on the area you’re looking in and the characteristics of the property (the number of bedrooms, whether it has a large patio or not, whether it’s an apartment inside a building or a house, etc.) All of that has an impact on price, she tells us.

Keep in mind that the average salary for a professional working for the State is just over $20 CUC a month.

Once you’ve chosen the house or apartment you like and have met with the seller, you head over to the Housing Institute office in your municipality, for this entity to value your home in Cuban pesos. “My house was valued at 4,000 regular Cuban pesos (200 USD), but I bought it in Revolico at 12,000 CUC,” he tells us, unable to account for this disparity.
“The only thing they told me at the Housing Institute is that they were going to fix that “disparity” soon, because a lot of money was being lost.”

Then, you go to the Notary’s with the seller to transfer ownership of the property over to you. From there, you head on down to the bank to deposit the 4,000 Cuban pesos (or the sum the property is valued at). “You run into a wall when it’s time to pay a tax equivalent to 5 % the value of your house.

In my case, it was 200 Cuban pesos. You have to fill out a form with a lot of technical information at the National Tax Administration Bureau (ONAT), but they don’t even have a printed copy of it, and they won’t accept it unless you fill out all of that information. Around the corner from the office there are people who fill out those forms for 1 CUC or 25 Cuban pesos. You either pay or perish in a bureaucratic labyrinth,” Irina tells us.

Once you have that document, you go back to the bank and deposit the required sum. Then, you have to head over to the Real Estate Registry within a term of two months to register your home.

Price Disparities and Regulations
Who sets the prices of homes in Cuba? Of all the issues involved in buying a house or apartment, the price of these properties is the thorniest, as “run-of-the-mill” Cubans find it impossible to pay for one with their salaries alone and there are no bank mortgages available.

The prices in Cuba’s incipient real estate market are determined on the basis of location. A one-bedroom apartment in Miramar is far more expensive than a two-bedroom property in San Miguel Padron, given the area’s distance from downtown.

Another option for those seeking to buy or sell a property is Cuba’s official real estate portal. At Islasi, you can find a 447-square meter apartment (with five bedrooms and four bathrooms) at 341,000 CUC. You can also come across a ground floor, 508-meter square, three-bedroom apartment with two bathrooms in Alta Habana (municipality of Boyeros) at 130,000 CUC.

Offers include the province of Matanzas: a house in the city of Cardenas costs around 20,000 CUC.Unofficial Internet pages such as Revolico and Cubisima offer classified ads where one can purchase and sell products, including houses.

People like Yazel, who is tying to sell his home in Marianao, don’t understand such “disparities.” “What market should he go by, the informal one? How can one determine the value of a home?” he wonders.

The problem is that government authorities value properties in regular Cuban pesos but all sales are effected in hard currency and at abysmally different prices. According to the law, the referential value is multiplied by 4 at provincial capitals and 1.5 in other municipalities.

This is a new process as, after years of restrictions applied to almost everything having to do with housing, the “prohibition” was finally lifted at the beginning of 2012. The norms, published in Cuba’s Official Gazette No. 35 (on November 2, 2011) specify that “one of the requirements is registering the property in the Real Estate Registry.”

The new legal norms eliminated prohibitions and established mechanisms for the sale and purchase of homes, donations and exchange of properties. They also established other mechanisms for the granting of home building and repair subsidies to low-income people and those affected by hurricanes and natural disasters, as well as the granting of credit to aid in construction efforts.

At the time, the aim was to “eliminate prohibitions, make procedures related to the transfer of properties more flexibile and aid in the voluntary re-arrangement of living conditions by property owners.”

This process led to a dramatic increase in the sale and purchase of homes and repair and construction efforts. However, the country’s housing deficit has not been overcome, particularly in cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba, where one out of five Cubans resides.

Understanding the “disparities” caught sight of in Cuba’s real estate market is a difficult task. Years will be needed to untangle this mess and for other issues to become cleared up, so that owning a home ceases to be a mere dream.


imagesHAVANA, 1 Oct  (acn) Cuba is taking part at Paris´ Top Resa Tourist Fair to exchange with tour-operators about the island´s offer for the upcoming winter season.

Tourism official at the Cuban embassy in France, Rosa Adela Mejias told PL news agency that they are making big efforts to spread information on the local tourist attractions and meet with professionals at the Cuban stands.

“We have significant participation here by entities and hotel groups to show our products and services, since France continues to be a prioritized market for Cuba,” said the official.

For Cuba, tourism is a major economic field as an ambitious program is underway on the island, which includes the construction of new hotels of high standard.

France in particular is a main source of visitors to Cuba. By late July, the arrival of French vacationers reached 30.1 percent over the previous year, according to the Cuban Tourism Ministry.

Paris´ Top Resa Fair is being attended by representatives of the tourist sector from 160 countries of the world.

President Barack Obama talks with Cuban President Raul Castro before a bilateral meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Barack Obama talks with Cuban President Raul Castro before a bilateral meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

HAVANA, Oct. 1 (EFE) Raúl Castro asked U.S. President Barack Obama to use his executive power to ease the economic embargo on the island if he wants to continue making progress in normalizing relations.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez related the Cuban leader’s comment after the two presidents met at United Nations headquarters Tuesday.

“The pace of the process toward normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States will depend on the lifting of the blockade,” Rodríguez said, adding that the executive decisions taken by Obama up to now “have a very limited value, a very limited scope.”

The U.S. president has executive powers that “are very broad, and they deal with tens of areas,” and they permit him to substantially modify many elements of the embargo, the foreign minister said.

According to Rodríguez, Obama’s actions in that regard have not yet made any significant change in the embargo of Cuba.

Since the announcement last December of a process to normalize bilateral relations, Obama has suggested without success that the Republican-controlled Congress begin discussions about eliminating the economic embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962.

Castro, in his speech this Monday before the U.N. General Assembly, made it clear that the normalizing of ties will only be achieved, among other things, “with the end of the economic, commercial and financial blockade” against Cuba.

In Tuesday’s meeting, the second that the two presidents have held since the normalization process got underway, the Cuban leader repeated Havana’s “willingness to work to build a new kind of relation between the two countries.”

The meeting, the foreign minister said, was held in a “respectful and constructive climate” and served to exchange impressions about Pope Francis’s visit to the two countries, cooperation in mutually beneficial areas and dealing with problems that are still pending.

Rodríguez recalled that the two countries now have an ongoing dialogue on numerous matters such as the environment, the war on drugs, search and rescue operations for people lost at sea, terrorism and health.

Cuba also said it is ready to discuss the process of economic reparations to resolve the demands that the two countries are making against each other.

The foreign minister said, however, that Washington and Havana continue having major differences.

Among other things, Rodríguez recalled that his government considers the return of the territory occupied by the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo to be a high-priority element in the normalization process.

But at the same time, he said there remains “an opportunity of making significant advances in the normalization of bilateral relations during Obama’s administration.”

Rodríguez recalled that Castro considers Obama an “honest man” and that he admires “his humble origins” and said that the meetings between the two have always been “cordial.”

MW-DV445_petson_20150930093253_ZHHAVANA, Sept. 30  If you and seven friends can scrap together $40,000, getting to Cuba just got easier.

Private jet booking service Victor will begin offering direct private flights on Monday from 19 cities in the U.S. to Havana, Cuba. The company’s service allows users to enter a destination, see price quotes and then book a private flight.

Travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens is still limited as travelers have to be approved to visit under 12 visa categories. Victor has partnered with Cuba Educational Travel, which organizes travel to Cuba under educational visas, so that its fliers are approved to visit the country and have a set itinerary while there.

