Evilio Aguilar poses with his Fiat Polski 126p in a garage in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, August 10, 2016. An estimated 10,000 Polskis are registered in Cuba, according to aficionados. Photo: Ramon Espinosa, AP

HAVANA, August 11th  (AP)  Ramses Fernandez’s most cherished possession is barely larger than a refrigerator, with the legroom of an economy airplane seat and a little more horsepower than a riding lawnmower.

“That’s my second baby,” said Fernandez, smiling proudly at the 39-year-old Read more

Cuba Credit CardHAVANA, August 8th  When South Florida banking consultant Fernando Capablanca recently spoke about the Cuban banking system — the pre-1959 Cuban banking system — he was surprised at the compliments he received.

That the perspective of someone with his long years in Read more


Chris Raxworthy, curator at the American Museum of Natural History, holds a Cuban knight anole at his office on July 20, 2016. The species will be among the living Cuban reptiles on exhibit at the museum after a groundbreaking agreement to formalize and deepen collaboration on research and education with Cuban scientists. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

HAVANA, August 7th The famed American Museum of Natural History opens an exhibition this fall that its scientists say breaks new ground on multiple fronts.

Live reptiles, models of species — some scary — from a misty primordial past, but all evidence of an end to a deep, and decades Read more

havana-live-zikaHAVANA,August 5th (Reuters)  Cuba reported on Wednesday two new cases of residents contracting the mosquito-borne Zika virus locally, in a setback for the Caribbean country that has taken a series of measures in an attempt to stave off the epidemic.

Since the current outbreak of Zika in Brazil last year, where it has been linked Read more

4027228w-640x640x80HAVANA, August 2th (Reuters) Cuba said on Monday it was not willing to rush talks with the United States over multibillion-dollar claims and counter-claims and would agree only to an accord that addressed the grievances of both sides.

Washington is seeking upward of $10 billion, Read more

cuba-sanctions-cop-wash-examHAVANA, July 31th Critics of President Obama’s diplomatic thaw with Cuba are questioning why a top official with the U.S. government office charged with maintaining the trade embargo and leveling sanctions against Cuba was in Read more

Havana, Jul 30 (PL) Cuban judicial authorities sentenced 11 people to penal sentences going from 15 to 30 years of prison, because of drug trafficking, linked with international purchasers, said Cuban newspaper GRANMA here Friday.

Granma said that according to the National Antidrug Direction Office (DNA in Spanish) actions were made in the Read more

havana-live_jetblueHAVANA,July 29th Low-cost airline JetBlue Airways announced Thursday that it will start its commercial flights to Cuba next month.

As long as the Cuban government approves, JetBlue will become the first U.S. commercial airline to fly to Cuba in more than half a century on Aug. 31.

JetBlue will send a plane from Fort Lauderdale Read more

venezuela-cuba-petroleo-685x342-685x342HAVANA, July 28th   Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity.

Cuba, has alienated itself from the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba to distance itself from the South American country.

So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by 19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top provider almost overnight.

Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive Havana closer to the U.S.

“Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle to Fox News Latino.

“Cuba’s opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don’t have another option if you consider Venezuela’s grim situation,” said Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.

Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.

Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential terms. In exchange, starting 2003 Cuba started providing human resources to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which focused on reducing analphabetism.

According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.

This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefitted both Castro’s and Chavez’s agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.

After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three years ago.

“The new economic scenario doesn’t mean that political relations between Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour,” according to foreign analyst Edgar Otalvora. “Ideologically, they will remain close,” he said, pointing at Raul Castro’s cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.

However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions that Venezuela’s deepening crisis is having on Cuba.

He said Cuba’s economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to “a certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela, despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill them.”

“Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the Cuban economy,” Castro told the National Assembly.

Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.

“Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil, Canada and China,” Arellano told FNL. “The down part for the Castro brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future.”

As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November’s election outcome.

“American investors are betting big on Cuba, which will probably result in the ease of the U.S. embargo [over the island] in the near future,” De Michelle said.

“This will improve the wellbeing of the Cuban people and will make Venezuela’s aid less necessary,” the expert added.

Another scenario is that Venezuela’s opposition keeps gaining ground and, if and when in power, brings to a halt the financial aid it has publicly condemned more than once — many say Cuba is benefitting way more than Venezuela with the current arrangement.

“The loss of the Cuban doctors wouldn’t be such a big problem for Venezuela, given the fact that some of them just work as spies and they can be replaced with our own doctors,” Arellano said.

On top of this, it is no that secret many of these social workers have used their appointment to Venezuela as an opportunity to flee the island’s regime.

