HAVANA, July 11 (AP) Somewhere in the North Atlantic right now, a longfin mako shark — a cousin of the storied great white — is cruising around, oblivious to the yellow satellite tag on its dorsal fin.
In mid-July, that electronic gizmo should pop off, float to the surface and instantly transmit a wealth of data to eagerly awaiting marine scientists in Cuba and the United States.
How the mako became one of the first sharks ever to be satellite-tagged in Cuban waters is the subject of an hour-long documentary that is a highlight of Discovery Channel’s cult summer series Shark Week.
“Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba” marks the first time that TV cameras have recorded American and Cuban scientists working side by side to explore the mysteries of shark behavior, habitats and migration.
It also comes as Cuba and the United States renew full diplomatic ties, more than five decades after Fidel Castro’s communist revolution.
“The Caribbean has, I think, 20 percent of the world’s biodiversity of sharks and Cuba is the heart of that,” the show’s director Ian Shive said by telephone from Los Angeles.
What’s more, a half-century of isolation and limited development mean Cuba’s coral waters have largely escaped the kind of negative environmental impact seen elsewhere in the region, Shive said.
“The oceans surrounding Cuba are like time capsules,” he said. “You can go back and look at the Caribbean as it was 50 years ago.”
Inspiring the project was a shark of legend — “El Monstruo,” or “The Monster,” a great white caught by fishermen off the Cuban village of Cojimar, east of Havana, 70 years ago.
Reputedly 6.4 meters long and weighing in at 3,175 kg, it remains perhaps the biggest great white ever captured anywhere in the world.
“All the fishermen and their families came down. They were excited because they had never seen such a big animal in Cojimar,” fisherman Osvaldo Carnero, a young boy at the time, told the filmmakers.
Tagging a similar big shark was one of the goals of the 15-day expedition in February that brought together shark experts from Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystems Research and Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory as well as Shive’s camera crew.
They found initial success along Cuba’s south coast in a pristine coral reef system known as the Gardens of the Queen, once visited by Christopher Columbus and now one of the Caribbean’s biggest marine parks.
There they successfully tagged two large silky sharks with help from veteran Cuban diver Noel Lopez Fernandez, who wrangled them underwater with his bare hands and then rubbed their bellies to sedate them.
Surprising data has already been received from the silkys, Robert Hueter, Mote’s associate vice president for research, said in a telephone interview from Sarasota, Florida.
Not only do they prefer to stay near the reef, the satellite tags — which measure sea depth as well as location — revealed that the sharks can dive as far down as 610 meters, much deeper than assumed for the species, Hueter said.
From the Gardens of the Queen, the scientists set off for Cojimar and struck it lucky by snagging the longfin mako, with top shark cinematographer Andy Casagrande underwater capturing video of the rarely seen oceanic creature.
It is only the second longfin mako to be sat-tagged, Hueter said. The first, in 2012, roamed from the Gulf of Mexico and around Florida before turning up in the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, on the U.S. East Coast.
Hueter is hoping for the “pop-up” satellite tag, worth about $4,000, to come off the shark and commence its data dump sometime in mid-July.
“Everyone’s eager to get that data,” said Shive, who recalled the two years it took to get U.S. permission to go to Cuba and for Havana to green-light the first-ever satellite tagging of its sharks.
Hueter is hopeful that better relations between Washington and Havana will facilitate more joint projects between Florida-based scientists and their Cuban counterparts just 150 km away.
“In some ways (the February expedition) was the culmination of a lot of work, and in other ways it was the starting point for what will hopefully be a new age of cooperation between the United States and Cuba,” he said.
“Tiburones: Sharks of Cuba” premiered July 7 in the United States. Discovery Channel, which launched its 28th annual Shark Week on July 5, plans to air the show in other countries in the coming months.
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HAVANA, Jul 11. (PL) Cuban filmmaker Tomas Piard will premiere his latest feature film entitled “La Ciudad”, on July 14 at the Charles Chaplin movie theater in Havana.
At a press conference, Piard offered details on the film that is divided into three true stories related to the topic of emigration, distance and reunions.
From a different aesthetic perspective of the Cuban cinema, the filmmaker emphasizes on the beauty, recreated through the lens of the experienced cinematographer Raul Rodriguez.
Love and friendship prevail as threads of the plot and invite the viewer to engage in a participatory dialogue with the stories of the film.
Havana is the setting chosen by the filmmaker because according to him, only in Havana you can make a movie like ‘La Ciudad’.
The actors Luisa Maria Jimenez, Dania Splinter, Herminia Sanchez, Patrick Wood, Omar Ali, Hector Echemendía, Carlos Solar, Martha Salema and Adriana Febles embody tangible and credible characters; meanwhile, the Havana Capitol is the tenth character of the film.
On the other hand, the Cuban singer Patricio Amaro created the original music of the film, after his first experience in the movie’Kangamba’.
Produced by RTV Commercial and Cubavision, and with the collaboration of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICRT), the film ‘La Ciudad’ will be premiered in the country on 16 July.
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2014 file photo, Cuban students exit Marta Abreu Central University in Santa Clara, Cuba. Since the U.S. eased travel restrictions in 2015, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba. Both sides are exploring research collaborations. (AP Photo/Franklin Reyes, File)
HAVANA, July 11 (AP) As the U.S. and Cuba mend ties, colleges in both countries are forming partnerships that once were heavily restricted.
Only months after the U.S. eased travel restrictions, several colleges have struck agreements with Cuban schools to create exchange programs for students and faculty. More American colleges are planning study trips to Cuba, and both sides are exploring research projects.
“I think there’s going to be an explosion in all of those kinds of collaborations,” said Mauro Guillen, director of the Lauder Institute for Management and International Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
At Auburn University in Alabama, the college of agriculture agreed to partner with the Agrarian University of Havana under a new five-year exchange agreement. The University of the District of Columbia and the University of California at Fullerton also signed deals with Cuban schools.
Leaders at Florida International University are making long-term plans to open at least one campus in Cuba. Under previous travel rules, some colleges had gained permission to launch academic trips to Cuba, but college officials said the process was riddled with bureaucratic barriers. Even those who went through the lengthy application process often were denied.
But the U.S. eased those rules this year. Tourism is still forbidden, but the new rules make it easier to travel for educational purposes.
Those changes have stirred a “gold rush mentality” to form new academic ties, said Bruce Magid, dean of the Brandeis International Business School in Waltham, Massachusetts.
“I think it’s going to be significantly easier to plan trips,” said Magid, who has led several visits to Cuba in recent years.
The wave of academic interest in Cuba covers a wide range of fields, from architecture to agriculture. But business schools in particular have been quick to build ties with the island, both to study its evolving economy and to explore it as a potential business frontier if the U.S. lifts its trade embargo.
“A lot of my students, they want to go to Cuba not just because they can learn about this fascinating place, but they also see themselves potentially in the very near future doing business over there,” said Guillen, who has led student trips to Cuba.
For many U.S. colleges, Cuba also represents a largely untapped pool of future students.
There are still obstacles in the way, but admissions offices already are drafting plans to recruit students from Cuba, just like they do from Europe or South America.
The Educational Testing Service, which administers the graduate record exam in the U.S., recently announced that it will begin testing in Cuba.
“Cuba has probably the highest educational standards in all of Latin America,” Guillen said. “They have a relatively well-educated population and it would be wonderful to attract those students to the United States in big numbers.” Financial constraints in Cuba would leave most students dependent on financial aid, but there is strong interest in a U.S. education.
“Here we take two years of English, so in terms of the language I think we are well-prepared,” said Omar Concepcion, who is in his last year in physics at the University of Havana, “and on the physics side (Americans) are very advanced, so it would be very advantageous for us.”
Colleges acknowledged that they would have to provide financial aid to Cuban students they recruit.
Despite progress, some experts are reluctant to herald a new era of open academic exchange between the countries. In many ways, there is still a wide void between them, said Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.
The U.S. trade embargo puts a clamp on much activity, Duany said, and could block professors from presenting or selling their scholarly works. He added that in Cuba, the state keeps a tight grip on universities and their scholars.
“U.S. academics are used to speaking their minds on any topic that they can think of, and usually nothing happens,” Duany said. “Cuba’s a different society.”
Other constraints include Cuba’s lagging infrastructure, Guillen said. Internet access, for example, is still relatively rare, he said. But Guillen is confident that new relationships between colleges will play a role in the larger reconciliation between the countries.
“Educational collaboration and exchange is a consequence of the opening,” Guillen said, “but it will also contribute to deepening and accelerating the opening.”
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana also contributed to this report.
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HAVANA, July 10 Western Union is pushing money transfers to Cuba in a new series of TV spots produced on the island, which was recently opened to U.S. travel and business. The two Spanish-language ads are among the first to be filmed in Cuba by an American-based company since the 1962 U.S. embargo.
“Cuba is an important market for us,” said Laston Charriez, senior VP-marketing, Americas at Western Union. “We wanted to be there first and make it relevant and breakthrough.”
Colorado-based Western Union, which operates in every province and municipality in Cuba, has provided money transfers from the U.S. to Cuba since 1995 and began making payouts in the country’s local currency in 2011. U.S. remittances to the once closed-off island currently reach 62% of Cuban households, according to analysis by the Havana Consulting Group for Western Union. Western Union said the average value of a money transfer to Cuba from the U.S. is $150.
The new spots give Americans a glimpse at Cuban life and the real people who receive funds through the money-transferring service. They center on four real Western Union recipients including a man who refurbishes mattresses, which are rarely bought new in Cuba; another who fixes umbrellas that are not easily replaced on the island; a hairdresser who uses homemade products; and a man who repairs windows on vintage cars.
About 57% of Western Union recipients in Cuba use the funds they receive from friends and family in the U.S. to establish micro businesses like these, according to Western Union.
“We wanted to show people what Cuba is all about… and the ingenuity of what [our recipients are] doing to thrive and survive in Cuba,” said Mr. Charriez. “It’s been 50 years since we had the ability to go there legally and bring that back to our consumers… Many of them can’t go back to Cuba or many haven’t been to Cuba.”
Bringing those stories to life was a logistical feat for Western Union’s lead Hispanic agency Bromley. To create the ads, it worked with production company Shooter Films, which recently began operating in Cuba after acquiring Vedado Films.
The U.S. team was able to secure the appropriate permits and working visas from the Cuban government to shoot locally using the local affiliate’s connections. But the team had to be flexible during shooting, which took two weeks, because they lacked many of the resources they were used to in the U.S. “Going to Cuba we had to be extremely flexible,” said Sue De Lopez, group account director at Bromley. “Cuba is kind of stuck in time. A lot of things that we take for granted in the U.S. are things that they don’t even have in Cuba. We had to be extremely flexible, extremely resourceful and very patient.”
There was no wardrobe department, no script supervisor, and sometimes, no water and electricity, Ms. De Lopez said. In lieu of a dolly, the team affixed a camera to the back of a motorcycle, which they wheeled with the cameraman on a flatbed. There was also no cell service or WiFi connection, so they relied on local phones and apps to stay in touch.
The TV ads — airing in the Miami designated metro area — broke this week as part of a campaign called “This Is Cuba,” with print, radio and digital ads that began airing in June.
