Tag Archive for: Havana

havana-live-MSC OperaHAVANA,  July 3  MSC Cruises has announced it will become the first mainstream cruise line to home-port in Cuba with MSC Opera calling Havana home for the winter 2015-16 season.

The new itinerary will give holidaymakers from around the world the opportunity to visit Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Mexico along with two nights and two and a half days in the Cuban capital. A total of 16 Caribbean cruises will be on offer.

Gianni Onorato, Chief Executive Officer of MSC Cruises, said “We are particularly proud to make this exciting new destination available to our guests. For this, I wish to personally thank all those who worked with us over the past several months to make it possible for MSC Cruises to launch Cuba as a destination to its guests.

In particular, I wish to thank the Ministers of Transportation and Tourism of the Cuban Government and their representatives for their continued, highly professional contribution.
The move to Cuba proves our commitment to offer our guests and holiday-makers the best and most sought-after destinations as they become accessible – thus further enhancing our global offering while providing travellers best-in-class experiences and service.”

The sailings, which will be available to book from Thursday 9 July, will be available to UK passengers on a cruise-only basis.

The first cruise will depart from Havana on 22 December 2015, following MSC Opera’s Grand Voyage to Cuba from Genoa, departing on 2 December 2015. The Grand Voyage will include a call in Havana on 18 December, and resume its itinerary in the region before heading back to Cuba for its final call of the journey on 21 December. On 12 April 2016, the ship will leave Havana for a Grand Voyage back to Europe, with Warnemünde, Germany, as its final destination, arriving on 7 May 2016.

During the two-and-a-half-day stay in Havana, passengers on the 2,120-passenger MSC Opera will be able to explore the city’s stunning old centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and discover its history, culture and architecture.

As a result of this announcement, MSC Opera’s original winter 2015-16 schedule in the Canary Islands, Madeira and Morocco has been cancelled. UK guests who had already booked a Canaries sailing for winter 2015-16 will now have the opportunity to receive a full refund or transfer their holiday to alternative MSC Cruises Mediterranean itineraries, with the offer of upgrades or on-board credit as compensation.

Alternatively, guests can switch their booking to Cuba with a low rate fixed fee to account for the difference in flight costs.


Flanked by her nephew Nelson Suarez, left, and friend Ana Maria Beltran, Laura Martinez communicates with her son in Canada using the first public Wi-Fi hotspot in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 2, 2015. Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along a main avenue that is the heart of the capital's cultural and social life. Its the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the internet revolution has largely passed by.

Flanked by her nephew Nelson Suarez, left, and friend Ana Maria Beltran, Laura Martinez communicates with her son in Canada using the first public Wi-Fi hotspot in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, July 2, 2015. Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along a main avenue that is the heart of the capital’s cultural and social life. Its the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the internet revolution has largely passed by.Photo: Desmond Boylan, AP

HAVANA, July 2  (AP)    Cuban authorities have launched public Wi-Fi hotspots along an avenue that is the heart of the capital’s cultural and social life.

It’s the first step in government promises to gradually roll out such connectivity options on an island that the Internet revolution has largely passed by.
Authorities have been installing the hotspots along 23rd Street in the Vedado neighborhood in recent weeks, and they apparently went live Wednesday night.

Dozens of people, many of them young, were checking out the service Thursday morning with smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Sixteen-year-old Angel Padron called the signal speed “acceptable,” robust enough to view videos on YouTube.

Users need to have an account registered with state telecom monopoly Etecsa. The service costs $2 an hour.



 havana-live-DelaurentisHAVANA, July 2  (AP)   From his office high above Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis has a sweeping view of the cerulean Florida Straits and the blood-red letters declaring Cuba’s defiance of the United States.

“Homeland or Death!” reads the sign erected in front of the U.S. Interests Section, a declaration installed 15 years ago when DeLaurentis was a more junior officer working to defuse a standoff over the fate of child rafter Elian Gonzalez.

Now, on this third assignment in communist Cuba, DeLaurentis is the top U.S. diplomat on the island, working to bring an end to more than a half-century of hostilities between the two countries. Known for his low-key style and public discretion, the 61-year-old diplomat also is on a short list for U.S. ambassador to Cuba, if there is to be one.

