The artist’s National Prize exhibition at the Wifredo Lam Center

havana-live-wilfried lam

The courtyard of the Wifredo Lam Center during the run of Lázaro Saavedra: Base / Superestructura. Visible at lower left, the installation El progreso de una nacíon; the clothesline is also an installation. Courtesy Lázaro Saavedra

HAVANA, april 5th (cubanartnews) Lázaro Saavedra: Base / Superstructure was presented at the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art in Havana, February 16-March 16, 2016. The exhibition was presented in recognition of Saavedra as the winner of the 2014 National Prize of Plastic Arts, awarded annually by the Cuban government.
Although National Art Award exhibitions are usually presented at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the two floors of the Wifredo Lam Center provided a literal structure for Saavedra’s exhibition, an inquiry into the nature of art, inspired by Marxist philosophy.

Here is a photo walk-through of the show, with Saavedra’s statement about the exhibition and comments about specific works, excerpted from the exhibition catalogue.

Unlike most exhibition texts by artists and curators, Saavedra’s comments may be understood as extensions of the artworks, counterpoints to them, and/or textual artworks in their own right.

Lázaro Saavedra: Base / Superestructura was curated by Corina Matamoros and Lázaro Saavedra


Lázaro Saavedra, El progreso de una nación, 2016. Courtesy Lázaro Saavedra

Exhibition Statement
This exhibition aims to pay homage to visual thought as it manifests metaphorically, more or less, in the arts or sciences. In his Preface to the Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, Karl Marx applies two architectural (Basis / Überbau = Base / Superstructure) to the social sciences, employing them in the critical analysis of society. The exhibition Base / Superestructura is inspired, among other things, by these concepts of Marxist philosophy.


Lázaro Saavedra, ¿Por qué pienso cosas figurativas mientras dibujo abstracto?, 2015 Courtesy Lázaro Saavedra

A free interpretation of these ideas is further proposed—a symbolic representation, “materializing” them in an artistic form. This interpretation returns them to their original architectural assertion (without removing the philosophical references), by comparing two shows at different levels (lower/upper) in the Lam Center building. That willingness to find a meaning in the connection between the symbolic representations of base and superstructure is inspired—not without questioning—by one of the premises of Hermetic thought: “As above, so below; as below, so above.”
Arte contestatario, 2015
This work represents what it is: a canvas put through a wall. Have you ever wondered who will respond (contesta) to oppositional art (el arte contestatario)? Have you ever wondered who and what oppositional art asks to be responded to? Oppositional art arises precisely where the social action of anti-questioning art leaves off. Again, the author tells us of—catapults us, gives us a kick in the direction of—confrontation, and the direct and scathing criticism of the circles, squares, triangles (and polyhedrons, why not?) of power.
_MG_8491Arte insoportable, 2015
In several interviews with the artist, he was brilliantly unable to enlighten us about the title of this work and his relationship to it. But what is clear is the link between this installation and the phenomenon of aesthetic discordance in the process of artistic creation. The unbearable lightness of art that falls under its own weight, which is incapable of sustaining its own levitatation (see levitation art), redeems from the floor its own shadow as an extension of itself, a black ghost that ascends the institutional wall of culo blanco (white rear end)—no, cubo blanco (white cube)—in abstract geometric form, to the kingdom of heaven.
_MG_8488Arte insoportable, 2015
In several interviews with the artist, he was brilliantly unable to enlighten us about the title of this work and his relationship to it. But what is clear is the link between this installation and the phenomenon of aesthetic discordance in the process of artistic creation. The unbearable lightness of art that falls under its own weight, which is incapable of sustaining its own levitatation (see levitation art), redeems from the floor its own shadow as an extension of itself, a black ghost that ascends the institutional wall of culo blanco (white rear end)—no, cubo blanco (white cube)—in abstract geometric form, to the kingdom of heaven.
_MG_8511Arte oficial, 2015, with Arte Underground, 2015, in background at right
On Arte official: An exquisite work of stunning superficiality—as all good art is characterized and defined when it is worthy of representing surface art (superficial art), which is a counterpoint and eternal opponent of arte profundo (underground art). In this work the artist proposes, in a crazy way, to overlap the termspatriotic art and official art: The canvas, ergo art, as the flag of what? Does the official culture have a flag, the same as the nation?

Arte underground is a work that is inserted into the underground art movement, which evolved from the stagnant overground art. We must be redundant and emphasize that the difference between these two arts is that one moves, the other does not. This work overflows the literal, provoking a flood of self-referentiality that could drown the concept if it doesn’t know how to swim—or doesn’t know anything, not to speak or to write. This concept survived during the Special Period [after the collapse of the Soviet Union] as a lifeguard in an underground pool frequented by foreign concepts.
_MG_8499Arte politicarte, 2015
The Master said: “Driven by political maneuvering and content with punishments, the people become astute and lose shame. Led by virtue and moderated by rites, they develop a sense of shame and participation.” Entrepreneurship (el cuentapropismo) will evolve a way to sell, on the black market, boxes with “virtue” and “moderating rites” so that once they are sampled, it will be necessary to develop the sense of shame and participation. If the words I’m going to write are not more beautiful than a sheet of paper, then I will not write. A white sheet (blanco) is ugly (fea).

Articidio, 2015
This work, full of the optimistic conceit of bipolar disorders, moves through the swampy terrain between suicide and homicide, and brings us back to post-Satorian or Nirvanic experiences, as applicable. The author, during ritual practices related to the fine art of seppuku (harikiri, not to be confused with hareKrisna, the god of the Yoruba pantheon) has deconstructed the aesthetic category of suicide, to masterfully innovate the neologism “Articidio” (of the masculine gender, said of the union in concubinage between “art” and “suicide”). The delicate detail of the cut, in the manner of the stylist Lucio Fontana, cannot pass unnoticed, as in the best tradition of slashing wrists, heiress to a “friki” subculture,” and to the rhythm of chords by the solo diva of Evanescence or Emonescene.
_MG_8509Installation view of the exhibition, with, at left: When you’re down almost all step on you; rear wall,You’re a prisoner and you do not know; and what do I know?; and at right, Arte y sanía, 2015.

Lázaro Saavedra: Base / Superestructura was presented at the Wifredo Lam Center of Contemporary Art February 16-March 16, 2016.

havana-live-AniplantHAVANA, march 31th Cuba has been all over the news these past couple of months with a return visit from Pope Francis in February and visits from President Obama and the Rolling Stones in March. We hope these recent visits by celebrities mean that there are improvements in living conditions for the people, and for the animals.

The most immediate impact of these high-profile visits is that areas around the venues are scrubbed clean. While we can all appreciate fresh paint and clean streets, our hearts break for the animals on the streets who are collected like trash.

Some are strays who never had a home, and some are pets who happened to be out for a walk alone at the wrong time. Regardless, they end up in the same place, with no hope. The vast majority are killed. It hurts. It angers us. And it motivates us.

Aniplant and The Aniplant Project are united in the mission of helping the animals of Cuba by:

Preventing unwanted animals with spay/neuter programs
Educating about the need for spay/neuters
Promoting general health care and welfare for animals
Assisting refuges
Intervening in cases of animal suffering

It is a long road. There are many, many needs.

The Aniplant Project and Aniplant  teams see and hear a lot of hard things. Things that, as animal lovers, hurt our souls and shatter our hearts. Your many kind words of encouragement and support mean the world to us. Muchas gracias.

And thanks to supporters like you, we’ve started off 2016 with great momentum! Thanks to you:

Hundreds of animals have been sterilized. Hundreds of pounds of donated supplies have arrived at Aniplant.
Hundreds of people have become aware of Aniplant and the plight of the animals of Cuba, due to more travelers and supporters sharing stories.

Like Spring gives us fresh hope, we hope all these visitors to Cuba bring reconciliation for the people, and kindness for the animals. We continue to work hard for improvements in the lives of the animals in Cuba.

Thank you for your support.

The Aniplant Project Team

havana-live-IPCHAVANA, march 28 th Miami-based International Port Corp. said it’s the first U.S. company to open a staffed office in Cuba.
Several companies have received licenses from the U.S. government to start operations in Cuba since President Barack Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba yet they haven’t opened facilities yet.

IPC Owner and President Larry Nussbaum said his shipping firm has leased warehouse space in Havana from the Cuban government and staffed it with six employees. The Cuban workers were hired by a Cuban government employment agency, which IPC pays.