Florida, which has a large Cuban population, accounts for two-thirds of Western Union’s money transfers to Cuba, the company said. The area is also home to exiles who are against normalizing relations with Cuba, but so far, the company has not received any negative pushback for the campaign, Mr. Charriez said.
Western Union is not the only business to set its sights on the Cuban market. Travel brands like AirBnB and JetBlue have begun operating on the island, and Carnival Corp., announced plans this week to sail to Cuba in 2016. Netflix also became available in the country in February.
Brands considering advertising to Cuban audiences should be careful and strategic about how they enter the market, because it’s unknown territory for many, said Daisy Expósito-Ulla, chairman-CEO of d expósito & Partners and a Cuban-American.
“Sending money, travel these are are obvious categories,” said Ms. Expósito-Ulla. “[Cuba] is a country that’s eager to consume and eager to be part of this global society. I think there will be many opportunities, but I would be cautious.”
“This Is Cuba” ties into a broader campaign from the financial service called “This Is Western Union,” which was created by McGarryBowen and has the tagline: “moving money for better.”
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In this Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, people watch The Thomson Dream cruise ship leave the bay just after sunset in Havana
HAVANA ,July 9 (AP Peter Orsi) Cruise ship tourism to Cuba spiked more than five-fold over the last three years and is up even higher so far in 2015, government officials reported Thursday.
In a statement published on the state-run website Cubadebate, the Transportation Ministry said the number of cruise ship port calls rose from 24 in 2012 to 139 in 2014, while visits by cruise passengers saw a similar jump from 6,770 to 37,519 during the same period.
Already this year there have been 174 port calls and 62,183 passenger visits through May, according to the ministry’s statistics.
The statement called the cruise industry an “important element of tourism development for the country,” and said further growth is expected.
The report comes two days after U.S. cruise company Carnival announced a plan to begin running ships to the Caribbean island through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips in which passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.
Amid a gradual thaw between Cold War foes Washington and Havana, Carnival has secured permission from the U.S. Treasury Department but is still awaiting approval from the Cuban government.
The Cuban Transportation Ministry said growth during the last three years “could have been even greater if not for the inhuman measures imposed on us by the U.S. blockade (embargo) which substantially hurts maritime activity” — a signal that Havana may look favorably on Carnival’s proposal and U.S. cruise ships in general.
Carnival hopes to begin the trips in May and says it would be the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the advent of the embargo, which went into full effect in 1962.
Cruise ships dock regularly in the port of Havana during the winter high season, disgorging hundreds of travelers at a time into the adjacent colonial quarter.
The Transportation Ministry also cited Cienfuegos, Santiago and other coastal points as centers of cruise tourism, and highlighted the Isle of Youth as an opportunity for possible future expansion of the sector.
American tourism to Cuba remains illegal under U.S. law, although Washington has relaxed rules in recent years to allow ever-greater numbers of U.S. visitors on cultural, academic, religious and other types of exchanges considered “purposeful travel.”
Carnival’s weeklong cruises aboard the 710 passenger-capacity Adonia would offer legal “people-to-people” trips in which travelers spend most of the day involved in cultural activities in order to conform to U.S. regulations.
Most Cuban ports are not able to accommodate larger vessels that can hold tens of thousands of people. In Havana, an automobile tunnel that traverses the mouth of the bay prevents the city from dredging deeper to receive lower-drafting ships.
A recently completed upgrade at Mariel, an industrial port about a 45-minute drive west of Havana, could be a possibility if Cuba ever looks to receive the bigger cruise vessels.
HAVANA, July 9 Jeb Bush is not happy that the United States is planning to open an embassy in Cuba, and he suggested on Wednesday that if he became president it might not remain open for long.
In an interview with the editorial board of The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., Mr. Bush was asked if he would keep the embassy up and running if he were elected.
“Probably not,” he said, adding that he would need to give the issue more thought.
Mr. Bush, the former governor of Florida and a Republican presidential candidate, has made it clear that he disapproves of normalizing relations with Cuba and repeated on Wednesday that it was a “tragedy” to be negotiating with the country without getting anything in return.
“We’re basically legitimizing a regime that controls its economy and represses its people,” Mr. Bush said, warning against weakening the American embargo against Cuba.
Cuba’s government remains deeply unpopular in Florida among many Cuban emigrants.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican seeking the party’s presidential nomination, has also been critical of President Obama’s plan to make amends with Cuba. He said the Castro government has so far failed to offer greater political freedom or budge on the release of American fugitives being harbored in the country.
“I intend to oppose the confirmation of an ambassador to Cuba until these issues are addressed,” Mr. Rubio said in a statement last week. “It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end.”
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HAVANA, July 9 (REUTERS) European officials and businesses are visiting Cuba in unprecedented numbers, attracted by its market-oriented reforms and hastened to act by Havana’s improved relations with the United States.
Seventy-five companies accompanied Spain’s Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism Jose Manuel Soria during his visit this week, and 140 Italian firms also visited with Italy’s deputy minister for economic development, Carlo Calenda.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was also scheduled to lead a delegation of 100 businesses to Cuba, but that trip was postponed due to ongoing talks with Iran and the crisis in Greece.
Similar delegations from France, Britain and the Netherlands have arrived in recent weeks.
“No one wants to miss the train,” said Herman Portocarero, the European Union’s ambassador to Cuba.
Since U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro announced last December they would restore diplomatic ties, scores of U.S. businesses have come calling, including conglomerates such as Johnson & Johnson, Dow Chemical , Microsoft, Google, Dell and U.S. airlines.
They remain largely shut out by a U.S. economic embargo, which Obama is asking Congress to lift, so the Europeans are attempting to seize the moment while they still have an advantage.
“The crowning glory was when President Raul Castro visited Rome (in May). He told us to hurry up and come with our companies, and we did so quickly,” Mario Giro, Italy’s under-secretary for foreign affairs, told reporters in Havana late on Wednesday.
Italian companies have 14 projects planned for Cuba’s Chinese-style special development zone around the newly built container port at Mariel, he said.
Spain is Cuba’s third economic partner after Venezuela and China and its hospitality companies led by Sol Melia manage dozens of hotels on the island.
“For the government of Spain and the majority of Spanish companies, a new moment full of opportunity has begun,” Soria, the Spanish industry, energy and tourism minister, said.
The Mariel economic zone was especially attractive for investors, as it allows wholly owned foreign companies to repatriate profits under a favorable tax regime, he added. (Reporting by Marc Frank and Jaime Hamre; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Miral Fahmy)
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Credit: Mel Fisher HAVANA, July 9 On September 4, 1622, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha set off from Havana, with a flotilla of nine ships bound for Spain. Loaded with a cargo of silver, gold and other New World riches, the ships ran into a wicked hurricane as they entered the Florida straits the following day.
Hundreds of people perished when the ships sank, including sailors, soldiers, clergy, slaves and members of the nobility. After searching for some 16 years, treasure hunter Mel Fisher unearthed the treasures of Atocha—a haul worth some $400 million—near the Florida Keys in 1985. On August 5, 40 items from the impressive cache will go up for auction in New York City.
Named for a holy shrine in Madrid, the heavily armed galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha served as the almirante (or rear guard) of the Spanish fleet that left Havana in early September 1622. In addition to 265 people, the ship carried as much as 40 tons of silver, gold and assorted riches from Colombia, Peru and other regions of South America.
After a hurricane struck on September 5, 1622, the eight other ships in the fleet sank, littering the ocean floor from the Marquesas Keys to the Dry Tortugas, between 30 and 70 miles to the west of Key West, Florida. Two sailors and three slaves aboard Atocha survived by clinging to the ship’s mizzen, the only part that remained above water, but rescuers were unable to open the ship’s hatches. A second hurricane on October 5 further destroyed the wreck, and despite six decades of searching by Spanish salvagers, no trace of Atocha or its treasures would be found.
Flash-forward to the late 20th century, when a former chicken farmer turned shipwreck- and treasure-hunter named Mel Fisher. Beginning in 1969, Fisher searched relentlessly for Atocha, making small discoveries along the way (three silver bars in 1973; five bronze cannon in 1975) that convinced him he was getting closer to the ship itself.
(Tragically, Fisher’s son Dirk, his wife and another diver died when a salvage boat capsized soon after the cannon discovery.) By 1980, Fisher’s team had also discovered a significant part of the wreck of Atocha’s sister ship, Santa Margarita. Finally, in July 1985, Fisher’s son Kane sent a message to his father’s headquarters: “Put away the charts; we’ve found the main pile!”
In addition to a fortune’s worth of gold and silver bars, coins and jewelry, the bounty recovered from Atocha included emeralds traced to a mine in Colombia, along with items ranging from navigational instruments to ceramic vessels, all offering a glimpse into 17th-century life in Spain and the New World.
With an estimated worth of some $400 million, the Atocha treasure made Fisher, his family members and other investors millionaires. Thanks to efforts by historians and archaeologists as well as environmentalists, Fisher’s success led to reforms in the laws governing shipwrecks and salvage. In 1987, Congress passed the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, which gave states the rights to shipwrecks located within three miles of the coastline.
After the discovery, items from the cache of treasure went on permanent display at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West, Florida. Now, some 40 items from the Atocha and Santa Margarita yield will go on the block at the auction house Guernsey’s in New York City early next month—August 5, to be exact. According to Fisher’s daughter, Taffy Fisher Abt, the lots offered for sale will include some of her parents’ favorite pieces. (Fisher died in 1998, while his wife, Dorothy, passed away in 2009.)
Mel Fisher wore one of the pieces to be auctioned off—a heavy gold chain that hangs past waist-length—when he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” soon after discovering the Atocha’s treasures. Dubbed “the money chain,” it consists of individual links, each around the size of a thumbnail, which in the 17th century could have be removed and used as formal currency.
(At the time, the Spanish king had placed a 20 percent tariff on gold bullion, known as the Royal Fifth, but the tax didn’t apply if the gold was turned into jewelry.) According to pre-sale estimates, the chain could fetch some $90,000 to $120,000 at auction.
According to her daughter, Dorothy Fisher favored a knee-length gold chain with ornately carved links; that item could fetch around $40,000 to $50,000. Another item, a gold-and-enamel spoon of Peruvian and Spanish origin, is believed to have been used during Communion by Catholic priests sent to the New World to convert the native population. Among the intricate designs carved along the spoon’s neck is a masculine face between a pair of condors, an Inca symbol of royalty. The spoon is expected to go for some $160,000 to $180,000.
Among the more intriguing items recovered from Atocha were a number of bezoar stones, egg-sized objects made of organic material found in the digestive tracts of llamas, alpacas, deer, sheep or other two-stomached animals (known as ruminants). When dipped into a cup of liquid, bezoar stones were thought to remove any toxins or poisons from that liquid—a necessity for rich and powerful 17th-century individuals worried about servants or rivals adding arsenic to their wine goblets.
One of the stones, mounted in a gold setting and designed to dangle from a chain, will be part of the auction; pre-sale estimates indicate it could fetch as much as $28,000 to $35,000.
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HAVANA, July 9 (HuffingtonPost Miles Mogulescu ) Cuban artists are creating some of the most exciting and innovative contemporary art in the world. The best Cuban art can stack up against the best contemporary art being created in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London or other world art centers, while still maintaining an essential Cuban spirit.
