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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

havana-live-MuseoDelCacaoHavana, Aug 27  (Prensa Latina)  The Chocolate Museum, one of the main attractions of the historic center of Havana, received the Certificate of Excellence 2014, awarded by the world largest travel website TripAdvisor.
Each year,the site recognized with the prestigious award accommodations, vacation rentals, attractions and restaurants around the world from the travelers reviews.
Inspired by the Museum of the Royal Plaza in Brussels,Cuba has so far registered 112 reviews on TripAdvisor, including 82 sites of excellent and very good, and only 12 are negative. According to the site the Chocolate Museum ranked 43 among 115 attractions in Havana.key2 Since November 2013 this cozy place is located in the famous House of the Green Cross, former residence of the Counts of Lagunilla, and starting point of the procession of the Holy Cross in Havana vieja.
The permanent exhibition displays a collection of china cups chocolateras, coming from Britain, Germany, France and Italy, a show case of the variety of designs of these table ware between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Several Cuban facilities also received this year’s Certificate of Excellence, among these, the Iberostar Ensenachos, Playa Pesquero, Meliá Varadero and Paradisus Varadero hotels.

A Bank of Ireland Branch, Castlerea, West IrelandHAVANA, 27 August  The Bank of Ireland began to prevent all financial transfers to Cuba in recent weeks because of a business relationship with a US bank, reported the Irish Times newspaper. In a statement, the bank confirmed that it would no longer facilitate transfers to Cuba, in one more case of how third parties are affected by the US embargo on the island. A leading bank in the USA is the one who handles all the movements in the Single European Payments Area, and “it has to meet its own needs and regulatory obligations and avoid possible exposure to penalties and sanctions,” said a Bank of Ireland spokeswoman. Neither Ireland nor the European Union have imposed restrictions on trade with Cuba, but banking institutions are victims of the extraterritorial character of the US sanctions against the island.http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=105748

 havana-live-havana-beachHAVANA, 26 August (Photo Ramon Espinosa/AP) In the long, sticky Cuban summer, keeping cool is serious business. Each day, and especially on weekends, thousands of Havana residents rise early to make the trek from rural hamlets and stuffy urban neighborhoods for the more forgiving temperatures at the island’s powdery beaches.

Temperatures in the capital can reach as high as 31 degrees Celsius (87 degrees Fahrenheit) in July, August and even September. When it’s running, many people take a special summer train from Havana to Guanabo, east of the capital.
Some families squeeze into 1950s classic American sedans. Neighbors pool their money and hire a bus to travel en masse. Others clamber onto covered horse-drawn carriages that take them a few kilometers (miles) down a dirt track to the coast for just 2 pesos a head, or about $0.08. Once there, some recreate their dining rooms in the sand underneath makeshift tarpaulin shelters, with wooden chairs and tables topped by pots of rice and beans. havana-live-havana-beach1There are cakes to celebrate birthdays, and barrels of ice to keep drinks cold. A shirtless man with an arm tattoo of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara holds a young girl’s hand as they wade into the gentle waves. Kids splash around on an inner tube. At a nearby river mouth, daredevil teenage boys try to impress girls by leaping from a rusty, 30-foot-tall (10-meter) train bridge.
Musicians in mariachi costumes roam the white sands serenading young lovers and sweet-15 “quinceaneras.” As dusk nears, couples sit in the shallows sipping rum and enjoying a romantic sunset snog. Soon enough it’s time to go home. One man carries his daughter on his shoulders. It’s a long way back, and she’s tuckered out after a long day in the sun. havana-live-havana-beachCuba’s Meteorological Institute said recently the island had recorded its third-hottest July since 1951, with an average of 28 degrees Celsius (about 82 degrees Fahrenheit) for the whole month amid unusually warm mornings, weak sea breezes and relatively scarce rains that provide at least temporary relief from the suffocating weather.
http://www.chron.com/news/world/article/AP-PHOTOS-Cubans-trek-to-beach-to-cool-off-5712141.php#photo-6773606  havana-live-havana-beach6 havana-live-havana-beach7622x350 (4) havana-live-havana-beach5 havana-live-havana-beach4622x350 (1)622x350 (3)

Mendez holds a picture of him and Castro, in San Antonio de los Banos, outside Havana CityHAVANA, 25 August ( CREDIT:REUTERS/ENRIQUE DE LA OSA)  An 8-year-old Cuban boy who likes to dress up as Fidel Castro got to meet his idol after Cuba’s 88-year-old retired leader invited him and his family to his Havana home for a chat.