On Wednesday, DeLaurentis hand-delivered a letter from the White House to the Cuban Foreign Ministry about converting missions known as interest sections in the countries’ respective capitals into full embassies.

Cuba said ceremonies to do that will be held July 20, though the U.S State Department said it does not yet have a date.

Several Republicans in Congress have vowed to block the appointment of an ambassador to Havana and hold up funding for the embassy.

“There aren’t many diplomats who could represent the United States in Havana during this sensitive, but promising chapter,” former Cuban diplomat Carlos Alzugaray said. “Jeff is one of them.”

DeLaurentis was a consular officer in Cuba in 1991-93, when the island was plunged into economic crisis with the Soviet Union’s collapse. As head of the U.S. Interests Section’s economic and political section in 1999-2002, DeLaurentis was a key negotiator in the fight over Elian Gonzalez’s custody.

Vicki Huddleston, who headed the mission then, said DeLaurentis’ quiet diplomacy helped dial down tensions when Cuban officials threatened a mass migration of rafters if the young castaway wasn’t returned to his homeland. President Bill Clinton’s administration ultimately backed the parental rights of Elian’s father in Cuba and returned the boy.

DeLaurentis also was “instrumental” in discussions with Cuban officials over the decision by U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration to use the Guantanamo naval base in eastern Cuba to house prisoners held on terrorism charges following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“He always sort of quietly pushed the envelope with Cuban officials, but they always gave him a lot of credit,” Huddleston said. “He was always spot-on in interpreting Cuban motives and actions.”

Huddleston recalled that she and DeLaurentis attended Mass at a local Roman Catholic church and he worked to get computers to the parish at a time that such technology in the hands of a non-governmental entity was viewed suspiciously.

Huddleston was succeeded as head of mission by James Cason, who enraged Fidel Castro by meeting with government opponents at a dissident’s home in 2003. Seventy-five dissidents were arrested several weeks later.

Negotiations to free USAID contractor Alan Gross were under way for months before DeLaurentis returned to Havana as head of mission last August. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro of Cuba announced a deal on Dec. 17 to free Gross and three Cuban prisoners in the United States and to work toward renewing diplomatic relations.

The tall, lanky DeLaurentis is a distinctive figure around Havana, dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and tie for meetings with other foreign diplomats, business people and Cubans he has known for years.

As in his earlier stints, DeLaurentis “gets out of the building and talks with people,” said Philip Peters, a Cuba analyst who travels to the island regularly. “He knows the country very, very well.”

True to form, DeLaurentis declined to speak on the record because of the U.S.-Cuba negotiations. He has spoken very little with major media since Dec. 17. He told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that a new U.S. exception to the trade embargo would allow exchange of Internet technology that could be a “game changer down the line” by connecting Cuba to the world and “lighting up the island.”

DeLaurentis is a graduate of the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and Columbia University’s Graduate School of International and Public Affairs. He was a senior official at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York before joining the U.S. State Department and has worked at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, and in Washington, including as deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Most recently, DeLaurentis was a deputy to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations, where a former colleague said he was known as “the person who turned on the lights in the morning and was the last to leave at night.”

DeLaurentis’ online presence is minimal, mostly written texts of addresses to the U.N. Security Council. In one rare speech carried by YouTube, the graying diplomat with dark-rimmed glasses told students at a 2013 International Model U.N. Conference that international diplomacy “can be frustrating, even maddening.”

He didn’t elaborate on the challenges of being a diplomat in Cuba, which has not had formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. since 1961.

“He’s trying to rebuild a relationship that has been in shambles for 55 years,” Dutch Ambassador Norbert Braakhuis said.

The United States needs “someone who is very cautious – but also very knowledgeable and with sharp insights,” Braakhuis said. DeLaurentis, he added, is “clearly the right person at the right time and place.”


havana-live-view-havana-airHAVANA,  July 1 (Miami Herold)   Air service between the Southernmost City and Cuba is off to a strong start after restarting in March and more flights might be added.

Havana Air Chief Executive Officer David Nesslein said this week that the eventual goal is to provide daily service between Key West International Airport and Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. The Miami-based company is a government-licensed charter operator behind the flights.