The itinerary could include cigar and rum tastings with country experts, riding in 1950s American cars and dinners with prominent cultural figures and historians, the company said. For a group of eight staying four nights, prices start at $40,000.

David Young, senior vice president at Victor, said the company is adding the service because of growing demand for travel to Cuba. “It’s the hottest travel destination,” said Young.

The U.S. has recently moved to normalize relations with Cuba after more than 50 years. Restrictions on trade and travel have been eased, and the U.S. Embassy in Havana reopened in August.

Victor acknowledges that the private flights aren’t cheap, and says it is aimed at a high net worth clientele. Many of the company’s members are involved in entertainment or sports, he said.

Being a member is free, and Victor has more than 40,000. The company takes a fee from each booking and partners with different jet operators. The company, which has raised $26 million in private equity, operates national and international flights with offices in London, New York and Santa Monica, Calif.


havana-live-tropical_beach The race for Cuba’s beach-front is on.

HAVANA, Sept. 30 (Reuters) Executives from major U.S. hotel chains have stepped up their interest in the Communist island in recent months, holding informal talks with Cuban officials as Washington loosens restrictions on U.S. firms operating there.

Executives from Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Carlson Hospitality Group, which runs the Radisson chain, are among those who have held talks with Cuban officials in recent months, they told Reuters.

“We’re all very interested.” said Ted Middleton, Hilton’s senior vice president of development in Latin America. “When legally we’re allowed to do so we all want to be at the start-line ready to go.”

The United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations in July after decades of hostility. Washington chipped away further at the half-century-old trade embargo this month, allowing certain companies to establish subsidiaries or joint ventures in Cuba as well as open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba.

The United States wants to strike a deal that lets U.S. airlines schedule Cuba flights as soon as possible, a State Department official said last week, amid speculation that a U.S. ban on its tourists visiting Cuba could be eased.

U.S. hoteliers are not currently allowed to invest in Cuba, and the Caribbean island officially remains off-limits for U.S. tourists unless they meet special criteria such as being Cuban-Americans or join special cultural or educational tours.

Foreign companies have to partner with a Cuban entity to do business and U.S. hoteliers expect they will have to do likewise if and when U.S. restrictions are lifted.

While they wait for the politicians to iron out their differences, U.S. hotel bosses are conducting fact-finding missions in Havana and holding getting-to-know-you meetings with government officials in Cuba and various European cities.

This week, Middleton, along with executives from Carlson and Wyndham Worldwide Corp., which runs the Ramada chain, are meeting with Cuba’s Deputy Tourism Minister Luis Miguel Diaz at an industry conference in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

In the 1950s Cuba was an exotic playground for U.S. celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardener, as well as ordinary tourists, who travel led there en masse on cheap flights and ships from Miami.

A recent relaxation of some of the restrictions on U.S. travelers has encouraged over 106,000 Americans to visit Cuba so far this year, more than the 91,254 who arrived in all of 2014, according to data compiled by tourism professor José Luís Perelló of the University of Havana.

Overall, tourist arrivals are up nearly 18 percent this year after a record 3 million visitors in 2014, making Cuba the second-most popular holiday destination in the Caribbean behind the much-smaller Dominican Republic.

U.S. hoteliers expect the number of U.S. visitors to balloon if all travel restrictions are axed.

“If and when the travel ban is lifted. We estimate there will be over 1.5 million U.S. travelers on a yearly basis,” said Laurent de Kousemaeker, chief development officer for the Caribbean & Latin American region for Marriott.

De Kousemaeker accompanied other Marriott executives, including chief executive Arne Sorensen, to Havana in July to meet with representatives of management companies and government officials.

Even if sanctions were lifted soon, Cuba traditionally has been slow to approve foreign investment projects, making it unlikely that U.S. hotels would be popping up immediately.

Rivals from Canada and Europe have seized the opportunity, operating and investing in Cuban hotels and resorts, alongside Cuban government partners, for years.

Spanish hotel operator Meliá Hotels International SA, is aiming to have 15,000 rooms in Cuba by 2018. It currently has 13,000 rooms via 27 joint ventures.

London + Regional Properties Ltd, a U.K. hotel and real estate development firm, agreed a deal this summer for an 18-hole golf course, hotel and condominium project with state tourism enterprise, Palmares SA, which has a 51 percent stake in the project.

But even with government plans to add 4,000 new hotel rooms every year for the next 15, the island is not ready for a significant surge in tourism.

The island’s tourism infrastructure went into decline in the decades following the 1959 revolution. Five-star hotel rooms, good restaurants and cheap Internet access are all in short supply.

When and if they get a green light from both governments, executives said U.S. hotel chains will likely offer branding and management partnerships to Cuban government partners such as Palmares and Tourism Group Gaviota, the largest Cuban government tourism entity.

The ultimate goal would be to secure long-term leases on resort developments, which is how Cuban authorities have generally operated with foreign hotels.

But right now, U.S. hoteliers can’t even refer to tourism when they meet Cuban counterparts, let alone talk about actual deals. Instead the buzz word is “hospitality.”

Marriott’s de Kousemaeker likes to use an analogy from baseball, a sport loved both in Cuba and in the United States, to describe the situation.


0,,18747244_303,00At the UN General Assembly, Cuban President Raul Castro has called for the normalization of relations with the United States. But he added that this would only be possible if Washington ended its trade embargo.

HAVANA,  Sept. 9 In his first speech as president before the annual United Nations General Assembly , Cuban President Raul Castro noted the recent re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States as a positive development. But he added that it was only the beginning of a “long and complex process” towards normalization of relations.

Castro stuck closely to Cuba’s standard foreign policy, demanding that the United States end its economic embargo and close its naval base at Guantanamo Bay as well as cease radio and television broadcasts into Cuba.
In addition, Castro repeated long-standing demands for compensation for financial losses for the half-century-plus economic blockade. Castro received sustained applause for his speech.

In the past, Cuban officials had put a $116-billion (103.2-billion-euro) price tag on such retributions, but the Cuban president did not attach a dollar amount to the demands in his speech on Monday.

Hopeful moves on embargo
While US President Barack Obama and Castro initiated the re-establishment of diplomatic relations earlier this year, the economic and financial embargo of Cuba – which only the US Congress can lift – continues.

Obama also called for an end to the US embargo on Havana at the United Nations, saying that he was confident that the US Congress would “inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore.”

The embargo, in place since 1960, remains a bone of contention in the United States, as the Republican-held Congress has refrained from supporting the administration’s move to re-establish diplomatic ties between the two nations.

UN support
The General Assembly was set to discuss a new draft resolution condemning the ongoing US embargo against Cuba at a session next month.

The assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo.

Castro also highlighted other issues in his speech, including what he referred to as the “militarization of cyberspace,” meaning the covert use of information technologies to gather intelligence on and attack other states.

His speech also focused on climate change, decrying the trend as a result of consumerism.

ss/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

 havana-live-old population cubaHAVANA, Sept. 29  (EFE) Cuba by 2050 will have the ninth-oldest population in the world, according to official projections released over the weekend, which also give the first hint that this trend toward aging will go hand in hand with a decline in the island’s labor force.

By that time, some 35 years from now, Cuba will have an estimated 3,598,782 inhabitants 60 years old or over – about 33.2 percent of the total population – according to calculations of the Population and Development Studies Center, or CEPDE, of the National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, cited in an article published in the official daily Juventud Rebelde.

