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f621502ff3c028b30eb9a9019de818d1HAVANA, Jan. 13th Cuba is famous for many things. Rum. Cars. Cigars. Che. Food isn’t one of them.
Aside from the staples (every Cuban citizen receives a regular supply of rice, sugar, coffee, meat, eggs and bread), food supplies are often limited and can run out without warning. Partly due to this, many meals are based around meat or fish with rice and beans as filler.

Traveling the world as a vegetarian, Cuba was the country I thought would prove hardest to eat well in — or even moderately well. Its vegetarian food has a reputation for being either “completely uninspired” or “uniformly terrible” — but is the vegetarian food in Cuba really so bad?
In a word, no. Definitely not. But I wouldn’t call it great, either. Let’s explore.

HAVANA
The first stop in Cuba is usually Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. As the vibrant and historic hub of the city, Old Havana is known for its striking colonial beauty, art galleries and museums, and countless restaurants offering authentic and traditional Cuban meals. In Habana Vieja, this almost always means meat or fish.

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Cuban bruschetta. Image by www.selenenelson.co.uk

Restaurant staff linger outside their establishments, trying to draw you in by tapping their menus and describing their dishes with an almost feverish passion. Mention you’re vegetarian, however, and even the most enthusiastic waiters usually give up. Sometimes they’ll try to act as though the rice and beans accompanying the meat are the real draw of the meal, but usually the response is just defeated disappointment. I actually started to feel quite bad for them.

After bypassing many restaurants without a vegetarian main course, I wandered into O’Reilly 304. A tiny, trendy restaurant specialising in gin cocktails and contemporary Cuban cuisine that’s unassumingly sandwiched between two shabby buildings on the outskirts of Habana Vieja, it’s easy to walk past altogether. But it’s clear from first entry that here is something quite different.

Framed glowing reviews from the Miami Herald hang proudly on the walls, cool bartenders shake up incredible-looking cocktails, and the menu offers several meat-free plates. From pumpkin soup with Cuban blue cheese and cilantro to soft veggie tacos stuffed with beans and seasonal vegetables, O’Reilly 304 reflects the developing restaurant scene in Cuba.

One thing I discovered at O’Reilly 304 is that Cubans love bruschetta. It’s on the menu at any half-decent restaurant, and O’Reilly 304 is no exception. But Cuban bruschetta is a little different than what may strike you as familiar.

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Diced fresh Cuban pumpkin. Image by www.selenenelson.co.uk

The onion is sweet, and spring onion and chives usually make an appearance, too. Also unlike traditional bruschetta, the onion outweighs the tomato in quantity, and an added splash of vinegar makes for an unusually sweet yet tangy appetizer. Cuban bread isn’t good, but when it’s lightly toasted and doused in oil, garlic and vinegar, it’s great.

The quality of food at O’Reilly 304 is excellent. The banana chips come served with the most delicious dipping sauce I’ve ever had — so good that I embarrassed myself trying to wipe up every last drop of it and had to write down every discernible ingredient to try to replicate it later (it definitely contained ginger, chili, sugar, coriander, onion, garlic and vinegar).

TRINIDAD
The food choices picked up, unexpectedly, in Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the foot of the Escambray Mountains. Walking through this beautiful town, with its cobbled streets and perfectly preserved colonial buildings, really is like stepping back in time. The prospect of getting any good vegetarian food in a town that wasn’t even connected to the rest of Cuba until the 1950s didn’t seem too realistic. But I was wrong.

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Stuffed tomatoes filled with sautéed vegetables. Image by www.selenenelson.co.uk

At Giroud, a bizarrely cool place where you sit on old TV sets and beer crates and chairs hang upside down from walls, there was a whole variety of meat-free, tapas-style dishes: stuffed peppers and tomatoes packed with cheese and sautéed vegetables, pumpkin cream, vegetable bruschetta, diced pumpkin with onion and herbs, and cooling gazpacho. Serving beautiful and great-tasting dishes, Giroud is another example of Cuba’s emerging avant-garde food scene.

The standout in Trinidad for me was Taberna La Botija, a lively 24-hour restaurant where the country’s Spanish and Latin influences seamlessly merge with traditional Cuban cuisine. The sweet corn fritters, served with a creamy garlic dip with a hint of dill, were lovely, but the fried Cuban cheese balls were incredible. I had two portions, one right after the other.

While I would never cite Cuba’s food as one of the reasons to return, in the face of its rapidly developing gastronomic scene, its reputation for truly terrible vegetarian food now seems a little undeserved.