According to Colombian authorities, in 2015 as many as 720 Cuban medical doctors entered to their territory from Venezuela. Hundreds of them then requested U.S. visas.

Participants wear costumes during the Cuban Otaku festival at a cinema in Havana, Cuba, July 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

Participants wear costumes during the Cuban Otaku festival at a cinema in Havana, Cuba, July 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA,July 25th (Reuters) Cuba may be one of the world’s least connected countries but that is not stopping the Japanese subculture of animated movies, manga comics and video games from spreading feverishly among its youth.

More than a thousand “Otakus,” or fans of such Read more

peloteros-cubanosHavana,22 julio (acn)  The national Cuban team and the national university squad from USA will hold the traditional friendly baseball match, agreed to five games from July 23 to 27, in several provinces in Cuba.

First they will play at Ciego de Avila´s José Ramón Cepero stadium (on the 23rd and 24 th), then at Havana´s Latinoamericano ballpark (25th) and finally at Pinar del Rio´s Captain San Luis field (26 and 27).

The American side recently lost three of five games against Japan, in match staged on that Asian country.

The Cuban-American baseball matches were continuously conducted between 1987 and 1996 until they were unilaterally suspended by US sports authorities.

A few years ago, in 2012, these events were resumed in Havana. Since then, the contests have been attended by first level players such as Kris Bryant, last season rookie of the year in the National League in the MLB.

That year, Cuba emerged victorious 3-2, however, the United States won 5-0 in 2013, a major blow for the Caribbean side, which competed with its elite team, similar to the one attending the Third World Baseball Classic.

In 2014, and eager for revenge, Cubans took resounding retribution and won 5-0; while in 2015, the United States returned to win, this time 3-2.

Avions-de-Transport-R-FedEx-EI-FXC-_1074HAVANA, July 20th  As the thaw continues between the United States and Cuba, the U.S. Department of Transportation has granted FedEx the rights to operate a five-times-weekly freighter service between Miami and the city of Matanzas. While eight other airlines were granted rights to fly passenger routes between the U.S. and Cuba Read more

auto-de-alquiler-cuentapropista3HAVANA,July 17th (AP)  Cuban authorities warned Friday that they will pull the licenses of private taxi drivers who raise fares, amid recently announced energy restrictions that have many islanders bracing for difficult months ahead. Read more

havana-live-paralampicHAVANA, July 10th  Cuba increased the number of athletes who have qualified for the 2016 Paralympic Games to 19, the sports authorities said.

Rene Jimenez, head of the sports department at the National Institute of Sport for the Read more

havana-live-zikaHAVANA,June 29th  (Reuters) – Cuba has successfully held off the Zika epidemic and in the process all but eliminated Dengue fever and other mosquito-carried illnesses, state-run media reported on Tuesday.

Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda told a Council of Ministers meeting that a series of measures taken this year to eliminate Read more

havana-live-che-master-card1HAVANA, June 28th (Reuters) MasterCards from Florida-based Stonegate Bank (SGBK.O) are the first U.S.-issued credit cards that can be used to withdraw cash at automatic teller machines in Cuba, the first vice president of the country’s central bank said on Monday.

Irma Margarita Martinez, speaking to media on the sidelines of a financial Read more

havana-live-harlistas-cubanosHAVANA,June 26th   More than a dozen Cuban bikers wearing black leather vests gather at an open-air bar in Havana. They chat and drink near the Malecón along the coast as the sun drops over the ocean. Read more

havana-live-art-deco-super-169HAVANA, June 20th (CNN) Cuba’s capital, Havana, boasts one of the world’s most significant but frequently overlooked treasure troves of Art Deco architecture.

Successfully integrating architecture, interior design, fashion and visual arts, this decorative trend had a wide-reaching influence on the Caribbean island.

Spanning the Roaring ’20s and extending into the Depression-ridden 1930s, Art Deco came to epitomize all the glamor, opulence, freedom and hedonism of the post-World War I Jazz Age. Art Deco’s aesthetic is defined by smooth lines, geometric shapes, new materials and bright, sometimes gaudy colours.

In Cuba, the rule of twice-elected president Gen. Gerardo Machado (1925-1933) witnessed the greatest flowering of the movement. Influenced by overseas trends, Cuban architects assimilated Art Deco’s features in a range of buildings across Havana, frequently using tropical elements such as palms and pineapples, as well as African iconography.

 Cuba’s Communist era has seen much of Havana’s iconic Art Deco architecture spared from the wrecking ball, although it has also meant that today many buildings are in a sorry state of neglect.

