Tag Archive for: Cuba

gallery_8_gross_1253877126_Kuba_Röhrenwürmer1Jardines de la Reina, a vibrant marine preserve, is thriving even as other ocean habitats decline.

 The six-foot Caribbean reef shark came out of the water thrashing, and Fabián Pina Amargós and his crew quickly pulled it into the research boat.

A team set to work, immobilizing the shark’s mouth and tail, pouring water over it to keep it breathing and inserting a yellow plastic tag into a small hole punched in its dorsal fin.

“What is its condition?” Dr. Pina’s wife, Tamara Figueredo Martín, asked.

“Excellent, the condition is excellent,” Dr. Pina said, before the team pulled out the hook, carefully lifted the shark up and tossed it back into the ocean.

A marine biologist and director of Cuba’s Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, Dr. Pina has spent much of his career studying the abundance of fish and other wildlife in this archipelago 50 miles off the country’s south coast, a region so fecund it has been called the Galápagos of the Caribbean.

He has a deep love for its biological riches: the lush mangrove forests, the sharks and grouper, the schools of brightly colored snapper, grunts and angelfish and the vibrant coral reef, largely untouched by bleaching or other assaults, a bright spot in an often depressing litany of worldwide oceanic decline.

As a student at Havana University, Dr. Pina took part in the first oceans survey in Jardines de la Reina (Gardens of the Queen) after the Cuban government established a 367-square-mile marine preserve here in 1996, tightly restricting tourism in the preserve and banning all fishing except for lobster, an important part of Cuba’s economy.

He has completed many other studies since, demonstrating, for example, the beneficial effects of the preserve on fish populations inside and outside the marine sanctuary. And research by Dr. Pina’s center played a role in the government’s decision to designate a marine protected area of about 830 square miles in 2010.

But Dr. Pina still has a long list of questions he would like to pursue. For example, he is eager to learn more about the biology, travel patterns and habits of sharks and Atlantic goliath grouper here, large, highly mobile predators that are important to coral reefs and a major tourist draw. And he hopes someday to understand why the reef in Jardines de la Reina is so resilient, when other reefs around the world are dying, succumbing to overfishing, pollution, coastal development and the effects of climate change.

Scientists like Dr. Pina have only just begun to explore and document the wealth of aquatic life in the waters of the archipelago and the Gulf of Ana Maria to its north: how many species there are, the size of their populations, how they move from one area to another and where their spawning and nursery grounds are.

But such knowledge is essential, scientists say, not only to manage the marine preserve effectively but also to develop conservation strategies for fisheries in a country where overfishing has taken a significant toll. What scientists learn from studying Jardines de la Reina may also help rescue and protect reefs in other regions where they are faring far less well.

An otter trawl pulled up an assortment of sea creatures, including a West Indian sea egg, a blue-striped grunt, a cushion sea star and a spotted trunkfish. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

An otter trawl pulled up an assortment of sea creatures, including a West Indian sea egg, a blue-striped grunt, a cushion sea star and a spotted trunkfish. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Dr. Pina has been fortunate, receiving some financing and equipment from American foundations, like the Pew Charitable Trust, which gave him a marine fellowship in 2012, and environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund, which organized a recent expedition here for a group of scientists from the United States. Three New York Times journalists accompanied the group.

But conducting marine research in Cuba is not easy. The country has only two principal research vessels: the 30-foot Itajara, the boat used by the recent expedition, and another, larger boat belonging to Havana University.

Travel and communication barriers often make collaborating with American scientists complicated. Microscopes, fishing gear like nets and hooks, refrigerators for storage, cameras and GPS are in short supply. And even mundane necessities like rope must be carefully rationed and frequently repaired.

“The blockade, what you call the embargo, has had a huge impact, especially in environmental science,” Dr. Pina said.

Like other researchers, he hopes that the recent warming of relationsbetween Cuba and the United States will spur more scientific collaboration and exchange, a critical step for two countries whose ecosystems are closely interconnected, the environmental successes or missteps of one affecting the health and productivity of the other.