It may take a while before it can be considered “veggie friendly” (and vegans would certainly struggle), but the meat-free options are expanding. Changes are being made, and attitudes are adjusting. Embargoes may even be lifted. The wheels on this classic Cuban car are in motion, however slowly they may be turning.
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/selene-nelson/where-to-find-vegetarian-_b_14140712.html

sfl-wetfoot-dryfoot-policy-20131126HAVANA, Jan. 12th (Reuters) – The Obama administration is ending a policy that granted residency to Cubans who arrived in the United States without visas, several congressional sources said on Thursday. Read more

234e557d-f2a1-44fa-a03d-a445d26ca0b1_w987_r1_sHAVANA, Jan. 4th Alaska Airlines launches a daily flight Thursday morning from the West Coast to Havana. The new service comes as the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba gives way to an uncertain future.

U.S. airlines Read more

renewable-energyHAVANA,Dec. 18, The US Department of State says delegates from the United States and Cuba discussed regional developments related to clean energy during the first Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Working Read more

aerolinea-southwestHAVANA, Dec.13 Southwest Airlines launched flights to its third Cuban destination on 12 December – Havana (HAV). Read more

1480828676843HAVANA, Dec. 4 (AP) President Raul Castro announced that Cuba will prohibit the naming of streets and monuments after his brother Fidel, and bar the construction of statues of the former leader and revolutionary icon in keeping with his Read more

2835HAVANA, Dec. 3th Interest in travel to Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented surge – but at least four British operators have stopped taking bookings to the country as its infrastructure struggles to cope with demand. Read more

bn-ra174_1130us_im_20161130175646HAVANA, Dec. 1th  General Electric Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit are among firms U.S. officials believe will secure agreements to operate in Cuba as the Obama administration presses Havana to complete pending deals Read more

marabana-havana-marathonHAVANA, Nov. 17th A record number of runners have registered for this year’s Havana International Marathon, Read more

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Cuba’s President Raul Castro and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau review troops during a welcoming ceremony at Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (Enrique de la Osa/Pool via AP)

HAVANA,Nov. 16th  – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Cuba on Tuesday evening, where the country’s president told him the island nation will not progress any faster than it already is.

Cuban President Raul Castro, the younger brother of legendary Cuban leader Fidel Castro, warned that others have gone through reforms too quickly without regard to the needs of the people, leaving their citizens jobless.

“Even though I have said we have to move slowly, you can go too fast. I have said slowly, but steady,” Raul Castro said through an interpreter.

The message to the Canadian prime minister in a grand room in the Revolutionary Palace in Havana came as Trudeau tries to open up trade opportunities for Canadian companies who want to cash in on the Cuban government’s decision to loosen restrictions on foreign investment.

And to the north is the shadow of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump and his tough talk about rolling back a thawing of relations between the United States and Cuba that has sent a Cold War chill through the island.

Touting Canada, Trudeau said Canadians can be pleased that they have played a positive role in Cuba through the years.

Trudeau tried to strike a more personal note just before media were ushered out of the room where the meeting took place.

“The friendship between your family and mine is long and deep, but it’s nothing compared to the true friendship between all Canadians and all Cubans and I look forward to continuing to build on that,” Trudeau said.

The official meeting came hours after Trudeau landed in Havana, the first visit by a Canadian prime minister in two decades.

On Wednesday, state diplomacy turns to soft diplomacy when Trudeau meets with students at the University of Havana.

“It’s in the people-to-people world … where Canadian-Cuban relationships are the most significant,” said Karen Dubinsky, who teaches in a joint Queen’s University-University of Havana course that brings Cuban students to Canada and sends Canadian students to Cuba.

“Cuba is good at that, at using soft diplomacy, and I think what I’ve learned from our experiences working with Cuba is they only want to do more of that.”

Cuban graduate student Freddy Monasterio, who studies Canadian-Cuban relations, said the excitement of the December 2014 announcement of renewed ties with the United States has started to fade. The prime minister’s visit could make Canada an alternative for Cubans leery about the style of capitalism the United States wants to export, he says.

“Usually when people talk about different ways for Cuba to get out of a crisis and open up a little bit, people immediately associate the U.S. as the logical, and only alternative,” Monasterio says. “We want to show that there are other alternatives and Canada for me is one of them.”

Statistics Canada says about 1.3 million Canadian tourists visited Cuba in 2015.

Cuba’s national statistics office reported last month that of the 2.1 million tourists during the first half of the year, more than 777,000 – just over a third – were from Canada. That put Canada at the top of the visitors’ list, with the United States sitting in third with 187,073 travellers.