That’s my observation after returning from the 12th Havana Art Biennial in June and spending a week visiting with some of Cuba’s leading artists in their homes and studios.
The trip coincided with a tipping point in US-Cuban relations. A week after our return, the US and Cuban governments announced that after a 54-year schism, they are reopening embassies in each others’ Capitals on July 20th, even though the US embargo of trade with Cuba remains in place and may only be lifted by an act of Congress.
“Cuba probably has more artists per capita than any country in the world,” says Sandra Levinson, Executive Director of the Center for Cuban Studies and Curator of the Cuban Art Space, one of the few places where US citizens can purchase first-rate Cuban art without personally travelling to Cuba.
“I think Cubans are dreamers and poets from birth and put their dreams and their poetry into music and art,” adds Levinson, who has been leading people-to-people visits to Cuba for decades. (She accompanied Jack Nicholson on a 2-hour visit with Fidel Castro.)
And I think Cuba as a nation recognizes the importance of art because Cubans are artists from birth, in the way they live, in the way they produce, in the way they construct their lives. They are not the most practical people in the world — practical people don’t make revolutions — but they are super smart, and they relate to one another. That’s allowed them to build a real community, and if you live in a real community you can accomplish miracles.
In addition, the multiple dualities in Cuban reality engender a creative tension which can lead to unique forms of artistic expression, found in few other countries in the world.
Cuba has been somewhat isolated from its nearest neighbor due to the 54-year-old US economic blockade; but at the same time, Cuban artists are highly educated, sophisticated and aware of what’s going on the rest of the world in general and the art world in particular.
Cuban artists are still driven more by their own creative muses than by the dictates of the commercial art market. They often depict the creative tension between consumerism and Cuba’s shortage of consumer goods. And their work often slyly, and not so slyly, critiques social conditions in Cuba. A lot of Cuban art includes strikingly contemporary takes on gender identity, race and sexuality.
As Levinson told me, “the arts, including visual arts, music and poetry may be Cuba’s greatest exports.”
Even the best Cuban art is inexpensive by market-driven world standards. Howard Farber, who probably owns the most valuable collection of contemporary Cuban art of any North American, thinks prices are ridiculously low, adding, “If you look at the prices of American contemporary art, you could have a great Cuban collection for what you would pay in sales tax in the U.S. for comparable work.”
Prices are likely to increase as more Cuban art is exposed to the international commercial art market, and early buyers, as well as the artists themselves, are likely to benefit financially. There may still be a chance to discover the Cuban Picasso or Basquiat before the rest of the world does.
Will the temptations of the commercial market diminish the originality of Cuban art? Levinson remains generally optimistic. “Cubans have a great sense of self, and I’m betting on the great Cuban artists — for the most part — to keep their integrity. The lesser artists, not so much.”
In any case, art was flowering all over Havana during the recently-completed Biennial. Havana was filled with participatory public art installations. Among them was an artificial ice skating rink, an ironic statement in Havana’s tropical heat.
“It’s cool to see common Cuban people interacting with the art,” said Ayelet Ojeda Jequin, a curator at Havana’s Fine Arts Museum.
But the heart of the Biennial was the Zona Franca (Free Zone) where 150 of Cuba’s best contemporary Cuban artists each had an exhibition space.
One striking example was an interactive installation by Mabel Poblet — whose work often focuses on self-reflection including gender and sexual identity — but in this case consisted of a glass-like floor representing the sea over which viewers could walk, creating their own cracks in the floor.
As the catalogue states, “The sea as tragic and beautiful reference to many comings and goings; the sea as obstacle and bridge; the sea as space and time of life, of freedom, but also of death.”
Another striking room contained ripped-from-the-headlines work by Michel Mirabel (whose work is owned by, among others, Muhammad Ali, Quincy Jones and even Donald Trump) filled with multi-media pieces consisting of newspaper headlines, splashes of paint and US and Cuban flags, commenting on the recent announcement of renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba with a combination of optimism and irony.
Even more stimulating than the Biennial exhibitions was the opportunity to visit with some of Cuba’s best artists in their homes and studios.
World-class Cuban artists are amazingly accessible. Can you imagine calling up, say, Julian Schabel or Jeff Koons, and telling him that you’d like to stop by his studio in a few minutes to check out his latest work?. But that was exactly the case with Kadir Lopez, to whom Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith paid a surprise visit last December and walked away with $45,000 in art. Although Mr. Lopez was out of town, his wife answered the phone and 30 minutes later we had a private tour of his home/studio.
Lopez makes striking multi-media creations, often constructed out of reclaimed 1950’s signage from US corporations like Coke and Standard Oil (occasionally pockmarked by bullet holes) and photos of old and new Havana, with transparent coats of paint floating over them.
As one critic writes, Lopez’s work
is inspired by a mediation on time: blurring the past, present and future, he criticizes the effects or progress or lack of it, and its spiritual, economic and political effects on society. While exploring the rich visual history of Cuba, he demonstrates that the mixture of realities has a long history in a country that fought for its independence and identity for most of the twentieth century.
Perhaps the highlight of our trip was lunch with Manuel Mendive at his rural home/studio surrounded by tropical vegetation.
Mendive, whose work appears in museums and private collections around the globe, may be the single most important living Cuban artist. Black, revolutionary and a practitioner of the ancient Afro-Cuban Santaria religion, Mendive greeted us with an easily approachable charm, but dressed all in white, with flowing white hair, his very being radiates spirituality.
Working in painting, sculpture, installations, performance art and video, Mendive’s art often incorporates humans, animals and spirit-like figures.
Mendive’s Afro-Cuban Santeria roots are most evident in his performance work in which he paints naked human bodies.
NYU Fine Arts Professor Edward Sullivan calls Mendive’s work
daring, rebellious, unconventional and brave. He does not care about fashions or trends. His images, which so often incorporate and wildly transform the vestiges of African stimulus, do not appeal necessarily to those who seek the latest trend in the art world. Instead of intellectualized minimalism or hollow conceptualism, Mendive relies on the senses: thought, touch, breath, air and fire.
Robert Diago is a younger world-class Afro-Cuban artist whom we visited in his Havana studio/home. Earlier in his career, Diago juxtaposed images with graffiti-like words and his work drew comparisons to the likes of Basquiat. But now his work is increasingly abstract and even minimalist. His most recent series of paintings is mostly in black & white with occasional splashes of red suggesting marks from a slave master’s whipping; even in his abstract work, slavery and Diago’s Afro-Cuban roots is a theme to which he repeatedly returns, whether overtly or obliquely.
When Diago paints black faces, they are often without mouths, referencing his view that despite the efforts of the Cuban revolution, Afro-Cubans still often have less power than whites.
I bought a catalogue of his latest show, which he personally autographed. He then painted a picture of a mouth-less face on the inside cover and had it delivered to the nearby restaurant where we were having dinner. So for the price of a catalogue, I’m now the proud owner of an original signed Diago.
The young generation of emerging Cuban artists was evident in a visit to the home/studio shared by Marlys Fuego and William Perez. The space was given to them by the Cuban government if they would fix it up, which they’ve spent 3 years doing by hand, until it’s hard to distinguish from a young artist’s studio in Brooklyn.
William’s work often consists of monumental sculptures for public spaces, including this rhinoceros which he and Marlys plan to accompany to California this August for an exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art.
The 28-year old Marlys work is often erotically charged and comments on gender, like this 8 foot square work with Marlys standing next to it :
If you look closely, you can see an image of Marlys in the lower left-hand corner flying a kite that looks accidentally, or not so accidentally, like a vulva. Commenting on her own work, Marlys writes, “I use an ironic commentary, a touch of humor and absurdity. I’m trying to make clear that man/woman responds to culturally created codes and that these as such, are not set in stone.” Speak about Cuban art being as contemporary as anything in the rest of the art world.
Cuban artists also create world-class photography, both documentary photography and extremely contemporary photography of a more abstract, and even conceptual, nature.
Iconic documentary photographer Roberto Salas greeted us in his home/studio with a hint of a Bronx accent, a reminder of his New York upbringing as the son of a Cuban-born freelance photographer who took pictures of everything from weddings to baseball legends like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. In 1957, a young, clean-shaven, lawyer named Fidel Castro arrived in New York to raise money for his cause of overthrowing the right-wing Cuban military dictatorship and the 16-year old Salas’s photo of the Statue of Liberty draped in a Cuban flag to generate publicity was published in Life Magazine. After the Cuban revolution, Salas returned to Cuba where his iconic black and white photographs introduced the world to Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their fellow Cuban revolutionaries.
But Salas’s amazing eye for light and composition elevated his work from photojournalism to the truly artistic, and as time went by, he enlarged his subject matter to include Cuba’s first book of nude photography, computer-enhanced photos of Havana and extraordinary photos of ordinary Cubans which almost appear to be paintings by Dutch masters like Rembrandt.
Minutes after leaving Salas’s home we were at the studio of contemporary photographer Ernesto Javier, whose work moves beyond the documentary to incorporate conceptualism, electric lights integrated into the photos and ironic social commentary.
Some of Javier’s photos are imbedded in sewer pipes and fire hydrants and incorporate LED lights.
One of his works depicts a bar lined with liquor bottles “branded” with labels of the likes of Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Che Guevara and 1920s Italian revolutionary Antonio Gramsci, overlaid with a neon bar sign ironically reading “Self-Service”.Although our trip focused on the visual arts, it would be nearly impossible to visit Cuba without being exposed to some incredible music. One night our group visited a jazz club to see the charismatic keyboardist Roberto Fonseca and his group.Another night we sat outdoors on the steps of the town church in the provincial town of Trinidad where an Afro-Cuban music and dance group performed for a mix of townspeople and tourists drinking rum and beer.
Another night we sat outdoors on the steps of the town church in the provincial town of Trinidad where an Afro-Cuban music and dance group performed for a mix of townspeople and tourists drinking rum and beer.
And one evening most of our group hung out at the Fabrica de Arte (Art Factory) a combination dance club/art space packed with young Cubans out for a good time. Shortly before our visit, Questlove of The Roots had DJ’d a set there.
The vision of artists often runs ahead of the actions of politicians. As US and Cuban political leaders — separated by 90 miles of geography but 54 years of antagonism — inch towards normalizing relations, it may be the artists who are, literally and figuratively, the “avant-garde”.
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HAVANA, July 8 When Omar Perez was 25, he found out his father was the revolutionary Che Guevara. For Perez — a poet, artist and musician — the revelation didn’t much change his outlook on life, or on Cuba. Jeffrey Brown talks to Perez in Havana about the Cuban Revolution, art and how closer ties with America may change his country.
Transcript JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, a profile of a most unusual writer, a man Jeff met on his recent trip to Havana for the series of reports on the Cuban Evolution.
Here’s our look.
JEFFREY BROWN: Omar Perez is an artist, a musician, and a poet.
OMAR PEREZ, Poet: It’s very much in the culture. There’s no difference between a song and a poem. The brain gets active when you listen to a melody. So that’s exactly what happens with poetry, too.
JEFFREY BROWN: And Perez has another claim to unusual fame. He is the son of revolutionary Che Guevara. His mother was a student at the University of Havana in the 1960s. Both she and Guevara were married at the time of their affair, and Perez grew up unaware of who his father was.