Demography experts predict that the island’s population will continue to fluctuate by “more or less” stable degrees, with years when it increases alternating with years when it decreases, but “always very little,” until around 2025, when a “sustained” decline in the number of inhabitants is expected.

The article recalls that since 1978 Cuban child-bearing has fallen below the replacement level for each woman of reproductive age, while at the same time CEPDE specialists predict “slight” increases in the global fertility rate, from 1.71 children per woman at the end of 2015 to 1.96 halfway through this century.

They also believe that the introduction of new economic measures on the island are likely to stimulate child-bearing, so that by the year 2025 Cuba will have its most numerous population with 11,309,665 inhabitants compared with the 11,223,948 registered now.

But by 2050 that trend will have turned around once again and will have lost 3.6 percent of the current population, the study says.

Meanwhile, with the aging of the island’s population, one of the greatest concerns is the number of active people left in the labor force, which will decline in proportion to the number that will no longer be of an age or physically able to work, and will consequently stop contributing to the nation’s economy.

In that regard, at the end of this year the number of active Cubans is estimate to stand at 7.2 million between the ages of 15 and 59, but by 2040 the deficit of workers could be more than 815,000.

The government understands that the aging population is one of the main challenges facing the nation, and President Raul Castro himself has called for an “urgent” search to find solutions to the problems that stem from that trend, including changes in welfare services.

AN-HIV-IN-CUBA-3HAVANA, Sept. 28  The World Health Organization calls it one of the greatest feats in medicine today. Doctors in Cuba have discovered a way to prevent pregnant women with HIV from transmitting the virus to their children.

W-H-O estimates close to a million and a half HIV-positive women conceive each year and without proper medical care there’s a high risk of passing the infections on to their babies.
The organization says Cuba is the first country to eliminate the transmission of HIV during pregnancy.  Cuba is known around the world for its healthcare diplomacy.  For more than 50 years, it’s sent thousands of its doctors and nurses to dozens of countries.

It also does extensive medical research – working on new vaccines and treatments. The number of babies born with HIV around the world has been almost cut in half since 2009 from 400,000 to 240,000 just four years later.  Now, with Cuba’s latest advancement, that number should be reduced even further.
Correspondent Michael Voss reports from Havana on this major breakthrough in protecting the unborn interviewing both victims of the virus and players behind the scenes.


Home Depot in Havana? New U.S. rules allow the sale of construction material to Cubans

HAVANA, Sept. 20  ( Cubastandard)  Taking another significant sanctions-easing step, the Obama Administration now allows U.S. businesses to open offices, stores and warehouses in Cuba, hire Cubans, open bank accounts on the island, enter joint ventures with state telecom ETECSA, and lease their goods to Cuban consumers.

Cuba has not made any official statement yet, but if the process of selecting ferry providers is an indicator, the government will react at a slow but deliberate pace, making its own choices. Depending on the Cuban reaction, the easing measures have the potential of triggering a flow of millions of dollars in U.S. investments to Cuba.

Under the amended regulations, U.S. agricultural goods and medical exporters, telecom and Internet service providers, construction material suppliers, shipping and mail service providers, travel service providers, news media, universities, and religious organizations can now “establish and maintain a physical presence, such as an office, retail outlet, or warehouse, in Cuba.”

“These individuals and entities will also be authorized to employ Cuban nationals, open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba, and employ persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction in Cuba,” a joint statement by the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Treasury says.

This means that UPS or FedEx could open drop-off locations in Cuba, U.S. food and medical distributors could open warehouses or sales offices at the Mariel Special Development Zone, U.S. airlines could open ticket offices in Havana, Home Depot could sell its goods at a store, Verizon or Google would be able to offer devices, and John Deere or Caterpillar could have showrooms, says Kavulich.

The revised Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) — administered by Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) — and to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) — overseen by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) — will take effect Sept. 21, senior officials told reporters during a background briefing Sept. 18.

The same day, President Obama called President Raúl Castro by phone “to discuss the process of normalization between the two countries in advance of Pope Francis’s upcoming visits to Cuba and the United States”, a White House statement said.   The leaders also “discussed steps the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation, even as we will continue to have differences on important issues and will address those differences candidly,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, Obama urged business executives during a meeting in Washington to press Congress to lift the embargo, mentioning “significant economic opportunities.”

Telecom and Internet services

The new regulations expand the telecommunications and Internet general license to allow a physical presence in Cuba, such as “subsidiaries or joint ventures,” the press release said. In a background briefing session, a senior administration official told reporters that the joint venture clause was introduced because of the recognition that state company ETECSA is the only player in the Cuban telecom sector.

“Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be allowed to establish a business presence in Cuba, including through joint ventures with Cuban entities, to provide certain telecommunications and internet-based services, as well as to enter into licensing agreements related to, and to market, such services,” the press release said. Under the changes, leasing or loaning of consumer communications devices to end-users is now also allowed.

The regulations also permit the import of Cuban-made mobile applications, and the hiring of Cubans to develop apps.

Third countries, vessels and aircraft, recreational boats, legal services and more

The new rules also allow U.S. businesses to:

•sell goods and services to Cuban nationals outside of Cuba, as long as it doesn’t involve exports to or from Cuba. Banks can now open accounts for Cuban nationals in third countries.

•take cargo ships, ferries, cruise ships and aircraft to Cuba under an application-free general license. Aircraft are allowed to remain in Cuba for up to seven days, vessels up to 14 days.

•travel on ships and boats that don’t stop in third countries under an application-free general license, including lodging aboard vessels.

•U.S. lawyers may now provide for-pay services to Cubans and entities in Cuba. However, there still are “certain limitations” on providing for-pay legal counseling to government or Communist Party entities. Also, U.S. citizens and businesses are now allowed to contract and pay Cuban lawyers.

Individuals can now:

•open bank accounts in Cuba, as long as they are authorized travelers.

•take recreational boats used in connection with authorized travel to Cuba under a general license.

•send unlimited remittances. With the idea of “empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment,” the U.S. government lifted all restrictions; currently up to $2,000 can be sent per quarter and person.

Finally, OFAC clarified that current sanctions in place “allow most transactions that are ordinarily incident and necessary to give effect to a licensed transaction. For example, certain payments made using online payment platforms are permitted for authorized transactions.”


havana-live-JetBlue_CloudsHAVANA, Sept. 28   (Reuters)   U.S. airline JetBlue will add a second charter flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy airport to Havana, expanding charter service ahead of an expected opening of commercial air travel between the two countries, the company said on Monday.

The new round-trip, non-stop flight will operate every Tuesday starting Dec. 1 in partnership with Cuba Travel Services, a travel provider licensed by the U.S. government to arrange flights to Cuba.

The two companies currently operate one of two other JFK-to-Havana charter flights. Several other charter flights take passengers to Cuba from Florida.

Under new rules initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama in January a month after he announced detente with the former Cold War adversary, U.S. airlines are permitted to fly to Cuba without the need for special permission from the Treasury Department.

However, U.S. and Cuban officials first need to negotiate a new civil aviation agreement.

Representatives of both countries are scheduled to hold aviation talks on Monday and Tuesday in Havana.

Normal airline service was interrupted by the U.S. trade embargo imposed on Cuba in 1962.

U.S. tourism to Cuba is still banned but certain U.S. citizens and Cuban-Americans are allowed to go on specially sanctioned travel, which has been further relaxed by Obama, creating a larger market for U.S. travel to the Communist-governed island.