The Terry Fox Run in Cuba is the largest held outside of Canada.
http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/trudeau-meets-castro-havana/

havana-live-cat-trapHAVANA, Nov. 13th  Have you all heard about Trap-Neuter-Release programs for street cats? Well, we’re about to try it in Havana. But we need some big help. The first step isto TRAP the cats, and Aniplant needs traps. Of course, it’s Read more

the-cuban-audis-heading-to-havana-in-search-of-auto-union-and-dkw-two-strokes-5473_15108_969x727Against the odds, a group of Cuban enthusiasts have joined forces to keep their 1950s two-stroke DKWs and Auto Unions on the road

HAVANA,Nov. 11th (David Lillywhite)  We know Read more

havana-live-atelier-900x600-terrazaHAVANA,Nov. 10th. (AP) — Cuba says it has begun to grant licenses to new private restaurants in Havana after a brief freeze to help authorities grapple with the rapid expansion of one of the most important openings in the state-run economy.

Isabel Hamze is the acting vice president of Read more

havana-live-cuba-military-exerciceHAVANA, Nov. 10th (Reuters) Cuba on Wednesday announced a week of pre-scheduled nationwide military exercises to prepare for “enemy actions,” the day after the United States elected Donald Trump, who has threatened to unravel the U.S.-Cuban detente, as president. Read more

havana-live-calesa-realHAVANA, Nov. 8th (DDC) The recent announcement by the Council of the Provincial Administration of Havana (CAP), which contains a number of provisions governing the operation of Cuba’s paladares (private restaurants), speaks of order and the discipline that should prevail at Read more

foreign201510291103000396267916732HAVANA, Nov. 1th  Chinese-made electric buses are expected to run on the streets of the Cuban capital soon as Chinese bus maker Yutong unveiled such a model at the 34th International Fair of Havana Monday. Read more

27cuba-master768HAVANA, Oct. 29th Travelers will soon be able to book accommodations to Cuba through TripAdvisor, one of the world’s largest travel websites. It’s the latest development in an American travel industry that is slowly expanding tourism to Cuba. Read more

havana-live-real-estateHAVANA,Oct. 20th If the old real estate adage holds true — it’s all about location, location, location — then about 100 miles off the tip of Florida, it’s boom time. The real estate market in Havana, Cuba, is roaring.

Cuba is seeing its colonial-style mansions and Art Deco apartments selling in Read more

Glexis Novoa, 1989, from the series La etapa práctica (The Practical Stage) Courtesy The Farber Collection

On life and art in Cuba today, and a society on the brink of change

HAVANA, Oct. 18th (cubanartnews) From the outside, the windows reveal spattered walls, fragmented glimpses of Read more

r960-f05ac253e3c19349b3c8d9f3b7746e70HAVANA, Sept. 8th Hotels are overwhelmed and Cuba can’t build new hotels fast enough to cope with the boom in visitors from the US and around the world. Last year 3,524,779 people visited Cuba, a 17 per cent increase on Read more

WWhether Cuba will soon undergo an economic revolution depends more on politics in Washington than in Havana.

HAVANA,Sept. 7th  STRATFOR  Analysis
After all, the only thing standing in the way of unrestricted trade between the world’s largest economy and the island nation just 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of it is an embargo that rests on Read more

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The Internet stations are biodegradable cubes, with fake grass flooring and solar panels.

HAVANA, Sept. 5th (ClarinCuba‘s belated embrace of the Internet has people packing into places like the Plaza de la Revolución and the colonial fort Castillito, two of the island’s just 114 public WiFi hotspots.

Overall, the number of Cubans who regularly access the Web is still relatively small. Read more

14225450_534606676732152_1934007360386761508_nHAVANA, Sept. 3th (Reuters) Some 1.5 million more Cuban state workers will contribute to social security next month, with some paying income tax for the first time since the 1959 revolution as a law passed as part of efforts to modernize the economy gradually goes into effect.

The workers, mainly in industry, will pay a 5 percent social security tax on income over 500 pesos per month and income tax of 3 percent to 5 percent on earnings over 2,500 pesos per month, Cuban state media said on Friday.

Deputy Finance Minister Meisi Bolanos Weis said the tax would be deducted from workers’ pay checks by their employers, the Communist Party daily, Granma, reported.

With an eye to the increasing inequality that was sure to come after President Raul Castro began implementing cautious market-oriented reforms and reducing the role of the state in the economy, the Communist-run island passed its first comprehensive tax code in 2012.

Cuba had abolished taxes after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, when everyone began working for the state at low wages. The government then subsidized everything from health, education, sports and culture to food, utilities, transportation and social security.

The Caribbean nation’s average monthly wage last year was 687 pesos, or about $25 at the official exchange rate. There were 5 million in the labor force, of which 80 percent worked for the state.

The government envisions replacing subsidies for all with targeted welfare, meaning that the largely tax-free life under a paternalistic government is on its way out

But the code is being implemented gradually, as “conditions permit,” the law states, with such novelties as a property tax and inheritance tax still on hold.