OMAR PEREZ: When I was 25 years old, I was already a human being, and then somebody told me, did you know your father is Che Guevara? I said, no, I don’t. What am I going to do now? I’m 25 years old, I’m a writer, I’m a poet, I’m a translator. Should I change now?
What should I become? Should I become something different? I didn’t want to become anything different. I was — that’s what I wanted to be, a poet.
JEFFREY BROWN: Generations of Cubans have lionized Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary from Argentina who, alongside Fidel Castro in the 1950s, overthrew Cuba’s government. His image is still seen all over Havana.
Omar Perez lives in one of the once elegant, now crumbling buildings alongside the city’s famous seawall, the Malecon. For his part, he doesn’t seem to hold on to a romantic view of Che Guevara or the Cuban revolution.
You have grown up through the period of the revolution in Cuba. What’s your sense of where it’s at now? Is it alive? Is there…
OMAR PEREZ: The revolution?
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
OMAR PEREZ: The revolution has been dead for years, for decades.
JEFFREY BROWN: For decades?
OMAR PEREZ: Yes, sure.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes?
OMAR PEREZ: Yes, everybody knows that. And revolution for its own nature must be a very brief moment of human existence.
I remember, when we were school, every year, we had to say, this is the year of industrialization, this is the year for agriculture, this is the year of whatever. And then slowly, slowly became year 30 of the revolution, year 33 — it was like a clock moving, moving nowhere.
JEFFREY BROWN: Perez says he’s not political, but he is an observer of the times.
OMAR PEREZ: I try not to write about social issues, but it comes back all the time. I can’t stop now writing about social issues, but not as a sociologist or a politician, but more like an anthropologist.
JEFFREY BROWN: Tell me what you see in society then as an anthropologist of Cuban life now.
OMAR PEREZ: Confusion, not in a bad or in a good sense, just confusion, a lack of social organization, in the sense that the community itself is not very well-organized. It is very fragmented, and the state is also very fragmented.
They are both moving without really knowing where they are moving.
JEFFREY BROWN: Omar Perez lives simply, creating art from recycled parts, often from the cracked walls of his own home.
OMAR PEREZ: These materials, sometimes, they are coming out.
JEFFREY BROWN: He thinks normalization of relations with the U.S., the money it could bring, the changes that will come, could cause kind of an identity crisis for Cubans.
OMAR PEREZ: What you have now is the farcical attempt to represent transformation in society through the economic, commercial values.
JEFFREY BROWN: But I would think many Cuban people would want that for a better life.
OMAR PEREZ: I don’t know what Cuban people want. If you’re not thinking clearly, whatever comes from your mouth adds also to the confusion. I want a car, I want a five-year American visa, I want to open a shop, I want to have another car, I want blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
JEFFREY BROWN: But people do want those things.
OMAR PEREZ: Yes, OK. Congratulations. If that brings happiness into their lives, it’s OK with me, you know?
JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the role of a poet in a society like Cuba today?
OMAR PEREZ: To observe, to have fun.
JEFFREY BROWN: To observe and have fun?
OMAR PEREZ: Yes, to observe and have fun with what you’re observing, and then to propose ideas. You don’t even need to write. You can paint. There are so many ways to express what you want to say. This is what art is about.
HAVANA, July 8 Officials at Caribbean tourist destinations popular with Americans have been up in arms over the budding relationship between Washington and Havana. Opening the island to American tourists, the officials say, would decimate tourism-dependent economies in places like cash-strapped Puerto Rico.
They now have even more reason for worry.
On Tuesday, Carnival Cruise Lines said that it was trying to get the Cuban government’s permission to host cruises leaving from Miami then sailing to the island nation 90 miles south. If it can convince Cuban President Raúl Castro to allow the trips, Carnival would be the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. The trips wouldreportedly cost around $3,000 per person, and the company hopes to start the voyages in May 2017.
Last week, Frank Comito, CEO of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, began a push for the Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative, meant to boost U.S. travel to destinations in the region that aren’t Cuba.
“If we continue to operate business as usual, and we all draw from the same pie, and Cuba is in the equation … there will be serious economic and employment consequences,” Comito told the Associated Press.
Since announcing the renewal of diplomatic ties, the number of American tourists planning to travel to Cuba exploded. According to a March report in the New York Times, bookings jumped 57 percent for one tour operator in January. In February, they increased 187 percent. In March, they went up nearly 250 percent.
The challenge Cuban tourism presents to its neighbors has been on full display in recent days. Puerto Rico, an American commonwealth that relied on tourism for 7 percent of its gross national product in 2009, admitted it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Pleas for assistance from the White House and Congress fell on deaf ears.
San Juan insists tourism is a key part of its plan to reinvent its economy. A rival about 900 miles closer complicates this strategy.
“We’re going to have to develop some sort of credible strategy to deal with lack of economic growth,” Sergio Marxuach, policy director at Center for the New Economy in San Juan, told Foreign Policy in a recent interview. “Well-thought economic growth — that’s the most difficult thing.”
The Dominican Republic has also expressed concerns about Cuba’s burgeoning tourist industry. “We are closely monitoring the process,” Simón Suárez, president of the Dominican Republic’s hotel and restaurant association, Asonahores, told Fox News Latino in May. “We can already see that there will be an effect on the Dominican Republic because of the demand by Americans who want to go to Cuba.”
Cuba needs the money just as much as its neighbors. Tourism generates about $2.6 billion a year; annual GDP there was about $77.15 billion in 2013.
The coming arrival of American tourists harkens back to a dark chapter in Cuban history. With the blessing of the island’s leadership, American crime families set up gambling operations on the island in the 1920s and 1930s. (For a quick primer, watchThe Godfather: Part II). When Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro ousted President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he condemned the poker houses and forced the mob out.
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HAVANA, July 7 With an eye toward one day having a variety of travel packages to the once-forbidden island, Carnival Corporation announced on Tuesday that it would begin offering people-to-people-exchange cruises to Cuba beginning next year.
Carnival, the world’s largest cruise company, has secured approval from the U.S. Treasury and U.S. Commerce departments to offer the trips to Cuba, and now is working to obtain approval from the Cuban government.
It is the latest major U.S. company to join the parade of American businesses developing plans to establish ties with Cuba after the announcement last December by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro that the two nations were re-establishing diplomatic ties after almost 60 years.
The Obama administration eased trade and travel restrictions to Cuba, but only people who qualify under one of 12 categories can go there. Many tourism companies offer trips through so-called people-to-people exchanges.
That is Carnival’s plan. Its cruises to Cuba would fall under “fathom travel itineraries directly to Cuba for the purpose of providing cultural, artistic, faith-based and humanitarian exchanges between American and Cuban citizens,” said a Carnival announcement.
In a teleconference call with reporters Tuesday, Carnival Corp. executives said that there is pent-up interest in the United States in traveling to Cuba.
“We look forward to working with the Cuban authorities for their approval to help make the social, cultural and humanitarian exchanges between U.S. citizens and the people of Cuba a reality,” said Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation. “We know there is strong demand from travelers who want to immerse themselves in Cuban culture, so this is a historic opportunity for us to enable more people to experience Cuban society.”
Cuba travel experts say cruise ships would be a way to enjoy the island and circumvent the expected shortage of tourist accommodations in the near future.
Carnival is accepting reservations beginning Tuesday, anticipating a great demand.
They say reservations can be made through a travel agent, or online through fathomtravel.org or by calling 1-855-9fathom.
Many of Cuba’s four- and five-star hotels are booked through the summer of 2016, an unprecedented demand that tourism executives expect only will grow as more tourists travel to Cuba from the United States.
“We have hundreds of tour group requests just at Marazul,” said Bob Guild, vice president of Marazul Charters, a U.S.-based travel agency founded in 1979 when Washington briefly loosened travel restrictions to Cuba. “There was a 38 percent increase in U.S. visitors to Cuba already in the first months of this year, and about a 15 percent increase overall in visitors from around the world in the same period of time.”
“Most people are trying to get into Cuba before American tourism comes in completely and before Cuba changes.”
Carnival says it would become the first American cruise company to visit Cuba since the 1960 trade embargo. The trips will be through its new brand, fathom, which focuses on trips where passengers sail to a destination in order to volunteer there.
The weeklong cruises will be aboard the Adonia, which carries 710 passengers. The ship is relatively small for the industry; ships sailing under the company’s namesake line carry nearly 3,000 passengers.
Carnival is expecting high demand for the voyages and has priced them accordingly. Prices start at $2,990 per person plus taxes and port fees. A similar service-oriented trip on the same ship to the Dominican Republic starts at $1,540 per person.
Carnival representatives on the press call said the costs for going to Cuba are much higher than other, rather similar destinations because of the greater interest by American travelers.
Air travel to Cuba also is pricey.
“We’re still dealing with airfares that I think are too expensive,” said Guild, who spent a few days recently in Cuba to speak with the island’s tourism executives. “It’s because they’re charter flights, the airlines are still unable to have regular scheduled flights. When we have direct service and work on arrangements with Cuba to do that, then it will bring down the cost of airfare.”
The itinerary is still being finalized as Carnival waits for approval from the Cuban government. The ship is expected to visit several ports and passengers will sleep onboard each night.
“We’re incredibly excited and humbled by this potential opportunity to help travelers experience the amazing beauty and culture of Cuba, while being able to provide educational and cultural exchange activities that will benefit both the traveler and the Cuban people,” said Tara Russell, president of fathom and global impact lead for Carnival Corporation. “We are looking forward to building what we intend to be a beautiful and lasting friendship with the Cuban people.”
Carnival’s license comes as part of recent approvals for six passenger vessels from the Treasury Department. The government would not name the companies who received these licenses or what their specific line of business is. They could be ferries, yacht charters or cruises. Of those six, four of them are authorized to allow passengers and crew to spend the night aboard, even when docked in a Cuban port. Other major cruise lines did not immediately respond to inquiries about their efforts to sail to Cuba.
The vessels are not allowed to stop at other countries, so don’t expect Cuba to become one of four or five stops on a typical Caribbean cruise anytime soon.
Carnival isn’t the first cruise company to sail to Cuba. A handful of foreign cruises do come to the island. In 2013, Canadian company Cuba Cruise, in partnership with Greece’s Celestyal Cruises, launched cruises from Jamaica to Cuba, making six ports of call including Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Trips start at about $850.
Tourism, a $2.6 billion-plus industry, is one of the main engines that has kept Cuba’s economy sputtering along. Last year, the country welcomed a record 3 million visitors.
About 600,000 U.S. travelers are estimated to visit Cuba each year. Cuban officials estimate that 1.5 million Americans would travel to the island annually if all restrictions were removed, supplanting Canada as the No. 1 source of tourism and potentially adding some $2 billion a year to state coffers.
There are many challenges ahead for the country as it opens up to U.S. visitors. There isn’t yet enough infrastructure to handle the demand. But major travel companies including Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International have been closely eyeing developments there. JetBlue, which has run charter flights from Florida to Cuba for years, just launched a new nonstop flight from New York. It is only open to travelers who are approved to visit Cuba. American Airlines and Sun Country Airlines also offer charters.