“The opportunities are great. Cuba is open for business,” Nussbaum said. “Now we need the American legislation to make it legal for companies like mine to expand what we can legally do in Cuba.”

IPC first received a license to conduct shipments between Miami and Havana in July 2012 on humanitarian groups. It’s since expanded that to include commercial shipments and cargo for diplomatic purposes, both by air and sea.
Having daily representatives in Cuba will help his company ensure shipments reach customers and go through customs properly, Nussbaum said.

“It’s a matter of properly respecting U.S. and Cuban law and building a relationship with them,” Nussbaum said.
Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations and the lifting of some travel restrictions, there hasn’t been a dramatic increase in shipments to Cuba because Cuba isn’t buying much from the U.S. The problem is the U.S. embargo restricts offering credit to Cuban purchasers of U.S. goods, so it’s not a competitive market.

“The growth of my business is dependent on the U.S. making more activities legal,” Nussbaum said.
IPC was also the first company to obtain permission from U.S. authorities to offer passenger ferry service from Florida to Cuba. Other U.S. companies have since followed. However, Cuba has not approved passenger ferry service.

havana-live-airbnb_logo_detailHAVANA, march 26th Cruise ships, hotel chains and commercial jets are all heading from the U.S. to Cuba for the first time in half a century. So it was only a matter of time before Airbnb got in on the action.

For about a year now, U.S. travelers have been able to book housing through Airbnb in Cuba. But now, the U.S. government has granted special permission to Airbnb to offer its services to the rest of the world, according to ABC News.

Starting on April 2, Airbnbs spread across 40 cities and towns in Cuba will open to the world, creating the company’s fastest-growing market. Some 4,000 houses in Cuba were added to Airbnb’s website in the past year, the company has reported.

It’s a great deal for locals, who earn an average of just $20 a day, as Airbnbs that host many Cubans are making $250 in U.S. currency per booking.

HAVANA, march 25th  The band known in Cuba as “Los Rollings” have arrived in Havana.

Following in President Obama’s footsteps, the Rolling Stones touched down ahead of a huge free concert on Friday.For decades rock music was denigrated on the communist island as “ideological deviation”. On Thursday the British band were officially welcomed by officials from Cuba’s Cultural Ministry and the UK ambassador to Cuba.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts stopped on the tarmac to speak to reporters.

“Obviously something has happened in the last few years,” Jagger said, as Richards interjected: “That’s what happens when you ban things”.

Jagger went on: “So, time changes everything and so we are very pleased to be here and I’m sure it’s going to be a great show… Tomorrow, I think it is, God is it really tomorrow? We’d better get ready!”
In contrast to the relatively recent political rapprochement, the musical thaw between Cuba and the West has been developing for some time.

Fidel Castro reportedly regretted the censorship and attended the unveiling of a statue of John Lennon in Havana in 2000.

Even so the concert, which comes at the end of the Stones’ Latin American tour, will be a first for Cubans.

“(It’s great) that the youth interact with music they don’t know, so that youth can interchange, recognize and compare cultures, to incorporate them and also to share their energy, because Cubans, especially young Cubans, have a lot of energy to give,” said one woman in Havana.

Back in the 1960s when Rolling Stones cover band Los Kent tried to play in Cuba, soldiers stopped the gig at gunpoint.

Some 50 years later, today’s military will be helping to provide security for the hundreds of thousands of fans who are expected in Havana.

HAVANA, march 24th (Reuters)The Rolling Stones are welcoming Cubans to their free concert on Friday with Mick Jagger speaking Spanish in a video on YouTube, though few are likely to see it, given Cuba’s scant Internet penetration.

“We have played in many incredible places but this concert in Havana is going to be a historic event for us,” Jagger said in a voice over while the Stones’ song, “Jumping’ Jack Flash” plays to snippets of concert video. “We hope it will be for you, too.” (here)

Less than one-third of Cubans have access to the Internet, with only 3.4 percent of homes connected to either the Internet or a local Cuban Intranet, according to U.N. data.

The Stones added Cuba to the end of a Latin American tour, becoming the first major international rock stars to play in the island nation.

The outdoor concert at a sports complex was postponed five days because of the 48-hour visit by U.S. President Barack Obama, who departed Cuba on Tuesday.

The band have brought in 61 shipping containers with an estimated 500 tonnes of equipment, such as a stage, speakers, lights and video screens, the production manager, Dale Skjerseth, told reporters on Sunday.

A crew of 140 Stones employees and at least 80 Cubans have set up on grounds including a football field and adjoining baseball fields with room for hundreds of thousands of spectators who are invited to arrive for free on a first-come, first-serve basis.

havana-live-Kcho-googleHAVANA, march 24th Google has hatched a game-changing plan to speed up internet service across Cuba. The Silicon Valley giant has set up an online technology center in Cuban artist Kcho’s studio in Havana, where it will offer free internet service at speeds nearly 70 times faster than the service now available to the Cuban public.

It seems Google is hopeful that such a center will convince Cubans that they actually can access high-speed Internet, but the government is restricting their access. According to Associated Press, Google has built a studio equipped with dozens of laptops, cellphones, and virtual-reality goggles. The connection at the Kcho studio is provided by Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company over a new fiber-optic connection.

As many as 40 people can use the internet service at a time at the studio, which will be open five days a week, from 7 am to midnight.

“Yes, Google will offer much faster internet access, but in terms of expanding access, the impact of the current arrangement will be limited to several dozen people at one time — possibly a few hundred in a day,” he said.

In fact, it is this studio where Cuba’s first Wi-Fi hotspot was unveiled. The Cuban government has since set up several  Wi-Fi hotspots across the country, particularly in capital Havana. Yet, Cuba still has one of the world’s lowest rates of internet penetration.

“The hub at the artist studio is a marker that Google has put down that signals the company’s ability to help modernize Cuba’s internet. “But it also shows the company’s willingness to do so within the parameters established by the Cuban government.”

The artist launched the Wi-Fi hotspot after getting permission from ETECSA. Over the past one year, the telecom firm has rolled out nearly 50 Wi-Fi hotspots across the country.

havana-live-coarl riffHAVANA, march 20th (Huffingtonpost) President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba on Sunday promises to revive a question raised when the U.S. began normalizing relations with the island nation: As American tourists pour in, what will happen to Cuba’s natural environment?

An influx of tourists and businesses will likely bring investment to Cuba, but some experts fear the expansion of tourism, mechanized agriculture and oil exploration could threaten its well-preserved natural ecosystems.

In fact, the Cubans “have a lot to lose in terms of biodiversity, marine and coastal habitat and fish populations if they don’t do things right moving ahead,” Daniel Whittle, senior director of the Cuba program at the Environmental Defense Fund, told The Huffington Post.

The uptick in American tourism is already “putting a real strain” on Cuba, he said.

Despite fears of environmental ruin, both Cuba and the U.S. have been working to ensure the restoration of diplomatic ties doesn’t come at the expense of Cuba’s land and marine ecosystems.

“At the official level, environmental protection is still a high priority,” Whittle said about Cuba. “It’s something [President Raúl] Castro and his deputies talk a lot about.”56ec3a6c1e0000c600710a35

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made protecting the environment a central issue in the State Department’s negotiations with Cuba.

Of the four agreements signed by U.S. and Cuban officials since the re-opening of relations in 2014, two have laid out plans for environmental protection in Cuba, according to Whittle.

One agreement, signed in November 2015, outlines a planned effort by both countries to share scientific knowledge, collaborate on conservation efforts and jointly “address the causes and effects of climate change” in Cuba, according to a copy of the agreement.

“The agreement provides an unprecedented vehicle for the governments to actually talk to each other and influence each other,” Whittle said. Through it, “the U.S. government can influence how science is conducted in Cuban national parks, how well they’re managed and even policy relating to these protected areas.”

A lot to lose

For Cuba, which has been called the “jewel of the Caribbean,” the stakes of environmental protection are high.

“It’s not a secret that Cuba has some of the best preserved land and waters in the Caribbean,” Luis Solórzano, executive director of the Cuba program at the non-profit Nature Conservancy told HuffPost on Friday.

The country has 4,000 uninhabited islands and keys, miles of undeveloped coastline, a huge variety of native species and an extensive coral reef system, according to Whittle. It’s no accident they remain well-preserved.