“Our two countries are connected by the water, and fish and other organisms move freely there,” said Jorge Angulo-Valdés, a senior scientist at Havana University’s Center for Marine Research who is also doing work in Jardines de la Reina and has collaborated with Dr. Pina. “They don’t need a visa to come down or go up.”

Warblers migrating south from New York take a needed break in Cuba’s Zapata Swamp. Sharks and manatees travel back and forth. Grouper eggs spawned here are eaten weeks or months later as adult fish in Miami Beach.

“When you have two areas that are 90 miles away, it’s not only possible but it’s probable that a considerable number of eggs and larvae are moving between Cuban and American reefs,” said Jake Kritzer, an ocean and fisheries expert at the Environmental Defense Fund who participated in the expedition. “Not just groupers, not just snapper, but parrot fish, damsel fish, corals, shrimps, all the little invertebrates and all the fishes that live on a reef.”

“What it means is that what we do in terms of fisheries management of Cuban reefs can have effects on the abundance of different populations on U.S. reefs, and vice versa,” he said.


With its abundance of fish and lush seagrass beds, Jardines de la Reina has been called the Galapagos of the Caribbean. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

On a recent morning in late May, the crew loaded up the Itajara with supplies for the day’s work: heavy fishing lines, hooks and bait, diving gear, coffee, water and beer.

The boat was docked at the research station in the mangroves off Anclitas cay, a no-frills wooden structure built atop a platform anchored by pilings. With its narrow walkways, the station seemed as much in the water as over it. Tarpon darted under the back deck. A school of sergeant major fish cruised by. A female crocodile, a longtime resident, rested motionless under a mangrove tree.

The previous day’s task had been to survey fish in the Caballones Channel, west of the archipelago, using an otter trawl, a large net with two wooden “doors” to keep it open.

It was only the second time that Dr. Pina had tried the trawl here — the research tool was acquired only recently — and he hoped it would be useful in evaluating the channel’s role as a nursery for fish, comparing the catch with samples taken in other locations. Knowing which areas are important as spawning and nursery grounds, marine scientists say, can help in developing more effective ways to protect them.

As he called out instructions to the crew, they dropped the trawl from the stern, left it in the water for two minutes as the Itajara slowly pulled it along, then drew it back in.


Hutias, nutria-like rodents, are hunted and eaten in some parts of Cuba. But in the safety of the marine preserve, they are happy to share a bottle of water. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

After seven trials, the catch was interesting but modest. It included two slender filefish (Monacanthus tuckeri), a bulging-eyed Webb Burr puffer (Chilomycterus antillarum), a sea star and a 5.6-ounce spotted trunkfish (Lactophrys bicaudalis).

“If you did this enough, you’d see some really big trawls and some with nothing,” Dr. Kritzer said, “which means you have to do a fairly big number of samples to get a pattern out of that noise.”

Yet the yield was small enough that Dr. Pina wrote in a later report that other areas seemed to provide better nurseries for juvenile fish.

Today, the targets were bigger fish, like the goliath grouper, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds — “like a small car,” Dr. Pina said — and of course, the sharks: Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, lemon sharks and other species that frequent the waters surrounding the coral reef here.

Visitors to Jardines de la Reina are impressed by the sharks, how many there are and how close they come to divers, circling them, coasting by them, gliding up for a look-see.

Already, during a snorkeling session at Pippin, two miles southwest of the research station, the members of the expedition had found themselves surrounded by silkies, their bodies pale white against the dark blue of the water. But the snorkelers, hands tucked into their bodies and feet covered by flippers, looked nothing like prey, and the silkies moved on.

The sharks are a tourist attraction — at two of the many diving spots in the Gardens, they are fed to ensure larger numbers — but to scientists like Dr. Pina and Dr. Kritzer, their very presence here is an indicator of the coral reef’s robustness.


A Caribbean reef shark cruises through the water in Jardines de la Reina. There are 10 times as many sharks inside the marine preserve here as in the waters outside. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Research has linked the health of reefs to habitation by large fish, and the absence of sharks and other top predators is often a sign of a reef in decline.