Times are slowly changing, however; the 2013 Art Deco Congress was held in Cuba for the first time, and organizations such as Habana Deco are now working hard to promote and protect the country’s Art Deco heritage.
Tours of Art Deco architecture in Havana can be organized through UK travel company Cuba Direct. havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169havana-live-art-deco-super-169


havaan-live-FedexHAVANA, June 18th FedEx Corp. won’t be flying a big cargo plane into Havana anytime soon.

The express delivery giant dropped its bid to operate to Cuba’s capital and is now requesting U.S. regulatory clearance to fly five times a week between Miami and the smaller resort town of Varadero in the province of Matanzas.

In a downsizing of its near-term ambitions, the company also said it would use a Cessna 208 aircraft, which is far smaller than the Boeing 757 it initially proposed for the Miami-Havana route.

Using Varadero as the base for FedEx’s initial operations “would be the more optimal use of its resources under current Cuba marketplace conditions,” it added in the amended application.

A company spokeswoman declined Friday to elaborate on those market conditions or the reason behind the changes. The company reiterated its “strong interest’’ in providing all-cargo transportation service between the countries.


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The decision comes amid heated competition for U.S. passenger flight routes to Havana. The Transportation Department last week awarded six U.S. airlines rights to secondary Cuban airports but said it would wait until the summer to apportion flights to the capital after receiving three times more requests than the 20 available daily slots.

FedEx said Friday it plans to provide trucking service from Varadero to Havana, the special development zone in Mariel and Santiago de Cuba. Veradero’s Juan Gualberto Gomez International Airport is roughly 70 miles east of Havana.

The company requested a start date of Jan. 15, 2017 in Thursday’s amended application, citing “the complexities of setting up operations in Cuba with ground and customs clearance capabilities.”

That is later than U.S. passenger airlines plan to arrive on the island nation. American Airlines Group Inc., the largest U.S. airline by traffic, said this week its first Cuban-bound flights will depart Sept. 7 to Cienfuegos and Holguin.

FedEx noted in the amended application that it remains the only all-cargo applicant for U.S.-Cuba scheduled air services. The shift in planned operations, however, suggests tourism, not trade, will take off sooner as the U.S. loosens decades-long travel restrictions to Cuba.

FedEx delivery rival United Parcel Service Inc. confirmed Friday it hasn’t filed an application yet.

“UPS continues to assess the opportunity to provide services to and from Cuba. As trade lanes open and demand for delivery services increases, UPS will take appropriate action to meet the needs of our global customers,” it added in a statement.

Cuban entrepreneurs like Ruben Valladares, whose Havana company Adorgraf makes decorative paper bags, can finally make their private businesses legal entities.

HAVANA,may 24th (AP) Cuba announced Tuesday that it will legalize small and medium-sized private businesses, a move that could significantly expand the space allowed for private enterprise in one of the world’s last communist countries.

Until now, the government has allowed private enterprise only by self-employed workers in several hundred established categories like restaurant owner or hairdresser. Many of those workers have become de-facto small business owners employing other Cubans. But there are widespread complaints about the difficulties of running a business in a system that does not officially recognize them. Low-level officials often engage in crackdowns on successful businesses for supposed violations of the arcane rules on self-employment.

Communist Party documents published Tuesday said a category of small, mid-sized and “micro” private business is being added to the party’s master plan for social and economic development, which was approved by last month’s Cuban Communist Party Congress. The twice-a-decade meeting sets the direction for the single-party state for the coming five years.

The documents say that the three categories of business will be recognized as legal entities separate from their owners, implying a degree of protection that hasn’t so far existed for self-employed workers.

“Private property in certain means of production contributes to employment, economic efficiency and well-being, in a context in which socialist property relationships predominate,” reads one section of the “Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development.”

“This is a tremendously important step,” said Alfonso Valentin Larrea Barroso, director-general of Scenius, a cooperatively run economic consulting firm in Havana. “They’re creating, legally speaking, the non-state sector of the economy. They’re making that sector official.”

He said that about 6,000 de facto small and medium sized businesses now operate under self-employed workers’ licenses. This bars them from most dealings with the Cuban state, which maintains inefficient monopolies on imports and exports. As a result, most private businesses are forced to buy scarce supplies from state retail stores or on the black market, driving up prices for ordinary Cubans. Others pay networks of “mules” to import goods in checked airline baggage, adding huge costs and delays.

Larrea said he believed that legally recognized private business would be able to deal officially with state importers and exporters, allowing them to obtain wholesale goods more cheaply and efficiently.

“It’s a necessary step,” he said.