“I felt a lot of emotion upon seeing Fidel,” Marlon Mendez told Reuters on Monday from his home near Havana. “The whole family hugged him. It was my dream to meet Fidel, and I did it. … My mother was shaking.” Marlon and his family went to visit Castro on Aug. 16, upon the invitation of the retired leader who is revered by some and detested by others for leading the Cuban revolution of 1959 and remaining in power for 49 years.
The boy likes to dress in green fatigues, army boots and cap as Castro once did. Marlon wore the costume to his meeting with Castro, but without Castro’s trademark beard and cigar. Castro was frequently seen puffing on a Havana until he quit smoking in 1985. Marlon was first featured on Cuban television on Aug. 12, a day before Castro turned 88.
His bedroom wall is decorated with dozens of pictures of Fidel, in contrast to the bed made with Snoopy sheets. After Marlon appeared in the media in his Fidel costume, first on Cuban television and later in Reuters photographs, his family received the invitation. Marlon showed off pictures of his meeting with Castro and a hand-written note in which the aging revolutionary referred to “my great friend Marlon Mendez.”
The boy’s grandmother, Maria Elvira Hernandez, said they talked about agriculture and Venezuela, Cuba’s close socialist ally. “Eight-eight years are 88 years. But a lot of 88-year-olds would like to be like him,” Hernandez said. “We want Fidel around for a lot longer.” While many Cubans love or respect Castro for standing up to the United States and leading the one-party state for so long, others dismiss him as a dictator.
Due to failing health, Castro handed power to his younger brother Raul Castro, at first provisionally in 2006 and then permanently in 2008. In retirement, Fidel Castro has traded his habitual military uniform for a track suit. He has mostly withdrawn from public view, occasionally writing columns or receiving foreign leaders.

  X Castrol cup HAVANA, 25 August  (Autor: Raúl Pupo)  What was I missing for the last nine years ! Actually, I was able to see it this Sunday, when i was eyewitness of the X Rally Castrol Cup 2014, in which drivers competed in 75 classic cars and 15 motorcycles, represented in six Cuban teams.

These “rolling jewelery ‘stunned me, and with me, much of the Havana’s population, in company of family and friends. The beautiful multicolored caravan past the five municipalities of Havana : Playa, Plaza, Centro Habana, Marianao and La Lisa.   X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup
Famous brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge, and Ford,satisfyed the expectations of both the Havana and foreigners visitores Havana this summer.
The road book,a rough layout of 61 kilometers, was given to the teams only five minutes before the start. In fact these classic cars showed their beauty and excellent technical condition, thanks to the constant care of their owners.
In the end, the winner was the duo composed of pilot and copilot Gelasius Ramos and Erick Estrada, who participate in a FIAT 600, 1958 and took over the Castrol Cup.  X Castrol cup  X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup   X Castrol cup  X Castrol cup

 havana-live-old-car-rallyHavana, August 23. (RHC) The Antique Car Club “A lo Cubano” will have this Sunday 24, the tenth edition of the regularity Rally “Castrol Cup 2014” in Havana.

In the event will participate 75 vintage cars and 15 motorcycles, which circulate in the regular traffic and tour various Havana neighborhoods with a total of 61 Km.
The road map is secret and will be given to competitors minutes before departure. The starting and finish will be located at 3rd Street A, between 0 and 2, Miramar, in the Havana municipality of Playa.
On that site, distractions for children and adults will be offered, as the contestants perform their maneuvers. The event is part of the end of the summer and is supported by the Department of Provincial Sports. The sponsoring companies like Castrol, Miracuba, Ciego Montero “Los Portales, among others.

havana-live-Silvio-RodriguezHavana, August 23   (EFE)  Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez complained that his Abdala recording studio, which he founded in Havana in 1998, is “dying” as a result of all the bureaucratic red tape and useless government officials, while directly blaming the island’s Culture Ministry.