The trade embargo that kept American cars off Cuban roads for half a century has also prevented farmers from adopting high-tech agriculture practices used in the U.S., according to Whittle. And it has kept American tourists off beaches and limited the development of Cuba’s oil resources in the Caribbean.

“Because of US-Cuba relations, Cuba hasn’t had access to U.S. technology, hasn’t had access to grants and loans from institutions like the World Bank,” Whittle said. “So they have a lot to lose in terms of biodiversity.”56ec3b411e00008700704a67

Cuba has vigilantly sought to protect its natural environment over the years.

“The Cubans have been pioneers and really aggressive in declaring protected areas,” Solórzano said. 

Cuba’s commitment to conservation began in 1992, when then-President Fidel Castro announced that his government would confront the “ecological destruction threatening our planet” at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Since then, shrewd environmental management policies have required the Cuban government to protect 25 percent of its marine habitat from development, according to Whittle. (By contrast, the U.S. has only protected between 3 and 5 percent of its marine habitats, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.)

The Cuban government also requires proposals for new developments to undergo a rigorous environmental review process.

Cuba’s environmental record isn’t perfect, however. While its policies look good on paper, “implementation has been a mixed bag,” Whittle said. The country’s aging infrastructure has hurt wastewater treatment, agricultural land suffers from soil erosion, and dams have altered water flows in fragile coastal estuaries, according to Whittle.

Cuba also isn’t walled off from the world. Cuba does business with many developed countries, including Canada, and its beaches and forests have attracted foreign tourists for decades .

Opening up to Americans will heap new pressures onto Cuba’s existing environmental challenges, experts say.

“The question we’re asking is ‘What if you unleash all these pressures that have not been there?’” Solórzano said.

Striking a delicate balance

If Cuba wants to expand industry on the island without despoiling the environment, the government will have to strike a delicate balance between growth and conservation, according to Solórzano.

“It is about the balance,” he said. “How do they balance their economic needs and preserving the natural capital on which they depend?”

Right now, Cuba imports 70 percent of its food at a cost of about $2 billion every year, according to Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Producing enough food domestically to feed the country’s more than 11 million people will require turning some of Cuba’s unused land into highly productive crop fields, Sanchez told HuffPost on Friday. 

The trick, Sanchez said, will be ramping up food production without causing undue damage to the environment. 56ec3af21500002a000b282f

“With proper investment and research … Cuba can increase its food production to the point that it can be nearly self-sufficient without causing significant damage to the coastal ecosystems that we all want to preserve,” Sanchez said.

Researchers at the University of Florida and the non-profit Nature Conservancy are working with Cuba’s Ministry of Environment to ensure Cuba expands food protection without despoiling the country’s land and waters, according to Sanchez.

As a kid, I fished in the coastal waters off Cuba, and I don’t want them messed up.”Dr. Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at Columbia University’s Earth Institute

It’s a project that would not have happened had the U.S. not resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, said Sanchez, who works on the project.

“I doubt very much whether any such thing would have happened before the Obama opening,” Sanchez said. 

If changing relations with the U.S. have created an opportunity for Cuba to develop economically without sacrificing its rich natural habitats, Solórzano thinks the Cubans can make the most of the opportunity.

“They are really smart, have a vision, care about their environment, and are proud of what they’ve done,” he said. “In this country, it can be done.”

Sanchez agrees. For him, the future of Cuba’s environment is as personal as it is political.

“As a kid, I fished in the coastal waters off Cuba,” he said, “and I don’t want them messed up.”

use-1-payments-premium-facebook-covers-2015-02-08Backed by Visa and Amex and venture capital, Stripe will aim to serve Cuban tech startups

HAVANA,march 19th (WSJ) Online payments firm Stripe Inc. is joining a number of large U.S. corporations planning ventures and partnerships in Cuba in conjunction with President Barack Obama’s visit on Sunday, the first by a sitting U.S. president since 1928.

The San Francisco startup, among the most highly valued in financial technology and a growing competitor to such established firms as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and PayPal Holdings Inc., has started offering its services to Cubans, the company said Friday. Stripe is aiming at Cuban tech startups who want to sell their services or products to U.S. customers.BN-ND788_0318ST_P_20160318131028

The chief executive of Stripe, Patrick Collison, will join a delegation of company executives accompanying Mr. Obama on his trip to Cuba.

Of course, the road to any significant Cuban business for financial companies is likely to be long, with no guarantees of significant traction or revenue. And some Cubans and U.S. politicians are still demanding many more political changes in Cuba before seeking economic liberalization.

For now, the launch is mainly symbolic, as there are still many hurdles to doing business in Cuba, including restrictions for some individuals, incomplete local financial infrastructure, and limited and restricted Internet access. As of now, most U.S. credit cards can’t be used in Cuba.

The company was chosen to accompany the delegation after White House officials met with a group of Cuban startup entrepreneurs in Havana in recent weeks, Mr. Collison said. The group said it could use Stripe’s service to help their ventures accept payments from customers outside of Cuba, which led the White House to invite Stripe, Mr. Collison said.

Stripe was valued at $5 billion in a fundraising round last year, according to Dow Jones VentureSource. It is backed by payments giants Visa Inc. and American Express Co., as well as such venture-capital firms as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Sequoia Capital.

Its software plugs into websites to enable businesses to accept credit cards, debit cards, bitcoin and other forms of payment.

Since many Cubans don’t have credit cards or significant savings, Mr. Collison said, Stripe’s $500 fee to start an account could be paid over time as the businesses collected money in their U.S. accounts. The accounts only accept online payments, and are likely to be used primarily to accept payments from overseas customers.havana-live-stripe-secure

It’s also not settled how Cubans would then be able to access the funds in the U.S. bank accounts at Silicon Valley Bank, Mr. Collison said. The U.S. Treasury specifically loosened rules on remittances to Cuba, which should make it easier, but it isn’t clear what the best mechanism to do so is, he said.

960x0HAVANA, march 18th (FORBES) The warming of relations between the United States and Cuba has spurred an increased interest in traveling to the island, with search traffic for flights up 500% from last year as more online travel agencies begin to list flights. Several airlines have applied to fly additional routes and it seems to be only a matter of time before regular air travel commences.

Recent rule changes have made it much easier for Americans to legally visit Cuba. Travel is still only permitted as long as it fits within 12 fairly broad, legally permissible purposes, but a key update to the rule now permits individuals to embark upon personal trips self-determined to meet the criteria. No advance license required.

So while the travel embargo still technically remains in place, the real obstacle for Americans who visit Cuba are the high flight prices. Currently flights from the United States to Cuba cost an average of $717 round trip, which is significantly more expensive than flights to other Caribbean destinations near Cuba.Screen-Shot-2016-03-17-at-9.27.59-AM

So what’s a would-be traveler to do? For most Americans, the cheapest way to visit Cuba as a tourist is via a lengthy and indirect flight through a third country, with Canada and Mexico being the obvious choices.

havana-live-exchange rate US dollarHavana,march 18th  Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that the government will eliminate the 10 percent tax levied on US dollars entering the country.

At a press conference on Thursday in Havana in the lead up to US President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba next week, Rodriguez indicated that repealing the tax was in response to White House measures easing financial restrictions on Cuba, Xinhua news agency reported.

Cuba will scrap the tax “only after it has verified” the effectiveness of the US measures, Rodriguez added.

The tax on US cash used in Cuba was first introduced in 2004, as Washington intensified economic and financial sanctions against Cuba.

havana-live-zika-virus-webHAVANA ,march 16th (AP) Cuban officials announced Tuesday night that they have detected the first case of the Zika virus transmitted inside the country, ending Cuba’s status as one of the last nations in the hemisphere without domestic cases of the disease that has been linked to birth defects.

State media said a 21-year-old Havana woman who had not traveled outside Cuba was diagnosed with the virus after suffering headaches, fatigue and other symptoms. On Monday, her blood tested positive for Zika. She remains hospitalized.

Cuba had previously reported a handful of cases of the disease in people who had traveled to countries with outbreaks of the mosquito-borne virus, particularly Venezuela, and appeared to have contracted it there.

Cuba has close ties to Venezuela, a fellow socialist country that sends hundreds of millions of dollars a year in subsidized oil in exchange for Cuban medical assistance that sees many thousands of people travel between the two countries annually.

Zika is being investigated as a possible agent in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brain damage, and also in cases of Guillain-Barre, a rare condition that sometimes results in temporary paralysis.