Reforms initiated by President Raul Castro after he became president in 2008 have allowed about half a million Cubans to transition to work in the private sector despite the extensive limits on self-employment. New categories of small and mid-sized businesses create the potential for many more jobs in the private sector, although Castro’s reforms have been slow and marked by periodic reversals of many reforms.

Reversals and crackdowns have been particularly marked in reforms that allow private businesses to flourish and compete with state monopolies, leading entrepreneurs to complain of constantly changing signals about the government’s desire for reform.

The 32-page party document is the first comprehensive accounting of the decisions taken by the party congress, which was closed to the public and international press. State media reported few details of the debate or decisions taken at the meeting but featured harsh rhetoric from leading officials about the continuing threat from U.S. imperialism and the dangers of international capitalism.

That tough talk, it now appears, was accompanied by what could be a major step in Cuba’s ongoing reform of its centrally planned economy.

Any such change will take months to go into effect. Major reforms like allowing new forms of business almost certainly must be formally approved by the country’s National Assembly, which is expected to hold one of its biannual meetings by August.

HAVANA, May 23th( Huffintonpost)President Obama’s visit to Havana in March shined a spotlight on Cuba—a country that, one’s political views aside, is regarded warmly by people around the world. Over the last two years, a new foreign investment law has sparked the interest of many companies (especially European ones) and the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States has also made the possibility of trade and investment deals with U.S. companies seem closer.

In this context, a number of corporate leaders are wondering how they should view the Cuban opportunity while avenues to move beyond the embargo are pursued in Washington. In a new article on, we address the question of what the evolution of the Cuban economy means for multinationals.

The country clearly has great economic potential and there were high hopes that the recently concluded VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba would take further steps to create a more hospitable environment in which private enterprise can make greater contributions to accelerated economic growth and job creation.

Such steps—which the government officially refers to as aiming to “perfect” or “update” the Cuban economic model—could, for instance, be modeled on what the Cuban president in his main speech referred to as the processes of “reform” in China and “renewal” in Vietnam. But these market liberalization measures have not yet been adopted.

They remain works in progress. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy is lacking a growth dynamo, and its slow “brewing” runs the risk of stagnating. Without stronger economic growth, the country will lack the resources needed to maintain the social achievements of recent decades.

Foreign investors have an important role to play in a number of industries (beer included) and in the sorely needed development of all kinds of infrastructure. In areas such as information and telecommunication services, their impact (especially in a competitive market environment) could be quick, positive and pervasive.

But for the right kind of investor to be attracted—those who will contribute to adding value and jobs in Cuba—they will need more than tax holidays, incentives and special zones. They will need regulatory transparency, reliability in the implementation of policies and flexibility in the operating environment for businesses.

The experience of many countries shows that sustainable economic success cannot be built on a combination of only foreign investors and state-owned enterprises. Cuba is fortunate to have a well-educated and creative population—fertile ground for entrepreneurship, provided that an appropriate legal framework is established to facilitate private enterprise.

In addition, there is another untapped homegrown asset: a large population of professionally experienced Cubans living outside the country, many of whom might be keen to return home and contribute to its prosperity with their skills, savings and connections.

Creating an environment in which returning is an attractive possibility could produce a great growth boost and reassure potential foreign investors that Cuba is a place where business can thrive. Few, if any, countries have ever had such an opportunity. Cuba is well placed to pursue it if decisive, transparent steps are taken soon to make it possible.


 HAVANA, May (Reuters) 17th Cuba and the United States aim to reach new agreements on cooperation in law enforcement, health and agriculture over the coming months, a senior Cuban official said on Monday, as part of the former Cold War foes’ drive to normalize ties.

The Communist-ruled island and its northern neighbor reestablished diplomatic relations a year ago after decades of hostility and have since signed deals on the environment, postal services and direct flights.

A bilateral commission met on Monday in Havana to establish a roadmap for talks over the rest of this year, which would include more high-ranking official visits, said Josefina Vidal, head of the Cuban delegation.

In March, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba.

“The agenda is quite ambitious,” Vidal told a news conference, adding that talks about intellectual property rights were also in the cards.

The two sides had discussed holding dialogues on human rights and claims, the U.S. embassy in Cuba said in a statement.

They already outlined their respective claims late last year, with the U.S. seeking upwards of $10 billion in compensation for nationalized properties and Cuba demanding at least $121 billion in reparations for the U.S. trade embargo and other acts it described as aggression.

“The United States looks forward to holding these meetings in the near future,” the embassy said. “Tomorrow (we) will discuss specific steps related to bilateral security during the law enforcement dialogue.”