The Cuba travel market is expected to grow further should the United States lift either the tourism ban or the embargo. Legislation proposing both is pending in the U.S. Congres

 havana-live-obama-castroHAVANA, Sept 27 (AFP) US President Barack Obama will hold talks with Cuban leader Raul Castro on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, the White House said Sunday.

It will be the second meeting between the two leaders, after a first historic encounter in Panama in April.

Washington and Havana reestablished diplomatic relations in July after more than half a century of enmity.

The Cuban leader, who succeeded his brother Fidel in 2006, will make his first-ever address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, only several hours after Obama takes the podium.

In an address to a UN development summit on Saturday, Castro took aim at the US embargo against Cuba, describing it as the “main obstacle” to his country’s economic development.

“Such a policy is rejected by 188 United Nations member-states that demand its removal,” he said, referring to a UN resolution calling for the end of the decades-old embargo.

The 193-nation assembly has voted each year since 1982 to approve a resolution calling on the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba, which has been in place since 1960.

Castro hailed the re-establishment of relations with Washington as a “major progress,” but stressed that the embargo was unfinished business.

“The economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba persists, as it has been for half a century, bringing damages and hardships on the Cuban people,” said Castro.

Since the rapprochement with Cuba, the Obama administration has expressed support for lifting the embargo, but the decision rests with Congress, where a Republican majority opposes the move.

The General Assembly is set to discuss a new draft resolution condemning the embargo at a session next month.

 havana-live-cuba-cloudsHAVANA, Sept. 26  (BY MIKE FERNANDEZ Miami Herald)  Just a few years ago I — and so many others — would have expected mass protests at the thought of the Cuban and American flags being raised at each other’s embassies. Then, weeks ago, just that came to pass, and not a mouse was seen banging a cooking pan with a wooden spoon in our own Little Havana.

How time has changed us. I see real maturation on the U.S.-Cuba issue, but also know that so many have taken a wait-and-see attitude, with arms crossed. I urge Cuban Americans on the sidelines to take charge of their destiny and not allow others to define destiny for us.
We can (1) hang on to the chapter that has already been written, or (2) accept it for what it is, and become a relevant contributor to the future.

My God, we have so much to give!As the pope spoke in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, I could not help but reflect on our need to adjust to today’s realities. Many of us have become better persons, better contributors to society by virtue of the opportunities given and what we have learned from our experience.
Today, all — on the island and here — could help rebuild a new and stronger Cuba: a Cuba of tolerance, a Cuba of choice, a Cuba of tomorrow, a Cuba with a better future with the United States.

I do not underestimate the pain suffered by mothers and fathers when a son or a daughter disappeared after taking to the sea, dreaming of a better and freer life. How can any of us forget the mass executions and the imprisonment of thousands because they disagreed on a policy?

How can any of us forget being branded as “worms”? How can children forget the day they were separated from their families, placed in the hands of strangers in a foreign land, not knowing if they would see their parents again? Nonetheless, we have a choice, albeit not a painless one.

A story reminds me of our own experience: Eva Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from their parents (never to be seen again) at a Nazi concentration camp. These beautiful girls were among thousands of children who became the subject of deadly experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death.

These children saw friends awaken in the morning, and never return to bed. They saw horror that no human being should witness. Eva and Miriam ultimately gained refuge in the United States, as have millions of us from all over the world. Eva became a business leader in real estate, raised a family and outgrew anger and bitterness. As years passed, she wanted to be free — really free.

She forgave her long-ago enemies — the guards, the abusers, the torturer. She simply decided that those people would no longer be permitted to enter her mind and control her feelings. She became free when she chose to move on.

Today, approaching 65, I am leaving a time of traditional productivity to enter the age of playing with the grandchildren, enjoying the beach and reading a book. But as a Cuban American, grateful to my country of birth and truly in love with my adopted country, I have made a choice: I will forgive. I will help rebuild. I will contribute. We want to do the best we can by those who follow us.

Most of us want nothing in return for our contributions. There is no ulterior motive. We will close the chapter behind us; we will not be the stereotypical angry old people. We will contribute ideas and experience.
We won’t be ashamed to tell others that capitalism works. Indeed, capital is needed for growth, improved healthcare, better housing, the updating of infrastructure, communication at the speed of lightning — and, yes, the liberation of the mind so as to focus on a greater good.

May God bless the future of Cuba. May God bless our great United States.

havana-live-Cuba-Has-a-Lung-Cancer HAVANA, Sept. 26  Cuba, known for its smoking cigars, has a large problem with lung cancer, it being the fourth-leading cause of death in the country. Since 2011, however, Cuba has made a vaccine that could prevent the disease available to the public for free.

Reviews of the impact of the injection in Cuba and Europe are in the beginning stages, but early evidence has shown success, Dr. Kelvin Lee, co-leader of the Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy Program at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, told The Huffington Post.

It is a treatment for lung cancer, not a cure. The same method has shown to work in treating colon cancer and gives hope that it will also be able to treat other cancers.

Here are some facts about the shot, according to The Huffington Post, ABC News and USA Today.

1. The vaccination is known as CimaVax. It is approved for use in Cuba and Peru.

2. CimaVax increased tumor-reducing antibody production in half of its cases.

3. The vaccine works best for younger people, having an increased effectiveness in those younger than 60.

4. So far, 5,000 individuals have been given the injection.

5. The preventative measure is affordable – Cuba pays one dollar for each shot.

6. No significant side effects have been found as of yet.

7. Researchers in the United States have been looking to create similar vaccinations for lung cancer known as GVAX and BLP 25, but not as many studies have been performed on them.

8. ClimaVax creates a protein that spurs the immune system to attack a lung cancer-growing hormone, preventing the tumor from enlarging,according to ABC News.

9. Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, has an agreement with Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to conduct clinical trials of ClimaVax in the United States.

10. In Cuba, family physicians are able to administer the vaccination.

11. With innovations such as this, many have come to question if the U.S. embargo has hurt medical research, according to USA Today.


 havana-live-nautechHAVANA, Sept.26  French refit shipyard Nautech, which specialises in the refit, repair and maintenance of yachts from 25m to 95m, has announced a new facility in Cuba, joining its existing European facilities in Marseille and Villefranche-sur-Mer, France.

“The whole thing came about roughly a year ago because we wanted to have representation in the west,” explained Pascal Voisin, general manager at Nautech.

Voisin’s search led to an agreement with the Cuban government, which owns and operates the shipyard. The new facility is located east of Cuba’s Bay of Havana and 100 miles south of the US coast.
With a share in the facility, Voisin plans to make full use of the shipyard’s existing 600-strong workforce together with contractors from Europe to offer a new service that could be up to 30 per cent cheaper compared to its European counterparts.

“I would like to start with a massive refit project here and we are targeting vessels between 40m and 130m,” said Voisin. “It is a good mechanical and classical shipyard.”

Nautech Cuba offers six dockside berths with a combined length of 1,100m and a dry dock of 151m long and 24m wide. Voisin explained that it was early days and that there is work to be done before they start work on any projects, but Nautech is actively looking for a client.

“You cannot go and start making changes in a new place without understanding the mentality and culture of the country. Cubans are very nice people who are ready to work hard.”

When questioned about other key benefits of this announcement, Voisin was keen to point out that he wanted to provide new and more convenient refit options to the American market – especially clients in the Caribbean.
This, combined with the financial benefits, make the facility an interesting proposal for those looking to refit their yacht.

aereoHAVANA, Sep 26  (PL) Colombian airline Aviatur and its cargo department Avia Express opened here a parcel service that will be provided by the company to various airports in Cuba with the collaboration of the company Aerovaradero.