“If you like coral reefs, you have to like sharks,” said David E. Guggenheim, a marine scientist who has worked extensively in Cuba and runs trips to Jardines de la Reina through his organization, Ocean Doctor. “They are critically important to maintaining population balance. If they’re gone, the algae can overgrow the reef and smother it.”

The resilience of this coral reef seems beyond question. The waters inside the preserve hold 10 times as many sharks as outside, Dr. Pina said, and goliath grouper, rare in many places, are often seen here.

Remoteness, several scientists said, probably accounts for some of the reef’s strength. Genetics may also play a role. But the reef here was not always as healthy; it has substantially recovered and thrived since the marine preserve, one of the largest in the Caribbean, was established nearly 20 years ago.

A study by Dr. Pina and his colleagues found that fish populations increased an average of 30 percent since the sanctuary was created.

Yet the preserve alone cannot ensure the protection of sharks and other large predators, species that travel long distances and are unlikely to respect the boundaries of sanctuaries. Although fishing is banned in the smaller marine preserve, it is still allowed in the larger protected marine area that Cuba has designated a national park.

Rachel Graham, a whale shark expert and executive director ofMaralliance, a conservation organization, said that sharks were still actively fished in the national park, just outside the borders of the sanctuary. “There’s a lot of dipping into the edges,” said Dr. Graham, who has worked in Jardines de la Reina.

And further out, in the Gulf of Ana Maria, “All bets are off,” she said.

Remoteness, several scientists said, probably accounts for some of the reef’s strength. Genetics may also play a role. But the reef here was not always as healthy; it has substantially recovered and thrived since the marine preserve, one of the largest in the Caribbean, was established nearly 20 years ago.

A study by Dr. Pina and his colleagues found that fish populations increased an average of 30 percent since the sanctuary was created.

Yet the preserve alone cannot ensure the protection of sharks and other large predators, species that travel long distances and are unlikely to respect the boundaries of sanctuaries. Although fishing is banned in the smaller marine preserve, it is still allowed in the larger protected marine area that Cuba has designated a national park.

Rachel Graham, a whale shark expert and executive director ofMaralliance, a conservation organization, said that sharks were still actively fished in the national park, just outside the borders of the sanctuary. “There’s a lot of dipping into the edges,” said Dr. Graham, who has worked in Jardines de la Reina.


A Caribbean reef shark pulled up on a long line, tagged and released will help Fabián Pina Amargós and his colleagues learn more about their biology and travel patterns. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

And further out, in the Gulf of Ana Maria, “All bets are off,” she said.

Regular surveys of the size, number and location of sharks in a given area provide information that can eventually help forge new strategies to reduce such fishing – Cuba is in the process of developing a national shark plan.

So in the late morning, the Itajara headed south to Las Auras channel, where the coral reef drops off into 80-foot-deep water, on a search for the large aquatic predators.

Once in the channel, 50 circle hooks were attached to a long fishing line, each separated by about 30 inches. The hooks, Dr. Pina said, are designed to protect the fish, staying in the mouth rather than moving into the stomach, where they can cause significant injury.

The big reef shark came up with the first hook, followed by two others under three feet long and less than six months old.

The variance in age and size was a good sign, Dr. Pina said, indicating that the channel was providing a home not only for adult sharks but for immature fish as well.

As long as the sharks and other large fish remain in Jardines de la Reina, the tourists will come, too, many of them staying at theTortuga, a small floating hotel near the research station operated by Avalon, an Italian company, under a contract with the government.

Tourism is important to the marine preserve, for Cuba’s economy — it is ranked among the 50 top diving spots in the world and 60 percent of divers cite sharks as the main attraction, Dr. Pina said — and as an incentive to keep the fishing ban in place.

The goliath groupers are also a big draw.


The research station in the mangroves off Anclitas cay feels as if it is almost a part of the water. Tarpon and barracudas swim beneath the porch. A crocodile is a longtime resident. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

“Everybody likes big animals,” Dr. Pina said, “and the goliath grouper is like an elephant in the water.”