Vidal, who is the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s chief of U.S. affairs, said the island was hopeful that whomever became next the U.S. president would continue to deepen the detente. The United States will hold a general election on Nov.8.

“When you look at the polls, the majority of the American population and the Cuban American community are in favor of the normalization of relations,” she said. “So I expect their opinion will be taken into account.”


Chief Eric Thompson and Chief Beverly Cook, of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, after meeting with Cuban biotech company that developed Heberprot-P. “Accessing this treatment requires an act of political will,” said Chief Thompson. “We would be derelict in our duties if we didn’t research how to access this medicine. We need to do this.” said Chief Cook. Photo courtesy St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

HAVANA, May 17th According to federal data, 17 percent of Native Americans living in the United States have diabetes. That’s more than double the rate of the white population. On the Akwesasne Mohawk reservation near Massena, half of the people over 65 have diabetes.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has taken an unusual step to try to deal with the disease. Last month, Mohawk chiefs led a delegation to Cuba where doctors have pioneered a new way to treat a very dangerous symptom of diabetes.

People with diabetes can get foot ulcers. They’re painful sores, and when they go untreated, they get so bad, toes or the whole foot have to be amputated. Chief Beverly Cook of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe said that can devastate diabetics and their families, causing “loss of productivity in the community, and just personal shock and trauma.”

The tribe already has a diabetes wound care unit in Akwesasne. But the chiefs heard about a new treatment for the ulcers developed by scientists in Cuba, called Heberprot-P. So they led a delegation to Havana to learn more. Cook was impressed by what she saw. “This treatment definitely would help. We saw evidence of severe grade 4 and 5 diabetic foot ulcers that were healed within 45 days,” she said.

The problem is the medicine isn’t legally available yet in the United States, even though it is being used in more than two dozen countries worldwide. The medicine is currently undergoing trials in the United States.

Cook hopes the visit will put pressure on the federal government to approve the medicine and provide funding for tribes to buy it. She said, “We don’t want Indian people to be left in the dark about it and to be not able to access it due to the budget constraints of Indian health service,”

This connection between Mohawks and Cubans might seem strange, but Chief Eric Thompson said there is an interesting chapter of history in the relationship. An Iroquois delegation, led by “a Tuscaroran individual by the name of Mad Bear Anderson,” said Thompson, traveled to Havana just after Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution to recognize the new government.

“The Cuban officials asked at that time what they could do for our people. They were told that we would be in need of their assistance on an international level with regards to recognition.”

According to Thompson, that visit laid early groundwork for Cuba to become a supporter of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was ratified in 2007.

Chief Cook said native tribes can identify with people in Cuba, that their efforts to survive and innovate in the face of the U.S. embargo is similar to what native people have endured. “I think it’s very enlightening, in light of all of that hardship, that they are that resilient and quite brilliant,” she said.

havana-live-caterpilarHAVANA, May 12th (Reuters) Caterpillar Inc, the world’s largest maker of heavy equipment, is ready to move swiftly into the Cuban market once the U.S. trade embargo is lifted, Chief Executive Doug Oberhelman said on Wednesday after meeting with Cuban ministers in Havana.

The detente between the United States and Cuba has raised hopes that full commercial ties will soon be restored between the former Cold War foes.

Caterpillar (CAT.N), based in Peoria, Illinois, is one of several U.S. companies looking at ways to gain an early foothold in the Communist-ruled island, which had been largely off bounds to U.S. business for more than five decades.

Oberhelman said he had been “warmly received” over the past two days by various ministers on his first trip to Cuba.

“We have talked about a number of projects,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an event celebrating a donation by Caterpillar to the foundation that preserves the heritage of U.S. writer Ernest Hemingway in Cuba.

“I think the most interesting one in the near term would be the Mariel harbor … making an efficient modern harbor that competes with others around the world.”

Cuba is staking much of its economic future on the Mariel port, west of Havana, seen as a potential distribution center for the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Caterpillar has already named an official dealer for Cuba, the privately held Puerto Rico company Rimco.

Rimco representative Caroline McConnie said the dealer was in talks with U.S. authorities about getting a license allowing it to sell certain Caterpillar products in Cuba despite the U.S. trade embargo.

President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in December 2014 to end Cold War-era animosity and restore diplomatic relations, but the trade embargo remains in place because only the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress can lift it.

Asked when he expected the embargo to be lifted, Oberhelman said: “For me, the answer is not soon enough.”

Once it was lifted, Caterpillar could move quickly to sell products in Cuba as it is used to dealing in emerging markets, he said, speaking on the veranda of the farm just outside Havana where Hemingway lived for 21 years.