The parcel service, in which the Cuban airline Cubana de Aviacion will also participate with its cargo offers, was launched at the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in Bogota, and the ceremony was attended by various personalities from the aviation and tourism sector. The ceremony was chaired by Aviatur president Jean Claude Bessudo and Cuban Ambassador Ivan Mora, while it was attended by Senator Ivan Cepeda and Pierre-Yves Calloc’h, manager in Colombia of the French brand Pernod Ricard, distributor of the Havana Club rum.

According to the information provided by the directors of Aviatur and representatives of Cubana de Aviacion in Colombia, the parcel service will cover airports in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas (Varadero), Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.

 havana-live-take6HAVANA, Sep 25 (acn) World cultures will advance only when we are together, said today in Havana Alvin Chea, one member of the prestigious American band Take 6, invited to Cuba to participate in the Festival Les Voix Humaines.

This event, organized by the Office of Maestro Leo Brouwer, directed by musicologist Isabelle Hernandez, schedules for Saturday a big concert with the American group, which will celebrate on the island 25 years of artistic career.
It is an honor to be in Cuba, a country we did not know and want to love as much as its people, said Claude V. McKnight III, tenor of this vocal band since 1980.

The repertoire we will play for the Cubans comes from one place; spirituality and what God represents for us, that’s what we want to share with you, said the veteran singer that integrates the payroll of one of the greatest bands of jazz, gospel and R & B music.
Alvin Achea, Take 6bass voice since 1985, stated that the opportunity to know each other is essential for both countries.
We love Cuba, yesterday was our first day in Havana, but we felt as if we had been here before, he added.
Our hearts and spirits were immediately connected with its people, the food, the beautiful beach and the sun; all them spoke to our soul, he noted excitedly.

havana-live-SC-Line-strait-of-gibraltarHAVANA, Sept. 25 In another sign of growing U.S. links with Cuba, shipping company SC Line has started up service between Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades and Cuba.

SC Line can serve the Cuban seaports of Mariel and Santiago every two weeks on a route that circles between Florida, Cuba, Panama and Colombia. It made its first stop in Cuba on Sunday with its Caroline Russ vessel, which can carry shipping containers, vehicles, breakbulk and other varied cargo.

“We’re ready to respond to customer volume. We could add bigger ships, more ships or weekly service if needed,” said Jose Pardo, chief marketing officer from company offices in Panama.

Port Everglades already has shipping service to Cuba from Crowley Maritime, the Jacksonville-based line authorized since 2001 to ship food, humanitarian supplies and other approved items to the island. Crowley typically serves Cuba’s new container port at Mariel weekly.

Shipments to Cuba have been limited under the 5-decades-old U.S. embargo against the island. But trade now is poised to grow, as the Obama administration since Dec. 17 has adopted a new policy of engagement to Cuba that punches more holes in the embargo.

Washington has eased U.S. rules to sell telecom products on the island and also eased trade with Cuba’s growing private sector, which includes more than half a million people deemed “self-employed.”

The administration also has streamlined rules for U.S. travel to Cuba, spurring a surge in arrivals of Americans with no family there. New reports show the number of those Americans visiting through Sept. 2 topped 100,000, similar to the total who visited in all of last year before Obama’s new policy.

Still, many U.S. companies are awaiting authorization from Cuba to start up on the island, including cruise companies and ferry companies that could operate from PortMiami and Port Everglades.

SC Line this winter switched to the bigger, faster and more modern Caroline Russ ship on its route from Port Everglades. The 10,488-gross-ton vessel can carry up to 190 trucks, 470 cars and 120 shipping containers on chassis. It departs every other Friday from the Broward County seaport.

The shipping line has been calling on Port Everglades since 2012. Founded by Spain’s Sola family in 2006, SC Line operates from Panama and aims to expand in the Caribbean Basin region.

 havana-live-varelaHBO Latino is set to air the award-winning music film “The Poet of Havana” based on renowned Cuban musician Carlos Varela’s life.

HAVANA, Sept. 24   The special commemorates Varela’s 30th anniversary as an artist and features exclusive access and backstage moments from his concerts. It also showcases interviews with Jackson Browne, Benicio del Toro, Ivan Lins, Luis Enrique, and more as they discuss Varela. Aside from these, the film will show his “emotionally-charged performances and songs,”Broadway world” reported.

Varela, 52, has released eight albums: “Jalisco Park” (1989), “Carlos Varela en vivo” (1991), “Monedas al aire” (1991), “Como los peces” (1995), “Nubes” (2000), “Siete” (2004), “Los hijos de Guillermo Tell Vol.1” (2005), and “No es el fin” (2009), Havana Cultura listed.

The documentary was filmed in Havana and reveals how the singer was influenced by politics, his country, and the people, and how he touched them in return, Broadway World reported.

“Having endured many censorship battles with the Cuban government, Varela’s music is personal, poignant, and poetic; he has even been called ‘Cuba’s Bob Dylan’ and a voice of his generation. That voice has loudly struggled for the individual freedoms of his homeland and has gone through great effort to build bridges between Cuba, the US, disenfranchised Cubans and the people of the world,” Broadway World added.

Varela’s music, which gained fame in Cuba in the 1980s, was often viewed as too controversial for Cuban radio, Havana Cultura wrote. There weren’t any offers made for the artist, until Silvia Rodriguez stepped in and brought him on a tour in Spain in 1986.

Three years later, Varela’s debut album, “Jalisco Park,” came out through a small Spanish label. “Guillermo Tell,” one of the tracks from the record, is as a message from Cuba’s young generation to the country’s leaders, the news outlet added.

The censorship of Varela’s music was still felt throughout the ’90s, but he always made it a point to acquire inspiration from Cuba.

“In Cuba, musicians and artists don’t ride in limousines, that doesn’t happen,” Varela said, as quoted by Havana Cultura. “People can always come up to you and they feel they have the right to tell you, ‘Hey, I didn’t much like such-and-such song, I didn’t like what you said.’ And you feel like you always have your feet on the ground. That really helps you grow, to be better, and to feel part of something. Your work helps you know people a bit more.”

“The Poet of Havana,” which was directed and produced by Ron Chapman, airs on Oct. 23, 2015 at 8PM ET/7PM CT on HBO Latino, Broadway World noted. Viewers can also watch the special on HBO on Demand, HBO GO, and HBO Now



230-OyWvz.AuSt.55HAVANA, Sept. 24  (AP)  Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the leader of the country’s largest rebel group announced on Wednesday an important breakthrough in peace talks that sets the stage to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.

In a joint statement from Cuba, Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia said they have overcome the last significant obstacle to a peace deal by settling on a formula to punish belligerents for human rights abuses committed during a half century of bloody, drug-fueled fighting.

“We are on different sides but today we advance in the same direction, in the most noble direction a society can take, which is toward peace,” said Santos, minutes before a historic, cold-faced handshake with the military commander of the FARC guerrillas, known by his alias Timochenko.

Rebels that confess abuses to special peace tribunals, compensate victims and promise not to take up arms again will receive a maximum 8 years of labor under unspecified conditions but not prisons. War crimes committed by Colombia’s military will also be judged by the tribunals and combatants caught lying will face penalties of up to 20 years in jail.

Santos flew earlier in the day to Havana, where talks with the rebel group have been going on for three years. Negotiators said the surprise advance came as rebels rushed to demonstrate progress ahead of a visit this week to Cuba by Pope Francis, who during his stay on the communist-led island warned the two sides that they didn’t have the option of failing in their best chance at peace in decades.