“In most cases, we’ve been full,” Nesslein said.

After adding a Monday morning flight to Havana about three weeks ago, Havana Air now leaves Mondays and Fridays at 10 a.m. from Key West to Havana. The 90-mile flight, which lasts about 45 minutes, costs $525 roundtrip. Return flights are Mondays and Fridays.

Havana Air uses commercial carrier Air Key West and its nine-passenger BN-2T Turbine Islander. Miami travel company Mambi International Group sells tickets out of its North Roosevelt Boulevard office, which opened in December

Air Key West President Robert Valle said the addition of the Monday flight was partially due to customers not wanting to stay a whole week in Cuba. Havana Air may add a Wednesday flight if demand continues.

“It just kind of depends on the [passenger] loads,” Nesslein said. “We like Key West; I think it’s a great market for us.”

Havana Air is also working on letting customers buy tickets online, like they would for any other commercial flight. Nesslein said that may happen later this year.

The steady influx of planes to the communist country from Key West comes after last December’s announcement by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro of eased travel restrictions on U.S. residents going to Cuba following half a century of not allowing Americans to travel there.

Those who want to travel to Cuba no longer need a specific license as long as they meet criteria under one of 12 federal categories, including family visits, humanitarian projects and religious activities.

Traveling there for tourism remains banned but the government really has to way to enforce that since travelers could maintain they went to Cuba under one of the 12 reasons allowed.

Designating Key West International Airport as an international point of entry from the U.S. began in 2009 with a request to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

A three-phase, $2.25 million project reclassification process ensued, with federal officials signing off on the upgrades in October 2011.

Last year, another operator tried Key West to Cuba flights but the venture last only about six weeks.

havana-live-oil-platformHAVANA, 22 June  (Polly Mosendz) As if tensions between the United States and Russia were not high enough, the Russian government-owned oil corporation Rosneft is now seeking a major oil deal with Cuba.

At the World Petroleum Congress in Moscow, Rosneft met with Cuban Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines, Ruben Cid, to discuss new oil fields right in America’s backyard. Cid told Itar-Tass, “Talks with Russian oil corporations are underway at the moment.
The Director General of our national oil company CUPET, Juan Torrez Naranjo, and Rosneft President Igor Sechin signed a memorandum recently in St Petersburg, under which the two companies will do the joint development of oilfields on the Cuban continental shelf.”
If the deal continues, it will mean two government-owned oil companies will build a meaningful business relationship. Cuba has oil reserves of somewhere between four and 20 billion barrels. CUPET estimates 20 billion, whereas the United States Geological Society has a more modest estimate of four-to-nine billion barrels.0b50dff83 Right now, oil is priced around $110 per barrel. This is quite a lucrative deal, comparable even to the $900 billion deal Rosneft currently has underway with Exxon Mobil. In that arrangement, Arctic drilling should bring in nine billion barrels of oil. The contract CUPET is proposing to Rosneft will allow oil production in deep waters and areas not belonging to the United States. Cid explains, “Production in deep waters is expensive enough and that’s why to attract investors there is a much more painstaking job”.  In this respect, we pin hopes on our partners from Venezuela and Angola, as well as on Rosneft. Hopefully this contract will be signed.” It is in Cuba’s best interests to execute the deal, and because they cannot work with American oil companies due to the longstanding embargo, Rosneft is the logical company to approach. Currently, there are only four wells in Cuba, so the Cuban oil reserves have not been properly prospected.
This is partially why it is difficult to determine how much oil there really is. When it comes to oil, politics are secondary and profitability is by far superior. If CUPET’s 20 billion barrel estimation proves accurate, the arrangement will be double in size to the Exxon/Rosneft Arctic deal. Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson spoke on the same panel as sanctioned Rosneft executive Igor Sechin at the World Petroleum Congress this week.
Russia has been, thus far, relatively unfazed by U.S. sanctions and the upsetting of ties with the States. Because of the potential profitability of this deal and Russia’s generally nonchalant attitude towards the U.S., the CUPET contract may very well be signed and executed quickly. As the old saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.