“The idea is for our dealer to set up a facility here in Cuba,” he said. “We would supply most of our products from Brazil.”

090105-Finca-Vigia-hmed-5p.grid-6x2HAVANA, May 11th It’s been more than a decade in the making, but the first construction materials are finally on the way for a small but significant project with Michigan and Detroit connections outside Havana,on Ernest Hemingway’s Finca Vigia.

 The Lansing-based The Christman Co.‘s involvement in coordinating the project to build a 2,500-square-foot building on Hemingway’s former Finca Vigía property to house the celebrated author’s artifacts in a climate-controlled environment, which would spare them from the harsh Caribbean elements.

The first materials to be sent are “the meat and bones of the building before we dress it up with the skin,” said Ron Staley, the senior vice president of Christman who has made several trips to the island nation in the last roughly four years as he was working on the project.

That includes things like lumber, nails, electrical and plumbing supplies, wire, nails, saws and saw blades, door and window studs, ladders, toolboxes, safety equipment and other hardware.AR-160519965

The project is important because Hemingway had some of his most prized possessions on Finca Vigía (“lookout farm” in Spanish): thousands of books, rough drafts of his own work, letters, photographs, the heads of exotic game and others.

The problem, however, is that in Cuba’s brutally hot and humid Caribbean climate, and without a climate-controlled place to store them, they were in jeopardy of being irrevocably damaged and lost forever.

Mary-Jo Adams, executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit Finca Vigía Foundation, described it last summer:

“These are irreplaceable documents, some of them coming from the 1910s and 1920s that Hemingway brought with him to Cuba because he thought they were important,” she said. “But the inks were faded. They were being stored in the basement of the guest house, which was filled with termites. I think it was in danger of imminent collapse and that would have crushed the collection.”

The project is also an important milestone because it is the first time American building materials have been sent to Cuba, with which the U.S. severed relations in 1961, two years after Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. The Obama administration recently announced the decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba and relax the trade embargo. In January 2015, it authorized that building materials for certain types of projects could be shipped to the island.

“In addition to coordinating the logistics of a construction project within both U.S. and Cuban customs and other regulations — which obviously hasn’t been done in a while — lots of other things are also relative ‘unknowns,’ and that extends to the local construction labor market, which we anticipate needing to guide to our specifications, including safety regulations.”

havana-live-sede-de-caricom.jpg_2002894772 Caribbean Community (Caricom) foreign ministers yesterday began a two-day meeting here amid calls for the regional bloc to explore avenues for even stronger ties with Cuba, following Havana’s improved relations with the United States.

HAVANA, May 10th St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker told the opening ceremony of the 19th meeting of Caricom’s Council for Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR) that an assessment must be made of the region’s position in light of the changing nature of the US-Cuba relations.

“The Caribbean has long been a staunch ally of and advocate for the Cuban people and, as such, we must ensure that we are prepared so as not to be left behind when changes are effected in the way of doing business with Cuba,” said Sir Louis, who is also the island’s foreign affairs minister.

The incoming COFCOR chair said it is incumbent on Caricom to consider ways in which the 15-member regional grouping may “more closely secure the ties that bind us with Cuba in a mutually beneficial manner that can start with the simple invitation to be heard at our table.

“I put this forward as something we may wish to consider over the course of this meeting,” Sir Louis said.

The Guyana-based Caricom Secretariat said that the meeting will provide the ministers the opportunity for a periodic review of a range of diplomatic matters involving Caricom’s relations with third countries and international organisations.

“COFCOR will examine the implications for the Caribbean Community of several emerging issues, including the reshaping of the United States relations with Cuba and the pending British referendum on European Union membership.

“As the community seeks to reinforce relations with multilateral organisations, COFCOR will discuss matters regarding the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, and the Association of Caribbean States,” the statement said.

St Lucia’s Foreign Minister Alva Baptiste, the outgoing COFCOR chairman, also addressed the issue of the new US-Cuba relationship, saying that “over the next two days, we will be called upon to adumbrate the issues surrounding the normalisation of US-Cuba relations and how this will impact our community”.

Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque said the move toward normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba represents a welcome development in hemispheric relations.

“That development will form the theme of our retreat later today. The discussions there will take place against the background of our long-standing, strong and friendly relationship with Cuba,” he said.

La Rocque said that in the dynamic and rapidly changing global environment, Caricom must maintain and depend on traditional relationships, even as it builds new ones.