Ms. Figueredo, an environmental economist, has devoted much of her work to calculating the monetary value of tourists’ diving with sharks, watching jacks and angelfish dart in and out of stands of living Elkhorn coral and fly-fishing in waters filled with tarpon and bone fish. Her studies, she hopes, will help Cuban officials develop guidelines for tourism in the smaller preserve and in the larger national park.

Tourism in large doses poses its own threat, however. Last year, under the government’s limits, fewer than 3,000 divers and fly-fishermen visited Jardines de la Reina. But the opening of relations between Cuba and the United States means that many more tourists may soon come.

Andrés Jiménez Castillo, a marine biologist who works as a manager at the Tortuga, said that many people were concerned about what will happen.

“We will have a lot of sailing boats and other kinds of boats that will be able to come here,” he said. “And we need to be ready.”

He is hoping, he said, that the diving and fly-fishing quotas will remain intact and the government will increase prices instead, keeping the area exclusive.

But Cuba’s capacity for enforcement is limited, and a coral reef is a sensitive ecosystem, easily damaged by hastily dropped boat anchors or careless divers.

And if 100,000 or even a million visitors were to descend on the marine preserve, Dr. Pina said, “The footprint on nature would be large.”

hasvana-live-maleconHAVANA,  July  14  For the past few years, locals in Cuba have been able to open their own businesses, leading to the increase in fantastic casas particulares and restaurants serving great food.

A casa particular is basically a homestay, and in Cuba, this type of accommodation is more popular than hotels or hostels. There’s no better way to learn about the country than from locals, and being fully immersed in their homes is the best way to enrich your trip to this Caribbean nation.

These casas are affordable (think $20-$30 a night), and most of the time (if not all), you’ll have your own private area with bathroom. Breakfast and dinner are available for a fee, and to be honest, some of the best dinners we had in Cuba were at the casas.

If you speak Spanish, your experience will be just that much more memorable than those of us whose Spanish is limited. No matter your abilities with the local language, you’ll still be able to get by and many of the owners actually speak English. There are hundreds of casas available in Cuba, but here are the ones that we booked through Hostels Club and can recommend from our three-and-a-half week trip to Cuba:

Havana – Casa Daniel y Fina (aka Casa Habana Blues 1940) casa-danielyfina

This is the very first place we stayed when we got to Cuba, and we returned there before flying out of Havana. The owners Daniel and Fina are incredibly kind and welcoming. The casa is located in Central Havana and is beautiful. The ceilings are 16 feet high, and there are four rooms available for travelers (each with its own private, air conditioning and attached bathroom). There’s a dining and living area, as well as a kitchen and fridge available for guest use.

Daniel and Fina actually live right across the hall in their own home, allowing the travelers to have their own space. Breakfast and dinner are available ($4 for breakfast and $10 for dinner) and the food is delicious.

Vinales – Casa Boris y Mileidicasa-boris-y-mileidi

It seems like every homeowner in this valley rents out at least one of their rooms to tourists, and there are over 100 to choose from! We recommend Casa Boris y Mileidi because they were friendly, Mileidi speaks some English (and so does her son), the location is great, and the food cooked here was delicious. There are currently two rooms available for rent, with another two being built this summer.

The rooms have air conditioning and two beds each with a private bathroom. There’s an upper deck area with chairs and a table, and a lower chill-out area as well. Dinner here costs $7 a meal.

Trinidad – Casa Bernardo and Casa Mireliscasa-bernardo

We stayed at these two casas during our stay in Trinidad and loved them both. Casa Bernardo is run by a very kind man, who is also an excellent cook! We had lobster, snapper, and chicken complete with curried chickpeas, roasted vegetables, rice, fried plantain and, flan for dessert. The meal was fantastic.

There are three rooms available for rent right now, and he is building another one. We stayed on the upper level and had two big outside decks to ourselves, with fantastic views of the mountains and of the city. Rooms here are spacious, bright, and have air conditioning, two beds, a private bathroom and fridge in each one.