Income tax was first applied to owners of small businesses, cultural figures and Cubans working for foreign companies and more recently to hundreds of thousands of farmers and 500,000 self-employed Cubans.

Most state workers, for example in the health and education sectors, do not pay income tax, but over the last three years began contributing to social security.

havana-live-header-zikaHAVANA,Sept. 2th  (AP) By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN Six months after President Raul Castro declared war on the Zika virus in Cuba, a militarized nationwide campaign of intensive mosquito spraying, monitoring and quarantine appears to be working.

Cuba is among the few countries in Read more

An American Airlines Boeing 757 aircraft takes off at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy, France, August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

HAVANA, Sept. 1th (Reuters) The U.S. government on Wednesday granted eight U.S. airlines permission to begin scheduled commercial flights to Havana starting as early as this fall, with American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O) being awarded 35 direct flights a week.

JetBlue Airways Corp Read more

JetBlue-lance-mercredi-la-reprise-des-vols-commerciaux-americains-vers-CubaHAVANA,August 26th  American low-fare airline JetBlue is set to become the first United States airline in more than 50 years to fly a non-charter Cuba route Wednesday, when it starts nonstop service between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Santa Clara .

Several airlines have gained U.S. Department of Transportation approval for non-Havana routes, but travelers eager to see the country before it is inundated with camera-touting American tourists need to act quickly, travel expert Rick Seaney said.

“There is going to be a gold rush,” said Seaney, CEO and co-founder of the travel websiteFareCompare. “More capacity is coming on almost every month over the next 18 months.”

JetBlue announced it will operate three weekly flights before adding daily service Oct.1. Destinations in two additional Cuban cities, Camagüey and Holguín, are slated to be added in November.

“I don’t think it’s going to be commercialized for another couple years, (but) they are putting some infrastructure in and … it would be great to see it in its pristine state,” Seaney said.

Although Havana, the most American-known destination, hasn’t been included in the first wave of routes, Seaney said the island is relatively small and easy to get around. JetBlue said routes to Havana will be announced at a later date.

Frontier, Silver Airways, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines have also been approved by the DOT, and Seaney said many of the flights are already available to book.

“When they initially came out with the price points, they were in the $200 to $400 range depending on what part of the country you are flying out of. Cheaper out of Charlotte and Florida, a little more expensive out of places like Chicago and Minneapolis,” he said, noting prices are certain to come down.

Mohammad Javad Zarif,Bruno Rodriguez

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, left, talks to Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, right, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016. Iran’s foreign minister begun a Latin American tour in Cuba, declaring Iran and Cuba united by their histories of resisting what he called U.S. atrocities. Zarif also plans to visit Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

HAVANA, August 24th  Cuba says US sanctions on the Latin American country and Iran have opened a common ground for the two countries to forge special trade ties.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was in Havana where he met Cuban leaders, including President Raul Castro in what they described a new chapter in bilateral ties, PressTV reported.

Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Malmierca Diaz described Iran an “important partner” with a capacity to help his country enter Asian markets.

Diaz said despite President Barack Obama’s historic three-day visit to the island in March, the US maintains its sanctions on Cuba and his country has no choice but to implement short-term projects to achieve development.

“Both Cuba and Iran have reached a roadmap after years of sanctions which they should use to explore new economic opportunities and take advantage of each other’s capabilities,” he said.

A large economic delegation is accompanying Zarif on his six-day Latin America tour which also includes trips to Chile, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela aimed at boosting trade after the removal in January of US-led sanctions against Iran.

The first Iran-Cuba economic forum opened in Havana on Monday, with Diaz telling Iranian companies that they could become the engine of economic growth and dynamism in his country.

Iran and Cuba have long been close friends. Last week, Cuban Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas visited Tehran and met top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani.

rssImages (2)HAVANA, August 23th When pilots Steve Koch and Jeff Yannucciello touch down in Agape Flights’ Embraer E100 at Jose Marti international Airport in Havana, Cuba, at about 9 a.m. Tuesday, a new chapter will officially unfold for the 36-year-old Christian aviation ministry.

Agape Flights typically delivers supplies for visiting mission groups in the Bahamas, Read more

UnbenanntHAVANA, August 23th Telecom giant AT&T Inc. has reached agreements for Cuba roaming and direct interconnection with Empresa De Telecomunicaciones De Cuba (ETECSA), giving travelers another option to make calls as they visit the island-nation.

“Cuba is a growing international calling Read more

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Le Chansonnier Havana

HAVANA, August 19th (Havana Times)  In real life, la China is the owner of a restaurant that has an entrance hall, a bar, a room with 11 tables, a reserved area, a unisex bathroom, kitchen, a stockroom and another bathroom for employees. In the parallel universe of building licenses, la China’s restaurant was remodeled as Read more