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HAVANA, July 7 Huddled around a laptop at the bottom of a stairwell in Havana, a group of three teenage boys banter as they skip between video clips and music. A fourth arrives with some ice cream, which completes a scene reminiscent of teenagers killing time on YouTube. They play an amateur music video in which the singer, looking for a laugh, periodically bangs his head against the wall. Then Beyoncé. Chris Brown.
But this being Cuba—where the Internet is, for the most part, only available at some professional jobs, in foreigners’ homes, and in expensive hotels—this isn’t YouTube. What looks like a few teenagers surfing the web is actually a small part of an only-in-Cuba business that gives locals access to content from the Internet, offline, thanks to an army of human middlemen and thousands of flash drives.
I pass my own small drive to the boy who owns the computer, and he asks me what I want. He scrolls through the little blue files on his desktop, which have labels like “movies,” “music,” “videos from Cuba,” “applications,” and “video games.” After I ask for videos from Cuban artists, he plugs my drive into his computer and asks me to come back in 10 minutes.
There are similar booths that sell El Paquete Semanal (“the packet of the week”) across Havana. Some are run casually, like this one. Others are part of more formal businesses, with signage and separate store space, that also offer services like printing or software updates.
But everyone, from the young waiters at restaurants to the lawyer who rents me his home, seems to have a source for El Paquete, their link to a connected world that would be taken for granted in most modern countries. A retired woman who plugs her flash drive into her television recommends that I watchMr. and Mrs. Smith.
My taxi driver plays local music videos from a portable player mounted on his dashboard. And when I meet with the founder of a company that functions like a Yelp for Cuba, he peppers his stories with Game of Thronesreferences. All of them are getting access to this media either by purchasing content from an El Paquete vendor, or by copying from the computer of a friend who has purchased it.
In a country where the government, as per the constitution, owns all media, El Paquete allows Cuban people to access content that would never be found on official media outlets, even if it’s nothing more subversive than the latest episode of House of Cards.
It is not a static library of files, but a weekly updated resource that includes some of the same living resources that you might find on the Internet.
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HAVANA, July 7 A recent agreement between the United States and Cuba to restore diplomatic ties by the end of July has further bolstered interest among U.S. investors who started scrutinizing business opportunities in Havana as soon as the country was crossed off the U.S. terrorism list almost a month ago.
But U.S. investors are not alone in looking to benefit from the improvement in ties between the two countries. Investors worldwide are anticipating a boom in the tourism and real estate sectors in Cuba once the 53-year old trade embargo imposed on the country by the U.S. is lifted.
Although U.S. President Barack Obama has relaxed the embargo in terms of restrictions on imports and telecommunications, Americans are still banned from traveling to Cuba. Sanctions that remain in place also limit banking transactions, making it enormously hard for Cubans to access overseas financial markets and do business with the international community.
Almost a year ago, the flow of foreign investments into Cuba rose after the government passed a more relaxed foreign investment law in 2014, easing restrictions on foreign investments and providing tax incentives to attract overseas funds.
Among the newcomers were a number of Lebanese businessmen who are now looking to capitalize on the warming relations between the U.S. and Cuba, says Ali Kazma, president of the newly formed Lebanese Cuban Business Council.
The LCBC, an organization affiliated with the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, was established in May with the aim of promoting Lebanese investment in Cuba.
The council, which brings together 20 businessmen, kicked off its activities with a visit to Havana in early June.
During their visit to Cuba, Lebanese business leaders met with their Cuban counterparts and government officials to review investment and business opportunities in the Caribbean country.
Discussions between Cuban officials and the Lebanese delegation, which included a representative from the Economy Ministry, also touched on the amendment of a trade agreement signed between the two countries in 1998.
While several members of the LCBC are already invested in Cuba, Kazma says the council is particularly looking to capitalize on Havana’s overture to foreign investments against the backdrop of improving Cuban-U.S. ties.
Investment opportunities cover a variety of sectors, including tourism, hospitality and infrastructure development. Kazma says some 254 business opportunities across Cuba have been outlined in a booklet prepared by the LCBC based on information provided by the Cuban government. To further shed light on these business opportunities, the council is preparing for the Lebanese-Cuban Economic Forum that will take place in Beirut on Sept. 29.
Belal Malas, vice president of the LCBC, says the council is working to actively engage businesses through sustained outreach, regular meetings, active communication platforms and networking forums.
“At present, we are working on strengthening relations with potential investors and working to attract new investors,” Malas adds.
The Lebanese-Cuban Economic forum will provide an opportunity to introduce businessmen to investment laws in Cuba, Kazma says.
“The Cuban government is wisely opening up its economic system to foreign investments as new laws and regulations have been passed to create a more favorable business environment,” LCBC treasurerMarwan Dimas says.
Cuba’s new foreign investment law allows 100 percent foreign ownership, eliminates labor tax and cuts the tax on profits from 30 percent to 15 percent for most industries.
In addition to foreign ownership, foreign investments in Cuba can take the form of joint ventures with the Cuban state or associations between foreign and Cuban companies. Investors in joint ventures get an eight-year exemption from all taxes on profits.
Of the many interesting ventures that the Cuban government has embarked on is the creation of the first Special Development Zone in Cuba, known as ZED Mariel.
Dimas explains that ZED Mariel, which retains its own favorable tax laws, has succeeded – thanks to its business-friendly environment – in attracting numerous investments since its establishment in 2013.
Every year, the government establishes a portfolio of foreign investment opportunities across Cuba.
The latest portfolio issued by the state covers 11 sectors open to foreign investment and comprises a total of 246 business opportunities including 25 projects in the special economic zone of Mariel.
Lebanese businessmen are hoping to secure some of those deals by the end of 2015, says Kazma, who is currently in talks with Cuban officials to launch a boutique hotel and Lebanese restaurants in Havana. “Hopefully, the deal over the hotel will be secured by the end of the year,” he adds.
HAVANA, July 6 (AFP) – As the US diplomats headed out to sea, their embassy in Havana closed but still visible on the horizon, the lights in its windows flickered.
One of the travelers that day in 1961 was Wayne Smith, who would later become head of the US interests section in Cuba.
Smith has had a front row seat as Cuban-American relations have evolved and now head for restoration, with the opening of embassies later this month as announced last week by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro.
Now 83, Smith remembers that day of departure: helping close the embassy on January 3, 1961 after the United States severed relations with Fidel Castro’s newly communist Cuba, and embarking on a Florida-bound ferry.
“As we cleared the headland, we could look and we could see our embassy on the waterfront, and the lights were blinking on and off,” Smith told AFP in an interview.
“I thought ‘that must be our employees saying farewell’. And it was!”
Smith welcomes the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, and said the US embargo that Washington has enforced against Cuba for more than 50 years — aimed at forcing the regime’s collapse — backfired, if anything.
“We followed this policy, year after year, God almighty, that didn’t isolate Cuba — it isolated us,” Smith said, noting that as of last year, the United States was the only country in the hemisphere that did not have diplomatic relations with Cuba.
“Every year the embargo was condemned at the UN, it was ridiculous,” he said. “It was a great relief that Obama began to change the policy.”
Smith — a tall man who fought in the Korean War and now sports an elegant white beard — says US policy toward Cuba lasted so long because of the “incredible belief” that American power could achieve anything.
“The idea that, by maintaining the embargo and a hostile policy and refusing to negotiate anything, we were going to bring down the Castro government, was absurd,” Smith said in his office, crammed with books and papers, at a Washington think tank called the Center for International Policy.
“It was a delusion, if you will, on the part of the US and American leaders. To me it became increasingly embarrassing that leaders could so mislead themselves,” he added.
– Missed opportunities –
After the US embassy in Havana closed, the countries had chances to re-engage but they never came to fruition.
“I think that we could have reopened a dialogue and a relationship with Cuba had Kennedy not been assassinated, as early as that. But with Kennedy’s assassination, that ended,” said Smith, referring to John F. Kennedy’s death in 1963.
In 1977, the United States and Cuba established Interests Sections in each other’s capital, and Smith returned to Cuba. Two years later, he was named head of mission, a sort of ambassadorship without the title.
Jimmy Carter was president then and wanted dialogue with Cuba, Smith said, adding this was the reason he took the job.
But then-national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski wanted nothing of that and “torpedoed any effort to bring one about,” he said.
Next came the conservative Ronald Reagan as president — “and then for sure we would not have any dialogue” — so Smith left the US diplomatic service in 1982.
Smith said it might take the United States a couple of years to lift the trade embargo and some “astute maneuvering” but is optimistic that “we can achieve it.”
– Lights on the horizon –
All these years later, Smith has vivid memories of that day the embassy closed and he and his colleagues left for Florida.
As a diplomat, he said, the closure of the embassy was a huge disappointment — a failure, even.
In his cluttered office, Smith’s photos include one of him and his wife in 1958 in a famed Havana watering hole called the Bodeguita del Medio, and one of him with Fidel Castro when Smith resigned from the Foreign Service.
Now, he is excited about the prospect of embassies re-opening, later this month, and hopes to be at the ceremony in Havana.
Looking back, when he returned to Cuba in 1977 and met one of those old local employees, he asked about the lights in the embassy blinking on and off.
“‘Were you saying goodbye to us?’ And one of them said ‘Yes, you did see it, then.’ It was very moving,” Smith said.
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HAVANA, July 6 (Havana Times) According to a Cuban scientist, the Guantanamo Naval Base, operating on territory which the United States has leased from Cuba since February of 1903, is responsible for secondary salinization processes that are affecting soils and preventing adequate draining in the region.
The Masters in Science Mario Montero claims that the military facility at the prison built in the area has caused environmental damage and is impeding the proper draining of water at the Guantanamo and Guaso river basins. This, according to his assessment, is having a negative impact on surrounding terrains.
During a provincial gathering dealing with anti-draught measures sponsored by the National Association of Architects and Construction Engineers and other government organizations, the issue of the Guantanamo Naval Base came up during a presentation by Montero, who was a member of Cuba’s delegation at the World Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought.
Crops Affected The scientist added that the military facility represents an obstacle to Guantanamo’s economic and social development plans and suggested that the soils affected in the valley have a direct impact on food production for the city.
According to the report published by the local press, the base has also prevented Cuban experts from studying the transition of land and marine ecosystems located on the boundary between Cuban and US territory.
The environmental deterioration of the valley began, according to studies, when the facility started to be built and the indigenous vegetation was destroyed and the soil compacted, phenomena which were exacerbated by the exploitation of the sand reserves in Malabe, today part of the municipality of Niceto Perez.
The expert also complained that US military engineers wasted no time in the creation of shooting ranges, breakwaters and airports, all later expanded to the detriment of the environment and national sovereignty.
Usurped Territory For the US government, Gitmo, as they call it, represents a fuel resupply point for vessels in the region and a first line of monitoring and air safety, for Washington and its allies. The 45 square miles occupied by the base have represented a disputed territory since January of 1959, as this land was considered by Fidel Castro’s government – and that of his brother – as an usurped territory, and the base as an illegitimate facility set up against the will of the Cuban people.
For the US government, Gitmo, as they call it, represents a fuel resupply point for vessels in the region and a first line of monitoring and air safety, for Washington and its allies.