Cuba has thrown more than 9,000 soldiers, police and university students into an effort to fumigate for mosquitoes, wipe out the standing water where they breed and prevent a Zika epidemic.

President Raul Castro has called on the nation to battle lax fumigation and trash collection, turning the Zika fight into a test of the communist government’s once-legendary ability to marshal the entire country behind efforts ranging from civil defense to bigger sugar harvests to disease prevention.

In recent days the streets of Havana have been crisscrossed by teams of green-clad soldiers fumigating houses with mosquito-killing fog. Residents of the capital say fumigators no longer accept excuses of allergies or requests to spray some other day, as frequently happened in the past.

Still, neighborhoods like Central Havana, where the patient in Tuesday’s case lives, are filled with decaying buildings, piles of uncollected trash and pools of standing water.

havana-live-bar-touristsHAVANA, 14 marzo (ACN) — Despite forecasts of the possibility of Cuban tourism failing to keep the upward trend shown in the last years, the Caribbean island’s leisure industry posted 14.6 percent growth in the first 71 days of 2016.

According to a report issued by the Cuban Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR by its Spanish acronym), the number of visitors to the island nation reached the one-million mark 11 days ahead of the previous year.

After posting record figures in 2015, when over 3.5 million tourists landed in Cuba, for a 17.8 percent growth compared to the year before, some media and experts believed it would be impossible to maintain the trend.

But source markets like Germany, the UK, the US, France and Italy continued to increase their operations, along with the largest and most traditional, Canada, which represents almost a full third of all visitors.

The press release by MINTUR stated that all its entities, along with the Cuban government and people, are working to improve the quality and the amount of lodging facilities to meet the high demand Cuba is facing nowadays.

The new strategies of the industry include diversifying tourism offers to go beyond being a sun and sand tourist destination, to become a cultural, historical, nature and event heaven for visitors.

havana-live-Removal-and-DeportationHAVANA, March 14th (AP)  As Washington normalizes relations with Havana, nearly 30,000 Cuban nationals convicted of crimes in the U.S. may face deportation.

The Miami Herald reports  that 28,400 Cuban nationals have served their prison terms and face automatic deportations. Some 18,000 live in Florida. For decades they’ve been released under supervision by immigration authorities because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Cuba.

Authorities say there’s no imminent change planned for immigration policy toward Cuba. Republican Miami Congressman Carlos Curbelo says dangerous criminals should be deported at the earliest date possible, while those convicted of minor offenses should be given the opportunity to stay.

Miami defense attorney Jose “Pepe” Herrera says many Cuban inmates didn’t anticipate any U.S. change toward Cuba when they signed waivers agreeing to deportations to avoid immigration detention proceedings.
read also:

imageHAVANA,March 13 (Telesur) Cuba has welcomed 1 million foreign tourists to date in 2016, a 14.6 percent surge over the same period last year, statistics from Cuba’s Tourism Ministry revealed on Saturday.

Tthe tourism ministry said in a broadcast on state television that 2016 has been characterized by “continuous growth” in the number of tourists to Cuba from Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy and Argentina.

A spokesperson also said local hotels and tour operators plan to raise the quality of their services and increase hotel capacity in order to deal with the increased number of tourists hitting the Caribbean islands shores year round.
Cuban tourism authorities estimate that in 2016 some 3.7 million foreign tourists will visit, 175,200 more than in 2015, when the country broke the previous set record by receiving 3.5 million travelers.

Although Cuba has always been a popular destination with tourists from Europe and beyond numbers have spiked since its diplomatic relations between the U.S. started to thaw in late 2014.
ocal economists note that some 145,000 Americans visited Cuba in 2015, 79 percent more than in the previous year.

The tourism industry is now considered one of the most important facets of the Cuban economy and the second-strongest for earning foreign currency, with revenues of US$1.94 billion in 2015, up 10.7 percent over the previous year, the island’s National Statistics and Information Office, or ONEI, reported.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a session with Melinda Gates (unseen), co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at the "Advancing Asia: Investing for the Future" conference in New Delhi, India, March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde speaks during a session with Melinda Gates (unseen), co-founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, at the “Advancing Asia: Investing for the Future” conference in New Delhi, India, March 12, 2016.

HAVANA, March 13 (REUTERS) Cuba has not yet made a request for membership of the International Monetary Fund, the fund’s chief said on Sunday, adding such a request would be considered in accordance with its rules.

Christine Lagarde’s comments came just days after the European Union and Cuba signed an agreement in Havana to establish normal relations, bringing the Communist-run island further into the international fold and paving the way for full economic cooperation with the 28-member bloc.

Cuba was one of the founding members of the IMF until it quit in 1964.

“We have not received a request by the authorities of Cuba to be included as a member,” Lagarde told reporters at the end of a conference in New Delhi.

U.S. President Barack Obama is due to visit Cuba this month as ties rapidly warm thaw since a 2014 detente with Washington.

havana-live-eight_col_Hokule'a_canoe_cropHAVANA, march 12th ( Legendary traditional Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokulea is back on the ocean to set sail for Havana. The vessel departed Saba Rock on Friday at 9:00 a.m. after having spent seven days here.

The crew most recently engaged with Ocean Elder and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson, and discussed ocean conservation efforts. The British Virgin Islands is 6 hours ahead of Hawaii time.

Pwo navigator Kalepa Baybayan is gearing up the crew to prepare for strong winds and brisk weather, the greatest challenges of this leg of the voyage. The trip is approximately 1,080 nautical miles from BVI to Havana, which could take the canoe about a week to reach Cuba.

“We are happy to be part of the pioneers as we begin to form this new partnership and relationship with Cuba,” said Baybayan. “We are very excited to have that opportunity to participate; part of that journey is learning about the indigenous people and culture of Cuba, both modern and old.”

From Cuba, Hokulea plans on routing her trip back to the US mainland, with an estimated arrival in Florida at the end of March. She is scheduled to arrive in New York City by June 8, 2016 to be part of the United Nations’ World Oceans Day.

havana-live-marriot-staRWOODHAVANA,march 12th At least three major U.S. corporations are pushing to complete deals to do business in Cuba as President Barack Obama gets ready for a historic presidential trip to the island this month.

With just over a week until Mr. Obama’s March 20 visit, three companies— AT&T Inc.,Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. and Marriott International—are expected to announce agreements with Cuban government-run entities, according to company and U.S. officials. The three are among a roster of U.S. companies trying to negotiate deals to do business in Cuba.

They will be among the first high-profile deals notched since Mr. Obama said in December 2014 that the U.S. would move to restore ties with Cuba after more than 50 years of Cold War enmity. Since then, the Obama administration has loosened travel and trade restrictions for a variety of industries, betting that closer business ties between the U.S. and Cuba will cement the administration’s policy of normalization.

White House officials expressed hope some of these deals would come together before Mr. Obama arrives in Havana March 20 to showcase the value of closer ties, but the timing is still uncertain and some could be announced after the presidential visit.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, vice chair of the President’s Export Council, will travel to Cuba with Mr. Obama.

While final approvals from Cuba for business ventures often take time, some companies also must obtain clearance from U.S. agencies, since many commercial transactions are restricted or prohibited under the long-standing U.S. embargo.

“We are optimistic that we are going to get a green light soon from the U.S. government to have hotels under the Marriott flag in Cuba,” said Thomas Marder, a Marriott spokesman.

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker will also accompany Mr. Obama, as well as the export council’s chair, Ursula Burns, chairman and CEO of Xerox Corp. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Small Business Administration head Maria Contreras-Sweet and Secretary of State John Kerry also are among cabinet members going on the trip.

Starwood, which is soon to be acquired by Marriott, is also expected to make an announcement, according to U.S. officials and other people familiar with the matter.

“We see many opportunities for the expansion of our brands into Cuba at this inflection point, and look forward to building long-term relationships and welcoming travelers into our hotels in this dynamic market,” said Carrie Bloom, a Starwood spokeswoman, adding the firm is awaiting Treasury Department approval.

Under Cuban laws, foreign hotel companies have to partner with Cuban entities to do business in the country.

Cuba’s existing hotel stock is poor and insufficient to meet current demand, particularly in Havana. In the past year, travel from the U.S. to Cuba has surged 50%, with many tourists staying in privately run bed-and-breakfasts.