“Abdala, which was a project approved and supervised by Commander-in-Chief Fidel Castro, is being destroyed by the complacency of the many government officials aware of the situation but who do nothing,” Rodriguez wrote in the latest entry on his personal blog, Segunda Cita.
The founder of Cuba’s “Nueva Trova” musical movement said that some of those culture officials “never forgave the existence of Abdala,” a project carried out with financing by the Cuban government and by Rodriguez himself, and which became the leading studio on the island from the time it was inaugurated 16 years ago.
“Instead of seeing the studio as a cultural gem, they felt it was showing up their incompetence. People who think like that aren’t musicians, and if someone was a musician, he would quit thinking like that,” he said.
The studio – managed in recent years by the state-run Cimex corporation – is currently without electricity for not paying the bill, but it can’t pay its bills “because for the past eight months it’s been in the process of being transferred to the Culture Ministry, a process that never gets done for some unknown reason,” Rodriguez said.
“Several days ago a deputy culture minister said that he can’t pay Abdala’s electricity debt because companies must pay off their own debts,” he said. The musician said the studio had to suspend its work despite having signed contracts “that could bring our country quite a few thousands.” “Abdala won’t be able to start that work because of this situation.
Nor can it pay its debts and, naturally, it will continue deteriorating as a company,” he said. “It looks like ‘a plan of the enemy’ but it’s not the CIA,” he said. Rodriguez noted that the Abdala matter “has gone through the hands of three Culture Ministries” and believes “there’s no willingness to do anything.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time knocking on doors that don’t open and talking to ears that don’t listen. Don’t think I don’t feel ashamed to confess this in public. But it will make me even more ashamed when I see the studio in ruins,” he said. EFE

 havana-live-russian-restaurant HAVANA, 23 August  (By PETER ORSI Associated Press) There’s no rice, beans or fried plantains at Havana’s newest private restaurant. You can order a minty mojito, but it’ll come mixed with vodka instead of the traditional white rum.

The waiters speak Russian, and patrons are expected to order in that language if they want to get served. But don’t worry, the menus at this retro-Soviet restaurant come with translations and pronunciation guides for the non-initiated.
Nazdarovie, which is named for the popular Russian toast and opened Friday, is all about Slavic fare like bowls of blood-red borscht and stuffed Ukrainian varenyky dumplings, hand-rolled in the back by “babushkas” who were born in the former Soviet Union but have long called Cuba home.
It’s a nod to nostalgia for the island’s Soviet ties during the Cold War, a time when Moscow was Havana’s main source of trade and aid and hundreds of thousands of Cubans traveled to the Soviet bloc as diplomats, artists and students. “For most of them it was the first time they ever left this island.
They have nostalgia about their time there, about the flavors they experienced for the first time,” said Gregory Biniowsky, a 45-year-old Canadian of Ukrainian descent who dreamed up Nazdarovie and launched it with three Cuban partners.
“The idea with Nazdarovie is really to celebrate a unique social and cultural link that existed and to a certain degree still exists today between Cuba of 2014 and what was once the Soviet Union,” said Biniowsky, a lawyer and consultant who has lived in Havana for two decades. The collapse of the Soviet bloc largely ended the Havana-Moscow connection and sent Cuba into an economic tailspin.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin has talked recently of renewing the relationship. He made a state visit last month, Russian navy ships periodically dock in Havana’s harbor and Cuba has backed Russia in its dispute over Ukraine. Occupying the third story of a historic building on the seafront Malecon boulevard, Nazdarovie is an homage to the old country.     havana-live-russian-restaurant3
Behind the bar, Russian nesting dolls and a bust of Lenin perch next to bottles of high-end vodka. Reproductions of Soviet propaganda posters line one wall in an attempt to spark conversation among customers sitting at a long communal table. About the only sign of the tropics is the million-dollar terrace view of Havana’s skyline and the Straits of Florida.
At a pre-launch dress rehearsal this week, smartly dressed young waiters set steaming bowls of solyanka, a meaty Russian soup, before about 20 invited guests. The evening’s menu also included pelmeni, dumplings filled with meat, sour cream and dill; golubtsy, stuffed cabbage rolls slow-cooked in a tomato sauce; pork Stroganoff (beef is often scarce in Cuba); and for dessert, savory-sweet blintzes, called “blinchiki” in Russian.
Biniowsky said most of the ingredients can be found on the island, with some exceptions such as flour for black bread, and caviar, for which they’ll rely on tins imported in the personal luggage of friends and family. It will go for about $15 an ounce, with fancier and pricier varieties available for special occasions. In the air-conditioned kitchen, Irina Butorina stirred gobs of mayonnaise with potatoes, eggs, ham and peas to create an olivier salad, a popular dish in former Soviet states that, according to legend, was invented by a Belgian- or French-Russian chef named Lucien Olivier.
Butorina, 56, fell in love with a Cuban student she met at university in her native Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic, now Kyrgyzstan, and moved here in 1984. She said the taste of her mother’s recipes faded as she adapted to Cuba. “At first I used to cook a lot of Russian food here, but then a lot of things disappeared from the market — cabbage, for example. … so then I make Cuban food,” she said. “But these people here have started this restaurant. It was their dream … and our dream as well.”   havana-live-russian-restaurant1
Experts say Butorina’s story is typical of the Soviet diaspora here: Of the estimated 3,000-4,000 islanders who were born in the Soviet Union or descended from them, most are cases of Soviet women who married Cuban university students and moved to the Caribbean nation. Some were divorced or widowed but remain in Cuba decades later with little or no tie to their homelands.
“I think for many it was a truly traumatic experience because there are many of our women who have not traveled, who have not returned to visit their countries after the Soviet Union disintegrated,” said Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov, an anthropologist who studies the Soviet diaspora in Cuba. At Nazdarovie, one poster in particular stands out amid the current crisis between Moscow and Kiev.
Created under Nikita Khrushchev to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the reunification of Russia and Ukraine, it shows two runners representing the Soviet republics simultaneously breaking the tape at a finish line. “To the indestructible friendship and to new successes in sports,” the slogan reads.
“That poster could seem like a joke, almost black humor,” said Prieto-Samsonov, who was born to a Russian mother and a Cuban father and spent his first 13 years in Russia. “I wish (the conflict) weren’t happening between our countries,” he added. “We have great desires for peace.” Biniowsky said Nazdarovie seeks to transcend politics and build community:    havana-live-russian-restaurant2People of Russian and Ukrainian descent and others working, cooking and eating side by side, united by the shared memory of a vanished nation-state rather than divided by current animosities. “Not in the kind of naive utopian sense, but sometimes breaking bread and getting drunk on vodka is key to peace.” (Ramon Espinosa – AP Photo)