The meeting comes on the heels of last week’s Ninth UK-Caribbean Forum in The Bahamas. The Caricom foreign ministers will devote part of their meeting to discussing the critical elements emanating from that engagement.

The meeting will also discuss border issues and a range of bilateral topics involving Mexico, Cuba and the Nordic states, and the Unites States.

IMG_0012[6]“Last week in Havana, Cuba, the governments of Aruba and Cuba signed a cooperative agreement with a focus on tourism,” announced Minister of Tourism, Transportation, Culture and the Primary Sector for Aruba Mr. Otmar Oduber. 

HAVANA, May 9th It’s been close to a year since discussions began between the departments of foreign affairs of both countries, and are now continued with this official visit from Minister Oduber and a delegation consisting of the director of the Aruba Tourism Authority, Mrs. Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, director of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Edwin Abath, advisors to the minister and executives from the Aruba Tourism Authority, among others.

During the visit, the delegation spoke with the government official overseeing tourism, the Vice Minister of Transportation for Cuba Mrs. Naima Alfonso Acosta on the potential to create a route for cruise ships specifically between these two countries, as well as other countries in the southernmost region of the Caribbean.

The initial discussions with the head of tourism began months back. The topics of interest they will continue to focus on include a Dual Destination Program and the strengthening of knowledge in the fields of managing cruise facilities, inclusive of marketing strategies to attract visitors.

These initiatives will be driven through job platforms between the two countries. There is interest on Cuba’s part to exchange knowledge with Aruba based on Aruba’s storied success in the field of managing strategies and cruise facilities.

Cuba is also interested in Aruba’s experiences in the field of timeshare as well as new law proposals in respect to the management of accomodation. Aside from the topics of tourism and transportation, agriculture and culture were high on the agenda during the Minister Oduber’s visit to Havana.

On Wednesday, the official ceremony took place to endorse the ground-breaking agreement, which was signed by the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment for Cuba Mr. Rodrigo Malmierca, and Minister of Tourism, Transportation, Culture and Primary Sector for Aruba Mr. Otmar Oduber.”

Aruba sees Cuba as a new destination, despite its existence for some time now,” Minister Oduber explained, “and it will soon see organizational changes that will contribute to making the country a more attractive destination to explore from the U.S. market. This memorandum of understanding will align us with the new possibilities that this could bring for Aruba,” Minister Oduber concluded.

Carretera_Central-mapHAVANA,May 8 th (Havana Times)  “Three dead in road accident at Jatibonico. The crash also injured 28 people and took place when a bus carrying tourists, heading to Trinidad, collided with a truck” – Juventud Rebelde article, April 3, 2016

That was the last major car accident to take place on Cuba’s central highway. This highway is so dangerous that some bus drivers say this to the passengers:

“If you want to arrive on time, please respect the time allotment for our stops. We can’t really go any faster, we’ve got to cross the central highway where cars are separated by a few centimeters and everyone’s going fast. It’s like risking one’s life every minute and we want you to arrive safely to your destination.”

The highway opened on February 24, 1931. It covers 1139 kilometers, from Pinar del Rio to Santiago de Cuba, and it’s narrow 6 meters of width are no match for the 21st century.havana-live-central-highway

In the 1980s, an ambitious nationwide highway began to be built. It was designed to have 6 to 8 lanes and a separator in the middle. The stretch from Pinar del Rio to Havana and from there to Santa Clara was traced, all the way to Taguasco. On the other end, some 45 kilometers of mountainous terrain, the only obstacle in an otherwise level route, were cleared, starting from Santiago de Cuba.

The work was suspended in 1990, when 495 kilometers of road had been laid. The rest of the way, some 550 kilometers stretching from Santa Clara and the vicinity of Palma Soriano, must be crossed using the nearly-one-hundred-year-old road, where most accident-related deaths take place in Cuba.

On January 30, Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers published the number of car accidents that took place in 2015. Half of the opinions expressed are captured by these two comments:

“I think the biggest problem leading to accidents in Cuba is the poor state of the roads. This isn’t mentioned in this report. If we continue to make excuses for our problems, we’ll continue having accidents, injuries and deaths.”

“I think the Cuban government must complete the national highway. The large volume of tourists who visit the island is important and, to tell the truth, they don’t have very good opinions about the roads.”

Why do we not yet have the indispensable national highway?e87003b4b260c3a5f10289304a6c5194

To date, the size of the investment and the limitations imposed by the US embargo have been used to justify the precarious state of the project. A brief analysis of the situation demonstrates the opposite.