The return of U.S. investors to Cuba is politically fraught. U.S.-based hotel companies, among others, have millions of dollars in claims against Cuba over the expropriation of properties during the revolution. The U.S. and Cuba last year began negotiations to resolve billions of dollars of such claims, including a $51 million claim from Starwood.

AT&T is expected soon to complete a roaming agreement with Cuba’s state-run telecommunications company Etesca, U.S. officials said. A person familiar with the negotiations said Etesca and AT&T haven’t yet reached an agreement. AT&T declined to comment.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

HAVANA, March 10th (REUTERS) President Barack Obama’s administration will announce further measures to ease travel and trade restrictions on Cuba on March 17, ahead of his historic visit to the Communist-ruled island this month, U.S. congressional sources said on Tuesday.

The new rules will mark the latest effort by Obama to use his executive powers to sidestep the U.S. Congress and chip away at the more than half-century-old U.S. economic embargo against Cuba.

The anticipated announcement appears timed as a gesture toward Cuba just days before Obama flies to Havana for a March 21-22 visit in another step aimed at ending decades of animosity between the former Cold War foes. It will be the first visit to Cuba by a sitting U.S. president since 1928.

The measures are expected to include changes to make it easier for individual Americans to visit Cuba if they qualify under 12 authorized categories of travel such as educational or cultural visits, as well as further loosening of trade and banking rules, said the sources, who were briefed on the matter by administration officials.

Though details were still being finalized, the package could also include revised regulations on how the U.S. dollar can be used in trade with Cuba, a person familiar with the discussions said. U.S. regulations restrict or prohibit the Cuban government from using the dollar for international transactions.

“The White House wants to make a splash on the economic front before Obama gets to Havana, and this is one way to do it,” according to the source, who was consulted by Obama aides ahead of the visit. “It will come a couple of days before he leaves.”

Obama plans to hold talks with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana but also intends to meet dissidents to show that Washington remains committed to promoting human rights on the island, a source of tension with the Cuban government.

The White House has invited members of Congress to accompany the president, and congressional aides told Reuters about 20, mostly Obama’s fellow Democrats, were expected to go.

Obama’s moves to normalize relations with Cuba have encountered stiff resistance from some lawmakers, mostly Republicans but also some Democrats, since the policy shift was first announced on Dec. 17, 2014.

They feel the White House is not getting enough back from Castro’s government in exchange for the eased regulations. The administration believes that moves to loosen the embargo would help meet its goal of benefiting the Cuban people.

But even some Democratic aides said they were taken aback by news there would be further moves by the White House without concessions from Havana. “Shouldn’t we get something from the Cubans in return?” one asked.

The mainstay of the new regulatory package is expected to be further easing of limits on travel by Americans to Cuba at a time when U.S. airlines are rushing to apply for routes to the island following the recent signing of a bilateral agreement for regular scheduled flights.

The rules changes are likely to allow more people to go on self-directed “people to people” and cultural trips without having to rely on group tours or be sponsored by an organization, two people familiar with the discussions said.

But a ban on general tourism to Cuba will remain in force. It is part of the broader U.S. embargo and can only be lifted by Congress. Obama has called for an end to the embargo but Republicans say that will not happen during his presidency, which ends in January 2017.

“We continue to look at additional regulatory changes that could be made as part of the administration’s efforts to further normalize relations with Cuba,” an Obama administration official said. But the official declined to provide specifics.

HAVANA, March 10th Two weeks ahead of President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, Havana has a message for him: We’ll treat you well while you’re here, but don’t push it.

“The president will be welcomed by the Government of Cuba and its people with the hospitality that distinguishes them and will be treated with all consideration and respect, as head of state,” said the editorial in the Communist Party’s official newspaper Granma.

But the nearly 3,000 word editorial also cautioned that, “No one can harbor the slightest doubt about Cuba’s unconditional adherence to its revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideals,” and included a quote from Cuban President Raul Castro making a similar point.

“We will not allow ourselves to be pressured on our internal affairs. We have won this sovereign right with great sacrifices,” he said.

The piece urged Mr. Obama to do more to change U.S policy toward Cuba and demanded Washington stop interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs. The editorial also reiterated Cuba’s calls for the U.S. to return to Cuba the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, end the decades-long economic embargo on Cuba, and change immigration policies that favor Cubans.

The White House on Wednesday played down the talk from the Cubans ahead of the visit, which officials said would allow the U.S. to use its influence to advocate for more freedoms for the Cuban people. Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit March 20-22.

“I’m not particularly concerned about it,” Mr. Earnest said. “Our priority here, is that by more deeply engaging the Cuban government, the Cuban economy and the Cuban people, we can more effectively advance the interests of the Cuban people.”

Secretary of State John Kerry scrapped plans for a visit to Cuba last week for human rights talks after the U.S. and Cuba couldn’t finalize an agenda, including for Mr. Kerry to meet with political dissidents. But Mr. Earnest stressed on Wednesday that Mr. Obama would meet with whomever he wanted, including political opponents of the regime.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Susan Rice met on Wednesday afternoon for about an hour with about 10 people with expertise in Cuba’s civil society, including people with ties to Church groups, Cuba’s entrepreneurial class, and Cuba’s independent media, according to a participant in the meeting.

Ms. Rice told the group she was seeking their input about how to best engage with civil society members during the president’s trip, the participant said.

“Ambassador Rice heard from each leader and emphasized that a critical focus of charting a new course with Cuba includes our continued strong support for universal values and human rights — including respect for the right to speak freely, peacefully assembly, and associate,” her spokesman Ned Price said.

haVANa-live-havana clubHAVANA, Feb. 27th (EFE) After winning the court case for rights to the Havana Club brand in the United States, the maker aims to have its rum become the first Cuban product to be sold in the U.S. when the long-standing embargo is lifted, because the North American country is a market with enormous potential and almost half the worldwide sales of premium rum.

“We’re sure Havana Club rum will be the top Cuban product that is soonest to enter the U.S. market, which represents 40 percent of worldwide rum sales, so the challenge and the potential are enormous,” the director of market development for Havana Club, Sergio Valdes, told EFE.

Valdes said that with a market like the U.S. still off limits, Havana Club is already the third best-selling rum in the world, a position the brand could easily surpass once Cuban companies are allowed unrestricted exports to the neighboring country, eager as it is to buy “emblematic products” from the island that have been banned there for the last 50 years like rum and tobacco.

Without yet having full access to that rich market, the mixed Cuban-French company that markets Havana Club – made up of France’s Pernod Ricard and Cuba’s Cuba Ron – nonetheless took a giant step forward several weeks ago by finally winning the 20-year legal battle with Bacardi for rights to the brand in the United States.

From that legal tug-of-war arose an irregular situation: Bacardi marketed the brand in the U.S. while Pernod Ricard sold it in the rest of the world after 1993 when the mixed company was founded.

The rum conflict goes back to the Cuban Revolution’s 1959 victory, when Fidel Castro confiscated the Havana Club company, founded in 1935 by the Arechabala family from Spain, and the new government began to market the brand. In the 1990s, the family sold the rights to Bacardi in the United States.

In all the world’s markets and including all lines of rum, Havana Club in 2015 sold some 4 million cases, or 36 million liters of rum, a product that for the company’s management is more than just a drink, it is “a little bit of Cuban life and culture that we are bringing to the world.”

2016-02-23-1456245189-7268265-IMG_5553A-thumbHAVANA, Feb. 26th The Entrepreneurship column of the New York Times Business Section featured a story on Liz Powers, a Harvard sociology graduate who, along with her brother Spencer, founded ArtLifting, a for-profit, Boston-based start-up. Its mission: to enable “disenfranchised artists to sell their work, enhance self-esteem, and change their lives.”

The story reminded me of my January 2016 interview with Cuban artist Samuel Riera whose Havana based home-studio focuses on art outside the mainstream, Art Brut and Outsider Art. Strongly influenced by Jean Dubuffet’s concept of Art Brut–art made by outsiders with no formal training–Riera began to research the artwork of people with mental disabilities. “In Cuba, that meant people living in institutions but also people living with their families, at home in society.”

“Most psychiatrists in Cuba see the artwork of people with mental disabilities as a kind of art therapy,” Riera said. “But we don’t! We don’t modify their art. We don’t change their way of thinking. These people have the capacity to grow,” he said. “They have an ability, not a disability.”