Santos said the FARC vowed to demobilize within 60 days of a definitive agreement, which he said would be signed within six months.

Negotiators must still come up with a mechanism for rebels to demobilize, hand over their weapons and provide reparations to their victims. Santos has also promised he’ll give Colombians the chance to voice their opinion in a referendum and any deal must also clear Congress.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he called Santos to congratulate him and his negotiating team.

“Peace is now ever closer for the Colombian people and millions of conflict victims,” Kerry said in a statement.

As part of talks in Cuba, both sides had already agreed on plans for land reform, political participation for guerrillas who lay down their weapons and how to jointly combat drug trafficking. Further cementing expectations of a deal, the FARC declared a unilateral cease-fire in July, a move that ushered in most peaceful period in Colombia since 1975, according to CERAC, a Bogota think tank that monitors the conflict.

But amid the slow but steady progress, one issue had seemed almost insurmountable: How to compensate victims and punish FARC commanders for human rights abuses in light of international conventions Colombia has signed and almost unanimous public rejection of the rebels.

The FARC, whose troops have thinned to an estimated 6,400 from a peak of 21,000 in 2002, have long insisted they haven’t committed any crimes and aren’t abandoning the battlefield only to end up behind bars.
They say that they would only consent to jail time if leaders of Colombia’s military, which has a litany of war crimes to its name, and the nation’s political elite are locked up as well.

“It’s satisfying to us that this special jurisdiction for the peace has been designed for everyone involved in the conflict, combatants and non-combatants, and not just one of the parties,” Timochenko, whose real names is Rodrigo Londono, said in a brief statement sitting alongside Santos and Cuban President Raul Castro, all three men in white shirts. “It opens the door to a full truth.”

The breakthrough was hatched far from the klieg lights of Havana by a group of six lawyers in a 20-hour negotiating session last Thursday at the Bogota apartment of a former president of Colombia’s constitutional court, negotiators told The Associated Press.

havana-live-choiceairHAVANA, Sept. 24 Southwest Florida International Airport, which had zero nonstop to Latin America six months ago, will boast three distinct routes before Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday, Miami-based Choice Aire and Lee County Port Authority confirmed Choice Aire would launch twice-weekly flights between Fort Myers and Havana, on Nov. 2.

On the upcoming Havana service, Choice Aire Charters President & CEO Danny Looney said:
-It will be year-round, and initially scheduled for Mondays and Fridays.

– It will use 126-seat jetliners and crews leased from the charter company, Swift Air.
– Introductory fares will be in the neighborhood of $450 round-trip.
– Choice Aire already provides service from Baltimore, Orlando and Miami to Havana.
– Besides Swift Air, key players in the venture include travel agencies, Por Cuba Viajo Express in Naples and Island Travel & Tours in Tampa.
– People may book flights from these agencies or directly at flychoiceaire.com.

“I’ve been doing the Cuba flights for 12, 13 years,” said Danny Looney, Choice Aire president & CEO.

The new service comes as rules for U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba are rapidly changing.

On Friday, The Associated Press reported that as of Monday, simplified procedures  for tourism, telephone and Internet investments, and money transfers to Cuba would go into effect.

Details were sketchy, however. And the report noted, “Many U.S. travelers still need to go on supervised group trips.”

Yanay Puente with the Siteseeing CUBA LLC travel agency in Naples, hadn’t heard about the Choice Aire service as of Tuesday afternoon, but added it had the potential to be “very good for us.”

Leonardo Garcia, president & CEO of the Southwest Florida-based Hispanic American Business Alliance, was delighted to hear about the latest service.

havana-live-havana_clubHAVANA, Sept. 23  (FT) “Would the ‘real’ brand please stand up?” That is a complicated question at the best of times. But when the brand is Cuban, it gets more complex still.

Cuba produced the most charismatic revolution of the 20th century. But, with the socialist island slowly re-embracing capitalism and seeking rapprochement with its arch-enemy, the US, the “real Cuba” is in a state of transition.

That transition, in turn, sets the stage for one of the most colourful marketing clashes of modern times, the battle for the “soul” of true Cuban rum, a contest that pits Bacardi, the Bermuda-based company, against Pernod Ricard, the French distiller.

Battle lines: Bacardi and Havana Club are fighting for the ‘soul’ of true Cuban rum

Both drinks groups claim to purvey the “real” thing. But both, perforce, have taken different routes to buttress that claim.

Bacardi, which has its roots in 19th century Cuba and is owned by an exiled family, extols its heritage and Cuba’s pre-revolutionary days.

“Bacardi — untameable since 1862” runs the company slogan, a true enough comment. Bacardi was Cuba’s best-selling rum before the 1959 revolution and, in exile, has become the world’s largest privately owned drinks company.

“Nobody markets the revolution any more,” says Enrique Fernandez, a cultural critic and author of a forthcoming book on Cuban food, The cortadito: my journey through Cuba’s mutilated but resilient cuisine. He says: “Cuba’s marketing pull lies more in old music, old Havana and its old ways. Its charm is in nostalgia — so Bacardi probably has the upper hand there.”

Pernod Ricard, by contrast, is a relative newcomer. For two decades, it has produced Havana Club rum with its joint venture partner, state-owned Cuba Ron, and sold it around the world, except in the US. It calls Havana Club “the genuine, iconic Cuban rum”.

“The brand is an icon,” says Jérôme Cottin-Bizonne, chief executive of Pernod’s Havana Club. “It is an expression of Cuban culture.”

That is half true. Before the revolution, Havana Club was only a minor brand. But as it is now actually produced in Cuba, while Bacardi’s rums are largely produced in Puerto Rico, the claim to authenticity is credible.

“In our experience, consumers are attracted to authentic brands,” says Charlie Rudd, chief operating officer of BBH London, the advertising and creative agency. “That is why advertisers invest time and energy to demonstrate where they came from and what makes them special. With this in mind, it looks as though Pernod Ricard has a trump card.”

But what is Cuban culture — given that some 2m Cubans live outside the island — which has a population of 11m?

Bacardi’s campaign locates it in the eternal Cuba of yesteryear. Pernod, on the other hand, leans towards today’s post-ideological Cuba.

To project that image, as well as its rum, Pernod has invested in promoting Cuban music. It has made stylish CDs produced by jazz maestro Gilles Peterson and co-financed a feature film, scripted by Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, called Seven Days in Havana, an often poignant series of contemporary vignettes, only some of which have the feel of an advert.

“The old Cuba of vintage cars has its charm,” says Mr Cottin-Bizonne. “But in the film we wanted to look to the future.”

Cuba’s marketing pull lies more in old music, old Havana and its old ways
– Enrique Fernandez, cultural critic and author

A further complication lies in the companies’ battle over the “Havana Club” marque — which Pernod owns, except in the US, where Bacardi has the rights. The contest will surely escalate should the US embargo finally end, and Pernod can then sell its “Havana Club” in the US, in competition with Bacardi rum and its own “Havana Club”.

The brand battle for “authenticity” goes on, although there is no correct final answer — just as there is no “real Scotch” — and in the end it boils down to questions of personal taste and market access.

Still, the clash is a measure of changing times. A revolution that once won international followers with its global image has now partly resolved down to the rival marketing strategies of two very capitalist companies.



12003336_414862585373229_5481962962040675172_nHAVANA, Sept. 23  (Reuters) The United States and Cuba plan to hold talks in Havana next week on normalizing airline service, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, a step that could benefit U.S. carriers if the island becomes open to American tourism.