The United States secured perpetual lease rights over this small portion of land located in the outer end of the Guantanamo Bay on February 23, 1903, through a treaty signed by the first Cuban president Tomas Estrada Palma.
With the thaw in relations that began on December 17 last year, the “return” of the territory occupied by the base and the end of the embargo have been at the center of discussions and demands made President Raul Castro. Both demands, however, have met with a wall of resistance put up by congress people and senators who refuse to yield to Cuban demands without anything in return.
This past Wednesday, US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter declared that his country has no intentions of relinquishing this military enclave.
HAVANA, July 6 Nathan Blecharczyk, a co-founder of Airbnb, leafed through the guest book at one bed and breakfast that had joined the lodging company’s network, tried a Cuba Libre in the roof-top bar of one of the city’s most fashionable private restaurants and climbed a spiral staircase to view the roof terrace at another Central Havana listing.
Cuba is the new frontier for the company, which was founded on a decision to rent out a few air mattresses in a San Francisco apartment in 2007 and in five years has become an online force for booking in-home stays in 191 countries.
Blecharczyk’s June 23-26 trip was the first visit to Cuba by one of the San Francisco-based company’s three co-founders since Airbnb launched its Cuba booking service in April and his first time on the island.
Airbnb morphed from its humble beginning to a company that now has more than 1.2 million listings worldwide. It’s in the process of raising $1.5 billion from investors, which, according to some estimates, could boost the value of the company to more than $25 billion.
Airbnb encourages interaction between guests and hosts around the globe. “We like to say, it’s the U.N. at the kitchen table,” Blecharczyk said. At the end of each stay, guests and hosts rate each other, and hosts with high ratings and lots of reservations move to the highest positions in Airbnb’s listings.
Since the Cuban booking service went live on the island three months ago, Airbnb has accumulated more than 2,000 listings, making it the fastest-growing launch in Airbnb history. It helped that Cubans have been offering extra rooms in their homes for some three decades to supplement their incomes. Airbnb piggybacked on that trend.
Listings range from simple rooms with shared bathrooms to accommodations such as La Rosa de Ortega in suburban La Vibora where owners Julia de la Rosa and Silvio Ortega have been renovating a 1938 mansion for the past 20 years. Their B&B has a swimming pool, large sun deck and nine stylish rooms that have their own bathrooms. Renovation of a 10th room is just about finished.
Marta Vitorte has two Vedado listings in Airbnb.She’s in the process of buying a third apartment that she also put into Airbnb.
“Overall, it’s been a remarkably successful launch. I think the potential is quite huge,” Blecharczyk said. “Frankly, this is unlike any other country — that there was already such an industry of home-sharing.”
But Airbnb wants an even bigger share of the Cuban pie. Currently, only American travelers are allowed to use the booking service to make reservations for in-home stays on the island. But during his Havana trip, Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s chief technical officer, said the company was seeking a license that would allow travelers from outside the United States to also use the Airbnb website to book stays.
If the proposal is approved, he said, non-American travelers using the site would still have to “qualify for the same reasons” as American travelers to Cuba. While U.S. law still prohibits tourist trips to Cuba, “purposeful travel” in 12 broad categories is allowed.
Although Airbnb scaled up quickly, it plateaued when it reached 190 countries. Blecharczyk said Cuba was always in the back of his mind as a new market, but the company really kicked into action on Dec. 17 when President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro announced that after more than a half-century of frosty relations, the two countries would renew diplomatic ties and open respective embassies.
The rapprochement brought with it not only U.S. permission for more Americans to travel to the island but also new regulations that made an Airbnb expansion to the island feasible.
“I think a couple of things are very important,” said Augusto Maxwell, a Miami lawyer who accompanied Airbnb executives to the island in February and helped them navigate the new legal realities.
Before Dec. 17, any company that wanted to provide travel services to Cuba had to get a specific license from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and it required reams of paperwork. “The application was very detailed, rigorous,” Maxwell said. Under the new rules, “all the paperwork is gone,” he said.
The old rules also required a bricks-and-mortar location to sell tickets, making it difficult for any company to operate in virtual space. Plus, the burden “to sell travel services only to a properly licensed traveler fell on the company and they were always subject to audits,” Maxwell said.
The shift in liability from the company to the traveler was key in Airbnb’s decision to enter Cuba, Blecharczyk said.
During his trip to Havana, Blecharczyk not only met with operators of casas particulares, the Cuban version of a bed and breakfast, but talked with private restaurant owners, young tech entrepreneurs and the owners of other small businesses.
The financially strapped Cuban government began emphasizing self-employment in 2010 in an effort to cut bloated state payrolls. Now, nearly 500,000 Cubans have joined the ranks of cuentapropistas, or the self-employed.
But the practice of renting out rooms or even entire apartments to visitors was already well-established by then.
“It began well before the special period [after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Cuba went through a prolonged economic crisis during the 1990s] when people were looking for economic solutions,” said Marta Vitorte, who has been in the casa business for the past 20 years.
“Now people in the business have evolved,” she said. “Now the mentality is more that we do this to live better than we must do this to satisfy the basic needs of a family.”
Over mojitos at Havana’s fashionable Café Madrigal, whose bare brick walls are studded with eclectic art and vintage posters, Blecharczyk discussed the lodging business with several hosts in Airbnb’s Cuba network.
Vitorte, who has two antique-filled Vedado apartments in the peer-to-peer rental network, is in the process of buying a third that will be used as a guest house. “Now is the time to act before the prices go crazy,” she said.
Since Airbnb’s Cuba launch, Cuban hosts have earned an average of $650 — far more than they could earn at most state jobs in three months. Airbnb collects 3 percent of each transaction from its hosts. On average, the hosts take in $200 per booking, Blechcharczyk said.
The average room price in Havana is $41, according to Airbnb.
Blecharczyk, who stayed at an Airbnb listing, toured various casa particulares.
At 67 Tenth Street, he visited Armando Unsáin’s guest house, an 1861 colonial where a nine-month renovation was nearing completion. When it’s done, he plans to raise prices and officially launch on the Airbnb network.
The Madrid native, who has become a permanent resident of Cuba, rents out six rooms. For prices ranging from $35 for a double to $70 for a large suite, guests get an accommodation that boasts stained glass windows, vintage tiles and an ornate chandelier. For Unsáin, being part of the Airbnb network is like a stamp of approval. It’s a place where all serious casas need to be, he said.
As a dozen workers rushed to put the finishing touches on the reno, Blecharczyk sat in the living room with Unsáin leafing through his guest book.
“I think it’s so amazing to see how beautiful the architecture is in some of these homes,” he said. “The second piece of this is that there’s kind of an optimism in the air. There’s a lot of excitement about new opportunities among Cubans — and among Airbnb hosts in particular about how more exposure will allow them to reinvest and make improvements both for their benefit and the benefit of their guests.”
Even though Airbnb only launched in Cuba on April 2, being part of the Airbnb community has already begun to pay dividends for some hosts.
Yosvany Coca, who runs the Casa Blanca guest house that is so-named because of its all-white theme — white walls, white bedding, white towels — on the seaside Malecon, said that so far he’s had 10 Airbnb guests and has another 30 forward bookings.
Before Airbnb, Dany Hernández said he and his sister-in-law advertised their two properties by word of mouth or by handing out business cards. “We’re really happy with the way things have gone” since signing up with Airbnb, he said. They’ve had four Airbnb reservations so far.
Beyond offering a one-bedroom apartment with an updated kitchen and bath, TV and stereo for around $50 a night, Hernández, a former baseball player and now a youth baseball coach, said he likes to offer his guests something “special” if they want. He shares his life with them, taking them to his home and explaining how Cubans really live, or he might take them fishing along the Malecon or to the ball park.
More and more Cubans are thinking about converting any extra space they have into a room for visitors. Some families even squeeze into a single room so they’ll have more rooms to rent to guests.
When a bartender at the Hotel Nacional struck up a conversation with Airbnb executives during Blecharczyk’s visit, within minutes he was on the phone to his sister-in-law in Miami asking her to sign up the family’s two Cuban properties with Airbnb.
Although some hosts have Internet at their homes, it is of the snail-like dial-up variety. Those who don’t have Internet service go to hotels or state-run cyber cafés or pay around $5 to “hosting partners” with Internet who can manage their inquiries and bookings.
There have been a few glitches as Cuban hosts and Airbnb adjust to each other.
Airbnb says it wants payment to reach hosts within 24 hours of a guest’s arrival, but some hosts complain it is taking longer. “We do try to pay them as soon as possible but our capacity does differ by country,” Blecharczyk said.
Airbnb has been using a Miami company, Va Cuba, to deliver the remittances, which can be sent directly to a host’s doorstep or deposited in a bank account.
One host also complained that the reservation of a guest who also booked for two of her friends was canceled because they didn’t have the correct paperwork. To travel to Cuba, each traveler must fill out paperwork certifying that they fall within one of the dozen authorized travel categories.
“In an abundance of caution, you need each traveler to certify that they’re an authorized traveler — not just the booker,” Maxwell said.
Airbnb said it’s working with its hosts to resolve such problems. “All of this is being worked out for the first time,” Blecharczyk said. “We’re working through all these issues. We’re trying to understand what isn’t working and smooth those parts out.”
Ezio Romolo said the first day that Airbnb launched he had 129 inquiries about accommodations at his stylish Casa Densil guest house, which has two rooftop terraces and an ebullient host who frequently entertains Cuban musicians. But then he did something that deactivated his listing. Airbnb helped him get back online but the upshot is that he still hasn’t booked an Airbnb traveler in any of his three bedrooms.
He has booked through mid-August anyway but after that he’s looking forward to welcoming Airbnb guests. “I make the best sangria,” he said. For a price, Romolo also offers guests everything from their choice of Cuban cigars to car service, laundry, salsa and folkloric dance classes, beer, mojitos, Cuba Libres and meals.
“What’s great to get first-hand is how the hosts have fixed their places up,” Blecharczyk. At Casa Densil, he climbed to the highest of Romolo’s roof-top terraces where guests can relax in a bed surrounded by flowing white curtains.
Around Havana, the mark of a casa particular is often a freshly painted facade in a row of crumbling dwellings. Running a guest house appears to be one of the healthiest of the self-employment segments.
Adamo Usain (left) , Nathan Blecharczyk on of the companys co-founder.
In some U.S. cities, there has been criticism of short-term rentals because they cut into the tax revenue hotels would pay and may exacerbate the housing crunch in cities where rentals are in short supply. But in Cuba, casa operators are required to pay taxes and so far they aren’t considered competition to state-owned hotels because there’s still a shortage of hotel rooms in Cuba.
How did Airbnb get its name?
In 2007, Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nate Blecharczyk were sharing a San Francisco apartment when the landlord raised the rent 25 percent. Blecharczyk moved out. The two remaining roommates, both designers, didn’t have the money to make the rent, but when they found out a big international design conference, IDSA, was coming to town and all the hotel rooms in the city were sold out, they had an idea.
They decided to rent out their extra room to designers who didn’t have a place to stay. “There was no furniture, no bed. But they opened up the closet, pulled out two air mattresses and set them up,” Blecharczyk said. They offered the space to conference delegates as the Air Bed & Breakfast. Surprise: They had takers at $80 a pop.