Riera works with the families, creating bank accounts for the artists, and providing them with workshops and with materials. Often, he brings them to the studio where they receive lunch and free transport back and forth. Over the past three years, they have worked with 40 to 50 artists. The studio takes 20 percent of all sales but uses the money to buy materials for the artists.

Riera, who once taught at the San Alejandro School of Art, also sells his own paintings in the gallery. Included in works on display were several paintings from a series called Obedientes, where there are no faces on the children. “Children here–in the educational system,” he said critically, “have to swear in some ceremony, when they are about eight years old, that they will be like Che.” Groupings of Riera’s painted, faceless wooden children, about three inches high, are displayed on a nearby ledge.

Riera speaks passionately about the work of his several of his artists: Damian Valdes Dilla, a schizophrenic who lives at home. There’s a video of Valdes at work with an English translation. In a side gallery, there are several of Valdes’ extraordinary fold-out books which sell for $500 and his city-like constructions made out of found objects.

Nearby, is the work of another artist, Boris Santamaria, who once was homeless and who lived on the street for years. Santamaria paints people with blood streaming down their faces. Crowded on a shelf in the gallery, are his dolls, blood running down their heads. There are landscapes where the twisted tree trunks and roots are menacing. The work is powerful and, definitely, unsettling.

Riera is trying to sustain the project and to make it grow. So far, there has been no money from the government and sales are irregular. There’s hope, though. With President Barak Obama’s impending visit, with Americans flooding Havana, and with growing global interest in Cuban art, perhaps this is the moment when those on the margin can be included; when their art can be understood for what it is, talent, not just therapeutic release. 2016-02-23-1456243571-6656549-IMG_5546A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243604-4484232-IMG_5543A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243464-4589417-IMG_5568A-thumb2016-02-23-1456243539-6341058-IMG_5562A-thumbAll photos: Shael Shapiro

Martha Beatriz Roque is one of the dissidents who has been granted a trip abroad. She says she will go and visit the US to see family

Martha Beatriz Roque is one of the dissidents who has been granted a trip abroad. She says she will go and visit the US to see family

HAVANA, Feb. 25th The Cuban government has eased travel restrictions for some of the country’s best-known dissidents.
Activists said seven members of a group known as the Black Spring were told they would be allowed to make one journey abroad for good behaviour.

One of the seven, Marta Beatriz Roque, said she believed the move was a concession ahead of next month’s visit to Cuba by President Obama.

The US government has been pressing for more freedom for Cuban dissidents.

“It appears to be some kind of gift they want to present to Obama, but in reality it is nothing concrete because when we come back we will return to legal limbo,” said Martha Beatriz Roque.

The decision to grant seven of the most high profile dissidents the right to travel, albeit for a single trip, serves several purposes.

First it gives the Cuban government a recent example of fairer treatment of dissident leaders on the island. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly to the Castro government, the dissidents may choose to stay in the United States, removing them from the debate inside Cuba altogether.

While human rights organisations generally welcome any easing of the restrictions on the group, some of the dissidents themselves have voiced scepticism at the move.

The thorny question of human rights in Cuba will inevitably be back in the spotlight of the world’s media soon during President Obama’s trip. 75 people were arrested in the Spring of 2003 during a crackdown on opposition activists. Most were freed about five years ago on the condition that they moved abroad.

But eleven dissidents refused the terms of the amnesty and have remained in Cuba, though they have be allowed to serve their sentences outside of prison.

President Obama has said his trip to Havana on 21 and 22 March is aimed at pushing the Cuban government to improve conditions for its people.

In Washington, a White House spokesman welcomed the decision to let the dissidents travel outside Cuba.

When the thaw began in Cuba and the US’s relations in December 2014, the Cuban government released 53 people considered by Washington as political prisoners.

But, according to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (an independent human rights organisation considered illegal by the Cuban government), Cuba has resumed detentions.

The Commission says on average more than 700 people were detained temporarily each month in 2015.

havana-live-almendronesLA HABANA, 23 Feb. (Cibercuba) Fords, Chevrolets y otros autos clásicos se dieron cita este miércoles en La Habana para participar en el casting de la prometedora película Rápido y Furioso 8, que tendrá como escenario principal las peculiares calles de Cuba.

Sin dudas, uno de los filmes más esperados de este año luego de que se anunciara su filmación en la isla, Rápido y Furioso 8 tomará por asalto la singular dinámica urbana de la mayor de Las Antillas y la traducirá en un espectáculo de adrenalina pura, esta vez, complaciendo a los amantes de lo vintage.

Al casting, realizado a un costado del Hotel Nacional de Cuba, asistieron los mejores y más activos ejemplares de los llamados “almendrones”, todos meticulosamente cuidados y preparados para la acción a cualquier velocidad.havana-live-almendrones

Según las redes sociales del Club de Autos Clásicos y Antiguos “A lo cubano”, al encuentro asistieron no sólo una importante cantidad de hermosos automóviles de finales de los 50, sino que también participaron motos y hubo una gran afluencia de público.

Algunos de los autos que asistieron al encuentro, legitimados por “A lo cubano”, fueron protagonistas también del documental estadounidense Cuban Chrome, primera serie de Discovery Channel filmada en Cuba, y quizá la razón de peso que tuvo en cuenta el staff de Rápido y Furioso para filmar en la isla.havana-live-almendrones


havana-live-zikaHAVANA, Feb.22th (Reuters) Cuban President Raul Castro called on the entire Cuban population to help eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus on Monday and ordered 9,000 army troops to help stave off the disease.

Cuba has yet to detect a case of Zika but the outbreak is affecting large parts of Latin America and the Caribbean and is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas except for Canada and Chile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

“It’s necessary for every single Cuban to take up this battle as a personal matter,” Castro wrote in a national message sounding the alarm over Zika, which is carried by mosquitoes that transmit the virus to humans and which is suspected of causing birth defects after infecting pregnant women.

Cubans should clean up potential environments for the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, said Castro, who also is general of the armed forces.

“The Revolutionary Armed Forces will assign more than 9,000 troops, among them active duty officers and reserve officers … to the anti-vector and cleanup efforts, with the additional support of 200 officers of the National Revolutionary Police,” Castro said.

The ruling Communist Party and the government have adopted an action plan under the direction of the Health Ministry to deal with the Zika that will also help combat the mosquito-borne diseases dengue and chikungunya, Castro said.

One Health Ministry employee, who asked not to be identified as she was not authorized to talk with journalists, said the country’s vast network of neighborhood doctors and clinics were watching for Zika symptoms and suspected cases would be quarantined in hospital wards prepared for an eventual outbreak.

“There are no confirmed cases yet but there will be. To date there have been two suspected cases that turned out negative,” said the employee, who has real-time access to epidemiological data.

The government, which has fumigated neighborhoods and homes for decades to contain dengue, put doctors on alert for the virus weeks ago and ramped up mosquito eradication efforts.

Military officers could be seen over the weekend, clip boards instead of rifles in hand, directing fumigation in Havana.

The WHO declared the outbreak an international health emergency on Feb. 1, citing a “strongly suspected” relationship between Zika infection in pregnancy and microcephaly, a condition marked by abnormally small head size.

However, much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly.

havana-live-havana-clubHAVANA,Feb.22th The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has accepted an application to renew a trademark for the term ‘Havana Club’ until 2026.

Drinks maker Pernod Ricard markets the spirit through a joint venture with the Cuban government’s export company Cubaexport.

In a statement on Friday, February 19, Pernod Ricard said it was “pleased to confirm” that the trademark had been renewed in the US for the next ten years.

In January, Cubaexport was granted an initial renewal until January 27. A further application to renew the trademark until 2026 was also submitted and has now been accepted.

“The renewal of the registration means that the dispute over ownership of the Havana Club brand in the US can be returned to the courts, where it can be decided on its merits,” Pernod Ricard said.

Cubaexport and drinks maker Bacardi have been in dispute over who owns the rights to market the spirit in the US, where Cubaexport does not currently sell its products.

Bacardi has sold Havana Club-branded rum in the US since 1994. It acquired the rights from Havana Club’s founding family, who fled Cuba around 1960. The rum is made in Puerto Rico due to the Cuban embargo.

Although plans are in place to lift the long-standing embargo, it is not known when that will be.

In 1976, Cubaexport was granted a US trademark but it was taken away by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2006.

Cubaexport pursued the matter all the way to the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case in 2012.