Casa Mirelis is a beautiful home, run by a bubbly Mirelis and her husband Edilberto. Currently there are two gorgeous rooms available, with three more on the way. The lower level room even has its own separate living area and kitchen! The upstairs room is bright and spacious and has two big beds. Both come with air conditioning and attached private bathroom.

Food is also available here, as is reliable door-to-door taxi service from Trinidad to Havana. You can also have your laundry done at this casa!

Cienfuegos – Hostal El Patio del GitanoHOSTAL-EL-PATIO-DEL-GITANO-Cienfuegos-Cuba_9

Ivet and Joel are the owners of this hostal (which is the same as a casa), and they are vibrant, kind, and welcoming. They are a very creative pair, with both being singers and running the Flamenco cultural center out of their home. Ivet is also a painter, while Joel is a musician, dancer, and chef. They’re quite the couple!

They only have one room available for rent here, which really gives you a one-on-one experience with these Cubans. If you’re lucky enough to be in Cienfuegos on a Sunday, you’ll be able to experience traditional Flamenco dancing, singing, music, and poetry at their house.

Not only is this a great experience with the family, and the private room is spacious and nice, but also the food here is top-notch, authentic Spanish cuisine (or Cuban if you choose). People come from around the city just to eat here, even if they’re not staying there. There’s a huge menu with a beautiful back patio area where you can enjoy your meal. This casa is located right near the bus station, and a short 10-minute walk to the main central area.


 This undated handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home, The Associated Press has learned. The migrants were among about 96 Cubans who were intercepted at sea and taken aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. The Cuban government allowed the return of the other 58 people. (Coast Guard via AP)

This undated handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard shows US Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. Thirty-eight Cuban migrants caught trying to sail to the U.S. are stranded aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, waiting for permission from the Cuban government to return home, The Associated Press has learned. The migrants were among about 96 Cubans who were intercepted at sea and taken aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Vigilant. The Cuban government allowed the return of the other 58 people. (Coast Guard via AP)

HAVANA,  July  13 Calls are growing for the Obama administration to end the decades-long practice of allowing Cubans who make it onto U.S. soil to stay here.

The practice, which stems from the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act and is informally known as the “wet-foot-dry-foot” policy, allows Cubans who make it to the United States to remain her legally.

They can obtain permanent U.S. residency after a year and a day.

The policy has been controversial for a long time, drawing criticism from some who view it as preferential treatment. Haitian-American groups, for instance, often contrast how much harder it is for their compatriots to get legal residency in the United States.

Now that Cuba and the United States are re-establishing diplomatic relations and recently announced that embassies would be reopened in Havana and Washington, D.C., before the end of July, many argue that it’s time to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“The politics of the issue have evolved,” Marc R. Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. immigration policy program at the Migration Policy Institute, told Fox News Latino.

There also have been published reports about how some Cubans obtain refugee status – presumably because they fear persecution in their native homeland – yet regularly travel between the U.S. and the communist nation after obtaining legal residency here.

“People see certain Cubans abuse the Cuban Adjustment Act, and travel back and forth, taking advantage of that privileged status.”

The Obama administration, mindful of the emotionally-charged debate around the special program – Cuban exiles have pushed hard to keep it in place – quickly noted after announcing the push to normalize relations that the wet-foot-dry-foot policy would remain in place.

Remberto Perez, vice president of the Cuban American National Foundation, one of the nation’s most influential Cuban exile lobbying groups, says the re-establishment of diplomatic relations has not meant an end to the human rights abuses that have driven many to flee to the United States.

“It’s still a brutal dictatorship, and if people are risking their lives to escape the regime, we should give them asylum,” Perez, a New Jersey businessman, told FNL. “Cuba is just giving lip service and window-dressing. Cuba cannot be compared with Haiti. Cuba is a police state.”

Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Miami Republican and the son of Cuban exiles, has drafted legislation that seeks to modify the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Among other things, his measure requires people who want to stay in the United States via the Cuban Adjustment Act to prove they face political persecution.

It would also rescind the residency of refugees who return to Cuba before they complete the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

“When you do talk to other members of Congress about the abuses of the Cuban Adjustment Act,” Curbelo’s chief of staff, Roy Schultheis, told the Sun Sentinel, “everyone accepts that they exist.”