 havana-live-panoramaHAVANA, 21 August  It wasn’t too long ago that travel to Cuba was near impossible but, slowly, opportunities are opening up for Americans.

Group IST has been granted a license by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets allowing the travel agency to offer an exclusive eight day People to People exchange program of Cuba throughout 2015.
The Havana to Cienfuegos tour will be based on the mega-yacht S/C Panorama from which travelers will explore the western part of the country. Cuban experts and interpreters will help Americans explore the country and meet the locals.
The program includes excursions to the UNESCO–designated Biosphere Reserve region and the eco-community of Las Terrazas, walking tours of Old Havana, a visit to the Sea Turtle Breeding Center and Endangered Species Protection program on Cayo Largo with coral reef and conservation experts, a tour of Cienfuegos, and more.
Havana to Cienfuegos starts at $4490, including seven nights on the S/C Panorama, all meals, a Cuban visa, mandatory Cuban medical insurance, and transportation. To learn more, visit groupist.com.

 havana-live-beyonceHAVANA, 21 August Good news for Beyoncé and Jay Z, in the midst of fending off toxic rumors: Their fifth wedding anniversary visit to Cuba last year was legal, despite questions raised by some Republicans in Congress.

According to widespread but unconfirmed reports, America’s most powerful entertainment couple might not make it to their next wedding anniversary. But at least they’re not in trouble with the feds.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General issued a report today saying Bey and Jay did not violate longtime U.S. sanctions against Cuba, which forbid U.S. citizens from visiting the island and spending any money there as tourists except under special license.
The couple did have such a license to visit under the “people-to-people” educational exchange program, and they did not abuse it, the report concluded. When Shawn Carter and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (their real names) were mobbed by fans during their four-day visit to Cuba in April 2013, two Miami-area Cuban-American lawmakers demanded an investigation.
Most Americans aren’t allowed to visit Cuba, not even superstars.

havana-live-20convertiblesbHAVANA, 20 August  (BY JUAN O. TAMAYO)   The Central Bank of Cuba will add new anti-counterfeiting measures to the 20, 50 and 100-peso bills in apparent preparation to upgrade the value of the Cuban peso, now worth about four U.S. cents.