Earlier this month, WIPR reported that Bacardi had filed a freedom of information request with the US Department of the Treasury seeking information about Cubaexport and Pernod Ricard’s trademark renewal.

Bacardi said it wanted to see all documents, communications and files that were created, used or maintained in relation to the ‘Havana Club’ trademark registration.

Ian Fitzsimons, general counsel of Pernod Ricard, said: “We are confident that Cubaexport will prevail in defending its registration in the pending litigation.”


Entrance to Building at intersection of Prado and Malecón. Architect: José Antonio Choy

Critic Nelson Herrera Ysla on the state of contemporary architecture on the island
HAVANA,Feb. 18th   One of the first lessons every architecture student in Cuba receives has to do with the concepts the Romans established for the planning and construction of buildings. In 1 B.C., author Marcus Vitruvius set down architecture’s three basic elements: resistance, functionality, and beauty.

When these students come out of university, however, they soon run into a harsh reality: functional and beautiful works ceased to be important in Cuba a long time ago, and next to no architect is considered an artist in the country.Nelson-Herrera-Ysla-768x576

Renowned art critic Nelson Herrera Ysla reflects on this and other issues. An architecture graduate, Herrera became a graphic design teacher early in his career and has been working at Havana’s Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center for some years now. This institution is responsible for organizing Havana’s arts Biennale, an event where Cuban and international architecture has always been present in some form or another.

Why did architecture cease to be considered a form of art in Cuba?


The National Art Schools of Cuba (1961-65) / Ricardo Porro, Vittorio Garatti, Roberto Gottardi. Image © John Loomis: Revolution of Forms Why did ar

In the 60s, Cuban architecture had a moment of splendor, thanks to the building of a number of works that suggested a new approach. These included the Cubanacán art schools, the Cuba Pavilion, the Jose Antonio Echeverría University campus, a series of homes in Manicaragua (designed by historian and architect Walter Betancourt), the monument to the martyrs of Artemisa, and the Voisan Polytechnic Institute in Güines.

The modernist architecture movement in Cuba was extraordinary and left its marks everywhere, from Havana to Las Tunas, through Ciego de Avila, Matanzas, Pinar del Rio, and the Isle of Youth. Today, they are seriously considering demolishing one of the gems of Cuban architecture, the Varadero International Hotel, to build a new architectural complex there.

When the building of the Cubanacán art schools was suspended halfway through the construction process, there was a very strong reaction from the Ministry of Construction, which spoke out against all of these architectural works that were advancing new languages and codes.

I believe this was a very difficult moment for Cuban architecture. I think the University Martyrs Park, located at the intersection of Infanta and San Lazaro, was the last, great expression of revolutionary architecture.

Park with big stone shapes © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

Park with big stone shapes © Cuba Absolutely, 2014

As of 1966, architecture ceased to be a part of Cuban culture, and construction work became the guiding myth. The Architects Association ceased operations around that time also. Later came the National Architects and Construction Engineers Association.

In the 1970s, prefab buildings entered the Cuban scene, with large Soviet-styled panels and the Girón system [a flexible system of prefabricated concrete modules], which was invented in Cuba. All secondary schools in the countryside were built using this process. All of the large district and microdistrict projects, such as Alamar, in Havana, and Jose Martí, in Santiago de Cuba, began to be built. Farming communities, hospitals, and polyclinics were also built this way. Quantity was more important than quality.


El Instituto Superior Politécnico “José Antonio Echeverría”

They changed the name of the architecture school, which came to be called the Faculty of Construction Work. The word “architecture” began to be used at school again only a few years ago. We still haven’t recovered from the 1970s. We’re still paying the consequences.

The field of architecture critique, which existed before the revolution, also disappeared.

I published my first architecture critique piece when I was 19, while still a third-year student, in El caimán barbudo, a magazine which published a number of renowned Cuban poets, essayists, and writers in its first years.

Roberto Segre had done serious work as a professor, critic, and historian, as had Fernando Salinas. Mario Coyula was beginning to publish his first articles at the time. There was a group of architects who were also publishing works as critics.

In the 1960s, the journal Arquitectura de Cuba (“Cuban Architecture”) was relaunched. This was a very important publication that set down standards for architecture critique. In addition, architecture-related articles were published by Bohemia, Cuba Internacional, Union, and La Gaceta de Cuba, but, in much the same way architecture disappeared, all related critiques also ceased to exist.

Arquitectura de Cuba continues to be published on a bi-yearly basis, edited by architect Eduardo Luis Rodríguez, who I believe is Cuba’s most important architecture historian. The magazine is in need of financing. He puts together the issues and waits for someone to finance the publication. Two or three years can go by before a single issue is published. The magazine doesn’t have much circulation and isn’t sold at kiosks or bookstores.

In your opinion, why aren’t the projects conceived at the Faculty of Architecture every year more widely divulged?

The scant socialization of architecture also affects our universities in general. Recently, through the TV Round Table program, people found out there is a new generation of industrial and marketing designers. I believe people are unaware of what’s happening in the field of architecture.

A new generation of formally trained architects, who are trying to change the order of things and divulge what they’re doing, has emerged, but this is a difficult task because architecture has been all but forsaken in Cuba.

There are no spaces devoted to the field in any printed or televised media. The National Architecture Exhibitions are only promoted within architectural associations. Architects have won extraordinary awards during these exhibitions and people don’t know about these, just as they are unable to name Cuba’s architectural wonders.

If the media were to report on the projects carried out by new and established architects, this would greatly contribute to eliminating the negative image that surrounds contemporary Cuban architecture.

At the Faculty of Architecture, led by architect Augusto Rivera, students have put together environmental design projects for the Cuatro Caminos intersection and market, for the town of Casablanca, to embellish the unappealing entrance to Alamar at the intersection of Los Cocos and Via Blanca. There are very good projects for the Havana Bay, and the beginning of a series of works to complete the ports of Regla and Casablanca.

On the other hand, the city is over-saturated with promotions for the architecture of the colonial and republican eras, with which I’m already fed up. We speak only of the past, about the great monuments, from the Real Fuerza castle to the Capitolio building, but people know nothing about new projects.


Building at intersection of Prado and Malecón. Architect: José Antonio Choy

The 150 great works of Cuba’s modernist movement, which were collected in a book, have never been covered on television. Cuba has an interesting architectural legacy. We must rescue it. Knowledge of architecture can be encouraged by divulging information on good pieces.

What television and the press report on are insignificant projects and architecturally poor works built around the country. One of the spots aired on television, highlighting Cuba’s beauty, focuses only on 20th-century eclecticism in the countryside.

What are independent groups of architects?

These are groups of architects who sometimes offer services in their free time, outside working hours. Some don’t work for the State and are directly hired by foreign firms for certain projects.


La Abadía coffee shop. Architect: Vilma Bartolomé

Since designing the Hotel Santiago and the Che Guevara Studies Center, José Antonio Choy has had the fortune of being commissioned for large projects, such as the expansion of the Hotel Parque Central in Old Havana, the La Puntilla commercial center in Miramar, and the remodeling of the International Financial Bank on the intersection of 5th and 92nd, in Miramar. Currently, he is working on the expansion of the Casa de las Americas library, which he also designed.

Architect Vilma Bartolomé was hired to design El Terral, a small hotel located on Havana’s Malecón ocean drive. She also designed a coffee shop named La Abadía and other small works in the area.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Tourism, which is responsible for most construction work at the moment, has turned its back on Cuban architects and practically all hotels, spas, resorts, bungalows, and motels around the country are designed by foreign architects.

It’s curious that neither young nor established Cuban architects are ever approached or offered an opportunity to develop their work, not even at a hospital, a polyclinic, a school, a research center, or a university.

Since they have to make a living, they approach the owners of private restaurants and new Cuban property owners, who commission them for projects, homes, coffee shops, motels, hostels, whatever.

These groups of independent architects, which emerged in recent years, are responsible for the best architecture we see in Cuba today. They have a lot of creativity, imagination, and talent, and they are fighting tooth and nail, as official Cuban institutions do not hire them for anything. A new architectural movement is taking giant leaps in Cuba, and it is not being covered or acknowledged by the media.
This article appeared first in Havana Times.

HAVANA, Feb. 18th As part of his opening to Cuba, President Barack Obama is expected to visit the island March 21-22, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to travel there in almost 90 years, sources said Wednesday.