“They hosted three designers and made over $1,000,” Blecharczyk said. “Joe and Brian showed them around San Francisco and really gave them the local experience.”
Chesky, Gebbia and Blecharczyk had been thinking about starting a company together, and they did just that in 2008. “We thought why don’t we make it just as easy to book a person’s home as it is a hotel,” Blecharczyk said. Air Bed & Breakfast was born.
To raise money during the 2008 election year, they bought a load of cereal and designed candidate-themed boxes of Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s. Selling them for $40 each, they managed to raise around $30,000 for their new venture.
In the spring of 2009, the name was shortened to Airbnb, and since then, the company has been on a growth spurt. “I remember very early every week we would add another country to the site. We were growing very quickly but then it stopped — it stopped at 190 countries,” Blecharczyk said. That is until Cuba was added.
Airbnb now has more than 1.2 million listings, including more than 600 castles, in 191 countries around the world.
At one point, a few years ago before the U.S. travel regulations changed, some operators of Cuban guest houses were trying to sign up with the Airbnb network. “We had to put an end to that, make sure the proper restrictions were in effect,” Blecharczyk said. “We had to add code [to the website] to make sure that nobody could pay for something from Cuba.”
But since Dec. 17, it has been a whole new ballgame in Cuba.
HAVANA, July 5 (acn) Seven citizens, including an Argentinean, were given up to 13 years of prison in Cuba after being convicted with corruption in a Cuban oil company, which was inflicted huge financial loss and damage of 14 crude oil wells.
A Cuban televisión report said this week that Argentinean Emilio Enrique Cotter, representative of the Uruguayan DFS company was given 10 prison years, while the rest of those involved in the corruption case, all Cubans, were given from 2 to 13 years.
The event dates back to mid 2009 and the defendants were convicted for bribery, acts in the detriment of economic activity or contract processing, failure to meet their duties in economic entities, abuse of authority and falsification of private documents.
Cuban State Security official Eduardo Perez said that the corrupt mentality of the Argentinean Emilio Cotter led him to bribe some of the Cubans, but that there are clues that Cotter´s real aim could have been that of damaging Cuban economy, since he could not justify the source of the money he would give the Cubans or the legal domicile of the DFS company in Uruguay.
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HAVANA, July 5 The U.S. has formally announced its intentions to open an embassy in Havana, bringing the Marine Corps a significant step closer to deploying uniformed embassy security guards to the tropical Caribbean island.
The decision to open formal diplomatic facilities was announced by President Obama July 1. While U.S. officials said they have not finalized a specific date, Cuba’s Foreign Ministry said embassies in both countries will be up and running on July 20.
When that happens, Marines will guard a formal embassy in Havana for the first time since 1961 when diplomatic ties were severed with Cuba’s communist government just two years after Fidel Castro’s rise to power. It is likely to be a plum assignment, with the island known for its vibrant culture and beautiful vistas. But only a few Marines will go. The Havana detachment will likely be on the smaller side of a typical six- to 20-Marine team, a Marine official said in June. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak on the topic pending ongoing State Department negotiations.
More recently, a Marine officials said the call would be the State Department’s, but it is standard for all embassies to have a detachment. State Department officials did not answer specific questions regarding the imminent Marine presence in Havana.
The reason the detachment would be small, according to one Cuba expert, is because Havana will be a low-risk post.
A State Department official said on background following the announcement that they “are confident the embassy in Havana will be able to operate similar to other embassies operating in restrictive environments.”
“Every U.S. embassy faces a different set of constraints, but we believe we’ve made sufficient progress to begin embassy operations,” the official added.
While the U.S. and Cuban governments have had antagonistic relations for more than half a century, Cuban citizens generally like the U.S., said William LeoGrande a professor of government at American University’s School of Public Affairs and a repeat traveler to Cuba.
“We’ve always had a cultural affinity and many Cubans would still like to come to the U.S.,” he said, correctly predicting in early June that an announcement to open an embassy would be made within in a month.
Many, in fact, rely on remittances to augment their income, sent by family that has already made it to the U.S.
So while protesters in hostile nations commonly burn U.S. flags outside embassy compounds, recent Associated Press photos show Cubans celebrating the incremental normalization of relations by sporting American flag-themed apparel or by flying the nation’s flags alongside one another.
That means Marines who go should have a great time when not on duty, LeoGrande said. And the State Department official hinted at the level of free movement U.S. personnel might expect, even in their official capacities.
“On the issue of travel for our diplomats, what I can tell you is that the travel … will be much, much more free and flexible than it is now,” the officials said.
For now, however, U.S. personnel will continue to notify the Cuban government of their travel within the country, even if they are able to travel without approval.
LeoGrande cautioned that like any place, there are low-level risks that include mugging. But the Caribbean island is absent the sort of post-9/11 threats U.S. personnel face in other counties.
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HAVANA, July 4 Business Insider recently sent three reporters to Havana, Cuba to experience the city as tourists. One of the top priorities on our list was to buy some authentic Cuban cigars. We tried two different approaches. First, we bought a box at an authorized store inside the Hotel Habana Libre. Then we bought a box sold to us by someone we met on the street.
We brought both boxes back to New York and invited David Diamante, owner of Diamante’s Brooklyn Cigar Lounge, to come and examine the merchandise.
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HAVANA, July 3 When Cubans open the flood gates to American tourists, the modern, electric vehicle fleets they see on the roads alongside the tradition cars from the 1950s would have been built in China and not Japan, not the U.S.
On Friday, Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD (Build Your Dreams) said it will supply Cuba’s tourism industry with something like 719 EV sedans. The order was signed in Havana on July 3 between Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Wang Chuanfu, BYD CEO, and Xu Qin, Mayor of Shenzhen where BYD is located.
Cuba is buying a fleet of fuel efficient cars to support its growing tourist industry. The order for its first 719 vehicles will be Cuba’s first fleet of tourist rental vehicles and BYD’s largest vehicle order in the Cuban market. BYD said in a statement that all vehicles in the fleet will be BYD models, namely the sedans Suri, L3 and G6, the SUV S6, and the MPV M6.
BYD’s press office could not be reached for further comment.
BYD first appeared in the Cuban market last November with its F3 sedan and S6 SUV during the Havana International Expo. The S6 model won the Exhibition’s Design Award. The Cuban government purchased 40 BYD passenger cars last year for tourism, but the Diaz said Cuba might eventually expand its order for government official vehicles. The retail market has not been developed. BYD said it will build an after-sales service center in Cuba at some point in the near-future.
BYD’s claim to fame began when Warren Buffet announced he acquired a 10% stake in the company through his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway in September 2008. Since then, the stock listed on the Hong Kong exchange is up 355.05%. It’s up 33.3% year-to-date, beating Toyota and Tesla.
BYD got its start in the 1990s as a mobile phone battery maker. It has since evolved into producing hybrid and electric vehicles, with most of its bus line products being acquired by northern European governments.
The group plans to take on Tesla in the electronic car and EV battery market, backed by the smarts and the financial muscle of Buffet to make it happen.
Beyond Cuba, China’s recent green initiatives, including higher taxation on polluting industries, bodes especially well for BYDs future. Shanghai police recently placed orders for BYD sedans. At a simple stroke of the Chinese government’s pen, BYD could be firing on all four cylinders if state and municipal governments opted to replace taxis or diesel fuel burning busses with BYD vehicles.
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HAVANA, July 3 JetBlue officially began direct flights to Cuba out of New York’s Kennedy Airport Friday, becoming the first major carrier to make the trip after travel restrictions were eased by the White House earlier this year and making passengers who got to be on the virgin flight feel like part of history.
The Queens-based airline announced its plan to offer the weekly direct flights in May, but the first flight, on an Airbus 150-seat A320, was made Friday. It left JFK at noon en route to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport.
Carlos Infante, a Cuba native who lives in Brooklyn and was aboard that first flight to Havana, said before he boarded the plane that he felt like he was a part of history. “This is something we’re gonna talk about for years and years and years; this is an opportunity for American people to go to Cuba,” said a smiling Infante, holding his boarding pass in front of him.
Infante said he treasured the freedom to travel to his country of birth, direct from New York, for the first time in at least 50 years. “I can’t explain, it’s something that’s in your heart,” Infante said.
“I don’t have words to say how I feel — this is a beautiful day.” The weekly charter flights will leave JFK at noon each Friday, with a scheduled landing time in Havana at 3:30 p.m. Return flights leave Cuba at 4:30 p.m. and land in New York around 8 p.m.
While operated by JetBlue, the flight is being offered by Cuba Travel Services, and travelers should make arrangements directly with the carrier service provider at cubatravelservices.com.
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HAVANA, July 3 WPP, the world’s biggest advertising group, is to appoint an executive in Cuba, saying yesterday it would be the first major international communications services group to conduct business in Cuba.
The move comes a day after the US and Cuba formally agreed to restore diplomatic relations on July 20.
WPP, parent to the Ogilvy & Mather and J Walter Thomson advertising networks and which already generates group revenue of $1.6-billion in Latin America, signed a contract with state-owned advertising firm Palco Group under which it will base an executive in the Cuban capital, Havana.
The company said it had been in contact with Cuban agencies and enterprises since February and had maintained contacts with Cuban and internationalfirms to provide its services from a local base in the near future.
“WPP is working to provide its international clients with strategic counsel on the institutional and economic environment in Cuba, as well as advice and guidance in planning for eventual Cuba market entry and brand visibility on the island nation.”
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HAVANA, July 3 MSC Cruises has announced it will become the first mainstream cruise line to home-port in Cuba with MSC Opera calling Havana home for the winter 2015-16 season.
The new itinerary will give holidaymakers from around the world the opportunity to visit Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico along with two nights and two and a half days in the Cuban capital. A total of 16 Caribbean cruises will be on offer.
Gianni Onorato, Chief Executive Officer of MSC Cruises, said “We are particularly proud to make this exciting new destination available to our guests. For this, I wish to personally thank all those who worked with us over the past several months to make it possible for MSC Cruises to launch Cuba as a destination to its guests.
In particular, I wish to thank the Ministers of Transportation and Tourism of the Cuban Government and their representatives for their continued, highly professional contribution. The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests and holiday-makers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible – thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travellers best-in-class experiences and service.”
The sailings, which will be available to book from Thursday 9 July, will be available to UK passengers on a cruise-only basis.
The first cruise will depart from Havana on 22 December 2015, following MSC Opera’s Grand Voyage to Cuba from Genoa, departing on 2 December 2015. The Grand Voyage will include a call in Havana on 18 December, and resume its itinerary in the region before heading back to Cuba for its final call of the journey on 21 December. On 12 April 2016, the ship will leave Havana for a Grand Voyage back to Europe, with Warnemünde, Germany, as its final destination, arriving on 7 May 2016.
During the two-and-a-half-day stay in Havana, passengers on the 2,120-passenger MSC Opera will be able to explore the city’s stunning old centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and discover its history, culture and architecture.
As a result of this announcement, MSC Opera’s original winter 2015-16 schedule in the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco has been cancelled. UK guests who had already booked a Canaries sailing for winter 2015-16 will now have the opportunity to receive a full refund or transfer their holiday to alternative MSC Cruises Mediterranean itineraries, with the offer of upgrades or on-board credit as compensation.