Cuba’s government announced in October that it would unify its two official currencies: the peso, or CUP, and the convertible peso, known as a CUC and equal to 25 CUPs. It has given no date or further details for the change.
Counterfeit CUCs have been turning up in Cuba regularly almost since their introduction in 1994. Havana residents say that fake CUPs are less common, apparently because of their lower value. A 100 CUP-bill, now worth $4, would be worth $10 if the currency is revalued to 10 to the CUC, as predicted by an island economist in a recent report. Cuba is also expected to introduce higher denomination bills after the currency unification.
The bank’s announcement Tuesday made no mention of the unification plans, but the introduction of new anti-fraud measures in the higher denomination CUP bills will make them more difficult to counterfeit. “The Central Bank of Cuba informs the population about the coming emission of bills in the national currency (CUP) with new security measures,” said the bank statement, which went on to detail the changes.
A new watermark with each bill’s denomination will be added to the 20, 50 and100 CUP bills, the announcement said, and the current watermark will incorporate an image of the historical figure on the face of the bill. All bills in circulation will remain valid, the bank added. Cuba’s largest denomination bills are the 100 CUP and CUC bills.
The country also has had CUP bills in denominations of one, three, five and 10. The dual currency system in place since 1994 created distortions in the economy that ruler Raúl Castro now wants to eliminate. Most salaries are paid in CUPs, but imported goods and many locally made items in short supply are usually priced in CUCs.
The currency unification, which analysts expect to be completed in 2015 or 2016 with the elimination of the CUC, would affect consumers as well as state enterprises that use imported supplies and export goods at widely varying currency exchange rates. Economist Pavel Vidal has predicted the government will unify the currencies at a rate of 10 CUPs per CUC — the same rate set by law for employees of the foreign firms that will operate out of a special economic development zone in the port of Mariel.
Some Cubans already have been trading their CUCs for CUPs or U.S. dollars in hopes of avoiding any losses when the currencies are unified. Authorities have vowed that no individuals will suffer as a result of the change. Former ruler Fidel Castro started printing CUCs to soak up foreign currencies after he opened the doors to mass foreign tourism in the early 1990’s.
He also legalized holding U.S. dollars, previously punishable with several years in prison. The black market exchange rate spiked to more than 140 CUPs to the CUC as Cuba tried to recover from the loss of the Soviet Union’s massive subsidies in the mid-1990s. But the government-set rate of 25-to-1 held relatively steady in recent years.
Foreign visitors who want to exchange $100 U.S. — now again not accepted in legal trade — receive 87 CUCs at the state-run CADECA currency exchange shops because the government imposes a 13 percent fee on transactions on dollars and no other foreign currency. But they can easily get 100 CUCs on the black market.

havana-live-Lissachatina-fulicaHAVANA, August 19 (acn) A Cuban scientist said that Cuba must take fast actions to prevent the spread of the Giant African Snail, a species introduced on the island about two years ago, which is considered to be dangerous for humans.

We have the chance to control it if we take fast action, since the snail has a high reproduction rate, said scientist Antonio Alejandro Vazquez, who heads a lab in the sector at the Havana-based Pedro Kouri Tropical Medicine Institute.
The African snail, known as Lisachatina fulica bowdich, was introduced in Cuba two years ago, according to studies at the Institute, and it has been located at the Havana southern municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, however the expert said that he has no doubts that it may spread to other areas because of the favorable Cuban climate for it reproduction.
The snail can act as intermediary to transmit diseases considered as dangerous to humans, including meningo-encefallitis.

havana-live-tabacHavana, August 19 (acn) Workers from the Internacional Cubana de Tabacos SA  maintained a high productive efficiency in the first seven months of the year, which allowed them to break the historical rolled and packaged figures.

The special high-tech machines used to elaborate the famous Cuban “cigarillos”, made with high-quality raw materials from Pinar del Rio province, and produced 105.7 million units, 17 of which corresponded to the months of June and July, also record for a month.
From May to July, they averaged 16.3 million packaged units monthly, for a 34 percent growth over last year, Vladimir Rodríguez González, ICT president, told ACN.
Rodríguez González said that each activity is under a rigorous check of quality standards established by the entity, belonging to Tabacuba Business Group of the Agriculture Ministry. He added that the sales, exports, profits and contributions to the country maintain a favorable performance for the stage.
The cigarillos elaborated on that company are marketed in Spain, France, Germany, England , Switzerland, Greece, Canada, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Chile and some regions of Africa and the Middle East.