Some groups, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, want to see more than just a tweaking of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“With the re-establishment of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, our outdated Cold War immigration policies with that nation must end,” Dan Stein, FAIR’s president, told FNL.

“If we are treating Cuba like virtually every other nation on earth in terms of trade, cultural exchanges and diplomacy, then we should also treat Cuban citizens like everyone else when it comes to immigration to the United States,” he added.

Former Cuban political prisoner Luis Israel Abreu, a New Jersey resident who long has been active in pushing for democratic reforms on the island, says the practice should remain, although with some tweaking.

“Cuba does have conditions that are unparalleled in much of the world,” Abreu told Fox News Latino. “There continue to be dire human rights violations by the government, there continue to be people imprisoned merely for their political beliefs. Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism, and it is led by a brutal dictatorship.”

What could change about the policy, Abreu said, is tightening the screening for who gets to stay in order to make sure the policy provides relief to people who truly are fleeing persecution, not to those who are leaving for purely economic reasons.

Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute says it’s hard to continue to justify a blanket granting of U.S. residency to every Cuban who makes it ashore when no other group in the world gets the same privilege.

He said the double standard is particularly glaring given the efforts by the U.S. government to deport unaccompanied minors from Central America who arrived at the U.S. border in recent years, trying flee the soaring violence and poverty in their homelands.

“They’re treated very differently,” Rosenblum said.

He added that the Cuban Adjustment Act can be applied more fairly without doing away with it.
Rosenblum said the act does not require the U.S. to give every Cuban reaching the U.S. a path to refugee or asylum status.

“It authorizes [the U.S.] to grant a visa to arriving Cubans, but doesn’t require that it be given to everyone who arrives here,” he said. “But that is how it has been implemented. It shouldn’t be a blank check.”


havana-live-free-wifiHAVANA, July 13  (HT Fernando Ravsberg)  The second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 85, responded with a thanks but no thanks to Google’s recent offer to install WiFi antennas throughout Cuba for free.

“Everyone knows why there isn’t more Internet access in Cuba, because it is costly. There are some who want to give it to us for free, but they don’t do it so that the Cuban people can communicate, Instead their objective is to penetrate us and do ideological work to achieve a new conquest.

We must have Internet, but in our way, knowing that the imperialists intend to use it as a way to destroy the Revolution,” dijo en una entrevista extensiva con Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

They say that when the donation is too large even the poor become suspicious.

havana-live-wind-farmHAVANA, July  13 (EFE)  Cuba plans to build seven wind farms financed by foreign investors under a program aimed at developing renewable energy sources in the medium term, Energy and Mines Minister Alfredo Lopez said.

The project is part of an effort by the island to generate 24 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with officials planning to attract more than $600 million in foreign investment.

Cuba plans to build six other wind farms using different sources of funds as it boosts clean energy generation.

Slightly more than 4 percent of the island’s electricity is generated using renewable sources today, the official AIN news agency said.

The 13 new clean energy facilities will be added to a fleet of four existing wind farms, which have 12 MW of generating capacity and are located in different parts of the island.

Increased use of wind, solar and hydroelectric power plants will help Cuba reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and save about $780 million annually, Lopez told the National Assembly.

Several other foreign investment projects in the solar photovoltaic sector are being evaluated, Energy and Mines Ministry officials said.

Cuban officials did not identify the country of origin of the investors in the wind farms, but Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro said last week that the island’s government was evaluating several energy projects, including the construction of three wind farms, with Italian companies.

Spain, for its part, has expressed interest in investing in Cuba’s renewable energy industry and several delegations, including one led by Industry, Energy and Tourism Minister Jose Manuel Soria, traveled to the island recently.

Cuba’s renewable energy industry currently operates 10,595 solar water heaters, 9,343 wind turbines, 827 biogas plants and 169 hydroelectric power plants, as well as solar panels and solar power plants.

havana-live-JetBlue_CloudsHAVANA,  July  12  On Friday, JetBlue according to protocol begun its guide flying from John F Kennedy International Airport in New York to Cuba becoming the initial chief hauler inside the United states.S. to create the tangle his legs because of the fact that limitation on travelling to Cuba were really treated effectively through Obama Administration much earlier in 2015.