The president is expected to arrive March 21, sources said. That timetable would put him in Cuba during a week when Havana is awash in special events. On the 20th, the Rolling Stones are expected to conclude their Latin America tour with a concert in Cuba and on March 22, Cuba’s national baseball team will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Havana. It’s unclear whether the president will attend the baseball game.

The White House will make the official announcement at a briefing Thursday. Obama, sources say, will stop in Cuba on his way to Argentina.

Critics of Obama’s Cuba policy were quick to condemn the visit.

“If true, it is absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with a visit to Cuba by a sitting American president since their reign of terror began,” said U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami. “A visit by President Obama more than one year after his unilateral concessions to the regime will only legitimize the Castros’ repressive behavior.”

A flurry of U.S.-Cuba events this week, plus Cuba’s recent return of a U.S. Hellfire missile that it said was mistakenly shipped to Havana from Paris in 2014, gave impetus to the possibility that an Obama trip to Cuba was in the works. On Tuesday, the United States and Cuba signed what they’re calling an arrangement that would allow commercial flights between the two countries to resume for the first time in more than 50 years.

That same day, Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s minister of foreign trade and foreign investment, spoke at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He was accompanied by a large Cuban trade delegation. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Malmierca on Thursday afternoon.

The first of two days of U.S.-Cuba talks to discuss the regulatory environment in the United States and Cuba began Wednesday. Under discussion are possible changes so that businesses in both Cuba and the United States can better take advantage of a commercial opening that began when the two countries announced they were normalizing relations on Dec. 17, 2014. The two countries hadn’t had diplomatic relations in more than five decades.

The president said in December that he would like to visit Cuba before the end of his term but that the visit depended on more progress in his priorities for Cuba, such as a bigger role for private enterprise, improvement in Cuba’s human rights record and more access to information and the Internet for Cubans.

Between now and the visit, sources said a number of business deals that are in the works could come to fruition.

The Cuban trade delegation’s “visit along with the restoration of the first U.S. commercial flights to Cuba in more than 50 years are important steps forward in our policy of engagement and show what can be accomplished when there is meaningful, constructive dialogue between our two countries instead of the decades of isolationist policies that preceded it,” said James Williams, president of Engage Cuba, a public policy group that supports normalization.

The last sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba was Calvin Coolidge in January 1928. Former President Jimmy Carter made two trips to the island after leaving office.

havana-live-embargoHAVANA, Feb. 17th The Cuban government has begun a full-court press urging U.S. and American companies to step up economic investment in the island nation.

In one of the first public comments in the U.S. by a top Cuban government official since President Obama normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba in late 2014, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, Cuban minister of foreign trade and investment, on Tuesday urged Congress to lift the decades-old economic embargo and promised that U.S. companies eyeing the Caribbean market would not be discriminated against.

“I believe the roads we have started to walk on is the right one,” Malmierca Díaz said at a press conference after a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “No matter what, we’re going to maintain the disposition to normalize our relations with the U.S.”

The U.S. economic embargo on Cuba, which was imposed in the early 1960s, remains in place, as only an act of Congress can lift it. But the Obama administration’s overtures have triggered loosening of business and investment restrictions on the island and have raised hopes for expansion-minded U.S. companies tempted by an untapped market with a reputation for quality education and advanced medical and engineering training.

The Treasury and Commerce departments have introduced a series of rule changes in recent months to encourage U.S. companies to consider investing in Cuba. And Malmierca Díaz said he plans to hold further talks with government officials for other rule changes that would accelerate economic investment and to meet with American business executives.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx signed an agreement Tuesday in Havana with Cuban Transportation Minister Adel Yzquierdo to resume scheduled airline flights to the island for the first time in 53 years. Airlines will compete to provide up to 110 daily flights to Havana and nine other cities starting this fall, as long as travelers are visiting for one of 12 reasons other than tourism, officials said.

Still, the American re-engagement with Cuba, one of the last remaining communist governments, is a hot-button topic, particularly in the swing state of Florida. Several influential lawmakers, including Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban Americans, as well as former Florida governor and presidential hopeful Jeb Bush, remain firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

During his speech in downtown Washington, D.C., Malmierca Díaz rattled off factoids aimed at wooing foreign investors. Cuba’s GDP grew 4% last year, with the sugar, manufacturing, construction and tourism industries leading the way. The island nation maintains trade relations with 75 countries, and some foreign debts have been renegotiated with creditors, he said. “We don’t want to be dependent on one market,” he said, referring to Cuba’s past ties with Russia.

Three cruise terminals are being built as is a new “special development zone” with tax incentives. Foreign companies’ net incomes on the island are generally taxed at 35%. But tax on income from new investment will be waived for eight years and taxed at 15% thereafter, he said.

Cuba needs about $2 billion annually in direct foreign investment to maintain its goal of raising its GDP by 5%, he said. Reflecting Cuba’s eagerness to interconnect further with the global economy, Malmierca Díaz said its view of foreign investment has shifted from a few years ago when it was merely considered a “complement” to domestic spending and “not important.”

Responding to a question about whether Cuba was moving quickly enough to adapt to the rule changes in the U.S., Malmierca Díaz said some delays may occur as American companies negotiate with their Cuban partners, but he affirmed that the Cuban government “was not creating more barriers.”

“It’d be stupid for us to delay,” he said.

havana-live-tractor-HAVANA, Feb. )AP) 15th The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in more than 50 years, allowing a two-man company from Alabama to build a plant assembling as many as 1,000 small tractors a year for sale to private farmers in Cuba.

The Treasury Department last week notified partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal that they can legally build tractors and other heavy equipment in a special economic zone started by the Cuban government to attract foreign investment.

Cuban officials already have publicly and enthusiastically endorsed the project. The partners said they expect to be building tractors in Cuba by the first quarter of 2017.

“It’s our belief that in the long run we both win if we do things that are beneficial to both countries,” said Clemmons.

The $5 million to $10 million plant would be the first significant U.S. business investment on Cuban soil since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 and nationalized billions of dollars of U.S. corporate and private property. That confiscation provoked a U.S. embargo on Cuba that prohibited virtually all forms of commerce and fined non-U.S. companies millions of dollars for doing business with the island.

Letting an American tractor company operate inside a Cuban government facility would have been unimaginable before Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared on Dec. 17, 2014, that they would restore diplomatic relations and move to normalize trade, travel and other aspects of the long-broken bilateral relationship.

Since then, Obama has been carving exceptions into the embargo through a series of executive actions, and his administration now says they allow U.S. manufacturing at the Mariel port and special economic zone about 30 miles west of Havana. One exception allows U.S. companies to export products that benefit private and cooperative farmers in Cuba. Berenthal and Clemmons say they will sell only to the private sector.

The Oggun tractor plant, named after a god in Cuba’s syncretic Santeria religion, will assemble commercially available components into a durable and easy-to-maintain 25-horsepower tractor selling for less than $10,000, Clemmons and Berenthal said. The men believe they can sell hundreds of the tractors a year to Cuban farmers with financing from relatives outside the country and to non-government organizations seeking to help improve Cuban agriculture, which suffers from low productivity due mostly to excessive control of both basic supplies and prices by an inefficient, centrally planned state bureaucracy.

“I have two countries that for 60 years have been in the worst of terms, anything I can do to bring to the two countries and the two people together is tremendously satisfying,” said Berenthal, a Cuban-born semi-retired software engineer who left the country at age 16.

Berenthal said they are optimistic that they will also be able to export Oggun tractors to other Latin American countries, which have low or no tariffs on Cuba products, making them competitive on price. The men expect a 10-20 percent profit on each tractor.

For the project’s first three years, Clemmons and Berenthal say they will export components from the United States for assembly in Cuba. They hope to eventually begin manufacturing many of the parts themselves on the island. They said they expect to start with 30 Cuban employees and, if things go as planned, grow within five years to as many as 300.

Clemmons and Berenthal will publish all the schematics of their tractors online in order to allow Cubans and other clients to more easily repair their equipment and come up with designs for other heavy equipment based on the same frame and motor that Cleber can then produce at their Mariel factory.

The men already have plans to produce excavators, backhoes, trench-diggers and forklifts, equipment that’s badly needed across Cuba, where virtually all the infrastructure is crumbling after years of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of cash that the government blames on the embargo.

“I think it’ll have a tremendous impact on their ability not only to help their economy but to set an example across the Caribbean and Latin America,” Berenthal said.