The talks will take place Sept. 28-29, the official said, as Washington and Havana inch toward normal relations after more than half a century of hostility that followed Cuba’s 1959 revolution. The two nations restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies this summer.

Next week’s talks could be announced as early as Tuesday, the U.S. official said.

The United States unveiled new rules on Friday to ease trade, travel and investment restrictions with Cuba that will allow some U.S. companies to establish offices in Cuba, expand banking and Internet activities and eliminate limits on the amount of money that can be taken there, U.S. officials said.

The changes, while significant, stop short of allowing across-the-board investments by U.S. companies or general U.S. tourism, activities banned under the U.S. trade embargo that can only be formally removed by Congress. The majority Republicans are unlikely to do that anytime soon.

U.S. citizens can now visit the Communist-ruled island only for a dozen purposes, including cultural exchange, journalism and religious activities, but general vacations are barred. On Friday the Obama administration issued a new rule allowing authorized travelers to visit Cuba with their close relatives.

U.S. airlines cannot operate scheduled flights to Cuba. While the countries reached a formal air transport agreement in 1953, carriers have been limited to operating charter services for specialist tour groups since the 1959 revolution.

While major U.S. airlines have all expressed a desire to add Cuba to their route maps, American Airlines Group Inc and JetBlue Airways Corp might stand to benefit most. They have focused more on the Caribbean than their U.S. rivals, offering travelers many connecting opportunities.

LuisMiret-LaJiribillaLuis Miret Courtesy La Jiribilla

HAVANA, Sept. 22  As Cuba-U.S. relations start to shift, how are things changing for art and artists on the island? The director of Havana’s most prestigious gallery reflects on collectors, art fairs, emerging artists, and Cuban art today in an email interview with Cuban Art News publisher Howard Farber.

As a pioneer gallerist in Cuba, and director of Galería Habana, has your business changed since the thaw in Cuba-U.S. relations was announced last December? In what ways?

The changes until now have been more in the way of increased inquires. But there has definitely been a increase in sales too, and not only to the U.S. market.

You are continually promoting your artists at international fairs. With the increased awareness of contemporary Cuban art internationally, do you expect to participate in additional art fairs?

Due to the high costs involved, and our interest in participating in only the most important events of this kind, we are planning to repeat in Art Brussels (Belgium) and ARTBO (Colombia). In addition, and for the first time, for next year we’ve applied to Frieze London and the Armory Show in New York.

Jorge Otero, Lomo, from the series War Hero, 2013 Courtesy Galería Habana

Galería Habana opened 2015 with a solo show by Jorge Otero, a younger artist who is less well known. Are you starting to work more with emerging artists? How does that fit into the gallery’s overall program?

Installation view of Ariamna Contino: Atlas, solo show presented March-April 2015 at Galería Habana Courtesy Galería Habana

Our commitment to younger artists is permanent and ongoing. But before last year’s solo show by Ariamna Contino and this year’s by Jorge Otero, we included younger artists only in themed group shows. For the gallery to decide to present solo shows by younger artists, their work has to be of special interest to us. [Note: Otero and Contino are among the artists in the group show Nuevos Colores, which opened last week at Robert Miller Gallery in New York.]

What are you looking for in younger artists?

We look for the same qualities we promote in well-known artists: solid, personal, great art.

Installation view of Crack, the group show presented at Galería Habana in May-July 2015. In foreground, a work by Roberto Fabelo; background, left, a work by Los Carpinteros. Photo: Cuban Art News

Are you seeing many new buyers of contemporary Cuban art, either at Galería Habana or in the Havana art scene in general? How about local Cuban collectors?

More than the new collectors that are arriving—which is also important—I think it’s interesting to see the approach of major galleries from the U.S. and Europe, some of them with the collaboration of our gallery. That will definitely help spread the word about the best art made in Cuba.

Right now, local collectors are almost zero, but of course those numbers will grow. And that is one of our jobs as dealers, to help them build great collections.

You’re the grand statesman of Cuban gallerists—I feel as if you’ve been there forever. What are your thoughts on new galleries and art advisors who are starting to deal in Cuban art on the island?


Tonel, Just Follow the Money, one of the works in Crack Courtesy Galería Habana

Thank you for your complement. But I just see myself as one of the older dealers still working in Cuba. It’s related to my commitment to the great art made here—something that I hope will also be the interest of the new faces in Cuba involved in promoting the art from the island.

I’ve been hearing two concerns from collectors: sustaining the quality of the art, and for the pricing not to skyrocket. What are your thoughts on these issues?

In my opinion, that is correct. It is something that we try to bring up with the artists, especially the young ones.

Where do you see the art scene in Havana in 5 years? What part do you see Galería Habana playing in that scenario?

I already see a diverse and rich promotion of art on the island, which includes a wise and substantial effort by the National Council of Fine Arts and its promotional institutions. I hope the increased opening of the US market will encourage the organization of the market in Havana, where the majority of sales are now made from artists’ studios.

How would you characterize the art currently being produced in Cuba? What sets it apart from work created earlier?

I think every era has its own art, representing that moment, and involving new mediums, techniques, and materials to make it. I definitely believe in video art and the new sculpture.

Any final thoughts?

Thank you for your interest in our opinion in this issues.

Howard Farber


How media smugglers get Taylor Swift, Game of Thrones, and the New York Times to Cubans every week

HAVANA, Sept.22. 2015  In Cuba there is barely any internet. Anything but state-run TV channels is prohibited. Publications are limited to state-approved newspapers and magazines. This is the law. But, in typical Cuban fashion, the law doesn’t stop a vast underground system of entertainment and news media distributors and consumers.

“El Paquete Semanal” (The Weekly Package) is a weekly trove of digital content—everything from American movies to PDFs of Spanish newspapers—that is gathered, organized and transferred by a human web of runners and dealers to the entire country. It is a prodigious and profitable operation.

I went behind the scenes in Havana to film how the Paquete works. Check out the video above to see how Cubans bypass censorship to access the media we take for granted.

There are two Paquete kingpins in Havana: Dany and Ali. These two compete to develop the best collection of weekly digital content and in the fastest turnaround time possible for their subscribers. It’s a competitive market playing out in the shadows of a tightly controlled communist economy.

Paquete subscribers pay between $1-$3 per week to receive the collection of media. It’s either delivered to their home or transferred at a pickup station, usually in the back of a cell phone repair shop, a natural cover for this type of operation.

Dany relies on data traffickers to deliver the files but said he didn’t know how those sources obtained the content in the first place. I gathered that most of it is being digitized via illegal satellites that are hidden in water tanks on rooftops.
It’s unclear how they get a hold of the content sourced from the internet (digital news publications, YouTube videos, and pirated movies, for example).

Only 5 per cent of Cubans can access the uncensored world wide web, and when they do, the connection is horrendously slow. It’s not the type of connection that would support downloading hundreds of gigs of content every week. Instead, some speculate that content is physically brought onto the island by incomers from Miami.

I sat down with Dany in his pink-walled apartment in Havana. While I expected a mob-like character to be at the root of this extensive black market of pirated media, I found a 26-year-old guy who looked more like a stoned surf bum than the conductor of a giant black market operation.

Dany’s office shows off a lot more brawn than he does. It’s a simple room with two gigantic computers, their innards visible, tricked out lights arbitrarily flickering.

Hard drives are littered around the room, stacked and labelled. Two large screens are full of Windows file directories, and in the corner of one of the screens is a live feed from Telemundo, a popular Spanish-language station, with the words “Grabando” (recording) in the corner.