Many of these on JetBlue’s first aviation seemed like these were generating background.

The air service provider, operating out of Queens, New York introduced the new commer was featuring once each week last minute in May, however the first the gate doesn’t get out of up to the point Friday.
The the gate gave up the New York airfield at noontime on the way to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana.

Cuba basic Carlos Infante was at on-board the opening airplane on Friday. The inhabitant of Brooklyn said preceding to boarding that it was also one of the things that will be remarked for a number of years.


wfp_logo_darkHAVANA, July  11 The World Food Programme (WFP) applied a project in Cuba that will benefit 900,000 people in five provinces of the eastern region of the island, reported today in Havana officials of the UN agency.
The initiative aims to ensure food and nutritional security of the three most vulnerable groups of the population: people over 65, pregnant women and minors. The “Country Programme” will be implemented in the period 2015-2018 and will have a funding of $ 18 million, said Laura Melo, the WFP representative on the island, in the presentation.

Specifically, the program will support agricultural production chain, grain distribution, increasing facilities for cooking and storage of food in educational and health centers.

source: www.cibercuba.com


A great hammerheadshark

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.

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)

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.

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.”


In this Jan. 3, 2015 file photo, people watch The Thomson Dream cruise ship leave the bay just after sunset in 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-live-havana-by-nightHAVANA,  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)

havana-live-atocha-coinsCredit: 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.Santissima-Concepcion

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.


2015-07-08-1436377643-9188006-Cuba2015Canon099-thumbHAVANA, July 9  (HuffingtonPost   )  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.2015-07-08-1436378090-4965631-icerink-thumb

“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.2015-07-08-1436378405-7134717-MabelIcerink-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436378803-3243859-UScubanflag2-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436379198-2963267-Karirlopezcoke-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436379408-8924037-Mendiveatlunch-thumb

Working in painting, sculpture, installations, performance art and video, Mendive’s art often incorporates humans, animals and spirit-like figures.2015-07-08-1436379951-4158650-Mendivepainting-thumb

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.
2015-07-08-1436380963-7383487-Diago-thumbHis 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.2015-07-08-1436381284-351781-diagoblackandred-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436381809-6924246-Perezrhinoceros-thumb

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 :2015-07-08-1436381935-6241436-Marlys-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436382125-9987114-fidelche-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436382511-657887-chicken-thumb

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.2015-07-08-1436382831-1691324-javierpipes-thumb

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”.2015-07-08-1436382997-3841822-selfservice-thumbAlthough 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”.

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.

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?


OMAR PEREZ: The revolution has been dead for years, for decades.

JEFFREY BROWN: For decades?

OMAR PEREZ: Yes, sure.


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-live-tourist-in-carHAVANA, 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, watch The Godfather: Part II). When Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro ousted President Fulgencio Batista in 1959, he condemned the poker houses and forced the mob out.


 havana-live-adoniaHAVANA, 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.


3048163-inline-s-4-cuba-offline-internetHAVANA, 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.


 havana-live-lebanonHAVANA, 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.

“The visit culminated in the signing of several agreements between theLebanese Chamber of Commerce and its Cuban counterpart,” Kazma says.

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.

By Elias Sakr

Former US diplomat  in Havana Wayne Smith

Former US diplomat in Havana Wayne Smith

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.

 havana-live-guantanamoHAVANA, 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-live-HAVANA SKYLINEHAVANA,  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-live-exploracion-petroleoHAVANA, 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.

 havana-live-BYDHAVANA,  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.


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.Unbenannt

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.

havana-live-WPP 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.”


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.

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.



havana-live-view-havana-airHAVANA,  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.

obamaHAVANA, 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.

The diplomatic breakthrough is the most concrete progress to date in Mr. Obama’s push, announced in December after months of secret talks, for an official rapprochement with Cuba.

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.