Alternatively, guests can switch their booking to Cuba with a low rate fixed fee to account for the difference in flight costs.
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Flanked by her nephew Nelson Suarez, left, and friend Ana Maria Beltran, Laura Martinez communicates with her son in Canada using the first public Wi-Fi hotspot in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 2, 2015. Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along a main avenue that is the heart of the capital’s cultural and social life. Its the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the internet revolution has largely passed by.Photo: Desmond Boylan, AP
HAVANA, July 2 (AP) Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along an avenue that is the heart of the capital’s cultural and social life.
It’s the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the Internet revolution has largely passed by. Authorities have been installing the hotspots along 23rd Street in the Vedado neighborhood in recent weeks, and they apparently went live Wednesday night.
Dozens of people, many of them young, were checking out the service Thursday morning with smartphones, tablets and laptops.
Sixteen-year-old Angel Padron called the signal speed “acceptable,” robust enough to view videos on YouTube.
Users need to have an account registered with state telecom monopoly Etecsa. The service costs $2 an hour.
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HAVANA, July 2 (AP) From his office high above Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis has a sweeping view of the cerulean Florida Straits and the blood-red letters declaring Cuba’s defiance of the United States.
“Homeland or Death!” reads the sign erected in front of the U.S. Interests Section, a declaration installed 15 years ago when DeLaurentis was a more junior officer working to defuse a standoff over the fate of child rafter Elian Gonzalez.
Now, on this third assignment in communist Cuba, DeLaurentis is the top U.S. diplomat on the island, working to bring an end to more than a half-century of hostilities between the two countries. Known for his low-key style and public discretion, the 61-year-old diplomat also is on a short list for U.S. ambassador to Cuba, if there is to be one.
On Wednesday, DeLaurentis hand-delivered a letter from the White House to the Cuban Foreign Ministry about converting missions known as interest sections in the countries’ respective capitals into full embassies.
Cuba said ceremonies to do that will be held July 20, though the U.S State Department said it does not yet have a date.
Several Republicans in Congress have vowed to block the appointment of an ambassador to Havana and hold up funding for the embassy.
“There aren’t many diplomats who could represent the United States in Havana during this sensitive, but promising chapter,” former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray said. “Jeff is one of them.”
DeLaurentis was a consular officer in Cuba in 1991-93, when the island was plunged into economic crisis with the Soviet Union’s collapse. As head of the U.S. Interests Section’s economic and political section in 1999-2002, DeLaurentis was a key negotiator in the fight over Elian Gonzalez’s custody.
Vicki Huddleston, who headed the mission then, said DeLaurentis’ quiet diplomacy helped dial down tensions when Cuban officials threatened a mass migration of rafters if the young castaway wasn’t returned to his homeland. President Bill Clinton’s administration ultimately backed the parental rights of Elian’s father in Cuba and returned the boy.
DeLaurentis also was “instrumental” in discussions with Cuban officials over the decision by U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration to use the Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba to house prisoners held on terrorism charges following the Sept. 11 attacks.
“He always sort of quietly pushed the envelope with Cuban officials, but they always gave him a lot of credit,” Huddleston said. “He was always spot-on in interpreting Cuban motives and actions.”
Huddleston recalled that she and DeLaurentis attended Mass at a local Roman Catholic church and he worked to get computers to the parish at a time that such technology in the hands of a non-governmental entity was viewed suspiciously.
Huddleston was succeeded as head of mission by James Cason, who enraged Fidel Castro by meeting with government opponents at a dissident’s home in 2003. Seventy-five dissidents were arrested several weeks later.
Negotiations to free USAID contractor Alan Gross were under way for months before DeLaurentis returned to Havana as head of mission last August. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba announced a deal on Dec. 17 to free Gross and three Cuban prisoners in the United States and to work toward renewing diplomatic relations.
The tall, lanky DeLaurentis is a distinctive figure around Havana, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and tie for meetings with other foreign diplomats, business people and Cubans he has known for years.
As in his earlier stints, DeLaurentis “gets out of the building and talks with people,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst who travels to the island regularly. “He knows the country very, very well.”
True to form, DeLaurentis declined to speak on the record because of the U.S.-Cuba negotiations. He has spoken very little with major media since Dec. 17. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that a new U.S. exception to the trade embargo would allow exchange of Internet technology that could be a “game changer down the line” by connecting Cuba to the world and “lighting up the island.”
DeLaurentis is a graduate of the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. He was a senior official at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York before joining the U.S. State Department and has worked at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, and in Washington, including as deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.
Most recently, DeLaurentis was a deputy to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations, where a former colleague said he was known as “the person who turned on the lights in the morning and was the last to leave at night.”
DeLaurentis’ online presence is minimal, mostly written texts of addresses to the U.N. Security Council. In one rare speech carried by YouTube, the graying diplomat with dark-rimmed glasses told students at a 2013 International Model U.N. Conference that international diplomacy “can be frustrating, even maddening.”
He didn’t elaborate on the challenges of being a diplomat in Cuba, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. since 1961.
“He’s trying to rebuild a relationship that has been in shambles for 55 years,” Dutch Ambassador Norbert Braakhuis said.
The United States needs “someone who is very cautious – but also very knowledgeable and with sharp insights,” Braakhuis said. DeLaurentis, he added, is “clearly the right person at the right time and place.”
https://havana-live.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/logo_havana.png00Havana Livehttps://havana-live.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/logo_havana.pngHavana Live2015-07-02 12:49:162021-10-04 19:29:59DeLaurentis, now head of US mission in Havana, in line to head future embassy
HAVANA, July 1 (Miami Herold) Air service between the Southernmost City and Cuba is off to a strong start after restarting in March and more flights might be added.
Havana Air Chief Executive Officer David Nesslein said this week that the eventual goal is to provide daily service between Key West International Airport and Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. The Miami-based company is a government-licensed charter operator behind the flights.
“In most cases, we’ve been full,” Nesslein said.
After adding a Monday morning flight to Havana about three weeks ago, Havana Air now leaves Mondays and Fridays at 10 a.m. from Key West to Havana. The 90-mile flight, which lasts about 45 minutes, costs $525 roundtrip. Return flights are Mondays and Fridays.
Havana Air uses commercial carrier Air Key West and its nine-passenger BN-2T Turbine Islander. Miami travel company Mambi International Group sells tickets out of its North Roosevelt Boulevard office, which opened in December
Air Key West President Robert Valle said the addition of the Monday flight was partially due to customers not wanting to stay a whole week in Cuba. Havana Air may add a Wednesday flight if demand continues.
“It just kind of depends on the [passenger] loads,” Nesslein said. “We like Key West; I think it’s a great market for us.”
Havana Air is also working on letting customers buy tickets online, like they would for any other commercial flight. Nesslein said that may happen later this year.
The steady influx of planes to the communist country from Key West comes after last December’s announcement by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro of eased travel restrictions on U.S. residents going to Cuba following half a century of not allowing Americans to travel there.
Those who want to travel to Cuba no longer need a specific license as long as they meet criteria under one of 12 federal categories, including family visits, humanitarian projects and religious activities.
Traveling there for tourism remains banned but the government really has to way to enforce that since travelers could maintain they went to Cuba under one of the 12 reasons allowed.
Designating Key West International Airport as an international point of entry from the U.S. began in 2009 with a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
A three-phase, $2.25 million project reclassification process ensued, with federal officials signing off on the upgrades in October 2011.
Last year, another operator tried Key West to Cuba flights but the venture last only about six weeks.
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HAVANA, July 1 President Obama on Wednesday announced his plans to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, declaring that the two nations were ready to reopen embassies in each other’s capitals and to start a “new chapter” of engagement after more than a half-century of estrangement.“Our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people, but there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things,” Mr. Obama said in the Rose Garden at the White House, taking note of the decades of hostility born of the Cold War that prompted the United States to isolate its neighbor to the south, a strategy he said had failed.
He also renewed calls on Wednesday for the lifting of a trade embargo with Cuba that has grown stricter over the years as Republicans in Congress, some of them Cuban-Americans, have pressed for a hard line against Havana.
“We don’t have to be imprisoned by the past,” the president said. “When something isn’t working, we can and should change.”
Mr. Obama said that Secretary of State John Kerry would travel to Havana this summer “to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.”
Mr. Kerry, who is in Vienna for talks with Iranian officials on a potential nuclear accord, said that he would travel to Havana for the reopening of the United States Embassy. It would be the first visit to Cuba by a secretary of state since 1945, he said.
Acknowledging that the United States and Cuba continued to have “sharp differences” over human rights, Mr. Kerry said reopening the embassy would enable American officials to “engage the Cuban government more often and at a higher level.”
“This step has been long overdue,” Mr. Kerry added, declining to take questions.
Asked if the American diplomats in Cuba would have free access to talk to Cuban citizens, he said: “We’ll talk about all those details later.”
The United States already has a limited diplomatic outpost in Havana, called an interests section, in the same seven-story building on the Malecón waterfront that served as the embassy until 1961, the year President Dwight D. Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to tensions with the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro.
Republicans who oppose the thaw with Cuba have vowed to block funding for an embassy and the confirmation of a new ambassador. But senior administration officials said on Wednesday that they did not believe they needed Congress to approve new money for the building and that they were in no rush to install a new ambassador to replace the career diplomat currently running the interests section.
The diplomat, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, was selected expressly because he is seen as someone who could serve as the acting ambassador pending a permanent appointment, one of the officials said on Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the release of details by the State Department.
Mr. DeLaurentis, who holds the rank of ambassador, has served at the United Nations, as a deputy assistant secretary of state and in Havana as the political-economic section chief.
Cuba has an interests section in a stately manor in the Adams Morgan section of Washington that could be upgraded. In May, Cuba announced that its banking services for that office had been restored, a precondition to reopening a full embassy. In recent weeks, Cuba also repaved the driveway, repainted the fence and erected a large flagpole on the front lawn to await the formal raising of its flag.
The official said that would happen on July 20, but it was not yet clear when Mr. Kerry would make the trip to Havana to cut the ribbon on the American Embassy there.
HAVANA, June 30 (AP) President Barack Obama will announce Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba have reached an agreement to open embassies in Havana and Washington, a senior administration official said.
The announcement marks a major step in ending hostilities between the longtime foes.
The U.S. and Cuba have been negotiating the reestablishment of embassies following the Dec. 17 announcement that they would move to restore ties.
For Obama, ending Washington’s half-century freeze with Cuba is seen as a major element of his foreign policy legacy. He has long touted the value of engagement and argued that the U.S. embargo on the communist island just 90 miles south of Florida was ineffective.
Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are expected to speak Wednesday morning about the embassy openings. The official insisted on anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter ahead of the president.
Since the late 1970s, the United States and Cuba have operated diplomatic missions called interests sections in each other’s capitals. The missions are technically under the protection of Switzerland, and do not enjoy the same status as full embassies.
While the opening of embassies marks a major milestone in the thaw between the U.S. and Cuba, significant issues remain as the countries look to normalize relations. Among them: talks on human rights; demands for compensation for confiscated American properties in Havana and damages to Cuba from the embargo; and possible cooperation on law enforcement, including the touchy topic of U.S. fugitives sheltering in Havana.
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