“Everybody has their responsibility,” Dany told me. “Everyone gathers a certain type of content and they bring it to me. I organize it, edit it, and get it ready for distribution. And then we send it through our messengers.”

This is hard work. “A lot of the time is spent finding and embedding subtitles” he laments. Much of the content is pirated from American TV and movies. He and his team have scoured the internet for any existing subtitle files.

The government hasn’t tried to stamp out the Paquete, and Dany works to keep it that way. “We don’t put anything in that is anti-revolutionary, subversive, obscene, or pornographic. We want it to stay about entertainment and education,” he says, and I catch a glimpse of the shrewd business behind the babyface and board shorts.

It might as well be Netflix
A look into an edition of the Paquete reveals a vast array of content ranging from movies that are in US theatres right now to iPhone applications. Havana-based artist Junior showed me around.

He’s a pensive and gentle 34-year-old who is remarkably talented, judging by the stunning art pieces that hang from the wall. Junior paints and tattoos full time but he used to be a Paquete dealer.
He’s now just a consumer. He takes me through the 934GB of data he has recently transferred from his provider.

I’m immediately struck by how polished the Paquete system is. As Junior files through the meticulously organized files, I realize it mirrors the consumption of a typical internet user. He opens the movie folder, and we browse through dozens of movies, many still in US theatres. All of them come in HD and with subtitles and poster art as the thumbnail of the file.

The videos are high quality with accurate subtitles. I have to remind myself that we are not browsing Netflix, instead, we are looking at an offline computer that is displaying content that has physically travelled to get here. The methods couldn’t be more different but the result is strangely similar.

He moves on TV shows. “So do you think they have—” I start but am interrupted “they have everything,” Junior says emphatically. Sure enough the show I was thinking of, Suits, was there, with the latest episodes ready to watch.

We continue to browse and look into some of the more boring but most interesting parts of the Paquete: There are folders dedicated to antivirus software that can be updated weekly to the latest versions.

“But there’s no internet, so there can’t be viruses,” I say. “Most of this stuff has touched the internet in some way. This software protects against anything that has snuck its way on into the content.”

Junior clicks over to the “Apps” folder and shows me a smorgasbord of iOS and Android apps. Many are gaming apps with updates that can be loaded every week.

But there is another called “A la mesa” a Yelp-type app that helps connect clients to restaurants in Cuba using maps, reviews, and in-app menus. Then there’s the PDF folder which holds newspapers, magazines, and screenshot material from dozens of online publications, everything from tech news to sports. It’s the internet in a box.

In addition to the subscription fees, revenue for the Paquete comes from a classifieds section called “Revolico.” Within the Paquete, you click a file that opens Revolico in your browser.

But it’s an offline version that runs from a file structure on your local computer. There, you can click around as if you were browsing craigslist, looking and thousands of listings of everything from house rentals to big-screen TVs to car tires.

Sellers pay to list their items and you can get a premium listing if you pay more. Revolico is the cash cow of the Paquete. It also happens to be one of the first semblances of an advertising market for Cubans who have lived in a world of central planning and price control.

The depth and breadth of the Paquete is astounding, so much so that I, an American who lives and works on the uncensored internet, feel a twinge of envy that I don’t have the Paquete delivered to my house every week for $2.

When I asked Dany if he is afraid that the internet will wipe out his operation, without missing a beat, he replied, “Nah. We offer a product that is like one giant webpage where you can see all the content you want for a very low price. The internet might take over some clients, but we offer something different and very effective.”

“Speed is key to beating the competition,” Dany said. When asked how quickly he can get a movie or TV show after it airs in the US he says “the next day.” Last year, Dany started sending a hard drive on a plane to the far corners of the island.

After spending a week in Cuba, it was refreshing to talk to someone with the appetite to grow an enterprise. Most people I spoke to in Cuba work for the state and have zero incentive to deliver anything above the bare minimum.

They get paid the same either way. Even the private restaurants lack the fervour of a competitive business since the economic environment they work in is still completely controlled even if they themselves are private.

But in Dany’s office, I felt the thrill of cunning innovation and strategy at work. I got the sense that something big is happening. And indeed, I wasn’t just standing in some dingy apartment, but rather what may be the largest media distribution company in the history of Cuba.


havana-live-united nationU.S. weighs unprecedented abstention on U.N. vote condemning Cuba embargo.

HAVANA, 22 Sept.  (AP)  For the first time, the United States may accept a United Nations condemnation of the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba without a fight, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials tell the AP that the Obama administration is weighing abstaining from the annual U.N. General Assembly vote on a Cuban-backed resolution demanding that the embargo be lifted. The vote could come next month.

No decision has yet been made, said four administration officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity. But merely considering an abstention is unprecedented. Following through on the idea would send shock waves through both the United Nations and Congress.

It is unheard of for a U.N. member state not to oppose resolutions critical of its own laws.

By not actively opposing the resolution, the administration would be effectively siding with the world body against Congress, which has refused to repeal the embargo despite calls from President Barack Obama to do so.

Presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, said that by abstaining, Obama would be “putting international popularity ahead of the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” The embargo, he said, denies money to a dictatorship that can be used to further oppression.

General Assembly resolutions are unenforceable. But the annual exercise has given Cuba a stage to demonstrate America’s isolation on the embargo, and it has underscored the sense internationally that the U.S. restrictions are illegitimate.

The United States has lost each vote by increasingly overwhelming and embarrassing margins. Last year’s tally was 188-2 in favor of Cuba with only Israel siding with the U.S. This year’s vote will be the first since the U.S. shift in policy toward Cuba. Israel would be expected to vote whichever way the U.S. decides.

The American officials said that at the moment the U.S. is still more likely to vote against the resolution than abstain. However, they said the U.S. will consider abstaining if the wording of the resolution is significantly different from previous years. The administration is open to discussing revisions with the Cubans and others, they added, something American diplomats have never done before.

Obama has urged Congress to scrap the 54-year-old embargo since December, when he announced that Washington and Havana would normalize diplomatic relations. The two countries re-opened embassies last month, and Obama has chipped away at U.S. restrictions on trade and travel to Cuba, using executive authorities. But the embargo stands.

The latest U.S. easing of sanctions occurred Friday and was followed by a rare phone call between Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro. Pope Francis, who has played a key role in the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, arrived in Havana a day later. He travels to the U.S. this week.

The White House said Obama and Castro discussed “steps that the United States and Cuba can take, together and individually, to advance bilateral cooperation.” The Cuban government said Castro “emphasized the need to expand their scope and abrogate, once and for all, the blockade policy for the benefit of both peoples.”

Neither statement mentioned the U.N. vote. Yet, as it has for the last 23 years, Cuba will introduce a resolution at the upcoming General Assembly criticizing the embargo and demanding its end.

Cuba’s government had no immediate reaction to the report of the administration’s new consideration.

An abstention could have political ramifications in the United States, beyond the presidential race.

In Congress, where top GOP lawmakers have refused to entertain legislation to end the embargo, any action perceived as endorsing U.N. criticism of the United States could provoke anger — even among supporters of the administration’s position.

As White House spokesman Josh Earnest noted last week, the embargo remains the law of the land. “We still want Congress to take action to remove the embargo,” he said.

The U.S. officials, however, said the administration believes an abstention could send a powerful signal to Congress and the world of Obama’s commitment to end the embargo. Obama says the policy failed over more than five decades to spur democratic change and left the U.S. isolated among its Latin American neighbors.

It’s unclear what changes would be necessary to prompt a U.S. abstention.