Shocked by the tragic accident in Jatibonico, a reader suggested, “so as not to ask for much, broadening the highway two lanes on both sides and adding a dirt road at the side where carts, bicycles and tractors driven by locals in these agricultural areas can circulate, since the famers don’t have any other road they can use.” The partition down the middle was implicit.

Calculating the cost of the previous proposal is complicated because most of it would be made in Cuban pesos. That said, in 1988, the 6-lane highway stretching from Havana to Pinar del Rio (some 170 kilometers long) cost 650,000 pesos per kilometer.

If we round the figure to a million, factoring in the increase in the price of materials and the narrowing of the highway, we get around 550 million pesos. If we did this in the style of the new president, “slowly but surely,” and built 28 kilometers every year, the country would have had the modern highway in 20 years.

If anyone is still swallowing that tripe about the lack of resources caused by the notorious blockade, suffice it to recall the roads built over the ocean.

Between 1987 and the early 2000s, some 172 km of highway was built on rock embankments over the open sea and salt marshes, linking keys and isles at the Jardines del Rey municipality, towards the north of the provinces of Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila and Camaguey. Building something that long over land would cost considerably less, and there’s also the dubious financial soundness of the vast maritime bridges that were built and their negative impact on the environment.

There are many tourist destinations in idyllic islands that have no need of such artificial bridges. One needn’t leave Cuba to realize this, one need only compare Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo.

The former was connected to the mainland by a 17-km road over the sea. The shortest distance between Cayo Largo and the mainland is seven times that, making any such bridge unthinkable. However, both destinations have an international airport. In the Wikipedia article on the destination, we read that, “since 2005, tourists can fly to the Cayo Coco airport directly, rather than have to fly to the Cuban mainland.”havana-live-highway-cayo-coco

Both destinations are growing in terms of investments and visitors. Was the super maritime highway necessary?

The megalomaniacal whim of the stone embankment highways entailed an investment similar to the one required to build the nationwide highway. It would be pointless to enumerate the economic benefits to be drawn from such a highway.

The authorities address the immediate causes of accidents, but the root problem does not concern them.

Cuba’s National Road Safety Commission published chilling statistics: “during 2015, on average, there was a road accident every 47 minutes and an accident-related death every 11 hours.”


havana-live-air-chinaHAVANA, May 6 (Xinhua)  Cuba has sought to become an important tourism destination for foreign visitors, eyeing China as a significant and growing market for its tourism industry.

“The number of Chinese tourists increases every year and will continue to do so through the direct flight between Beijing and Havana that Air China inaugurated in December of 2015,” Cuban Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero told Xinhua on Thursday at Cuba’s annual tourism trade fair FITCuba.

A total of 28,239 Chinese travelers visited Cuba’s capital Havana, its leading beach resort of Varadero and other destinations in 2015, representing a growth of 27 percent.

To draw more Chinese travelers, Cuba’s tour operators in China are working with local agencies under new promotional strategies.

“We have no doubt that the number of Chinese tourists will grow in the coming years and we will continue to strive to bring the Air China flights completely booked,” said Marrero.

This effort will also offer Chinese companies investment opportunities to develop luxury hotels and golf courses in Havana.

“We are going to build a five-star luxury hotel at the Hemingway Marina (west of Havana) with the Chinese firm Suntime, and a resort golf course with (residential) apartments in the Bellomonte area (east of Havana) with the company Beijing Enterprise,” he said.

Both initiatives have been approved by the Cuban ministry and should break ground soon.

“With the combination of Air China flights and hotel development with Beijing Enterprise and Suntime, the growth of Chinese tourism is guaranteed,” said the top Cuban tourism official.

Zhang Xin, Air China general manager for Cuba, said the inauguration of the direct Beijing-to-Havana route in December is important to bolstering tourism ties between the two countries.

The thrice-a-week 19-hour flight, with a stop in Montreal, Canada, is the first-ever direct flight between the Chinese capital and a destination in Latin America.

“We’re sure more Chinese tourists will come in the future to Cuba,” Zhang told Xinhua, adding “we want to show them the beauty of its beaches and landscapes, its culture and rich history.”

Through the new route, Air China hopes to turn Havana into a kind of Caribbean travel hub for Chinese travelers who are interested in visiting other islands in the area.

“Cuba is a big mystery many Chinese want to explore and learn from,” said the Air China official.

China is Cuba’s second-largest trading and commercial partner, and Beijing’s participation in the development of various sectors of the island nation’s economy has enhanced bilateral strategic ties.

Cuba received 3.5 million foreign visitors last year, and is poised to become an even more important Caribbean destination as the restoration of its diplomatic ties with the United States has increased the number of U.S. travelers to the island.